‘The greatest vocalist of the 21st century’ (©WSJ) is back with a new album of Dylan and Leonard Cohen songs. She recalls how Bob drew her – and her mum – to Blackpool. Win copies of her album
I was touring in Australia last summer, when tickets were put on sale for Dylan’s much-anticipated November dates at the Albert Hall in London. What with the time difference and the ticketing system, the whole thing was impossible and I failed to get tickets. So I whined a bit and moved bravely on.
A couple of months later, when I was back in London, my mum rang from her home in Stockport and gave a curious display of knowing what’s going on in the world.
“Have you got yourself some tickets to see Bob Dylan?” she asked. “I heard he was TOURING!”
Once I’d recovered from the shock, I explained time differences and the capacity of the Albert Hall. But after hanging up, I still spent another couple of hours ringing round friendly journalists, to see if they could get tickets.
That was a non-starter and I gave up again.
But in a spurt of late-night trawling online for the music I love, the solution to my problem appeared. Bob would be playing the Blackpool Opera House six months hence, there were tickets left – good seats, too – so I bought two, and put them on the pile of things that are going to happen.
Life carried on. I was arranging and recording the new album, loving Dylan and Cohen more and more by the second, and time rolled me towards the Blackpool show.
It was not until October that I realised, first, that very few of my friends wanted to come up north for a sleepover, even if Blackpool was on the itinerary; and second, none wanted to do that in order to see Bob Dylan.
Then I had a brainwave. Why not take Mum? Stockport is a mere motorway hop-and-skip from Blackpool. We used to go there for days out when I was little, and the funfair was always the high point.
I arranged to stay with her for the night and asked if she wanted to go to “the Blackpool concert” while I was there. She muttered something in reply, but neither of us was really concentrating.
Now fast-forward to the frosty Sunday afternoon when I disembarked from my Virgin train and met my mum.
“I’m so looking forward to going to Blackpool tomorrow,” she said.
“We’re going tonight.”
“Yes, we’re going to see Bob Dylan, remember?”
“Are we? I thought we were going for a day out to the seaside tomorrow. I was really looking forward to that. I’m really disappointed now. Who wants to go to Blackpool at night?”
Time was short, so I went into a rather heated explanation of how brilliant it would be to go to a Dylan concert (which is hard if people don’t actually think they like Bob Dylan, or rock music, or indeed leaving the house after dark).
But I hustled Mum into her car and off we sped across Lancashire under a clear and starry sky.
It soon became clear that Mum was concerned. She seemed to think Blackpool Opera House was going to be like Altamont and that we’d be kettled and possibly killed by Hell’s Angels.
“Mum, Dylan’s UK audience is largely middle aged,” I said. “They aren’t going to be storming any stage, half of them are on crutches and the other half have pacemakers. We’ll be safer than you’ve ever been in Stockport town centre.”
“Why do you say such things?” she said. “You always exaggerate.” We’ll see, I thought.
Parking was a comedy routine in itself. A man in a cloth cap waved a queue of cars into one of the town’s fast filling car parks, shouting: “Come on in, you little Dylan fans. In you come, you little loves. Come on now, keep it moving.”
We walked into the hall, and my mother fell about laughing. “Now you know,” I said. Many of the two-thirds middle-aged-male audience were carrying two pints at once to their seats. (That proved unwise: two pints is a lot for the bladder to hold, and most needed to find the loos. During the songs.)
Still, the lights went down, the spots picked out the musicians on stage – and on came our hero. As for us, well, we went ballistic when the black-shirted, coolly-dressed band tore into some noir Americana, and Bob began to sing.
Dylan has taken to re-casting his songs. But as each line became recognisable, everyone would become super excited. “It’s ‘Tangled Up In Blue’!” we’d all hiss at one another.
When Dylan walked to the front of the stage, and SPOKE to us – even though we had no idea what he was saying – we went MENTAL. We jumped up and down, slapping each other.
He SPOKE to us! We felt so special. Sod the Albert Hall: Bob was speaking to us, here, tonight, in BLACKPOOL! Who were the smart punters? Us!
In the car on the way home, Mum said: “He’s older than me, Bob Dylan.”
“Well sweetie, not quite,” I replied. “But more to the point, did you enjoy it?”
“You know,” said my mum, sagely, “it’s not really my cup of tea, but I actually quite liked a couple of the songs. And I really loved the whole experience. You can tell he’s incredibly talented.”
“And I love his songs when you sing them.”
That’s my mum, I thought. Not biased in any way at all.
Barb, 58, is an internationally acclaimed singer and songwriter, as well as a broadcaster, writer, performer and librettist. Learn more about her new album and her spring UK tour dates on her website Barb Jungr