Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the Royal Albert Hall in London, July 2022
I wasn’t born when the 4 Seasons first came to prominence in the early ’60s. By the time they made their second time around in the ’70s, I was still young but an admirer of their harmonies and the beautifully structured songwriting.
Less than a year ago I was going to take some time to write a tribute to Jim Steinman, who was one of those songwriters I never quite go away from. He was a big influence in my teenage years and then his music re-entered my life when I was in my late-twenties and again, more recently.
The tribute for the songwriter (who passed away in the early Spring of 2021) never got finished. I guess my excuse has something to do with the pandemic and the fact that it seemed to be more relevant to be concentrating on the present than considering the past.
And then this month (January 2022), just as I had finished a day thinking about the current touring production of “Bat out of Hell – The Musical”, I heard the news that his sparring partner, Meat Loaf had also died. This time it seemed to be much more pertinent to reflect on the past than think about the present and if I hadn’t have been obliged to submit a report on the musical. I don’t think it would ever have got completed. You can find the part of that report which is for public consumption here:
A Dramatic Narrative based around small sections of the lyrics of songs written performed or recorded by Mr Bob Dylan.
Ninoshka Gomes plays a followerof the Messiah who is tender-hearted but struggles with self-doubt.
Isobel Hirst plays a follower of the Messiah who has a tendency to be judgemental.
The role of the Voice of the Message of the Gospel is played by Darren Hirst
Darren also plays the role of the Voice of the Message of the World.
The duality of his message is shown by the blue line which divides his face.
Moon Culture (Aline Huguelet and Keegan Israel) perform the Dylan song “Saving Grace” after one of the verses of that song is spoken.
Supplementary lines to maintain the direction of the narrative were supplied by the director, Darren Hirst. We claim no copyright on the lyrical sections written by Mr Dylan. We hold the correct licence for use of songswhich are used in worship settings and church performances. No admission charge was charged and the video is not being monetised. This will be the sole performance of this dramatic narrative.
Well, it’s been an interesting year. Just in case you hadn’t noticed. In the first three months of the year my writing went along in its normal way and then came the the first three lockdowns we’ve experienced in London because of the pandemic. I started that period floating the idea of online performances and interviews to some artists. Some worked out and some didn’t. I interviewed Nad Sylvan (who is also known as lead singer in Steve Hackett’s band) about his trilogy of solo albums. There was an interview with Bob James and Hilary James which was going to be a stand alone interview but has now become part of a series. Then, there was a long essay about Bob Dylan’s “Tell-Tale Signs” box set.
Each of these was well-received and attracted a very healthy readership. And then my eyesight began to fade. And so everything was delayed until surgery brought about improvement in what was a complicated situation.
So, now this week I was able to interview Bob and Hilary for the second time. Appropriately, this time we concentrated on their Christmas Eyes album – just the right time of the year. At the beginning of the interview, there was a short discussion about my situation, which I’ve left in as a personal marker in the sand.
(This article is an expanded version of a review that I wrote when this album first came out. I was really unhappy about the way that the magazine, who commissioned me to do it, published it. They changed the title. They printed it in a way that removed paragraph breaks and they made editing changes to it without consultation. Needless to say, I stopped freelancing for them shortly afterwards. I revisited the article, originally just with the intention of restoring it to the way it was meant to be but then as I read it and listened to the music, I figured perhaps there was more to say. It concentrates on the spiritual and faith-based references in Mr Dylan’s lyrics but touches on other matters too.)
“Those old songs are my lexicon and prayer book. All my beliefs come out of those old songs, literally, anything from `Let Me Rest on that Peaceful Mountain’ to `Keep on the Sunny Side.’ You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. I believe in a God of time and space, but if people ask me about that, my impulse is to point them back toward those songs. I believe in Hank Williams singing `I Saw the Light.’ I’ve seen the light, too.”
This was Bob Dylan speaking in 1997 – a period which provides 11 songs on his 3-disc set “Tell Tale Signs” (10 out-takes from his “Time Out of Mind” set and 1 live recording).
(In the following conversation, NS denotes the comments of Nad Sylvan, and DH those of Darren Hirst)
DH: Thank you for making some time for me today in these strange circumstances. How is the weather with you?
NS: It’s very cold. It’s only like six degrees. it was up to 15 last week with sun, and you know, scattered clouds. But it’s pleasant enough. And we get to make a huge bonfire tonight because on this date every year it’s called Valborg. When we celebrate spring and we’ll all light a bonfire – the only day in the spring that we’re allowed to do that. I have a load of dead wood ready to go.
DH: Well, we’re in the middle of a thunderstorm at the moment in London, so if you hear any strange noises in the background that’s the explanation…
In March 2020. I was asked to put together an event at one of our local pubs. The Salutation in King Street, Hammersmith, London had been a little quieter than normal since the local Town Hall had closed for refurbishment and I was asked to put on a bill of varied artists in order to get new people over the threshold.
After a few phone calls and a little planning, we had six acts, across a broad range of styles: