Passion and Betrayal – Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs reassessed

(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).

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A Salute to the Salutation!

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:

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Does Bob Dylan have Christmas in his heart? – 4th time around

“When I was growing up, Billy Graham was very popular. He was the greatest preacher and evangelist of my time — that guy could save souls and did. I went to two or three of his rallies in the ’50s or ’60s. This guy was like rock ’n’ roll personified — volatile, explosive. He had the hair, the tone, the elocution — when he spoke, he brought the storm down. Clouds parted. Souls got saved, sometimes 30 or 40,000 of them. If you ever went to a Billy Graham rally back then, you were changed forever. There’s never been a preacher like him. He could fill football stadiums before anybody. He could fill Giants Stadium more than even the Giants football team. Seems like a long time ago. Long before Mick Jagger sang his first note or Bruce strapped on his first guitar — that’s some of the part of rock ’n’ roll that I retained. I had to. I saw Billy Graham in the flesh and heard him loud and clear.”

~Bob Dylan speaking to AARP magazine in 2015

BILL FLANAGAN: You really give a heroic performance of O’ LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM The way you do it reminds me a little of an Irish rebel song. There’s something almost defiant in the way you sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you sure deliver that song like a true believer.
BOB DYLAN: Well, I am a true believer.

~Bob Dylan speaking to Bill Flanagan about the “Christmas in the Heart” album. The album benefits homeless charities and this interview was published in the UK in the “Big Issue” magazine which helps unemployed and homeless people to rehabilitate.

In 2009, Bob Dylan released an album of traditional Christmas songs. Since then I’ve written about it on three occasions and I thought that I had nothing more to say on the subject but then I read a couple of comments that I didn’t really understand and it got me to ruminating on the album again.

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All form is formless, order orderless

What: King John by William Shakespeare

When: October 2019

Who: Royal Shakespeare Company

Where: The Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Three plays? No, just one.

Are you sure? Well, yes as much as I can be sure about anything to do with this production.

But whatever we say, we have to say that the production is an untidy mess.

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O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint, With saints dost bait thy hook!

What: Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company

When: July 2019

“The poetic atmosphere is one of religion and critical morality. The religious colouring is orthodox, as in Hamlet.”[1]

“There have, however, been others, notably in the last century, such unlikely yoke-fellows as Gervinus in Germany and Walter Pater in England who have seen the play neither as expressive of cynicism and disgust nor as filled with the spirit of the Gospels and yet believe it to be no ‘meaningless’ entertainment but serious and coherent exploration of certain moral issues. It is in support of this view that the following pages are written”.[2]

I have two touchstones, benchmarks if you will, when it comes to Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and the above quotations are examples of their understanding of the play and the differences between those understandings. Gregory Doran’s production of the play in Stratford-Upon-Avon may have become a third.

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I Never Thought it Possible or Likely…

What: The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

When: 19th March 2019

The Royal Shakespeare Company when announcing their 2019 season said that they were going to show the relevance of Shakespeare’s writings to the modern era. There is no question that they have attempted this – although they could be accused of majoring only on one contemporary issue.

Like a percussionist surrounded by many instruments but beating on only one drum, they have taken up only the issue of gender. This meant that in the seldom-performed “Timon of Athens”, they left us wondering what the value of the change of gender was – although it did give some opportunity for strong female character actors in the principal roles. Very few of the audience would know the original play well enough to appreciate the difference that making all the lead characters female had made. Then there was As You Like It where the gender swaps caused a complete meltdown in the second half of the play as an already complex plot became just too untidy.

But with The Taming of the Shrew, by George, I believe they may have added in something worthwhile.

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We are not alone unhappy: This Wide and Universal Theatre…

What: As You Like It by William Shakespeare

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company

When: 21st February 2019

Kimberly Sykes’ direction of the current Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of “As You Like It” has many strengths but there are some self-created weaknesses which it seems to me have little to do with the writing of the Bard of Avon. The peculiar things is that they are similar flaws to those present in other recent productions by the RSC and those were handled by other directors. I hate to be repeating myself but… What is going on here?

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We stand much hazard, if they bring not Timon.

What: Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare

Where: The Swan Theatre @ The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Waterside, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

When: 13th December 2018

It has been a strange year for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). It just got stranger. Their take on – should I say adaptation of Timon of Athens – is an unusual one. And that is to say something quite remarkable because this play is seldom performed.

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Well, I say Troilus is Troilus,… this is… Cressida, this is not Cressida

What: Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon, England

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

When: 18th October 2018

As always, in recent years, I have titled my assessment of an RSC production with a quote or two from the play itself, but I must admit, even to myself, that this title is a little hard to understand and consequently it won’t help you to get to the heart of what I’m trying to say in this review unless I break it down a little.

To explain I must digress a little…

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Wives may be merry and yet honest too

What: The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST), Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

When: 14th August 2018

This new production of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor is quite perplexing in places but I found it a whole lot more enjoyable than their current Romeo and Juliet. And I think audiences in general will concur.

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