It was the lunch break of a one-day Guardian Masterclass (one of the cheaper ones). On an upper floor of the glass and metal Kings Place building, the new home of the Guardian, I wandered past tables with my plate of lasagne looking for an empty seat. Most tables were taken but I found a place with only one occupant, and sat down opposite a cool looking dude, who had nearly finished his meal. We fell into a discussion of our books, mine A Sense of Occasion and Beyond the Beehive, his Bob Dylan Dream – and discovered a clutch of similarities. We were each writing about our adolescence in the 60s. We’d both grown up on council estates and had listened endlessly to music. Not only that but he was writing about Bob Dylan and I had been to see Bob Dylan at the Albert Hall in 1966! I have to say that I went with the school and at that point I wasn’t entirely sure who Bob Dylan was, although I knew he was important and big and there was a spare seat on the coach. Roy was a serious Bob fan, an aficionado. He lived Bob Dylan. And he knew how it all fitted together, the music, the culture, the radio stations, in that wonderful, tumultuous, explosive period for youth in the mid-60s.
Bob Dylan Dream is now out. It is the story of growing up in the 60s, as a fan of Bob Dylan. But not just Bob Dylan, he knows about all the music of that time. In this fragment Roy talks about listening to Dionne Warwick.
Whatever their individual qualities, Sandie and Cilla were always in the shadow of Dionne, who was extraordinary from the beginning, and she was very young at the beginning. Even now a radio can deliver you an early hit while you are thinking of maybe pouring a cup of tea, or dropping a plate into a washing up bowl, and catch you up completely.
‘Don’t Make Me Over makes itself known and you are thrilled, uplifted, surprised by the open emotion, the simple clarity, the swift uprush into yearning and power when she sings the words that on the page seem unassuming:
Accept me for what I am,
Accept me for the things that I do
but in the air, in her upper register, they soar and shimmer with pain. They also link the subject not only with a romantic dilemma but a racial one. It’s fantastic grown-up songwriting and arranging, and was part of the Sixties like the Beatles, The Stones and Bob Dylan.
All of it was coming at us every day, all of those groups, bands, singers on a treadmill to put out records. And we were there to hear them as they happened. This is one of the main factors in the teenage identification of a music as its own. It doesn’t come from a time before you were around. It didn’t exist in the background for you to suddenly notice. It comes into existence and into your life while you’re paying attention, and it makes a difference, and you feel it belongs to you because it says something about you. 1965 and the Byrds making Bob Dylan into rock, or was it pop; and Bob Dylan making his break from old people’s expectation with Like A Rolling Stone, plus his follow up and most poppy rock record yet, and ever, with Positively 4th St: the sound of his voice where youth and age intertwine like strips around a barber’s pole; the touch and go coherence of the ensemble, with the instruments almost not fitting together while the tune stays endlessly beguiling; then the final put down with its blend of street language and fairy tale, lives and shoes swapped, a familiar unexamined phrase becoming an image from a film.
All of this greatness on the radio and in the air and in your dreams, no, not your dreams, the atmosphere in your everyday waking thoughts, the place where thoughts are the land where daydreams exist. Yet the biggest selling records of the year were by the most definitely non-teenage Ken Dodd and the Seekers. How could that be so and yet all still seemed perfect in a perfect world? Could 1966 keep up these exalted standards?
This is a book for anyone who remembers the 60s, who loves Bob Dylan, or who simply wants to know what it really felt like. You can buy Bob Dylan Dream here.