16 great tracks, featuring Eddie Cochran, Bo Diddley, Link Wray, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and more
Last July, Bob Dylan headlined the Hop Farm festival on the hottest day of the year with perhaps his best UK performance since the great Wembley Arena shows of October 2000.
A little shy of 12 months later, and a few weeks after celebrating his 70th birthday, Dylan played the inaugural Feis festival in London's Finsbury Park on a day of relentless rain. When it wasn't merely drizzling, it was pouring. Nevertheless, the miserable downpour failed to dampen spirits soon being typically lifted by The Gaslight Anthem's set of by now well-worn festival favourites, mostly drawn from The '59 Sound and American Slang. By the end, even people who'd never heard them before were singing along as if they'd been listening to these songs for just about forever, if not a little longer.
With The Cranberries due next on the main stage, it seemed opportune to check out what was happening elsewhere. This involved an arduous trek across the mud to a far corner, where Shane MacGowan was playing in a tent that turned out to be too packed to get into. What I could hear from the back of a noisy throng sounded like a happy shambles, with Shane barely decipherable above a din the crowd inside the tent clearly couldn't get enough of. Shane's bedraggled, toothless appearance seemed to put the wind up a few of the photographers I spoke to who were astonished he'd made it through his set without falling over, but he remains uncommonly loved.
It's 9.15 when Dylan punctually appears, dapper and keen to get on with things, which he does with a sprightly Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking. The wind whips up almost simultaneously, picking up the sound and scattering it somewhere over Lewisham, where you could probably hear what he was playing more clearly than you could in north London. What follows is perhaps the most straightforward and in its way easy-going Dylan performance I've seen in years, most of the songs he plays are re-arranged in all sorts of ways from their original incarnations, but never as capriciously as he has often been wont to re-imagine them. For the most part, they are cast even It's All Over Now, Baby Blue, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Blowin' In The Wind and a great Tangled Up In Blue in the roadhouse blues style of Together Through Life. In other words, the show is funky, groovy and relaxed enough in places to seem low-key, even self-effacing. It's a performance that makes the rigours of the day more than worth putting up with.