Bob Dylan gets a doing at Celtic Connections

Before the culmination of last night's show, Roddy Hart told the crowd of how he was winging it last summer when first broaching the idea of having a 70th birthday tribute night to Bob Dylan as part of Celtic Connections. Apparently he imagined that it might become a night at a smaller venue such as King Tut's, rather than a sold-out show at the Royal Concert Hall featuring a variety of coveted special guests.

Perhaps it might have been best had the show actually taken place down the road at Tut's, however, more steeped as it is in chaos and the cavalier spirit of grimy rock 'n' roll. For someone who had pushed at the boundaries and also at buttons as much as Dylan once did, the relativity safety of last night's setting  everything so very tightly regimented  seemed something of an antithesis to the spirit of what made the artist in question quite as revered as he seems to be.

That's not to say that Forever Young wasn't a slick, extremely well put together show (as you might have expected, since it was introduced by the legendary "Whispering" Bob Harris), with most of the star singers exhibiting enough talent to merit compulsory attendance at their next shows. As house band for the evening, Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire functioned superbly, providing ample backing to the various singers while also excelling whenever they had the chance to take centre stage.

Unfortunately Dylan himself wasn't there apart from in spirit. Hey, it might have been nice had he been there via Skype on a projected screen  tutting audibly in between numbers and repeatedly enquiring off-topic about whether the creamed corn has arrived yet – but that wasn't to be. As it was, it seemed a bit odd that there wasn’t a recipient for such a well arranged tribute (unless you counted the audience who responded quite enthusiastically, especially towards the end).

What, you may ask, about stand-outs? Rab Noakes, less familiar to a younger generation,  in particular shined with his solo rendition of Mississippi, which showcased his own finger-picking skills and that of its songwriter’s lyrical self-reflection. As it was, each of the featured singers had at least a couple of songs to make their presence felt, and even with only a day’s proper rehearsal they delivered highlights galore for Dylan devotees. Tim O’Brien illustrated why Maggie’s Farm functions effectively as a “traditional bluegrass song”, enchanting Irish indie-pop songstress Gemma Hayes was effervescent as ever when she delivered The Times They Are a-Changin' , and Orkney’s Kris Drever weeded out the night's folk roots with A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall .

Oxford’s Thea Gilmore on the other hand had apparently been told that “amateurs imitate, professionals steal”, and joking that Dylan is “a true professional” she sensually illustrated the point through singing I Pity the Poor Immigrant. In doing so she showed how heavily it has borrowed from Tramps and Hawkers, in the process helping emphasise Dylan’s Scottish connection.

Nell Bryden brought out quite a bit of country soul with the lyrically murky Just Like A Woman. Nashville’s own Laura Cantrell soon after went one better in that respect with a nicely rendered I Threw It All Away, before local Love and Money frontman James Grant along with Bryden brought some gusto to proceedings with All Along the Watchtower (though it could never quite match Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation).

Meanwhile Josh Rouse took The Man in Me off in an Americana direction, Tommy Reilly suffered in comparison to the rest with an undercooked It Ain't Me, Babe, and – as final star guest – Roseanne Cash imbued her trio of interpretations with an extra emotive edge by including Girl from the North Country (a song her father Johnny Cash had recorded as a duet with Dylan in 1969).

Goodness, does that all sound exhausting to you? Well then, that wasn't even the half of it… It might have been called Forever Young, but after more than three hours of Dylan's songs things sure got old fast. By the end, when all contributors gathered for the usual mass ensemble singalong – in this case to Like a Rolling Stone – it was as though time had stood still on a cold winter’s night in Glasgow. What a marvellous thing that must have been for fans of the great man, but for those who weren’t previously so sure, and who were waiting with anticipation to be converted, it was a different matter entirely. 

Why indeed, even anyone with an ocean of patience to spare who weren't fans would have been feeling the Subterranean Homesick Blues well before the end. And, most oddly enough, they might have been the ones – rather than the easily pleased acolytes out in force – who were best placed to recall how much more exciting it was when Dylan was in a position to shake up the establishment, instead of being embraced as a part of it.

 

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