Andy Kershaw: The Significance Of The 1966 Heckling Of Bob Dylan





In the autumn of 1978, I arrived at Leeds University, already over- qualified in Dylanology. Another Bobsessive, I soon discovered, was living close by in our Headingley student ghetto, and he supplemented his grant by dealing Dylan bootlegs. One night he sold me a copy of an album that, according to the crudely stamped label, was a recording of Bob Dylan and The Hawks (later The Band) at the Royal Albert Hall on their notorious UK tour in May 1966. It was on these dates that Bob first appeared in Britain with an electric band. (His tour the previous spring, immortalised in the film Don't Look Back, was still solo Dylan, in protest mode, with just an acoustic guitar.)

The 1966 bootleg was not only of first-rate sound quality; it was also the most dramatic, confrontational concert I'd ever heard " and I was a regular at Clash gigs at the time. It remains, for me, the most exciting live album of all. Dylan, on that tour, split his audiences straight down the middle. Many were thrilled by his new psychedelic songs and the massive onslaught of The Hawks roaring through the biggest PA system that had, at that point, been assembled in the UK. It had flown in with the band from Los Angeles.

But many others in those staid, municipal concert halls were outraged and betrayed by their darling acoustic minstrel plugging into the mains. (It was, though no one realised it at the time, the birth of rock music as opposed to pop music). No matter that Dylan had released five electric singles " notably, 'Like a Rolling Stone' " and one electric album in the previous 12 months: British audiences were still getting up to speed on his earlier records and they wanted back the Woody Guthrie protege they'd seen in 1965.

This tension between artist and audience snapped in an almighty confrontation on the bootleg. Slow hand-clapping and jeering throughout Dylan's electric half of the show " which was later properly identified as his concert at Manchester's Free Trade Hall on 17 May 1966 and finally given official release by Columbia Records in 1998 " climaxes with one betrayed folkie letting fly with a long yell of 'Judas!' It became the most famous heckle in rock'n'roll history.

Dylan is rattled, and for an awkward second the audience is stunned " until a yelp of solidarity with the heckler goes up. It is still a genuinely shocking moment. (Concert-goers in those days were routinely reverential. They still stood for the national anthem at the end). Dylan eventually composes himself and leers: 'I don't believe you. You're a liar!' And then, off mic: 'You fucking liar!' (some claim he said: 'Play fucking loud!') before he and the band kick into the most majestic, terrifying version of 'Like a Rolling Stone', their final number " a performance of Gothic immensity surely drawn from Dylan by his anger at that single shout.

The concert, like many on the tour, was filmed by DA Pennebaker (who had also made Don't Look Back). Against Pennebaker's better judgement, he let Dylan himself edit the rushes into the film Eat the Document, which was never given proper release and is, even for Dylan obsessives, incoherent and unwatchable.

Now Pennebaker's original footage from 1966 has been re-edited by Martin Scorsese and forms part of the Scorsese/ BBC2 Arena co-production Bob Dylan " No Direction Home, to be screened next week. The thrilling news for those of us who consider Dylan in 1966 to have been at his most enigmatic and creative is that film of the Judas incident in Manchester has been found and will be seen for the first time in the Scorsese documentary.

[Editor's Note: Please go to The Independent's website for the much longer, full story.]

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rich feinberg - 9/28/2005

I wish they'd stop claiming he said "play fucking loud". It makes so much more sense that he would follow up "You're a liiiiarrr!" with "Yerra fuckin' liar!" That's what I've always heard. Now we have the film version to check out, though he seems to turn his head away at the key moment. I'll have to slow down my video and see if it sheds any light. Wonder if Dylan even remembers?