Saturday, 29 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: The Bob Dylan Story - The Epstein Theatre, Liverpool.


As a huge Bob Dylan fan I was looking forward to a night of folk/blues/rock musical entertainment and Dylan nostalgia. The theatre publicity stated “UK's most authentic Bob Dylan tribute act”, with other reviewers claiming him to be as close to the real thing as it is possible to get. However, Bill Lennon, performing as Bob Dylan is an accomplished singer, guitarist and harmonica player but his portrayal of Bob Dylan was, for me, at times a parody.

The show started with the usual screen backdrop (favoured by most tribute shows these days), showing visual projections of evocative videos and stills from the USA during the 1960s - Martin Luther King, the protest marches of the civil rights movement from August 1963 and newspaper headlines of events from the period plus of course pictures of Dylan during his younger days. Dylan has written more than 500 songs and this show featured those he’d written from the start of his popularity through to those performed at the Isle of White Festival of 1969.

Lennon took to the stage singing 'The Times They Are A-Changing', followed by the Dylan song which Peter, Paul and Mary took to the number one spot in 1963, 'Blowing In The Wind' and then 'Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright'. He tried hard to emulate Dylan’s voice but for me, he failed. To me it was very strained and sounded more like a rendition by members of The Wurzels, the group who sang the 1976 novelty song, 'Combine Harvester'.

The folk rock song, 'Mr Tambourine Man', the number one hit by The Byrds (a personal favourite of mine from my youth which I have recently learned to play on the guitar), preceded the story of 'Tangled Up In Blue'. Lennon gave us a short selective summary of the history attached to each song and an insight into Dylan’s personal life prior to singing each number. 'All Along The Watchtower' was performed after explaining that it was a Jimi Hendrix hit and 'I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight' and 'Just Like A Woman' were accompanied with pics on the screen of Joan Baez, Dylan’s girlfriend at the time.

'I Want You' and 'Hurricane' quickly followed with the first half finishing with the haunting ballad, 'Knocking On Heaven’s Door'. This was complemented with pics on the screen of all the rock icons who are now deceased such as John Lennon, George Harrison, Prince, George Michael, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, and Hank Williams.

Lennon’s enthusiasm for the music of Bob Dylan and his skills as an entertainer cannot be denied and the success of the production rested heavily on him. The backing group were just that - a backing group - devoid of enthusiasm or personalities, except maybe for the keyboard player, Tom Bayliss. This is not to say they were not accomplished musicians in their own right but they didn’t interact with Lennon a great deal nor add greatly to the overall performance. Leigh Chambers played guitar, Phil Marriott was on drums and Al Parker played bass guitar.

The second half started with 'Maggie’s Farm', followed by one of my personal favourites 'Highway 61' and then the song which was a 1968 hit for Manfred Mann, 'The Mighty Quinn'. During this song Lennon encouraged the audience to clap and join in. 'Lay Lady Lay' followed and by the time he sang 'Everybody Must Get Stoned' I was beginning to wish I was! It was a pleasant relief when footage of Dylan himself singing 'I Was So Much Older Then' appeared on the screen which I sang along to. This short hiatus gave Lennon the time to go off stage to change. He appeared back on wearing a Dylanesque wig, sunglasses and replicas of the clothing worn by Dylan during his 1966 appearances. This unfortunately did not appeal to me at all in fact I was beginning to squirm in my seat.

His rendition of the beautiful, 'Visions Of Joanna' was pleasing as was 'Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat' but still not up to the great man’s standard. 'Positively 4th Street' and 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' (accompanied with video of Dylan with the handwritten placards) were greeted well and enjoyed by the audience which was indicative of the era, i.e. consisting mainly of the 60 year old plus generation. The performance finished with the poignant ballad Dylan wrote for his children, 'Forever Young'.

With an encore of 'Like A Rolling Stone' from the Highway 61 Revisited album and Dylan’s performance at the 1969 folk festival, Lennon and the band exited to appreciative clapping and cheering from the audience. Perhaps because I am such an enormous fan of the legend which is Bob Dylan, I am not content with a tribute of him and only the real thing will do for me!

Reviewer - Anne Pritchard
on - 28/6/19

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