The Searches are Over

Ah, the miracle of the Internet. This modern marvel has expanded my contacts with people, information, and a myriad of other things. To those Luddites who eschew this technology, all I can is, “If you don’t like it, stay away from it, but leave it alone for me.”

Besides the obvious benefits of easy and instant research, conduct of business, a plethora of shopping and purchasing options, and so much more, it also has been able to indulge me in the pursuit of many of my hobbies and crucial areas of interest. None more so than my lifelong obsession with music.

Just this week I was able to put closure to two of my long term searches for the Holy Grail of Bob Dylan music. One of these searches dates back to 1962 and the other one to 1969.

In 1962 Dylan was invited by the BBC to participate in a live broadcast of an original play, “Madhouse on Castle Street.” In the play, Dylan acted as a sort of traveling troubadour, walking in and out of scenes, playing acoustic guitar and singing. The two songs that were performed in this one-time broadcast were his original composition, “Blowing in the Wind”, and a traditional English folk ballad which Dylan rewrote in large part, “The Ballad of the Gliding Swan.”

To those lucky enough to see the original play, it was instantly apparent that these performances were seminal in the oeuvre of the budding musical and culture icon, Bob Dylan. Dylanologists ever since have sought out the so far undiscovered complete performance of “The Ballad of the Gliding Swan,” never performed before or since by Dylan, and often thought of as his best officially unreleased performance.

The BBC, as was their normal practice at the time, recorded over the tape of the show. Recording tape was still, at that time, an expensive commodity, and there was little or no thought of archiving such broadcasts for any sort of permanency. Since 1962, the only recording of this song to surface was a 47 second snippet recorded by a viewer who placed a microphone near his television set speaker. This recording has been the sole stimulus for wishful thinking among Dylan fans ever since, hoping that a superior and complete version would one day come to light. I have even written an as yet unpublished novel based on the premise that such a version turns up, setting off a chain of deadly events over the ultimate ownership of these tapes.

Well, returning to the observation about the miracle of the internet, an improved version has turned up. Not a complete version, but a longer and much superior sound quality version. This one is fifty nine seconds long, has no noticeable or distressing surface noise, and much more dynamic range. I was able to download it from an archive site which has posted it, and while it took forty six years to track down, it was worth the wait. Now if only a complete version would surface. Not only would that satisfy my, and other Dylan fans’ interest, but would lend some credibility to my novel.

The other touchstone of Dylan’s career that came my way this week is an audience recording of his Isle of Wight concert in 1969. While Woodstock played out in upstate New York, near Dylan’s home in that hamlet on August 15, 16, and 17 of that year, Dylan traveled to the Isle of Wight off the English coast, to perform on August 31. This was his first appearance in public in over three years, having spent those years in recovery from a motorcycle accident, and re-prioritizing his life and career. While the performers at Woodstock rocked the world, Dylan played a set of quieter, more introspective tunes in a style far removed from that of his contemporaries at the more famous festival.

Like many others of my generation, I was fascinated by the stories emanating from Woodstock on that weekend. That singular event has even lent its name to my generation, the Woodstock Generation. Yet, two weeks later when I heard some vague mentions about Dylan performing at the Isle of Wight, I was quickly more interested in that event and the importance that it held. While never achieving the fame of the Woodstock Festival, the Isle of Wight Festival has fascinated me even more than its more famous counterpart. Largely due to the Dylan connection, but also due to the less commercialized, more laid back nature of the event when compared to Woodstock. Dylan was backed by his old pals and touring band, The Band for much of the seventeen song set, and they were as good as they had ever been.

Also among those performing at the festival, were The Who, The Moody Blues, Pentangle, and Tom Paxton. In attendance in the audience was Eric Clapton, some members of the Rolling Stones, and The Beatles.

Dylan’s performance met with mixed reviews. Some members of the audience were put off by his mellower vocals and overall performance, wanting the old fire from his 1966 concerts. Some, including Eric Clapton, were motivated in new musical directions from his laid back performance, seeing in it the opening salvo in a new era of music wherein introspection and mellowness would win the day.

Regardless of the disparities of opinion, Dylanophiles either moved heaven and earth to get copies of audience recordings over the years, or salivated at the thought of ever finding such recordings. I have, for 39 years, been in the latter group. This morning my search ended. From a website in Singapore I found, and was able to download, the complete concert. The sound quality is good for an audience recording, but not anywhere near studio or even mixer board quality.

I used a sound editing program and removed much surface noise, increased volume levels, and removed a lot of the ambient tape hiss. It’s not perfect, but it is of such great historical significance, to the music world, and to me, that I’m more than satisfied with the end product that I’ve now burned to CD.

Thank you to all of those who made these recordings possible, both from their inceptions, and from the archiving, and ultimate sharing with those to whom these performances are significant.