Four extracts from When Dylan Sank the Isle of Wight (originally 69ers)
Matt White was a big man with a respectable mane of hair, wearing an unironed shirt and trousers without flares. Unlike his brother Frank, he was a reliable worker, easygoing, not so fond of the bottle. He and Frank had their own business, mainly house wiring, but Matt was happy to work for the bigger contractors when the jobs came along. Croker paid ok and took all the flak if anything went wrong, which suited Matt fine.
It didn’t bother Matt too much when Scott was introduced as his new help. He was obviously wet behind the ears with less nous than a louse, but Matt was a patient man, pleased to have some new company and a second pair of hands to help hump the coils of cable. They spent an easy enough morning rigging catenaries across the toilet tents, then repaired to Croker’s caravan for a cup of tea. There, without the fluorescents and the cable clips between them, there was no obvious common ground, and an embarrassed silence ensued.
“Did you know Bob Dylan was an electrician?” Scott eventually asked.
“Bob Dylan?” replied Matt. “Who’s he?”
It was not a promising start to the conversation.
“You know” explained Scott. “Bob Dylan, who’s headlining the festival”
Matt looked confused. “He’s working with us?” he asked.
“No, no” replied Scott. “He used to work as an electrician. And his dad sold fridges”
Matt nodded. “Croker’s got a fridge shop up on Swanmore Road” he remarked.
There was another silence.
“Have you really never heard of Bob Dylan?” asked Scott.
“What does he sing?” asked Matt.
“Blowing in the Wind” replied Scott.
“I’ve got you” replied Matt. “The protest singer”
“He’s not just a protest singer” protested Scott.
Matt nodded. “Little yiddish feller” he said.
Scott’s discomfort grew. “He is Jewish” he confirmed, ignoring the unsound epithet. “He doesn’t practice though”
“Maybe that’s why he sings so bad” replied Matt, taking a sip of tea.
Scott smiled, but only to be sociable. The situation was now sufficiently awkward for Scott to be planning exit routes, but it was about to get worse.
“Showbusiness is full of yids” commented Matt.
Scott wondered if he was being deliberately tested, in the way that racialists sometimes would – or did Matt live in a world where this kind of talk was considered perfectly normal? The Isle of Wight was a bit of a backwater, after all.
“I wouldn’t call what Dylan does ‘showbusiness’” Scott eventually replied.
“It’s all showbusiness” said Matt.
“Not like Sunday Night at the London Palladium” replied Scott.
Matt gestured around at the half-built arena. “This is a show, isn’t it?” he commented.
Scott viewed the lighting tower, the piles of PA speakers being assembled on the stage, and was lost for an answer.
“We always call it a show” continued Matt. “Ryde Town Hall. . .Island Industries Fair. . .”
“I’ve been to that” blurted Scott, thankful at last to find some common ground.
“Bob Dylan” muttered Matt, for no obvious reason, cutting off Scott’s new line of approach and initiating another awkward silence.
“He’s got a new album out” said Scott, eventually.
“Album?” queried Matt.
“LP” explained Scott.
“Oh, right” replied Matt. “Good, is it?”
“Not his best” said Scott.
“You don’t think so?” asked Matt, without curiosity.
“It’s country and western” replied Scott. “A bit of a departure for Dylan”
Matt nodded, took several sips of his tea, then casually lifted a pair of wire cutters. Between the blades was a neat round hole. “Look at that” he said. “Went through a live one yesterday”
Scott winced inwardly. Matt lowered the cutters and took several more sips of his tea. “I wouldn’t say it was a departure” he commented.
“Sorry?” replied Scott.
“Everyone thinks Dylan got everything from Woody Guthrie” said Matt. “But there’s a lot of Hank Williams in there too”
Scott’s family had not yet graduated to central heating and he was well versed in the art of firemaking: the balls of paper at the base, the criss-cross of thin tinder, yesterday’s half-burnt coals, or in the case of the outdoor bonfire, the driest branches at hand. His expertise soon impressed the Alleynians, and as the fire crackled into life all three stood hypnotised by its prehistoric magic, talking easily. Yes, Nights in White Satin was unquestionably the highlight of the evening. No, it wasn’t mawkish exactly, just sad and wistful and aching with love. Yes, Justin Hayward was very charismatic, and if you were homosexual, which neither Toby, Clem nor Scott were, you might well find him irresistible.
Joe had approached from his bunker, well-prepared for the weather in his sheepskin and knee-high boots.
“We’re going to toast some crumpets when the flames die down” announced Scott.
“Crumpets?” repeated Joe.
“Yeah, crumpets” replied Scott, who had taken a few tokes on Clem’s joint and was not fully up to speed with the Atlantic cultural divide.
“Are they something you have with Marmite?” enquired Joe.
“Yes, I’ve got some Marmite actually” enthused Scott.
“I’d like to try that” replied Joe.
Scott brimmed with satisfaction, proud again to be English, land of crumpets, Marmite and the Moody Blues. “Did you have bonfires at Woodstock?” he asked.
“Hell no” replied Joe. “Too much rain”
“It’s not raining here” observed Scott, fatuously, as if lack of rain was a general characteristic of the British Isles.
“No, we’ve been kinda lucky” replied Joe. “Let’s hope it holds off for Dylan”
“I thought Dylan had the power to stop it” quipped Scott, immediately realising what a stupid thing he had said, product of the night’s euphoria and THC.
Joe, nevertheless, laughed. “Maybe!” he replied, then slapped Scott on the back and ambled off to greet a friend, leaving Scott eager as a puppy to make his next international contact.
He did not have to wait long. Javier had arrived, greeted with a self-consciously continental embrace by Toby. Sporting a floppy hat with a feather, a Davy Crockett jacket and a blousy scarlet shirt, Javier was extrovert to a fault, and his bright eyes and keen white teeth glinted in the firelight. On his back was a guitar and in his sights was Scott, introduced by Toby as a fellow musician. “We jam together?” he asked.
“I suppose so” replied Scott.
Javier swung the guitar from his back and held it out towards Scott, indicating with a nod and eager grin that it was his for the taking.
“In a bit maybe” said Scott.
Javier offered the guitar a little closer, his nods and grins becoming more urgent.
Scott took the guitar.
“Play something” said Javier.
Scott’s inhibitions returned with a vengeance. He was a competent though limited guitarist, but his aim had been to meld with the other instrumentalists once the night was worn down, not produce a solo party piece from cold.
Scott laboriously strummed the chords to In The Year 2525, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the fretboard. He did not need sight, however, to sense the attention focussing on him, driving all confidence from his fingers and all alternatives from his mind. In the Year 2525 was built on the repetition of four descending chords, and the more self-conscious Scott became, the more unable he was to break free from that musical prison.
Suddenly Scott’s turgid strumming was interrupted a short complementary trill. Javier had found a second guitar and was initiating a conversation in the universal language of music, his eyes fixed on Scott’s with unnerving resolution. Scott flashed a nervous smile and ploughed on with his descending chords, while Javier inserted merry little bursts, clearly intended to energise the situation.
The soft patter of bongos broke out. Scott felt duty bound to give his chords a little more emphasis, to which Javier responded by yet more animated replies. There were a couple of whoops from the assembled group, at which Scott began to attempt some choppy staccato, greeted with eager nods of approval from Javier and a burst of lead guitar.
At this point a paralysing thought struck Scott. This jamming business, this escalating call and response, was exactly like making love, or at least the kind of heavy petting he had enjoyed with Maxine Ashe. He had been entirely alone with Maxine, however, not watched, egged on and applauded by a crowd of strangers. Ackermann’s wanking club paled by comparison.
Scott’s eyes refixed themselves onto the fretboard. It was imperative he did not respond to Javier’s courtship in any way. The chords had to be played guardsman straight.
Frustrated by this sudden loss of empathy, Javier hammered out increasingly desperate phrases, while attempting to bring his face into Scott’s sightline, no matter what contortion this involved. Scott’s response to this was to play the chords with even less enthusiasm and virtually no volume.
Javier, eminently sensitive to his musical partner’s moods, softened his own contributions to fluttery arpeggios.
Scott played even quieter. Javier’s licks became as gentle as the sea caressing the shore.
Hell, thought Scott. This is even more like making love.
The arrival of Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon was certainly epochal, but that happened on television, in grainy black and white, whereas the Who were coming in full colour, up close and personal, and their arrival would be followed by something a lot more exciting than a few slow-motion bounces.
No-one anticipated that impending appearance more keenly than Maurice. More than once he checked the integrity of the plywood H, conferring with none other than Bill Foulk, long-haired sibling of Ron and Ray and according to Maurice the one guy who really knew his stuff about the progressive music scene, not that he seemed that keen to impart much knowledge to Maurice. There was a palpable anxiety amongst the waiting throng, such had been the brinksmanship exercised by Kit Lambert, the Who’s whizz-kid manager, so that the moment a flying speck appeared on the horizon was one of high drama, a drama intensified as the red copter came close enough for the words TRACK RECORDS to be read on its side. Here was an image to daunt the afficianandos of the folk movement: an alternative new world of blatant self-aggrandisement, the aggressive, tech-savvy, whirling force of the go-it-alone independent label come to blast the stuffed shirts out of the record business. Down it squatted, like a capitalist arse onto the face of the festival, its downwind fearsome, till the plywood H began to shake, then suddenly disintegrate, fence panels flying upwards like blown litter. Maurice’s face turned ashen as wood smashed into the rotor blade, staggering the copter and threatening to turn the world’s loudest band into a flaming fireball. Somehow the pilot got the monster down safely, but it was a scowling Daltrey who climbed out amongst the circle of onlookers, followed by an equally glowering Moon, Townshend and Entwistle.
Maurice Moss silently slid his autograph book back into his pocket.
“Good one, Maurice” said Scott.
“Shut up, Rayner” hissed Maurice. The downforce of the helicopter had swept his hair back into an impromptu short-and-sides, and suddenly he was once more that short-trousered firstie with his hands jammed into his pockets to protect his crotch from that ancient tradition known as knackering.
Finally, a short extract for all the Saints fans out there: Scott struggling with the festival toilets.
There was only one answer. Scott had to distance himself from the situation, stop thinking about the leavings below him and the guys next door. Think of the Saints. What a season it had been. . .seventh in the first division. . .highest in the club’s history. . .Ted Bates, WHAT a servant. . .Terry Paine UP the right wing, should still be playing for England. . .John McGrath, NO-ONE got past him and lived. . .Mick Channon, WHAT a prospect, who said Chivers couldn’t be replaced?. . .Ron Davies, BEST centre forward in Europe. . .FOUR goals against Man U, all made by Sydenham. . .JOHN Sydenham, fastest wing in history. . .those amazing runs. . .go on, John! GO ON! Up the touchline! Ball’s COMING . . .Ball’s COMING. . .RON’S HEAD will do the rest!
And just to show the quality of my research, here are those Davies goals!