50 years since Dylan played Manchester Free Trade Hall

In Uncategorized on May 16, 2016 by kmflett


50 years since Dylan played Manchester Free Trade Hall, May 17th 1966

It is 50 years since Bob Dylan’s ‘electric’ concert at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The building is now a Radisson hotel which you can admire from the glass fronted window of the Brewdog bar opposite.

The concert has come to be seen as a key moment in 1960s popular music when the acoustic music of folk and protest music reached across to what was to become the hugely more popular medium of the electric guitar and bass, and of course amplification (as in Dylan’s reported injunction to the Band to play it f**ing loud)

As the late Mike Marqusee argued in his book on Dylan Wicked Messenger, the protests by Pete Seeger and those involved with the Newport folk festival, of which Dylan had been a feature were not simply those of old fuddy-duddys who disliked electronic guitars and organs.

Their argument was that the folk festival and the unity amongst black and white that it had achieved was a really significant thing in terms of 1960s America. Electronic Dylan was the music of commercialism, of the charts and big money and it risked undermining what had been achieved.

Dylan’s view it seems was that in reality while Newport was fighting against the reactionary nature of US society, it too in terms of the cultural forms it supported had become conservative. For Dylan the really radical thing, in terms of musical form, was to move on to the terrain of electric music.

Marqusee suggests that later Dylan felt that the Newport organisers had more of a point than he had allowed for at the time and that he by contrast had overestimated the radical impact of going electric.

After Newport the heckling of Dylan on his subsequent British tour was at least in part the work of socialists and Communist Party members who were able to promote some organised walk-outs of concerts when the acoustic folk music turned to electric instruments.

At the time this form of protest was largely seen as backward and somewhat reactionary. It seemed to be trying to argue against the youth culture of the 1960s and the alternative and radical politics that often went with it.

Yet 50 years on as we survey a mass market music industry, itself now challenged by developments in downloading music via the internet, it seems more and more likely that the protesters had a point.

Like A Rolling Stone, perhaps the key song of the early electric Dylan, which had been released in 1965 was and remains a great song but the direction it led in was not always so happy. Bob Dylan’s recent records, focusing more and more on the traditional US folk songs which represent where he started out in the early 1960s underline the point.

In terms of the ‘Judas’ comment made via a heckle at the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert in 1966 the political context of Dylan’s move to electricity has some importance.

Dylan’s electric turn remains a key moment in the history of popular music post-1945. However 50 years on we should at least be able to understand what those who didn’t agree were on about and allow that they may well have had a point.




One Response to “50 years since Dylan played Manchester Free Trade Hall”

  1. […] during The Ceremony, Bob’s 1966 audience banter popped into my head: the bit just after the “Judas!” heckle at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.  Not the part where he drawls, “I don’t believe you…you’re a […]

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