Friday, 20 May 2016

Fifty Years On

Last Tuesday evening was the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s concert at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester (now a Radisson Hotel). The event is remembered particularly for the fact that someone in the audience shouted “Judas!” as Bob came on stage with his electric guitar and supporting rock-band. I wasn’t there – although I was at one of the London dates on that tour and remember well the controversy over whether this represented a sell-out from ‘folk’ to ‘pop’. Mancunians who were there, however, organised a commemorative concert on Tuesday at which the original play-list was performed and the audience was encouraged to shout in unison at the precise Judas moment. This, I presume, was meant to be ironic, although I can’t be sure because, again, I wasn’t there.

It seems to me now, after fifty years of listening to music, strange that anyone should express outrage over musicians choosing to progress from one genre to another or trying out different instruments, styles and techniques to express themselves. Genre-purists are misguided if they think there was ever a time when their preferred musical style had not been influenced by what went before it. They may, if they wish, keep digging for fools’ gold but their time – and money – would be better spent on a ticket to see the film Miles Ahead, looking out especially for the line in which Miles Davis says “jazz is just a made-up word, man”.

The benefits of cultural cross-fertilisation are difficult to quantify (although one wit asserts that “a change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points”)* but they certainly apply to more than just music. In the fields of cultural endeavour, while it is good to identify and preserve the most refined products of any established genre, the opportunities to adopt or adapt from elsewhere enhance the sophistication and complexity of social interaction. Take, for example, the sandwich: where once the choice was limited to either cheese or ham, white or brown, now it encompasses pannini, burritos and wraps from around the globe. And now there is the bao. I have hitherto walked past the Chinese ‘bakery’ across the road and looked with suspicion at the goods in the window, none of which resembles a loaf of bread. Then I read a foodie review which explained the mysteries of the bao, a bun which is steamed, not baked, often with the savoury contents already implanted. Hey presto! Another version of the sandwich.

Yesterday I stepped across the road and got myself a bao for lunch. It was stuffed with spicy pork and was quite delicious. Baos will henceforth be added to my repertoire of lunch-time choices. Red bean pancakes, however, will not: I had picked one on a whim because it looked interesting, but appearances can be deceptive and I found it had the consistency of sticky playdoh and a taste not worth the effort required to chew it. Note: exotic does not necessarily equate to desirable.

Actually, I might have attended the Bob Dylan commemorative concert but for a prior arrangement with an expeditionary force from the Heaton Moor Jazz Appreciation Society to a gig featuring the rarely-seen-south-of-the-border Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith. In fact, the band was a trio led by Norwegian bassist and composer Arild Andersen, a musician noted for his progressive approach – which includes the use of electronic enhancements to his instrument. Given that most of our members had been attracted initially to the gig by Tommy Smith’s reputation, they were nevertheless delighted – if surprised – by the first, triumphal number. Dave said that he had never before heard of such a thing as an electronically enhanced upright bass. Nevertheless, he showed no sign of outrage and did not have to be restrained from shouting “Judas!” How time mellows us.

*Alan Kay, Computer Scientist, b. 1940 -

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