By Rita Bratovich
The 1960s were one of the most impactful decades in modern history: pivotal, subversive, expressive, transcendent. It was a time when artists superseded politicians as the influencers of collective ideas – and no artist effected this more than Bob Dylan. His lyrics and music were the voice and soundtrack of revolution, free thought, social introspection, and counter-culture. He was considered the leader of the rebellion, the mouthpiece for an anti-establishment movement. Dylan’s opus includes reflective songs that have become anthems: Blowing In The Wind, The Times, They Are A-Changin’, A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Mr Tambourine Man, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, to name a mere handful. But while he is inextricably tied to protest and social commentary, Dylan also reveals a very tender, vulnerable side in love songs that often serve as personal tributes: Lay Lady Lay, Just Like A Woman. As with all great songwriters, Dylan has been and continues to be covered by a diverse range of artists. While he still writes and performs today, it is through fresh, innovative interpretations of his best songs by other artists that Dylan’s name and work are delivered to new generations – Bob Dylan Revisited is a show that does just that.
Bringing together five of Australia’s premier performers – John Waters, Glenn Shorrock, Wendy Matthews, Doug Parkinson and Wes Carr – the show will illuminate classic Dylan tracks from a variety of angles.
“We are definitely making them our own,” says Wendy Matthews, eager to point this out. “This is not a tribute show. Nobody is trying to sound anywhere near like Dylan. […] it’s everybody’s very different takes on the songs.”
Matthews is the only female in the line-up and while she admits it’s a “point of interest” she doesn’t see any other significance in it. She has known Glen Shorrock since she was 17 and is familiar with the work of the other performers. Dylan’s music was introduced to her at a very young age when her father would bring home the latest album.
“There’s nothing like a song or a smell to transport you to a specific second in time,” says Matthews, recalling the memory. “So that’s what Dylan does for me.”
She admits that Dylan’s delivery style never really appealed to her, “I love him, but you cannot say that Bob Dylan is a singer!” Rather Matthews was drawn more to the content and poetry of his lyrics.
“For me, what this [show] has done for me – I’ve rediscovered his poetry and the depth of it. Bob Dylan was, as far as I’m concerned, the most reluctant speaker and voice for the 60s and change. I mean, he really did not want to lead the fight, but simply by his content, that was who he was.”
Having said that, however, she was amazed at the melodic beauty of Forever Young, one of the songs she’ll be performing on the night. It’s a deceptively simple yet exquisite melody she is able to explore with her own voice, that she would never have discovered through Dylan’s “speaking” style delivery.
For the show, each performer will sing a selection of songs on their own as well as singing some numbers in various combinations of the group and as a full ensemble.
“We were asked to submit 10 of our faves that we’d really like to do…they were all divvied up. And a few of us have asked another to join them on a song,” explains Matthews. They’ll also chat briefly about what Dylan and the song means to them. It’s still all coming together, but Matthews is very enthused.
“It’s a fantastic band, which is a treat!… The whole thing will unfold for everyone and that’s part of the excitement.”
Doug Parkinson echoes that sentiment.
“Everyone’s tremendously excited and putting in 110%. It’s going to be terrific!” It’s also going to be a challenge, adds Parkinson, “There’s a lot of lyrics to learn – as you know, he’s a wordsmith. Every song has got seven or eight or nine or 10 verses!”
That obstacle aside, Parkinson is looking forward to being on stage with four very diverse artists, all five of them bringing their own particular taste and perspective.
For Parkinson, it’s the romantic streak in Dylan that appeals.
“Back in the 60s when he first emerged, and I was obviously a much younger man full of dreams and ideals, a couple of his songs were very important to me and I grabbed them immediately,” he says.
One song that has a special place in his heart is Lay Lady Lay, which he will dedicate to his wife of many years.
“That was one of our anthems, one of our love songs, so that means a lot to me.”
It doesn’t surprise Parkinson that Dylan was able to tap into a broad spectrum of emotions. He likens Dylan to Shakespeare: an observer and commentator on life and human nature; a modern bard who happened to appear at the right time and place.
“I think he was very much an opportunist, in my humble opinion, because he was Johnny On The Spot and he was aware of what was going on. I think the awareness thing was amazing. And of course the times, the times they were a-changing!”
Parkinson is really looking forward to playing around with arrangements, especially given the incredible backing orchestra they’ll have on the night. He believes Dylan’s simple melodies and minimalist delivery leaves a huge scope for new, creative ideas.
“Some of the melodies are quite predictable in terms of construction, but that’s fun to be able to have a bit of license to fiddle around with them,” he says. “And of course – no one will admit it, but I’m telling you right now – there’s always just a little bit of competition amongst the performers!”
Friendly rivalry, of course.
May 24. State Theatre, 49 Market St, Sydney. $91.90-$119.90+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.statetheatre.com.au