Bob Dylan is perhaps the most well-respected songwriter on the planet. An accomplished lyricist, musician and visual artist, Dylan is the living embodiment of creativity. An unrelenting force that has shown no signs of slowing down in his six decades of success, Dylan has branched into various different genres over this extended time period. Be it folk, hard rock, jazz or gospel, Dylan has shown that he’s not afraid of artistic progression, a factor that has endeared him to fans for so long.
However, his career hasn’t always been plain sailing. In the mid-1960s, Dylan’s fans thought he’d gone mad when he started to adopt the electric guitar. His 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home, was a divisive entry amongst his supporters, even if it did feature classics such as ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and countless others. A year later, in 1966, Dylan found himself touring Australia and Europe, but the ill feelings that some of his fans felt would be vocalised across the dates, with the tension really coming to a head in the UK. Now, on reflection, it is the show Dylan played at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on May 17th that has gone down in infamy.
In 1998, The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966 captured what went down on that evening in Manchester. At the end of the show, an angry audience member, who was incensed by Dylan’s electric backing band The Hawks, screamed “Judas!” in the direction Dylan, adding: “I don’t believe you…you’re a liar!”. This prompted the musician to turn to his band and scream, “play it fucking loud!” as they launched into their final song, ‘Like a Rolling Stone”.
On May 18th, a day after the performance, things got even weirder. Dylan had arrived in Glasgow, and this was his first trip to Scotland. By this point, particularly after what had gone down the night before, the tour was starting to gain notoriety. Each night, Dylan received hatred during the second half of his performances as he swapped his acoustic guitar for his Fender Stratocaster and was joined by The Hawks to perform his new material.
Dylan checked into his Glasgow hotel on the 18th, The North British, and was booked to play at The Odeon cinema that same evening. The story goes that as Dylan was hanging out with Robbie Robertson, who was part of his studio crew, he began playing the unreleased track ‘What Kind Of Friend Is This?’. At some point during their pre-show chill, a waiter arrived at the door with food, but suddenly screamed “fuck him” at Dylan and called him a “fucking traitor to folk music”. Dylan’s minder, Tom Keylock, quickly forced the man out of the room, as he later remembered: “He pulls a knife on me. I’ve still got the scar to prove it. So I gave him a good kicking.” It wasn’t just an attempt on Dylan, the tour bus was also ransacked, with equipment stolen.
It’s safe to say that Bob Dylan hated the 1966 tour. DA Pennebaker, the filmmaker who accompanied him on the tour, described Dylan acting as if “on a death trip” and that the troubadour was “taking a lot of amphetamine and who-knows-what-else”. Looking back on that hectic string of live dates, Dylan explained to Jan Wenner in 1969: “I was on the road for almost five years. It wore me down. I was on drugs, a lot of things … just to keep going, you know?”.
Watch Dylan perform ‘What Kind Of Friend Is This?’ from The North British Hotel below.