Bob Dylan in HK

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Last updated on 10 Mar 2006

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Bob Dylan in Hong Kong  (Sat, 26/2/94)

'It’s nearly 2030 and a few frenzied Zimmerman-iacs are filing into the Coliseum for the first frantic face-to-face with the phenomenon that is Bob Dylan In Hong Kong. Watching them with regal-eyed oblivion, tinged with hop-footed eagerness are the Man in Black (aka promoter Anders Nelson) and His Cohortic Crew. Smiles of relief and matching comments from the fans as they realise the concert didn’t begin at 2000, as advertised. INXS, who started 50 minutes late on Thursday, seem sure to retain their unappreciated record. This is a safe prediction because I’ve seen the sign announcing an “unavoidable” 30-minute delay due to…what? Can’t be Bob and the boys. They’re here, according to at least 20 unbiased witnesses who are now part of the sold-out throng inside The Coliseum. Must be a heavyweight B.B.C. (Big Bob Cat) to have Anders out front, ready to grip-n-grin. I decide to wait-n-see. Seconds later, all is revealed…

A big black car of the type used by people who are too important to drive pulls up, parks and almost preens itself. I casually check my appearance in the mirror polish finish as the black door opens. Inside are Our First Couple, Bill’s buddy and his belle, Mr. B.B.C. himself. Yes, it’s Governor Patten in a light conservative blue lounge suit and Lavender in maroon sweater and black trousers. I stand there in my blue jeans, rugby shirt and black overcoat, gawping. (Jeez, he’s smaller than on TV, I think incongruously) while nodding affably. He looks at me. I look at him. We look at each other. I say “Hi” with great originality. He replies “Hi” pleasantly. I say “Enjoy the show” with a great lack of originality. He says “Thanks, I will” with a politician’s politeness. I stand there, metaphorically smacking my forehead and thinking why didn’t I ask him something. Anything. Nevermind, I’ll get him after the show. Time to go in.

As I enter, the first notes of “If Not For You” are being slowly strummed. Brief pause and roar of applause. Great, just in time for the first song? Nope. I’ve missed “Jokerman”, according to the seat on my left. Too busy, gurning at the Guv. Nice political irony in that choice. Is Bob a closet Chinese Communist? Or an anti-conservative? Or another Xinhua xenophobe? Maybe he just doesn’t like being kept waiting by mere Governors, even if they DO have all his CD’s in their study at home. “I.N.F.Y.” smoothly segues into a rocking mid-tempo “Watchtower” with Dylan spitting out the lies with some urgency. Nice Knopfleresque guitar solo after second verse. The audience is agog at the thought of more hits to come, but which ones will his Bobness play? I’m approached by Lisa Security as I jot down these notes, but she lets me stay where I am. Just as well, as I’m overseeing a s(e)izable cider stash for some slightly soused Scousers.

The next song I recognize appears to be another barb by Bob against Chris. “Tangled Up In Blue” neatly defines (to me) the absurdity of Tory politics along with Mr. P.’s parlous partnership with Peking. Is this in the Patten Top Ten? Any thoughts that I am being paranoid are still born as Bob rips into an even more vicious “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and “Maggie’s Farm”. Wow! Good music and political punditry! That’ll teach Chris to keep him waiting. Ooops. I’ve just lost a bet with former HK Folk Society Chairman Paul Williams. Outside, pre-gig, he predicted “Hattie Carroll” which he remembered Dylan as introducing as “…a true story. I read it in the papers.” This was in Sheffield, 1965. Paul, who hasn’t seen Bob since, it’s been a staple at recent shows, partly because of the news reports on the Medgar Evers case. Evers was a black civil rights worker, murdered at his home in Mississippi while listening to JFK’s 1963 “moral crisis” speech calling for civil rights legislation. The killer, white supremacist, Byron de la Beckwith, was jailed for life in 1994 – 31 years after the event.

Lots of milling about as the audience goes celebrity spotting. Media hacks, Folk society members, Dylanologists of all descriptions. English folkie Vin Garbutt is here – his show which should have been tonight, has been postponed. Vin comments that he “…enjoyed the show, but wish he would come to mine though”. Everyone’s waiting for that indefinable moment when the concert will take off. The band are working overtime while Bob’s patented drone-chant vocals are gruffly pleasing. Slide guitar notes bend and intertwine with the soaring organ. Rock riffs romp out and away to the rafters while the drums and bass mesh at lower gut-thumping volume, but it’s not quite there yet. So, he slows it down a tad and inquires if “…everybody having a good time?” What! Bob speaks? When did this last happen? Still, he continues. Muffled introductions for the band precede three unidentifiable (to me) acoustic tunes that leave most of the audience hushed of breath. We’ve had 11 mixed goodies tonight which has drawn a muted response. Bob responds by walking off stage, followed by the band at 2145. Surely, there’s an encore?

The crowd are baying for more. People are squashing their way to the front. Clapping and cheering is continuing unabated and then the band return. Within moments, everyone is singing “Something’s happening and you don’t know what it is Mr. Jones” in total abandon. Matches are being lit, but not for long. I wonder how Chris and Lav are taking it all, submerged in a sea of sweaty singers. Has he been to a rock concert before? It’s damn sure that no other HK Governor has. More roars as ”It Ain’t Me Babe” follows on. People round me are bellowing “No, no, no, no, it ain’t me babe” in tuneless joy. The concert is starting to take off. I feel a horripilatory tingle on my nape, which goes too soon. It returns as the final song commences. A squeal of harp, a thrum of guitar and it’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” in mid-rock tempo. Imaginary flashbacks ripple through my brain, a cornucopia of 60’s sensations, a warm feeling and…it’s abruptly over.

I rush outside, a paranoid pointman, and look for the Governor’s car. The crowd has dissipated like sauna steam in the chilly outdoors. Most random comments indicate disappointment in the show. I agree it could have been better, but as this was my Dylan debut, I’m not dismayed. At last I’ve seen him seen and I’ll take what I get, gratefully. I’m chatting with two Lamma neighbours, Christine and Sean, who feel the same way I do. She’s replaying her bootleg video of the concert when the Governor finally emerges. Right. Time for an interview. I wonder if WAX Magazine will be able to use it. Assuming I’m not shot dead by an overzealous police guard opposed to hippies with goatees rushing in demented fashion at his meal ticket. Nah, don’t be that paranoid. It’ll be OK. I mean, Chris will talk to anyone who wants to talk to him. Besides, we sort of talked earlier. I hope Christine can get this on tape.

“Er, excuse me Mr. Patten. I was wondering if this was your first rock concert in HK?” (Yeah, start easy, don’t spook him)

“Oh no,. I saw Elton John last year” (Damn. Forgot about him. He probably saw Paul Simon as well. Dumb question. Well…)

“And what did you think of tonight’s show? (Get his list of favourite Dylan songs. See if he heard any political inference)

“Oh, absolutely fantastic. I never thought I’d hear him play “Blowin’ In The Wind” here” (Ah Haah. Brilliant. What a perfect answer to all the political commentary earlier. What a response to Beijing about all the bollocks that’s going on now. And I bet he doesn’t realise why this is such a good answer, i.e. nothing really matters 200 years from now. It’s all B.I.T.W.)

“Well thanks. My name’s Nick Lovatt. I work with WAX. Here’s a card and a copy” (Hope Christine got that all on tape. Now I’ve gotta stop re-reading so much Hunter S. Thompson. He makes me think too much.)

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