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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

The folklorist, activist and whale fisherman AL Lloyd performed at Newport Folk Festival on July 24, 1965. His appearance came just a day before Bob Dylan famously went electric, completely overshadowing Bert’s controversial inclusion of a swanee whistle during his otherwise unaccompanied set.

I wonder if Mr Lloyd watched Mr Dylan that pivotal night, heard his “thin wild mercury sound” for the first time and thought to himself, “That’s the scruffball who turned up at The Singers’ Club with Martin Carthy a few years back. Wait till I tell Ewan about this, he’ll fall off his chair.”

Unlike his partner-in-revival Ewan MacColl, Bert liked Bob. He even gave his approval for the use of amplified instruments in folk as early as 1963. He had no axe to grind, nor to wield in fury as Pete Seeger did in protest at Dylan’s noise. But I’ve never read any account of Bert Lloyd dining out on his early brushes with the spokesperson for a generation ™. It’s almost as if he considered the study of traditional music and the empowerment of the working people more important. I’d never have shut up about it.

When Richard Branson launches his Virgin Interdimensional train service, the first place I plan to go is Newport in ’65. I will sit smugly as the unenlightened boo from their beards, whilst filming it all on my iPhone. Then I’ll go back again, slipping backstage to advise Bob to wear his polka dot shirt that night. 50 years later I’ll tell everyone it was my idea. Some might consider this a selfish and ephemeral use for time travel, especially as the event is available to watch on DVD. But I figure someone else will take the opportunity to kill Hitler, warn the Titanic about icebergs and prevent Iain on The Great British Bake Off from throwing his dessert in the bin. I’ve got legendary gigs to go to.

For reasons I can’t afford a therapist to find out, I like to tell people about concerts I’ve seen that turned out to be significant – like it makes one arse of difference to them that I was there. Maybe the reason saying “I was there” is such a big part of my personal narrative is because it gives validity to my largely wasted time on earth. If I was present when something important occurred then I must be important too. Or at the very least have some important dust on my shoes.

Maybe I should revisit all the times I’ve bored friends about watching Joanna Newsom’s first British gig, in the now doomed-to-developers 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street, or each occasion I’ve banged on about seeing The Staves before they got signed, and wrote their first ever magazine feature (for fRoots no less). And after I’ve explained to my startled past-self how humanity came to harness spacetime curvature, I will tell myself to shut the hell up.

No one cares if I was there, nor should they. My experience of a past performance can’t enhance anyone else’s enjoyment in the present. Music exists only for the hearer at the time of hearing; the magic is in the moment. Everything else is just trivia and guff to sell books.

I own 91 books about Bob Dylan. And one about AL Lloyd.

Tim Chipping


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