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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK


Dylan goes electric again

Bob Dylan on stage in 1966: Faced heckling and abuse

Andrew Burroughs meets those who saw Dylan go electric
Nobody bats an eyelid now when Bob Dylan picks up an electric guitar, but the folk protest movement thought it was sacrilege when he did it for the first time.

Now one of the most electrifying moments in rock and roll history is being released for the first time - the Manchester concert in May 1966 where Bob Dylan was heckled and jeered for playing an electric guitar.

Biggest-selling bootleg album

The show at the city's Free Trade Hall was the penultimate date of Dylan's British tour that spring. But he was unprepared for the violent reaction that followed him picking up the electric guitar.

[ image: Acoustic Dylan: How his fans wanted him to stay]
Acoustic Dylan: How his fans wanted him to stay
The show was recorded but never released - instead, it became the world's biggest-selling bootleg album, racking up 150,000 sales - despite being wrongly titled The Royal Albert Hall Concert.

Now it is being released under the title Live 1966.

Columbia Records' Jason Rackham feels Dylan has only just got over the abuse he suffered on stage that day.

"It wasn't until the success of his most recent album, Time Out Of Mind, that now Dylan feels he is finally being appreciated again in this country," he said.

Dylan expert CP Lee - now a media studies lecturer at Salford University - was there that that night.

"It was quite frightening. There were fights and scuffles outside the venue. No other artist has had to face so much abuse and sheer anger," he recalled.

"He came onto the stage wearing an Edwardian suit, black shirt, and Cuban heel boots.

'Electric guitars were anathema'

"On his left was Robbie Robertson, behind him, Mickey Jones. But when he picked up an electric guitar, chaos reigned. There was booing heckling, and slow hand-clapping."

[ image: Dylan in 1998: Time Out Of Mind won three Grammy awards]
Dylan in 1998: Time Out Of Mind won three Grammy awards
Fan Mike Bowden was one of those who led the protests.

"I loved his protest songs, I didn't want to believe he'd sold out to commercialism. The moment you picked up an electric guitar, you became a pop group.

"Pop groups were something that were anathema to me. I just felt totally let down."

Dylan started innoculously enough with some old favourites, but after the interval, the band arrived and the trouble started.

Another fan, Barbara Murray, recalled, "We drew short straws to take a message up to the stage which just read, 'tell the band to go home'.'"

Someone shouted Judas at the stage, to which Dylan replied, "I don't believe you."

By retaining the recordings, Columbia Records kept control over Dylan, keeping him with the label during an often stormy relationship.

But it was a tour which changed musical history, bringing serious lyrics and electric guitars together for the first time in a fusion which has dominated rock music ever since.

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