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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 August 2006, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Fans hail return of Dylan
Bob Dylan, London, 1965

Early critical reception to Bob Dylan's first album for five years suggests the 65-year-old is far from ready for retirement.

The living legend's 44th album, Modern Times, earned five-star reviews in Uncut and Rolling Stone magazines, with the latter calling it a "masterwork".

The BBC News website asked six Dylan fans to explain their enduring fascination with the man and his music.

Katie Melua, singer-songwriter

Bob Willis, former England cricketer

Christopher Ricks, University of Oxford Professor of Poetry

Stevie Jackson, Belle and Sebastian guitarist

David Chaytor MP

Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England

KATIE MELUA, 21, SINGER-SONGWRITER

Georgia-born Katie Melua has sold more than five million copies of her first two albums, Call Off the Search and Piece By Piece.

I am a big fan for someone who wasn't there - I have discovered him afterwards, without being caught up in the Dylan mania that there must have been at the time.

A lot of my friends are fans of Dylan - I think it makes him unusual. With any artist, their core fans are going to be the people of that generation.

Katie Melua
I would give anything to be 10% as good as he is
I think he is one of those artists who seems to still capture young people, and I think that mainly is because his voice is of the young, talking of rebellion and talking about politics.

When I listen to Masters of War it articulates exactly how I feel about the current situation that is happening today.

I feel like through these songs, especially certain lyrics, he says the stuff that I want current artists to be saying, but they are not. I go to him to get that fix.

I don't know anyone within music who isn't either a fan or who doesn't respect his work on some level.

I would give anything to be 10% as good as he is.

I think he has said enough important things for us to be interested in what he has to say next. I am just quite fascinated to see where he is in his head at the moment.

BOB WILLIS, 57, FORMER ENGLAND CRICKETER

Bob Willis, the former England cricketer and Sky Sports commentator, says he has just two artists on his iPod - Van Morrison and Dylan. As a teenager, Willis adopted the middle name Dylan in the artist's honour.

A mate of mine, who I was playing football with, handed me Bob Dylan's first album (Bob Dylan) which was released in 1962 and after that I was hooked.

Bob Dylan was singing about furious political issues and getting under the skin of everybody and that's what appealed to me - the music, the voice, the lyrics all combined to be something really special for me.

It has been a long ride. There have been trying times along the way - there have been some pretty grim albums - but I have liked most of it.

I am not saying if he started singing nursery rhymes I would rush out and buy the CD, but almost that bad, I think.

Bob Willis
He has got to a completely new audience, and I don't think many artists can say that
I got Ian Botham to a Dylan concert in New Zealand in 1978, and he still listens from time to time - there have been a few converts along the way.

The ability of the guy to turn out fantastic lyrics, fantastic rhymes, and then in live performance to reconceive these songs into different interpretations is what's really appealed to me.

If people go expecting to hear CD recordings, that's never what they get - he always puts a different slant on the songs.

These days half the audience are under 35 - it really is brilliant to see. He has got to a completely new audience, and I don't think many artists can say that they have managed to do that.

The last two albums (Time Out Of Mind and Love and Theft) have been some of his best stuff. The lyrics are still brilliant.

I heard he hired a theatre and did quite a lot of rehearsing for the new album - I am expecting something quite special.

CHRISTOPHER RICKS, 72
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD PROFESSOR OF POETRY

Christopher Ricks is Professor of Humanities at Boston University and Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He has written books about poets including Tennyson, Milton, Keats and TS Eliot, and one about a popular musician, Dylan's Visions of Sin.

Dylan seized me in the '60s as nobody else has seized me.

I think he is a genius. I think he is extraordinarily accomplished in the three things that come together to make a song, that is, a voice, a melody of some sort and the words.

I would be very, very surprised if the new album doesn't have, as always, some unprecedentedly good songs
I had no hostility to the voice from the beginning.

As far as I am concerned, and as far as an enormous number of people are concerned, Dylan is nonpareil.

I think it's like an athlete - a combination of terrific training and discipline, with intuition and instinct.

I think there are concessions that he needs to make with concert performance that for my old ears are too large a price to pay - I wait for the acoustic set.

I hear the subtlety and the nuance more when there isn't the dynamic force of really loud playing.

Bob Dylan
Dylan has been on a so-called "never-ending tour" since the 90s
I didn't like the disparagement of everything between Blood on the Tracks (1975) and Time Out Of Mind (1997). I thought that was really dumb - Oh Mercy (1989) had some wonderful songs on it.

I think there are no albums which don't have any good songs on them.

He has been able to do new things. [His autobiography] Chronicles is quite unlike anything he has done - the acclaim that received is very well justified.

It's a very funny, sad, deeply grateful and fabulous book.

I have deliberately avoided these bootlegs [of Modern Times] that have been circulating.

I don't know what to expect, but I would be very, very surprised if it doesn't have, as always, some unprecedentedly good songs.

STEVIE JACKSON, 37, BELLE AND SEBASTIAN GUITARIST

Pop group Belle and Sebastian referenced guitarist Stevie Jackson's musical hero in their song Like Dylan in the Movies. Jackson says their video for The Wrong Girl also featured him recreating a teenage quest to find a jacket like one worn by Dylan.

The first record I ever got hold of, when I was 14 or 15, was Blonde on Blonde and it changed my life completely.

The music itself just seemed beyond anything I had been listening to.

The way he looked and the sound of his voice, the words he was saying just seemed so oblique but they just made so much sense.

The clothes he was wearing and the cover - it was like this complete art statement.

Stevie Jackson
What he has produced in the last 10 years has been superb
At that point in my life I was pretty obsessive - I was on a quest to find the perfect Blonde on Blonde jacket.

By the time I was 16 I had seen [documentary] Don't Look Back, and you got to hear him talking and he was just so funny and so comical and so intelligent, and had such great clothes and such a great haircut and great shades - his sunglasses are unparalleled.

In the '80s he just seemed completely out of place and like he didn't belong there and his records were pretty lousy, but for me what he has produced in the last 10 years has been superb.

His last few records, I have loved them all. I think we are in a classic Dylan era at the moment.

I have seen him regularly live since 1989. For me, the last five years, the shows I have seen, you are witnessing a great artist engaged and producing great art, rather than just an old guy going through the motions.

And once again the clothes are there, the look is there - he is looking totally cool and that goes a long way.

DAVID CHAYTOR MP, 57

In a British Library survey of MPs, David Chaytor named Dylan's John Wesley Harding (1967) as his favourite album. But the Bury North MP admits his wife submitted that answer, and that he would choose 1976's Desire.

I have been a Dylan fan for the best part of 40 years. As a teenager the anti-establishment ethos appealed to me.

My interest was revived when my own kids became teenagers and they also became big Dylan fans.

The capacity to re-excite kids in successive generations is an important one.

David Chaytor MP
Dylan reminds us there is an alternative political and cultural tradition in the US to that represented by George Bush
Then I had a big revival again after the Martin Scorsese film [No Direction Home] last year.

I thought it was an outstanding film and it gave a wonderful insight into that period of musical and political history.

I thought the clip of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez singing With God on Our Side at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, what would have been 12 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, was extremely telling.

The issues Dylan's music in the 1960s was about, and the critique of American domestic and foreign policy of the 1960s, are absolutely relevant to 2006.

Dylan reminds us that there is an alternative political and cultural tradition in the US that is quite different to that represented by George Bush.

For those of us nearing our free bus pass, someone who is still singing and recording at the age of 65 is great news, a source of great optimism.

I must now systematically revisit all 43 albums and play them through - that is my autumn project.

SIR LIAM DONALDSON, 57
CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER FOR ENGLAND

Sir Liam Donaldson describes himself as a "lifelong fan" of Dylan.

I first was introduced to his work by an older cousin in 1964 - he had an album called Another Side of Bob Dylan.

I became totally absorbed in the album - it was unlike anything else I had heard before.

Up until then I had been listening to the Beatles and Tamla Motown and the Beach Boys, all of which I really cherished at the level of music and tunefulness.

Sir Liam Donaldson
The words, the songs, the music, have been almost embedded in my stream of consciousness over 40 years
But Dylan seemed to be talking to me about emotions and feelings and aspirations. There was a voice and an intelligence behind the songs - it was accessible poetry.

Looking back over the 44 albums, there haven't been that many really bad ones.

There have been a few mediocre ones, but even those have had good songs on them - compared to any other artist, it's a fantastic record.

He has maintained a bit of an air of mystery over the years, and when I read Chronicles I was amazed by how revealing he was - it was actually quite open.

I think it has been a bit of an interesting phase with the Martin Scorsese video and Chronicles; it has stoked expectation for the new album.

Speaking personally, the words, the songs, the music, have been almost embedded in my stream of consciousness over 40 years.

His work for me is a real touchstone.

It's almost a true north.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Bob Dylan Modern Times song reviewed on Newsnight



SEE ALSO
Dylan rubbishes modern recordings
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Broadway plan for Bob Dylan hits
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In pictures: Dylan on show
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Date set for Dylan album release
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Bob Dylan makes disc jockey debut
03 May 06 |  Entertainment
Dylan opens New Orleans jazz fest
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Early Dylan poems sold at auction
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Bob Dylan - why the fuss?
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