Continuing the second series of the offbeat HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
In Episode 32 there’s a celebration of Bob Dylan’s birthday, a whinge at politicians and princes, memories of Dylan concerts, storytellers in the park, memories of Ron the runner, a megaphone in the Square, folk tales, Beatles, Bob and a hurricane.
Monday, May 17th
From today we’re free to enter pubs, but most of us prefer to battle with hypothermia outside. Covid still has us in its grip.
Tuesday, May 18th
This afternoon the sun came out. Walked to the Wharf and drank a pint next to the canal. Time slowed to the pace of a narrow boat. The ale and the sunlight did the rest.
Wednesday, May 19th
Naughty men and women
One sunlit day in The Old Gate, before the pandemic locked us down, Ben Myers was rolling out maps on a table in the quarter filled pub to show to some visitors. I imagined they were musicians, but when he set off with them on a hike, I guessed they’d try the new Coiners Walk. A drinker behind me said, “That’s Shane Meadows.”
Yesterday the creator of This is England told the NME he’s making a TV serialisation: “The Gallows Pole is an incredible true story, little known outside of Yorkshire, about a group of very naughty men and women who started clipping and counterfeiting coins out in the Moors as a way to keep themselves and their community alive.”
So, next winter we might have Gentlemen Jack, Happy Valley and The Gallows Pole on telly. That should bring the American tourists back.
Thursday, May 20th
Off to Calderdale College, invited by our neighbour Jesse, from whom I caught a dose of laughter the evening before. She was with her mum sitting out on the decking and both were helpless with mirth because little Joe was setting them off in some way. I couldn't see any of this carry on, but just when they’d calmed down he set them off again, and their laughter, and his, got me going too.
Today was the first teaching I’d done in a decade. Before we started, two students argued about their favourite Greek god. I kid you not. Mind, the group didn’t know folktales. Those peasant tales are rarely heard these days, outside of storytelling clubs.
The dog snout people
Once there were dog snout people and good people. The good people tilled the land and the dog snout people were hunters. This is a story the good people told.
Once the dog snout people caught a girl from a village where the good people lived. They fed her up on nuts and sweet milk and one day they judged her condition by driving a long needle into her forehead. They licked up her blood. Then they took her to their old mother’s house and told their old mother to roast the girl whilst they were away in the forest. Once their mother had the oven good and hot she called the girl to lie down and rest on the shovel she’d warmed in front of the oven. The good girl lay sideways across the shovel. Seeing that she couldn’t throw the girl into the oven if she lay that way, the dog snout woman said, ‘Lie lengthways on the shovel, it will feel more comfortable.’ Not fully understanding the Dog snout woman’s language, the good girl mimed for her to demonstrate, ‘Show me what you mean.’ So the dog snout woman lay down lengthways on the shovel and quickly the good girl threw her into the oven and shut the door. Tight. The good girl watched the old mother’s clothes and hair catch fire and then she made herself stop watching. She put on the old woman’s walking boots. Then she walked towards the setting sun and her village. When the dog snout men returned to their mother’s house, they couldn’t find their mother, but they saw the footprints of her old boots and said, ‘Perhaps she has gone to visit her neighbours, let us see if our roast meat is ready.’
The absent minded tutor
I was well looked after on my return to teaching. When I couldn’t find my glasses the students pointed to the precise pocket I had just put them in - or sometimes they pointed to the top of my head. When I couldn’t find my bag, Jesse told me it was over my shoulder. And so it went on.
At the end of the day, a slight, tiny voiced student, throwing off her nerves and increasing her volume, gripped us with her Rumpelstiltskin, telling it as if it had never been told before, and I remembered again the rewards of teaching.
Friday, May 21st
Bob Dylan’s 80th is approaching. The first Dylan song I heard was Blowing in the Wind. I must have been 12 when it first came over the radio, and I stood up and joined in the chorus. Each time the refrain stopped I fell back on the settee, greatly entertaining me mom. It must have been on a few times that day because in the end she told me to give over.
A guy called Alan Rowley in the year above told me to listen out for Love minus zero no limit on Radio Caroline. Bob can conjure a melody, but I didn’t wholly buy his lyric, diverting as it was. That’s pretty much how my take on Bob has been since then.
I’m a fan but not a Bobcat. Though I did adopt Dylan’s walk on the cover of Freewheeling Bob Dylan, hunched up like him, but minus the girlfriend. I had a writer’s voice in my head in those days, on the advice of George Orwell, but it wasn’t Bob’s voice. My commentary attempted to be wry and sardonic, like a baritone Cary Grant. When I caught my reflection in a shop window, with my hunched shoulders, casual clothes and tousled hair, I was surprised to see I was more Bob than Cary.
Like a Rolling Stone
Despite our double jabs, I shivered over a capuccinno with my publisher on the concourse outside the town hall as we put the world to rights. Later Chris responded to my Dylan request.
“My friend George has asked people to name their favourite Bob Dylan song. I can’t name just one. There are too many. But there is one of his that always provokes a response.
It was late summer 1965, I was 19, I’d just been fired from my job on the south coast, my girlfriend was leaving the next day. I’d no qualifications, or prospects and I was living in the back of my van. Staying with her one last night, the pirate radio stations were regularly playing the latest from Bob Dylan, Like a rolling stone, with its famous refrain, ‘How does it feel, how does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home. A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.’ And ‘When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose//You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal.’ This great song spoke to me that night, as so much of his work continues to do.”
Saturday, May 22nd
The morning was cold, but the park was packed. Apart from the kids in the play park, there were bigger kids bouncing with pogo sticks, hoola hooping, juggling and painting their faces.
The course leader had the idea that students from her theatre group would round up a kids audience to listen to their tales. Kelsey shouted, “Who wants to hear some stories?” I sat down on one of those boxes near the cafe and shouted, “I do!”
So in the end our little troupe performed for each other.
A mum had driven her daughter over from Huddersfield for the gig and confided that her daughter wanted to adopt me. I told her PW wouldn’t object.
I got a message from a friend.
‘Just heard, Ron passed away in hospital this morning.
Hope you are all well.
I replied: ‘Ron! The runners’ runner.’
There was a time more than half a century ago when men older than Brian and me raced against Ron Hill around the fields and roads of the north and he was always their champion when he ran in the big championships on the telly.
Ron had been a textile scientist and founded his own running gear company. Brian has been doing the art work for a new Ron Hill vest.
I asked ‘Had he been ill for some time?’
“Yes, for 3/4 years now … dementia … latterly he remembered very little, but responded instantly to ‘gold, commonwealth marathon’ .. and thought he won Munich too! I was lucky to be friends with him … we had house parties at his, with his wife May .. they had a charming husband wife rapport .. I once said … ‘Ron how did you run every day .. fevers, flu, injury?’
May shouts, ‘because he’s bloody mad!’
Sunday, May 23rd
The papers are backing Prince William’s response to the Dyson report. But Camilla Long in The Sunday Times bucks the trend and states it was clear that Diana wanted her side of the story to be told.
“William’s statement whiffed of the same old hoary clap-trap. She’s thick, she’s mad, she did a bad thing, let’s shut her down and banish her interview from history … Her aim was to set the record straight, she wanted to explain that, crucially, Charles was to blame.”
God save the Beeb
The independence of the BBC is more important than the Royals antique roadshow. The new management has been stuffed with government yes men on the premise that they must represent the ‘commonsense’ of new blue supporters - the rest of us are all wickedly woke.
Monday, May 24th
No go towns
A Cabinet minister has defended the new travel and indoor meeting guidance for Burnley, Huddersfield and elsewhere. Thérèse Coffey said that quietly putting this information on gov.uk without telling anyone was 'just a formality’.
What’s your favourite Dylan song?
I got dozens of replies from Bobcats out there, including a vote for Lay lay lady lay from Sue in Suffolk. I first heard it on Nashville Skyline in the winter of 1970, when I was on my gap year. Dylan had stopped smoking at the time and his voice had changed. He said, “Quit smoking and your voice sounds like Caruso.” Lay, lady lay was first aired at a party when Joni Mitchell also played a new song, called Both sides now.I mean, who gets invited to parties like that these days?
Pat from Blackshaw Head said she couldn’t choose just one Dylan song. Dave from Shropshire, who first played me Blood on the Tracks in the mid 70s,squeezed two songs through, “It’s alright Ma, Desolation Row … two songs that, like the bible, have a quote for every occasion.”
Paul from Luddenden Foot, who could pass for 52, chose Forever young. Craig, who is only geographically over the hill, asked, “Which Dylan are we talking about?” then offered choices from each Bob era.
Stephanie, from Huddersfield, where we must not boldly go, plumped for Idiot Wind, which used to make me grind my teeth, but I get it now.
Alan from Old Town wrote ‘Judas!’
Alan Fowler was at The Free Trade Hall on the night in question. “I remember the concert almost as if it was yesterday.” I asked him if he was in the Judas camp.
“Yes, I left in protest and was interviewed by Dylan’s own film company. I did not realise that the interview survived till 30 years later. The BBC showed an extract in the series The Rock and Roll years. My colleagues saw the interview and kept threatening to show my students!
Two nights before the Manchester concert, Dylan was in Liverpool. I knew a guy called Yogi who saw that gig and liked With god on my side best. My cousin Jean was there and writes, “Some walked out, but my friend and I took advantage and moved nearer to the stage where seats were vacated.”
She added that God on our side was “what first did it for me. It was played in its entirety on Radio Caroline and I was hooked!” Jean’s man Chuck opts for Make you feel my love. Nice one.
Tuesday, May 25th
Theatre artist Debs Newbold’s interview is on HebWeb and I hope the students on the Jesse and Sophie’s theatre arts course at Calderdale College get to read it. The Ed Sec is about to cut 50% of such courses.
It seems the government has backed down about having no go zones and it’s telling us we can use our ‘common sense’ - except for the workers, who have to go into the Indian variant zones, common sense or not.
In my teens I did some charity work at Clatterbridge hospital. It was a mini summer camp, mainly digging and planting new flower beds. During a break we were asked to put on a show and I adapted The times they are a changing to make it about the teachers and youths at the camp, and of course I adopted Dylan’s drawl. I’d scribbled my lyric down in a minute or two, but still managed to provoke a good audience response. When I sat down again an older girl in the seats behind poked a toe into my rump, which was obviously a sign of affection, but I was too shy to turn round.
The organisers had arranged for a sergeant from an American army camp to help out. After the entertainments he told me he liked my song and hey, did I fancy trying out the showers they’d just rigged up in one of the old nissan huts? He’d played ping pong with our PE teacher and got a sweat on, “I just couldn’t beat the bastard!”
I’d been washing in a sink for days after my training runs, so I went with him.
I remember Sarge giving me the once over as I soaped myself down, but I didn’t twig then what seems obvious now. Afterwards he gave me his address in New York City and told me to fly out there for a holiday, rent free. I stuffed his note in my wallet, and rediscovered it a few weeks later. Another lad, Tony Sandiford, asked if he could borrow it. He said he wanted to write to Sarge. I never saw the paper or Sarge again, which was probably a good thing.
Wednesday, May 26th
Cummings is not going
I watched the first half of the committee hearing. Every time the Dominator named names, mud stuck. Further witnesses will be called, knowing DC might have evidence to support his testimony.
Three hours from Hebden Bridge
In George’s Square a woman was using a megaphone to bellow about the imbalance in deaths in Palestine. Why choose the Square for her demo? Was she complaining that previously locked down people shouldn’t meet friends for lunch, should stay at home and watch the news all day? When day trippers heckled her to pipe down, she went over and shouted at them. Our cafe owner moved her away from his door.
As for the situation in Israel, my friend Zaffar thinks it’s worse than apartheid era South Africa. There’s genocide going on, with the deliberate targeting of Palestinian homes, libraries and schools.
Zaffar shares my views on songwriters being called poets. Lyrics don’t stand up well on the page. It’s a different art form, despite Bob’s Nobel prize. He mentioned a photo he’d recently seen, Dylan and Lennon off their heads in the back of a taxi.
Thursday, May 27th
Propaganda all is phoney
Owen Jones has criticised Keir Starmer’s team for deferring to focus groups urging the opposition not to “play politics” with a national emergency.
“This was quite unlike the Tories’ approach during the financial crash, for example, when they blamed the crisis on Labour’s overspending with such skilful repetition that focus groups soon repeated back these lines verbatim.” Perhaps Jones wants Labour to adopt the same repeat a lie tactic.
Friday, May 28th
Asked about the Cummings comments, Boris Johnson failed to deny that he rejected a fresh Covid-19 lockdown at a crucial moment on the basis that the disease was “only killing 80 year olds”.
A mother and three chicks
A mother bird had three chicks. She put the first one under her wing and flew across the river. She said, “Tell me child will you care for me when I’m old as I am taking you under my wing now?”
“Of course!” said the young bird.
“You’re lying,” said her mother. So she let her chick fall and drown in the river.
The same happened with the second chick, who also drowned.
The third chick answered differently. “No, mother. How could I?” By then I will have my own chicks to carry.”
“Ah, my dearest child, you tell the truth.” With that the mother bird flew with her chick to the other bank.
Saturday, May 29th
1,2,3,4 … 5
In his award winning biography of the Beatles, Craig Brown describes the impact of the Fab Four on Dylan. Dylan recognised they weren’t just a commercial phenomenon. “They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid … I knew they were pointing the direction music had to go.”
The fab five first met up at the Delmonico hotel in New York during the Beatles first ground shaking tour of the States and Dylan gave the band and Brian Epstein their first taste of marijuana.
Later that evening the British journalist Chris Hutchins returned to the hotel and one of the entourage whispered, ‘Come and look at this’ … “Seated on five chairs arranged in a line were the Fab Four and their manager Brian Epstein, all stoned. Every now and again, a man standing at one end of the line would push the nearest Beatle off their chair and, in a domino effect, each would knock the next one off, ending with Brian, who would collapse to the floor laughing helplessly, setting the others off. It was a surreal scene, made more bizarre by the fact that the man doing the pushing was Bob Dylan.”
As Brown notes, the effect of Dylan’s visit on the Beatles was deep and long-lasting. “By the time they came to record Sgt. Pepper tracks free of drug references were hard to find.”
Sunday, May 30th
A Bank Holiday weekend and, as a good friend of Dylan’s once sang, ‘Here comes the sun.’
Choose a song
I’m just old enough to remember the early Dylan songs, and one year on from the murder of George Floyd, I’ll hold a candle for The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Now that’s a damn fine protest song, but like most of my mates, I can’t truly choose a favourite Bob song. So I’ll leave it to a non Bob man. Darling daughter once played Dylan tracks to her brother. The only one he liked was this electrifying (and electrified) one.
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