photo by Mark Makin
A young Manchester lad, aged 15, went to see a concert 40 years ago today. He had asked a friend to get tickets for Bob Dylan at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. The friend had not managed to get anything in the main, seated, floor, nor the balconies. Instead he had somehow gotten hold of platform seats.
These consisted of 2 rows of chairs behind the band. Or, in this case, The Band. With excitement and trepidation he and his friend Casper went to see Dylan perform. He had played the year before in 1965, drawing rapturous applause and plaudits. He simply strode on stage, all curly hair and leather jacket, acoustic guitar and harmonica, and played his own kind of folk music.
On that trip, following a meeting with the Beatles, he had become fascinated with electric guitar and had bought one in London. Upon returning to the US he employed Ronnie Hawkins band, The Hawks, and had renamed them The Band. In 1966 he returned to Europe with this band and the reaction was one of disgust. He was booed repeatedly, every night. The first half acoustic set went down just as in '65 but when 5 musicians appeared with him the appreciation turned to anger. The effect on Band drummer Levon Helm was marked. He decided he couldn't handle the abuse any more and with Bob's permission left the tour completely, to be replaced by Mickey Jones. Though everyone had become demoralised by the audience disapproval, the fans of folk appalled at Dylan's traitorous betrayal into the world of electric music, they soldiered on. On that day, May 17 1966, they played in Manchester. The young 15 year old took his place seated behind Dylan, to stage right of Jones's drum kit. As with all the other gigs the first half went very well.
Then, the interval. Again, murmurs spread of the electric second half. The Band were very loud indeed and Dylan's new songs pierced the auditorium. Some sat in shock, some cheered, some booed. One foolhardy young man on the main floor waited until a quiet moment arrived to shout possibly the most famed heckle in rock history - "JUDAS!!!" Instantly, Dylan approached the mic stand - "I don't believe you", he drawled, with some anger, "You're a LIAR!" Then he turned to The Band and said something only heard clearly on the recent Scorsese documentary... "Play it fucking loud". The band tore into Like A Rolling Stone.
Dylan was clearly angry at his audience’s lack of tolerance. But the gig was electric. Later on the gig was wrongly released as 'Live at the Royal Albert Hall', a venue in London. But Londoners cannot claim this piece of rock history for themselves. Manchester has always been the cooler city - from the Judas concert to the Sex Pistols first gig a decade later: attended by everyone from The Buzzcocks and Morrissey to Warsaw (later Joy Division) and Howard Devoto. We always see the truth first. Over the years many people have claimed to be the Judas shouter. Who knows who he really is... the gig and his call found their place in rock history and I'm proud to say it all took place in my home city.
Forty years ago today the 15-year-old Salford lad behind the drummer shifted uncomfortably in his seat, unwilling to make eye contact with anyone on stage. He wasn't sure if Dylan was going to storm off, he wouldn't move a muscle for fear of what might happen. It was a moment that he remembers 40 years to the day later. I know because I spoke to him this morning – my dad. And he remembers every detail. And if you look closely at the photo above you can see him, arms folded, just peeking out from the amp on the right, with the glasses on. His friend, to this day, Casper sits next to him with suit and tie on. Both of them look terrified. But it was a day neither of them will ever forget.