Category Archives: Bob Dylan

NS33: A hard rain’s a-gonna fall

A few years back, my local folk club had a Dylan Night that was extraordinarily popular; there must have been 120 people there, as against an average week’s turnout of 30-40. By the kick-off the list of people wanting to go on had expanded accordingly; the MC had even tried to keep tabs on who was going to do what (and what they’d do instead if someone else had already done it), resulting in a sheet of paper that looked rather like one of Pete Frame’s denser family trees. The MC didn’t actually blench when I offered to do this song, but he didn’t look overjoyed. “Three minutes flat,” I said. “Trust me.” And did… what you can hear here – although to get the full effect you’ll need to assemble a few dozen friends to come in at the end. Worked rather well, if I say so myself.

What’s it doing here? While the similarity between Hard Rain and “question and answer” songs like Lord Randall or Son Davey is fairly obvious, there may be another link here. On his notes for the nonsense song When I was a little boy – a close relative of When I set off for Turkey – Martin Carthy suggested that Hard Rain follows the structure of a “song of lies” – one exorbitant claim after another, culminating in outright impossibility (“I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinking”). Many of Dylan’s songs are steeped in folk song – and not just the ones that sound ‘folky'; this is a fine example. Like a lot of his songs, it’s a song by a protest singer who didn’t want to be a protest singer. I don’t think that “voice of a generation” role was ever one Dylan was comfortable with, but the process of resisting, renegotiating and ultimately abandoning it was very productive.

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NS11: Percy’s song

This is a curiosity: a Dylan song from 1963, showing very clearly how immersed he was in American traditional song at that stage of his career. The song in this case is ‘The wind and the rain'; Dylan borrows its framework for a song telling a completely different story, albeit one that doesn’t really go anywhere.

The recording features whistle, melodica and several different vocal tracks; among other things, it’s an experiment in location recording, with different verses recorded in different parts of the house (beginning in a bedroom, appropriately enough, and finishing in the open air). To be brutally honest I think it’s more interesting than successful. The trouble was, after a certain point I’d got so embroiled in editing that re-recording anything seemed impossible. So the melodica has been edited to shreds, and the main result is that it seems to be in the wrong time signature; as for the main vocal, it progresses over the song from is that a bit on the flat side or is it just me? to quite definitely flat (although, to be fair, you should never try to hit a high note while wrenching open a jammed kitchen door). I should probably have scrapped the whole thing and re-done it a semitone down, but I’d done all that editing… The ambient directional recording effect I was hoping for doesn’t really come off, either – it just sounds like I’m going off-mike.

Not really selling this one, am I? It was fun recording it, I will say that. That’s the great thing about this home recording lark – even the recordings that make you wince afterwards are fun at the time.

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