London Meetups This Weekend (Plus Some 1962 Bob History)
Sunday and Monday before Dylan's Palladium concerts
For anyone going to this week’s London concerts, details on two Flagging Down the Double E’s pre-show meetups below!
(For everyone else, so this email isn’t a total wash, skip the next three paragraphs to get some early-Bob concert history)
I am flying in on Saturday for the Sunday and Monday shows and there will be official Flagging Down the Double E’s meetups before both (you know, as opposed to all those unofficial, unsanctioned meetups — I’m getting my lawyers on that).
Before Sunday’s show, meetup is at The Argyll Arms starting at 6pm. It’s got the advantage of location, being right down the street from the venue. It also might be a madhouse for that very reason. If you have trouble finding us, I’ll be wearing a brown Coat of Suede-ish Leather and I look like this.
Before Monday’s show, meetup is at The King & Queen Pub starting at 6pm. It’s a 12-minute walk to the venue. I hoped to hold the original meetup there, but turns out they’re closed Sundays. So I added this second meetup just to go here.
What makes this particular pub so special?
Here’s where the history part comes in…
The King & Queen Pub is the site of Bob Dylan’s first live performance in the UK!
It happened during Dylan’s first overseas trip, in December 1962, when Bob flew to England to perform in the BBC television play Madhouse on Castle Street. While in town, he hit up the local folk clubs, presumably seeking London’s equivalent of Greenwich Village. Word of mouth led him to The King and Queen Pub on December 21, where British folk singer Martin Carthy organized a regular folk music series upstairs.
In a 1991 interview, Carthy remembered spotting Bob there:
I saw his picture on the front of Sing Out!, whenever the hell that was [November 1962]… and just a few weeks later I saw him sitting in the audience in the King & Queen. There were very few clubs in London at that time and visiting Americans used to just make a bee line for the few ones there were and, you know, anything that was loosely folky.
I went up to him in the interval and I said, "Excuse me, your name is Bob Dylan, isn't it?'' He looked up and he said, "Yes'' and I said, "Do you fancy singing?" and he said "No'' and I said ''Oh, all right'' and he said, "Well, maybe I will later on; ask me later."
Needless to say, Bob eventually relented. Carthy introduced him as the guy on the current cover of Sing Out! and complimented the words to “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Song to Woody” — the words were all he then knew, from being printed in the magazine’s pages.
When Bob finally got up in front of the small crowd to make his low-key UK performance debut, Carthy recalled:
The audience knew they were watching something that was really good. Anybody who says anything different, that the audience didn't like him, is talking through their hat. The audience loved him. He did three songs and they demanded an encore. He was great, very funny and very dry. He spoke a little to the audience, not a lot, just a little, but then he never did talk to the audience that much.
There’s no recording sadly, but Carthy recalled one of the three songs Dylan performed at the King & Queen as “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” and another as a “funny ragtimey song” in the vein of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” (any guesses?).
Dylan sat in at other folk shows around then too, at venues like The Troubadour and Singer’s Club. Carthy recalled him doing different songs every time, naming “The Death of Emmett Till,” “Ballad of Hollis Brown” and “A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall” as among those played elsewhere.
If Carthy was listening close to Dylan, Dylan was listening to Carthy too. This first King & Queen show was reportedly where Dylan heard Carthy perform “Lord Franklin” which, as the Freewheelin’ liner note would later note, inspired the music for “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” On this same trip, Dylan also learned “Scarborough Fair” from Carthy and turned it into “Girl from the North Country.”
Another folk singer who was at this King & Queen folk night, Jim McLean, has a different memory. He believes that A) Dylan sang Guthrie tunes and B) He was unimpressive (“a very kind of wishy-washy imitation” of Woody). He also adds this amusing recollection:
He said, 'Can I talk to you about folk music?' I said, 'Yes, down the stairs, in the loo.' In those days we couldn't afford a drink in the pub. We used to smuggle half-bottles in, half-bottles of whiskey, and you went down to the loo in the interval. We went down and he was shaking. I had to hold him by the shoulders. I don't know if it was the pot. It wasn't fear, he was just jiggling. I offered him a drink and we talked about music. I told him there's all rebel music in Scotland, even the farmers' songs. And he asked me if I was Hamish Henderson. Another question he asked me: “Does Ewan MacColl live in a slum?”
So, that’s why I’m adding a second meetup Monday at The King & Queen Pub. It’s BYO half-bottle of whiskey to drink in the loo.
Hope to see some of you at the Argyll Arms on Sunday or King & Queen on Monday!
PS. In case you missed it, earlier this week I announced my new book Pledging My Time: Conversations with Bob Dylan Band Members. Pre-order and additional crowdfunding perks are live now at Indiegogo!