Interview by Dave Brazier from The Telegraph, the Bob Dylan fanzine No. 42, Summer 1992 pp. 88-91, 94-96
“A Conversation with… Martin Carthy” (Sep 26, 1991)
I saw his picture on the front of Sing Out!, whenever the hell that was. I suppose it was sometime in 1962 when they printed “Song For Woody” and “Blowing In The Wind.” But there was also an interview with him and they were all very excited about him.
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. And one of the clubs was a club I used… I used to be in a group called The Thameside Four — in the days when there were groups, not bands.
The Thameside Four ran a club at this pub called The King & Queen, behind Goodge Street station, next to the Middlesex Hospital, and I saw this bloke sitting in the audience and I recognised him, and 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.” So l said “OK.”
We got up in the second half and sang a few songs and I sang a couple of songs and I just looked across and nodded and he just nodded, like that, nodded his head, and I called him up, gave him an introduction and said I’d seen a couple of his songs printed and they looked really nice songs and this was him and he stood up sang. As far as I know that was the first time he sang in England.
He asked about other places to go, and I told him there was The Troubadour on a Saturday and a Tuesday night. We were involved in both of those — at The Troubadour on a Saturday night, I was basically their resident at that time and The Thameside Four had a night at the Troubadour on Tuesday, and he came along to both of those. He also went to Bunjies, I think, and he went to the Singers’ Club and sang there. I don’t remember when it was, maybe the Saturday following that Friday when I saw him at The King & Queen or perhaps the following Saturday.
When he stood up and started to perform at The King & Queen, it was just… 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.
I remember seeing him at the Royal Festival Hall about 18 months afterwards when he did his solo concert there and he was astounding. He was astounding. He didn’t talk at first, and then he started telling everybody… he told the audience the plot of the movie “Hootenanny,” which is all about muscle men and bikini-clad young lasses all cavorting about singing folk, singing “hootenanny” music… but that was later on.
In 1962, he was making this play and it was winter; it was pretty cold.
Dylan based some of his songs on things he’d learned from you — “Girl From The North Country,” for example, came from your “Scarborough Fair.” Did he tell you at the time that that’s what he was aiming at doing?
Oh yes. He would always ask me to sing it, that one and Lord Franklin. And when he came back from… erm, I thought he went to Portugal but somebody told me he went to Italy, but anyway he went away, because there was a screw up with the filming on Madhouse On Castle Street, a strike, actually. At nine o’clock the technicians pulled the plugs and because they hadn’t finished filming, they had to start all over again. So he went away for a while and then came back and filmed it again.
And when he came back, he’d written Girl From The North Country, he came down to The Troubadour and said, “Hey, here’s Scarborough Fair” and he started playing this thing. And he kept getting the giggles, all the time he was doing it. It was very funny. I think he sang about three or four verses and then he went. ”Ah man ah,” and he burst out laughing and sang something else. So yeah, l knew what he was doing. It was delightful, lovely. ‘cos I mean he… he made a new song.
It’s part of the folk tradition, isn’t it, to base one song on another song?
Well, I don’t know whether it is a folk tradition or not, but I took it as an enormous compliment, to the song and, if you like, to me. You know, I thought he was a tremendously honourable bloke. Still do. It was a great thing to have done.
Do you think there was a big difference in Bob between ’62 and ’65 or was it just that the people around him were different?
Huge, huge, huge difference. His coming to England had an enormous impact on his music, and yet nobody’s ever said it properly. He came and he learned. When he sat in all those folk clubs in ’62, he was just soaking stuff up all the time. He heard Louis Killen, he heard Nigel Denver, he heard Bob Davenport, he heard me, he heard The Thameside Four, dozens of people. Anybody who came into The Troubadour, or came into The King & Queen, or the Singers’ Club, and he listened and he just gobbled stuff up.
The first complete album he made after he first visited England was Times They Are A-changin’, and England is all over that album; it’s all over Another Side Of Bob Dylan too and it’s all over a large area of his work at that time. All those tunes he wrote sounded English, Irish, Scottish, you know, a particular kind of highly melodic tune. He stopped playing sort of raggy tunes, and blues — he went back to those later on, when he went back more into rock’n’roll. But he was forever changing things around; he still is. He turns old songs upside down.