CROPREDY, England (Reuters) - When a band of veteran British rock musicians took to the stage with a different take on Bob Dylan’s music at the weekend, they were so good someone in the crowd even shouted “Judas.”
The reference to the infamous moment when Dylan turned electric was tongue-in-cheek. The musicians concerned make no pretensions about being acoustic folkies.
Slide guitar, driving bass and drums is what they are in this persona. More blow the house down than “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
The Dylan Project is fronted by Steve Gibbons, who like Dylan turned 70 earlier this year — a happy coincidence given that he claims Dylan’s music changed his life.
Gibbons is one of those musicians who is well known in certain die-hard music circles, making a critically successful career for years without achieving widespread celebrity.
The eponymous Steve Gibbons Band is said to be the first rock band from the West to have been invited to tour East Germany in the early 1980s when the Berlin Wall was still up. It has toured with The Who and shared the stage with a plethora of rock names.
But when friends got together to celebrate Gibbons’s big birthday in Austria in July, it was The Dylan Project that tuned up.
The band is a side project for various musicians from the British folk-rock or roots-rock scene, notably bassist Dave Pegg of Fairport Convention and slide guitarist PJ Wright of Little Johnny England.
It plays Dylan. But it is no tribute band, more an homage to the man Wright describes as inventing rock music.
“We have our own take on Bob’s songs. We don’t do core versions,” Pegg said backstage after the Project played at his other band’s annual Fairport’s Cropredy Convention festival in rural north Oxfordshire.
That much was evident from the Cropredy set, a crowd-pleasing performance that focused on a lot of lesser-known Dylan numbers as well as the likes of “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Gibbons, it has to be said, can sound eerily like Dylan — at least on the latter’s good-voice days — which threatens at times to slip into parody.
But the music overcomes any similarity.
Each song is an interpretation. The overall effect is jazzier and bluesier that the originals, exemplified by a particularly haunting “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
The Dylan Project plays around a dozen gigs a year — mainly in Britain and continental Europe — and there appears to be no great desire to extend the touring.
This is mainly because it is a side project for the musicians, most of whom can afford to keep it that way.
“We do it for the craic,” Wright said, using an Anglo-Irish expression for entertainment. “We do it for fun.”