Four Riders of the Apocalypse

You tore away my innocence

With my young fear in your hand

You sliced apart my body

Leaving scars I could not stand

You took my friend away from me

And left the wounds to bleed

You tempted me with beauty

I was a fool indeed

You stole each of my children

And corrupted my young wife

You told lies about my character

And polluted my whole life

You murdered my good family

Took my son to begin again

Mocked each of my weaknesses

Tattooed babies with a poison pen

You stole my house and chattels

Left me without a home

You took my family and my loved ones

Leaving me to fight alone

You threatened me with blackmail

With a dinner plate in your hand

You brought it crashing down

Something I still don’t understand

You gave me strength and patience

And the best friends in the land

You gave me love and honesty

So my enemies could not stand

You gave me hope and gentleness

And the spirit to take stock

You gave me life and laughter

And faith within a solid rock

Blogging Update

I HAVE been blogging at for the past 20 months and have just hit a few milestones, so thought I ought to post an update.

As of today my blog has received 20,000 hits (an average of 1,000 every month) and the 258 posts have had 9,126 visitors. I now have 109 regular followers and have won one award and was nominated for one other. My best day was 5 March 2014 when I had 700 hits in one day and my average busiest time for blog views is 12 noon (12% of all views) on a Tuesday (34% of views). Work that one out if you can!

My most popular blog postings have been: The Answer My Friend Is Blowin’ in the Wind, Everything Stays Down Where It’s Wounded and the poem Writing.

I have had a bit of a lull in my blogging for the first six months of this year, following the publication of The Hill: Songs and Poems of Darkness and Light but am back to it with a bit of vengeance, and have already written 36 songs and poems for the next book.

A number of close friends have suggested I start writing my autobiography, so am in the process of that right now. I guess there is a lot to tell!

Thank you everyone for your continued support.

Nic xxx

Exploding the ISIS myth

“I married ISIS on the fifth day of May

But I could not hold on to her very long

So I cut off my hair and I rode straight away

For the wild unknown country where I could not go wrong.”  

(Bob Dylan)

IT is not often I agree with former Thatcher aide and privileged Tory MP Matthew Parris, but his column in Saturday’s The Times rang resonant chords.

Under a heading ‘We’ve become the Isis Propaganda Machine’, Mr Parris writes at some length why “British jihadists pose little threat to us and are no different to adventurers who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War.”

On the back of last week’s reports about three Muslim women from Bradford fleeing to Syria with their children – supposedly to join the insurgency – the columnist takes apart the ISIS bogeyman ideal and analyses the figures citing: “You can’t stop people going. It’s absurd blaming the airlines – 41 million people visited Turkey last year: the world’s sixth most popular tourist destination.

“And on any scale, the numbers are small. The government thinks that in the past four years maybe about 700 ISIS sympathisers have gone to Syria and Iraq. Many of these have been killed. Others will doubtless have come home disenchanted, sheepish, keeping their heads down.

“I’ve heard no evidence that a flyblown stint with murderous bigots in Syria has radicalised young British Muslims, who return: these are human beings like us, many of whom will have reacted to the reality of that dirty war in the same way you or I would have done – with shock and disillusion.

“Nor have I seen evidence that recruitment is growing, despite the media’s and the government’s unwitting efforts to drum up interest among young British Muslims.”

Later he writes: “It would be hard to argue that the Spanish Civil War was any less barbarous than what is happening in Syria or Iraq, yet it proved impossible to stop young (Christian and Atheist) idealists from Britain piling in.”

Indeed, in the 1930s here in Britain we applauded people who went off to fight in the Spanish Civil War. In the 1940s we turned a blind eye to those that fought on either side in Palestine and Egypt. In the 1950s we encouraged those who joined the resistance in Cuba. In the 1960s and 70s we didn’t stop people fighting in various African conflicts. In the 1980s we allowed people to fight in central America. In the 1990s we again allowed people to join the fight on either side in the Middle East.

Yet, since 2001 our government has determined which side our people should fight on. And those that fight on the wrong side are deemed terrorists.

And if they dare return to Britain they are immediately regarded as a threat to our own country, have their passports withdrawn and are criminalised.

This is particularly alarming with regard to Syria, where our government, and the USA, armed and trained the same rebels which they now regard as “international terrorists”.

I hate ISIS and what its stands for. But who are we to tell British people who to fight for?

The logic is baffling.

So I catch a plane to Tel Aviv to help the IDF murder Palestinians. I would guess that as far as the British government is concerned a blind eye would be turned. The same blind eye that is turned constantly to the terrorism perpetrated in the name of Israel. Or the state terrorism of the Syrian government against its own people.

ISIS remains top of the news because it underscores all the demonization of Islam which this government wants to perpetuate to keep us living in fear and to smokescreen 9/11 and the West’s real intention in the Middle East.

And from a practical point of view this knee jerk so-called counter terrorism won’t stop this latest Jihadist threat.

The roots for this dangerous political stupidity run dep.

After 9/11, many within the US national security establishment worried that, following decades of preparation for confronting conventional enemies such as the Soviet Union, Washington was unready for the challenge posed by an unconventional adversary such as al Qaeda.

So over the next decade, the United States – with the UK hanging on its coat tails – built an elaborate structure to fight the jihadist organization, adapting its military and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the tasks of counterterrorism and counter-insurgency.

Now, however, a different group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has supplanted al Qaeda as the jihadist threat of greatest concern to the West and our “civilised Christian way of life”.

But ISIS is not al Qaeda.

Although al Qaeda remains dangerous, especially its affiliates in North Africa and Yemen.  ISIS represents the post–al Qaeda jihadist threat.

In a nationally televised speech last September explaining his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, US President Barack Obama drew a straight line between the group and al Qaeda and claimed that ISIS is “a terrorist organization, pure and simple.”

The same line that is regularly drawn by Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

But ISIS hardly fits that description, and indeed, although it uses terrorism as a tactic, it is not really a terrorist organization at all.

Terrorist networks, such as al Qaeda, generally have only dozens or hundreds of members, attack civilians, do not hold territory, and cannot directly confront military forces.

ISIS, on the other hand, boasts some 30,000 fighters – many trained by the US and CIA operatives – holds territory in both Iraq and Syria, maintains extensive military capabilities, controls lines of communication, commands infrastructure, funds itself, and engages in sophisticated military operations.

If ISIS is purely and simply anything, it is a pseudo-state led by a conventional army.

And that is why the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies that greatly diminished the threat from al Qaeda will not work against ISIS.

And attempts by the Western media and governments to demonise them as terrorists who might arrive on our own doorstep as suicide bombers diverts us from the truth and act as recruiting sergeants for their cause.

Al Qaeda came into being in the aftermath of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Its leaders’ world views and strategic thinking were shaped by the 10-year war against Soviet occupation, when thousands of Muslim militants, including Osama bin Laden, converged on the country.

As the organization coalesced, it took the form of a global network focused on carrying out spectacular attacks against Western or Western-allied targets, with the goal of rallying Muslims to join a global confrontation with secular powers near and far.

But ISIS came into being thanks to the 2003 US and UK invasion of Iraq. In its earliest incarnation, it was just one of a number of Sunni extremist groups fighting Allied forces and attacking Shiite civilians in an attempt to foment a sectarian civil war.

At that time, it was called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had pledged allegiance to bin Laden. Zarqawi was killed by a US air strike in 2006, and soon after, AQI was nearly wiped out when Sunni tribes decided to partner with the Americans to confront the jihadists.

But the defeat was temporary; AQI renewed itself inside US-run prisons in Iraq, where insurgents and terrorist operatives connected and formed networks—and where the group’s current chief and self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, first distinguished himself as a leader.

In 2011, as a revolt against the Assad regime in Syria expanded into a full-blown civil war, the group took advantage of the chaos, seizing territory in Syria’s northeast, establishing a base of operations, and rebranding itself as ISIS.

In Iraq, the group continued to capitalize on the weakness of the central state and to exploit the country’s sectarian strife, which intensified after US forces withdrew.

With the Allied troops gone, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pursued a hard-line pro-Shiite agenda, further alienating Sunni Arabs throughout the country.

ISIS now counts among its members Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders, former anti-US insurgents, and even secular former Iraqi military officers who seek to regain the power and security they enjoyed during the Saddam Hussein era.

The group’s territorial conquest in Iraq came as a shock. When ISIS captured Fallujah and Ramadi in January 2014, most analysts predicted that the US-trained Iraqi security forces would contain the threat.

But last June, amid mass desertions from the Iraqi army, ISIS moved toward Baghdad, capturing Mosul, Tikrit, al-Qaim, and numerous other Iraqi towns.

By the end of last summer, ISIS had renamed itself the Islamic State and had proclaimed the territory under its control to be a new caliphate. Meanwhile, according to US intelligence estimates, some 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries flocked to the region to join ISIS, at the rate of around 1,000 per month.

Although most of these recruits came from Muslim-majority countries, such as Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, some also hailed from Australia, China, Russia, and western European countries (700 from Britain over four years).

As ISIS has grown, its goals and intentions have become clearer.

It seeks to control territory and create a “pure” Sunni Islamist state governed by a brutal interpretation of Sharia; to immediately obliterate the political borders of the Middle East that were created by Western powers in the 20th century; and to position itself as the sole political, religious, and military authority over all of the world’s Muslims.

Holding territory has allowed the group to build a self-sustaining financial model unthinkable for most terrorist groups.

Beginning in 2012, ISIS gradually took over key oil assets in eastern Syria; it now controls an estimated 60 percent of the country’s oil production capacity. Meanwhile, during its push into Iraq last summer, ISIS also seized seven oil-producing operations in that country.

The group manages to sell some of this oil on the black market in Iraq and Syria – including, according to some reports, to the Assad regime itself. ISIS also smuggles oil out of Iraq and Syria into Jordan and Turkey, where it finds plenty of buyers happy to pay below-market prices for illicit crude. All told, ISIS’ revenue from oil is estimated to be between $1 million and $3 million per day.

The group also controls major transportation arteries in western Iraq, allowing it to tax the movement of goods and charge tolls. It even earns revenue from cotton and wheat grown in Raqqa, the breadbasket of Syria.

Of course, like terrorist groups, ISIS also takes hostages, demanding tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments. But more important to the group’s finances is a wide-ranging extortion racket that targets owners and producers in ISIS territory, taxing everything from small family farms to large enterprises such as cell-phone service providers, water delivery companies, and electric utilities.

And ISIS continues to grow helped by anti-Islamic rhetoric pursued by much of the Western media and its political leaders.

That rhetoric is littered with hate against all Muslims and hateful towards those of us who don’t share the antipathy against them.

We are immediately damned as sympathising with extremists, despising our country, ‘living in a bubble’, not understanding how ‘most people’ feel, and being ignorant of what’s happening.

I live in Wolverhampton, in a locality favoured by Muslims and Sikhs, who live and work happily side by side with ethnic white Christians and non believers.

Muslims come in all shapes and sizes and with a very wide range of opinions of matters religious and secular, and that millions of British Muslims are worried about extremism, some of them worried sick.

We collectively realise that under the skin and religion, we are all the same… we are all human beings struggling to make a living and make sense of our lives.

And what is happening regarding our Establishment view of ISIS makes no sense at all.

My Father’s House


IN so many ways I really hate Father’s Day, as much for what I have lost with my own children, as for what might have been.

It is six and half years since my beloved father Ray died.

My dad was part of me and I part of him in every way. He is never far from my thoughts and often inhabits my dreams regularly.

He was not the perfect father, but he was my father and the best there ever was. He taught me so much about optimism, overcoming setbacks and being myself… and much more about living.

His own life was full of obstacles. At four years old, he was knocked down by a car – one of only a few on the road in 1934 – suffered severe head injuries and had his left ear sewn back on. After three months in hospital he then had to learn to eat, read, write and talk again.

Later in life, he ruptured a kidney in a motorbike accident, came close to death with hepatitis in Egypt, was rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy while working in Munich and suffered osteoarthritis, glaucoma, temporal arteritis, cancer and a series of mini strokes. His later years were plagued by health problems… but he never complained, even when he was dying with Parkinson’s Disease.

On the counter-side, he enjoyed so many successes. He was one of the junior designers of Concorde, helped design many other aeroplanes too; he rebuilt windmills, worked on the earliest electronics for rechargeable batteries and later the development of ground-breaking microwave engineering.

At home, he made several small fortunes renovating houses and lost small fortunes with his obsession with buying and selling some perverse motorcars.

He took risks, made mistakes, won and lost and won again… he never gave up.

And I now hold to his example when my Dark Passenger of depression clings too close.

As an adult, I had to wait until I was battling cancer at the age of 31 to really understand my dad more fully. Apparently he cried himself to sleep the night before my first major operation …. I never saw my dad cry. And over those months, we bonded as father and son and shared many emotions. He was always there for me.

I will never forget the day, about eight years later, when I won my first major press award. At the awards dinner in Edinburgh, dad and mum shared a table with me. After I received my award I returned to our table and dad was the first to stand and hug me and say “well done, son”. That moment always stays with me.

Ironically, I could only repay him after he had passed away. The proudest moment of my life was conducting his funeral service in front of our family and friends.

Some of the words from my eulogy to him I recall now:

“When I think of Dad I think of a man of no compromise yet someone who would do anything and compromise for anyone. And if ever there were regrets in his life, he rarely if ever voiced them.

He always had time to live, laugh, love and work so incredibly hard for his home and his family, whom he adored.

Dad was, at times, the most annoyingly anti-social man you could meet.

With a vengeance he hated Bob Monkhouse, Bruce Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher, the man across the road with a twitch, those bloody long-haired pop singers, the guy with the beer belly who had more hair than him, the happy next door neighbour who would ask after his health, David Beckham, Eastenders, Terry Wogan, Prince Charles… the list could go on and on.

But he also had heroes, golfer Jack Nicklaus, Nat King Cole and Doris Day, and probably his biggest hero heavyweight boxing champion Mohammed Ali – so it is sadly ironic that this magnificent sportsman too is fading with the same disease that took Dad.

Ain’t life a great leveller.

But despite dad’s pretence at anti-social behaviour, he was the most sociable and likeable man anyone could ever meet. In fact anyone who met him was immediately touched by him and loved him.

Count how many thousands of times we caught him happily chatting at the garden fence with a complete stranger, or the times he made a bird table for a neighbour or helped someone decorate or do their garden, or the dozens of times he helped us kids move house, knock down a chimney, lay a carpet, fix a roof, mend a car, drive us to a date, cover for our indiscretions … again the list goes on and on.

And now dad…. as we say goodbye, we will always remember you with love and so much affection… love and affection which we tried to bestow on you whenever we could.”

And we played out his coffin with Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”

He is gone and I miss him. Especially today.

But he left his mark on this Earth and, yes, he lived.

Journey Through Dark Heat – Part 2 (1978-1982)

EBP_B465-30_Bob Dylan14

Journey Through Dark Heat    –  Part 2 (1978-1982)

You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

BY the close of 1978 I could have happily stayed with the music of Desire and Street Legal forever.

That summer’s gig at Earls Court was a natural high and very few fans at the end of that year would have predicted the change that Bob Dylan was about to undertake.

But change he did…

As a high profile, but non-practicing, Jew, Bob suddenly found Jesus… and what a spiritual and musical conversion it was for all concerned.

Like a slow train we just didn’t see it coming.

Three years earlier in 1976 Dylan gave a brief public insight into his own spirituality in an interview for the American TV Guide.

The interviewer asked him about his 1971 visit to Israel and subsequent interest in Judaism.

“I’m interested in what and who a Jew is,” said Dylan. “I’m interested in the fact that Jews are Semites, like Babylonians, Hittites, Arabs, Syrians, Ethiopians. But a Jew is different because a lot of people hate Jews. There’s something going on there that’s hard to explain.”

He was then asked how he imagined God.

“I can see God in a daisy. I can see God at night in the wind and rain. I see Creation just about everywhere. The highest form of song is prayer. King David’s, Solomon’s, the wailing of a coyote, the rumble of the earth. It must be wonderful to be God. There’s so much going on out there that you can’t get to it all. It would take longer than for ever.”

During the 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue, Dylan found himself working alongside three musicians who were later to become born-again Christians – T-Bone Burnett on bass, Steve Soles rhythm and David Mansfield violin.

Soles and Mansfield accompanied Dylan on the 1978 European tour and were there alongside him at that Earls Court gig.

Soles in particular had spent a lot of time arguing religion with his boss.  But the only thing that Soles can recall registering with him was his constantly saying that: “You can’t place your faith in man. I kept telling him that I was so glad that I didn’t have to place my faith in man any longer.”

The turning point for Dylan came when the girl he’d been living with became a committed Christian. She promptly moved out on him as she’d attained a new set of values.

The depth of this commitment caused him to set about investigating for himself.

She is now immortalised as the Precious Angel on his 1979 album Slow Train Coming (which I will come to shortly), who was “The one/ To show me I was blinded/ To show me I was gone”.

His first stop was a Bible study led by Hal Lindsey, an American Christian author whose book The Later Great Planet Earth came out in 1970.

Lindsey’s particular concern – the final events in the history of the world as prophesised by the Book of Revelation – obviously captured Dylan’s imagination and he would have been intrigued by Lindsey’s emphasis on biblical prophecies concerning the role of Israel and the Jewish people in the days before the return of Christ to Earth amid a holocaust in the Middle East involving Russia, China, the Arab nations and many European countries.

Close friends like Soles and Burnett all remarked on the difference in Dylan’s attitude after his conversion.

“He’s excited by the fact that he feels he’s been rescued,” said one. Others commented on the love and warmth that he was projecting.

And so we come to the release in 1979 of Slow Train Coming, an album which was as ground-breaking and life changing for me as for thousands of other Dylan fans.

I received it on cassette tape for Christmas that year and that tape rarely left my side until it was upgraded for the CD some 15 years later!

It takes only one listening to realise that Slow Train Coming is the best album Bob Dylan had made since Blood on the Tracks.

In the 36 years since its release, the more I listen to the album, the more I feel that it’s one of the finest records Dylan has ever made. In time, it is possible that it might even be considered his greatest.

Dylan’s new songs were statements of strength and simplicity, and the lyrics again equal his early classics. The words are rich with the ambiguity of great art. Slow Train Coming’s lyrics are timeless, simple, yet rich in potential levels of meaning.

Gotta Serve Somebody, the opening cut, uses a religious allegory in each chorus. There is no let-up in the power of the rhythm and arrangements from the opening track through the last, because there’s no let-up in the message. Over and over again, Dylan tells us that we have a choice of doing good or doing bad.

Precious Angel is the most beautiful melody on the record, and it matches the beauty of the lyric.

There are numerous Biblical references, but in no way do they overwhelm, or ever become differentiated from the undisguised passion of a lover’s question. The song has intensely sensuous words:


You’re the queen of my flesh, girl

You’re my woman, you’re my delight

You’re the lamp of my soul, girl

You torch up the night.


The refrain: “Shine your light, shine your light on me/I just can’t make it by myself/I’m a little too blind to see”, tears your heart out.

I am struck by two other lines: “Men will beg God to kill them/And they won’t be able to die” — a terrifying idea; and the verse that starts, “Sister, let me tell you/About a vision that I saw/You were carrying water for your husband/You were suffering under the law,” which is a clear essay on the rights of women.

I Believe in You is a story that shifts from the personal to the philosophic to the religious, and may even be a story about Jesus.

I Believe in You is about someone who adopts unpopular beliefs and faces an outcast’s fate, yet the lines “I believe in you/Even on the morning after” are a rather obvious clue to quite another, yet parallel interpretation.

The power of this song is the discovery of faith and belief, and the release and pleasure of accepting them.

Slow Train is nothing less than Dylan’s most mature and profound song about his own land of America.

He begins this song “wondering what’s happening to my companions,” and verse after verse explains who his companions are and what is happening to them. There’s his “backwoods girl from Alabama”, then, there’s the nation itself — a people frustrated — because they lately see themselves as powerless to affect their own national destiny. “Look around you/It’s just bound to make you embarrassed.”

Among other things, he says: “The enemy I see/Wears a cloak of decency” and “They talk about a life of brotherly love/But show me someone who knows how to live it.”

The guitar solos by Mark Knopfler, like the lyrics, are angry. They suggest vengeance and a desire to strike out. The most powerful lyric of them all:


My baby went to Illinois

With some bad-talking boy she could destroy

A real suicide case

But there was nothing I could do to stop it

I don’t care about economy

I don’t care about astronomy

But it sure does bother me

To see my loved ones turning into puppets.


Set in a tough, relentless rhythm, Gonna Change My Way of Thinking is a fire-and-brimstone sermon stripped of subtlety, though not of poetry. Lines like these are priceless:

I got a God-fearing woman

One I can easily afford

She can do the Georgia crawl

She can walk in the spirit of the Lord.


When You Gonna Wake Up is another assessment of the USA. The tune is a swinging, lowdown groove, which showcases the musicians, including Dylan, whose singing is tough, full-voiced and urgent, sounding like a zealot.

Dylan’s chorus, “Strengthen the things that remain,” is the sentiment of a deeply concerned citizen. The lyrics are more acidic than practically anything found in rock music at the time.

These are parables, more numerous and closely woven than ever before, assembled with judgmental and righteous morality.

Slow Train Coming is pure, true Dylan, probably the purest and truest Dylan ever.

The haunting and foreboding guitar groove senses that train coming up around the bend.

When He Returns, the most religious song on the album, is Dylan’s richest and most beautiful effort as a singer. He sings with a sound that needs no words because he has the sound of the soul itself.

Musically, this is probably Dylan’s finest record, a rare coming together of inspiration, desire and talent that completely fuse strength, vision and art.

At its release critic Charles Shaar Murray wrote: “Bob Dylan has never seemed more perfect and more impressive than on this album. He has also never seemed more unpleasant and hate-filled.”

Personally it is an album that has the deepest meaning for me of any that he has ever produced.

On 1 November 1979, Dylan began a lengthy residency at the Fox Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, California, playing a total of 14 dates supported by a large ensemble. It was the beginning of six months of touring North America, performing his new music to believers and heckling fans alike.

Despite the mixed reactions to his new direction, Gotta Serve Somebody was a US Top 30 hit, and the album outsold both Blood on the Tracks and Blonde on Blonde in its first year of release.

During this period, Dylan refused to play any of his older compositions, as well as any secular material. Many fans wishing to hear his older songs openly expressed their disappointment.

Hecklers continued to appear at his concerts, only to be answered by lectures from the stage.

Dylan was firmly entrenched in his evangelical ways, and it would continue through his next album Saved in June 1980, whether his audience would follow or not.

During his 1979/80 gigs Dylan took audience provocation to a new level by presenting nights of music devoted exclusively to his new material, often pausing for long, rambling sermons about Christ’s imminent return and the wickedness of man.

After taking one month off for the Christmas holidays in Minnesota, Dylan resumed the tour on 13 January 1980 with a three-night engagement at Paramount Northwest Theatre in Seattle.

The second leg of the tour concluded with a two-night engagement at the Municipal Auditorium in Charleston, West Virginia on 9 February.

Dylan and his touring band immediately travelled to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama to record the new songs they had been performing for the album Saved.

Saved is a raw, passionate affair. Dylan cut it with his band over a quick five days.

The producer was Jerry Wexler, the former Atlantic Records executive behind key albums by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Dusty Springfield, and Saved sounds as good as that pedigree would have you hope.

In many ways Saved is an even more aesthetically gratifying album than the masterpiece of Slow Train Coming.

With Jim Keltner on drums and bassist Tim Drummond irreverently goosing things along, the group actually approaches flat-out rock and roll on two cuts: the gospel raveup, Saved, and the unabashedly syncopated Solid Rock.

Perhaps the most likable aspect of Bob Dylan’s genius has always been his ability to evoke the phantom strains of traditional American music, from country blues to gospel to good old rock and roll. This gift is again in evidence on Saved, particularly in the bravely eccentric, almost disembodied reading that Dylan gives the folk classic, Satisfied Mind. He lays out the song’s stately melody like a winding pilgrim’s path through the wailing melismatics of his three backup singers, Clydie King, Regina Havis and Mona Lisa Young.

Subtly gathering harmonic power behind Dylan’s rough but finely felt vocal, Saving Grace is so persuasive on its own terms that one can disregard the lyrical lapses – “There’s only one road, and it leads to Calvary” – and accept the track as a genuinely moving paean to some nonspecific Providence.

In a similar manner, the serenely stoic Pressing On utilizes a gentle gospel piano and some inspired lead and backup singing to make a simple statement of spiritual commitment, with Dylan acknowledging both his past and present in the lines: “Shake the dust off of your feet/Don’t look back/Nothing can hold you down/Nothing that you lack.”

Covenant Woman is one of Bob Dylan’s most engaging love songs. A gospel-tinged ballad written in Dylan’s mid-60s chordal style, it posits a God who “must have loved me oh so much/To send me someone as fine as you.” There’s an American Gothic earnestness to such a sentiment that’s rather winning.

What Can I Do for You? is the weakest track, but In the Garden, which is also explicitly Biblical, is blessed with a lovely, billowing arrangement, and Dylan sings with stirring conviction. It would become a regular number in Dylan’s live sets for the next 20 years.

Are You Ready is as close as Dylan comes to R&B on this record. His harmonica playing harks back to many southern Blues legends of the 1920s and 30s. “Are ya ready to meet Jesus?” he asks. “Are ya where ya oughta be?/Will He know ya when He sees ya?/Or will He say, ‘Depart from me’?/Am I ready?”

Saved is a work of some distinction.

Producer Jerry Wexler later recalled: “The arrangements were built in, because the band had been playing the songs live. Most of the licks are their own licks, which they perfected on the road.”

After taking the month of March off, Dylan and his band resumed the tour on 17 April with a four-night engagement at Massey Hall in Toronto.

At the Toronto concerts, Dylan introduced three new Christian songs not included on Saved, Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody, Cover Down, Break Through, and I Will Love Him.

A professional camera crew captured the stop at Massey Hall on 20 April, 1980.

Before launching into a stunningly powerful Solid Rock, Dylan delivered a nearly seven-minute sermon. It’s almost more than he’s said onstage at every show of the last decade of the Never Ending Tour combined.

“We’ve had a lot of previews of what the Anti-Christ could be like,” he said. “We had that Jim Jones, he’s like a preview. We had Adolf Hitler, a preview. Anyway, the Anti-Christ is gonna be a little bit different than that. He’s gonna bring peace to the world for a certain length of time. But he will eventually be defeated too. Supernaturally defeated. And God will intervene.”

It’s an amazing speech, and the sound quality is incredible too.

The tour then headed back to the United States and concluded with four concerts in the Midwest.

By the summer of 1981, two whole years had passed since Dylan’s conversion to Christianity and three years since his Earls Court gigs in 1978.

Those of us in Europe were still untouched by his presence and had to wholly rely on varying press reports, his two released albums and a small – but growing – handful of bootleg tapes of stateside gigs.

Then our prayers were finally answered.

The Bob Dylan World Tour 1981 lasted from June to November 1981 and consisted of 54 concerts in three legs: 31 in North America and 23 in Europe.

The tour promoted the release of the final part of Dylan’s Born Again album trilogy: Shot of Love.

Shot Of Love is regarded as the third album in Bob Dylan’s so-called Gospel trilogy, but it is far less spiritual than its two predecessors, indeed, several other Dylan albums (John Wesley Harding or Street Legal for example) could be considered more so.

However, the problem with Shot Of Love is that it could have been far better than it actually is, as a result of several potentially classic tracks being omitted. Angelina, Caribbean Wind and The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar were all discarded (Groom was later reinstated) in favour of poorer material.

Shot Of Love opens with the title track and here we have him bemoaning the state of the world and telling us in no uncertain terms that there is only one remedy for his and our various ailments.

Heroin, codeine, whisky or, perversely, turpentine won’t do the trick, only love.

A more sinister note is introduced later with the Devil who: “Hates me and he’s swift, smooth and near/Am I supposed to sit back and wait until he’s here?”

Heart Of Mine with its innocent simplicity is a fine example of Dylan’s so-called minor songs. Starting off with the wonderfully mangled metaphor “You can play with fire but you’ll get the bill” this is Dylan laying his emotional cards on the table “Don’t let her know that you love her he says, but he’s not fooling anyone”.

Property Of Jesus was apparently written as a response to a remark that Mick Jagger had made concerning the validity of Dylan’s faith.

Right from the first verse Dylan makes his intentions clear: “Go ahead and talk about him… and Laugh at him behind his back” are self-explanatory, but the biggest indication of intent is “Hope he falls upon himself, oh, won’t that be sweet” particularly when you hear the disdainful delivery.

Introducing Lenny Bruce in Colombes, France in June 1981, Dylan said that he: “Just wrote this song in about five minutes”. And it shows! This is a poor song, and Dylan’s ponderous vocal delivery and piano playing bring little to it, the album could well have done without it.

Watered Down Love brings a change of pace and direction and is in some ways a response to Heart Of Mine. This is an underrated song that works very well.

The opening lines of the song draw heavily on 1 Corinthians with its “Hopes all things/Believes all things”, but Dylan gives it a more modern feel by adding “Won’t pull no strings”, and emphasises the point with “It don’t make you envious, it don’t make you suspicious”.

It’s difficult now to believe that Shot Of Love was originally released without The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar as it seems such an integral part of the album.

The typically chaotic writing and frenetic delivery make it one of Dylan’s best and is only beaten on this album by Every Grain Of Sand.

Rich in imagery, Jesus Christ (the Groom)  is waiting for the faithful and the frustration is clear “Been treated like a farm animal on a wild goose chase”, as is the wilful misunderstanding of people’s motives “Try to be pure at heart, they arrest you for robbery/Mistake your shyness for aloofness, your silence for snobbery”.

The final verse with its: “Killing nuns and soldiers and …fighting on the border” is reminiscent of African or central American conflicts, and the outrageous rhyming of January with Buenos Aires helps make Groom a wonderfully evocative if somewhat confused (and confusing) song.

Musically if not lyrically Dead Man, Dead Man is one of the high points of the album thanks to Tim Drummond’s bass and Clydie King’s backing vocal. Much in the same vein as Property Of Jesus, except that this time the finger is pointing in instead of out

In The Summertime is the type of song that Dylan seems to write with a consummate ease that most contemporary songwriters can only wish for.

There is a gentleness here and a welcome return to the harmonica as Dylan ponders on an all too brief relationship “Where the sun never set, where the trees hung low/By that soft and shining sea”.

This is an underrated piece that can be taken as a simple love song or something deeper.

Trouble on the other hand is heavy and repetitive to the point that reducing the album’s running time by four and a half minutes might have been a better option, particularly when one considers some of the major songs that were rejected.

Whereas Every Grain Of Sand is a perfect example of Dylan using his best available song to close an album, something that he has done often in the past and would also do in the future.

This is a remarkable piece of writing, made more so by Dylan’s emotional and heartfelt delivery of it.

In the time of my confession,

In the hour of my deepest need

When the pool of tears beneath my feet

Flood every new born seed

There’s a dyin’ voice within me

Reaching out somewhere

Toiling in the danger

And in the morals of despair

Don’t have the inclination

To look back on any mistake

Like Cain I now behold this chain

Of events that I must break

In the fury of the moment

I can see the Master’s hand

In every leaf that trembles

In every grain of sand.

On the flowers of indulgence

And the weeds of yesteryear

Like crim’nals they have choked the breath

Of conscience and good cheer

The sun beat down upon the steps

Of time to light my way

To ease the pain of idleness

And the memory of decay

I gaze into the doorway

Of temptation’s angry flame

And every time I pass that way

I always hear my name

Then onward in my journey

I come to understand

That every hair is numbered

Like every grain of sand.


Shot Of Love is too uneven to be a classic Bob Dylan album, and that coupled with the fact that even die-hard fans were apparently beginning to tire of his religious stance saw it slump commercially.

Before the August release, Dylan undertook a tour of Europe and the UK, but there was none of the frenzy for tickets that there had been three years earlier, in fact seats for the six nights at London’s Earl’s Court sold very slowly.

But those who attended the gigs were in for a rich surprise.

Dylan did his bit to promote the album, playing most of the songs live during this and the subsequent North American tour.

The tour started on June 10, 1981 in Chicago, Illinois.

Dylan performed a further three concerts in the United States before travelling to Europe for a series of spectacular shows.

The set list grew considerably as more of his older songs were added.

Recordings of those shows find Dylan totally at the top of his game.  The arrangements made sense, the background singers never seemed out of place, and revisiting his then extensive catalogue of songs, Dylan was making them come alive and shine again, almost as if he was remembering who he was and what he’d written.

The European leg of the tour started on June 21 in Toulouse in France and consisted of twenty three concerts, the largest number of concerts taking place in England where eight shows were performed.

All shows from July 1 onwards were recorded by members of Dylan’s crew.

Dylan returned to the United States in October to perform 23 concerts there. Dylan also performed four concerts in Canada. The tour came to an end in Lakeland, Florida on November 21 after 54 concerts.

Sadly, due to family commitments and moving house I missed all of Dylan’s nine UK shows (six at Earls Court and three at Birmingham’s NEC) and would have to wait three more years before I could see him again.

And once again my journey with Dylan would become more personal.

To be continued

Village of Lost Souls

Upon the hill the church bells chime

The graveyard whispers of another time

When lowly men and the land were one

And this ugly war had not begun

Above us the roof is full of holes

Searching this village of lost souls

John Keats is in the alley Looking for a rhyme

Edward German walks by quickly Lost in another time I’m in the boot store

With a bootleg in my hand

Sipping Kraken quietly

Trying to make a stand

In the bull ring the artisans chatter

Newspaper headlines do not matter

To society fires of quiet rural lives

The verger preaches to lost young wives

Above us the roof is full of holes

Searching this village of lost souls

John Keats is in the alley Looking for a rhyme

Edward German walks by quickly Lost in another time I’m in the boot store

With a bootleg in my hand

Sipping Kraken quietly

Trying to make a stand

By the waterside the barges float

The lock keeper paints his rotten boat

Flies buzz round fish heads and tails

The jolly joiner repairs his sails

Above us the roof is full of holes

Searching this village of lost souls

John Keats is in the alley Looking for a rhyme

Edward German walks by quickly Lost in another time I’m in the boot store

With a bootleg in my hand

Sipping Kraken quietly

Trying to make a stand

In the Greyhound pub granddad drinks

The waitress watches as her spirit sinks

Punters come and wild wayfarers go

The world outside it moves too slow

Above us the roof is full of holes

Searching this village of lost souls

John Keats is in the alley Looking for a rhyme

Edward German walks by quickly Lost in another time I’m in the boot store

With a bootleg in my hand

Sipping Kraken quietly

Trying to make a stand

Hope in Hopelessness

Huddled by the puddles

In the corner

Where the drains run

Frozen stiff with frostbite

And soaked to the skin

Victims of a genocide

Your hope is wearing


Limbless and lifeless

Faceless and eyeless

You’re my cousin

You’re my friend

You’re my daughter

Sons of men

We embrace

We are one

We are brothers in arms

Hunger gnaws with no mercy

At the women

In the awning

Dying to survive

Blisters on her chin

Victims of a genocide

Your hope is wearing


Limbless and lifeless

Faceless and eyeless

You’re my cousin

You’re my friend

You’re my daughter

Sons of men

We embrace

We are one

We are brothers in arms

Screams pierce the darkness

In the rubble

Of the shelter

Bombs explode above

The Zionist’s dark sin

Victims of a genocide

Your hope is wearing


Limbless and lifeless

Faceless and eyeless

You’re my cousin

You’re my friend

You’re my daughter

Sons of men

We embrace

We are one

We are brothers in arms

Hostage to blind fortune

In the ruins

Of your home

Peeking out for someone

The light is getting dim

Victims of a genocide

Your hope is wearing


Limbless and lifeless

Faceless and eyeless

You’re my cousin

You’re my friend

You’re my daughter

Sons of men

We embrace

We are one

We are brothers in arms

Song of hope

In my life of two thousand summers

I have no regrets

Or remorse

Would I have done some things differently?

Would I change some decisions?

Well, of course.


One life

One hope

One love

One spirit


For you


But we run this race only once

We become who we are

By our deeds

Our words make us human and vulnerable

And love opens our heart

Till it bleeds.


One life

One hope

One love

One spirit


For you


So look at your friends and your enemies

They are all human

Like you

They hate and they fear for their failures

And those that leave a mark

Are so few.


One life

One hope

One love

One spirit


For you


So let’s each make our lives individual

Loving and brave

From our soul

Reach out to our fellow human creatures

So their hopes and broken lives

Become whole.


One life

One hope

One love

One spirit


For you



Beauty is a painted veil

Its colours are skin deep

Love is just a holy grail

Fading grey while you’re asleep

Don’t look away, I’ve drained the cup

And life’s race is all but run

Thinking of you when the sun comes up

To finish where I begun

Magic sparkles in the night

And laughter fills your dream

Hope dances in the morning light

Drifting away on an urgent stream

Don’t look away, I’ve drained the cup

And life’s race is all but run

Thinking of you when the sun comes up

To finish where I begun

Life it seems to crawl away

Drowned by rivers of blindness

Curtains shutter the brand new day

Floating on a sea of kindness

Don’t look away, I’ve drained the cup

And life’s race is all but run

Thinking of you when the sun comes up

To finish where I begun

Time lingers on the ocean’s edge

To where the soft winds blow

High up to that golden ledge

Looking back on what was left below

Don’t look away, I’ve drained the cup

And life’s race is all but run

Thinking of you when the sun comes up

To finish where I begun


Salt spray

The crashing waves

The sound of thunder

Can you hear it?

The ocean so deep

Your eyes shine

Your face, your smile

A vision shared to keep

I’ll keep it with mine

The siren of my dreams

I can never forget you

Old bathetic fool

I know that fate is cruel

I ought to forget it

Yes, I know it’s true

I’ve seen what love can do

But I don’t regret it

My voice chokes

I can no longer sing

I love you… but

I can see what’s happening

I must now admit it

Unrequited love

A tsunami from above

I have to accept that

Now within your coral sea

You swim so deep

And don’t need me

We’re both safer without it

Is that really the case?

If you were in my place

You never would doubt it

The mermaid of my dreams

I’ll never forget you

Can you hear the siren screams?

I’m glad that I met you

Old bathetic fool

Who has broken every rule

I tried to resist it

Though it’s all in vain

I’d do it all again

I’d give my world to you

Just to relive one minute

By your side

I have to admit it

As I fall in love

Your presence I breathe for

And I am not mistaken

So I think of when

And turn to sleep again

A lot was meant

But nothing was taken