A recording known as the 'Royal Albert Hall Concert' is well known by Bob Dylan fans, (although it is actually recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall). Recorded in 1966 and officially released in 2008 after years of extensive bootlegging, the recording was captured during a controversial UK tour, which has gone down in British music history. The controversy was due to Dylan switching from an acoustic to a full electric set after the interval, something which alienated some of his fans, with some shouting ‘Judas!’ at the American singer-songwriter. The recording captured these heckles and Dylan’s nonchalant responses.
This electric period, which had started in 1965, spawned some of the artists’ best-known songs, still loved by millions of fans around the world today. However, despite the album’s title, the concert was not recorded at either of his Royal Albert Hall concerts on 26 and 27 May 1966, but in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 17 May 1966.
"After the interval he returned with his group and launched into an ear-splitting cacophony which he hadn't recorded. The sound, despite being electrical and groupy was still so far removed from conventional group music as to be still strictly Dylan...
Then the old guard started walking out. The people who had been secretly hoping that Dylan would reform and make a full confession of his musical sins realised that Dylan was taunting them as much as ever. Before the end of the concert, about 25 percent of the total audience had walked out. Another 25 percent stayed under sufference and didn't show overmuch enthusiasm.
"I like all my old songs", he said. "I never said I didn't like my old songs." (his pronunciation when saying this was unbelievably funny). "It's just that things change all the time. Everybody knows I never said they were 'rubbish'. That word isn't in my vocabulary. I wouldn't use the word 'rubbish' if it were lying on the street and I could pick it up."
The hecklers were in full force now and just about everything possible was being hurled at Bob (verbally, no missiles were seen). He coped very well with them, like "The music you are hearing – if you have any suggestions on how it could be played better or the words could be improved?" He ploughed through 'I Don't Believe You' which was originally a folk tune and which he's now rocked up. Others included 'Everybody's Down' and 'I See You've Got Your Leopard Skin Spotted Pill Box Ha'.
"This is not English music you're listening to. You haven't really heard American music before. I'm sick of people asking what does it mean. It means NOTHING." He then launched into 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' amidst shouts of 'Rubbish' and 'Rock and Roll for ever'.
The highlight came when Bob sat down to the piano and did 'Ballad Of A Thin Man', which silenced even the folksier elements. He ended up with 'Like A Rolling Stone', jumping and yelling all over the stage and looking (as all the girls said) very sweet. But the only thing he couldn't do was take compliments. When anyone yelled out in favour of him, all he did was give a sheepish embarrassed smile and a little condescending wave."
(Norman Jopling, Record Mirror, 11 June 1966),
On 2 December 2016 the real Royal Albert Hall concert was officially released for the first time as 'The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert', coming as a stand-alone album amongst a huge new 36-CD Bob Dylan box set, 'The 1966 Live Recordings'.
John Lennon and George Harrison (The Beatles) attended the concert.
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