Friday, November 25, 2011

Royal Albert Hall 1966

The 1966 Bob Dylan and Hawks concert tour is legendary.  When the Royal Albert Hall concert first started to appear on tape and vinyl in the early 1970’s, it quickly became a fan favorite and a must have recording.  In fact, in 1971, music critic Dave Marsh reviewed one of the first bootlegged versions of this concert in Creem magazine and had this to say:

“If ever you hear, for a minute, that anyone knows where to get a copy of this music, make your move. Kick out all the jams to get it. Perhaps half its value is knowing that Columbia will probably never release it, at least not during Dylan's lifetime, though they possess the master.”  

Misidentified for years as from the Royal Albert Hall (May 26-27, 1966), the recording is actually from Manchester England’s Free Trade Hall (May 17, 1966).  Dylan defied his established role as a political/social folk singer and unleashed, with a vengeance, an electric set of eight songs on an audience that’s part appreciative and part hostel.  His exchange with the audience is as electrifying as the performance and has been the topic of discussion for many years. Dylan’s conversion to rock’n’roll was complete.  

In January 1989 The Swinging Pig released Bob Dylan & The Band: Royal Albert Hall 1966 (TSP-CD-009).  The reputation of this concert had already preceded the release of this CD, but this new version was very special.  The Swinging Pig had this to say:

Using the lowest - generation - possible tapes, carefully remixing them, we’re proud to offer you the best sounding versions of this recording so far. Although the sound is straight mono (a stereo tape is rumored to exist, but most probably just in Dylan’s private archieves…), it is, compared to other 60’s live recordings, technically brilliant. Enjoy it… 

Enjoy it I did.  As described, the quality of this CD seemed to reveal the magic and the tension of the performance more than ever.  This, combined with artwork replicating a copy of a Martin Sharp poster, made it the version to have.  The quality of the packaging and recording rivaled any official Dylan CD at the time.  The Swinging Pig, along with other quality bootleg labels, forced all the major record labels to take notice of what fans were craving and willing to purchase in the digital age.  

It wasn’t until 1991 that Columbia Records had an official answer to the two decades of Dylan bootleg releases - The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991.  After its release, this official sampling of unreleased recordings spurred rumors that an official version of the 1966 Free Trade Hall show might be in the works.  To the dismay of fans, by the end of 1995 there was still no official release.  Once again it would still be up to the bootleggers to correct this.

In early 1996, Dylan bootleg specialist Scorpio shocked fans with the release of Guitars Kissing & The Contemporary Fix (SIAE 51766A/E).  Rumored to be a mix rejected by Dylan for inclusion in Columbia Records’ Bootleg Series, this two CD release contains both the acoustic half and the electric half of the Free Trade Hall concert. The electric set was now in glorious stereo with more detail and presence than The Swinging Pig CD. 

In 1998, Columbia Records finally released the Free Trade Hall concert as The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live, 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall Concert" with a slightly different mix.  But Guitars Kissing & The Contemporary Fix is still favored by many fans as the definitive version of the "Royal Albert Hall” concert. 

The Swinging Pig’s Bob Dylan & The Band: Royal Albert Hall 1966 has remained my favorite Dylan bootleg and it occupies a special place in my collection.  

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