Robin Kidson

Bob Dylan in Hexham Town

 

When did this happen? ’63? ’64?

Sometime in the Beatle black and white years.

Schoolboys in the music room,

Jennings, Darbishire, Bunter and chums,

All listening to a new LP

By this gadgie called Bob Dylan.

Magic needle in the groove,

Yankee voice in Hexham Town,

Hexham Town, Hexham Town,

We’re all gannin’ to Hexham Town.

 

Jennings says his brother says,

Bob Dylan isn’t pop or folk,

Bob Dylan is a poet;

The best thing that’s happened since white sliced bread,

Better even than Wilfrid Gibson.

Dylan’s the voice of a generation.

“Jennings”, says Darbishire, “you’re talking through your arse,

This gadgie cannot sing to save his life.

As for his lyrics, they’re pretentious shite”.

The rest of us go along with Darbishire.

 

Down in the coal-smoked, wood-sweet town,

Anglo-Saxon angels walk the streets;

St. Wilfrid supervises 

The building of his Abbey:

Stone on shaped dressed stone,

On grey stone nicked from the Giant’s Wall,

On stone shorn of its wild north moss,

On Saint-blessed stone and therefore holy.

 

It’s Tuesday so its market day;

Cattle brag and bellow at the mart;

My uncles are drinking in the pubs.

The past is done and dusted, no go back;

The future’s where the serious action’s at;

The future’s loose, unfixed ad infinitum,

Domain of the boys in the music room.

So many open Highway Sixty-Ones.

 

Dylan will fade away like all the other stars:

Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnston, Marty Wilde;

Or else Dylan will win the Nobel Prize.

Bud Freeman from Chicago

Will play at the Fandango tonight;

Another Yankee voice in Hexham Town.

The sound of saxophone like sonic smoke,

Will rise above the babbling Forum queues….

 

Or maybe Bud is indisposed…

 

I will buy cattle at the mart,

Join my uncles in the pubs;

Or else leave Northumberland for good,

Wander the world like a rolling stone,

But remaining a complete unknown,

Except to the boys in the music room:

Jennings, Darbishire, Bunter and chums,

Now drinking Newcastle Brown in the pubs

Of coal-smoked, wood-sweet, holy Hexham Town;

Hexham Town, Hexham Town,

You’ll never get away from Hexham Town.

Commentary

I was a pupil at the Grammar School (state, co-educational) in Hexham, Northumberland in the 1960s. The poem recalls (with a large dollop of poetic licence) an occasion in the School’s music room when I listened to one of Bob Dylan’s earlier albums with some other boys. It reproduces some of the arguments we had then about Dylan. I used to think that he was much overrated. I now realise that I was mistaken – Bob Dylan is a genuine poet and a genius. Parts of the poem reproduce the feel and rhythms of Dylan’s song, Oxford Town. Some further explanations: Hexham is a market town dominated by its Abbey which was founded by St. Wilfrid; Wilfrid Gibson (1878-1962) is a Hexham-born poet; the Fandango was a Hexham night club in which American jazz musician, Bud Freeman, once played; the Forum is a cinema in the town; and gadgie is Northumbrian dialect for bloke or chap.