Passing It On

Before I headed off on tour I pulled out my recently acquired copy of Bob Dylan’s autobiography ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ (2004), which I’d specifically earmarked for this trip. However, on my connecting flight from Manchester to London I realised that rather than packing it in my hand baggage, as intended, I must have put it in my suitcase, so, with my luggage checked through to Hong Kong, when I arrived at Heathrow I went into WH Smith to see if I could find something else to read on the journey. I was really looking forward to the Dylan book, so, when I saw it on the shelf I decided to get another copy, and pass the spare one on somewhere along the way.

Flying off to far flung destinations is a recent thing for me. Before I started deejaying again I hadn’t travelled outside Europe, and, apart from a trip to Ibiza in the early ’90s, I hadn’t been further than Ireland since 1985, when a Liverpool based record company I was working for flew me over to Midem, the music industry gathering in Cannes, on a Learjet for the day – a mad tale I may recall sometime.

I’m a bit of a homebird at heart, so travelling to the other side of the world is always a daunting prospect, and it’s only when I get to the airport at the start of my journey that I enter ‘the zone’, as I call it, embracing the adventure ahead. As a solo DJ, rather than being part of a duo, I’m obviously something of a lone ranger – the majority of time spent in my own company as I move through a series of airport terminals and hotel rooms. This is, of course, punctuated with what makes it all worthwhile – the gigs I play and a whole array of great people I meet along the way. This is what feeds me, what energizes me. I might return physically tired, but always stronger in spirit.

It was my first time in Hong Kong and, heading in from the airport, it’s impossible not to be struck by the amount of high rise buildings everywhere you look, literally thousands. It’s one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, and to house everyone who lives there you need to build upwards – 7 million people reaching for the sky.

After spending a day resting up, I headed to the Kee Club for my HK debut, and as I walked into the reception area I was greeted by the largest poster I’d ever seen of myself – they’d certainly pushed the boat out in announcing my appearance. It was a memorable night and, as ever when people turn out to see me play somewhere I’ve never been before, a more than pleasant surprise. I was taken aback by the response from a packed crowd, including, as was pointed out to me, the biggest gathering of DJs for a night in the clubs recent history. I’d intended to get off pretty sharpish in order to catch a decent night’s sleep before the following days flight to Perth, but I couldn’t pull myself away and I ended up staying for a few hours after I’d finished, talking to people and feeling the love. It’s very humbling that your being there is so appreciated by those you meet.

Onto Australia for my 4th visit, the first being in 2006, when I was brought over by Red Bull to talk at their celebrated music academy, which was held in Melbourne that year. Apart from Melbourne, I’ve previously played in Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane (along with Byron Bay and Canberra), all stops on my tour this time around, but this was my first time in Perth – and what an introduction! The event was ‘Sets On The Beach’, which did what it said on the can, placing you on a sun-drenched stage in the idyllic location of Scarborough Esplanade, with an audience of close on 4000 in attendance for the 1 day event (which they host 4 times during the summer months). You can see the location in the sunset photo at the foot of the piece, an amphitheatre overlooking the beach (the stage had been built opposite).

About halfway into my spot I could hear this god-forsaken high pitched drone in my left ear. Thinking it was some kind of feedback I looked towards the sound desk, catching the attention of the guy who was manning it. He came over and informed me that it was a shark siren on the beach behind me, and looking around I could see that everyone had come out of the water. He told me that someone had been reported missing, which was a big concern as in recent months there had been 3 people killed in shark attacks on that beach. It was a sobering thought that someone may have been eaten alive whilst I merrily rocked the house. I checked the news when I got back to the hotel and, thankfully, there were no reports of fatalities off the coast of Perth.

It was good to catch up with Ghent’s dynamic duo, the Glimmers, who were also on the bill. The last time I saw them was at Irelands Electric Picnic Festival, sharing a lift back to our hotels in Dublin to be precise. They played the closing slot and pulled a few sonic rabbits out of the hat, not least ‘Jailhouse Rock’ by Elvis Presley, which I hadn’t heard a DJ spin since my mobile disco days back in the ’70s. I was impressed with just how solid it sounded for an antique recording, circa 1957 – the crowd went suitably wild. They concluded proceedings with Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name Of Love’, which would have raised the roof if there was a roof to be raised.

The following day I walked back down to Scarborough beach and picked out a quiet spot that had been packed with party people 24 hours earlier – the stage dismantled and the debris cleaned up as soon as the crowd had evaporated into the night. I sat down and devoured the final pages of ‘Chronicles’. It had been an absorbing read, Dylan’s way with words as fluid within its pages as in the lyrics of his songs – suffice to say that the elusive Volume Two is now eagerly anticipated. It’s not a this happened then that happened type of autobiography – it moves through various points of his life before bringing you back to the time when he signed his record deal with Columbia in 1961, and was about to change the musical landscape with his revolutionary recordings.

There was a group of lads sat nearby, one of whom I was surprised to see had an acoustic guitar with him. He started playing and his mates sung along – it was unusual to see something as organic as an impromptu sing song to guitar accompaniment in this day and age. I was reading about Dylan’s discovery of the stuff of legend bluesman, Robert Johnson, who was said to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads in order to get so good on the guitar. On signing for Columbia, Dylan was given some unreleased albums by legendary producer / A&R man, John Hammond, including an acetate of a compilation of Johnson’s then unknown 1936-37 recordings that Columbia had acquired the rights to, and which they’d titled ‘King Of The Delta Blues Singers’. It was this album that would posthumously re-cast Johnson, (who died poor and obscure in 1938, aged just 27) as a seminal figure in musical history who influenced many key artists of the ’60s and beyond. Sometimes it takes the passage of time before greatness is finally recognized.

As I turned the last few pages I realised that the teenage guitarist was now behind me, strumming away to some sunbathing girls before sitting down on a wall with a friend, who took a turn on the guitar himself. As I left the beach I walked over and handed him the book, saying ‘I’ve just finished this, thought it might be of interest to you’. He took it from me, but without thanks, eyeing me with suspicion – but, as I walked away without engaging him further, I heard his friend exclaim ‘aah, Bob Dylan’.

Who knows whether he’ll take the time to read it, the current generation are more about the internet than books, so it might have been a futile gesture. Maybe his friend took it, maybe it went in the nearest bin – whatever happened it seemed like the right thing to do, it had a certain symbolism. I couldn’t let the moment pass; the connection, despite a distance of half a century and half a world, had been clearly observed.

As I write these words I sit on the balcony of my hotel room, looking out over the Indian Ocean whilst I watch the sun go down – it’s a spectacular sunset here for sure. People still swim in the water, seemingly oblivious of the sharks out there – a metaphor for modern life perhaps. A gust of wind just scattered my handwritten notes and I scurried to rescue the pages before they slipped through the railings. Fortunately I managed to gather them all up in the nick of time – precious words nearly lost, but not quite.

Chronicles: Volume One Wikipedia:

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7 Responses to Passing It On

  1. Ben Repo February 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    You paint such a vivid picture of the world around you with your words. Thanks for an entertaining read, Greg.

  2. Gavin February 22, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    Great read Greg, happy birthday!

  3. Nadia February 23, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    What a beautiful gesture. I think it is the need to tell the story that draws you to Dylan. I can imagine you sinking into the water,knee level but keeping going anyway towards the lights that lead you to your heroes like Dylan on his way to Woody. Its interesting that however high we build the buildings and despite the technology we have it’s someone playing a guitar that really touches us. Keep passing it on x

  4. James February 23, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

    Great read. Can’t wait for your show tonight in Melbourne. Your show last time around (New Guernica) blew me away!

  5. Julesee February 24, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

    Where did it all go wrong for the dj greg wilson?!?

  6. June-Ann Russell February 26, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    Hiya Greg – June here (Dog & Duck… North Wembley 1987-1988) – can’t believe you’re coming to little old Auckland! Wow. Drop me a line and maybe I can come and say hello 🙂

  7. Vladimir March 8, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Thank you for lovely words, Greg.

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