If you Google “Bob Dylan” and click on images, not too far down the list is a very famous photo of the legendary folk singer on a slipway beside a wide river. He’s stood as if braced against the elements, his hands in his pockets, hair Blowin In The Wind (well..?) and despite the grey sky and the damp miderable looking weather,wears sun glasses. He doesn’t look happy. Behind him is the Austin Princess limo’ in which he’s just been driven up from his last gig in Bristol. This was in the middle of his notorious “Judas Tour” when he shocked & outraged his fans by ‘going electric’ in the second half of each concert. So shocked that somone yelled “Judas!” at him about a week later in Manchester. He said a few words back, quite short ones, and his legend grew.
In the misty haze above the car roof you can just see the distinctive shape of the original Severn Bridge. It was then part of the new M4 motorway (now the M48) . So this is one of the three most famous solo singers in the world at that time waiting , in a depressed mood, for the car ferry across from England to Wales because that bridge has yet to open.
It’s May 11 1966.
It’s a great shot by Dylan’s tour photographer Barry Feinstein and it’s been widely used. Most notably on the sleeve of the Martin Scorese documentory NO DIRECTION HOME . The location is the village of Aust in south Goucestershire. I live about 12 miles north of this and I know the shot well. The ferry stopped running when the bridge opened just a few months after the photo was taken.
From nowhere last week my mum suddenly came out with a story I had never heard. She was telling my daughter about having crossed the long-dismantled Severn rail bridge as a youngster, and how later she’d hated going over the same river by the Aust car ferry. “You had to wait for ages on this narrow road and we were sat in our Austin A40 one time and we saw a pop singer driving off the boat…”
Wait… say that again?
“And your grandad recognised him, waved and he smiled back at us as he went past in this big black limo.”
I remember the Austin A40 Farina which was cream with pale blue roof that someone had to special order then didn’t like so my Dad had bought it cheap. It was the car they’d already had for a couple of years when I was born in 1967. The first car I remember being in. “Who was it mum?” I asked “Oh someone your dad liked but I didn’t think much of him” well, I knew she didn’t like Dylan , although she was always a fan of his muse, Joan Baez.
“It wasn’t Bob Dylan by any chance?”
“That’s him! Bob Dylan . I never liked him…terrible voice.”
So, my parents saw Bob Dylan maybe 20 minutes after that famous photo was taken. And it only took 52 years for that story to be told. “We might even have a photo” she said… I’m still looking for that!
As a curious footnote, the very day after she told it the BBC ran a D A Pennebaker documentory DON’T LOOK BACK about Bob Dylan touring Engand the year before . It replaced the scheduled programme. I caught it by pure accident while channel hopping. Pennebaker himself had died on August 1st.
UPDATE: On August 17 2019 I took a look at the scene of the Dylan photo in the company of my 13 year old daughter Charlotte who took this shot to compare to Fienstein’s 1966 original .
The wooden buildings have gone, the turnstile for foot passengers still exists in the concrete block structure which remains but there is an official council sign on it advising of it’s impending demolision in “August/September 2019”
One noticable difference in the general picture is the mud flats to the left of the slipway are now thick reed beds and the water doesn’t look as if it encroaches aything like as close to the paved part of the slipway as it obviously did back then. The Severn is a tidal river so I’m not quite sure how that equates to the reported rising of sea levels today.
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