I don't usually watch tribute acts but, following a recommendation from Dave Carroll, I overcame my prejudices and went to see The Dylan Project at the Borderline last night. Getting in to the venue was far from easy as security in London is now extremely tight following the Paris attacks. The man in front of me in the queue was so outraged by the intimate frisking and electronic wanding that he handed in his ticket and stormed off in a huff.
Once in, however, I realised that The Dylan Project, who have been together on and off since the 1990s, is more than just a tribute band faithfully reproducing some of Bob Dylan's many songs. They comprise two long time members of Fairport Convention (Dave Pegg on bass and Gerry Conway on drums), Steve Gibbons (pictured above) on vocals and harmonica, and two other highly experienced musicians (P J Wright on lead guitar and Phil Bond on keyboards and accordion). True, the material is Bob's from beginning to end, but they are a highly professional band and Steve Gibbons' deep, sometimes gruff and menacing voice reproduces Dylan's vocals in a way that is true to the original whilst adding something of his own rock background. Steve, of course, has been around since the sixties when he was a member of the Uglys, and his eponymous band has been a favourite among UK rock fans for many years.
The band's first set (of two) kicked off with Positively 4th Street and continued with a mix of Dylan songs, some better known than others. These included Tom Thumb's Blues, from Highway 61 Revisited, You're A Big Girl Now, from Blood On The Tracks, Pledging My Time, from Blonde On Blonde, and Dark Eyes, from Empire Burlesque. Then there was Absolutely Sweet Marie, You've Got To Serve Somebody, Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window, Man In A Long Black Coat and You Ain't Going Nowhere, all performed in a suitably Dylanesque manner. A stand out number, I thought, was the Travelling Wilburys' Handle With Care. P J Wright's guitar work was exemplary throughout and Dave Pegg kept the bass line firmly in order, supported by Gerry Conway's relentless drumming. Phil Bond, excellent on keyboards, turned to the accordion for Senor, from the Desire album, and the set came to a close with three Dylan classics - Ballad Of A Thin Man, Don't Think Twice It's Alright and Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat.
As tributes go this was a good one, with a group of highly experienced musicians who knew what they were doing and did it well. In the absence of the real thing, this was a pretty good replacement. What's more, the lyrics were intelligible and the tunes remained faithful to the originals.