A Celebration of Bob Dylan
Irish Cultural Centre

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'More than a tribute band' says Penny Flood of Emmitt Till's performance

Saturday night (19th April) saw a highlight of the Irish Centre’s Bob Dylan Tribute Weekend – a concert by Emmitt Till, a splendid singer who gave every appearance of a man with iron tonsils as he belted through a big, idiosyncratic selection of Bob Dylan numbers. The publicity billed Emmitt Till as a Bob Dylan tribute band, but he was more than that. Tribute bands conjure up images of The Bootleg Beatles and Bjorn Again, groups who mimic the stars, dressing and sounding like them. Emmitt Till didn’t do that, he didn’t pretend to be Bob Dylan; he gave us a rendering of his favourite Dylan numbers in his own way.

And he didn’t do requests. When somebody called out for ‘Lay Lady Lay’, he retorted: “What do you think we are, a tribute band?” But he said it with good humour.

Mick Lawson, Emmitt’s real name, was backed by a fine band – enigmatic bass player, talented lead guitarist / keyboard player, fabulous drummer and a violinist who made his instrument sing. Mick himself played rhythm guitar and harmonica, the result was good, old-fashioned, Dylanesque rock & roll, all held together with jolly patter and stories about his Uncles.

He didn’t stick to the most popular numbers – no Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall or Like a Rolling Stone – as a ‘real’ tribute band might. I didn’t recognise some of his eclectic selection, but that’s my fault. Among the ones I did recognise were ‘Jack of Hearts’,’ Girl from the North Country’,’ Slow Train A-Coming’, ’ Man in the Long Black Coat’, ‘I want you’ and ‘I Shall be Released’. This last one was dedicated to one of his uncles who (he said), was in prison for not buying a television licence. His rendering of Hurricane was breath taking, with all the anger and emotion the lyrics demand. He put so much into it he exhausted himself and his poor guitar which had to be re-tuned.

I’ve seen the real-thing - Bob Dylan himself - three times and the last time was a disappointment. Bob seemed bored and that’s what came over to his audience. No so with Mick, who looked like a man who was enjoying himself and he carried the audience along with him, so much so that some of them got up to dance, executing a particularly jolly jig when he sang ‘Froggie Went A-Courting.

The bar at the Irish Cultural Centre is lovely place for a concert like this. It’s an intimate venue, not too big, with a stage and tables and chairs. Once, when Mick’s tonsils needed lubrication, a member of the audience bought him a pint of lager.

About half way through the second half, he did something unexpected and interesting. He introduced his next song by saying that he got it from a bootleg tape of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan when they were working on the Nashville Skyline album, and there was a twinkle in his eye as he said it. They he sang a mash-up of ‘You are my Sunshine’ and ‘I Walk the Line’. The audience, which was pretty relaxed at the outset, was extremely laid-back by now, with all the Guinness and Mick’s good humour, and we all sang along.

At the time, I thought Mick had spun us a line (it wasn’t the Blarney as he’s a Brummie), so I checked Wikipedia the next day and yes, Johnnie and Bob did do some duets for ‘Nashville SkyLine’ which were never recorded and the tapes were sold off privately. So was Mick’s medley the real thing or was he teasing? I guess we’ll never know and does it really matter?
Mick has worked with some of rock & roll’s finest including Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Jerry Lee Lewis and after listening to him, you can see why.

He and the band played for three hours with a well deserved break in the middle during which time we got a treat- a free Emmitt Till CD with a selection of number from his last six albums. Mick’s a busy man and is currently working on a new album due for release this year.

If Dylanesque rock & roll’s your thing, I’d say catch Mick and the band next time they’re in town. You won’t be sorry.

Penny Flood

April 19th 2008