Bob Dylan played one of the most infamous concerts in music history on May 17, 1966.
It was a landmark moment in the career of one of the world’s most important musicians, and it happened right here in Manchester.
At the time Dylan was the leading figure of the American folk music revival, but when he turned up to play the Free Trade Hall that day, he had no intentions of playing a full set of acoustics.
Dylan put down his acoustic guitar and introduced electric backing band The Hawks, later reborn as The Band, to the dismay of the audience.
Someone roared out ‘Judas!’ while another shouted ‘I’m never listening to you again’. Dylan responded ‘I don’t believe you, you’re a liar!’ before turning to his band and shouting, ‘play it fucking loud’ as they launched into Like A Rolling Stone.
That gig half a century ago has been hailed as one of the twenty most important moments in rock history, and Manchester District Music Archive is celebrating the anniversary with a fundraising concert, Electric 50.
Two of the organisers, CP Lee and Mark Makin, were teenagers at that gig, and Lee – who later wrote Like the Night about Dylan’s conversion to electric guitar – told MM that the gig was ‘electric’.
“People were shouting and arguing, and saying ‘if he brings that group on we’ll show him’,” he said.
“The atmosphere really was electric.
“There were around 2,000 people queuing to get in through one small door but it was the tension I remember the most.
“About a third of the audience liked it, a third were bewildered, and a third appalled. I was amazed by the audience reaction as fights were breaking out between people.”
Makin took his box camera to the gig in the hope of capturing footage.
It is believed the photos he captured were the only ones taken on that day and six presentation-sized original photographs signed by Makin will be raffled at the Academy concert.
“They put in an extra four rows of seats right in front of the stage – I was in one of those so found myself only ten feet from the front,” he told MM.
“That worked a treat and I managed to take 36 pictures and I used 12 but the problem was the volume. When they plugged in the electric guitars the sound bounced straight back.
“Mickey Jones, the drummer, was a heavy rock drummer, and when he hit it, it was so loud.
“The one thing I remember about the electric bit was all the booing going on. I was thinking ‘why doesn’t everyone just be quiet and watch’.
“There were 15 or 20 people at the front who all stood up, shook their fingers at Dylan, stamped their feet and then walked out.
“It was as if it was all planned.”
The gig will take place on Tuesday May 17 at the Academy 3 (Hop and Grape) in Manchester University Students’ Union, Oxford Road.
Contributors, including Jez Kerr of A Certain Ratio, Manchester guitar legend George Borowski and BBC 6 Music favourite Thick Richard, will interpret Dylan’s original performance and leave it up to the audience whether to recreate the famous heckle.
Broadcaster Andy Kershaw will compere the show, which will begin with an introduction from poet Tony ‘Longfella’ Walsh.
Tickets for the anniversary performances can be obtained direct from the Manchester Academy here.