Friday, July 10, 2015

Dylan's Wild Mountain Thyme: A Tender Enchanting Invitation

While Woodstock was unfolding as America's signature event of the hippie era, Bob Dylan, who had himself been living in the town of Woodstock, was packing his bags for another concert across the pond, to become a featured player at the Isle of Wight Concert in the British Isles. It was one of a handful of public appearances that Dylan made since his famously obscured motorcycle accident of 1966.

There were 150,000 in attendance there with Dylan the headliner. The set opened with She Belongs To Me, I Threw It All Away and Maggie's Farm, backed by The Band. Then an acoustic sequence followed, opening with a sweet, gentle rendition of Wild Mountain Thyme, a classic folk song of Scottish origin that like many folk songs has experienced many iterations.

What's striking during this concert is how at odds Dylan's set is in contrast with the explosive energy that now dominated the rock music scene. Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who would wring themselves out in their big concert tours, performing with such intensity that it's a wonder they could return another day to do it all again.

And then, here's Dylan, standing alone in front of a mic, producing a gentle pasture of peaceful warmth with a wistful voice and simple guitar strum. This song is followed by It Ain't Me Babe in a manner so kind and touching, totally at odds with the near hostility he brings to the song in the Rolling Thunder Revue five years later. On this night, the voice is melodic and kind, like the rest of his acoustic set and when The Band rejoins him the tone has been established.

As I have been listening to this concert again recently I keep being struck by the beauty of it. Like flowers on a hillside. Wild Mountain Thyme exemplifies this period for me, with a vocal style that seems to have been groomed for Nashville Skyline (though I believe I'd read somewhere that this "new voice" was due to his having quit cigarets for a spell.)

Dylan first played this song in Minneapolis in 1961.  Eight years later he shared it again here at the Isle of Wight Festival. Seven times he played the song during the mid-Seventies with his Rolling Thunder Revue and finally performed it a last time in 1988 at Riverbend in Cincinnati, Ohio.

You can find the entire concert itself on The Bootleg Series #10: Another Self Portrait

Wikipedia summarizes the song's origins in this manner:
"Wild Mountain Thyme" (also known as "Purple Heather" and "Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?") is a folk song written by Francis McPeake, a member of a well known musical family in Belfast, Ireland, and is of Scottish origin.[1] McPeake's lyrics are a variant of the song "The Braes of Balquhither" by Scottish poet Robert Tannahill (1774–1810), a contemporary of Robert Burns. Tannahill's original song, first published in Robert Archibald Smith's Scottish Minstrel (1821–24), is about the hills (braes) around Balquhidder near Lochearnhead. Like Burns, Tannahill collected and adapted traditional songs, and "The Braes of Balquhither" may have been based on the traditional song "The Braes o' Bowhether".

Wild Mountain Thyme

Oh the summertime is coming
And the leaves are sweetly blooming
And the wild mountain thyme
Blooms around the purple heather.

Will you go, lassie, go?

If my true love she won't go,
I will surely find another
To pull wild mountain thyme
From all around the purple heather.

Will you go, lassie, go?
And we'll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
From all around the purple heather.

Will you go, lassie, go.
I will build my love a tower
At the foot of yonder mountain
And then on it I will put
All the flowers of the mountain

Will you go, lassie, go?

And we'll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
From all around the purple heather.
Will you go, lassie, go?

This is a recording of the song as performed at the Isle of Wight:


No really deep thoughts here. I simply like the way he sang it, and wanted to share it. 

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