Bob Dylan arrived at Brisbane airport on the morning of Friday, 15 April, 1966, for the second leg of his Australian tour. News of his arrival had aired on radio the previous evening. As I had a day off work, I made a beeline for the airport, armed with my Hasselblad 500C.
The terminal was virtually deserted, and I wondered where all of the fans were hiding. A few minutes later, the large Dylan entourage came through the doors. Dylan and his manager, Albert Grossman, were ushered into the VIP lounge for a press conference, while many of his crew were having great fun in the terminal. They were in very high spirits, yahooing and riding the kiddie’s coin-in-the-slot kangaroos, and vainly asking for burgers at the food counter. They reminded me of a bunch of cowboys.
I had gone with the single intention of getting at least one good shot of Dylan. As the ‘cowboys’ filed into the VIP lounge I joined the queue. I was asked at the door where I was from, so I told them I was working for Go-Set magazine, and in I went. I really did work for Go-Set occasionally, but this was my own exercise.
While things were getting underway, I chatted with a couple of the crew, who told me “We’re Bob’s band”. I had expected Bob would be doing a solo show, and had no idea of the significance of Robbie Robertson or Rick Danko, which would be revealed that evening.
Taking a position, seated on the floor below the lens of the television camera, and using the television lighting, I concentrated on getting that one shot. Dylan appeared very tired and/or stoned, and gave his radio and television interviewers a hard time, doling out bewildering answers to questions from conservative journalists who simply couldn’t communicate with this agile mind. He was having fun, deliberately confusing them.
When the television interview was over, the radio guys had their chance. I stood listening to one of them, who asked an incredibly long, convoluted question, while Dylan looked totally bored. He asked if I had any cigarettes, and I gave him a Marlboro. He muttered about the filter, saying he preferred unfiltered cigarettes. The interviewer finished his rambling question, then asked “What would you say to that, Mr. Dylan?”. Dylan’s only response was a single, bored “Huh?”. The interview went to air that night, complete with Dylan’s answer.
As soon as the interviews were over, I asked Dylan for an autograph. The only paper I had was my Marlboro packet, which I tore open so that Dylan could sign the white side of the card. I then rushed back to the studio where I worked, to develop my film; breathing a sigh of relief as soon as I was sure they were correctly exposed, with no camera-shake.
N.B. Dylan’s 1966 Australian tour has been thoroughly researched and documented by Zac Dadic, writing for England’s prestigious, subscription-only bobdylanisis magazine. Issue 185 covers the Sydney/Brisbane start of the tour, and editions 186 and 187 cover the events in other Australian capitals.
I am very proud of the fact that this shot adorns the cover of bobdylanisis issue 185.
Two limited print editions are available of the press conference image, numbered and signed by myself. When the limits are reached, the image will be withdrawn from further print production.
The Brisbane Gig
On the evening of 15 April 1966, the Dylan fans of Brisbane were about to undergo a major re-evaluation of their hero’s music. The 4,000 seat Festival Hall was jumping with anticipation at the first chance of hearing, and seeing, Dylan live.
With his characteristic harmonica holder around his neck, and acoustic guitar, each song he played during the first set was greeted with thunderous applause, which grew even more ecstatic as he performed the songs people loved, such as “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Just Like A Woman”. I had taken my camera along, but I only had a fairly short lens, and had to use direct flash in order to get some shots. Flash really kills the atmosphere of stage lighting, so I didn’t expect much of a result. An intermission was called, and the fans spilled into the streets to rave about what they had been hearing.
When everybody was seated for the second half, there was much discussion about the stage set-up. There was an electric organ, a piano, a drum kit, huge speakers and lots of microphone stands spread across the stage. Out came Dylan with an electric guitar, followed by the ‘cowboys’ I had met that morning. The audience was stunned into silence.
From the first notes they played, it was obvious that something absolutely revolutionary was happening. I think the first song they played was “Tell me Momma”. It didn’t really matter, this was something totally NEW, and excitingly loud. Those ‘cowboys’ could really play!
When Robbie Robertson stepped forward to do a guitar solo, dressed in a beautiful carmine-coloured velvet suit, most of the girls in the audience swooned. He was such a strikingly good-looking guy. The music they were playing was true psychedelia, as far as I was concerned, especially songs such as “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”.
Not everybody in the Hall was convinced, however. There was a fairly large contingent of hecklers towards the back of the audience, who maintained a cacophony of booing and calls of “Get off!”. They were obviously offended by the fact that Dylan had broken from the folk tradition, and had ventured into high-class rock ’n’ roll. The rest of the audience were simply blown away by the music of Dylan and “The Hawks”, who would go on to achieve legendary status as “The Band”; so a lot of shouting started, telling the purists to shut up. It seemed an all-out brawl was brewing.
The stage was darkened as Dylan went to sit at the piano, lit by a single spot. He seemed most vulnerable and shy, a lonely figure. He launched into “Ballad Of A Thin Man”, which was truly haunting, and the words seemed particularly apt for the occasion… “You know something is happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”.
N.B. I have since learned that, with the exception of one newspaper picture of his arrival at the airport, these are the only existing images of Dylan's time in Brisbane. More images are available in Shop.