sketch by keith fitton
It was like a dream, illuminated by the purple lights of The Tower, pointing into the cold November air, like a shameless phallus reaching toward the heavens. For this is a shameless town. The Golden Mile for the golden smile. The backstreet strip joints, massage parlours, show bars, kiss-me-quick hats, pink candy floss acting as an elaborate stage for sensory bombardment and tacky over-indulgence. Come and ride me she says with a wink in her eye and an open crotch whilst she tells your fortune, pockets your cash and then asks for more. She’s insatiable. Her loyalty is to the smile.
Yet there is a sad beauty that lies beneath her decaying Victorian facade. A two fingers up to the virtual world of faked indifference. She deals in real flesh. The stories of humanity in all its sordid yet vulnerable revealed nature. The release of cotton mill workers frustration into the endless beach, riding the trams to a better future, a mirage of a better life waymarked by exotic lights, animals, sights, smells, tastes and hopes.
It was here I came as a young boy on an odd day trip from my home in the Rossendale valley, the heartland of the Lancashire cotton weaving industry. I was warned of the “catchpenny” stalls and the gypsy fortune tellers that would pinch your soul if you looked into their eyes. Nevertheless, with fringed cowboy hat, I was romanced by the old whore so that fifty years later I’m entranced by the idea of hero Bob Dylan choosing to play three nights at the Winter Gardens on his current UK tour. Now this is a big deal for Blackpool. After struggling to get a ticket with my usual source on vacation when the tour is announced I manage to secure an official ticket at cost price and it proves to be a good ‘un, giving fine views in the intimate wonderful old theatre of his Bobness and band lit in sepia light, playing out of the shadows to an audience made up of a mix of hardened Bobheads and first timers. Amongst the latter there was a little after show disappointment because they expected him to sound like he did in the sixties (they haven’t been paying attention in class then!) As for me, I was transported by the music in a way that hasn’t happened at previous gigs. I found myself lifted by the circling power of the notes as they rose through the hall. Like the swirl of a Wurlitzer the sound reverberated through the body and upwards. Dylan himself was on fine singing form, moving from harmonica and keyboard with well practised ease. Many of the songs were from the latest album “Tempest” with songs of regret, leaving, foretelling, longing, redemption confirming we were in the presence of a prophet, not just an artist. My state of mind may have been partly attributable to the pints of Spitfire consumed in The Galleon listening to the very excellent Simply Dylan at a pre-gig gathering. But I like to think it was also the ethereal power of the music.
So, another Dylan gig, another in the county of my birth, in the town of my unravished youth. As I wandered back to my B&B I was sure I caught the glance of a young boy I recognised, walking with wonder in his eyes, clutching a stick of rock thinking what life might be like in fifty years time. And as I passed, I’m sure he winked at me.