Judas! Dylan at the Free Trade Hall – but what if the heckler was right?
The shout of ‘Judas’ from the audience at the May 17th 1966 Manchester gig is one of the most iconic moments in pop history. Dylan had just launched into an electric set after a break and it shocked the folk purists in the audience.
It’s one of the most revered moments in pop culture history with Dylan, the sneering rebel, putting down the heckler and launching into his electric set. The heckler is portrayed as a square standing against the sands of time but what if he was right! and saw through Dylan’s attempt to rebrand and relaunch himself as a sixties electric pop star like the Beatles or the Stones.
The man who shouted ‘Judas’ would be just the same heckler that kept shouting Judas for decades in pop culture when they felt duped by encroaching pop culture. It’s the same call of ‘Judas’ that goes out to Simon Cowell every Saturday night and makes you wonder of the modern Dylan would have shoe horned himself onto X Factor!
Ever watchful Bob Dylan had seen the shift in pop culture with the British groups taking over the world and becoming the boy bands of their day – a lot more fun than being an earnest folkie! He found himself in danger of missing out on the new pop star regime – a new era of superstardom which was so much more attractive than being the purist underground singer. The only problem was how to get onto this bandwagon without totally fucking up!
The new louder British bands had cranked up the volume and the excitement – Dylan was in danger of being yesterday’s man and needed to rebrand himself – that’s showbiz! The Beatles were the ultimate boy band, the Stones were pretending to be rebels and the Kinks with their zigzag riffs had invented rock music almost two years before and Dylan was in danger of being left to the side.
The question was how to make the move…how to rebrand as a modern sixties pop star without losing his carefully crafted cred…it’s the eternal pop question.
The controversy had begun at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in the US, where Dylan had been booed when he played electric and it came to a head when the hero of the emerging counter culture and the folk scene turned the volume and had become a pop star! it would be like Thurston Moore joining One Direction, sort of. His old audience felt used – like a stepping stone for the wily young singer who had seized his chance
Manchester Free Trade Hall 1966 saw Bob Dylan play the last date of a world tour which had been clouded in controversy with purist mutterings about the man selling out because he had gone electric – a cranking of the volume that was already two years behind the beat with a new rock culture already flourishing and Dylan disappearing into its slipstream.
The first half of the set Dylan had played his acoustic set and the atmosphere was already tense as the audience kinda knew what was coming next. Even the idea of two sets was quite showbiz – Dylan pleasing the old fans with his folk set before returning for the electric work out, fingers crossed that he could get away with it and keep on launching his new career as the pop star sage. For one fan, who has never been properly identified, this was too much and in a handy break between the songs he yelled ‘Judas’ and has gone down in history every more as the party pooper but may have just been correct in his assumption that Bob was indeed a scene Judas!