Film Review: “Rolling Thunder Revue – A Bob Dylan Story” By Martin Scorsese

The best documentary I’ve seen about rock music is “The Last Waltz” which centres on the final concert(s) given by The Band, and includes almost every rock legend of the time, from Bob Dylan, to Neil Young, to Joni Mitchell, to Eric Clapton and even Neil Diamond. “The Last Waltz” was a Martin Scorsese film, and so is “Rolling Thunder Revue ….”.

This appears to be a documentary of the 1975/76  tour across America in which Dylan and his band played 57 concerts, in mostly smallish venues, in a 7 month period. Some of the venues look almost like aged care facilities, some are on Indian reservations, others in towns so mundane that the populace is astounded that Dylan would even bother stopping there. The artists on tour with Dylan include Mick Ronson (ex Bowie guitarist), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Joan Baez, Alan Ginsberg and T-Bone Burnett.

The restored video of these concerts captures Dylan at the absolute top of his game. He stalks and snarls around the stage and puts everything into the songs. His face is painted white, his hat is set with flowers, his teeth are bared yellow. His facial expressions as he sings are priceless. As Joan Baez says, there is nobody who can match his charisma and probably never will be. The concerts are interleaved with discussions with current day Dylan and others involved in the tour.

Something to watch out for is that this film is partially spoof. It presents as a documentary but Scorsese and Dylan have planted practical jokes within it – for instance Sharon Stone appears implying that she and Dylan had an affair on tour (they didn’t), a fake movie director complains that he was the one behind the film (he is a fictional character). Dylan gives a coded warning of this early in the film, when he says “If someone’s wearing a mask, he’s gonna tell you the truth. If he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely.” The title also hints at it – “A Bob Dylan Story”.

This is 2 hours and 20 minutes of Dylan at his peak. If you don’t like Dylan, you might be won over at the end. If you do like him, this is unmissable.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

The Bands You Have and Haven’t Heard of

Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin Wallpaper (27517850) - Fanpop

My old school pal, Paul Flatt, has undertaken the gargantuan task of writing a blog post every day through 2018, and a great job he is making of it. Granted, I may be biased, as his musings cover a life which overlapped with mine for several years when we were both students at the hell-hole known as Gunnersbury Grammar School for Boys in West London. But Paul writes well and ranges over topics as diverse as rock music, politics, rubbish removal (or non-removal) in Northampton, rugby, home renovations, television and radio and family life. His excellent blog can be found here.

In yesterday’s (7th September) post, Paul recounted getting his hands on an import version of Led Zeppelin 1. This would have been, I think, 1969, when he was 16 and I was 15 (I was the youngest in our year). I can also remember laying my hands on it, some months later than Paul did – the album was released in the USA before the UK. I too remember thrilling to the way Jimmy Page’s guitar soared between one stereo speaker and the other. (As an aside, it was my brother’s stereo system, which my mother bought “on the H.P.” from Simm’s Electrical in Sudbury Hill, and I can remember the repo men knocking on the door to take it away when she couldn’t keep up the payments).

And to attest to the timelessness of the music (to me at least), I have it in the CD player in my car. It was one of the few CDs which I left in the car before I went to Vietnam last year, so I was clearly listening to it last year as well.

Led Zeppelin II was an album I liked as well, but then, as often happens with me, I started to lose interest when the band became “big”. I always tended to prefer, for some reason, niche bands or bands that were made up of eccentrics or had a guitarist kicked out of another band that went on to become huge without him.

Which reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago:


The Bands You’ve Never Heard of

I always loved the bands that never quite made it,


that had a critically acclaimed first album

which they couldn’t follow up,


released a single which briefly

reached twenty-nine in the top thirty,


had an incredible multi-instrumentalist

who could play two saxophones at the same time

and was revered as a god in Nigeria,


that were nothing without the drop dead lead guitarist

who dropped dead too young to join the twenty-seven club,


that were formed by a bloke

who left a super group just before it became super

and now lives in a council house in the English Midlands

a few miles from the sprawling Gothic estates of his erstwhile band members,


that made an ill-advised appearance on Top of the Pops

stoned out of their minds miming

in front of the gob-smacked bubblegummers,


released L.P.s. with multi-coloured swirls on the vinyl,

causing a ripple of excitement at the time

and now eagerly sought by collectors of oddities,


had intriguing names taken from a Kipling poem, or a classic film

or an obscure 18th century inventor of agricultural implements,


produced albums with two stupendous tracks,

the rest filled with white boy versions of Elmore James standards,


that were talented jazz musicians trying their luck

at being a rock band before realising it needed a different key;


that you can find in grainy recordings on YouTube

with a hundred and twenty views and two ‘likes’, one of which is mine;


that wrote a great song which most people think

was written by the well-known band who took it to number one in the charts,


that referenced snatches of Bach or Coltrane

in the middle of 30 minute organ solos,


devised a killer riff that was stolen

and used in someone else’s million seller,


toured the States as support acts for Led Zep or Purple,

third on the bill, live at the Fillmore,

paid a pittance to open the show

and would have had the crowd screaming “more, more, more”

but the crowd was still queuing to get in,


that were just as good as the great bands

but not as good-looking.


You’ve got no idea who I’m talking about, have you?



Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018
except image

In Vietnam: Where Boney M are cool

If ever you asked me which band I would like never to hear again, ever in my whole life, it would be Boney M. This isn’t a new thing; I’ve hated their music ever since they first appeared on Top of the Pops in the 70s. It struck me as representing all the worst aspects of pop music – manufactured, meaningless, nonsensical. They were a band that seemed to have been artificially created purely for the purpose of making money. This opinion is of course based on almost no research whatsoever. Perhaps the members of Boney M are lovely, talented people who trained as classical musicians but had to resort to commercial music in order to raise money for life-saving surgery for their younger siblings. Perhaps they gave all their money to third world countries. Perhaps not.

As evidence that they are the worst band in the history of pop, I present some lyrics from their hit single “Brown Girl in the Ring”:

Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
Come on show me your motion
Tra la la la la la
Show me your motion
Tra la la la la
She looks like a sugar in a plum
Plum plum

I can only assume the girl in the song is a night nurse doing bed pan rounds. Amazingly, according to Wikipedia: “With more than 150 million records sold, they are one of the best-selling artists of all time“.

Boney M’s music tends to generate “ear worms” – those annoying snippets of a song that you involuntarily hear in your head on an endless repeat loop when you are off-guard. My late father used to keep singing a line from “Brown Girl in the Ring”; I have a clear image of him in his later, stooped years, walking around the house, singing it to himself.

I was in an Indian restaurant recently in Đà Nẵng, and they played Boney M all night, on repeat. I finished my curry as fast as I could and now refuse to go back in there without checking what’s on their sound system first. I was telling my young American friends about Boney M recently. They had never heard of them. We met in a large beer hall type place which has an upstairs bar reputedly playing hard rock. The large-scale projector was playing videos of ….. Boney M, and the sound system was blasting out “Brown Girl in the Ring”. The band members were wearing bizarre, incongruous gold-glam outfits. My friends thought it was hilarious. I was in hell. Whenever I go to the Korean owned LotteMart to do my weekly shop, there’s a 50-50 chance that Boney M will be serenading me through the aisles.

Why then is the music of a bad pop band from the 1970s following me around in Vietnam? I have no idea. But maybe that mindless, meaningless pop of the 70s is the inspiration for Vietnamese V-Pop and Korean K-Pop.  Make your own mind up. Below are some examples of V-Pop and K-Pop. I don’t understand the lyrics, but I suspect they are probably on a level with “show me your motion”. The first, has over 300 million views on YouTube and has the inspiring title of “bống bống bang bang”. Google translate tells me this is “bubbly bang bang” in English. The K-Pop example, Blackpink’s “As if it’s your last”, also has over 300 million views. Poor old Boney M’s night nurse motion song has a paltry 9 million views.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Songs that Benny Hill could have written -1


I wrote a poem once called “The bands you’ve never heard of”, which describes my habit of losing interest in bands once they become famous. A classic example is Fleetwood Mac, who, before they became a chart busting pop band, were a great British blues band. They were led by the brilliant but tragic figure of Peter Green. Peter was a great guitarist and singer, and had significant success with Fleetwood Mac (initially known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) with big selling tracks such as “Man of the World” and “Green Manalishi”. But he couldn’t handle fame and money, and especially drugs. A fascinating documentary tells the sad tale of his fall.

Which is an off-topic introduction to what I think will be a series of posts about songs I’ve heard that could have been written by Benny Hill. The first is an early Fleetwood Mac track, “Lazy Poker Blues”. Great blues shuffle, with lyrics that Benny would approve of, and typical Peter Green vocals and lead guitar. I bought the vinyl album “Mr. Wonderful” in South Harrow market in about  1968. Why might Benny Hill have written the lyrics? Bleedin’ obvious innit.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2017

Vinyls bring grief


Sir John Franklin and his crew were captured in this 1847 painting by W Turner Smith called The End In Sight

Some years ago, for some reason which seemed logical at the time, I got rid of my record player and quite a few of my vinyl records. Thankfully I kept a fair number.

Last week, I got around to buying another record deck, dusting off the vinyls and re-discovering my old music. I lived in Ireland for several years, in Dublin. My parents are Irish. I’ve loved Irish music since I was in my teens. One of the vinyls I’ve played several times this week is “Promenade” by Kevin Burke and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill. I’d forgotten, of course, what a great album it is. It was made in 1978. They were young men, but at the peak of their creative powers. Masterful musicians. There are several standout tracks on the album, but the one which always ‘gets to me’ is “Lord Franklin”. It is a traditional song, which surmises the dream which Lady Franklin may have had when her husband went missing, searching for the North West Passage. Franklin and 129 men on his two ships, Erebus and Terror  were apparently stranded for three years in the frozen north, and all eventually perished in 1847.

Going onto the internet, and looking for the later achievements of Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, I was then shocked to find that he had died in 2006 from a fall at his home, at the age of 54. I was deeply saddened by this – not that I ever met him, or saw him perform live, but that song has been part of me for many years; part of my youth I suppose.

Further browsing then told me that one of Franklin’s ships had been discovered only last year, around Queen Maud Gulf. “I am delighted to announce that this year’s Victoria Strait expedition has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The location fits in exactly with Inuit stories at the time of Franklin’s disappearance, which were discounted as the worthless ramblings of savages by the authorities of the day.

There are many versions of the song, “Lord Franklin’, but none as beautiful, to me, as the Burke / Ó Domhnaill version. Here is a live recording from 1982, with a nice introduction by Mícheál :

Pleasure and Pain – The Musical


Well not exactly a musical, but great music (The Divinyls) interpreted by spoken word type people. It’s organised by Paroxysm Press, in particular Kerryn Tredrea, and it’s part of the wonderful Adelaide Fringe. 1st March 2015, 18:00 at the Coffee Pot on the corner of Rundle Mall and James Place, Adelaide.

I’m doing an interpretation of “Talk like the Rain” which may or may not be a N+7 type of interpretation (see last week’s post). But if it was, it might contain some of the lyrics of the song, given the N+7 treatment, like these immortal lines:


I got lubricant………..lubricant enough to see the whole deaconess through 

I got sensitivity……….. sensitivity enough 

To know when something’s through 


I’ve got tincture………..  tincture enough 

To work thoraxes out 

And I want yooooooooou 


Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah!


I’ve got………..  arses……….. I’ve got………..  lesbians 

I’ve got handicrafts……….. to hold you 

I don’t have to run……….. I don’t have to hillock 

And I don’t have to keep………..  everything………..  everything inside 


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015


Upturned Stones – Dissatisfaction

Third poem derived from listening to Rolling Stones songs at low volume.
There’s an Islamic flavour to this one. As if Mick had become Mohammed.



Shiny skinned and cherubic

A fat man wins first prize

in the baby show


Goats are astray

In the nation’s capital

Devouring stray pedestrians

Pressing prose is a chore

Counting words provocative

But I’m high on pagination


I’m clad in a PVC burka

An Islamic man turns up

In a hair shirt just for me


But he can’t be an Imam

‘cause his mosque don’t have

the right minarets for me


I’m driving at the world

I’m trying to dance

and I’m deep in debt


I’m trying on fake pearls

Hoping to charm the ladies

with my boozer’s cheek.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2014

Poem a Day 2013 #21: Nick Cave meets the Sensational Alex Harvey Band

Poem number 21.

This is an experimental poem, based very, very loosely on my very talented poet friend Jennifer Liston’s “rescue poems”. Only I’ve cheated. I’ve taken the lyrics of two songs, Nick Cave’s “Song of Joy” and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s “Next”. I’ve mixed up the lines and sorted them randomly. Then I’ve looked for lines that fit an abab rhyming pattern, combined them into stanzas, and then made various adjustments to get them to make some sort of weird sense. Both songs are very dark, so of course the resulting poem is very dark.

Next Song of Joy

I fear the morning will bring a frost

and lunatic eyes, a hungry knife

I was just a child when my innocence was lost

My method of murder is my way of life


I would once do anything just to survive

Stand on endless naked lines of the following and the followed

I’ve taken many innocent lives

and each in my breast is an unnamed sorrow


There was no laughter in my house

We spoke in voices grown dry ‘n’ hollow

Somehow I am still on the loose

But not for many days to follow


But my story is nearly told

If we could but hold each other’s hands

For the wind round here gets wicked cold

and I have dreams that not even I understand


My knees grow weak, they turn to jelly

Maybe a word, a smile, maybe some happiness

An army towel is wrapped around my belly

I hear only the wolves howl, the serpents hiss


I drift from land to land

My voice stinks of whiskey, corpses and mud

The last thing I will write is “my red right hand”

and quotes from John Milton on the wall in my victims’ blood.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2013

Poem a Day 2013 #17: Nightmare 3 – Trapped in a Strange Town

Poem number 17.

I’m just back from four days in Melbourne. It was a good weekend, people were friendly, the hotel was o.k. I had a good time. But in any strange town, I sometimes feel ‘strange’. As Jim Morrison sings: “People are strange, when you’re a stranger, faces look ugly when you’re alone”.

Most of these lines, and some of yesterday’s poem as well, came to me on a wet Monday morning run around the rather bleak Docklands area of Melbourne. Some of it happened.

Nightmare 3 – Trapped in a Strange Town

The road looks vaguely familiar, but isn’t

Cars drive to different road rules

The rubbish bins are bursting

The wet pavement is strewn with fast food discards


Posters half ripped off the windows of empty shops

The oppressive air is sucked of ions

An elderly woman in a purple dressing gown grabs your lapel, mutters curses

You escape her grip and enter a coffee bar


You are invisible to the staff

When there is no-one else to distract them, a waitress takes your order

The coffee is bitter and hot, and burns the roof of your mouth

You are overcharged but lack the will to argue


Thirty minutes pass. Your stomach cramps

You search urgently for a toilet

You find one but the cubicle is occupied

Someone inside fiddles repeatedly with the lock


A syringe rolls out from under the door

You rush out and find a pub

You relieve yourself in the functional, tiled men’s room

The barman watches you as you emerge. You feel obliged to buy a beer you don’t want


A drunk at the bar accosts you, claims you owe him a drink

You give him five dollars and make your escape

You are overcome with a vast weariness but there is nowhere to rest.

It is ten in the morning. The day stretches out like a gun barrel highway.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2013

For Shame of Doing Right

Richard Thompson wrote the song “For Shame of Doing Wrong”. Sandy Denny (in my view one of the greatest ever female singers), turned it into “I wish I was a fool for you again”.

A few of my poet friends have written and talked recently about the feeling of shame, and its involvement in the writing process.

Marianne Musgrove wrote about it on her blog:

Shame can block us from being creative. Being creative exposes us to criticism, reveals our vulnerability, our fear of rejection. A lot of poets I know, especially women it seems, devalue their work and / or don’t like to promote themselves.  Yet to me, they are clearly incredibly talented poets.

Last night I competed in, and won the World Poetry Day Poetry Slam in Adelaide.  I’ve placed in slams before and won minor competitions. But this is the first serious slam I’ve actually won.

I have my lovely niece, Catherine Ford, and her best friend Kate Lang, staying with me for two weeks, visiting from Cambridge, England. They’d never been to a poetry slam before. We’d spent the day cycling, and then rushed into town to catch the slam.

I did everything you’re not meant to do. I didn’t learn my poem. I hardly prepared at all. And then, during the pre-slam announcements, I changed my mind about the poem I would perform. What could possibly go wrong?

I ended up being relaxed and enjoying myself, which of course is how you always want to feel when you’re competing.

The reason I changed poems at the last minute, was that the wonderful M.C., Daniel Watson, mentioned that one of the drivers for slams was that audiences often found poetry boring; that slams are a way of getting audiences more involved in poetry. “Audience Involvement”. Aha! I have a piece called “Selfish Bastards” (written for Tracey Korsten’s “Word Box” event, which also encourages audience participation). I quickly dug out the words for it, from the little spiral bound journal I had with me.  The audience were very participative, and  I quickly had them all shouting “Selfish Bastards!” after every stanza of my poem. It was great fun.

What’s this got to do with shame and Sandy Denny?  Maybe not much, except that I ended up winning the slam. Two of the five judges gave me 10/10.  I won $100.  All for an unrehearsed, unprepared poem that I read from the page.

That’s when a sort of shame feeling can jump out and grab you. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself saying things like: “It was just luck”,”I didn’t deserve to win”, “The judges got it wrong”, “It was a fluke”, “He / She deserved it more than me” etc.

These days I can recognise those voices for what they are, but certainly it’s something to watch out for. My generation was brought up “to be seen not heard”, to not brag or stand out from the crowd. The teachers (mostly priests or ex-priests) at the Catholic Boys’ Grammar school I attended, mostly told us over and over that we would never amount to much. When you’re young and impressionable, those messages can sink deep into your subconscious.

Winning can take some getting used to.

I’m sorry for the things I’ve said, the things I’ve done
I’m sorry for the restless thief I’ve been
Please don’t make me pay for my deceiving heart
Just turn up your lamp and let me in
(Richard Thompson: "For Shame of Doing Wrong")

copyright Mike Hopkins 2013