Q&A: Simply Dylan


Liverpool based artist John O'Connell will be taking Simply Dylan - his personal exploration and celebration of the rich and diverse work of Bob Dylan along with band across the UK for the very time this November. 

Simply Dylan is as straightforward as the title suggests; no frills, no gimmicks, no pretense. However this is no ordinary interpretation of Bob Dylan, this is a remarkable and exceptional project which promises to delight Dylan fans young and old and to ignite a new wave of passion for one of the world's most prodigious songwriters.

We caught up with the man himself to discuss his exciting project and find out how it all came about...

You’re going on tour soon what can the audience expect?
I would like to think that people will be pleasantly surprised as we are going to deliver songs from Dylan’s repertoire that they will not be expecting. We try and cover some of his more challenging songs and although we stick closely to the original phrasing the delivery is not intended to be a sound alike look alike Bob Dylan Act.

Tell us about Simply Dylan and how did it come about?
When I worked with Graham Evans, former Groundpig band member, we would cover songs that we loved and enjoyed to play. It was a bit self-indulgent but we were lucky because it worked for us. We always had a number of Bob Dylan songs in the repertoire so the likes of Jokerman and Hurricane became anthems for us.  

It was back in the late 1990s when a good friend of mine, Dave Galbrith (who is a massive Dylan fan) suggested playing a Dylan only set. I suppose he planted the seed but it wasn’t until Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday was approaching that I took him up on the idea and secured a gig at the Cavern Club. I put an 8 piece band together, with some very talented musicians and the gig went on to sell out. We were then invited back a few months later to perform as part of the Liverpool Summer Pops and have returned every year since with each of the gigs selling out.

In 2011 a Spanish promoter bought the last ticket for the Cavern and then went on to secure Simply Dylan a 6 date tour across the country; it was then really when we started to play further afield and began to receive some positive feedback from the different Bob Dylan Appreciation Societies.

When did you start listening to Bob Dylan and which of his albums are you most fond of...
I was a late starter. The first Bob Dylan album I listened to was Street Legal; it belonged to my sister Valie. I then moved on to Shot of Love and Saved and eventually backtracked to Desire and Blood on the Tracks. I’m still discovering some real gems and one of the nicest parts of being in Simply Dylan is the recommendations from his avid fans.

What is your favourite song to perform live?
It would have to be Senor and Shelter from the Storm but then there are so many; Changing of the Guards is another.

When you’re not performing what do you do to keep yourself busy when you’re on tour / on the road?
When I’m not performing I actually enjoy spending my time practising my classical guitar playing. I studied classical guitar when I was younger and always love the challenge of playing intricate passages in a piece and developing my technique. Once a month I perform a recital at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral; I really look forward to these occasions as it is something totally different performing solo.

What was the first gig you ever went too?
My very first gig was watching Kate Bush at the Liverpool Empire. It was a spectacular gig, and you just knew it was a special occasion.

Which song do you wish you had written?
That’s a tough one as there are so many but three that spring to mind are Alone Again Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan, You Could be Happy by Snow Patrol and Covenant Woman by Dylan. Not only are they good structured songs with great melodies, but they are all emotionally charged with so much meaning in them.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?
With Groundpig that would have to be Daleys Dandeloin which used to be right in the centre of Liverpool. It was an 11 o’clock start and absolutely packed out with people from all parts of the city who loved to watch Groundpig. These gigs were legendary. In fact the famous photographer John Stoddard came along one time and took some amazing pictures capturing the crowd and the electric atmosphere.
With Simply Dylan, it has to be the Galleon in Blackpool last November performing an acoustic set as 4 piece band. 

We attracted many of the Dylan fans who were in the town to watch the man himself perform at the Opera House. Just through word of mouth Dylan fans kept coming through the door, it was an instant success. We played to a packed house for 3 afternoons, the atmosphere was remarkable with people sitting on the floor singing every word. I suppose what made it so special and enjoyable was that we were playing to Dylan fans from all over the country who had probably never heard of us before. Stephen Pierre the owner of the Galleon admitted only a month ago when he travelled to a Simply Dylan gig in London that it was his best weekend of the year!

Which other artists are you listening to at the moment?
We are very lucky in Liverpool as there is a great music scene. Locally Rob Vincent and Laura James are two artists who I enjoy listening to and always try to catch one of their gigs whenever I can. On my ipod I’ve got David Grey, Gladys Knight and often watch Julian Bream playing the Lute on Youtube… so quite a mixed bag really!

Tell us about the latest album.
The albums have been taken from a live concert. I often record gigs via my mini-disk just to evaluate and reflect. I didn’t discover this particular recording until months after the gig and was really impressed with the balance and mix given than there was only a left and right line into the machine. People don’t really believe that it hasn’t been mixed or enhanced; but it was just pure luck and it’s a real treat to capture the true sound of the band.

Plans for the rest of the year?
To continue to work on my Dylan repertoire; we’ve got a new band member joining us next year. He’s an electric guitarist so this will enable us to cover more of Dylan’s repertoire such as Slow Train Coming. Also I plan to work on my original songs and finish recording my new album and then finally to relax and enjoy some time off at Christmas.


Check out Simply Dylan below and click HERE for tickets