Talking Bob Dylan, life, culture, politics and Shakespeare

Lucas Hare, Bob Dylan and Kerry Shale

Lucas Hare, Bob Dylan and Kerry Shale - Credit: Is It Rolling, Bob?/Bob Dylan

"How does it feel?"

That's the question posed by a podcast which reaches its 50th episode this month, centred on the life and work of Bob Dylan.

Covering subjects from Shakespeare to fame to misogyny to comedy, Is It Rolling, Bob? Talking Dylan strays well beyond the songwriter.

Guests have included writers David Hepworth, Geoff Dyer and Jonathan Lethem; actors David Morrissey and Sheila Atim; comedians David Baddiel and Nish Kumar; and singers Kathryn Williams, Billy Bragg and Loudon Wainwright III.

This week, the Ham&High Podcast meets Is It Rolling, Bob? hosts Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare, who are actors by trade. 

Kerry is a former Hampstead resident who now lives in Islington and who has a long cv in film, stage, television and radio.

The first Dylan song he remembers hearing, when he was about 12, was Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, with that distinctive voice leading the parade.

"They were having a great time," he said. "It sounded like they were having a party of some sort, and the chorus was 'everybody must get stoned' and, unlike a lot of people we've had on the podcast, I didn't fall in love with Dylan at first hearing.

"In fact, it wasn't that I hated it, I was more terrified of it. I loved The Beatles because they were bouncy and friendly, and I love the Stones because they were kind of weirdly sexy, and I didn't quite get it but I loved them. 

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"They were easy to love, but Bob Dylan scared the hell out of me." 

It was several years later with the arrival of Nashville Skyline that Kerry became hooked.

Kerry Shale, Billy Bragg and Lucas Hare

Kerry Shale, Billy Bragg and Lucas Hare - Credit: Is It Rolling, Bob

Luke, whose credits include The Crown, Broadchurch and EastEnders, says when he became a professional actor he found there was always a Dylan fan on set. He began checking out recommendations, eventually collecting every album.

Is It Rolling, Bob? discusses guests' fascination with Dylan - and it does get into the minutiae - but also gets on to wider subjects.  

Luke said: "I really, really love it when somebody says 'do you know, I'm not a huge Dylan fan, but I really like the podcast' or 'I really like that episode'.

"That means so much more to me because it means that we've focused on the guest and how interesting they are, and Dylan's the kind of backdrop.

"Dylan's the reason two strangers decide to start talking, but the interesting thing is the conversation between the two strangers, not what one of them thinks of New Morning versus Self Portrait."

Last March literature professor James Shapiro appeared on the show and Luke said: "I had enormous admiration for his books about Shakespeare - 1599 and 1606 were the two that were out at the time.

"And I had no idea he was a Dylan fan, but when I found out that he was, I thought we've got to get him, and he came on. 

"He was, I think, our first remote guest of 2020 because he was in New York and wasn't flying anywhere.

"I think within the first minute of the podcast he was telling us about Don't Think Twice It's Alright and why that meant so much to him. It was about the woman he loved who walked out on him, who he was going to marry.

"Immediately we were like: 'Oh God, we're straight in there.'

"But, as Kerry says, this is the stuff that's interesting. I don't mean [in a] nosy way, but someone revealing their emotional life or how something felt with Bob Dylan as the backdrop is so much more interesting than arguing about the minutiae of certain takes of Tangled Up In Blue."

Bob Dylan at his piano.

Bob Dylan at his piano. - Credit: PA

The last few years have been fertile for Dylan fans, with continued archive releases in the Bootleg series, Martin Scorsese's semi-fictional documentary of Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, visual arts exhibitions and the acclaimed and unexpected new album last year, Rough and Rowdy Ways. As ever, it is near-on impossible to predict what he will do next.

There is currently an enforced pause in the "Never Ending Tour" and Kerry says he can't imagine Dylan not producing work through lockdown.

"I mean, Bob is an artist to his fingertips, so he's doing some art," he said. "There's no way that he's not doing art." 

Ham&High Podcast

Ham&High Podcast - Credit: Archant