FIRST things first. The Dylan Project is a labour of love and not a tribute band. “No, we don’t try on Dylan masks or anything like that. It is just our interpretation of his songs,” explains Steve Gibbons.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the first time I heard Bob Dylan, it changed my life. I was working with my band The Uglys and we were booked for a month at a little club called The Kon-Tiki in Munster, Germany.
“It was a hard slog. We lived at the back of the club in a one-room billet and played six nights a week for four hours between 9pm and 2am, at which time a young American named Peter took over and played records.
“His excellent taste was all the persuasion we needed to linger longer and drink away most of our wages until the wee small hours.
“Anyway, at one such session he called me over and said, ‘You ever heard of this guy? I got this in the post from the States’. The guy was Bob Dylan, the album was The Freewheelin Bob Dylan. Track one, side one, the voice made me tingle. The song made me shiver. The moment is frozen.”
So it was a simple and happy twist of fate when Steve caught up with old mate and band member Dave Pegg a few years ago. Their collective enthusiasm for the legendary singer took over and Bob’s your uncle. They decided to record an album of Dylan songs.
They lined-up with Pegg’s fellow Fairport Convention musicians Simon Nicol and Gerry Conway, alongside John Bundrick and PJ Wright, to spread the word and The Dylan Project was formed.
“We like to get together at this time of the year and go out on tour as the Dylan Project. Whatever transpires from this endeavour it will be a labour of love for all concerned.”
So as far as Steve is concerned the times may have changed since those early days but his admiration for the American legend has not dimmed. If anything it has got even bigger.
“The man is just amazing. And the word troubadour really does apply to him. He is on stage somewhere in the world almost every night. It is an incredible schedule. Maybe he just doesn’t like being at home.
“But he is one of the great survivors. He has stayed the course. Others have been and gone or had world tours with large gaps in between. He just keeps going.”
Steve, who like Bob turns 70 next year, admits there were many apples to pick from the rosy barrel of Dylan’s never-ending catalogue.
The end result is just about everything. The label Road Goes On Forever Records released a double CD featuring the first studio album and Live At Cropredy Festival 1999 and then only last month reissued Dylan Project 2 with four studio bonus tracks and one live bonus track.
The expected standards are there. Versions of Just Like a Woman, Highway 61 Revisited, Forever Young and Like a Rolling Stone sit alongside the unexpected. These include You Angel You and Tweeter and the Monkey Man
Steve adds: “His phrasing is unique. No one does it quite like Dylan. I am fascinated by the whole ambience. The words, the gruffness of his voice, the songs are phenomenal.
“The mid 60s were absolutely fantastic. A golden period, great albums. But his later albums have also been wonderful: Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind, for example, and he keeps on bringing them out.
“People coming to our concerts often include couples. Maybe the husband is a huge Dylan fan but his wife doesn’t quite get it. We just hope they enjoy our interpretations.
And, yes, Steve has seen the man in concert but never met him. “What would you say to him? There is nothing you could say. It is a funny one.
“I saw him first at Earls Court in 1978. I never forget that excitement going down the motorway. The closer you got the greater the tingling feeling. The uncertainty. Is he as good live? Will he live up to the huge expectations?
“I have seen him eight or 10 times now.”
So The Dylan Project cover virtually the entire Dylan repertoire. “We haven’t done anything from his Christmas album yet,” says Steve. “I thought that was wonderful too. It has a certain Walt Disney-cum-Snow White feel about it.”
The Steve Gibbons Band still tours and Steve is also out and about doing solo performances. But for now, it is Bob Dylan who keeps Steve forever young and on the road.
The Dylan Project play Hall Two of The Sage Gateshead on Thursday, 8pm. Box office: 0191 443 4661.