Waters sings Dylan, but no Bob impersonations

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John Waters… “It’s purely myself and a six-piece band going out on the stage doing Dylan songs.”

“I WANT to disabuse people of the idea that I’m ‘doing’ Bob Dylan,” actor, rocker and screen identity John Waters says of his coming show, “Dylan Revisited”.

“It won’t look anything like ‘Lennon: Looking Through A Glass Onion’,” he stresses.

“I’m not doing any impersonations. It’s purely myself and a six-piece band going out on the stage doing Dylan songs.”

“Glass Onion”, of course, is Waters’ long-running tribute show to John Lennon, co-written with his muso friend Stewart D’Arrietta. Since 1992 it has toured widely, several times to Canberra. It also played in London’s West End and at the Union Square Theatre in Manhattan.

Even in that show, Waters didn’t go very far in making up as John Lennon, but he did adopt his persona and his accent, as he did in his tribute to Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel.

“This time I’m not wearing any kind of a straitjacket, but on the other hand, I must say I’m never tired of ‘Glass Onion’,” he adds. “But that is a quintessentially theatre piece, extremely tight, whereas now we have freedom and we are enjoying it.

“It’s our version… we would listen to other versions of the songs and then chat and do our own, we are really looking forward to it.”

Waters, a household name in Australia from his many screen roles and his 1972-1991 stint as a presenter on ABC TV’s “Play School”, began as a muso in his native England.

Like so many singers, he started out in church but, at age 16, a boy in the same school who had a band was looking for a bass player and Waters stepped in.

Soon he was playing in a rock-blues band called The Riots in south-west London.

After three years, he was alerted to Harry M Miller’s audition call-out for the production of “Hair” in Sydney, so headed south. He scored a role in the ensemble and soon replaced Wayne Matthews as the main character, Claude.

“What a year 1969 was,” he says, “the Moon landing, Woodstock and in Australia, ‘Hair’.”

Luckily, he says, he soon caught the eye of talent scout and super-agent Gloria Payton, who found him roles on stage and screen, notably as Sgt Robert McKellar in the 1974-76 television series “Rush”.

Waters enjoyed a prolific career on screen, earning him a satirical quip from critic David Stratton to the effect that he’d been in “more bad films than most other actors”. He’s still everywhere, most recently on “Rake” and “Mystery Road”.

But music has always been Waters’ first love and his choice of subjects, Lennon, Brel and now Dylan, reveals a penchant for the acoustic and lyrical end of the music spectrum, often just him and his guitar.

That simplicity surfaced in Waters’ rendition of the song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” written for Lennon’s son, Sean. It was a moment, Waters says, of tranquillity amid the turbulence.

“Dylan Revisited” offers moral turbulence in swags as he and his band perform celebrated numbers such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone”. 

But the number that affects him most in the show, he says, is the 1975 protest song “Hurricane”.

Co-written with Jacques Levy, about what the Nobel Laureate-to-be depicted as the false trial and imprisonment of middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter for a triple murder in New Jersey, its lyrics were contested in court by people directly named in the song.

“It’s a political song, a great dynamic song that hit hard, ” Waters says.

“Carter wasn’t released until the 1990s. It was a very tragic story and it’s still got resonance.”

The song also presents an excuse for one of his electric guitarists to put down his instrument, pick up a fiddle and break out into gypsy violin.

“It’s an amazing moment,” says Waters.

“Dylan Revisited”, Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden, Wednesday, September 4. Book at cscc.com.au.

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Helen Musa
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