Listen: Bob Dylan Performing ‘The Ballad of the Gliding Swan’ From First TV Appearance

Fifty years ago in January of 1963, Bob Dylan flew to England and appeared in a TV play, “The Madhouse on Castle Street,” which was produced and broadcast by the BBC on January 13, 1963. Dylan was to play the lead role in the production, but once he was in England he changed his mind. Instead he played a minor character, Bob the Hobo and performed a number of songs including “Hang Me, O Hang Me,” “Cuckoo Bird,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and the English folk ballad, “The Ballad of the Gliding Swan.”

According to filmthreat.com, the play tells “the tale of a reclusive young man who shuts himself in his boarding house room, with the declaration that he will never come out unless the world changes. In the course of the drama, the young man’s friends and fellow boarding house residents try to discover why he chose to take such a drastic and peculiar course of action. In many ways, the drama was typical of the so-called boarding house plays of British theater during the early 1960s: a motley collection of malcontent souls venting their respective fears and furies in the setting of a cheap, rundown rooms-to-let setting.”

When the production aired, the public heard “Blowin’ in the Wind” for the first time. How the song came to be part of the play was explained by it’s directer, Philip Saville,at whose house Dylan was staying briefly.

“I got up to have a pee and I heard music,” Saville told The Guardian. “I wandered along the landing and there at the bottom, because I had a little baby then, were our two Spanish au pairs. There he was at the top of the stairs, singing, and these two lovely little girls were like two little robins or starlings looking up at him. He didn’t know I was behind him, and I applauded and just said: ‘Oh Bob, would you sing that on the opening and closing of the production?’”

The film of the play was destroyed in 1968. However there is audio of “The Ballad of the Gliding Swan” that is purported to be from the film.

For more on this story, head to filmthreat.com.

Audio of Dylan performing the English folk ballad, “The Ballad of the Gliding Swan”:

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About Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg is a distinguished pioneer in the online music space; Newsweek magazine called him an ‘Internet visionary.’ In 1994 he founded Addicted To Noise (ATN), the highly influential music web site. He was a senior vice-president and editor in chief at SonicNet from March 1997 through May 2000. In 1997, Addicted To Noise won Webby awards for best music site in 1998 and 1999, and also won Yahoo Internet Life! awards for three years running as best music site in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Prior to starting Addicted To Noise, Goldberg was an editor and senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine for 10 years. His writing has also appeared in Wired, Esquire, Vibe, Details, Downbeat, NME and numerous other publications. Michael recently completed his first novel, Days of the Crazy-Wild, and is currently writing a second novel.

2 thoughts on “Listen: Bob Dylan Performing ‘The Ballad of the Gliding Swan’ From First TV Appearance

  1. The video clip posted is a performance of “Girl From the North Country” from a Canadian TV show called Quest. It is not from Madhouse On Castle Street, which as far as I know has no circulating video footage. As you said, it was destroyed.

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