The Never Ending Tour Extended: Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather. 1992-9


I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.

The Never Ending Tour Extended: This series primarily uses recordings selected by Mike Johnson in his inestimable masterpiece The Never Ending Tour, and looks at how those performances of individual songs change as time goes by.   The selection of songs from the series, and the commentary below, are by Tony Attwood.   A list of all the songs covered in the series is given at the end.

Boots of Spanish Leather

Egoistical thought it may sound I must admit to loving writing this series of articles, for in listening to Bob’s performances of his own songs across a period of years I have been able to come to a much deeper appreciation of many of the songs, and the way in which Bob himself understands his own work.

And never more so is this the case than with this song: “Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather.”

This song was first played on 12 April 1963 and was finally wrapped up on 6 July 2019 after 300 performances.   And this is one of the songs where the very earliest recording we have from the tour is one of utter magic and beauty…. except for the audience.

Now I am not by nature a violent man but I would willingly partake in the forced removal from all society of the people (and in particular one person) who screeched at intervals through this performance, which to me is one of the magical highlights of the Tour.  To make a sound during that performance would have been sacrilege.  To do it repeatedly requires…. well, no I’d better not say.

The changes in the melody add to the plaintive message and Mike’s title for this episode of the tour captures the power, beauty and meaning within this performance.  It is one of the moments that I would place on my imaginary CD of the very best of the entire Never Ending Tour.   Although I would pay anything an engineer demanded to get rid of the idiotic screaming.

1992 part 3 – All the friends I ever had are gone

Bob kept the song on the set list, not surprisingly, but added further variations as he went along.   I don’t think that the utter heights achieved subsequently always reached the majesty achieved in the previous version, but the essence is the same, the instrumental break is certainly interesting, and my wish has been fulfilled and the screamer has been removed to Antarctica for eternity.

If I were to have a criticism, then I do think that some of the variations in the melody for the sake of emphasising certain lines is a mistake: the song is so beautiful and the words so extraordinary in their simplicity, no variations are needed.

And although the two and a half minutes of harmonica work at the end is something to behold, the constant repeat of the same short musical phrase doesn’t really seem to me to fit.   But fortunately for me if no one else, Bob stops that and we do get a magnificent acoustic guitar finale.  Overall it is over seven minutes of joy and fun.  All hail the man or woman with the recording device.

1993:  Mr Guitar Man goes acoustic

So now let us jump forward a couple of years, to 1995.   Bob by now has felt the need to fill out the song a little with the extra emphasis on the guitars, which to some degree dominate over Bob’s plaintive voice.   That is probably just due to the balance in the concert, but there is enough of the vocals for us to understand and feel the way he is nurturing the song, and joyfully stroking the melody with a deep love of a creator.  And the balance is improved slightly as we go along to allow for a more fulsome appreciation of what the master has done with his masterpiece.

The original LP recording lasts 4 minutes 30 seconds.   But these seven minute extended concert performances still feel they could be extended even further.

1995: The Prague Revelation and other astonishments

For my final choice in this selection, I am jumping forward another four years.   Any thought that some of the gentleness was being lost through the way the guitars are left to compete with each other in earlier editions has gone, and the simplicity of the song is once more refound.

And again in listening to this version, I’m so glad the idea emerged of this series in which what happened to individual songs over the years can be heard within one article.   For I think in considering certain songs in this way I, (if perhaps no my readers), have come to a much deeper understanding of Bob’s musicality.  The lyrics remain the same, but he plays with the music as if caressing a long-time girlfriend who has just returned.

What I find so magical is that he can find so many variations, for each of these performances contains within it subtle changes on what went before.   And here, as so often before, I am so grateful to Mike for having worked all those hours, weeks, months and years to curate the collection.  Neither he nor I had any idea that this notion of putting different recordings of individual songs together, would come about or that the series was written.  But in listening to these versions of Spanish Leather from across a seven-year period I really am moved, in a way that doesn’t happen so often when one gets to my age.  I am as ever deeply indebted to you Mike.

1999.  Inside the museum.

Other articles in this series…

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