Mercy Revisited

Emma Wright: vocals

News on an upcoming gig, Mercy Revisited, at the Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, 22nd July 2023. A full band reinterprets the whole of Bob Dylan’s 1989 classic ‘Oh Mercy,’ with additional spoken word inspired by the songs.

Have you been inspired by this album or one of its songs? If so, get in touch – we’d like to put up comments from others onscreen before the gig starts, and in the interval. Contact me at venus [dot] carmichael [at] gmail [dot] com

Why this album?

Yeah, why, really, other than it’s always been one of my personal favourites – that’s not a good enough reason to put on a whole gig and corral a bunch of talented people into doing a special show about it, is it?

I’ll make the case for it below, but in case you don’t care what I think, here’s what a few other folk think:

‘It’s virtually impossible to pick one classic album, above all others, but if pushed I could make the case for Oh Mercy.

When you record music, you hope that you’ll capture what you first had in mind. You go into the studio with the best intentions but it doesn’t always turn out that way… the aim is to create a record that you could listen to in one sitting, as if you were at a concert.

Mark Allan: bass

Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy, from 1989, is the rare album that manages to pull that off.’

Ian Hunter, Mott the Hoople, The Observer.

‘I believe we made a masterpiece of sorts.’

Daniel Lanois, quoted in Aquarium Drunkard’s 30-year retrospective on the album.

‘Immediately recognized as one of the most important albums of the 1980s, Oh Mercy is now seen as a sling-shot moment for Bob Dylan, too.’

Nick DeRiso, Something Else.

So there. For my part…

The 1980s were frankly a rubbish time to become a Bob Dylan fan. Having first got into him just before the decade ticked over, I remember the excitement of getting ‘Street Legal,’ his 1978 album, and playing it for the first time. OK, so it wasn’t his mid-Sixties peak, but it was pretty good all the same, with lots of mysterious tarot card based lyrics for my 17-year-old self to decode.

Graham Crawford: drums

Then he started writing about God. Nothing wrong with that in principle, and he had Mark Knopfler on guitar on some of these albums, but it was confusing, as I’d pretty much decided he was at least some sort of minor deity, and here he was writing about Them in the third person. Plus there was that whole born-again connection to Reagan and all those right wing types.

Norman Lamont: lead guitar, vocals

After he stopped banging on about religion so much, around the middle of the decade, he proceeded to produce  – and I use the word produce in its loosest possible sense – a series of, by his standards, crap albums. Sure, there were some good songs – although some of them, like ‘Blind Willie McTell,’ weren’t to surface till later – but still.

I remember hearing a radio interview he did with Paul Gambaccini to promote 1981’s ‘Shot of Love,’ which he described as his most ‘explosive album so far,’ (it had a picture of an explosion on the cover) and that he was going to do instrumentals from then on. I think he was kidding, but Dylan only knows.

Me: rhythm guitar, vocals

Then Bono took him in hand, and introduced him to Danny Lanois.

As Dylan tells it in a chapter of ‘Chronicles, Volume One,’ he was at a low ebb. Off the back of a tour with Tom Petty (I saw him on that tour and thought he was brilliant, but what did I know) he did some gigs with the Grateful Dead. Although he doesn’t mention it in his book, he reportedly asked to join the Dead, they voted on it, and knocked him back. I mean, how low can you go? Then he injures his hand, is laid up, and out of the blue starts writing some songs, putting them in a drawer and forgetting about them – so he says.

Just as he’s contemplating retiring who should turn up at his door with a crate of Guinness but the diminutive U2 lead singer who, off the back of the Lanois and Eno-produced success of ‘The Joshua Tree,’ puts Bob in touch with Lanois and sets in train what becomes the recording of ‘Oh Mercy.’

James Whyte: keys, vocals

The story of the album’s difficult birth, the struggles between artist and producer, all set in the hot spiritual-soup atmosphere of New Orleans, is told at some length in Dylan’s chapter. The record received positive reviews, although, as Dylan notes wryly, reviews don’t sell records. However, it has always remained one of my favourite, and most-played, Dylan albums; and the existence of all this material around the making of it (Lanois has also talked about it in interviews) made me think, what about a show based on the album’s ten songs, but weaving some of that story in?

The easy bit, paradoxically, has been pulling together a merry band of musicians who want to play some Dylan songs. A few rehearsals in, things are really starting to take shape, and it’s great fun getting under the bonnet of the material and seeing how we can hotwire it to our own versions (we’re not even going to attempt a faithful replica of Lanois’s swamped-up sound).

Kevin Crowe: spoken word

The difficult bit, so far, has been the words, and that really non rock n’ roll concept of intellectual property. Whilst we can play the songs in any venue that has a PRS licence, reading out chunks of ‘Chronicles, Volume One’ would not be kosher, IP-wise, even before we get to the issue of editing Dylan’s deathless prose (I mean, all very purple, Bob, but you do go on a bit, with respect!)

However, it looks like we have a solution to that. Working with a skilled writer and long-term Dylan fan, Kevin Crowe, we’re creating a storytelling arc around the songs that reflects their themes, but approaches them from a different direction. I’m really excited about this project – it promises to be a great show, combining some great music and excellent spoken word.

Mercy Revisited: Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, Saturday 22nd July. Doors 7.00 p.m.


We’re also delighted to partner up with Fife instrument cable company, The Music Cable Co, who’ll be supplying the leads that will make our sound that much better on the night! I can personally endorse the quality of Dave’s cables, having bought one a couple oof months ago. It’s become my go-to lead for recording and performing over the Fenders I used previously.

Hold the dial here for further details on this gig! Meantime, here’s what Daniel Lanois had to say about producing the Wee Man from Minnesota.