Wednesday, February 06, 2008

a fine ROCKIN' tale of a ferry, a treacherous river, two bridges, and Dylan in '66

(above) our inimitable subject, 1966, at Aust, England ferry terminal, May, 1966
The Severn Bridge is in the background.
(above) the previous year in the UK, the enigmatic star of

D.A. Pennebaker's DON'T LOOK BACK
(above) today, where Dylan awaited the Severn Princess, then
note the Severn Bridge in the background
(above) the Princess today, beached and awaiting TLC, in Beachley, Wales
(above) the Princess, upon its final return home, but likely before its final move
(above) The Severn Bridge, which did in the ferry, in 1966.
Look closely, and you can see the last ferry, about to dock.
(above) further out towards the river, the Aust - Beachley ferry slip today
(above and below) the Princess in 1982, in Ireland, creating a fish farm
using DeLorean Car body-part dies as anchors for the nets

(above) the Princess launched, 1959
(above) a member of the family of Severn River ferries,
either the King or the Queen, likely in the late 1940s
(above) the CD version of the photo . . . but without the bridge
(also, a digitized change to the license plate, as noted below)
(above) the mighty Severn River bridge (first of the two standing today)
opened in 1966 by Queen Elizabeth II
(above and below) the new Severn River bridge, with
its very necessary side wind baffles
The Martin Scorsese film NO DIRECTION HOME (first screened in England in 2005) about the life of Bob Dylan has a promotional shot of Dylan--one of rock's most iconic photos--standing in front of the Aust, England ferry terminal on May 11, 1966, just months before the historic ferry closed for good.
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Dylan was on his way to a concert in Cardiff, South Wales, seventy miles away following a gig in Bristol which towards the beginning of the '66 UK tour. Here he is the following day, as he set off in a cold, drizzling rain for the next show, with the previous night's concertgoers boos maybe still ringing in his ears (if indeed he even cared to remember). So it's hardly surprising he looked mean and moody--clad in Carnaby Street black, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched against the elements, hiding behind dark glasses on an overcast day--as he waited for the ferry. Whether Dylan appreciated it at the time, in UK lore the ferry and the River Severn were long intertwined; the river itself having been known over centuries for its gale-force winds and dangerously choppy seas in the estuary, leading to the Bristol Channel, to the Celtic Sea, and to the Atlantic Ocean.
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When Scorsese's people called, American photographer Barry Feinstein rediscovered his original proof sheet from that day in 1966 (he was the tour photog). This shot from that series was eventually voted as one of the five top rock photos of all time. "I think it was the British weather that made him look so gloomy," Feinstein recalled. "But everyone was a bit worn out from traveling, from the booing, and from the previous year of controversial developments that had led up to this tour."
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The movie itself drew from hundreds of hours of unseen footage, rare recordings, and in-depth interviews. Feinstein, a celebrated portraitist, also was the still photographer for such classic movies as EASY RIDER and MONTEREY POP.
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The car in the picture, a British-made Austin Princess, belonged to the Rolling Stones. The man leaning on it was Dylan's filmmaker of that year, Howard Alk. A previous film, DON'T LOOK BACK, was filmed in England by D.A. Pennebaker in 1965.
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Dylan had good reason to look pissed off. Then 25, he was still at the beginning of what would be called the "Judas" tour. The previous night, May 10, at Colston Hall in Bristol, as the second half of the concert began with Dylan's band donning electric instruments, he was heartily berated by the audience (hardcore folkies who continued to see him as betraying the folk music movement). So on this tour's shows, Dylan played the first half solo acoustic and returned for an electric set with his band. A week earlier in Manchester, someone in the audience shouted out "Judas!" to which Dylan responded, "You're a liar," turned to his band (the Robbie Robertson-led Hawks) and said, "Play fuckin' loud," and they crashed into a deafening version of "Like a Rolling Stone."
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Upon Dylan's return to the US, exhausted, just a few weeks after this photo was taken, he would allegedly crash his motorbike in the town of Woodstock, NY, supposedly breaking his neck, but nevertheless spending most of the following twelve months in seclusion, recovering, and turning in altogether new musical directions.
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For the CD cover shot, the car in the background's license plate was digitally altered to read 1235RD, a reference to Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35." Its counterpart DVD uses the unaltered Feinstein photo (license plate 540 CYN) showing the nearly complete "first" modern Severn River Bridge further in the background. That bridge, which Queen Elizabeth II opened on September 8, 1966, caused the ferry to be redundant and thus its quick demise.
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The last remaining ferry boat, the Severn Princess, which Dylan boarded that day, had been built in Hull by the Yorkshire Drydock Company and launched on May 23, 1959. In 1999 she was found wrecked and abandoned in County Galway, Ireland. Thanks to ardent preservationists, she was returned to Beachley (the ferry's western terminus across from Aust) in 2003.
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The Aust ferry was a service that operated across the River Severn in Gloucestershire. It ran between the village of Aust in England and the English village of Beachley (but near Chepstow in Wales). It was generally known as the Beachley Ferry on the Welsh side and the Aust Ferry on the Bristol side. Before the Severn Bridge opened in 1966, the ferry was the only crossing of the Severn estuary for road traffic between England's West Country and South Wales below Gloucester, thus allowing cars to avoid a 60 mile out-of-the-way road journey.
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The passage of the Severn (known locally as the "Old Passage") between Aust and Beachley probably was in use from antiquity. The journey, a distance of over a mile at a point where the tides run swiftly, was a very dangerous one. In 1825 a new era opened with the formation of the Old Passage Ferry Assoc., sponsored by the Duke of Beaufort, lord of Tidenham. The company built stone piers on both banks and commissioned a steamboat which began to ply in 1827. One of the first ferries was lost with all hands on September 1, 1839 and a second on March 12, 1844.
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The advent of railways and the opening of the Severn Railway Bridge in 1879, brought an end to the first ferry service. However, with the new growth of motorcar traffic in the new century, service was reopened in the summer of 1926. Between 1931 and 1966, the business was operated by Enoch Williams. Initially he was only able to transport passengers with bicycles and motorbikes, but by 1934 the Severn Queen was launched as a car ferry, carrying 17 cars, followed by the Severn King in 1935.
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The 98 ton MV Severn Princess was 77' long by 28' wide, powered by twin Leyland diesel bus engines. She plied the Severn every 20 minutes, taking 12 minutes to complete the trip each way. Capacity was 98 passengers and up to 19 cars. Despite the treacherous river and its often appalling weather, no passengers were ever killed or seriously injured by ferry operations, despite the fact that--according to one of the ship's restorers--"health and safety were largely left to luck, with support from the other ferry if it was available." Only six life vests were provided, and presumably that was thought quite sufficient. The Princess' final crossing occured the day before the new Severn Bridge opened.
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Folllowng her first seven years on the Severn, the Princess was sold in 1969 to an Irish company. Once there, she worked as a 'floating delivery van' supplying the Aran Islands, working out of Galway and Kilkieran (where she was later abandoned to be broken up). In 1980 she was chartered for use as a floating camera platform during the filming of NORTH SEA HIJACK starring Roger Moore.
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Two years lager she was put to work in Ards Bay, Connemara, dropping heavy steel anchors overboard to be used to secure the nets forming the boundaries of the Braden Mara Fish Farm (for farmed salmon). The "anchors" were in fact body-part press moulds from the ill-fated DeLorean Motor Company, from its Northern Ireland factory (see photos above, including the stamping dies for the famous gullwing car doors). On Boxing Day, 1998, a gale coinciding with a high spring tide, finally threw the Princess violently onshore in Kilkeiran, only to be rescued the following year by Dr. Richard Jones, grandson of Enoch Williams.
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As of February, 2007, the Princess was back home in Wales, resting in rather decripit shape (with a major hole in her side, putting enough water in her twice a day to sink her, were she still afloat) on the west bank of the conjoining River Wye near Chepstow, Monmouthshire, beneath the railway bridge, on the Old Slipway, near the Old Ferry Inn at Beachley--only 50 yards from where she once sailed and five miles across the water from the historic port of Bristol.
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Some interesting facts concerning the first modern Severn Bridge that is part of the M48 roadway leading to Chepstow (not to be confused with the second, or "new" Severn Bridge carrying the M4 further to the south, which itself opened on June 5, 1966, as supervised by HRH Prince Charles, and which was the seventh longest bridge in the world at that time):
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(1) In the movie STAR WARS (1977) "the sounds of the lasers were made by striking one of the suspension wires of the bridge. The longer sounds were used for the rocketships and the shorter ones for the hand guns."
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(2) For the rock band Marillion's album BRAVE (1994), singer Steve Hogarth used a concept inspired by a radio broadcast from the Bristol Police. Quoting Hogarth, "The police had picked up a young woman wandering on the Severn Bridge who refused or was unable to speak at all. In desperation, the appeal was broadcast to the general public in an attempt to discover her identity." Hogarth heard the broadcast and several years later used it as inspiration.
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(3) On February 1, 1995, Richey James Edwards, the former guitarist and key lyricist for the Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers, disappeared and was never seen again. Edwards likely took his life on the bridge, as his car was found closeby. Since its construction, the bridge had sadly become notorious as an attractive suicide spot.
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The ferry terminal in Aust is now deserted, a few buildings standing, but utterly derelict. The two bridges today carry upwards of 25 million vehicles per year.
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Many famous musicians traveled on the Severn River ferry, including The Beatles and Tom Jones.

For further edification on all this, I commend you to Wikipedia, for essays on the River Severn, the Severn Bridge, the Aust Ferry, Disasters on the Severn, and Bob Dylan (with excellent sequencing of information about his trio of albums beginning with the March, 1965 BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, the same year's HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, and the 1966 BLONDE ON BLONDE).
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Also of interest:
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http://www.rpec.co.uk/news07.html ("Recovery of the Aust Ferry"
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http://www.severntales.co.uk/news27.htm ("Ferry berthing aborted")
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(fascinating reminiscenes from people who used the ferry to cross the Severn)
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ENJOY!

15 comments:

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I'm eagerly waiting for special offers on ferry crossings, if anyone find such offers. Pls let me know...

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prazy said...

The pictures of promy do are really Awesome and the snap of Severn Bridge is amazing. Can any one convey me an idea about the best ferries to travel these places..

kamagra said...

Thanks for the incredible set of photos! honestly I never seen something like this before.

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