Music: Chillin' with Dylan; BOB DYLAN, STILL AT THE CUTTING EDGE OF HIS ART AFTER NEARLY 40 YEARS AT THE TOP, IS TOURING THE UK AGAIN

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Byline: GAVIN MARTIN

Two years ago, on his last UK tour, Bob Dylan surprised longtime fans when he told a Wembley audience why Britain held a special place in his heart. The normally reticent rock legend recalled when he was known only as Robert Allen Zimmerman, growing up in a small Jewish community in post-war Duluth, Minnesota.

"We studied the Battle Of Britain, the RAF and Winston Churchill, all of that stuff," said Dylan. "Everybody I grew up with knew how Britain stood alone, without any allies and that meant a lot."

People laughed, suspecting a wind-up, but there was no doubting his sincerity. And the respect is mutual because for many years now, Dylan himself has stood alone, constantly on tour - he's back on the road in the UK again this week - and still producing records and performances that rank with his '60s heyday. He plays more than 200 shows a year - a tough schedule for anyone, let alone a grandfather who celebrates his 61st birthday on May 24.

He has had numerous brushes with death over the years, through the famous motorbike crash, drugs and illness. After he was hospitalised with a life-threatening lung infection in 1997, Bob admitted he thought he was on his way to meet Elvis, but he came back stronger than ever.

Recent albums Love And Theft and Time Out Of Mind ensure that his live set stays fresh and vital, with the new songs as mesmerising and beautiful as long-cherished wonders such as All Along The Watchtower, Visions Of Johanna and several hundred more.

Paul McCartney told me last year that he thought the reason Dylan never stopped touring was the lack of a good woman. Songs such as Tangled Up In Blue, or the recent sad but joyful Trying To Get To Heaven Before They Close The Door, allude to his colourful love life, and it's fair to assume that the road presents more than a few opportunities for romance. But anyone who has seen Dylan in full flight knows there is a deep sense of purpose in his nightly toil.

When Presley died in 1977, Dylan didn't rush to grab his crown, he had a near breakdown. "If it wasn't for Elvis and Hank Williams I couldn't do what I do today," he said. There have been times when he's thought about retirement, but now he doesn't even consider it.

"I can't retire because I haven't done anything yet," Dylan told Rolling Stone magazine last year. …