last updated: 5th July 1999
compiled and maintained by John McIver
this file is (c) John McIver 1995-2000
please send any corrections/additions to firstname.lastname@example.org
all parts produced with help from:
Rebecca Buck, Ivan Kocmarek, Jeffrey Marshall, Mark Moriarty,
Randy Reeves, Don Stout and Kathleen Waligura
A portrait of sensitive calm, Donovan, England's foremost folk
singer, describes his Legend of a Girl Child Linda as a
song for ageing children. It could be said that all of Donovan's
tunes, gentle instead of cynical, forgiving rather than frantic, are tales
for ageing children -- those who have an unspoiled and childlike
sense of beauty. Donovan combines strains of blues, jazz, rock, Indian and
classical music to form a magical bundle of low-geared, shimmering rhythms,
while his strikingly wistful lyrics weave tales which are charming, witty
and, at times, lightly satiric. This thin, Edwardian-looking singer is, at
20, a seasoned wanderer whose poetic eye is keenly focused on the outside
world. His is an extraordinary talent, one of the brightest now involved in
The poet Stanley Kunitz was recently quoted as saying: Popular art is the foundation on which fine art rests. Thus, the higher level of taste there is in the popular arts, the more promising is the hope for the evolution of great fine art. There is no reason why popular art and a more selective, esoteric art can't cheerfully coexist. Donovan does seem to have succeeded in injecting popular music with rare imagination and artistry. He takes the fine art of poetry and gives it a place in unusually experimental popular music, achieving a vast, open sound which, Donovan says, you can almost look out on.
Donovan's first Epic Records album, Sunshine Superman, produced by Mickie Most, takes its title tune from the young singer's number-one hit single of the same name. The songs on the LP are all by Donovan, who also conceives his arrangements by whistling and humming each phrase to his fellow musicians. Songs about children, fairy tales, love, beaches and a story about a girl who entangles her hair in a ferris wheel all appear in the album. The hero of the tune Sunshine Superman is a folk, not pop, figure, who is described by Donovan in the liner notes as sunshine super-duper man: a collapsed love affair no less. He sings the wild, imaginative lyrics softly, often with abrupt or oddly broken phrasing. Baroque influences, folk-like refrains and the array of instruments - electrified sitar, flute, harp, organ, celesta and guitar - combine to make his music complex and compelling.
The son of working-class parents, Donovan Leitch was born in Glasgow in 1946 and spent his early childhood in the rough Gorbals area of Scotland's capital before moving with his family to the outskirts of London when he was ten. At school, reports Donovan, the teachers thought I was a little strange because I wrote a lot of fear and horror stories and drew sketches for them. One was about this man who got locked in a drain when it rained. Donovan is a talented artist whose admiration for art nouveau is apparent in his drawings as well as in his dress. He studied art for one year in college, but couldn't finish since I had to go another year to get a grant, and I needed a grant to go another year. End formal education.
Soon afterwards, as Donovan remembers, There was this big
road by our house, and I used to look at that road and look at it, and one
day I took off on it. He and his buddy Gypsy Dave headed for the coasts
of England, rode the trucking lines, drifted on beaches, watched people and
played guitar. We weren't working out the problems of the world; we
were letting our days fill up with strange encounters. We didn't talk much,
but we moved fast a lot. Listening to jazz and dixieland and
assimilating a variety of sounds, Donovan soon was spending his time writing
songs and stories. Returning to London, Donovan, then 18, made his first
tapes in a small basement studio.
The tapes were impressive. People who had been at the session played Donovan's music for record executives, music publishers and television producers. As a result, Donovan was signed for a single appearance on the famous BBC television show Ready, Steady, Go! His performance caused such a public stir that, in an unprecendented move on the part of the producers, he was asked to return for two more engagements. Soon after, he made his first recording, Catch The Wind, which flew to number two on the charts. Other singles, Colors and Universal Soldier, were popular both in the United States, and in England, as were his two albums, Catch The Wind and Fairytale.
In the United States, Donovan has received consistent and superlative praise. His debut appearance in this country at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival drew raves, and later engagements at Carnegie Hall, Cornell University and the Hollywood Bowl were sold out and sensational. Performances last spring at the Los Angeles mecca of rock, the Trip, were heavily attended by the public, as well as by members of leading U.S. rock groups.
About himself, Donovan says: I don't think I'm a folk singer at all. I think I'm just a contemporary writer. He tends to be leery of labels since once a term for a particular kind of sound is in use, people often just look at the package and don't listen. Nor does Donovan specifically praise message music. The word `message' is for the older generation to use. The young just nod their heads `I understand' inside themselves...The words tell the story, and the music makes it fly or soar like the sea.
Too much goes on in Donovan's music to pinpoint it in a single term. If pressed, one could describe it as lyrical and poetic intonations of the electronic-assonant-folk-pop-rock-funk-raga-beat, but it is more enlightening just to listen. Layer upon layer of sound; Donovan's voice, as haunting and strange as it is beautiful; and the poems -- they stick in your head and make you blink. In his song Celeste, Donovan sings: I'd like being beautiful just for you, but that might not be quite true, it's up to you.
submitted by Randy Reeves
by Derek Johnson
A tousled mop of hair appeared at my office door, with the
unmistakable Donovan features grinning hugely beneath. I've come to do
some frank talking, he chuckled.
He settled into my deep visitors' armchair (which always seems to provide them with much more comfort than my own upright leather one), and surveyed the skyline view from my window for approximately six minutes.
Mind you, I've got nothing very controversial or frank to say, he announced, awakening from his reverie. I'm not a rebel any more. All that ban-the-bomb stuff is behind me. These days, I don't want to protest or put anybody down. I just want to please.
Don declared that he was very happy to be back on the scene, and was delighted with the success of his current release - even though it had been recorded a year ago and had taken all this time to be issued in Britain.
I've had just as much behind-the-scenes trouble as the Who. he mused. Probably more! It was very frustrating at the time, but I had a funny feeling that it would all work out okay. There wasn't any point in worrying about it -- after all, I expect I shall have many more troubles in this life of mine.
So during this quiet spell, I just kept writing and writing
-- and now I'm well ahead. I like to think that I've progressed considerably
since I wrote `Sunshine Superman' -- and now I've come back a little more
mature. I now understand the procedure of controlling one's material so as to
be entertaining, and you've got to control your releases in order to be
My head used to be buzzing with ideas -- it was all very confusing. But now I can envisage a slow and steady progression, a sort of logical development of ideas. You see, my audiences are growing up with me, and it's very exciting to be involved in the process of carrying the fans along with me.
Don explained that his development used to be handicapped by his ideas having to pass through three people, making it extremely difficult for his original concepts to be accurately transferred to disc.
But now it's down to just one man -- Mickie Most, he added. And we're so attuned to each other that we know exactly where we're going. I think you will realize the results of my progress when you hear the `Sunshine Superman' LP. It consists of five or six different types of music all fused together. There's Nina Simone jazz, folk songs, children's fairy tales with classical accompaniment and R & B.
I asked Don about Mellow Yellow. Well, I think I would describe it as vaudeville, but with a new sound added, he replied.
I then broached the subject of Don's one-man concert at London's Royal Albert Hall and found this to be something about which he was extremely enthusiastic. In fact, he went on and on about it!
This is the first idea completely conceived by myself, he explained. And I shall be including all the changes which you'll hear on the LP. Part of the concert will be solo, and then I shall be bringing in a small jazz combo, violins and classical cellos.
A friend of mine, John Cameron -- who plays organ, harpichord and piano -- has been writing some very good arrangements for me. I give him the ideas, and he scores them -- because I can't write the dots, you see. Anyway, he will be musical director for the concert.
I'm hoping to introduce something completely new, by the way of drawings to illustrate how I see the meanings of the songs.
And there'll also be a girl dancer to give expression to the fairy tales. I might even use color slides on back-screen projection.
I suppose some critics will describe it as psychedelic. But it isn't -- I mean, I'm not using any electrical phenomena, and it isn't meant to shock. It's just pop music with a pleasing atmosphere and a bit of taste, and a bit of respect for the kids. Because, if you respect them, they respond more to your work.
I expect I shall incorporate all these ideas into my American tour. They always look for something different from me over there. It's something to do with the image I've got in the States. They don't know where I've come from -- they think I fell out of the sky!
With so many advanced ideas now emanating from this one-time folk singer, I wondered how he regarded the pop scene as a whole. Did he feel, like so many critics, that pop has reached the point of stagnation?
No, I wouldn't say it was stagnating, he assures me. British pop has influenced the whole world, and in the process it has matured. And this applies especially to the writers. Some of them have reached really great heights. Of course, others have been forgotten -- but they're the ones who weren't any good, anyway!
You know, I always think of pop songs as being like books. The trend in pop today is the equivalent of the trend in literature in my dad's time. Songs today take the place of the renegade novelists of two generations ago -- simply because no one has time to read books any more.
And today we have Lennon and McCartney writing a novel called `Eleanor Rigby' that takes only two and a half minutes to digest. And we enjoy romantic stories and adventure yarns from the pens of Ray Davies, John Sebastian and Bob Dylan. That's what it's all about!
Of course, some of today's gimmick pop is farcical and low-class. But we also have a very good cream of ideas, writers and thinkers.
If the psychedelic trend doesn't kill it, these writers are going to live with the present generation until they're 30 or 40 -- and write accordingly. And if they're clever, they'll then start writing for their kids. I am part of this scene -- and to me, it's a thrilling and challenging prospect.
Changing the subject rather abruptly, I referred to reports I had read to the effect that Donovan was planning to settle down on a Greek island. He told me that these had been wildly exaggerated.
It's just that I wanted to get away for a while -- to find a place where the 20th century had never existed, he said. But what I was looking for wasn't there. The shadow of tourism had already crept in.
You see, I have no love for cities. They're interesting -- but to me, they're just a lot of people huddled together in fear of being alone. Now, me -- I enjoy being alone. I like the sea and the country -- and, as you'll have noticed, it's always the natural things like this that I express in my songs.
It's the path of all writers to follow the sun. But they always come back!
At which point, Donovan slipped on the mangy fur coat he had borrowed from Gipsy Dave, took one last lingering look at the skyline that evidently intrigued him so much -- and emerged into the dank December chill, in the somewhat forlorn hope of following the sun through London's grey streets.
submitted by Randy Reeves
By Keith Altham
We walked through the cold night air from his new Wimbledon home,
and the boy who calls himself the last of the English minstrels,
talked of those composers who are beautiful people with something to
say. The snow flakes drifted down, settling on the creamy fur of
Sugar -- Donovan's Afghan hound, recently rescued from the
Battersea Dogs' Home by a friend -- which he held on a tight metal leash.
He talked of Tim Hardin, the man with the broken voice and the broken songs, who wrote Darin's If I Were A Carpenter.
Timmy gets right into what he has to say, said Don. He puts real feeling into his songs, but he's nothing like his songs when you meet him. I can see him going over big here, with an orchestra and him in a `dickie' and bow-tie -- people would dig him then.
Of Paul McCartney:
Paul is on my record of `Mellow Yellow' somewhere. I went to the Beatles' `Yellow Submarine' session and helped a little with the lyrics.
When Paul arrived at the `Mellow Yellow' session, he made some comment about my still being hooked on `yellow' and stayed along for the session. In the middle of the take he suddenly yelled out, `Mellow Yellow' and it's still there on the single, somewhere.
The secret of `Mellow Yellow's' success in America has been that it is a driving song. You have to have these things in mind when you write for the U.S. A great many of the discs are heard on car radios, and if the music is not sympathetic to the driver, one push of the button and he's on another station. You can almost change gear in time to `Mellow Yellow'.
Back in the house Don changed into blue jeans and a sweater and brewed tea close to a large open copper fire in the big dining room.
It was an interesting room with some incredibly intricate sketches done by Gip, in colored Biros on the wall: a painting of a woman in pastel colors with a rose bush entwined about her and a drawing of the Mad Hatter propped behind a writing desk. There was a china serpent on the coffee table, set with colored stones which played patterns on the ceiling, and the inevitable guitar propped in one corner.
There were two large bookcases stacked with everything, from Wordsworth, Grimm's Fairy Tales and children's tales to Marine Biology, which is Don's current obsession.
There are so many people reaching for the stars, but I find all this rocket-to-the-moon business so predictable, said Don. I'm finding my interest in inner space -- the undisclosed mysteries of the seas.
I have a whole library on the subject of marine life. Some day I am going to form my own little team and lead an expedition with a bathy-scope fitted with one of those undersea searchlights and I'm going down to look!
Occasionally people walked in and out the room -- young men or young women -- I was not introduced, but it didn't matter: they were young people with nice smiles which made me feel I was not intruding.
Do you mind if I play you some of the tracks for my second LP `Mellow Yellow'? asked Don.
I listened to Hampstead Incident -- a tune of mists and suns and starlight, which was pretty. I heard Donovan, the modern jazz singer, on Side walk on which he has jazz giants like drummer Phil Seaman backing.
There was a tribute to folk singer Bert Jansch called The House Of Jansch and Museum, a song about a young girl making a rendezvous under the big whale in the Natural History Museum.
Young Girl Blues is a number written for Julie Felix and he played it to me on guitar so that I could hear the original lyric -- one or two lines have been changed by the powers-that- be. There was another colorful song called Sea And Foam.
That's all about when I was in Mexico, said Don. It was beautiful out there. We took a little boat out at night, and when you dipped an oar into the water, it sparkled like a million diamonds in the night -- that was the plankton, little tiny living creatures.
I wrote a song about Greece when we went there. The guy who is now doing my arrangements is John Cameron. What John does for me is to find sympathetic settings for my lyrics and paint musical pictures around them.
Going back to the album, Don said: I can't wait for it to be released. We're still a little hung up on the Sunshine album here in Britain, but Allen Klein is sorting that out for me.
Our conversation was shattered by Gipsy Dave, who was disposing of a plate of baked beans on toast, and with great gusto was scraping up the juice on his knife.
On noticing our concern for the plate, his face split into the most beautiful of smiles and he proffered the culinary advice: Always put a knob of butter and some milk in with your beans.
Having disposed of his meal, Gipsy sat to play chess at an exquisite set of carved little wooden Egyptian figures on a marble base. A young man appeared to have materialized for the purpose of opposition.
I bought that set in Paris, said Don, it's beautiful!
Future plans for Donovan include his adaptation to guitar of a number of Shakespeare's sonnets for a production at the Old Vic of As You Like It in March.
It's quite likely I will appear in the role of a minstrel and sing them myself, said Don, I'd like to help convince others that Shakespeare wrote for the ordinary people, not just the court.
He's been taken away by the upper classes as a playwright exclusively theirs -- I'd like to help give him back to the people again.
submitted by Randy Reeves
OUT of the blue beyond, the strains of a thousand harps sigh softly on the
wind and through a crack in the clouds a tiny figure descends to the watching, waiting millions.
The traveller on the seas of dissent and hate, voyager through the skies of love, is home again on mother earth. Donovan, will-o'-the-wisp wing-footed prophet and poet of pop, has returned from beyond with his latest offering.
The watching millions sway in gentle apprehension. The singer strums his guitar and begins: First there is a mountain then there is no mountain then there is.
When it is all over he holds court and begins to talk . . .
About the sound of his records: It should be the artist himself. The microphone should be in his mouth and in his head.
There's just me and my guitar. That's the way it all begins. Whatever I
use is just me and how I feel at that time or that year or that month.
Flower power: Love Power and Flower Power are very inadequate phrases to try to say how big this movement is because it began a long, long time ago. The only thing is that it gets halted with wars and people tend to think that it's a new thing.
You see all this civilisation has to go. It will fall because it is very loosely built. There's no basis, there's no faith. It's on sand and it will sink. But what's being built in the hearts of youth is a strong foundation, for a good life.
About Bert Jansch: I met him when I started singing in pro clubs in London. They didn't let me sing a lot, because I sounded like a cowboy singing cowboy songs.
But Bert's roots are in traditional music, which is great because the traditional music of Scotland is a migratory thing and ended up there.
But Bert is a great revolutionary writer. Having his roots in traditional music, he had centuries of things to go on. And as to guitar, the Edinburgh Scottish folk singers are about the veterans of the scene. They are all fantastic guitarists.
About his influences: There's only one thing in the end and that's
singing truth in a pleasant way. Everyone's striving for this. The influences rebound off each
When I hear Dylan's latest record, or Bert's or Paul's I get sort of an inspiration to go on if I'm feeling dragged, or even go into new things.
The influence is so healthy that people shouldn't really call it comparison. That's 'cause everybody's the same anyway. All the writers are trying for the same thing.
Paul Simon is about the nearest, I suppose, in sweetness to me, although he comments a lot politically and cynically.
But he's getting into a pleasant thing. We all have our different thing, which is good, but the influence is very helpful.
About his American tour: This is the first tour that ever began which I knew had a direction and which I knew how to do. The whole thing was successful in that I sang what I felt and thousands of people returned it like a mirror.
About his magic as a performer: I don't think it's like a reincarnation thing, but it's in the blood of my race. It's Celtic, Scottish and the minstrelsy. The magic that you hear in tales and things was all based around the Celtic mythology of England.
I just drain from that source. So the magic is here. Some people would
call it miracles; I like to call it magic.
About Gypsy Dave: He's of a travelling kind. Maybe its in his blood. His bonal structure looks gypsy, but it's a nickname for him. He's been in the whole travelling scene.
He's the basis, like Ringo is the weight of the Beatles. He's the anchor. While I'm away in the clouds dreaming he's very solid. It's a great arrangement.
He has this religious thing. You look at him and you can imagine that you see a saint. That's how it is. He's got fantastic will and he exercises it as well to perform tiny miracles, like growing hair on the back of someone's head.
About the Maharishi: He's a great guy, and there's a lot of speculation about whether he's just another one but the thing is I wouldn't even speak with him if he wasn't simple. I met the man and I knew that he was what I instinctively knew was a holy man. He's straightening everybody out.
It's going to be a fantastic influence on the writers he's speaking
with. But it's not the influence of a change. He's not going to change them from how they feel
anyway. He's just going to heighten their intensity.
Source: New Musical Express - Friday 16th December 1967, p. 4
About song-writing: When I'm working a lot I don't write. I like quiet times, when I'm by myself, but sometimes they just come squeezing out. They come from a source so vastso many songs are underneath in my headthat I just pull them down and when I feel that they are there I try to put them into something and make them and shape them into songs. But I can write anywhere.
The poet thus spake, and having spoken returned whence he had come into the clouds to pull down more goodies from the skies.
Source: New Musical Express - Friday 16th December 1967, p. 4
NMExclusive by KEITH ALTHAM
THE first album from Donovan in over a
yearGift From A Flower To A Garden (Pye) to be released in
mid-Marchis a super-pack containing two separate LPs: one
for the Now Generation and one for their children. Packaged in a
beautiful box of musical treats, it is estimated to cost £3 10s.
Inside the box-top there is a dedication by Don to you and calling on all young people to stop taking drugs. All the lyrics from the first album are printed there. Also included are a dozen coloured leaflets with delightful sketches relating to the lyrics of the children's album, plus the words to the songs.
On the back of the box is a coloured portrait of His Holiness, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and the author.
It is also hoped to release the albums separately but my advice is to buy the bumper bundle if you can afford it. It is an enchanting selection of sonnets and songs, all written by Don, with one notable contribution from William Shakespeare. All so simple, so honest and so effective!
The Now Generation's album, side one, opens with:
AH GOSHone of those soft jazz inspired ditties with kind of boy wonder appeal that John Sebastian wrote into Daydream and Brian Wilson into Country Air. Donovan must be one of the few poets who can work telly and belly into a song and not make the words sound crude. Brush drumming, flute and organ paint the musical patterns behind the song.
LITTLE BOY IN CORDUROYthe title almost suggests the tune and there are more delightful lyrics: how many wishes can you wish in a daywish I had a wish to wish a wish away! is an example.
UNDER THE GREENWOOD TREEwords by Shakespeare and music by Donovan provides an interesting combination. The gemiest of accompaniment from organ and guitar.
THE LAND DOESN'T HAVE TO BEan organ sound on this which sounds like the monster in the cinema pit. An anti-drug song, with the philosophy between the lines.
HAPPY I YAMwho but Donovan would have coined a word like Yam yanyway it's yerry nice. Clever vocals interlaid over the top of one another as Don sings with himself.
WEAR YOUR LOVE LIKE HEAVENwith songs like this he gives you the impression that it's all so easy and the philosophy lies between the lines
MAD JOHN'S ESCAPEthe ballad of mad, mad, mad John has something of the junior John Betjemans about the contemporary verse. And if some words sound strange, says Donovan, That's because they are colours. The patter of bongo drums and heavy breathing all help the picture.
SKIPALONG SAMfrom the world of Sunshine Superman and Jennifer Juniper comes Skipalong Sam, who is in time for tea with a diamond to show me. Tinkling piano and brushes that stroke the snare.
SUNand ode to the sun in which the guitar speaks and the organ warbles. The simple life.
THERE WAS A TIMEin which harpsichords play and Donovan remembers. More poetry to music.
The second album, which is dedicated to the children of our time, unless like me or Dylan (who wrote I was so much older than that thenI'm younger than that now), you do not want to put away childish things. These are all really modern nursery rhymes, simple takes and often just backed by Don and his guitar.
The album opens with the tale of The Naturalist's Wife and the sound of a baby crying. Into the sound of the sea and seagulls crying. A song to a banjo tune.
THE ENCHANTED GYPSY is full of the smoke of the Romany fires and the sounds of their pipes and tambourines. It ends with the dance.
VOYAGE INTO A GOLDEN SCREEN is Donovan armchair travelling with his guitar accompanying him into the land of make believe.
ISLE OF ISLAY is the song of a travelling man. Acoustic guitar amplifies the minstrels lay.
THE MANDOLIN MAN is one of my favourite stories of the fool and his mandolin, who travels from town to town with the idiot smile about his lips. But he was no more fool than the one on Paul McCartney's Hill. Almost a three chord wonder but that is a part of the charm.
LAY OF THE TINKER has almost a calypso feel to the melody and is another tale of travelling men.
THE TINKER AND THE CRAB with a recorder which wings like a bird and is another reminder of Donovan's love of sun, sea and sand.
WIDOW WITH A SHAWLthe sad song of a woman who waits for her sailor husband to return from the sea.
THE LULLABY OF SPRING. Almost as indicative of that season as a warm breeze and the crocus opening. Clever observation in the lyricsthe chiff chaff's eggs are painted red by a mother bird eating cherries.
THE MAGPIEDonovan tells us is a most illustrious bird and it was also considered a magical one in days gone by-it's there in the song.
STARFISH ON THE TOAST. More tales of the sea and its residents. So simple for playing on guitar.
EPISTLE TO DERROLthe song dedicated to Donovan's friend, folk-singer Derrol Adams.
This entire LP is a glimpse into a child's worldDonovan's world. Those associated with the album, including Mickie Most and manager Ashley Kozak, must be proud of their contribution. I would be.
AMIDST THE CHAOS AND HIGH-POWERED FEVER OF THE 20th CENTURY, DISC'S HUGH NOLAN FINDS DONOVAN, THE MAN WHO MANAGES TO CREATE AN AURA OF PEACE AND TRANQUILITY WHEREVER HE GOES.
AFTER ALL these years of worldwide fame (and a little notoriety) Donovan
amazingly still manages to think and act like a 16th century minstrelor
the roving beatnik who left Glasgow with his guitar across his back so many
Five hundred years ago, if you were a painter or a singer you weren't anything specialthey were just crafts. A songwriter is on the same level as a farmer.
Even surrounded by the frenetic technological nightmare of the BBC's Top Of The Pop studio, Don manages to stay gentle, friendly and devoid of hang-ups.
Surrounded just by three friends, including his old mate Gypsy Dave, rather than the usual pop plethora of manager, agent, publicity man, etc., Don confessed all:
My real love is children's songs, tales like one half of my double album.
I like writing about non-present day things, the timeless things like nature. I like to think that the subjects of my songs will still give pleasure 1,000 years from nowif they last that long.
I write best in strange places like the Greek islands or
the Mexican jungle, and then I'm influenced by the things around methe
elements. But when I was living in the city for two years I wrote about city
things, city hang-ups.
But wherever he is Donovan never feels he can sit down and decide to write a song about some particular subject.
I don't think any writer knows where or when or how he starts writingall I know is that when it starts it's like a tap. One song comes along and for five days or so they just keep on pouring out.
When it begins it's fun. Usually the tune comes first, with some words. But not real words funny, silly phrases which don't mean anything, like children's words.
Thinking like this, Don finds himself in just about the exact opposite position from most other pop peopleinstead of having to search frantically for material for a new single or album, he finds he writes more songs than his record company can release.
I've just been putting down 22 basic tracks in the studio, which we hope should be ready for release by next month.
For the past three months Donovan has been living the quiet life at his country cottage in Hertfordshire. And the simplicity he finds there is, not unnaturally, being carried over into the Donovan you see on your TV screens orvery occasionallyon stage.
I've been guesting on a lot of TV shows recently, because it's easy and it gives me a chance to just sing with my guitar.
I don't do so many live concerts now, because I want to present them as successful concerts in their own rightand not just for the money. I plan my concerts now to give the best effect.
Like there are plans for me to do a tour of the States soon. It's much nicer over there in a way because people don't know me. I am the songs they hear, so I can come on in my truest sense.
I did a concert at the Hollywood Bowl once. There were
26,000 people in the audience, and they were incredibly quiet and peaceful
there was no screaming or anythingjust me and my guitar.
The emergence of his native Scotland as the new breeding-ground of British music Don finds not at all surprising. It's the real Celtic strain coming out, which is the oldest and so the truest music of this country.
I was very happy when the Incredible String Band came along because they have the same feel for music as my songsbut, of course, they're not the same.
Donovan's present record collection doesn't contain many of his old recordswhich he finds funny but very truthful. It's so long ago now that I can listen to them as someone else. But they're truthful because they are me as I was then.
I don't knowmaybe songs should be destroyed as soon as they're writtenonce they leave me they're gone. But some stay. `Catch The Wind' and `Josie' were great songs, and so is `Colours.' And I'd like to do `Sunny Goodge Street' again because my voice is much better than it was then.
The price of being successful in the pop world is instantand vastfame, a factor which has destroyed many who have been thrust into the merciless glare of constant publicity. But Donovan has never felt it a hang-up.
I sometimes can sense that people are going to look and point in the street, before they do. You can call it a hang-up or a blessing. Of course, the whole `variety' thing is done for effect anyway the kids don't want it, they just want songs and music.
Being famous is just something that happened. I've never prostituted knowingly. In some ways it's a very lucky thing to have happenedit's given me a lot of freedom to write, and a lot of bondage as well.
Dylan's reaction to fame is very American and very true to form. But he's rightyou have to shield yourself from the entertainment business. It's a strange world.
Donovan paused and thought for a couple of minutes, and then added thoughtfully: Obviously it's great to have money to do things withbut would you believe it's just the same as not having money?
From most people, no; but knowing young Donovan Leitch, who was quite happy tramping the country for long with just a hole in his pocket, one has to believe him. For one thing Don unfailingly is, is honest. Which is most refreshing.
the caption on the picture says: Donovan: writes best in strange places
DONOVAN: Donovan in Concert (Pye NPL 18237). Isle of Islay; Young Girl Blues; There Is A Mountain; Poor Cow; Celeste; The Fat Angel; Guinevere; Widow With Shawl (a portrait); Preachin' Love; The Lullaby Of Spring; Writer In The Sun; Pebble And The Man; Rules And Regulations; Mellow Yellow.
the caption on the picture says: DONOVAN Magnificient
submitted by Mark Moriarty
by Keith Altham
Bright little stars often become super
novas in the course of time, and at the Royal Albert Hall, where a full
house of 5,000 people had come to listen, Donovan's sun was burning
bright. Straight from his long run at the Maharishi's meditation centre he
had returned fired with fresh energies to give a perfect concert.
With a host of golden daffodils and purple iris scattered on the stage before him, Don snapped the musical chains of the folk singer once more. He dabbled in jazz with the assistance of brilliant musicians like Harold McNair, who warbles like some inspired song-thrush on a flute behind the simpler ballads like The Lullaby of Spring, and then switches to tenor sax to provide a kaleidoscope of notes to the ode To Hampstead Heath.
The mini big band got right behind the feeling of Skip-a-long Sam and Mad Mad John to provide a touch of swing while First There Is A Mountain brought the calypso touch, with bongos and tom toms. Pianist-conductor John Cameron arranged some beautiful classically-inspired passages for the string section, who, dressed in immaculate evening suits and bow ties, looked just a little bemused by the frills, flowers, and bandido moustaches of their fellows.
Donovan brought all back to earth with voice and a lone guitar on Epistle To Derroll and a new song he wrote in India, The Boy Who Fell In Love With A Swan.
Early in the second half of the concert Georgie Fame played organ for jazz singer John Hendricks. Both made surprise appearances and delighted the audience with two rhythm-and-blues numbers.
The first half of the concert consisted of two up-and-coming groups - The Flame, who sang sweet, undiluted contemporary folk music; and the Tyrannorsaurus Rex, who made some bold excursions into the realms of Indian music and were notable for some good guitar work from Marc Bolan.
But this was Donovan's show and each of his top pops were greeted enthusiastically by this capacity crowd from Saffron and Jennifer Juniper through to the final big band arrangement of Mellow Yellow. Seldom have I heard a huge audience so attentive and silent as they listened to the work of one man - how one person was not arrested for blowing his nose during The Tinker And The Crab and disturbing the peace, I shall never understand.
Those who came to hear cared and went backstage including Hollie Graham Nash, recently returned from a highly successful tour of America. He had a present for Don in the shape of a book titled simply Graphic Work by M.C. Escher which contained some incredible surrealistic sketches.
Mia Farrow sat shyly in one corner of the dressing room and looked so young that she might have been fourteen, with her urchin-cut no make-up and an Indian shawl (a souvenir from the Meditation Centre on the Ganges) about her shoulders.
John Hendricks bounced through the door with a Scotch in his hand and a huge grin on his face. He began to change into his stage suit commenting: Man, if I saw someone who looked like me - I'd laugh!
Georgie Fame arrived and ran up behind Donovan's manager Ashley Kozak to do an impression of playing a double bass. Ashley turned to discover the joker was the prodigal organist returned from his U.S. tour and affectionately embraced him.
And, of course, Donovan was there, relaxed in a cool white suit, holding a large red-and-yellow guitar which bristled with spikey ends of new strings and had a cigarette impaled on one.
I'll sing you a song that Paul McCartney wrote while we were out in India, he volunteered and began a pretty tune about Army boots, parachutes and sleeping bags for two.
Lennon and McCartney got so together out there they must have written at least 27 new songs, Don reported.
Was he nervous about going on stage before the huge audience?
A little, he admitted. There is not enough darkness out there for me. I always begin with the quietest, most relaxing song I know to put me in the right frame of mind. In this case that proved to be The Isle Of Islay, which is on his new album, A Gift From A Flower To A Garden.
How much did it cost Don to stage one of these concerts with all his extra musicians?
Ashley jumped in: The musicians, the flowers and all the extra equipment costs us approximately $1,000 to provide, but it's worth spending this to provide the audience with the best. They give it back to us by their support, like tonight's full house. The expensive packaging on the album was a gamble but we have already sold over half a million in America alone.
We are building for a future and you have to put a lot into it to get a lot out. We all have faith in Don's judgement.
With so many people thinking alike in the pop business at present (Graham Nash, Eric Burdon, Georgie Fame, Paul McCartney, etc.) would it not be possible for one huge project?
Perfectly true, said Don. In fact, it surprises me just how many of us are going in the same direction. I think many of us are looking for a stage presentation which will eventually go back to the concept of `the strolling players,' those troupes who entertained with songs, sketches and comedy. I'm sure we will converge some time in the future.
Does Donovan mind being called a pop singer.
No, it is such a general term that it pleases me. It means someone who sings popular music and that's what I want to do. I don't think our generation wants its music put into little boxes labelled `classical,' `folk,' or `jazz.' We are absorbing all the best elements from these fields and the Eastern music, thus coming up with something that is new and our own.
George Harrison has written this kind of music for a new film which has an Arabian influence, but it's not Arab music. It is what he has learned from their music and is mixed with his own understanding. You can call it `pop music' if you like.
Is Donovan's next single to be Hurdy Gurdy Man?
I think so, Don replied. It's a nice happy song. It's the story of the world. Whenever there are bad times and we face some terrible crisis, someone like the `Hurdy Gurdy Man' comes along to make people forget their troubles and be happy. It might be me, the Beatles or the Maharishi. We believe we are heading for a golden age.
Recently I heard someone criticize a female journalist for her constant allusions to Donovan's beautiful world. It seems to me a pity that there are still some people who believe that because there is hate, pain and ugliness in the world, we should not give more emphasis to love, pleasure and beauty.
That is Donovan's message. I'll buy it! Will you?
submitted by Randy Reeves
by Keith Altham
There were some beautiful sights to behold
at the BBC TV Centre recently, when Donovan was guesting on one of Bobbie
Gentry's shows. Down in dressing room 217 it was, I discovered,
bath-time, and Don's good friend, Gip, was leaping about naked
with his hair a mass of soap suds, extolling the virtues of the shampoo
provided by the makeup department.
Meanwhile, on set, there was Bobbie whispering a song called Morning Glory dressed in a pretty nightgown (both beautiful and the nicest kind of sight) and floating about under yards of hanging lace drapes.
This particular song, which she wrote for the Delta Sweet album, has been haunting me for weeks since I first heard it and it was nice to see Don make a special point of congratulating her upon the composition.
Following Don's duet with Bobbie on First There Is A Mountain and another number of her own, Bugs, we retired to the dressing room where Gip - fresh as a mountain spring - was given a beginners lesson on guitar by Don.
He proved an earnest pupil and worked laboriously at the chord sequence while the wandering minstrel and I tossed a few words about. `Hurdy Gurdy Man,' was originally written for a Danish group by that name, Don told me. There is a friend of mine in the group Mac Macleod whom I looked to in the early days to learn how to pick the guitar.
I wrote the song especially for them but then we got into a disagreement over how it was to be produced. I wanted to do it one way and they another.
So I said, `Right then - I'll do it myself because I think
it's good enough for a single.'
So I did it. And it's out. And doing very nicely, thank you.
We had a brief respite here as Gip insisted we listen to his progress on the guitar. He hit a bum note and applied himself to emulations of Django Rheinhart with a few old Gipsy curses.
My idea of a Hurdy Gurdy Man was someone who turns the handle.....someone calling people out of a dark age into a good one, said Don.
I believe we are in a dark age now but soon (not too soon, it may be in a couple of hundred years) the ignorance and the silliness of this age will disappear.
Gip hit another thrashing dischord on the guitar and bashed the face of the instrument with the palm of his hand in exasperation, and then grinned sheepishly at Don upon realizing whose guitar it was.
And so to cabbages and kings and Maharishis. Was Don a party to the Beatles sudden turnabout on transcendental meditation?
I knew about the same time as the Beatles that it would be better if we didn't stay there and do that. Everyone liked it for a while and then they got fed up. Everyone's entitled to a change.
Was there a particular thing which brought about the change of heart?
It's like you try something and you like the taste of it to begin with and then you don't like it anymore. We are young and we all make mistakes.
When I had spoken to Don previously about the Maharishi he had given me the impression that although he liked him he was not a confirmed meditator true?
I could never really do it I was always calling the others swots. I was the bad boy in the school along with one other person. It had to come to this reality because the philosophy was too demanding.
Everyone was too concerned with living. The philosophy of life is life itself!
The meaning of life for me is just being alive and enjoying yourself. Simple things. I think the trouble was that everyone was looking for a superman - someone who would stand up and sparks would fly from his fingertips. There is no one like that. We find our God within outselves.
Don is obviously very much more down to earth again now - and as a very pro-Donovan person I can only say how `happy I yam' to see it.
Donovan the psychedelic-flower-child was only a figment of the imagination - a dream long gone. Soon I shall find myself back in the London pub swapping hats with the folk singer over a pint of ale.
Among the more immediate plans are a return to America where he hopes to do a whirlwind tour of some big cities and a TV series - with the enterprising Stanley Dorfmann - of some six shows.
I also want to do a big festival of pop music in somewhere like the Albert Hall with the artists playing and singing their own songs, said Don.
People like Graham Nash and John Sebastian have already pledged their support and I want to include others like Ray Davies, the Incredible String Band and maybe some of the Beatles.
Finally I thought it might be interesting to find out how a peaceful and non-violent person reacted to the tragic death of someone like Senator Robert Kennedy.
It is a tragic thing when someone is killed like that, but it is just as tragic that anyone should be murdered. He was another good man.
This kind of thing won't stop in America while they allow people to carry guns. There have always been good men and bad men and crazy men and if you let them get their hands on a gun you know what the chances are.
We are just as guilty of the murders committed here as the Americans and it does no good to point an accusing finger.
It can only stop when people are made to realize that they kill themselves by killing others. When they realize what the good life is.
And, so say, our minstrel painted some pretty pictures on his white plimsoles for the TV show and Gip, whose finger never left his hand, applied himself once more to becoming a guitarist.
Life goes on.
submitted by Randy Reeves
Last updated: 5th July 1999