is Donovan really this much of a tw*t?

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The Sunday Times

September 04, 2005

The 60s were so great, I’m never gonna leave

Donovan’s new book recalls his glory days – and he tells Giles Hattersley just how glorious they were

The restaurant, Donovan’s choice, is the sort of place you would expect an old swinger to loathe. A yuppified former industrial space in Cork with bad art on its towering walls and Andrea Bocelli on the stereo. It’s so ungroovy you worry Donovan, the breton-capped troubadour, will turn up after all these years looking square.

No need to panic, though. He enters, same frizzy cloud of hair, same unblinking eyes and same black, beatnik polo-neck sweater that, frankly, did a lot more for Bob Dylan in his twenties than it does for a man of 59.

The only additions are facial crags so deep you could lose your change in them. But let’s not get heavy, man. Later we’ll see that it doesn’t matter where he floats through space and time, in Donovan’s mind it will always be 1965.

First he must attend to more pedestrian matters. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the folk singer’s foray into the charts. “It’s handy to be alive when you have a 40th anniversary,” he says, his accent part Scottish, part Hobbit. “It’s also altruistic, of course.”

Hence there’s a new album, an exhibition of his photographs in Washington DC and, later this month, the release of his (sometimes unintentionally) hilarious memoirs in which he reveals that, if not the most talented songwriter of his generation, he’s certainly the least modest.

Few have escaped the Hurdy Gurdy Man’s put-downs. Of Bob Dylan, he thinks, “his lyrics are without equal, but I think I am musically the more creative and influential”. On teaching Paul McCartney how to finger pick the guitar he says: “He did not have the application to get it, but he wrote some lovely ballads under the influence of my style.” Jimi Hendrix, apparently, “found I was the nicest person he’d ever met!” Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones are merely “the number one white r’n’b group in the world”.

He takes pains to claim back credit from his producers and fills three pages with the playbill of a 1968 Italian concert to show there was a time when his name came first. In the book, and in conversation, he says repeatedly: “You have to believe in yourself as an artist because nobody else will, especially when you’re young.” Skidding towards his bus pass without a future hit in sight, you wonder what his excuse for the ego is now.

“It’s my turn, you see,” he says of his 40th, “because I’m three years younger than the Stones, the Kinks, the Beatles, than a lot of my pals.” Unnervingly, when chatting he drops his chin and fixes the listener “charismatically”, like you are the camera lens on Ready Steady Go! With Donovan you are always the listener. Swathes of time pass during which your brain shuts down and you’re unable to snatch anything other than occasional phrases: “Chaos theory . . . Buddhism . . . manifesto . . . in the Seventies I called myself a shaman.” Frustrated when you interrupt, he dispenses with protocol and asks the questions himself. “What is Donovan’s legacy?” he ponders more than once.

But the big question, the one that has pursued him with all the vigour of an acid flashback, is that despite six years of international fame, Mellow Yellow and Jennifer Juniper, hanging out with the Beatles in India and being dubbed the high priest of the peace movement, is Donovan less a genuine rock’n’roll dinosaur and more a musical lightweight? On the dust jacket of his memoirs he is described as “one of the most influential musicians to have emerged from the 20th century”. Others may have their doubts.

Donovan Philip Leitch was born in 1946 in Glasgow where he lived in a tenement with his engineer father and factory girl mother, a far remove from the fine Irish rectory he occupies today. Polio didn’t stop him giving his first performance at the age of four, singing There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly in a Maryhill launderette. Later the family would emigrate to Hatfield in Hertfordshire, but a respectable working-class existence lost its charm at 16.

He explains that, like lots of his contemporaries, Kerouac and Burrows were on his bookshelves, cutout photos of the Paris beat scene on his walls and his parents were increasingly displeased with his ragged attire and artistic bent. “I wanted to leave the devastation of my old home and my family’s expectations. I felt something, like a call to arms, so I hit the streets.”

Donovan likens his experiences in 1963 to Kerouac’s On the Road, citing this time as proof of his authentic bohemian roots. Perhaps, in the early 1960s, it was shocking for a teenage boy to spend a few months in St Ives washing dishes, making love and getting high. These days we’d call that a gap year, but Donovan says it qualifies him as a vagabond. “I had everything I wanted before I made so many hit records,” he says. “I loved many gorgeous ladies and explored all the alternate forms of consciousness and holy plants.”

As “an outsider”, Donovan believed he had to bring the bohemian manifesto to popular music. “The folk scene wanted to keep bohemia exclusively theirs, but what kind of socialism is that?” In those days “the music world was tiny”, so after a chance performance for a visiting management team in St Albans in 1965 he ended up on Ready Steady Go! Naturally, the crowds “loved me straight away as I was always”, he pouts, “a pretty good-looking guy”. An instant hit with the girls the Beatles first taught to scream, he says, “the floor staff loved me as well, because the camera loved me too”.

So everybody loved Donovan. Soon he was living a fabulous Carnaby Street existence of wild days in the studio and wilder nights at the Bayswater hotel. “In the Sixties the girls looked better, the guys looked better, the art was better and the music was better,” he says.

All this fun resulted in Donovan becoming the first pop star to be done for marijuana possession. Naked in his flat, he tackled the arresting officer but “was still fined £250 and told I was a bad example to the youth of Britain”. When the scandal made the front pages, many in the music industry turned their backs on him, but the drugs bust ingratiated him with the big boys. “George Harrison called to say, ‘You can have £10,000 by noon, Don, if it helps ’.”

Professionally, his first hurdle was unfavourable comparisons with Dylan, but the Scot is quick to claim precedence. “My friend Gypsy Dave reminded me last year: ‘I called you up in ’64 and told you there’s this singer/songwriter in America doing just what you’re doing with a harmonica and a cap’.”

The men met on camera in D A Pennebaker’s 1967 Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back. Summoned to the American star’s room at the Savoy, Donovan plays him the saccharine To Sing for You, with which Dylan appears visibly unimpressed. After a pause, Dylan plays his formidable It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and viewers experience the deep embarrassment of watching a lesser talent crushed.

I ask Donovan if the comparison still irks him. “Oh my God, that question is so boring. So boring!” which is a bit rich coming from a man who launches into 20 minutes of Tibet talk that is so life- alteringly dreary it could drive the Dalai Lama to beat a small mammal to death. He’s more engaging when he says: “Nowadays you are what you eat, but in the Sixties you were what you thought.” But then he starts rabbiting on about mysticism again.

Regardless, his sweet nursery rhymes and sensitive persona struck a chord with the flower power set. He had 13 hit singles, sell-out world tours and was fortunate enough to be taken seriously overseas. Dylan had introduced him to the Beatles in 1965 and their friendship was cemented by an infamous 1968 trip to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in India.

The boys joined Mia Farrow in swapping hedonism for meditation and yoga. “Super-fame became difficult for us,” he says, effortlessly equating himself with more iconic figures. Back in Britain, the American model Enid Karl was raising the first of their two children, Donovan Jr, in a cottage in Hertfordshire, but Donovan Sr had fallen out of love. He pined instead for Linda Lawrence, the beautiful former girlfriend of Brian Jones, the dead Rolling Stone.

Donovan Jr and his sister Ione Skye now enjoy success as actors/musicians/New York hipsters, but for years they had a frosty relationship with their father, who is still married to Lawrence. “Often celebrity children, mine in particular, beg their fathers not to talk for them, so I won’t,” he says. “A big shadow is cast by a celebrity father.” His daughters by Lawrence, Astrella and Oriole, went on to marry Paul and Shaun Ryder of the Happy Mondays.

But back in 1970, at the age of 24, drugs and women got the better of Donovan, who withdrew from public life. “I was a poet who had entered history. I was a teacher whose course had come to an end.”

He continued to record but “this enormous amount of money came in whether I worked or not, so I got very lazy”. Like an ageing busker he was rolled out to perform on breakfast television. In one toe-curling example, the one-time rebel adapted the lyrics of his song Colours to sing “Yellow is the colour of Selina Scott’s hair”.

Were the 1980s miserable for him? “When I used to sit with George Harrison and we discussed the ultimate reality of existence, we knew there was no such thing as time. It’s only when we consider that something is yesterday or tomorrow that history is given a name. The material world is a strong illusion, but we must resist the notion that there is any time.” Which I’ll take as a yes.

With his clothes, speech and extensive name-dropping, these days Donovan cleaves to times when he was more admired. Over lunch he recalls meetings with Steve Jobs, the computer mogul, film roles for Lord Puttnam, openings with Richard Gere and comes off sounding horribly defensive. Can we forgive him this? After 40 years of being compared to Dylan, who wouldn’t be under-confident? With his new material, Donovan has the lofty ambition of presenting the bohemian manifesto (“ecology, hunger and the brotherhood of man”) to a new generation.

“I look around and see the peace and love my friends and I called for in the 1960s are needed now more than ever.” But even with the Stones on tour again and beatnik fashion back on the catwalks, the chances are Donovan, the voice of a different generation, will have less success this time round.

The Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan Leitch will be published by Century on September 29, £17.99

shookout (shookout), Saturday, 10 September 2005 00:01 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Yes, he really is that much of a twit.

Kerouac and Burrows were on his bookshelves... Burrows!!!

Raw Patrick (Raw Patrick), Saturday, 10 September 2005 00:10 (twelve years ago) Permalink

poor guy. that scene in don't look back is really painful to watch.

richard wood johnson, Saturday, 10 September 2005 00:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

That scene in Don't Look Back shows that Dylan is the real twat.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Saturday, 10 September 2005 00:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Dylan's memoir is a model of humility compared to the passages quoted from Donovan's.

shookout (shookout), Saturday, 10 September 2005 00:37 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I've met him a few times - pretty sweet and relatively humble guy, actually. The writer here sounds as if he has some axe to grind.

Dee Xtrovert (dee dee), Saturday, 10 September 2005 01:29 (twelve years ago) Permalink

yeah, i thought the writer came off as a bit of a twat as well.

el sabor de gene (yournullfame), Saturday, 10 September 2005 01:32 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I found out today Donovan is coming to my town. I wouldn't miss it for the world, sorry.

Mr. Whirly, Please Don't Call Me (Bimble...), Saturday, 10 September 2005 02:12 (twelve years ago) Permalink

his kids seem pretty messed up

huell howser (chaki), Saturday, 10 September 2005 02:23 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Do we always blame the parents? Just curious.

Mr. Whirly, Please Don't Call Me (Bimble...), Saturday, 10 September 2005 02:46 (twelve years ago) Permalink

One time Donovon and Issac Brock slipped me some roofies and then tag-teamed me for about three hours. I find it hard not to be bitter.

JJ Jugaloo, Saturday, 10 September 2005 03:29 (twelve years ago) Permalink

The underlying values of this writer -- always listen to your toes curling, basically -- are so thoroughly glum and passive aggressive that anyone living by them would fail to become any kind of artist, and periods like the 1960s would never happen at all. A journalist who's obsessed with class ("a respectable working-class existence lost its charm at 16"), embarrassment and self-deprecation should not be interviewing an artist. Also, why interview someone when you're going to do a hatchet job? And why transcribe a tape mentioning William Burroughs when you've obviously never heard of one of the 20th century's most important writers and spell his name wrong in the piece? And why tell your readers that Donovan has less influence than Dylan on young songwriters when influential characters like Devendra Banhart are citing Donovan and not Dylan in their interviews?

But it's The Sunday Times, people. A paper that is obviously going to value knowing your place, being class-obsessed, being blandly self-deprecating, and curling your toes over 1960s values, art values, or knowing how to spell the names of important writers.

Momus (Momus), Saturday, 10 September 2005 05:22 (twelve years ago) Permalink

influential characters like Devendra Banhart


Cunga (Cunga), Saturday, 10 September 2005 05:46 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Hahahaha. Good one.

Mr. Whirly, Please Don't Call Me (Bimble...), Saturday, 10 September 2005 06:06 (twelve years ago) Permalink

yeah when i met Donovan he seemed like a really top bloke.

Googley Asearch (Toaster), Saturday, 10 September 2005 09:35 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I don't care much for Donovan's music, in fact I find it pretty excruciating, but the writer of that piece comes across as 1000 x the twat Donovan ever could be.

Pashmina (Pashmina), Saturday, 10 September 2005 10:29 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Sure, Donovan can be dippy. But that's fun. His songs still can put a smile on your face. Dylan, on the other hand... Does a Dylan song ever make anyone smile? Is he ever funny? He could do sad pretty well, but so often he's just sneering.

This writer goes on and on about how Donovan doesn't measure up to Dylan. But is he making an honest assessment? I doubt he even has a real appreciation for Dylan, frankly. I think he just buys into the received view: Dylan is a Great, Eternal Artist, and Donovan is a Sad, Washed-Up Old Hippy. What do the records sound like? Er, get back to you on that...

fitzroy, Saturday, 10 September 2005 13:17 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Kerouac and Burrows were on his bookshelves... Burrows!!!

Come on, dude, Burrows is the SHIT, man!

nathalie's pocket revolution (stevie nixed), Saturday, 10 September 2005 13:31 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Heh, my first reaction to the lede of this story was also "the only twat I see here so far is the writer."

joseph cotten (joseph cotten), Saturday, 10 September 2005 13:40 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Donovan plays him the saccharine To Sing for You, with which Dylan appears visibly unimpressed. After a pause, Dylan plays his formidable It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and viewers experience the deep embarrassment of watching a lesser talent crushed.

I never saw that scene this way at all. To Sing For You is a great song, and like whoever said so above I think Dylan is pretty much a douche in that scene and in most of the rest of the movie.

Joseph Cotten OTM - the writer obv. came into this rarin' for a takedown.

Hurting (Hurting), Saturday, 10 September 2005 15:50 (twelve years ago) Permalink
I would bet Dylan isn't gonna be hangin with an artist just startin out and get drowned in Guinness and sing Beach Boys songs with you

dan bunnybrain (dan bunnybrain), Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:16 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Does a Dylan song ever make anyone smile? Is he ever funny?

"Bob Dylan's 115th Dream," "I Shall Be Free" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" are all funnier and more surreal than anything Donovan or any other second-rate Dylan wanna-be could ever dream of.

disco violence (disco violence), Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:19 (twelve years ago) Permalink

(xp) Well, when you haven't released any even remotely relevant albums in 30+ years, you have a lot of time to do things like that.

Sorry, but this "Shucky darn, Donovan is so much better than Dylan and fuck Bob because he's no fun and a self-obsessed Important American has a bad singing voice and also Don't Look Back proved he was a dick" stance that always comes up on ILM makes me gag.

disco violence (disco violence), Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:22 (twelve years ago) Permalink

And the more I look at the article posted above, the more I think that if you split him in half you'd wind up with Zoolander and Hansel.

disco violence (disco violence), Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:27 (twelve years ago) Permalink

the scene in don't look back is totally devastating. when i saw it in the theatre everyone thought so. to sing for you is a sweet song, but it's all over now baby blue smashes it. donovan is visibly pained listening to it.

leo, Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:31 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I think that scene on DLB ends up more confrontational in the movie than it was in context... on the commentary, Pennebaker talks about how they actually hung out with Donovan a few times during the tour... there is a funny anecdote about how Donovan plays Dylan a song that rips off the melody to Tambourine Man, which he had heard dylan play at a folk festival and assumed was some traditional folk tune.... anyways, this writer is definitely crazy-biased; i think if i had a decade as good as donovan's in the 60's, i'd probably live in the past a fair amount too

dave k, Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:44 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"Well, when you haven't released any even remotely relevant albums in 30+ years, "...that record he made for rick rubin was as relevant as anything that has come out in that style lately..buddha buds and spangle moths and such

dan bunnybrain (dan bunnybrain), Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:45 (twelve years ago) Permalink


Honestly, this Dylan-is-the-true-twat-here! kinda thing is just reflexive contrarianism.

Which is fun and all, I know, but it leads to ghastly statements like these:

Does a Dylan song ever make anyone smile? Is he ever funny?

Someone else came up with the examples. But I do recommend that you try actually listening to Bob Dylan records someday, some are quite good.

And why tell your readers that Donovan has less influence than Dylan on young songwriters when influential characters like Devendra Banhart are citing Donovan and not Dylan in their interviews?

So -- by the "influence as measured by namechecks in interviews" standard, we have, in the Donovan corner, neo-freak-folkie Devendra Banhart.

Brooooce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Paul Westerberg, John fucking Lennon, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Johnny Cash, and just about everyone else who ever picked up a guitar post-1964 to thread please.

Dylan was a speed-addled asshole in the Don't Look Back period, but to go from there to "Donovan is more influential" is just fucking madness.

A|ex P@reene (Pareene), Saturday, 10 September 2005 16:47 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Who on this thread is actually saying that Donovan is more influential than Dylan?

I think the point, for me at least, is that ok, Dylan is obviously the greater songwriter and contributed more to music and on the whole I will have logged ten times as many hours listening to Dylan as Donovan in my life.

But that doesn't diminish Donovan, who was a really great songwriter and musician in his own right, and whose best work actually sounds nothing like Dylan and often does a fantastic job of gently mocking psychadelia while reveling in its excess. Yeah, Dylan is greater. I just hate the cliche that sad, weighty songs are "important" and pleasant, sweet songs are "fluff," and that Donovan sounded exactly like Dylan, except when he didn't, and then he wasn't any good anyway because he was too "light."

Hurting (Hurting), Saturday, 10 September 2005 17:40 (twelve years ago) Permalink

But ... Donovan's "sweet songs" really are just that: fluff.
Whereas Dylan's "sweet songs" -- "Girl from the North Country," "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," "Shelter From The Storm," "She Belongs To Me," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," "Buckets Of Rain," etc, etc., are gorgeous, substantive tunes which will be still be around and covered a couple of centuries from now. "Catch the Wind" is a good enough song, but it's not really up to the same level.

But hey, Donovan's a nice guy though.

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Saturday, 10 September 2005 18:37 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"which will still be around" duh

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Saturday, 10 September 2005 18:39 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I don't usually hear people call The Beatles "fluff", and even their sad weighty songs are kind of fluffy (Eleanor Rigby, She's Leaving Home, etc.)

Hurting (Hurting), Saturday, 10 September 2005 18:59 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Furthermore, like The Beatles, Donovan's music was often tongue-in-cheek. He wasn't going for the same thing Dylan was and shouldn't be judged for his failure to be Dylan.

Hurting (Hurting), Saturday, 10 September 2005 19:00 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I love the Beatles but I think plenty of their stuff (written by McCartney, natch) is fluff: "When I'm 64," "Your Mother Should Know," "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and lots more.

Jazzbo (jmcgaw), Saturday, 10 September 2005 19:09 (twelve years ago) Permalink

John Peel rated Donovan higher than Dylan.

I like hime better than Dylan bcz of Season of the Witch (and multifarious cover versions) and Get Thy Bearings. I'm not saying he's more important, but I am saying I listen to him and I don't Dylan.

Raw Patrick (Raw Patrick), Saturday, 10 September 2005 20:41 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I like Donovan's "fluff" a lot better than much of McCartney's actually. Donovan sounds like he has a healthy sense of irony about it, whereas McCartney just sounds like he's saying "Well, I'm such a sweet boy, aren't I?"

Hurting (Hurting), Saturday, 10 September 2005 20:43 (twelve years ago) Permalink

John Peel rated Donovan higher than Dylan.

He would, being British. Dude also hated Springsteen, apparently. No accounting for taste, etc.

"Season of the Witch" is a great song, though, and has been covered excellently. I also have a soft spot for "Atlantis" 'cause of Goodfellas.

disco violence (disco violence), Saturday, 10 September 2005 21:11 (twelve years ago) Permalink

(OK, scratch that "he would, being British" part, which is unnecessarily contentious and something I don't feel up to defending.)

disco violence (disco violence), Saturday, 10 September 2005 21:15 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Very wise.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Saturday, 10 September 2005 21:25 (twelve years ago) Permalink

misread this:

Donovan plays him the saccharine To Sing for You


Donovan plays him the Saccharine Trust.

that would have been more interesting.

maria tessa sciarrino (theoreticalgirl), Saturday, 10 September 2005 21:34 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Furthermore, like The Beatles, Donovan's music was often tongue-in-cheek. He wasn't going for the same thing Dylan was and shouldn't be judged for his failure to be Dylan.

yes. dylan's not humorless but a lot of his "followers" are.

simian (dymaxia), Saturday, 10 September 2005 21:54 (twelve years ago) Permalink

In the Sixties the girls looked better, the guys looked better...

people are definitely better looking today

BeeOK (boo radley), Sunday, 11 September 2005 02:06 (twelve years ago) Permalink

With all the talk about Donovan's "fluff," I have to peek in and note that, while this is generally true, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" rocks harder (and darker) than anything Dylan's done.

TS: Hurdy Gurdy Man vs. Tambourine Man

joseph cotten (joseph cotten), Sunday, 11 September 2005 02:21 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Ha ha, I just listened to two Donovan albums today- "Barabajagal" AND "The Hurdy Gurdy Man". Totally love that Donovan, so eat shit Sunday Times!

Drew Daniel (Drew Daniel), Sunday, 11 September 2005 02:54 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Dylan=great Donovan=2nd rate is just kind of a tired truism, so it's obnoxious to see an article that starts with that idea as its premise.

Hurting (Hurting), Sunday, 11 September 2005 02:59 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I wonder how many people under the age of 25 could name one Donovan album.

The Good Dr. Bill (The Good Dr. Bill), Sunday, 11 September 2005 03:16 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Fewer under-25ers than you think could probably name a Dylan album. Irrelevant question anyhow.

Hurting (Hurting), Sunday, 11 September 2005 03:18 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I'd wager the ratio's something like ten to one on that.

It's irrelevant in terms of the two's quality, but not in terms of their legacy, of which I think Donovan has fairly little.

The Good Dr. Bill (The Good Dr. Bill), Sunday, 11 September 2005 03:21 (twelve years ago) Permalink

good point

BeeOK (boo radley), Sunday, 11 September 2005 03:56 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I'm 25 and I listen to Donovan. Do I count?

Hurting (Hurting), Sunday, 11 September 2005 04:01 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Here's a somewhat more balanced article:

Sunday Herald

We changed the world

By Peter Ross

ALTHOUGH he considers himself a visionary, I see Donovan before he sees me. He is standing in the reception area of Glasgow’s Malmaison hotel, talking to a blonde woman holding a yellow flower. He’s wearing the standard issue beatnik black polo-neck and his greying hair is as long and curly as in his hippy heyday. He has just come from performing a short acoustic set in a bookshop; when he started playing, one woman burst into tears, presumably from pleasure. We walk downstairs to the brasserie to talk. Donovan is celebrating 40 years since his first chart success – his debut single Catch The Wind went to number four in 1965, the first of 10 hits in that decade. His auto biography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, is being published to coincide with the anniversary. It’s all very well-timed; his music has more currency now than at any time since the 1960s, Devendra Banhart and the new American folk movement he spearheads having cited Donovan as a key influence.

Donovan became a pop star aged 19, packed it in at 24, and is now 59. Born Donovan Philips Leitch in Glasgow in 1946, he grew up in a (now demolished) tenement “a stone’s throw” from the hotel in which we are sitting . The Glasgow of his childhood was a post-war city of bombed buildings; he hunted for shell casings in the rubble.

His father, Donnie, had helped build Spitfire engines, and after the war continued to work as a tool setter. The family was poor but Donnie was an autodidact, a great reader who could be counted upon to stand up at parties and recite the works of Robert Burns and Robert Service; he was also a staunch trade unionist. “I was brought up on a diet of Celtic mysticism, poetry and socialism,” says Donovan. He was no stranger to jeely pieces either.

Donnie Leitch was Protestant, his wife Wynn a Catholic. Through the example of their marriage, Donovan reached an early understanding of a common humanity, beyond religious and other differences, which would inform his work in the peace and love era. The family moved to the south of England in 1956 when Donovan was 10, but his accent becomes increasingly Scottish when he reflects on his Glasgow years.

He was given the polio vaccine when he was four but the dosage was too strong and his right leg began to wither. Donovan wore a leg brace and walked with a limp, which meant he couldn’t run with the gangs. “It’s possible that one is an outsider immediately when one is a sick child,” he says. “I kind of look back on it and think it was positive for me because it made me withdraw from my pals and realise I was different.”

When local kids battered him, he didn’t fight back. His mother told him to stand up for himself, but that sort of aggression wasn’t in him. He thinks now that his eventual success was partly rooted in this need to triumph over his physically superior peers. Anyway, he took comfort from his father, who would cuddle him and recite from the Romantic poets.

He seems to have had a more complex relationship with his mother, who appears to have been rather highly strung; when she discovered her son had been masturbating, she locked herself in the bathroom and threatened to commit suicide. “Why was it so shocking to her?” Donovan wonders aloud. “Was it her background? Had she not come to terms with her own upbringing, or was her marriage not as she had imagined it would be? She thought it was her fault that I was masturbating.”

He says he may have had more sexual fantasies that most boys his age, and my impression from the book is that he was a very sexual person from quite early on. Is that fair to say? He puts his cup of Earl Grey down, rattling, on the saucer. “Yeah, I would say so. One has to move into the world of astrology. My wife Linda, my muse, my sunshine supergirl, we met God knows how many lives ago, and she studied astrology.”

This is how Donovan speaks, David Blaine meets David Brent – and you’d better get used to it. Anyway, Linda told him his character has been shaped by his star sign, Taurus. “And Tauruses are very earthy, connected to the earth. Our sign is the bull, and bulls are ... ” He breaks off, chuckling, then continues. “Bulls are very productive, and into the other cows in the field. So, yeah, I guess it’s because I’m a Taurus. But also I didn’t have a sister; it was just me and my brother. So maybe with being Taurus and having no girls in the family, I was attracted to women very early.”

His sexual libertarianism was also shaped by teenage reading of the Beats, particularly Jack Kerouac. “When I read On The Road it seemed like there were gals in the bohemian world who were willing to break the conditioning of their background, and refused to be pushing a pram, refused to marry in the normal way, and wished to be artists. These gals were not just sexual objects, they had freedom and an artistic bent. I was fascinated by those liberated females – not just because of the sexual freedom but because they had left society.”

In the early 1960s, he studied art at college in Welwyn Garden City and began to get into the new acoustic music coming out of America. The poetic ballads and socialism Donovan had learned from his father meant the folk scene was instantly familiar to him. He dropped out of college and bummed around, hanging out with the beatniks of St Ives, getting stoned and laid, washing dishes for a living. “I did not disagree with society’s aims,” he says, “but I realised that it was full of hypocrisy and greed, and I did not want to join.”

Returning home to Hertfordshire, his enjoyment of folk music became an obsession. He learned as many songs as he could, and persuaded a musician known as Dirty Phil to teach him the fingerpicking guitar style. Donovan would later show this technique to John Lennon while he and The Beatles were studying transcendental meditation in India.

The Peacock pub in St Albans was the place to hear and play folk music. But Donovan felt that he wasn’t liked by the other folkies. He writes in the book that it may have been because he was lame and regarded as a dreamer, but tells me he thinks the real reason is because he was an authentic working-class boy in a scene of middle-class kids slumming it. However: “I used all that derision and people looking down on me. I just got stronger with it.”

Not being taken seriously has always been a problem for Donovan . A Los Angeles Times review on his 1969 concert at the Hollywood Bowl – at which he performed to over 20,000 people – states: “Donovan is an unexceptional singer and guitarist. His songs smack heavily of dimestore incense. And he’s almost laughably pretentious and showbiz.” This is not atypical. Even in the 1960s, the press saw Donovan as something of a cheesy hippy, and he has come to stand for the worst excesses of the decade – drippy, twee, a bit daft.

He also had the misfortune to appear on the national stage in the very year – 1965 – that Bob Dylan was abandoning folk and pushing forward the frontiers of pop and rock . They met when Dylan toured Britain that year, and Donovan appears in DA Pennebaker’s documentary, Don’t Look Back. Conventional thinking on the film is that Dylan is sneering at Donovan, who performs a song for him, but Donovan doesn’t see it that way. “Absolute bullshit,” he snaps. “If you actually look at the movie, Bob is honouring my work.”

The allegation clearly hurts. I hadn’t even asked about Don’t Look Back; he brought it up himself. I do want to know, however, what it’s like for Donovan, trying to celebrate his 40th anniversary when suddenly 2005 turns into the year of Bob Dylan. Surely it must be frustrating that even after all these years he can’t escape the man’s shadow? “I’m going to have a pee,” he says, “but I’ll be back, and we’ll address that.”

He must be fed up having to talk about Bob Dylan. The comparison isn’t even appropriate. Four Donovan albums from the 1960s, reissued earlier this year, demonstrate the excellence and variety of much of his music. There are folk songs (Catch The Wind, Colours), catchy pop (Mellow Yellow, Jennifer Juniper) and tremendous psychedelic rock (Barabajagal, Hurdy Gurdy Man, Season Of The Witch).

But there is a lot of rubbish too. Donovan’s willingness to experiment with styles has made his body of work very inconsistent; he can be brilliant and awful, a dichotomy exemplified by the fact he had a hand in writing one of The Beatles’ very best songs, Julia, and one of their worst, Yellow Submarine.

Not that he is the sort to admit his failings. Back from the loo, he says: “When I met Bob through Joan Baez in 1965 of course I knew who he was, but I wasn’t particularly influenced by him. I sounded like Bob for five minutes, but Bob sounded like Woody Guthrie for a whole album. For me, it was a passing thing. The true link between us is that two solo singer-songwriters brought meaningful, poetic lyrics into pop culture. We have had more influence over the whole world of songwriting than any other two solo artists. We brought with us a poetic understanding and influenced forever the way songs are written. The Beatles learned from me as well as from Bob.”

Blimey. This is the egomania which spoils those chapters of his book dealing with his years of pop success; in the 1960s his head expanded along with his mind. But far from repenting, he exults. “The Celts boast,” he says. “And why should we not boast? Read Celtic mythology; every Celtic hero tale is boastful. We have to stand up and announce how strong we are because poetry in the 20th century was looked down on with derision; a poet was an effeminate, weak creature who should have a real job. Standing up and banging a staff was the ancient pagan way of the poet announcing himself. So boasting in my book is totally honest. In the book it looks like I am really full of myself, but we’ve got to be full of ourselves because when you start nobody believes in you.”

I’m tempted to believe that a basic insecurity is at the root of Donovan’s extraordinary ego – the sick child picked on by schoolkids, then again by snooty folkies and snidey journalists, giving himself the love that others denied him. Interestingly, his creative insecurity seems to manifest itself as sexual jealousy. There is a scene in the book where he has gone to bed with the American folk singer Joan Baez, but when she reminisces about sex with Bob Dylan his ardour is considerably dampened.

More significantly, Donovan’s relationship with Linda Lawrence, his wife since 1970, struggled in its early days because he suspected she was still in love with Brian Jones, who Donovan regarded as “the most creative and brilliant guitar player” in London. Jones and Lawrence had met in 1962 when she was 15, and she became pregnant in 1963. However as The Rolling Stones rose to prominence, Jones was encouraged to make a financial settlement and keep away from her and his son, Julian. By 1965, the year Donovan met Lawrence, it was more or less over between them.

Why did Linda’s relationship with Brian Jones make it difficult for him to admit his feelings for her? “Because she still wanted it to work out between her and Brian. She had a boy with him. And when you are 16 and you fall in love there is something unresolved. So I always felt that Brian was somewhere there in the background.

“You have to remember what Brian represented in those days. He was the business. And you have to beware of such a guy. Did he still have the love of my Linda’s heart? She didn’t feel guilty about anything, she just loved him. It was a love made in heaven, but it was bound for difficulties, bound for problems. She knew it. But surely that young girl would feel an ache for the father of her child? He wanted to marry her, but was convinced otherwise.”

In 1969, Brian Jones’s body was discovered in his swimming pool. I can’t help but wonder whether Donovan was glad his rival was gone. “I didn’t feel: ‘Oh well, maybe she’ll come running to me,’” he says. “I was too involved in my own trauma in 1969. I didn’t know where my life was going. No, I didn’t say: ‘Good, Brian’s gone. Now I can have Linda.’ That would be calculating and totally against my character ...”

I interrupt him. Surely it would be quite natural to feel glad? “No, I wouldn’t feel that,” he says. “I’m way beyond that. I didn’t worry that Brian was going to take Linda away from me. What I hated was not Brian but the love that Linda may have felt for him.”

As he struggled with these feelings, Donovan became involved with the American model Enid Karl, with whom he had a son and a daughter – Donovan and Ione. However this relationship failed and he did not see his children grow up; he didn’t meet Ione until she was an adult, and at one time expressed doubt that he was the father. In his book he writes that he felt powerless to be a dad, but doesn’t really explain why. So I ask him.

“Physically, geographically it was impossible because I was a rambling musician,” he says. “So that was difficult. And there was a great heartache that our relationship didn’t work, and it was being transferred to the children. I found that to be wrong when I spoke to my daughter, Ione, many years later. She said she would rather have gone through that heartache than the heartache of not knowing her father.

“I made a decision. Was it wrong? No, it was perfectly right. I can’t go back and change it. But in retrospect, children who don’t see a parent for years and years feel that they would rather be in a tug of love than not see the parent at all. I didn’t know that then, so I was wrong in that sense. All I can say to Ione is that had I known then what I know now, I would have gone through that [difficult experience of spending time with the children]. But when I did see the child, Dono, Enid would be bitter and call him back after two days. I thought it was breaking his heart.”

Hmmm. “Did you not think,” I ask, “that you were doing to Enid and your children what Brian Jones did to Linda and Julian?”

“No, I didn’t know that then,” he says. “Not until Linda said, ‘Don’t let this hap pen.’ I knew then, but I still couldn’t do it. I felt torn. Recently, of course, me and my American children have tried to repair those bridges, to meet and talk about it.

“But don’t imagine that was the only thing happening to me then. There was great fame and the overpowering trauma of the personal experience I was going through as a superstar, as all my friends were. The 1960s were coming to an end, and we were in danger, not only from ourselves through drugs and alcohol abuse, but also from the great fan base out there who wanted to love us to death.

“If you read the mythologies of the world, the hero is honoured to a point and then he is killed either by his own hand or by others. I was feeling a lot of other things, not just about my relationship with my children, but about my life and career, and also a great sense of boredom. I didn’t want to do any of it any more. I wanted out.”

He effectively dropped out of the music business at the end of the 1960s, married Linda Lawrence , had two daughters with her – Astrella and Oriole – and raised Julian as his own. He has released music and toured sporadically since then, but his association with flower power still clings to him like pollen. It must be odd being almost 60 and having your entire life defined by those five years in which you were truly famous.

Donovan is not an easy man to like nor to understand. His constant references to Buddhism and Celtic mythology tend to cloud his meaning, and there is definitely a sour irony in an icon of the love generation, the son of a loving and influential father, effectively cutting himself out of the lives of two of his own children.

Not that he has any regrets, or at least none he will admit to. He tends to overvalue his achievements, just as posterity has undervalued them, but to hear Donovan tell it, his life has turned out just as he planned.

“At 16, I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “I intended everything. There was no luck in it whatsoever.”

The Hurdy Gurdy Man is published by Century, price £17.99. Donovan’s new album, Beat Café, is out now

09 October 2005

shookout (shookout), Sunday, 9 October 2005 15:56 (twelve years ago) Permalink

God I loved reading that. Thanks. And it even finally puts Momus' argument where it belongs in the trash - because Donovan was a Taurus and Momus is another star sign, children. And I never bothered to correct the error but it's been done for me. Thank you thank you thank you.

Just tryin' to get the facts straight, ma'am.

Bimble The Nimble, Jumped Over A Thimble! (Bimble...), Sunday, 9 October 2005 20:24 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Wow, I just heard him on NPR, and I changed my mind, he actually is a bit of a twat. Maybe not as much as that first article suggests, but still pretty full of himself. Plus from the way he described it, I'm no longer convinced that Hurdy Gurdy Man was even meant to be tongue-in-cheek -- or at least he's forgotten it was. He explained its connection to various "spiritual texts," and then performed it live and added the lyrics "Beatles were hurdy gurdy men, they came singing songs of lo-o-ove/I am a hurdy gurdy man, I come singing songs of lo-o-ove."

On the plus side, he did actually do that funny thing with his voice live and also his guitar playing was amazing.

Hurting (Hurting), Monday, 10 October 2005 03:46 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Modern Mouse


jimmy glass (electricsound), Monday, 10 October 2005 04:23 (twelve years ago) Permalink

donovan is only the second best music performer named 'donovan' in history

and the best, which is jason donovan of course, was 5000% times better

ESTEBAN BUTTEZ~!, Monday, 10 October 2005 04:26 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Jason who????

hurdygurdyman, Monday, 10 October 2005 12:59 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"Beatles were hurdy gurdy men, they came singing songs of lo-o-ove/I am a hurdy gurdy man, I come singing songs of lo-o-ove."

Oh my God, that is hilarious.

shookout (shookout), Monday, 10 October 2005 13:14 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Hurdy Gurdy, I have a question about some Donovan trivia. Is it true he helped Paul McCartney with the lyrics to Rocky Raccoon?

---- Good question but the answer is no. One thing I can tell you is that Paul wrote Mother Natures Son for Donovan while in India.

-- hurdy gurdy man (hurdygurdyma...) (webmail), September 22nd, 2005 7:28 PM.

I thought Donovan helped out with 'Yellow Submarine'?

Hmmm...I bet Macca wrote 'Mother Nature's Son' for himself. It was inspired by on a lecture by the Maharishi, as was a John Lennon song 'Child of Nature' (he later scrapped the lyrics and turned it into 'Jealous Guy').

Bob Six (bobbysix), Monday, 10 October 2005 14:05 (twelve years ago) Permalink

In 1968 Paul admitted that Mother Natures son was a tribute to Donovan. The lyrics kind of tell the tale. Donovan wrote "Sky of Blue and Sea of green in our Yellow Submarine." Donovan also co wrote the Dehra Dhun (spelling) A song Harrison wrote while in India. He never released it but I have a couple versions of it on bootlegs. You can see George playing it with Paul and Ringo on the Beatles Anthology series. George is rumored to have a hand in Donovan's song Peregrine from the Hurdy Gurdy man album. They loved eachothers work.

hurdygurdyman, Monday, 10 October 2005 14:24 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Sep/Oct 2005

Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan

By Richard C. Walls
Let’s give Donovan his due. Often dismissed for not being Dylan, for being, at times, too airy-fairy and too embarrassing a relic of the hippie era, the fact remains that when he was good he managed to be both distinct and representational, one of those unique performers who, for better or worse, had ingested and then reflected a portion of the temper of the times. His two best records, Sunshine Superman (’66) and Mellow Yellow (’67) are period pieces, but then so is Sgt. Pepper’s, and their pop/rock/folk fusion still sounds like nothing done before or since. More often than not Donovan constructed a vibe that sounded like a new twist on the emerging language of the youth culture. And he was, it seemed, a little ahead of the Zeitgeist curve. “The Trip” is genuinely trippy before that became a wretched cliché and “Sunny South Kensington” is cobbled from so many then-contempo influences, from the Beatles to garage rock, that it sounds sui generis. And if Donovan was never quite as deep as he seems to think he was (and that alone would make him a good spokesman for the era), he could still be a lot of fun.

That said, this box set does much more than portray Donovan as a late-’60s avatar, comprising three discs and a bonus DVD, 60 tracks and 12 previously unreleased songs, with a noncritical but informative liner essay by Anthony DeCurtis (Who’d have thought that Donovan’s breathy close-to-the-mic style was an idea he got from listening to Buddy Holly?). And given the hit-and-miss quality of the post-Mellow stuff, the box is ultimately for the dedicated fan. For every song that reminds one what a clever boy he could be (e.g., “Epistle to Dippy”, “Hurdy Gurdy Man”), there’s a handful where the preciousness is layered on with coyly mannered abandon and the results are just too bloody twee. When the poet-troubadour moves past the point where he engaged us by making spontaneous history, he can become a taste you may no longer be inclined to acquire.

hurdygurdyman, Monday, 10 October 2005 15:19 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Try For the Sun: The Journey of Donovan
Rating: 8
US release date: 13 September 2005
UK release date: 12 September 2005
by Maura McAndrew

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A decade before Bruce Springsteen held the title of "the new Dylan", a British teenager named Donovan Leitch lay claim to it, even befriending the man himself. Donovan rose to fame strumming earnest folk songs and psychedelic rockers in the late 1960s, recording his first album when he was in his teens and gaining international stardom by age 20. Inspired by Woody Guthrie and Buddy Holly as well as his peers, Donovan collaborated with and befriended some of the great musicians of his time, such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Mamas and the Papas, The Animals, Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, and members of Led Zeppelin. After a short, successful career, this particular "new Dylan" seemed content to fade into the background, withdrawing from the spotlight in the 1970s and releasing few albums after that. As a result, Donovan's rightful place among the great folk-rockers of the '60s and '70s has been somewhat overlooked.

I never knew much about Donovan aside from the oh-so-'60s party tune "Mellow Yellow", and I had always thought of him as just some silly hippie. I would smirk at my mother's copy of Donovan's Greatest Hits and its close-up shot of the young Donovan with his wild hair, large honest eyes, and boyish grin. Though Donovan was silly, it was a good silly, and his songs were not only catchy; they really said something about the spirit of a certain era of rock 'n roll. Epic/Legacy's new three-disc box set (including a live DVD and previously unreleased recent material) will perhaps put Donovan back on the minds of all the Dylan and Beatles-worshippers who have neglected his influence.

The box set, though a big project to tackle for any but the most obsessed Donovan fans, is extremely well put together. The first disc is the one that will attract casual fans: it contains the early Dylan-esque folk tracks "Catch the Wind" and "Josie", as well as the fantastic über-hit "Sunshine Superman", which I instantly recognized from years of oldies radio and my parents' records. This song is, to me, as emblematic of the 1960s as any of The Beatles' hits. Also heard here are "Season of the Witch" and the strangely endearing "Mellow Yellow". One highlight of this box set is its killer liner notes, written with obsessive glee by Rolling Stone writer Anthony DeCurtis. He lets the fans in on Donovan's days partying in swinging '60s London, as well as little known collaborations (like Paul McCartney's barely audible cameo on "Mellow Yellow").

What is startling about Donovan, both in the story of his life and in his music, is how honest everything is. There is no mystery about him, which is most likely why he was never a cult figure like Dylan. He is not evasive, not depressed, and his lyrics are not cryptic. When he writes a song about a woman, he calls it "Jennifer Juniper", "Legend of a Girl Child Linda" or "Celia of the Seals". He doesn't change names, nor does he hide behind metaphors. Song One on the second disc, the hopeful "Epistle to Dippy", was written for Donovan's childhood friend, nicknamed "Dippy". When Dippy heard the song, he and Donovan got back in touch with one another. This is Donovan through and through: earnest and well intentioned. Throughout Disc Two this is displayed in hits such as "Hurdy Gurdy Man", and the flute-laden "Lalena".

Disc Three showcases more of Donovan's confessional folk from the early 1970s, most of which draws on the Celtic influences of his Scottish upbringing. A trio of more recent tracks, 1994's "Please Don't Bend", 2003's "Love Floats" and 2004's "Happiness Runs" show him growing with the times, but not neglecting his classic style. Especially "Happiness Runs", an updated version of his 1969 song, which sounds like something any modern folk hero would die to create.

These three discs are not only packed with the hits of Donovan's heyday, but are also full of surprises. His delicate Celtic timbre, combined with his honest lyrics and sunny melodies, make him much more than a silly hippie or a 1960s throwback. He is an important musician with a real place in rock history. Don't let the earnest smile fool you; with Donovan, happiness is just as beautiful as sadness.

— 14 September 2005

hurdygurdyman, Monday, 10 October 2005 15:20 (twelve years ago) Permalink

"Beatles were hurdy gurdy men, they came singing songs of lo-o-ove/I am a hurdy gurdy man, I come singing songs of lo-o-ove."
Anyone ever see the movie L.I.E., Long Island Express where Donovan's voice in hurdy gurdy man is used as the theme for a exmarine pedophile cruising for teenboys while sniffing fabric from from the crotch of some jeans. singin' songs of love - oh yeah....

earth sign man, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 03:07 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I'm sure Donovan has no control over what scene his music is being used in. I can assure you that Donovan is not a pedophile and he does not go after teenage girls like you mentioned or heard. I happen to know him and he would be very disturbed if I told him this. Don't believe everything you read or hear. He is a great peaceful soul.

hurdygurdyman, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 11:06 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Are you in fact Donovan?

Bob Six (bobbysix), Wednesday, 12 October 2005 11:29 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Nope, Don is really busy right now promoting his book, Boxed set and Beat Cafe album. He is doing book signings in the UK. I help out with Donovan's archive, recently helped with the Sony Boxed set just released in the US and the EMI re-released cd's with bonus tracks.

hurdygurdyman, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 11:36 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Mr. Hurdygurdyman. Now I solved who you are. I love Donovan music. But you know him you say? If you put all time you spend with Donovan in a row do you have an hour? All in line for autographs? He is not peaceful. Not nice lots of times. No more bullshit please.

asha, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 14:44 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Oh really, you solved who I am, really how? How did my name end up on the back of his recent releases, not from standing in line for autographs, sorry man. You seem very bitter, why? So no need to get rude. Or obviously not very peaceful.

hurdygurdyman, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 15:27 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Donovan is brilliant brilliant brilliant!!!

Anyone who hastily dismisses his catalogue because of impressions or radio hits is potentially missing out. Hurdy Gurdy Man, Flower to a Garden, Wear Your Love Like Heaven, Open Road, all stone cold classics--among others.

Jonathan DD, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 15:58 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Just trying to keep fans informed, guess my job is done here if people do not want to hear any good news about Donovan. Saw some negative posts and just added my piece.


hurdygurdyman, Wednesday, 12 October 2005 15:58 (twelve years ago) Permalink

sure sounds like a lousy father, but then again, most hippies make shitty parents

shookout (shookout), Wednesday, 12 October 2005 17:11 (twelve years ago) Permalink t,+try+for+the+sun,+the+journey+of+donovan&hl=en

Friday, November 25, 2005


Ticket Price: $35.00 adv / $38.00 dos
All Ages - Doors Open at 7:00 PM

------------------------------------------------------------ --------------------


Donovan had everything going for him in the '60s. His jawdropping 1965 debut on London's cutting-edge TV series Ready Steady Go!-- strumming his Dylan-ish folk-rocking protest songs--got this denim-clad, shaggy-haired teenager plenty of early notice. A meteoric rise to stardom would follow in 1966, as Donovan's infectiously rocking, psychedelic epics "Sunshine Superman" and "Mellow Yellow" bolted into the top ten of record charts all around the world.

For the rest of the decade, it was into the mystic for the Glasgow, Scotland-born troubadour. An entire generation of Summer Of Love kids sat at the feet of this robed prince to soak up wondrous ballads, ("Atlantis," "Wear Your Love Like Heaven") love songs, ("Jennifer Juniper," "Lalena") and mind-bending chants ("There Is A Mountain," "Goo Goo Barabajagal")--all from the perfumed garden of Donovan.

Meditating at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi along with the Beatles, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull and Beach Boy Mike Love, Donovan and his beatific smile were never out of the newspapers for long. Working on the Beatles'
"Yellow Submarine" in exchange for Paul McCartney's contributions to "Mellow Yellow" had to be a "wish I was there" moment for legions of young rock fans.

Then, in 1970, Donovan just walked away from a career that had seen him scale the loftiest pinnacles of the music world. "Six years of fame was enough," he told the press at the time. "You couldn't get any more famous, any more successful. I had done everything."

But now, with the release of the Sony/BMG Legacy Donovan box set, TRY FOR THE SUN: THE JOURNEY OF DONOVAN, he's back with a steamer trunk loaded with everything you ever wanted to hear by this generational icon. From rare early singles on the Hickory label plus all his Top Ten classics for Epic produced by hitmaker Mickie Most (Animals, Herman's Hermits), to obscure album tracks and unreleased gems--as well as amazing recent studio excursions--this is the 3-compact disc/1 DVD/60-track package Donovan fans have been clamoring for.

Relevance to today's indie-rock market? Donovan has it in spades. Current forays by budding superstar Beck--not to mention even more recent material from underground West Coast folk guru Devendra Banhart--will tell you all you need to know: Donovan easily straddles the decades as a musical titan. With the release of TRY FOR THE SUN: THE JOURNEY OF DONOVAN, it's all come back into focus. Donovan's time has come again.


"Donovan's importance is unquestionable."
- James Mercer, The Shins

"This re-release of some of his gems is really welcome."
- Jimmy Page

"The sound of his voice and guitar was an integral part of the soundtrack of the sixties."
- Country Joe McDonald

"Donovan was—Bob Dylan aside—the greatest folk troubadour to come out of the 1960s."
- Stephen King

"As much as any seminal artist, he represents more than just the music of that time…he represents the spirit of our younger selves, enchanted with pop music and its melodies, lyrics and stories."
- Mary Chapin Carpenter

"…a terribly ace songwriter...a top man in my book, and somebody I wish I would run into in a park on a warm Sunday."
- Billy Corgan

"There's a sense of peace in Donovan's voice which is unparalleled in rock. His music makes one want to get inside of it and relax into bliss. How lucky we are to have the chance to drink in his mystic vibrations."
- Rick Rubin

"You don't have to be stoned to grow a friend."

Donovan- 1969

hurdygurdyman, Monday, 17 October 2005 16:23 (twelve years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...
How I showed Bob Dylan, Marc Bolan and Andy Warhol how to do it
(Daily Telegraph 02/10/2005)

James Walton reviews The Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan Leitch.

Perhaps, like me, you've always thought of Donovan as a bloke who wrote a few nice songs in the 1960s. Well, it turns out we were wrong. According to his autobiography, he was one of the most significant people ever to strum a guitar. As he puts it in what proves an unusually modest comparison between himself and Bob Dylan: "His lyrics are without equal in popular music, but I think that musically I am the more creative and influential."

By his reckoning, that influence has certainly been widespread. In The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan claims - quite straightforwardly and often repeatedly - to have invented folk-rock, Celtic rock, British psychedelia, New Age music, world music, flower power and the modern rock concert. "I am proud to have been an influence on acts like Van Morrison and Led Zeppelin," runs a typical sentence - and in the next paragraph he explains how he taught Marc Bolan everything.

At times, the debts owed to him might appear slight, but Donovan spots them anyway: "Soon Andy Warhol would create a record cover for the Velvet Underground which depicted a banana. It would seem that Andy had not missed the phrase 'electrical banana' in Mellow Yellow, my number-one song."

The early parts of the book give only a few indications of the rampant and disfiguring egotism to come, with Donovan unable to resist mentioning his key schoolboy achievements. ("In time I rose to the position of House Captain.") Otherwise, his childhood in Glasgow and his youth in Hatfield and St Ives are described with an appealing sense of place and period. There's even a pretty good chapter that opens with the promising words, "Let me tell you about the St Albans scene."

The trouble starts when the young Donovan turns seriously to music. "As I listen to my earliest recordings," writes the older one, "I am surprised to hear I was a virtuoso of all the folk-blues guitar styles by the time I reached 17." (His surprise, you feel, probably wasn't overwhelming.) For a while, there's still enough half-decent material to hold out the hope that, if he'd just stop boasting, the book might yet be redeemable. Once his career takes off, though, boasting is more or less all we get.

During an early TV appearance, he unblushingly notes, the producer "saw in me a new kind of poet-minstrel". Shortly afterwards, in a predictable lurch into the third-person, "this denim-clad beatnik from Scotland with a limp and an attitude was becoming a shaman". No wonder that a few chapters later, he's "the hottest concert ticket in North America" - while in the studio "I had pulled off a folk-classical-blues-pop-jazz-poetical-ethnic jam of far-reaching influence in the years to come". (Given his endless bragging, maybe Donovan was a big influence on Snoop Doggy Dogg, too.)

Each new record or gig is accompanied by a glowing review - occasionally quoted from a journalist of the day, more often supplied by Donovan himself. At one point, he lists all the people who have ever covered his songs, up to and including James Last, the New Christie Minstrels and Jasper Carrott.

But as it transpires, our man didn't merely transform music. He also changed consciousness itself. By incorporating into the songs "a new way of seeing… I founded an Invisible School of Self-Awareness in the hearts and minds… of millions". The messianic complex that runs through the book reaches its climax when he bids the rain to stop during a concert in LA. (It does.) Sadly, his central statement of intent is undermined by an unfortunate misprint: "My mission was to prevent [sic] a cure for society's illness by introducing the Bohemian Manifesto into popular music."

Of course, a book like this (if there's ever been one before) could only have been produced by a man with no sense of humour. Admittedly, it does contain plenty of comedy - but all of it is inadvertent. Donovan, for example, keeps praising his own "meaningful and poetic lyrics", and then unwisely quoting some. ("Get together work it out/ Simplicity is what it's about.")

He retains his bullish tone long after his career is in decline. ("The single Atlantis was particularly successful in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.") Above all, he talks constantly about the importance of self-awareness, while displaying absolutely none of it.

Which just leaves the mysterious question of why nobody saved him from himself before publication. There might even be a case to be made that Donovan hasn't had the credit he deserves. Yet surely somebody from his family or publishers could have pointed out the obvious fact that 300 pages of mad boasting isn't going to make people think you're great after all. Instead, it's far more likely to make them think you're a berk.

Bob Six (bobbysix), Thursday, 3 November 2005 20:58 (twelve years ago) Permalink

Hilarious, as is the book

shookout (shookout), Thursday, 3 November 2005 21:11 (twelve years ago) Permalink

I think the book is a very good read for all of Donovan's big fans. Not the average fans. Could have used more details though.

hurdygurdyman, Friday, 4 November 2005 17:11 (twelve years ago) Permalink

two years pass...

Don't put artists up on pedestals, they are ordinary people not gods. OK Donovan comes across as a bumptious twat sometimes, Dylan as a sneering clown, Lennon as a nasty piece of work ........ and so it goes on. Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf were pretty wild when they were at their prime too.
You just have to consider their work, and either it appeals to you as an individual or it doesn't. Personally I think that Donovan's best work is of real value, I find his lyrics as close to real poetry as anyone in the realm of rock/pop has ever come and I love his voice. A fair guitar player too in my book.
This opinion does not disqualify me from similar feelings for loads of other artists nor does it blind me to the fact that Donovan's canon does inclue some lesser works. I don't think there is an artist born who has been consistently brilliant. I was just happy that Don came back with two pretty good albums.

Piglet, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 08:15 (nine years ago) Permalink

Seems like the "Burrows" thing was down to the doubtless thrusting Thatcherkid STimes writer TOO BUSY to check the spelling of authors' names.

Either that or Donovan possesses the autobiography of top sixties/seventies session singer Tony Burrows (and anyway, isn't it "Burrowes"?).

Dingbod Kesterson, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 08:19 (nine years ago) Permalink

Donovan plays him the saccharine To Sing for You, with which Dylan appears visibly unimpressed. After a pause, Dylan plays his formidable It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and viewers experience the deep embarrassment of watching a lesser talent crushed.

Ah, received knowledge. It got so accepted that this was what happened. Funnily enough, I watched "DLB" not that long ago, and was surprised to hear Donovan actually request Bob to sing "Baby Blue". The only problem was, this fairly intimate scene got broadcast to millions, and earned an undertone that wasn't there at the time.

Mark G, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 09:41 (nine years ago) Permalink

Since when did they cut and paste Feargal Sharkey into LANDMARK (or at least the Bed Shed) DYLAN FILM?

Dingbod Kesterson, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 12:58 (nine years ago) Permalink

He's right. Anyone who says the 60s were great is right.

Geir Hongro, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 13:49 (nine years ago) Permalink

You were there were you?

Herman G. Neuname, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 14:08 (nine years ago) Permalink

fake Geir?

Thomas, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 14:14 (nine years ago) Permalink

You were there were you?

I don't need to have been there to acknowledge that 60s music, along with 70s music and music from the first half of the 80s, was great.

Geir Hongro, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 14:27 (nine years ago) Permalink

james brown was in the 60s. therefore great. i am right.

Thomas, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 14:30 (nine years ago) Permalink

he's right!

Mark G, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 14:55 (nine years ago) Permalink

If only he left

nabisco, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 21:07 (nine years ago) Permalink

I thought I heard something about this.. Was this the Mountain Goat band or something like that??

J0hn Darn1elle to thread.

-- A|ex P@reene (Pareene), Wednesday, 21 September 2005 18:32 (2 years ago) Link

people who get me drunk enough often get to hear this story, which involves Donovan turning up at a show and having his manager demand that he sit in and throwing an absolute shitfit when we said "no"

J0hn D., Wednesday, 6 February 2008 22:10 (nine years ago) Permalink


s1ocki, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 22:12 (nine years ago) Permalink

Good thing it wasn't Don McLean.

James Redd and the Blecchs, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 22:12 (nine years ago) Permalink

nb by "'get' to hear" I probably mean "are forced to endure"

J0hn D., Wednesday, 6 February 2008 22:13 (nine years ago) Permalink

I was feeling pretty groovy
when the radiator burst
So I ran across a meadow
a magical antelope saw me first
And then Jennifer Juniper
and then a floating merman from Atlantis

nabisco, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 22:25 (nine years ago) Permalink

I loved my shirt so much I gave it to
a very friendly praying mantis

nabisco, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 22:28 (nine years ago) Permalink

Don't worry, I'm done now

nabisco, Wednesday, 6 February 2008 22:28 (nine years ago) Permalink

and then a floating merman from Atlantis

dude you know I could seriously sell this line on that beat

J0hn D., Thursday, 7 February 2008 00:32 (nine years ago) Permalink

Oh hey, that didn't work.

jim, Thursday, 14 February 2008 22:01 (nine years ago) Permalink

The gist was that Donovan is opening the "Invincible Donovan University". But this youtube link it better. He sings about it.

jim, Thursday, 14 February 2008 22:02 (nine years ago) Permalink

Listen to the cunts whooping.

jim, Thursday, 14 February 2008 22:03 (nine years ago) Permalink


am0n, Thursday, 14 February 2008 22:09 (nine years ago) Permalink

Funny how when hippy dudes talk (brag) about how at peace and in tune with the universe they are, the more insecure and fucked up they sound.

Bodrick III, Thursday, 14 February 2008 22:12 (nine years ago) Permalink

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