Monday, November 2, 2009

Donovan


THERE was something quite gentle and beautiful about Donovan’s music. While the 1960s did tend to degenerate into a generation “battle” between parents and kids, against a backdrop of the Vietnam War, Donovan’s message of love and peace seemed to transcend the politics so beloved of the likes of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Instead, Donovan consistently sang songs of simple, romantic love, along with ballads which transported one to imaginary worlds far removed from the ugliness of everyday life.

Of course he did compose some vehemently anti-war songs, such as Ballad Of A Crystal Man, and his version of Buffy Saint-Marie’s Universal Soldier will go down, in my experience, as one of the most poignant protest songs of the era. Indeed, it was more than 30 years after Donovan’s version became a hit that I heard Buffy do it on a television concert which I was lucky to stumble upon and record some time in the early 2000s.

Where Donovan differed from Dylan so radically was in his approach to the folk medium. Dylan attacked the songs, bringing a rough edge which suited his hillbilly, nasal-sounding voice. Donovan, by contrast, had the most beautiful singing voice – and the ability to really let those notes resonate – as in The Hurdy Gurdy Man, which also happens to be one of the most outstanding rock songs ever.

There was also something about the Donovan album covers which reinforced a sense that here was a man dedicated to spreading a gospel of peace and goodwill. I remember, from the late 1960s, the beautiful green cover of the Hurdy Gurdy Man album. We also had his Donovan in Concert album and listened to it repeatedly. It had a superb cover featuring a painting of birds resting on a rock floating in the air.

We always enjoyed the opening of this concert, where an American announcer, after “wending my way through the flowers here”, tells how, at a previous open-air concert, it had rained continually until Donovan came out on stage. “When he left the stage, it rained again. Call him what you will, he is a phenomenon”. He then introduces “Donovan’s father, Mr Donald Leitch”, who, after a short preamble, tells the audience that “it is now my pride, and privilege, to introduce to you your evening star, Donovan”. All those Rs are rolled beautifully in the Scottish way, before Donovan launches into “How high the gulls fly, o’er Islay …”

Donovan Leitch

Donovan Phillips Leitch was born on May 10, 1946, in Maryhill, Glasgow. Having listened to umpteen Donovan albums, I have only seen him “live” once, as part of the 1965 D A Pennebaker documentary film on Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back (released in 1967) which I recorded off television while working in London in 1990/91. In his hotel room, at one point, along with a large barrage of other connections, was a young, fresh-faced Donovan, who proceeds to play one of his latest songs. It is just him picking the song on the acoustic guitar and singing. After conceding that “that’s a good song”, Dylan, not to be outdone, takes up a guitar and plays one of his own songs in reply. In all, it was a remarkable meeting of two of the great talents in the history of modern music. But that is the only chance I have had to see Donovan “live”. While in the UK, however, I read somewhere that Dylan would be performing as a support act for some new band or other. And I thought: what a travesty, what a sacrilege. Here was one of the great musicians of all time reduced to the role of supporting act. How that came to pass, I hope to discover as I read what Wikipedia has to say about him. But why I mentioned I had not seen him “live”, apart from that clip, seated in Dylan’s hotel room, was because I did not realise that he walked with a limp all his life. Evidently, he contracted polio as a child when he was vaccinated, at a time before the safer oral vaccine had been introduced. (Most of us from my generation have those vaccination marks on our upper arms.) The disease and treatment left Donovan with a limp. This might, perhaps, explain his empathy and obviously sensitive and caring nature, which contrasts so starkly with Dylan’s rather brusque and abrasive personality.

Donovan with Bob Dylan

Ah, a new revelation for me. Sure, says Wikipedia, he was Scottish, having been born in Glasgow in 1946, but 10 years later his family settled in Hatfield, England. His parents were evidently great lovers of Scottish and English folk music, and Donovan, under their influence, started playing the guitar at the age of 14. Like so many other musicians of that era, he enrolled at art school, only to drop out soon afterwards and decide to “hit the road” as a Beatnik. It was sleeping rough at St Ives in Cornwall in the summer of 1964 that he met the legendary Gypsy Dave (David Mills), who became a lifelong friend. (I wonder if he wasn’t the bearded gent looking on benevolently as Donovan engaged in his “duellin’ folkies” encounter with Dylan on that video?) Anyway, as the Swinging Sixties got into full swing, where better for Donovan to be than busking away and learning traditional folk songs?

Inevitably, he ended up playing in London clubs, where the British folk scene was booming. He learnt his famous cross-picking guitar technique from the likes of Bert Jansch and Derroll Adams, and started penning his first songs, among them Catch The Wind, one of his most famous. It was among 10 songs he put on a demo tape – and became his first single.

One of his significant influences was Mac MacLeod, who debunked the oft-made claim that Donovan was a Dylan clone. In an interview in 2005, says Wikipedia, he observed that both were performing at roughly the same time and had been influenced by the same people, including the likes of Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jansch, John Renbourn, Davey Graham and American blues and jazz artists like Muddy Waters and Leadbelly.

When you were young and growing up in the late 1960s, you didn’t really care what inspired someone like Donovan to write the timeless masterpieces that made him famous during that period. But it is interesting, thanks to Wikipedia, to explore the context of those songs. And, as so often happens with great artists, they are often the product of deep emotional upheavals.

It emerges that while recording his demo tape, Donovan met Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who were recording in a nearby studio. Through him, he met Jones’s ex-girlfriend, Linda Lawrence, with whom Jones had already had a child. Donovan and Jones became close friends until Jones’s death in 1969, but more significantly, Donovan fell in love with Linda Lawrence. Their “on-off-on” romantic relationship lasted five years, but Linda refused to get married, and indeed moved to the US in the late 1960s.

Ever wondered where the poignant lyrics for Donovan’s many love songs about partners separated by oceans, such as To Susan On The West Coast Waiting, came from? Well surely this period had a profound impact. Wikipedia says while Donovan had other relationships for the years Linda was away, “he remained strongly drawn to Linda, and she effectively became his muse”, inspiring such songs as Catch The Wind, Legend Of A Girl Child Linda and Season Of The Witch.

Unlike many other musicians, Dylan included, Donovan achieved stardom almost instantaneously. His demo tape was heard by Elkan Allen, the producer of a pop show, Ready Steady Go! He was so impressed he invited Donovan to perform on the show. Instead of lip-synching to a pre-recorded track, Donovan played live on his TV debut on January 30, 1965. He was just 18 years old. He was such a hit he appeared weekly until the end of April, and ended up securing a recording contract with Pye Records, alongside such acts as The Kinks and Petula Clark. No mean feat for a guy who just months ago had been living the life of a hobo.

Catch The Wind

On the strength of his TV appearances, a new version of Catch The Wind rose to No 4 on the UK charts, selling over 200 000 copies. Released later in the US, it reached No 30. He also performed at a major New Musical Express concert, alongside major stars.

I came under Donovan’s spell in the mid-Sixties thanks to Catch The Wind and his second hit single, Colours, which was released in May 1965. It was not only his beautiful singing and guitar-playing, but also the poetic quality of his lyrics which were the attraction. Sung in that rounded, slightly Scottish accent, the words take on a richness achieved by few other recording artists.

What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid

His first album, What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid, I did not hear at the time, relying only on the many singles that we bought. However, I was lucky to pick it up for a few rands at a second-hand record shop a few years back. It reached No 3 on the UK album charts and, as Catch The Wind, reached No 30 in the US. On the strength of that, he performed for the first time in the US, alongside Pete Seeger in New York, on the Ed Sullivan Show, as well as at the July 1965 Newport Folk Festival.

The album covers a Woody Guthrie song, Riding In My Car, which was retitled Car Car. It was among many of the almost childlike songs that were so appealing within the Donovan oeuvre. But of course it was Catch The Wind, released as his debut single in the UK in March 1965, which spread around the world like wildfire. Was it his answer to Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind? Whatever it was, it marked Dononvan as a consummate composer and lyricist. “In the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty / I want to be / In the warm heart of your loving smile. / To feel you all around me / And to take your hand, along the sand … / Ah but I may as well try and catch the wind.” Here, surely, was a poet of note, performing in the modern idiom of folk music.

Donovan recorded his debut album in February and March, 1965, at Peer Music in Denmark Street, London, and the album was released in the UK on May 14 of that year and a month later in the US as Catch the Wind.

Interestingly, I see Car Car and Donna Donna, another of those gentle favourites, were removed from the album when it was reissued in September 1968, apparently because they weren’t his own compositions. Donna Donna was another of those songs which have become instantly identifiable with Donovan. How strange to discover he never wrote it. In fact, it was composed by five people whose names you’ll immediately forget, so I won’t mention them.

Other well-known songs on the album, which were written by Donovan, included Josie, To Sing For You and Tangerine Puppet. What a debut album!

The album was produced by Terry Kennedy, Peter Eden and Geoff Stephens and, says Wikipedia, provided four singles. Catch The Wind, released in March 1965 – in other words the first taste the public got of Donovan on vinyl – had Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do? on the reverse side. Released after the album were Josie/Little Tin Soldier (February 1966), Remember The Alamo/The Ballad Of A Crystal Man (April 1966 but “withdrawn”, according to Wikipedia); and You’ll Need Somebody On Your Bond, which was released in the US in November 1965, with The Little Tin Soldier on Side 2.

Wikipedia says Eden and Stephens offered Donovan a recording contract with Pye on the strength of that initial demo tape, which showed “a great resemblance to both Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan” and “which probably prompted the ‘British answer to Dylan’ press line that was subsequently released”. The tapes were released on CD in 2004 as Sixty Four and should be worth a listen. Wikipedia says his debut album is notable because “it captures Donovan at a point where his style and vision were starting to significantly diverge from those of Gurthrie and Dylan”.

The “answer to Dylan” tag, as I recall it, also arose from the fact that at one point both wore those distinctive folk-singer caps, and of course both played acoustic guitar and harmonica. But already Donovan was experimenting, and Wikipedida notes that the album even includes some jazz, on Cuttin’ Out.

Also, unlike Dylan, he was already using “folk rock” backing musicians, with this album featuring Brian Locking on bass, Skip Alan (from the Pretty Things) on drums, and his mate Gypsy Dave on kazzoo, one of those plastic gizmos which we got into in our own dope-smoking, dropped-out, hippie era during the early 1970s.

Wikipedia says the album was reissued in 1968 in the UK, with Car Car and Donna Donna removed, “possible because they were not written by Donovan”. I am happy to note that the album I picked up for a few rands is the original, although interestingly it is a South African product and is not dated. On the record label are the words, “Made in South Africa by Teal Record Company Ltd”, while elsewhere it says “licensed by Pye Limited, England”.

So let’s give Donovan’s first album, including his first hit single, a listen, and experience a bit of déjà vu as we return to 1965, when I was an impressionable nine years old, and folk music was still pretty much the biggest thing around. Indeed, it was a time when musicians really stood up and were counted on their ability both to sing and play guitar, but also to write good lyrics and melodies.

It is incredible to believe that this is a guy who is just 18 or 19 years old. What strikes you immediately is the maturity with which he approaches the task of making music – he does it like a seasoned pro. And how better to launch your debut album than with your own beautiful composition, Josie. Lovely, warm acoustic guitar is augmented by the rounded notes of the bass before Donovan’s full, crystalline voice lays it on us. “Josie, I won’t fail ya, / I won’t fail you, have no fear. / Josie, I won’t fail ya, / Give me one more chance, the day is near.” Immediately your interest is piqued. Who is Josie? How might he not fail her? And why is this all happening just before the dawn? “The meadows they are bursting, /The yellow corn lies in your hand. / And with the night comes sorrow / As the tide of dawn sleeps on the land.” As with all the great songs, we experience here poetry for its own sake. He leaves the first narrative behind, and instead sets a scene of a fecund summer, the very corn lying in her hand. Yet with nightfall, comes sorrow. The sun, which came as a tide at dawn, now withdraws to sleep. “The long breezes are blowing / All down the sky into my face. / I’ve a weary kind of feeling, / Like my time has come and gone to waste.” Again, a clever juxtaposition of description of nature and introspection. But of course it is all about love. “I love you, darling Josie, / The trees of pine they grow so tall. / How come you came to love me, / When you didn’t love me at all?” And how, one might ask, can a young lad of 18 write with such a wonderful feeling for poetry, and indeed, for love itself. How did she come to love him when she didn’t love him at all? You could write a book about just that phenomenon alone. After the opening chorus/verse is repeated, he continues. “My Josie looks a child now, / As she lies here on my breast. / In the night I think about her, / In the day I get no rest.” And how about these lovely lines: “I cut me a young pine-cone / And I gave it to the river deep. / It sailed ’way by your window / Where you lay, so long in sleep.” Again, he invites the elements to somehow intervene on his behalf, before a final benediction: “God bless you, darling Josie, / With your sparklin’ eyes so bright and clear.” The chorus is then repeated, as Donovan’s first song on his first album draws to a conclusion, establishing him as a guitarist extraordinaire, fine vocalist and sublime songwriter.

So Dylan had Blowin’ In The Wind, and Donovan had Catch The Wind, the next track and that first single. I’d like to know how he does it. Donovan seems to strum the guitar and pick out the melody at the same time. “In the chilly hours and minutes, / Of uncertainty, I want to be, / In the warm hold of your loving mind.” This is the first time I’m seeing the exact words in that opening verse. I like the contrast between his chilly uncertainty, and the warmth which her commitment would bring. Yet, as the chorus makes all too plain, he feels this will prove all too elusive. “To feel you all around me, / And to take your hand, along the sand, / Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.” But didn’t Donovan have a wonderful way with words? “When sundown pales the sky, / I wanna hide a while, behind your smile, / And everywhere I’d look, your eyes I’d find.” And his superlatives just keep flowing. “For me to love you now, / Would be the sweetest thing, ’twould make me sing, / Ah, but I may as well, try and catch the wind.” Then some more lyrical wizardry. “When rain has hung the leaves with tears, / I want you near, to kill my fears / To help me to leave all my blues behind.” One last appeal to her better nature: “For standin’ in your heart, / Is where I want to be, and I long to be, / Ah, but I may as well, try and catch the wind.”

There was a guy, whom I remember as Scotchie McDonald, a sort of troubadour, who would play guitar in the grounds of the old Bonza Bay Hotel, near where I grew up outside East London, in the mid- to late-1960s. We would join the summer holiday crowd, residents and locals, and lap up his playing of the great folk songs of the time, including, naturally, the best of Dylan and Donovan.

It is possible his repertoire included The Alamo, the next track on the album, which is a Jane Bowers composition. Again, Donovan manages somehow to extract the melody, note for note, whilst also strumming this bluesy folk song, which has US historical allusions I would have to research if I were to claim any insights into what is being sung – except that I do recall Neil Young starting a song with just those words, Remember the Alamo. Singing in his extraordinarily rich way, Donovan tells the tail. “A hundred and eighty were challenged by Travis to die / By a line that he drew with his sword as the battle drew nigh / A man that crossed over the line was for glory / And he that was left better fly / And over the line crossed 179…” Then follows that interesting chorus: “Hey Up Santa Anna, they’re killing your soldiers below / So the rest of Texas will know / And remember the Alamo.” Some legendary figures are then mentioned. “Jim Bowie lay dying, his blood and his powder were dry / But his knife at the ready to take him a few in reply / Young Davy Crockett lay laughing and dying / The blood and the sweat in his eyes / For Texas and freedom no man was more willing to die …” After the three-line chorus, the final verse. “A courier came to a battle once bloody and loud / And found only skin and bones where he once left a crowd / Fear not little darling of dying / If this world be sovereign and free / For we’ll fight to the last for as long as liberty be…” It concludes with the chorus repeated, Donovan having more than done justice to the song.

And then he does something unusual. Cuttin’ Out is just such a bizarre song to find on a folk album. More blues/jazz, it starts with a whirring double bass and acoustic lead guitar. Drums also patter alongside. His vocals come through again as fulsome as ever, whilst for arguably the first time we hear his famous hmm-mm humming on a recording, after the first chorus. “I went down to Jose’s pool / To see if she was there / I didn’t find nobody / Nobody anywhere.” Then the simple chorus: “So I cut on out of there / I cut on out of there.” The website version of the lyrics of the next verse don’t really gel for me. “I was standing behind this colored man / In a bar way down town / I didn’t said not one was / We didn’t care down …” The chorus is repeated, but in the end the lyrics were the melody which gave Donovan the chance to manufacture a fine acoustic lead guitar solo.

On Woody Guthrie’s Car Car, he manages to create a voice that draws on the Gurthrie sound, whilst identifying fully with the playful nature of the song. With the acoustic guitar sounding, he speaks something like, “This is for Woody”, before laying down those fine lyrics. “I’ll take you riding in my car car / Take you riding in my car car / Take you riding in my car car / Riding in my car.” I always heard this as “take you ride in my car car”, the words “riding” and “in” not working at all well in succession. “Boys and girls sing a little song / Boys and girls you sing a little song / Boys and girls sing a little song / When you’re riding in my car.” You can imagine him writing this for young Arlo and his friends. “The horn goes beep beep / Horn goes beep beep / Horn goes beep beep / When you’re riding in my car.” The next verse follows the same formula, with the opening lines, in turn, “Engine goes brrr brrr”, then: “I wanna sit in the back seat / I wanna sit in the front seat / Front seat, back seat / When you’re riding in my car.” The final verse goes: “Tell you what I do, I drive so fast / Tell you what I do, I drive so fast / Tell you what I do, I drive so fast / Riding in my car.” The song ends with an interesting harmonica solo.

From cars to trucks. The last track on Side 1, Keep On Truckin’, is a traditional song arranged by Donovan, and it is an interesting, fast-paced jazzy piece with a strong blues feel to the vocals. Harmonica and acoustic guitar are backed by bass and jazzy drumming, while Gypsy Dave’s kazoo adds an interesting dimension to the sound textures.

For a young man not yet out of his teens, Gold Watch Blues, a Mick Softley composition, was an incredibly mature choice to open Side 2. The fast-paced acoustic guitar is met instantly by Donovan’s vocals. Again, we are in the US. “I went up for my interview on the 4th day of July / The personnel man he questioned me, until I nearly cried / Made me fill in forms, until I shook with fear / About the colour of my toilet roll and if my cousin’s queer.” This, I suspect, was written during the McCarthy era, when paranoia was rife. And then the chorus: “Here’s your gold watch and shackles for your chains / And your piece of paper, to say you left here sane / And if you’ve a son who wants a good career / Just get him to sign on the dotted line and work for 50 years.” Ah yes, that job for life which we all used to aspire to often was a dead-end street. “He asked me how many jobs I’d had before / He nearly had a heart attack when I answered four / Four jobs in 20 years, oh, this can never be / We only take on men, who work on until they die.” Each verse is followed by that caustic chorus. “He took me outside to where the gravestones stand in line / This is where we bury them, in quickstone and in lime / And if you’re going to work for us, and this you must agree / That if you’re going to die, please do it during tea-break.” The tale continues. “This story that you’ve heard, you may think rather queer / But it is the truth you’ll be surprised to hear / I did not want some job up on the board / I just wanted to take a broom and sweep the bloody floor.”

Fortunately for Donovan, there was no humdrum office job for him. Not when you composed beautiful songs like the next track, To Sing For You. The slow acoustic guitar opening heralds another classic song which showcases Donovan’s sublime vocals, and ability to hold those last notes on each line with consummate ease. “When you’re feeling kind of lonesome in your mind / With a heartache followin’ you so close behind / Call out to me as I ramble by. / I’ll sing a song for you, / That’s what I’m here to do, / To sing for you.” Music as palliative. “When the night has left you cold and feeling sad, / I will show you that it cannot be so bad. / Forget the one who went and made you cry. / I’ll sing a song for you, / That’s what I’m here to do, / To sing for you.” This was a key part of the Donovan arsenal – the ability to soothe one’s worries away. “When you feel you just can’t make it anymore, / With your head bowed down you’re staring at the floor, / Search out to me with your weary eyes. / I’ll sing a song for you, / That’s what I’m here to do, / To sing for you.” I had not heard the words fully on the next verse, so here it is: “Now every man he has his work, you know, / And to find out mine, you ain’t got far to go. / Call out to me with your weary eyes. / I’ll sing a song for you, / That’s what I’m here to do, / To sing for you. / To sing for you.”

I had not heard the next song, You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond, a traditional song arranged by Donovan, but it seems important in his development, because suddenly we’re talking electric guitars and a bluesy folk rock that prefigures some of his great heavier sounds of the late 1960s. His use of the harmonica as a blues instrument is again superb, as is his ability to sing note for note alongside the lead guitar melody.

I looked in vain for the lyrics to Tangering Puppet, because this 1:51-minute track is an acoustic guitar instrumental, composed by Donovan, which rivals the great Bert Jansch. Of but he does introduce it with the words, “This is the fairy story of a tangerine puppet.”

Donna Donna was a Donovan single which reached us in the mid-1960s and helped establish him as a household name. And I will tell you who wrote it, according to Wikipeida: Aaron Zeitlin, Sholom Secunda, Arthur S Kevess and Teddi Schwartz, all of whom sound Jewish. For me the song spoke of the loss of innocence. “On a wagon, bound for market, / There’s a calf with a mournful eye. / High above him, there’s a swallow, / Winging swiftly through the sky.” This is the kind of song which must have inspired Donovan in his own songwriting. “How the winds are laughing, / They laugh with all their might. / Love and laugh the whole day through / And, half a summer’s night.” Then that famous chorus. “Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, / Donna, Donna, Donna, Don, / Donna, Donna, Donna, Donna, / Donna, Donna, Donna, Don.” But what was the song about? Because now, as verse, one finally gets to see it in its entirety. “Stop complaining said the farmer, / Who told you a calf to be? / Why can’t you have wings to fly with, / Like the swallow, so proud and free?” Poor calf. The winds again laughs with scorn, and the mysterious Donna is importuned, before the next verse arrives. “Calves are easily bound and slaughtered / Never knowing the reason why / Oh, why can’t you have wings to fly with / Like the swallow you’ve learned to fly.” All a little bit weird, really, but that’s what makes it interesting.

The last track on the album, Ramblin’ Boy, is iconic Donovan. Again he combines strumming and plucking on the acoustic guitar so the melody is already engrained by the time he starts to sing. Anyone who grew up in the Sixties should have this tune etched into his or her consciousness. It has a wonderful impetus. “As I linger on this windy road / My suitcase in my hand / I think on how some hours ago / Together we did stand / Bewildered tears lay in your eyes / As you tried to make me see / That if you gave your love to me / I could leave so easily / Cos I am called the ramblin’ boy / Like the wind that is so free / Yes I am called the ramblin’ boy / So ramblin’ boy I’ll be.” This was the qunitessential travelling folk singer image. “I turn my collar to the cold / I pull my cap down low / I sing this song I wrote for you / Wherever I may go / So I linger on this windy road / I hope your tears are dry / Don’t you never forget this ramblin’ boy / No matter how hard you try / Cos I am called the ramblin’ boy / Like the wind that is so free / Yes I am called the ramblin’ boy / So ramblin’ boy I’ll be.”

And so Donovan arrived on the global music scene, by no means as controversially as Dylan, but certainly with lashings of talent and an inherent musicality which would more than see him through a short but sweet period of superstardom.

Universal Soldier

Bob Dylan has long been considered the anti-war protest pioneer, but this, says Wikipedia, overlooks the massive impact of Donovan’s hit rendition of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Universal Soldier. It was released on a four-track EP, along with three other anti-war songs. The War Drags On and Ballad Of A Crystal Man took anti-war protest songs beyond vague generalisations to specific references to the war in Vietnam. This at a time when the war was still widely supported in the US and Phil Ochs, rather than Dylan, was leading the protest among folk singers. The EP was another success.

On the aforementioned live television studio show by Buffy Sainte-Marie, probably from the late 1990s, though she still looks very well preserved – she talks about how she came to write Universal Soldier, mentioning how she was at an airport somewhere in the US when these wounded soldiers were brought through the terminal. Seems odd that they did not come via an air force base, but nonetheless, it was this sight which got her thinking, she said, about the whole question of who is to blame for wars. And she concluded it was not the foot soldiers, or even the generals directing them. It wasn’t even the politicians, because they were in power after being voted for by the people. So, she concludes, it was “you and me”, the people who voted for them, who were responsible. Her version of the song is slightly different, since Donovan has somewhat altered the odd pronunciation or emphasis, but it was his version which, for us in the late 1960s, made such a profound anti-war impact – given that we too were faced with military conscription in the 1970s as apartheid South Africa sought to hold onto South West Africa (now Namibia), but was facing a growing insurrection from the SWA People’s Organisation, Swapo.

I have Donovan’s version on a compilation cassette, so let’s give it a quick listen, along with The War Drags On, which was also very much part of our pacifist upbringing.

One forgets, or perhaps overlooks, the fact that Donovan was such a good guitarist. Unlike many Dylan songs, there is rarely a Donovan track where the sound is sparse. Even when just accompanying himself on guitar, with no other accompaniment, the combination of his voice and the guitar is always rich and impressive – as it is on Universal Soldier. This song had a huge impact on us, growing up as we were with the prospect of extended military conscription ahead of us, and the shadow of the Vietnam war hanging over the globe.

Donovan’s guitar technique is fascinating. Somehow he combines the full, rounded sound of strumming, with the plucking of individual notes. Maybe, at times, there are two guitars, but I don’t think so. Anyway, after a suitably impressive introduction, he launches into this powerful anti-war anthem. “He’s five foot two and he’s six feet four / He fights with missiles and with spears / He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen /Been a soldier for a thousand years.” Of course credit here goes to Buffy St Marie, who perhaps understates the issue – not a thousand years but probably as long as mankind has walked this earth. And it’s always the young who get dragged in to fight older people’s battles. “He’s a Catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jain / A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew / And he knows he shouldn’t kill and he knows he always will / Kill you for me my friend and me for you.” The use of the word “and” in the next verse accentuates the relentless nature of conflict. “And he’s fighting for Canada / He’s fighting for France, he’s fighting for the U.S.A. / And he’s fighting for the Russians / And he’s fighting for Japan / And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way.” The paradox and hypocrisy of “fighting for peace”. “And he’s fighting for Democracy, he’s fighting for the Reds / He says it’s for the peace of all / He’s the one who must decide, who’s to live and who’s to die / And he never sees the writing on the wall.” Buffy was writing in the wake of the Second World War and at the height of the Vietnam conflict. “But without him / How would Hitler have condemned him at Labau? / Without him Caesar would have stood alone / He’s the one who gives his body as a weapon of the war / And without him all this killing can’t go on.” I once wrote an unpublished autobiography about the plight of an anti-apartheid liberal white South African forced to serve in the apartheid army, and it was this line in Buffy/Donovan’s song that really touched a nerve. You literally have to give your body as a weapon of war – or more accurately, they take it. I called my book, Apartheid’s Child … Freedom’s Son, but might also have titled it Whose Body Is It Anyway? But back to the song. It has been building up to the climax where Donovan finally releases Buffy’s famous title into the world. “He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame / His orders come from far away no more / They come from here and there and you and me / And brothers can’t you see / This is not the way we put the end to war.” For that last line he slows the thing down, coming to a poignant halt with the word war. Donovan, the peacenik, had us hooked.

And he achieved similar effects on another song off that extended play album which we were very much aware of although it does not seem to feature on any contemporary album. On The War Drags On, we encounter some bluesy slide guitar as the song opens in slow, somber style. If Dylan had done this, it would have been one of his “talking blues” songs, but Donovan keeps the thing fairly melodic. It is a very precise indictment of a very hot part of the cold war. “Let me tell you the story of a soldier named Dan. / Went out to fight the good fight in South Vietnam, / Went out to fight for peace, liberty and all, / Went out to fight for equality, hope, let’s go …” Were there idealistic young men, at the outset, who believed they were going to Vietnam to halt the spread of communism, as their fathers had done in Korea? No doubt. But they weren’t to know just what a morass they were getting in to – as the US, for its sins, is wont to do, given its superpower status. And so the chorus, in one line, laments the disillusioned sentiments of a generation. “And the war drags on.” This is followed by a sharp few lines on the harmonica, before Dan’s tale of horror unfolds. “Found himself involved in a sea of blood and bones, / Millions without faces, without hope and without homes. / And the guns they grew louder as they made dust out of bones / That the flesh had long since left just as the people left their homes …” Again, that dirge: “And the war drags on.” Then Donovan, perhaps somewhat naively, gives his opinion. “They’re just there to try and make the people free, / But the way that they’re doing it, it don’t seem like that to me. / Just more blood-letting and misery and tears / That this poor country’s known for the last twenty years, / And the war drags on.” Dan sees a bleak future as the threat of the war turning nuclear comes to him in a dream. “Last night poor Dan had a nightmare it seems. / One kept occurring and re-occurring in his dream: / Cities full of people burn and scream and shoutin’ loud / And right over head a great orange mushroom cloud ...” The world had seen it at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Donovan spells out the consequences of MAD, mutually assured destruction: “And there’s no more war, / for there’s no more world, / And the tears come streaming down. / Yes, I lie crying on the ground.”

There were two distinct sides to the Donovan psyche. Anti-war protest songs was one of them, but the pursuit of beauty, almost as an antidote to the nastiness of war, is the other. On his next album, Fairytale, we discover probably some of his most poetic lyric-writing.

Fairytale (1965 cover and detail of 1969 cover)



His second UK album, Fairytale, was released in October 1965, along with the single, Turquoise, another favourite from my youth which I’ll try to track down later. Fairytale did not fare as well as his first album, reaching No 20 and 30 in the UK and US respectively. But it was this album which we played repeatedly at the time. I see from Wikipedia that the original cover is a black and white image of Donovan, with the title written in that wonderful curvy font so beloved of hip Sixties artists. It emerges that the album we had, with a colourful cover full of bubbles around the head of the singer, wearing dark glasses, was a reissue released in 1969. And, I see, it was an edited version, with Colours and The Little Tin Soldier (the latter written by none other than Shawn Phillips, who now lives outside Port Elizabeth) omitted.

Interesting too is that Oh Deed I Do was composed by legendary guitarist Bert Jansch, Donovan’s mentor (“I’ve got the blues like Gypsy Dave never had babe”). And Circus Of Sour, which I thought so typical of Donovan’s whimsical style, was actually by Paul Bernath.

One of the problems with following Donovans career is that the early albums seem somewhat fluid, with tracklists differing from country to country under the same title. So let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about Fairytale.

Again produced by Eden, Stephens and Kennedy, the album was recorded in September 1965 at Peer Music, Denmark Street, London, and featured the single Colours, with To Sing For You on Side 2 in the UK and Josie in the US. And, says Wikipedia, To Try For The Sun/ Turquoise was also released in the US.

The album, says Wikipedia, finds Donovan “evolving his styles further towards British folk, especially on songs such as Summer Day Reflection Song and Jersey Thursday”, but also includes Sunny Goodge Street, which “foreshadows the jazzy feel and descriptions of life in urban London that Donovan would continue to explore over the next two years”.

While Donovan plays the usual guitar and mouth harp, as well as singing, it is interesting to note that Shawn Phillips plays “the extra 12-string guitar”. That perhaps explains the richness of the sound. I’ve just spent a naughty few minutes using up some broadband (it’s still very costly in SA) to watch a YouTube clip of Donovan and Phillips playing the song Kingfisher together, in 1966, with legendary Pete Seeger as the host. Phillips here is playing on the sitar. Clearly the two had a strong working relationship.

But back to Fairytale. I discovered from Wikipedia that in the US version, Hickory Records included his cover of Universal Soldier, and removed Jansch’s Oh Deed I do. Universal Soldier had been released the previous September and “was achieving some chart success”.

And so we get to the album I have in front of me, which was the January 1969 reissue by Marble Arch Records (MAL 867). Indeed, this is the precise British import, picked up at my local second-hand vinyl shop for about R20 not long ago, and once owned by one M Webster, whose name is written on the back cover. Here, as noted earlier, Colours and The Little Tin Soldier were removed. The first CD version came out in 1991 in the UK. And a 1996 US version includes Oh Deed I Do plus the other songs from that Universal Soldier EP – Do You Hear Me Now, The War Drags On and The Ballad Of A Crystal Man. Other bonus tracks include Turquoise and Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness), released as a single in the UK on October 30, 1965. As I said, a complex array, but I hope to give all the songs a good listen when time permits. Indeed, if I can track down versions of all the songs on the UK and US versions, I think I will have covered the gamut of Donovan’s Fairytale era, including the singles.

While Colours was not on that 1969 album, it was on the original, so let’s give it a listen off that hits cassette. Again, it opens with Donovan’s distinctive opening guitar, supported by a double bass, which really rounds off the sound nicely. This song was also very much part of my upbringing and is probably one of Donovan’s most popular songs. “Yellow is the colour of my true love’s hair / In the mornin’ when we rise, / In the mornin’ when we rise, / That’s the time, that’s the time, / I love the best.” Strange that, but for all these years I thought he sang “that’s the time I love HER best”. Anyway, another colour now enters the retina. “Blue’s the colour of the sky / In the mornin’ when we rise, / In the mornin’ when we rise. / That’s the time, that’s the time / I love the best.” He seems to sing in chorus with himself here, adding to the vocal allure. Towards the end of the song, a very subtle sound, probably a banjo, adds just a hint of new texture to the sound. “Green’s the colour of the sparklin’ corn / In the mornin’ when we rise, / In the mornin’ when we rise. / That’s the time, that’s the time / I love the best.” I recall the version on his greatest hits album getting quite jazzy, but here things are kept neatly under control. “Mellow is the feeling that I get / when I see her, mm hmm, / when I see her, uh huh. / That’s the time, that’s the time / I love the best.” Then this word freedom is thrown in. “Freedom is a word I rarely use / Without thinkin’, mm hmm, / Without thinkin’, mm hmm, / Of the time, of the time / When I’ve been loved.” As I said, sometimes he achieved simple, uncluttered beauty.

The opening track on the album we had, from 1969, starts with Try For The Sun, a song which may, possibly, have homosexual allusions, though I like to think we are dealing here with two people brought together in extremis. Piercing harmonica alongside that finger-picked acoustic guitar lays the platform for the opening verse. “We stood in the windy city, / The gypsy boy and I. / We slept on the breeze in the midnight / With the rain droppin’ tears in our eyes.” Before getting to that contentious chorus, just to note that I always heard “with the rain drops and tears in our eyes”. So they weren’t sad, just sleeping rough on a city street somewhere. But what of this chorus? “And who’s going to be the one / To say it was no good what we done? / I dare a man to say I’m too young, / For I’m going to try for the sun.” I can only assume he’s referring to this relationship with a gypsy boy. But what a lovely image – to try for the sun – which I gather is simply a broadly aspirational sentiment. But still they’re out in the elements. “We huddled in a derelict building / And when he thought I was asleep / He laid his poor coat round my shoulder, / And shivered there beside me in a heap.” This may well have been based on one of Donovan’s early experiences as a young man living rough. In fact, could this gypsy be his old mate Gypsy Dave? It makes sense. After each chorus, the song is punctuated by bold, incisive harmonica blasts. And the two friends also shared good times. “We sang and cracked the sky with laughter, / Our breath turned to mist in the cold. / Our years put together count to thirty, / But our eyes told the dawn we were old.” After the chorus is repeated, the final verse. “Mirror, mirror, hanging in the sky, / Won’t you look down what’s happening here below? / I stand here singing to the flowers, / So very few people really know.” He then sings the chorus and repeats the opening verse. It is a Donovan classic, and I for one would not dare to judge him.

This young musician, not yet 20, then changes tack completely, and produces a lovely laid back jazzy tune richly redolent of London life. Sunny Goodge Street starts with slow bass and cello. The drums are brushed, not beaten, while understated electric rhythm guitar adds to the mix, as his inimitable vocals pour forth. “On the firefly platform on sunny Goodge Street / Violent hash-smoker shook a chocolate machine / Bobbed in an eating scene. / Smashing into neon streets in their stillness / Smearing their eyes on the crazy Kali goddess / Listenin’ to sounds of Mingus mellow fantastic. / ‘My, my’, they sigh, / ‘My, my’, they sigh.” Nou ja, (now then) as they say in Afrikaans. Finally I glean the actual lyrics after some 40 years of not quite hearing what he was singing. That “firefly” platform I did not hear before, while I never fully divined “bobbed in an eating scene”. I thought I heard “smashing into neon streets in their stonedness”, not “stillness”. I still don’t know what a Kali goddess is because I always heard “crazy-coloured goddess”. And in the chorus I thought he sang “my, my desire”, not “my, my, they sigh”. Let’s see what other revelations await. “In dull house rooms with coloured lights swingin’ / Strange music boxes sadly tinklin’ / Drink in the sun shining all around you. / ‘My, my’, they sigh, / ‘My, my’, they sigh, mm mm.” This was incredible lyric-writing from one so young. I think I’m fully justified in likening Donovan to the great English (and Scottish?) poets of centuries gone by. “The magician, he sparkles in satin and velvet, / You gaze at his splendour with eyes you’ve not used yet. / I tell you his name is Love, Love, Love. / ‘My, my’, they sigh, / ‘My, my’, they sigh. / ‘My, my’ - sigh.” And that final sigh is accompanied by the most magnificently whirring double bass string as it generates its appropriate sustained note. Of course there is much more to this song than that. There is a superb flute solo, while other wind instruments add to the textural mix. All in all, a work of great substance and beauty.

Bert Jansch was the folk guitarist most people aspired to play like in the mid-1960s, and Donovan’s version of his Oh Deed I Do shows he had no problems emulating the master. This fast, bluesy song is notable not only for the astute finger-picking, but also Donovan’s ability to match his voice so perfectly to the notes of the melody. “Now, it makes no difference what you do, I love you, babe. / Well, I need your lovin’, I need it bad, oh deed I do. / Now, you don’t believe me when I say I love you, babe. / I wanna know the score, all I want is more, oh deed I do. / I wanna lay you down, prove to you I love you, babe. / I wanna turn you on to my lovin’, babe, Oh deed I do.” This is a man desperate for love, and it is that sort of desperation which drives a man like Jansch to write songs like this. He even mentions a mutual friend. “I got the blues like a Gypsy Dave never has, babe. / I got a jealous dream of losing you, oh deed I have. / Now I can never say I’d ever miss you, gal, / ’Cause I’m proud as a king, I wanna hear you saying ‘Oh deed I do’. / Won’t you break my mind and take your time to love me, babe. / You’ve shattered my brain with a mean saying, oh deed you have. / And you’ve taken every thought of love I’m thinkin’, babe, / you’ve hung them high, gonna let them dry beneath the sun. / I’m gonna bend the bones that hold my blues together, babe. / I’m gonna stretch the string that my troubles bring to me each night. / I’m gonna sing a song with words that say I love you, babe. / I say I need your lovin’ and need it bad, Oh deed I do. / Now, it makes no difference what you do, I love you, babe. / Well, I need your lovin’, I need it bad, oh deed I do.” Ahhh! The traumas of a need for love when you’re a young, hot-blooded man!

Sometimes Donovan would just lose himself in a light, fun, flippant bit of nonsense, yet even a little ditty like Circus Of Sour, by Paul Bernath, had us enraptured in our youth. Here the melody is strummed, with Donovan’s voice taking on a light-hearted tone. Yet still he manages to pick out the bass notes of each chord. Again, I never fully heard these lyrics. “Circus of Sour, / Holds shows every hour, / The lion is eating the bars, hey the bars. / I was erected, / The poor man is expected / To climb to the stars / Balanced just on one knee. / Look out your window and see, / Look out your window and see.” Then: “The clown chases spotlights, / The bear faces hot lights / Pelted with peanuts and coke, hey the coke. / And high in the tent-top / The lady just went up / To hang by a rope / From her teeth gracefully. / Look out your window and see, / Look out your window and see.” The chorus consists of some gobbledegook. “Ba ba ba bom bom bom? da da da.” Then the final verse. “Admission is paid up / Until you are laid up, / There’s only one catch to the fun, hey the fun. / To hell if you’re willin’, / Your name’s on the billing / And it seems that you’re wanted / In ring number three. / Look out your window and see, / I look out my window and see, / I look out my window and see, / coa coa.” I had forgotten there was that little twist in the tail of the tale. How astute of Donovan, though, to unearth songs like this, Jansch’s piece and Universal Soldier. He certainly made them his own – even though he was himself such a fine songwriter.

For all you cat lovers, Side 1 ends with one of the finest tributes to our feline friends. Summer Day Reflection sees Donovan at his poetic best. It is marked by gentle, low-key finger-picked guitar which bubbles along, interspersed by some of the finest acoustic lead guitar you’re likely to hear. But let’s check out those incredible lyrics. “Cat’s a-sleeping in the sun, / Eyes take heed the colours call. / Sunlight patterns touch the wall, / Red kerchiefs sail and fall, / Cat’s a sleeping in the sun.” Cue acoustic lead guitar solo. “Dragon kite in the sky, / Wheel and turns, spin and fly, / Attacked by rooks and never fail / To cry the sound of fairy tales. / The cat is walkin’ in the sun.” Continue acoustic lead solo. “All the pebbles I have seen, / Precious stones for Colleen. / Every minute I pass through / With the grooves spent with you. / The cat is yawning in the sun.” More acoustic lead. “Jewelled castles I have built / With freak feelings of guilt. / And the words stab to the hilt, / Pick the flower and it will wilt, / Cat’s a-shifting in the sun.” The acoustic lead seems always to match the mood. “Marionette dangles death / Insensitivity is fed. By the TV wizard’s wand / Once in the spell you’re conned, / Cat’s a-smiling in the sun.” The first verse is repeated, with one variation and that is on the last line, where he sings, “Cat’s a-smiling in to me.” How clever, though, to place this lazy old moggy in the spotlight and then weave a tale around it. The song fades to the sound of more lovely acoustic lead guitar backing Donovan’s finger-picking.

Was it about a dope dealer? At the time, in the late 1960s, everyone assumed the first track on Side 2, Candy Man, was about the guy who brought the “candy”. But I see from Wikipedia that the song was a traditional English folk song, arranged by Donovan.

Again, a combination of strumming and plucking individual notes on the acoustic guitar launches the song, together with some upbeat harmonica playing a very distinctive melody. Donovan’s vocals are, as ever, pitch perfect. “Candy man, he’s been and gone / My Candy man, he’s been and gone / My Candy man, he’s been and gone. / Now I love everything in this God-almighty world / God knows I do.” So far I’ve heard the lyrics correctly these past 40-odd years, and no mention of drugs, how ever veiled. “Peppermint stick got a little brass band / I got a peppermint stick I got a little brass band / I got a peppermint stick I got a little brass band / And I’m goin’ down to the gate to score the Candy man stand.” I heard, but never registered, the words “peppermint stick”, which is a sweet we never encountered. And was that a brass band in the sense of a music group, or a ring on your finger? More mysterious has been that quick-paced chorus. I certainly never heard mention of beer, but this website tells us the repeated line is “Run fetch a pitcher get the baby some beer / Run fetch a pitcher get the baby some beer …” This is sung four more times before concluding with, “ ’Cause I love everything in this / God-almighty world / God knows I do.” That chorus has a real old-English feel to it. But it was this next verse which got people thinking hashish thoughts. “Candy man, he’s been and gone / My Candy man and his name was John / My Candy man he’s Morocco bound / Now I’d give everything in this God-almighty world / To bring my Candy man home.” And it gets “worse” in terms of drug references – or so we thought. But looking now, we may have been wrong. “Black skin man give me some bad brew / Oh black skin man give me some bad brew / Oh black skin man give me some bad brew / Now I’d give everything in this God-almighty world / To bring me my Candy man home.” Here, it seems, the guy was bringing him some bad beer, not, as I always heard, “black skin man, give me bad deal”. But then again, perhaps Donovan adapted the lyrics somewhat and worked in actual drug allusions. Certainly the next verse is pretty plain. “Candy man, I love the man, / Yeah the Candy man, he gets me high / My Candy man, yeah I love the man, / And I’d give everything in this God-almighty world / To bring my Candy man home.” Notable on this track is the superb harmonising (Donovan with himself, I suspect) on those complex choruses. I also noticed for the first time that he allows himself a little chuckle after the last “bring my Candy man home”. This was undoubtedly one of those songs which established Donovan as a proponent of the “get-me-high” philosophy which characterised the hippie era.

But on the next track we return to pure bucolic beauty. Jersey Thursday is slower, with another complex acoustic guitar intro, seemingly featuring two guitarists, with those bass notes again rounding out the sound. This comprises just one four-line verse, which is repeated, but within its parameters is some of the nicest guitarwork, and singing, you’re likely to hear. “In a tiny piece of coloured glass my love was born / And reds and golds and yellows were the colours in the dawn. / Night brought on its purple cloak of velvet to the sky / And the gulls were wheeling spinning on Jersey Thursday.” Bizarrely, on different lyrics sites I’ve found this last line to read “And the girls go willing spinning on Jersey Thursday.” This was clearly a hopeful fantasy. No I like the image of those gulls, gleaming white against a blue-grey sky. Another acoustic lead solo of great subtlety sees out the song.

And what was the Belated Forgiveness Plea, the next track on the album? Again a classic folk song, featuring strummed and plucked acoustic guitar, this song made me realise afresh just how marvelous an instrument the guitar is. You hear each separate note (atom) as it’s strummed, and your mind converts that into a chord, the fully rounded device which is the musical equivalent of a complex molecule. “As a pilgrim I did go / To a land that I did know, / To the shores of Trist la Cal, / To see if I still felt / The same. / And the sun blazed madly insane, / But the seagulls they have gone, / The seagulls they have gone.” A lovely, exotic scene is set – complete, note, with seagulls. “I searched the sand for sound, / My eyes forced to the ground. / The wind it laughed wild and shrill, / My heart it tried to spill / Its crazy tears. / There is nothing left for me now / For the seagulls, they have gone, / The seagulls, they have gone.” This is good poetry, conflating nature’s turmoil with his own inner conflicts. And how’s this next verse? “I stand both young and old / But the winds of time blow cold. / This much you must believe: / It pains to see you grieve. / I pity you, / But there is nothing that I can do / For the seagulls, they have gone, / The seagulls, they have gone.” The gulls, surely, are a metaphor for an earlier time when there was some connection between them. Fittingly, given the underlying angst of the song, he concludes by repeating that brilliant opening verse.

And then, as was his wont, we get to the first of Donovan’s “ballads”. Who can recall how The Ballad Of A Crystal Man starts? High-pitched harmonica alongside more awesome finger-picked guitar provides a bold introduction which then quietens for the opening verse, which has a self-generating momentum. And you’ll notice the presence of a certain bird yet again. “Walk along and talk along and live your lives quite freely / But leave our children with their toys of peppermint and candy. / For seagull I don’t want your wings, / I don’t want your freedom in a lie.” While innocent-sounding, this song carried a serious message about the state of the world. “Your thoughts they are of harlequin, your speeches of quicksilver, / I read your faces like a poem, kaleidoscope of hate words. / For seagull I don’t want your wings, / I don’t want your freedom in a lie.” Finally, I discover what followed “kaleidoscope”. I heard something like “hedward”, but of course it is hate words, and this is indeed a searing indictment. I always loved the following description: “On the quilted battlefields of soldiers dazzling made of toy tin / The big bomb like a child’s hand could sweep them dead just so to win. / For seagull I don’t want your wings, / I don’t want your freedom in a lie.” The comparisons with Dylan probably flew thick and fast following release of this song. “As you fill your glasses with the wine of murdered negroes / Thinking not of beauty that spreads like morning sun-glow. / Seagull I don’t want your wings, / I don’t want your freedom in a lie.” As I said, I never really fully heard this song, and this next verse shows just how powerful it was. “I pray your dreams of vivid screams of children dying slowly / And as you polish up your guns your real self be reflecting. / For seagull I don’t want your wings, / I don’t want your freedom in a lie.” Then the key target of the peace movement. “Vietnam, your latest game, you’re playing with your blackest Queen / Damn your souls and curse your grins, I stand here with a fading dream. / For seagull I don’t want your wings, / I don’t want your freedom in a lie.” And here Donovan touches on a truth which we felt strongly growing up in apartheid South Africa. How could we, as white South Africans, ever feel “free” when our black compatriates were in chains? It’s impossible if you have a conscience. The global turmoil of the cold war also meant, I suppose, that all freedom was pyrrhic. Today our freedom is tainted by the threat of global warming due to the emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

The 1969 album ends with The Ballad Of Geraldine, although the original UK release first featured Shawn Phillips’s The Little Tin Soldier.

Again, it is the sublimely plucked acoustic guitar which gives this song its foundation, as Donovan, and he does it on other songs, sings from the vantage point of a woman. It is, of course, another poetic tour de force. “Oh, I was born with the name Geraldine / With hair coal black as a raven. / I travelled my life without a care, / Ah, but all my love I was savin’.” When we heard this at the time, as youngsters you did not stop to consider the import of the song. So here we have a woman who’s saving her love for someone. “Oh, the winds blew high and the trees did sway, / Not much from life was I askin’. / Till I met someone to give all my love, / All my love, so long an’ lasting.” Make no mistake, there is a similarity to Dylan’s songs from this era, but Donovan possibly had the poetic edge with this one. “Oh, good were the parts we played in our game / And a long ways off was tomorrow. / But my love was a rambler and restless as the sea, / And in the tide came sorrow.” Isn’t that a wonderful bit of writing? Not only was he restless as the sea, but the same sea’s tide brought sorrow. For she, it seems, is pregnant. “Oh, a child of the night is goin’ to be born, / I can’t explain my confusion. / Is my love thinkin’ to marry me at all / Or of the freedom he thinks he’ll be losin’?” What a great leap of the imagination to place yourself, as a man, in the position of a woman made pregnant by a rambling man. “I sit with my friends in the gay crowded room, / My friends they’re smokin’ and a-talkin’. / But it all seems so empty, my love is not there, / So I’ll go into the streets a-walkin’.” Despite his wayward ways she still loves him. “My baby is a-growin’ as a-growin’ it must, / If I were to lose it, it would grieve me. / My love is so helpless and I’m wonderin’ what to do. / Oh, how I yearn to help him.” Is this the strong woman looking out for a weak man syndrome? “Oh, we could go to the land of your choice / Where the false shame won’t come knockin’ at our door. / I’ve a feeling in my heart and it’s crushing all my hopes, / I think I’m gonna be hurt some more.” The repeat of the opening verse only adds to the poignancy of this timeless tale.

And so ends an album which, certainly for us, cemented Donovan’s stature as a modern folk singing superstar. He had drawn from the long English/Celtic folk music tradition and created an entirely new genre, a modern folk idiom upon which he would embellish to wondrous effect over the ensuing years. And we were out there just waiting to see what he came up with next.

Sunshine Superman

What is significant now is that Mickie Most arrived on the scene at just the right time, with the old folk music era of the early 1960s having been overturned by the advent of folk-rock. Most took over as Donovan’s producer in late 1965. He was already going well with The Animals and Herman’s Hermits.

Key to the success of the next few years was Most’s use of some of the top session musicians in the UK on Donovan’s albums, including Jack Bruce of Cream, Danny Thompson and future Led Zeppelin musos John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. Jazz musicians included Danny Thompson of Pentangle, Spike Heatley on upright bass, Tony Carr on drums, John Cameron on piano and Harold McNair on saxes and flute. There is no doubt that with this line-up backing him, especially while touring the US, Donovan was guaranteed to succeed.

The stage was set, then, for Donovan’s own transition, as Dylan had done, to the heavier sounds which were epitomised in the song, Hurdy Gurdy Man.

Interestingly, I note from Wikepedia that it was only in 1966 that Donovan went from being a folk-singer to adopting his famous “flower power” image. He was also to pioneer psychedelic music on his song, Sunshine Superman. Drawing from jazz, blues, Eastern music and other influences, the song has an obvious reference to drugs, some say LSD, in the opening lines: “Sunshine came softly to my, window today. I could’ve tripped out easy, but I changed my way”.

A dispute about his contractual obligations culminated in him signing for CBS subsidiary Epic Records in late 1966. During an enforced hiatus he had holidayed in Greece, where he wrote Writer In The Sun, which reflects his concern about not being able to write any more – “the retired writer in the sun”. He also contributed a verse and backing vocals to the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, recorded in May 1966. The Sunshine Superman album could now be released, and it had echoes of US West Coast psychedelia, folk rock and The Byrds, who were a major influence. The single was a major hit in the US, reaching No 1, while the album, his third, released in September 1966, reached No 11. “Sunshine came softly through my window today…” Certainly, it was shining brightly on Donovan, and we in sunny, apartheid-riven South Africa, were soaking it up too.

“Fly Jefferson Airplane, gets you there on time.” This reference to the cult San Francisco acid rock band on The Fat Angel shows Donovan now firmly ensconced in the US hippie tradition. The US version of the album, Sunshine Superman, says Wikipedia, is probably his best. He referenced Jefferson Airplane “well before they became known internationally”, and dedicated the song to Mama Cass Elliott of The Mamas And The Papas. We did not have this album, so sadly the medieval-themed Legend Of A Girl Called Linda (written for Brian Jones’s girlfriend Linda Lawrence) passed me by completely, as did Bert’s Blues, a tribute to mentor Bert Jansch of Pentangle. However, the beautiful Guinevere I caught up on the later Donovan In Concert.

But let’s see what Wikipedia has to say about this pivotal album, Sunshine Superman, which was released in September 1966, having been recorded between January and May of that year at Columbia Recording Studios in Hollywood and Abbey Road Studios in London. Classed as “folk rock, psychedelic rock”, the album was produced by Mickie Most and ran to 42:59 minutes.

Wikipedia observes that the album was only released in the US, the above-mentioned contractual dispute preventing its UK release. However, a combined Sunshine Superman/Mellow Yellow album, also called Sunshine Superman, was released in the UK in June 1967. As noted earlier, the Donovan discography is complex indeed. The single, Sunshine Superman, released in July 1966, had become a hit.

While many consider Donovan a folk singer first and foremost, he was in fact one of the great innovators of the mid- to late-1960s. Wikipedia says this album marks “a distinct change in Donovan’s music, representing some of the first psychedelia released”. With a full rock band backing him on many songs, he also includes sitar and other “unique musical instruments”. Wikipedia ascribes this to being partially the result of working with Most. He “gave listeners an insider’s look into the mid-Sixties pop scene”. Close to the Beatles and Brian Jones of the Stones, Sunshine Superman, the single, catapulted him to fame as it reached No 1 in the US and No 2 in the UK. Wikipedia adds that “the rich descriptions of colour and environment” that he brought to the songs on Fairytale “were now evident throughout his writing”.

Songs not used on the album included Museum (later used on Mellow Yellow), Superlungs My Supergirl (used on Barabajagal) and Breezes of Patchulie. The original versions were included on Troubadour The Definitive Collection 1964-1976, says Wikipedia. Ah, and Donovan even made it onto an early Beatles video. Wikipedia says a close-up of a spinning turntable on the A Day In The Life video shows an Epic Records version of Sunshine Superman playing. It says the video was shot during the session when the song was recorded for inclusion on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Oh and Jefferson Airplane covered his The Fat Angel on their 1968 live album, Bless Its Pointed Little Head.

Remember that the US West Coast was the place to be around 1966. Eric Burdon moved there, and Donovan obviously also enjoyed the Californian sunshine. So it was probably here that he and Shawn Phillips got together, with Phillips playing sitar on the album. Other musicians featured include Bobby Ray on bass and “Fast” Eddy Hoh on drums. But the actual title song also boasts Jimmy Page and Eric Ford on electric guitars, John Cameron on keyboards and arrangement, Spike Healey on bass, Bobby Orr on drums and Tony Carr on percussion. Donovan’s vocals and acoustic guitar obviously are the key contributions.

Having recently bought the Sunshine Superman album on CD (a 1996 SA product found in a second-hand shop), I was delighted to hear how much use there is of the sitar. This is understandable, given Donovan’s affinity for all things eastern. Donovan met American folk-rock icon Shawn Phillips in London in 1965. In the early 2000s, Phillips settled, of all places just outside Port Elizabeth, where I live.

The Trip, a jazzy ripper, is named after a Los Angeles club, but clearly is all about tripping on drugs, and like Season Of The Witch and Sunshine Superman stands in sharp contrast to the gentler folk songs on the album.

If any song became synonymous with Donovan in the late 1960s it is Season Of The Witch, on which he plays electric guitar for the first time in a recorded performance. Thanks to it, that beatnik certainly, for a time, was “out to make it rich”. I also remember well, the heavy cover version done by Brian Auger and the Trinity, which we had on an Underground Music compilation. Stephen Stills and Al Kooper did an 11-minute version of this song on that 1968 classic Super Session.

But I do find that many of the versions on this original, like Guinevere, Celeste and The Fat Angel were better handled on Donovan in Concert.

But we were still back in 1966, with Donovan really pioneering probably as much as Dylan and the Beatles did. His overt use of jazz is years ahead of musicians like Van Morrison, even.

Anyway, that lucky score of the Sunshine Superman CD is indeed the original US version, re-released in 1996, 30 years after its original vinyl release. The cover artwork is evocative of the British Arts and Crafts Movement from the late 19th century. Its eastern influence is captured in a quote on the back cover, “dedicated to the bearer of the eastern gift”.

So let’s give it a fresh spin and see how much Donovan had changed in the space of a year.

Make no error, the transition from folk to psychedelic rock is not easy. The first tracks on either side of this album – the hits Sunshine Superman and Season Of The Witch – are definitely the stand-out songs here, but there is much else to enthuse about.

Coming from a guy who just a year before produced a gentle folk album like Fairytale, the introduction of rock instruments must have been as shocking to his fans as was Dylan’s switch. Certainly the opening track, Sunshine Superman, introduces us to a fully fledged folk rock sound, with powerful bass and, adding incredible interest, sitar. Yet, like Dylan, Donovan keeps the folk link through his strummed acoustic guitar. Oh and his vocals are as bold and beautiful as ever, while the song is also characterised by lovely understated lead guitar. Donovan latched onto the drug-obsessed mood that was sweeping the world (outside the Iron Curtain). “Sunshine came softly through my a-window today / Could’ve tripped out easy a-but I’ve a-changed my ways / It’ll take time, I know it but in a while / You’re gonna be mine, I know it, we’ll do it in style …” The pace quickens for the one-line chorus: “ ’Cause I made my mind up you’re going to be mine.” This flows into: “I’ll tell you right now / Any trick in the book now, baby, all that I can find / Everybody’s hustlin’ just to have a little scene / When I say we’ll be cool I think that you know what I mean / We stood on a beach at sunset, do you remember when? / I know a beach where, baby, a-it never ends …” Then, again, that quicker pace: “When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine.” Of course I’ve now realised this is not a drug eulogy. Quite the reverse, in fact. He seems to assert that one can get your highs through nature, especially if it comes in the form of a delectable young woman. Growing up, as we did, near the Bonza Bay beach in East London, we could relate very readily to this idyllic scene. Donovan liked the sound of humming. “Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm / I’ll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind / ’Cause I made my mind up you’re going to be mine / I’ll tell you right now / Any trick in the book now, baby, all that I can find.” I’m not sure I’ve got the verses perfectly in sync here, but be that as it may, we now get to the more interesting part. “Superman or Green Lantern ain’t got a-nothin’ on me / I can make like a turtle and dive for your pearls in the sea, yeah! / A you-you-you can just sit there a-thinking on your velvet throne / ’bout all the rainbows a-you can a-have for your own / When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine / I’ll pick up your hand and slowly blow your little mind / When you’ve made your mind up forever to be mine / I’ll pick up your hand / I’ll pick up your hand.” And finally the penny drops. What was “Sunshine Superman”? This verse suggests his love for this girl is such that the comic book heroes Superman and Green Lantern will have “nothing on me”. He’ll bring her rainbows and pearls – provided she makes up her mind “forever to be mine”. Though what is meant by picking up her hand and blowing her “little mind” is not quite clear. But I think the “little” is a term of endearment, not a put down.

This then, was another giant step in Donovan’s progress as a musician. Certainly he was a pace-setter at a pivotal point in rock’s evolution – and this song was a vital element of that process.

It is a hard act to follow, and they do so by offering something entirely different. Legend Of A Girl Child Linda is a long, rambling folk-based song with incredible lyrics and embellished with a plethora of interesting instruments. At 6:50 minutes, it is a long listen, but thanks to those many variations, it never gets tiresome. Indeed, the beauty pours forth from the opening strings and plucked acoustic guitar. As he launches into the vocals, a harpsichord and glockenspiel also appear to join the fray. Recorder, clarinet and other wind instruments kick in during complex orchestral sections, while a whirring double bass adds to the soothing effect. But what, oh what, was that long story about? “I will bring you gold apples and grapes made of rubies / That have shone in the eyes of a prince of the breeze. / Bright cascading crystals, they danced in the sand dunes / On the beach of no footprints to harpsichord tunes.” This, again, is a young man who will give his all for the girl of his dreams. “A throne of white ivory, a gown of white lace / Lies still in the magic of a timeless place. / One hundred small children, they laugh at the white doves / That rest on their hands with the touch of love.” It’s a delightful bit of writing. “On a hillside of velvet the children they lay down / And make fun of the grown-ups with their silly frown. / And the sound of their laughter is the sound of the green sea / As it washed around the foot of the seashell tree.” Is that tree a piece of colourful seaweed, perhaps? “The doves circle over and land in the trees / Where parrots are talking their words with such ease. / Thus spoke three wizards to the young ones that day: / ‘There’s sadness in the kingdom, make it go far away.’ / If you follow the sunbeams through the valley of flowers / To the palace of the White Queen with its white jade towers. / The youngest, she sighed then the clouds drew away / And a hundred small fingers scratched their heads in dismay. / From out of the sun a giant gull came flying / And the children got ready to sit on its wings. / They waved to the raindrops as they soared over the trees / The wind tossed their hair high, flashing gold on the sea.” One wonders why Donovan never put this into a book, as it certainly lends itself to lovely illustrations. “They came to the castle and there they did fall, / And they saw all the sadness, through the crystal wall. / A princess lay a-sleeping so gentle and kind / Whilst her prince took to battle with his confused mind. / The clash of bright metal brought the children fear, / But their cloaks of blue satin dried up all of these tears. / Thus children held hands and they spelled out their name / All the golden children became a golden chain. / It lies on a white throne in a magic place / With a tunic of velvet and a gown of white lace. / My sword, it lies broken and cast in a lake / In a dream I was told that my princess would wake.” This really has all the magic and mystery of a classic children’s tale.

The soothing quality of Donovan’s music is again evident in Three King Fishers, the next track on the album. Again plucked acoustic guitar notes, a sitar and eastern drums get the song under way in a slow, meditative way. This in a way prefigures some of the great Magna Carta songs, especially during an interesting sitar solo. But in contrast to the preceding track, the lyrics are brevity itself, despite the 3:16 minute playing time. “Twelve king fisher birds shall you have / Dive and swim in the ripples of your laugh. / Oh, I dreamed you were a jewel / Sitting on golden crown oh my head, my head, my head. / Look at the tiny oceans in my hand / Waves of liquid colours touch the sand. / Oh, I dreamed you were a jewel / Sitting on golden crown on my head, my head, my head.”

Ferris Wheel, the next song, is another fine psychedelic folk song, which again combines slowly strummed acoustic guitar, sitar, bass and bongos. There is an airy feel as Donovan takes you on this journey. Again it is a contemplative song. “Walking in the seashore twilight, / It’s then you spy carnival lights, / You slowly near the magic sight, / Tangerine sky minus one kite. / Take time an’ tie your pretty hair / The gypsy driver doesn’t care / If you catch your hair in the ferris wheel on top, / In the ferris wheel on top.” That is an unexpected tack to take. Again, it is about a woman as idol. “A silver bicycle you shall ride, / To bathe your mind in the quiet tide. / Far off as it seems your hair will mend / With a Samson’s strength to begin again. / Take time an’ dry your pretty eyes, / Watch the seagull fly far-off skies / To build its nest in the ferris wheel on top, / In the ferris wheel on top.” There is even a little homily. “If ever I reach her. / And the moral here, if any, my friend: / Follow through your dream to the end. / Dig the seagull fly across the sky / To build its nest in the ferris wheel, / In the ferris wheel.” Lovely stuff!

The side ends with Bert’s Blues, like all the other tracks, a Donovan composition. And here it’s all slow bluesy, jazzy rock. Drums and big double bass notes set the song in train, with a jaunty harpsichord and strings adding to the rich, complex arrangement. Look out, too, for a mellow cello solo. There is also a lovely saxophone solo as the song becomes faster paced near the end. But what were Bert Jansch’s blues about? Donovan puts on a laid-back accent as he gets going on this one. “Been a-lookin’ for a good girl, / But it’s taking time. / A-been a-lookin’ for a good girl, / A-one to please my mind as well as my time.” It has definite Jansch qualities. “I’ve been singing in the evening, / Flying through the night. / But I hurt my good gal, / I hope she makes out right, / Flying through the night. / I’ve been picking up the sunshine, / I’ve been drinking down the rain, girl, / I’ve been picking up the sunshine, / it makes me think on when I’ll see you again.” Having not been raised on this song, all I’m really familiar with is the structure of the melody. This tale is all pretty new. “You know time could bring a change, girl, / It ain’t for me to say. / You’ll soon be out of range, girl, / A-this could only be the way it’s meant to be. / Fairy castle stark and black in the moonlight, / The jingle jangle jester rides his stallion / Seagull flies across my eyes forever. / Sadly goes the wind on its way to Hades.” I wonder what one Bob Dylan made of the “jingle jangle jester”, given his own “jingle jangle morning” on Mr Tambourine Man. “Would I, should I, could I be a stranger, / I shall walk right by and sigh goodbye. / Lucifer calls his legions from the hillside. / Sadly goes the wind on its way to Hades. / I’ve been lookin’, oh yeah, I say I’ve been lookin’ far a good girl, / You better believe it, baby, yeah! / Yes, I’ve been lookin’ for a good gal, oh yeah! / Hmm, hmm, hmm, hmm, / Ain’t kiddin’ you, ain’t kiddin’ you, ain't kiddin’ you / Yeah, I’ve been a-lookin’!” Again, some prolific lyric-writing which, while not perhaps as finger-pointingly powerful as Dylan’s, has lashings of poetic merit.

Season Of The Witch was typical of the startling stuff that came out of the latter half of the 1960s – it was a one-off bit of inspired song-writing which captured the imagination of the world. The opening lead guitar riffs set the tone for one of the definitive songs of the era. Big bass notes follow, before Donovan’s distinctive voice takes control. “When I look out my window, / Many sights to see. / And when I look in my window, / So many different people to be / That it’s strange, so strange. / You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / Mm, must be the season of the witch, / Must be the season of the witch, yeah, / Must be the season of the witch.” The magic is now afoot. It rests a while before Donovan tackles the next verse. “When I look over my shoulder, / What do you think I see? / Some other cat looking over / His shoulder at me / And he’s strange, sure is strange. / You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / Beatniks are out to make it rich, / Oh no, must be the season of the witch, / Must be the season of the witch, yeah, / Must be the season of the witch.” The thing is really simmering now, with drums and organ fleshing out this full-blooded blues-rock type sound. “You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / The rabbits running in the ditch, / Beatniks are out to make it rich, / Oh no, must be the season of the witch, / Must be the season of the witch, / Must be the season of the witch.” Now, with the organ rumbling along, things become more contemplative, “When I look …” Then he almost speaks the questions, before answering in song: “When I look out my window, / What do you think I see? / And when I look in my window, / So many different people to be / It’s strange, sure is strange. / You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / You’ve got to pick up every stitch, / The rabbits running in the ditch, / Oh no, must be the season of the witch, / Must be the season of the witch, yeah, / Must be the season of the witch. / When I look, when I look.” Lyrically, there wasn’t really much there, but within the moody context of the song, this thing packed a gut-wrenching punch.

After that powerhouse song, The Trip has a light, Beatles-like quality, with the acoustic guitar expertly plucked, and joined by bass, drums and electric rhythm guitar. Bluesy, jazzy rock, the song is again sung pitch-perfect – and I suspect it has some fairly far-out lyrics which sketch the drug scene as it was going down in good ol’ LA. “We was a-d-d-d-drivin’ d-downtown L.A., / About a-midnight hour / And it almost b-b-blew my mind, / I got caught in a coloured shower. / All those lights were t-t-twinkling on Sunset, / I saw a sign in the sky / It said, ‘T-t-t-trip a t-trip, I trip, trip’, / I couldn’t keep up up if I tried. / Ah, we stepped down to reality company / To get some instant sleep / And the driver turned, I said, ‘Welcome back’ / He smiled and he said, ‘Beep beep’.” It seems to be a sort of stream of unconsciousness thing. The chorus is equally quirky. “What goes on? / Chick-a-chick. / What goes on ? I really wanna know. / What goes on all around me, / What goes on ? I really wanna know.” I think I was there for a while, not quite knowing what my older siblings were getting up to, but just tagging along. “When in should come-a my dream woman, / She got sequins in her hair, / Like she stepped out off of a Fellini film, / She sat in a white straw chair / But I thought I’d take a second look / Just to see what I could see / And my scene had popped out like a bubble does, / There was nobody there but me. / I said, ‘Girl, you drank a lot of drink-me, / But you ain’t in a Wonderland / You know I might-a be there to greet you, child, / When your trippin’ ship touches sand’.” Then, with the lead guitar really wailing along nicely, that same weird chorus ensues, before the next verse. “A silver goblet of wine is-a to be / Held in a bejewelled glove / And her knights they toast the tournament, / The falcons they fly above. / And the queen will a drink of the dew tonight / But the jester she cries alone, / Because Merlin he spoke of an instant spell / To make the devil’s white knights moan / And-a all in all, the seagull said, / ‘As I look to where I’ve been, / The whole wide human race / Has a-taken far too much Methedrine’.” Now, as one who also grew up with early Canned Heat, that last line is clearly a reference to one of their more famous songs, the title of which escapes me. This song has definite echoes of Dylan’s writing at the time, with a string of images cast out into the world. Indeed, I think Dylan even gets a mention shortly. After the chorus punctuates the last verse, the following: “Yeah well, come on. / We sat in a velvet jewel case / With sparkles everywhere, / And Julian he sat on a diamond ring / And-a talked of the days gone by. / We spoke of a common kaleidoscope / And the pros and the cons of Zen / And he spoke and-a said for a piece of cake / He really did have a yen. / Bobby Dylan he sat ‘the Mad Hatter’, / A broken hour glass in his hand, / And-a Joannie sat in a white lace / Looking cool with a black lace fan.” Not only Dylan, but Joan Baez too, it seems. But who was Julian?

Donovan’s penchant for ancient mythology and the era of gallant knights and medieval castles and princesses continues on the next track, Guinevere, which, as noted earlier, sounds even better on that In Concert album. Here, sitar joins the slowly plucked acoustic guitar, which comes to regular halts after each verse. There are subtle strings and tablas, and even a few plucked violin strings at various points. Lyrically, this is another Dononvan gem. “Guinevere of the royal court of Arthur / Draped in white velvet, silk and lace. / The rustle of her gown on the marble staircase, / Sparkles on fingers, slender and pale.” Then, after the scene is set, the song steps up a gear. “The jester he sleeps but the raven he peeps / Through the dark foreboding skies of the royal domain.” Donovan seemed to love using colour in his writing. “Maroon-coloured wine from the vineyards of Charlemagne / Is sipped by the queen’s lips and so gently / Indigo eyes in the flickering candlelight, / Such is the silence o’er royal Camelot.” Now here I think I perhaps read too much into the line about the candlelight. I heard not “flickering” but “moth-recurring”, a way, I thought, of describing a flame around which a moth circled. After that lovely chorus, the first verse is repeated, with the chorus bringing the song to a conclusion. The song is good on this album, but is no match for the version on In Concert.

The Fat Angel, penultimate track on the album, has become something of an anthem of the era, with its references to other musicians and personalities who made this such a colourful period in the history of music. Again, the instrument mix is suitably hip, with Donovan’s sprightly acoustic guitar joined by sitar, tablas, and possibly even a banjo. The bass guitar is big and bold, but also a trifle repetitious and unsubtle. Indeed, as I listened to this song, I found that its overpowering nature led to my experiencing some relief when, for a few instances, it is halted. Again, this song was handled far better on that In Concert album, which is a truly sublime slice of the Donovan oeuvre. The melody is, of course, key, and it enables Donovan, bass notwithstanding, to lay those interesting lyrics on us. But what exactly was this all about? As noted earlier, the kaftan-clad Mama Cass, of the Mamas and the Pappas, is the Fat Angel. So the sitar-driven song churns ahead before Donovan, in jazzy mode, sings: “He will bring happiness in a pipe, / He’ll ride away on his silver bike / And apart from that he’ll be so kind / In consenting to blow your mind.” This, clearly, is another take on the omnipresent drug scene, with a bit of the peace/love thing thrown in as an obligatory addendum. Hence the chorus: “Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time. / Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time.” The next verse, with those three or four bass notes still lumbering along loudly, goes: “He will bring orchids for my lady, / The perfume will be of an excellent style / And apart from that he’ll be so kind / In consenting to blow your mind.” The chorus and opening verse are repeated, before the chorus is altered to read: “Fly Jefferson Airplane, get you there on time.” As noted earlier, this at a time when Jefferson Airplane had not really broken into the big time. The final verse has other obvious drug references. “Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time. / Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time. / We’ll be flying at an altitude of thirty-nine thousand feet / Captain High at your service.”

The final track, Celeste, also gets better treatment later on in Donovan’s career. Here I found it almost over-embellished, with far too much orchestration. Apart from the acoustic guitar and sitar, the booming bass and strings, I also detected a harpsichord and glockenspiel. The song has almost a big band sound, with Donovan’s vocals at times ballad-like. I found myself asking whether this was a Donovan song or a Mickie Most song. Clearly, though, the lyrics are Donovan’s so let’s check them out. “Here I stand acting like a silly clown would, / I don’t know why, would anybody like to try / The changes I’m going through? / A hidden lie, would fortify / Something that don’t exist / But it ain’t so bad, I’m just a lad, / So many more things to do, / I intend to come right through them all with you.” It is lovely song-writing which again he more than does justice to on In Concert. Even here, there is no escaping his wondrous vocal qualities. “My songs are merely dreams visiting my mind / We talk a while by a crooked stile, / You’re lucky to catch a few. / There’s no magic wand in a perfumed hand, / It’s a pleasure to be true. / In my crystal halls a feather falls / Being beautiful just for you / But that might not be quite true, that’s up to you.” That opening line in the second verse must rank as one of the psychedelic era’s finest – “My songs are merely dreams visiting my mind”. It was as if people like Donovan were just mediums placed on this Earth to disseminate songs, a new hip culture, sent to us by a higher force. The lyrical quality of the song continues. “Dawn crept in unseen to find me still awake / A strange young girl sang her songs for me / And left ’fore the day was born. / That dark princess with saddening jest / She lowered her eyes of woe, / And I felt her sigh, I wouldn’t like to try / The changes she’s going through / But I hope love comes right through them all with you.” Ah yes, the poet, the prophet, of peace and love. Donovan bore that mantle at a time when Dylan was the world’s angry young man railing against the masters of war.

As alluded to earlier, a contractual dispute between Pye and Epic Records saw this album held back in the UK through 1966 and early 1967. With Mellow Yellow becoming the next album released in the US, Pye Records compiled a combination of both and titled it Sunshine Superman, says Wikipedia. Released in June 1967, it reached No 25 in the UK, and included Sunshine Superman, Legend Of A Girl Child Linda, The Observation (off Mellow Yellow), Guinevere, Celeste, Writer In The Sun (off Mellow Yellow); and (Side 2) Season of the Witch, Hampstead Incident, Sand and Foam, Young Girl Blues (the last three off Mellow Yellow), Three Kingfishers and Bert’s Blues. Since 1990, there have been several CD releases, which are comprehensively covered by Wikipedia.

Mellow Yellow

But what of that album, Mellow Yellow? Well, his next big hit single was indeed Mellow Yellow, which was released in October, 1966. And it too became a virtual stock phrase for that period. “Hey man, I’m feeling like really mellow, man”. Mellow, like “cool”, “hip” and “far out”, were common hippie terms. But when he sings “electrical banana is going to be the very next phase”, what was that about? Some, and I didn’t need Wikipedia to tell me this, at the time thought it referred to smoking banana peels – and many probably did just that, in order to check if there was any truth in it.

Mellow Yellow, the album, reached No 14 in the US album charts. I saw the cover, a Mackintosh-style drawing of a woman smoking a long cigarette, for the first time on Wikipedia.

Again, having missed this album at the time, I’d love to hear songs like Sunny South Kensington, Museum and House Of Jansch, another tribute to Bert. Writer In The Sun, however, I again discovered on that In Concert album, which I haven’t heard in about 30 years, although I came close. That second-hand record shop I often visit had the album, or at least the cover, going for about R5. However, I checked at the LP itself and found it was the wrong one altogether, by some nothing musician. In retrospect, I should have bought it anyway – just for the cover.

Mellow Yellow became a big hit, especially the single. And Donovan apparently debunked the theory that it referred to smoking banana skins, with Country Joe McDonald having apparently started a rumour in 1966 that you could get high from them. Indeed, the song actually refers to a bout of yellow jaundice that Donovan suffered in the winter of 1966.

For the record, the other songs on the album are Sand And Foam, The Observation, Bleak City Woman, Young Girl Blues, Museum and Hampstead Incident.

Released in March 1967, having been recorded a year earlier, Mellow Yellow is classified by Wikipedia as folk rock. It was again produced by Mickie Most and was Donovan’s fourth studio album.

Wikipedia notes that the album retains Donovan’s “infatuation with an ability to define the mid-Sixties pop music scene” through songs like Sunny South Kensington, Museum and the title track. However, there are also “world-weary observations of that scene” evinced in a song like Young Girl Blues. As noted, Writer In The Sun “contemplates the possibility of his own forced retirement from the music business at age 20”.

Again, says Wikipedia, the album features Most’s production and John Paul Jones’s arrangements to accommodate heavily instrumented songs like Mellow Yellow, and other “introspective ruminations” which feature Donovan’s acoustic guitarwork, singing and lyrics.

Okay, so who whispers “quite rightly” on Mellow Yellow? Wikipedia says “it has been rumoured that Donovan’s friend Paul McCartney” did the deed, but says it is in fact Donovan himself. I never doubted that. Anyway, Wikipedia adds that it is possible McCartney was in the studio crowd heard cheering at the end of the song.

We did not have this album, but obviously caught up with many of the songs off it. Curiously, the only musician singled out by Wikipedia is John Cameron, who played blues piano and harpsichord, and also handled arrangement.

Anyway, with some of the tracks on compilation albums, let’s try to make some sense of what was clearly another fine, fine album. Donovan, though, was a tricky customer. We really got to know him via his singles, so these are etched on my late-1960s memory rather more than the albums, apart from Fairytale. Many of the singles – like Epistle to Dippy, Preachin’ Loved and There Is A Mountain – would feature on his Greatest Hits album from around 1970, which we had and which I’ll return to later.

Mellow Yellow opens with the title track, so let’s finally hear what the fuss was all about.

Considering that Mellow Yellow, the single, was released in 1966, it is an incredibly progressive sound – thanks largely to Donovan’s unique sensibility as an artist. The song opens with a steady, studied rhythm led by bold cymbals, drums and bass. “I’m just mad about Saffron / Saffron’s mad about me / I’m just mad about Saffron / She’s just mad about me.” Of course this is one of the defining songs of the Sixties, and the chorus, or refrain, is arguably one of the period’s most recognisable. “They call me mellow yellow

(Quite rightly) / They call me mellow yellow (Quite rightly) / They call me mellow yellow …” There can be no doubting that it is indeed Donovan who also sings the “quite rightly” bits – his voice is unmistakable. This is indeed a mellow sort of song, despite the daa-da-daa brass section. Maybe Paul McCartney was in that studio audience who cheer and generally create a jovial atmosphere as the song progresses. But back to the lyrics. Saffron was clearly a girl, but what or who is Fourteen? “I’m just mad about Fourteen / Fourteen’s mad about me / I’m just mad about Fourteen / She’s just mad about me …” Could he be referring to a 14-year-old girl? Naughty, naughty. After the chorus, a verse I had never properly divined before. “Born high forever to fly / Wind velocity nil / Wanna high forever to fly / If you want your cup our fill.” It sounds a bit clumsy but I suppose contributed to the Donovan enigma at the time and has obvious drug-tripping connotations. After the next chorus, the line is added: “(So mellow, he’s so yellow)”. There was a hint of innuendo in the next verse. “Electrical banana / Is gonna be a sudden craze / Electrical banana / Is bound to be the very next phase.” Now the chorus changes somewhat. “They call it mellow yellow (Quite rightly) / They call me mellow yellow / (Quite rightly) / They call me mellow yellow …” A slightly altered first verse is repeated as the audience cheers out the song.

The next song, Writer In The Sun, was a favourite at the time, its genesis having been dealt with earlier. Sadly, I seem no longer to have a copy of it. But let’s see what his experience was as a young man unable (for a time) to release music in his own country. Remember he had repaired to sunny Greece to while away some time. “The days of wine and roses are distant days for me / I dream of the last and the next affair and of little girls / I'll never see.” Then that lovely chorus. “And here I sit the retired writer in the sun / The retired writer in the sun, and I’m / Blue, the retired writer in the sun.” Yet the poet writes on. “Tonight I trod in starlight. I excuse myself with a grin / I ponder the moon in a silver spoon and the little one alive / within.” After the chorus, the next verse reads: “The magazine girl poses on my glossy paper aeroplane / Too many years I spent in the city playing with Mister Loss / and Mister Gain.” So, having started out so young, in a sense maybe Donovan needed this break. The final verse seems to suggest he wasn’t that blue. “I bathe in the sun of the morning, lemon circles swim in the tea / Fishing for time with a wishing line and throwing it back in / the sea.” Another Donovan classic.

The rest of this album is, for me, virtually virgin territory. I’ve just read the lyrics of those songs which so many would have soaked up – but they simply did not reach my ears. I don’t know the melodies, but found some of the poetry typically fine. Consider this, from Sand And Foam. “The sun was going down behind a tattooed tree / And the simple act of an oar’s stroke put diamonds in the sea / And all because of the phosphorus there in quantity / As I dug you diggin’ me in Mexico.” The scene is set for a bit of romance in a warm, exotic location. “There in the valley of Scorpio, beneath the cross of jade / Smoking on the seashell pipe the gypsies had made / We sat and we dreamed a while of smugglers bringing wine / In that crystal thought time in Mexico.” Like his Greek sojourn, here he has time aplenty to reflect on nature’s wonders. “Sitting in a chair of bamboo, sipping grenadine, / Straining my eyes for a surfacing submarine. / Kingdoms of ants walk across my feet, / I’m a-shakin’ in my seat in Mexico.” And the delight continues. “Grasshoppers creaking in the velvet jungle night, / Microscopic circles in the fluid of my sight, / Watching a black-eyed native girl cut and trim the lamp, / Valentino vamp in Mexico.” The opening verse is then repeated. Love to hear it.

And what was The Observation about? “On the sidewalk the people are hustling and bustling, / They ain’t got no time so they think on the thing / That will fill in the space in between birth and death. / Who’re they kidding?” This sounds like disillusion is setting in fast. “On the TV the people are mumbling and grumbling, / They ain’t got no hope so they give out the news / That the world’s got the blues, S.O.S. S.O.S. / Bless my soul.” This is a far, cynical, cry from the optimism of the previous tracks. “In the movies the people are identifying / They ain’t got no season to split for no reason / And so they get by on the great community lie.” The opening verse is then repeated. Again, I’d dig to hear it.

The last track on Side 1, Bleak City Woman, is charged with a frisson. “She came with her blue jeans on / Wanting to star in a song. / Get you with your ins and outs of it, / You’re coming on strong, so strong / I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, / I’m gonna make love to you.” Well, that’s one way of dealing with the problem. “She lifted my spirits high, / I noticed the dream in her eye. / Softly I entered her garden / Parting her veil with a sigh. / I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, / I’m going to give my love to you.” From my reading of the above, I think he already did. “I tidied up my last affair, / I lost so much I don’t care / Felt like a fool in a foolery, / But I’m well on my way to repair. / I know you ain’t no hanger on, / Baby, you can star in a song. / I took a look inside her head, / I saw a Victorian bed. / I took her to the fair green country, / I’m so weary of the life I’ve led / I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do, / We’re gonna live and love so true.” Good for him. It seems this was not just some one-night stand after all. Love to hear it though.

The second side is equally unsullied by having been heard by me, apart from the last track. It opens with another Bert-inspired song, House Of Jansch. “Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree / Swaying in a summer breeze, / You’ll never change what has to be. / Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree.” Set to music, I’m sure this bit of writing gains infinitely. “Sometimes I don’t know what I said till I did, / I want to be the father of your kid. / Dragonfly he sleeps till dawn, / I knew I’d be here when love has gone. / Crystal ball is what I wish for you, / Get it straight, I love the both of you. / Someone’s goin’ through a cold turkey. / Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree.” I don’t even know where the verses lie, having garnered this as a single poem. “I give your baby a contact high / I love another is what I sigh -ha- / Looks like rain, I do declare, / Your baby wants to take my chocolate eclair. / I couldn’t cry, I could not laugh, / Incident about a silken scarf. / I know what a jealous trip can be. / Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree. / Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree / Swaying in a summer breeze, / You’ll never change what has to be, / Girl ain’t nothing but a willow tree. / Weep for me, willow tree, / Weep for me, willow tree.” It remains clever songwriting.

Now I was wrong about not having heard any of the tracks on Side 2 apart from Sunny South Kensington. Because a few years ago I picked up (at the inevitable second-hand shop) a Double Play CD called Donovan Greatest Hits. It carries the following on the cover: “A Tring Product, Manufactured in the E.E.C.” That is, presumably the old European Economic Community which preceded the current EU, or European Union. It is one of those curious albums that carries very little information apart from the song titles. When I bought it, I believed I was buying an album of some of the original Donovan classics. When I got it home and played it I discovered yes, it is an album of songs by Donovan, but it is a live album. Where, or when, it was recorded I hope to discover later, but just to note that one of the songs on the album, Track 12, is Young Girl Blues, the next song on Mellow Yellow. And of course it is also a song featured on that epic In Concert album. This time, on that mystery album, he uses an interesting jazzy arrangement, with a very creative use of a saxophone. Oh and the song is one of the great examples of his quavering, reverberating vocal technique, for which there is no doubt an official musical term to describe it. “It’s Saturday night, it feels like a Sunday in some ways / If you had any sense, you’d maybe go away for a few days / Be that as it may, you can only say you are lonely / You are but a young girl working your way through the phonies.” The import of the next verse only struck me in recent years. It is clearly about self-gratification. “Coffee on, milk gone, such a sad light and fading. / Yourself you touch, but not too much. / You hear that it’s degrading.” Then lines I had not fully divined. “The flowers on your stockings wilting away in the midnight / The book you are reading is someone’s opinion of moonlight / Your skin is so white, you’d like maybe to go to bed soon / Just closing your eyes if you’re to rise up before noon.” It is a lovely evocation of a young woman making her way in London. “High heels, car wheels, all the losers are groovin’ / Your dream, strange scene, images are movin’ / Your friends they are making a pop star or two every evening / You know that scene backwards, they can’t see the patterns / they’re weaving / Your friends they’re all models but you soon got over that / one / You sit in your one room a little brought down in London.” That chorus about coffee follows, before the opening verse is repeated to close off a classic.

I honestly don’t recall hearing Museum, the next song, before. But it, too, seems to speak about a London I got to know, albeit superficially, about 20 years after this was written. “I drink sweet wine for breakfast, I slept about an hour or so / Smiled a little in the silence deciding on where to go. / ‘Meet me under the whale in the Natural History Museum,’ / I think that’s what she said, a little bit sad about having to leave them. / Yawning in the sun, like a child I run. / But don’t do it if you don’t want to, I wouldn’t do a thing like that. / No, don’t it if you don’t want to, I wouldn’t do a thing like that. / How little do you speak of beauty, isn’t it a shame, what ho / Maybe you should go get a power ring, you’d make all your troubles go. / There she stood in drag, just-a lookin’ cool in astrakhan. / She’s lookin’ just a little wiped out, she said I looked like Peter Pan. / Yawning in the sun, oh baby, like a child I run. / But don’t do it if you don’t want to, / I wouldn’t do a thing like that. / Oh no, no, don’t do it if you don’t want to, / I wouldn’t do a thing like that. / Don’t do it.” Love to hear it.

And so what was the Hampstead Incident of the next song? “Standing by the Everyman digging the rigging on my sail / Rain fell through sounds of harpsichords to the spell of

fairy tales / The heath was hung in magic mists, enchanted dripping glades / I’ll taste the tastes until my mind drifts from this scene / and fades /In the night time.” Another unheard song, but another place I visited several times. Here, though, is a seemingly darker take on Magna Carta’s delightful Parliament Hill, the kite-flying slope within Hampstead Heath with a fine view over the City. “Crystals sparkle in the grass, I polish them with thought / On my lash, there in my eye a star of light is caught / Fortunes told in grains of sand, here I am is all I know / Candy stuck in children’s hair everywhere I go /

In the night time.” Then: “Gypsy is the clown of love I paint his face a smile / Anyone we ever make we always make in style / Yeah, strange young girls with radar screens and hands as / quick as hate / I won’t just now, later on maybe, and even then I’ll wait / In the night time.” The opening verse is then repeated. I wish I had grown up knowing this one.

Sunny South Kensington I found on the reverse side of a 1966 Mellow Yellow seven single. It is a rather extraordinary song for its time, opening with some slow, fulsome double bass notes and piercing organ. There is also some sitar, which may again have been Shawn Phillips. Despite it having been there on the other side of Mellow Yellow all these years, as a kid I’m fairly sure we rarely listened to this because I found it unfamiliar. “Come take a walk in sunny South Kensington / Any day of the week. / See the girl with the silk Chinese blouse on, / You know she ain’t no freak. / Come loon soon down Cromwell Road, man, / You got to spread your wings. / A-flip out, skip out, trip-out, and a-make your stand, folks, / To dig me as I sing. / Jean-Paul Belmondo and-a Mary Quant got / Stoned to say the least / Ginsberg, he ended up-a dry and so / He a-took a trip out East. / If I’m a-late waitin’ down the gate, it’s such a ’raz’ scene, / A groovy place to live. / In the Portobella I met a fella with a cane umbrella, / Who must’ve used a sieve. / So come loon soon down Cromwell Road, man, / You got to spread your wings. / A-flip out, skip out, trip-out and a-make your stand, folks, / To dig me as I sing. / Hmm, hmm, hmm.” So some key figures, Mary Quant and Alan Ginsberg, are referenced here, in another fine evocation of London in the Swinging Sixties. This was, of course, one of the early folk-rock songs, which also features a lead guitar solo and bluesy piano.

Also released at that time was the single, Epistle To Dippy, which made the US Top 20. When I first heard it all those years ago, I had no idea what an epistle was or who or what Dippy was. Thanks to Wikipedia, I discover the song is an open letter to a former school friend, Dippy, who at the time was serving in the British army in Malaysia. I can’t hope to improve on this Wikipedia description: “The song had a strong pacifist subtext, in spite of its florid psychedelic imagery”. And apparently when Dippy heard it, he quit the army.

I couldn’t, however, recall just which song this was, but fortunately found the original 1967 single and gave it a great nostalgic listen. It is incredibly advanced music for that time. And the lyrics were, indeed, weird, tapping into the eastern meditation philosophy which became so popular in the late 1960s as an alternative to drugs. “Look on yonder misty mountain / See the young monk meditating rhododendron forest / Over dusty years, I ask you / What’s it been like being you? / Through all levels you’ve been changing / Getting a little bit better no doubt, / The doctor bit was so far out. / Looking through crystal spectacles, / I can see I had your fun.” Here, for the first time, I’m seeing the actual words of lines I often misheard. The first lines of the next verse, for instance, I never fully heard. “Doing us paperback reader / Made the teacher suspicious about insanity, / Fingers always touching girl.” The opening words of the chorus, “Through all levels you’ve been changing…” I always heard as something like “soo-an-eccles…” The actual verses are just three-liners, and in each case I did not hear them fully. “Rebelling against society, / Such a tiny speculating whether to be a hip or / Skip along quite merrily.” With all those transferred epithets, I suppose this was pretty clever writing. We certainly had our fun with it. Remember how it ends with a series of Dum dum dum dum dum-dum dum dums.

Preachin’ Love

Of equal significance is the B Side’s Preachin’ Love, which has a wonderful jazz flavour, and also featured on that In Concert album. “I’m preachin’ love / Straight from above / I know what to do, yes I do. / Well, I’m breathing love / Straight from above / I mean about what I said. / Well, I understand my congregation / Is made up of the finer sex. / Well, I don’t abide by segregation / Anyone may read the text.” Good to finally see the line “I don’t abide by segregation”, which I heard as “I don’t know about my segregation…” Of course, for apartheid-bound South Africans, it was good to hear that “anyone may read the text”. While women are obviously not to be objectified, it is clear from the next verse that there is no harm in observing them with delight. “All I do / Is study you / In your natural habitat. / And as I do / I find that you / Are all worth saving at that. / Get around the world and listen / Life is love is life / And when you see the teardrops glisten / I’ll have it from trouble and strife.” These words, misheard as many may have been, are ingrained in my young-person psyche, which is a good place to visit. “Well, I like to be beside the sea / Diggin’ where we came or what for. / Well, I think that we / Were meant to be / That is all I ever saw, oh, oh. / Oh, I feel so exhilarated, yeah / In love with love, with love. / I’m never explicated / I just can tell you’re enough. / That’s right, yeah.” Explicated was a word heard but not explicated at the time, I guess. Donovan, the 1960s symbol of love and peace, ends the song with missionary zeal. “Preachin’ love, preachin’ love / Preachin’ love, preachin’' love / Preachin’ love, preachin’ love / I know it to be true, / yes I do, oh yeah.”

This really was Donovan at the peak of his powers. Small wonder we were bowled over at the time listening to seven singles like this till they were almost worn out.

We weren’t aware of it then, but in mid-1966 Donovan became the first high-profile British pop musician to be bust for possession of marijuana. It meant he was refused entry to the US till September 1967, denying him his slot at the Monterey Pop Festival that June.

There Is A Mountain

But his string of hits would continue, with There Is A Mountain released in June of 1967 again soaring high. For us, with our naughty young boys’ minds, the lines “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is”, could mean only one thing: a description of the female upper torso. But of course I always misheard the opening line. I thought he sang “Look upon my garden it’s a snail etc”. Instead, lyric sites insist it reads: “The lock upon my garden gate’s a snail, that’s what it is.” This is repeated, before that descriptive line, too, is sung twice. “First there is a mountain then there is no mountain, then there is.” It was a simple, but somewhat addictive ditty. “Caterpillar sheds his skin to find the butterfly within”. This is repeated with greater emphasis before the mountain lines are repeated. The song then changes pace for lines I again never fully heard. I thought he sang, “Oh Anita”, but it was more exotice. “Oh, Juanita, oh, Juanita / Oh, Juanita I call your name.” Donovan was renowned for dropping lovely lines of poetry into the mix, like the following: “Oh, the snow will be a blinding sight to see as it lies on yonder hillside …” With the folk rock backing pouring forth, to the rhythm of often staccato drumming, the opening lines are repeated, before the song fades.

A Gift from a Flower to a Garden

Look, we did some catching up in the early 1970s. I see from Wikipedia that the two-disc set, A Gift from a Flower to a Garden – his fifth album – was released way back in July, 1967. We only got into it in the early 1970s, and it was a favourite of mine through much of high school. I remember asking my English teacher, a Mr Hashick (not hashish), to read out a couple of the songs, which were each beautifully printed on separate sheets, complete with an appropriate line drawing. This was in fact one of the first rock music boxed sets and only the third pop-rock double album to be released. The album was in two sections, with one subtitled Wear Your Love Like Heaven, an electric pop album aimed at the current generation, and the other “For Little Ones”, a folk album aimed at the next. Interestingly, it emerges that Donovan produced most of the album which, incredibly, hit No 19 in the US and achieved gold record status there in early 1979.

For years I have mistakenly taken the word psychedelic to refer to a mad rush of colours, but in descriptions I have subsequently read this isn’t always so. Although it often does apply, the use of colour is often more subtle. The cover of “Gift” is considered psychedelic. It features an infrared photograph by Karl Ferris of Donovan in a robe holding peacock feathers. Wikipedia says the work is Pre-Rahpaelite in style and features Donovan on the moat in front of Bodiam Caste. On the back he is shown holding hands with Indian guru Maharish Mahesh Yogi. While I no longer have access to the album, a family relic from a distant youth, I note from Wikipedia that it also included an appeal to the youth to give up drugs. It seems Donovan was even ahead of John “the drug scene is over” Lennon on that score.

Wear Your Love Like Heaven was the big hit single from the album, but it also contained numerous other great songs. Without the help of Wikipedia I would not have remembered more than a couple, such as Under The Greenwood Tree, a Shakespearian poem put to music. Another literary reference is his use of “Will you, won’t you … won’t you join the dance”, which Wikipedia tells us is from the chorus of The Lobster Quadrille in Chapter 10 of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“Mad John came down from Birmingham, very hastily …”. That is how Mad John’s Escape starts, and I learn from my Internet source that this is about a friend of Donovan’s who escaped from a mental health centre.

Looking at the track listing, there are songs which immediately I can recall, such as Skip-a-long Sam – “come run jump Skip-a-long Sam / A very happy many I am / To know you well and you’re doing fine / Kinda puts at rest my mind”. I also recall Little Boy In Corduroy (“… little girl in lace / Little boy, jump for joy / Colour in the space / How can you say how many wishes can you wish in a day / Save a sunny wish for a rainy day / I wish I had a wish to wish a wish away”.) But I can’t recall instantly Sun, There Was A Time, Oh Gosh, The Land Of Doesn’t Have To Be or Someone Singing. Yet, as with all those other early songs, I’d know them instantly were I to hear them again.

From the second album, I can regrettably recall only The Tinker And The Crab, and then only those words from the chorus. Isle Of Islay may indeed be the same song as the one he did on the In Concert album. But for the rest, I would again need to lay hands on this album to recall songs that were an integral part of my teenage years. The other songs are Song Of The Naturalist’s Wife, The Enchanted Gypsy, Voyage Into The Golden Screen, The Mandolin Man And His Secret, Lay Of The Last Tinker, Widow With Shawl (A Portrait), The Magpie, Starfish-on-the-Coast, and Epistle To Derroll.

Wikipedia classifies it as “folk rock, psychedelic rock”, and says it was released in the US in December 1967 and in the UK on April 16, 1968. It was produced by Mickie Most and was only Donovan’s fifth album.

Wikipedia says in December 1967, Epic Records also released each of the two records separately in the US. Oh, and there is more on that Karl Ferris photo on the cover. It seems Ferris was also Jimi Hendrix’s “personal photographer”, and the infrared picture of Donovan required six colour separations for printing, instead of the normal four.

Ah, and suddenly I discover where the single Epistle To Dippy slots in. “Essentially an inside-joke/open letter for a childhood friend”, Wikipedia says it hit the top 20 in February 1967, with There Is A Mountain following in August (No 11 in the US, No 8 in the UK). On the back of this success, Donovan tackled Gift, with the acoustic album, says Wikipedia, enabling him to “present a facet of his songwriting not featured on his singles”. It also allowed him to “show his strength as a guitar player and performer in a way that he could not when augmented by session musicians”. Oh and Wikipedia says while Most did produced the single Wear Your Love Like Heaven b/w Oh Gosh, and is credited with the entire album’s production, “Donovan actually produced the bulk of the material himself, allowing Most the credit to help sales”.

Wikipedia expands on why Donovan took an anti-drugs stance on this album, noting that since the release of Mellow Yellow “he had both been arrested and prosecuted for marijuana possession, and had seen people he knew turning to hard drugs (speed, heroin, cocaine) and the damage this caused in their lives. Instead, Donovan promoted the use of meditation and other techniques in his new songs”. It adds that the album earned a Gold Record award for half a million sales during 1970. Not a huge number, but the album remains a classic.

Not having access to it, let’s at least listen to a few of the hit singles, and give the lyrics a read to reacquaint ourselves, if you’ll pardon the royal plural, with the album, which to my mind was one of his most beautiful.

Okay, so I have the opening track, on Donovan’s Greatest Hits (vinyl version, picked up at that friendly second hand shop). And it’s a gem. What to open a double album like this with was always going to be a key decision, but Wear Your Love Like Heaven became such a popular hit that I suppose it was a cinch. Of course it is commercial, but it is again a classic piece of Donovania, beautiful in concept and execution. It opens with a gentle organ which keeps the melody flowing throughout, as the rhythm section joins in. A hallmark of the song is Donovan’s harmonising with himself. Oh, and the many colours mentioned, which as we have seen, was another Donovan pastime. But what was that opening line? I heard “Colour of sky Prussian blue”, but the lyric sites insist on, “Colour in sky prussian blue / Scarlet fleece changes hue / Crimson ball sinks from view.” Then the harmonised chorus. “Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like) / Wear your love like heaven (wear your love like) / Wear your love like heaven (wear your love).” A different key is engaged. “Lord, kiss me once more / Fill me with song / Allah, kiss me once more / That I may, that I may / Wear my love like heaven (wear my love like) / Wear my love like heaven (wear my love).” The chorus ends with a “La, la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la.” Then some foreign-sounding words are injected. “Colour sky havana lake / Colour sky rose carmethene / Alizarian crimson …” I consulted my Concise Oxford regarding the above words and the closest I found to “Alizarian” was alizarin, which is “red colouring matter of madder root, used in dyeing”, which makes sense. There was no carmethene in the dictionary, although carmine is “a vivid crimson colour”. Anyway, after the lengthy chorus is repeated, the following: “Can I believe what I see / All I have wished for will be / All our race proud and free …” A feature here is the accompanying flute, which alongside Donovan’s voice sounds particularly full and rich. The song plays out to that chorus.

Of course, album 1 of this box set is called Wear Your Love Like Heaven, but this is by no means the only great track to be found here. While I do not have access to the others, the lyrics bring them sailing back to me. Consider the almost breathless quality of Mad John’s Escape. “Mad John came down from Birmingham very hastily / and from Borstal he had ran / he made it down to Torquay / good boy Mad John.” I hadn’t heard the word “Borstal” way back then, but know it from a Brendan Behan autobiography, Borstal Boy (1958), about his experiences in a juvenile prison. This guy, though, is on the run. “Mad John holed up in an allotment shed by a railroad siding / in came the man for the watering can / he didn’t see John hiding / good boy Mad John / mad mad Mad John ...” Then a lighthearted conclusion. “Mad John met Jill in a transport café / by the juke box loud / and over double eggs chips and beans / they made a solemn vow / and Jill paid the bill.”

There is a lovely lilt to the next track, Skip-a-long Sam, which also has a strong traditional English folk feel to it. “Come run jump skip a long Sam / a very happy man I am / to know you’re well and you’re doing fine / kind-of puts at rest my mind.” I lapped this stuff up in my teens, possibly just because it was whimsical word-play in my mother tongue. “How’s your brush and your lady fair / not to mention your stained glass stair / flower pot on window sill / on top of honeycomb hill.” All these verses come back to me. “Have you found the secret door / to let you down to the earth’s deep core / you’ll be back in time for tea / with a diamond to show me.” The first two verses are then repeated. How I’d love to here this again.

Sun, the next track, is relatively lengthy, at 3:17. Was this the one about the sun being a magic fellow? No, I think that was still to come on Hurdy Gurdy Man. This, looking at the lyrics, was a more moody song which in a sense prefigures Cosmic Wheels. “Sun, the earth is turning / it’s turning round / and love is the access / but they chop the tree down / all the proud trees are standing / as green as the sky / as green as the greenstone / that makes seabirds fly.” Call him what you will, Donovan was a fine poet. “Ovens are baking / and the rivers run dry / as dry as the ocean / on the wings of a fly / go if you’re able / and come if you can / life’s very unstable / it’s built upon sand / Marianne set the table / an old friend I see / Marianne fetch the papers / there’s two for tea.” It was delightful stuff – even without hearing it!

The last song on the side is There Was A Time, and I need the lyrics to jog my memory. “There was a time I thought of mine only / Could it be occurred to me while lonely / I was noble personage / Born to beautify the page / If I used time to set it down.” I remember only that construction, “could it be occurred to me”, but little else of this song. “There was a time I thought of mine only / Could it be occurred to me while lonely / I was of high lineage / Cast up in a dreadful age / Born to be the hermit of my line.” Again, that is so familiar, and beautifully written – high lineage, dreadful age… “On a windy Saturday / St Alban’s market day / Little did I know / the work I was to do / Or the love I had to show.” Another gem set in the edge of my memory.

Oh Gosh, is how Side 2 begins, and again, the lyrics will bring it vividly to life. “With your coat of many colours / And the flowers in your hair / You may love away the pleasant hours / To think upon all that is fair.” The chorus has a camp quality and it too has a fairly familiar ring: “To look upon and to touch (Oh, Gosh) / Life is really too much (Life is really too much) / You’ll Seee-ee-e.” The poet is again afoot. “With the baby in your bellies / And the poems on your tongues / You may chance to see me on your tellies / Giving love to the newborn one / Think about it, you’ll agree / Many miracles you’ll see (miracles you’ll see) / You’ll seee-ee-e.” And how’s this next line? “With the future safely dreamed of / And his kisses on your brow / You may rest assured peace is coming / To think upon all that is fair / To look upon and to touch (oh gosh) / Life is really too much (life is really too much) / You’ll seee-ee-e.” The song plays out with the words “soon, soon” repeated. Let me at this album!

For some reason, like a nursery rhyme you grow up with, the words, or some of them, to the next song, Little Boy In Corduroy, have stayed with me all these years. I did not, however, think each line started with the indefinite article, but that’s how the lyric sites give it. “A little boy in corduroy / a little girl in lace / a little coy jump for joy / colour in a space.” There was some lovely word-play here too. “Little boy in corduroy / after me say / how many wishes can you wish in a day / save a sunny wish for a rainy day / I wish I had a wish to wish a wish away.” What made Donovan so special is that he was like a modern incarnation of a Romantic poet from several hundred years ago. He wrote the stuff like he was born to be a poet and singer, without inhibition. “Take a seed / thread a bead / make a pretty thing / in a deed plant a seed / make a daisy ring.” The song ends with a repeat of that tongue-twisting wish to wish a wish away a wish.

And, as if to endorse what I’ve just said, Under The Greenwood Tree is Donovan’s musical arrangement of a poem by none other than the Bard himself, William Shakespeare. Since we were faced with studying some of his plays and sonnets as part of our English curriculum, it was reassuring to know that none other than Donovan was such an avid fan of the great man. Thanks to this song, I too recall these words virtually in toto. “Under the greenwood tree / Who loves to lie with me / And tune his merry note / Unto the sweet bird’s throat. / Come hither come hither come hither / Here shall he see no enemy / But winter and rough weather.” Hand it to him, Rattledagger was a brilliant writer. “Who doth ambition shun / And loves to live in the sun / Seeking the food he eats / And pleased with what he gets / Come hither come hither come hither / Here shall he see no enemy / But winter and rough weather.” Remember that this is all set to a sublime Donovan melody, sung in his angelic voice. “And if it do come to pass / That any man turn ass / Leaving his wealth and ease / A stubborn will to please / Ducdame ducdame ducdame / There shall he see gross fools as he / And if he will come to me.”

The second last song, The Land Of Doesn’t Have To Be, has a sufficiently enigmatic title to pique one’s interest – but I need a memory refresh. “There is a land not far from the ears of sound / the eyes of sight can’t see / it’s over the trees / you’ll be there by tomorrow’s breeze.” It’s beautiful, and vaguely familiar. “Few people get there quick by their chosen road / they don’t know it’s quicker to go / by natural velocity.” Donovan was a master of using poetic licence to fashion scenarios . “There is a wall of doubt surrounding / everything that’s there / children fair / they ride there / on the dreamy mare.” Then these lovely lines: “And at the great big gate / waiters wait / they must fill the form / denounce the norm / they are torn / twixt praise and scorn.” He was on a roll now. “And in the dawning dawn / yawners yawn / not knowing they’ve been / or they’ve seen / what they’ve seen / or never seen.”

And Someone Singing concludes Side 2. “Oh, happy I am / Call on the new day / People and flowers / Are one and the same / They’re all in a chain / At the beginning of a new world.” It’s a lovely image. “Someone’s singing and I think it’s me / Someone’s living and oh gosh it’s me / And so you see...” This, too, is on the edge of recollection. “Love is only feeling / Feeling for you / Love is only feeling / Feeling for me (x2).” Again, I detect the sort of analytical writing, in which relationships are dissected, as occurs in later works like Cosmic Wheels. “Into your life / There will come friends / Maybe a wife / Who to you sends / Love with no game / Part of a chain / At the beginning of a new child.” Then that euphoric chours: “Someone’s singing and I think it’s me / Someone’s living and I think it’s me / So you see...” The second section of the chorus is repeated, before the final verse. “Oh, happy I am / Roll on the new day / Happy I am / People and flowers / Are one and the same / They’re all in a chain / At the beginning of a new world.” Oh and he gets the visual artists involved too. “Someone’s painting and I think it’s me / Someone’s living and oh gosh it’s me / And so you see... / Love is only feeling / Feeling for you / Love is only feeling / Feeling for me (x3).”

Wikipedia notes that Mad John’s Escape was written for a friend Donovan had who escaped a mental health centre, while Under The Greenwood Tree he set to music for the Royal National Theatre, who planned to use it in a stage production. Donovan, you gather, was a young man deeply steeped in British culture.

While the second album in the set was titled For Little Ones and ostensibly aimed at children, it contains some of Donovan’s most sublime work. As I recall, these were simple folk tunes, with Donovan basically just accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

Side 1 opens with Song Of The Naturalist’s Wife. As one who grew up a few minutes’ walk from the sea, I could fully relate to the mood, that carefree sense of windblown abandon, which seems to permeate this song. It opens with a typically Donovanesque series of la la la-las, before the lyrics kick in. “Do I see you coming home / Coming home to me / Could it be you that I see / Coming home to me … From your day by the sea.” What could be more simple? Yet immediately your attention is captured. “Do I see your buckets full / Buckets full of shells / Could it be you that I see / Buckets full of shells … From your day by the sea.” Many were the days in my youth when an entire day was spent exploring sand dunes, seashore, surf, lagoon, dune forest, river, reeds, seeking out sea shells, Ming-dynasty china, seaweed, interesting pebbles, exploring rock gullies full of tiny fish and the prehensile tentacles of cadmium orange anemones. At the end of such a full day, home would beckon… “Do I see you weary weave / Weary weave your way / Could it be you that I see / Weary weave your way … From your day by the sea.”

Donovan seems to love injecting a mystical, fantasy quality into his story songs, as in The Enchanted Gypsy. “A day once dawned, / As sleepers yawned / A day of leaves so green-i-o / That a man rode high / In the tinker’s sky / And begged me to go running-o / And follow the path of the Gypsy-o.” I can readily detect the melody, which is built around the “gypsy-o” device. “Seaweed clings to ruby rings / On the fingers of my lady-o / And the people in the town / They would not look round / To see me go running-o / On the trail of the Enchanted Gypsy-o.” So where is he headed? “I passed the glade / And took me a shade / Beneath an oak so twisty-o / And a vision I saw / As the crow did craw / No more did I go searching-o / On the trail of the Enchanted Gypsy-o.” The seaweed clings chorus is repeated, before the denouement. “His caravan / Was painted by a hand / That’s touched every pebble in the ocean-o / And the pictures there / They move in thin air / There forever telling-o / The tails of the Enchanted Gypsy-o.” With the chorus again repeated, the lyrical Donovan trails off with more la la las.

One could certainly lose oneself in these fantasy tales which were indeed a welcome break from the impending rigours of adult life; a welcome return, in a way, to a youth that was being left behind. The next song, Voyage Into The Golden Screen, like its predecessors, I’ll also recall instantly I see the lyrics. “In the golden garden Bird of Peace / Stands the silver girl the Wild Jewels niece / Paints in pretty colours / Children’s drawings on the wall / Look of doubt I cast you out begone your ragged call.” No melody springs to memory, but certain phrases ring bells, like “look of doubt I cast you out”. Let’s see where this goes. “In the forest thick a trick of light / Makes an image magnet to my sight / Gown of purple velvet enchanted glazed eye / The sound of wings and sparkling rings behold a crimson sky.” An “image magnet to my sight” is, again, very familiar. “Tread so light so not to touch the grass / Breathe the air so slowly as you pass / Silent sudden dewdrop lies unseen until / Eyes to fall to hidden call the power of Love and Will.” Will Donovan’s poetic prowess ever be formally recognised? “Symphonies of Seaweed dance and swoon / Surreal Celestial shore beneath the Moon / See the dark and mighty peaks pierce the Cumulus / Violet and mauve they sit power you can Sus’ / Elvin fingers clutch a deep black cloak of fine Damask / Aged rock incarnate lie reveal a bejewelled cask.” What was that “sus” all about? To suss someone out is to work out what they’re about. Here he seems to feel, or suss, the power of the clouds.

Isle Of Islay became a firm favourite not only here, but also his version on the In Concert album. It is an incredibly evocative song. “How high the gulls fly / O’er Ilay / How sad the farm lad / deep in play / Felt like a grain on your sand.” Isn’t that a wonderful setting for a song, with the addition of one sensing one’s smallness in the greater scheme of nature. “How well the sheep’s bell / music makes / Roving the cliff / when fancy takes / Felt like a tide left me here.” Finally: “How blessed the forest / with birdsong / How neat the cut peat / laid so long / Felt like a seed on your land.” Few have written as well.

But there was no end to Donovan’s inventiveness. Next up was The Mandolin Man And His Secret, which again from the title I cannot recall. Ah, but instantly I see the opening line it all comes back to me. In fact, I got to know this virtually by heart. “He came into town with his mandolin / Calling all the people and they came to him / He said I want to hear all that’s pretty / He said I want to hear all that’s nice.” Well I always knew the first verse, but not what the song was all about. Let’s pursue it. “They laughed at him with his mandolin / They left him there with his funny grin / He said I want to hear all that’s pretty / He said I want to hear all that’s nice.” Is there a sad or happy ending? “The children of the town then came to him / Magically called with his mandolin / He said I want to hear all that’s pretty / He said I want to hear all that’s nice.” The repeat of that “he said I want to hear” mantra adds to the tension, but I’ll cut to the chase. “They smiled at him with his mandolin / Their eyes like his were sparkling …” He repeats his request, to which they kids, enigmatically, reply: “They said d’you want to hear all that’s pretty / They said d’you want to hear all that’s nice.” Again, a series of la la las sees out the song.

The last song on the side is the Lay Of The Last Tinker, and a glance at the first line reminds me it was a firm favourite, sung at quite a quick pace. “I can see by your eyes you’re a good man, / and the sparkle of the ring on your hand. / You have a muzzled dancing monkey, / a little cup in a hairy hand.” I always misheard the chorus, reducing it to “break cheese with me / won’t you break bread and …”. However, my friendly lyric site gives it as follows: “(I’ll) bring cheese with me. / Won’t you bring bread and have some wine? / Break cheese with me. / Won’t you break bread and have some wine?” Ah well, I was half right. “A goat-skinned tambourine / what sights that has seen / Blazing eyes of dancers / daughters of tinker queens.” The chorus if followed by: “Ya hang your cloak in a gypsy fashion. / I see a scar of an ancient lashing. / Born a babe in Macedonia / to the sounds of seas a-crashing.” Isn’t that again highly evocative, with Donovan taking his story to exotic places. This chorus and opening verse are repeated before an album side packed with images and ideas comes to an end.

Illustrated lyric sheet from 'Gift'

Side 2 is no less beautiful, starting with The Tinker And The Crab, on which I can distinctly recall hearing the chiming of a triangle. Again, expect a song that is pure poetry. “On the windy beach the sun is shining through with weather fair / White horses riding on the sea’s pasture onto the sand / Over the dunes came a travelling man / Sack on back wild flowers in his hand / Old rusty cans, pebbles ’bedded in the sand stand

and stare.” I think that last line is repeated. Sung, if I recall correctly, in a rich Scots accent, it paints the perfect picture of a desolate seascape. “Scratching his beard through the grass he steered his sandy shoe / Disappearing in the dips pondering and wandering

along / Nice as you please comes the travelling man / Drinking a bottle of milk in his hand / Speaking to no one in particular but happily.” Donovan must have spent a lot of time soaking up seaside vistas and meeting people who live by the sea to have been able to write works like these. “Down where young gulls dance driftwood lying drying for the fire / Yellow beak and sleek now the gulls are crying flying higher / Out from the sea came a little green crab / Taking the sun the morning being very drab / Old rusty cans, pebbles ’bedded in the sand stand and stare.” And then, with a tinkerbell ringing, the title is repeated: “The Tinker and the Crab / The Tinker and the Crab / The Tinker and the Crab.” Beautiful. Would that I could hear these songs again.

Widown With Shawl (A Portrait) is another song which also made such an impression on that In Concert album. Again, it shows Donovan at his most creative. Here he takes us back to the days of the sailing ships, and speaks from the perspective of the widow. “Dear Wind that shakes the barley free / Blow home my true love’s ship to me, fill the sail / I a-weary wait upon the shore.” I may be pedantic, but I thought I heard “fill her sails”, which sounds more poetic. “Forsake her not in times of storm / Protect her oaken beams from harm, fill her sail / I a-weary wait upon the shore.” I recall, on the In Concert album, Donovan prefaces this song by saying that “she imagines she’s a widow”, because in those days sailors went away often for “a long time, 25, maybe even 30 years”. “Whither he be in Africa / or deep asleep in India, fill his dreams / I a-weary wait upon the shore.” Again, the seagulls are introduced. “Dear snow white gulls upon the wave / I, like you, am lamenting, for my love. / I a-weary cry upon the shore.” Even in sleep, she finds no respite. “And in my chariot of sleep, / I ride the vast and dreamy deep deep sea. / I awake a-weary on the shore.” And, as a faithful wife, she mourns her celibacy. “Seven years and seven days, / no man has seen my woman ways, dear God. / I a-weary cry upon the shore.” Yet each day she must patrol the beach, waiting. “Along the shingled beach I go / The wind about me as I make my way / to my weary dream upon my bed.” In desperation, she again implores Wind, here personified, to intervene on her behalf. “Dear Wind that shakes the barley free / Blow home my true love’s ship to me, fill the sail. / I a-weary wait upon the shore.” Package that in Donovan’s voice and music and you have something close to perfect beauty.

Poet that he was/is, Donovan of course could not resist eulogizing the coming of spring, which he does on The Lullaby Of Spring. And there is even a touch of Scots to be found in the lyrics. “Spring has showered frae a drip / Splash and trickle running, / Plant has flowered in the sand / Shell and pebble sunning;” This verse ends with a semi-colon, because the chorus answers this description. “So begins another spring, / Green leaves under berries, / Chiff-chaff eggs are painted by / Mother bird eating cherries.” But spring is always, even on the south coast of Africa, haunted by the winds and rains of winter past. “In the misty, tangled sky, / Fast a wind is blowing / In a new born rabbit’s heart / River life is flowing.” That beautiful chorus is repeated, followed by: “From the dark and wetted soil, / Petals are unfolding / From the stony village kirke / Easter bells of old ring.” Interesting that the Scots also called their church a kirk, which is the Afrikaans word for it, derived from Dutch. The chiff-chaff eggs chorus is followed by the repeating of the opening verse and the chorus, giving us yet another piece of Donovan magic.

I’m a bird-watcher, but don’t think we get the magpie in these parts. “The magpie is a most illustrious bird / dwells in a diamond tree / one brings sorrow and one brings joy / sorrow and joy for me.” This too comes singing back to memory. “The magpie is a most royal bird / black and blue as night / I would that I had feathers three / black and blue and white.” Finally: “I saw the gentle magpie bird / in dusky yester-eve / one brought sorrow and one brought joy / and sooner than soon did leave.” Pure poetry.

The penultimate tale is Starfish-on-the-Toast, and rest assured it contains more lyrical magic. “Fine rock a-pooling coast / this starfish on the toast / the men in the crabbing boats they cry / Far across the harbour / and ’round the sandy cove / the shepherd with his pipe and sheep he drove / big cloud tumbling high / the amazing flying sky.” It was probably too much for a young person to appreciate, but now I rate this writing as some of the finest I’ve encountered among the global rock legends. “How the gulls are pillaging the town / fan faring daffodilly / trumpetingly small / all along the bathing hut wall / far across the empty beach / the tide has left this world / old men in tweed find study there / Holding whelks and periwinkles / tingling in his hand / little does he know they hold him too.” Then those opening lines are repeated: “Fine rock pooling coast / this starfish on the coast / the men in the crabbing boat they cry …”

This wonderful, wonderful album ends with the lengthy (5.44 minutes) Epistle To Derroll. “Come all ye starry starfish / living in the deep blue sea / crawl to me I have a proposition to make thee / would you walk the north sea floor / to Belgium from England / Bring me word of a banjo man / With a tattoo on his hand.” I remember this like it was sung to me yesterday. “The spokesman of the starfish / spoke as spokesmen should / ‘If’n you met our fee / then certainly we would, / Should you cast a looking-glass / upon the scallopped sand / You’ll have word o’ this banjo man / with a tattoo on his hand’.” The beauty of the Donovan phenomenon was that whereas in the days of the great poets, these words would have remained in books, or at best have been read aloud, now suddenly they are put to music as songs, and their sound has travelled the world, enriching it. “ ‘Oh, come ye starry starfish / I know your ways are caped / maybe its because you’re astrologically shaped, / Converse with the herring shoals / as I know you can / Bring me word o’ the banjo man / with the tattoo on his hand.’” The dialogue continues. “The eldest of the starfish / spoke, after a sigh, / ‘Youthfull as you are young man / you have a Wisdom Eye; / Surely you must know a looking-glass / is made from sand? / These young fish are fooling you / about your banjo man.’” This guy is getting desperate for an answer. “ ‘Oh, come then aged starfish / Riddle me no more, / for news I am weary / and my heart is sore; / All on the silent seashore, / help me if you can, / Tell to me if you know / of my banjo man.’” Is an answer imminent? “ ‘All through the seven oceans / I am a star, most famed, / Many ‘leggys’ have I lost / Many have I gained, / And strange to say quite recently / I’ve been to Flemish Land / And if you are courteous / I’ll tell you all I can.’” Of course he’s going to be courteous. “ ‘Oh, You have my full attention’ / I answered him with glee, / His brother stars were twinkling / in the sky above the sea / So I sat there with rapt / attention, on the sand, / very anxious for to hear / of my banjo man.” And sure enough, the starfish is as good as his word. “ ‘Oh, I have seen this tattooed hand

through a ship port-hole, / Steaming on the watery main / through the waves so cold, / Heard his tinkling banjo and / his voice so grand / but you must come to Belgium / to shake the tattooed hand.’” But, as happens to so many of us, life’s demands intervene. “ ‘Oh, gladly would I come / gladly would I go, / Had I not my work to do / and my face to show, / But I rejoice to know he’s well / but I must go inland, / thank you for the words you brought / of my banjo man.’” While few of us have spoken to starfish, this guy seems quite sanguine about his experience. “I walked along the evening sand / as charcoal clouds did shift / revealing the moon shining / on the pebble drift / Contemplating every other word / the starfish said / whistly winds they filled my dreams / in my dreaming bed.”

And there we have it, with just one song heard, my imagination enabled me to hear the others, thanks to the incredibly gifted nature of the lyrics. Chalk this up as one of the great albums in the history of folk-rock.

Jennifer Juniper

My sister’s name is Jennifer, and so the next hit single, Jennifer Juniper, had a special place in our home of four boys and a girl. It was, Wikipedia tells us, inspired by Jenny Boyd, sister of George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. The B side, Poor Cow, was originally called Poor Love, and was one of several songs Donovan wrote for the Ken Loach film, Poor Cow.

Having just given it a blast on that Greatest Hits album, it struck home again what a unique sound it was Donovan was making. Having moved from straight folk to folk rock, he retained, indeed even at times enhanced, the almost naïve beauty which was such a hallmark of his songmaking. Here there is rich orchestration, with both brass and strings, but nothing obtrusive. Instead, the balance is superb, with the backing musicians doing what they are meant to – elevating Donovan’s vocals to a higher plain. Particularly enjoyable is the flute which at one point sings in tandem with Donovan. “Jennifer Juniper lives upon the hill, / Jennifer Juniper, sitting very still. / Is she sleeping ? I don’t think so. / Is she breathing ? Yes, very low. / Whatcha doing, Jennifer, my love ?” Again, Donovan brings an entirely new technique to song-writing, with the use of poetic language at its heart. “Jennifer Juniper, rides a dappled mare, / Jennifer Juniper, lilacs in her hair. / Is she dreaming ? Yes, I think so. / Is she pretty ? Yes, ever so. / Whatcha doing, Jennifer, my love ?” This is a young guy completely besotted. We’re all been there, but how many have turned our thoughts into poetry? “I’m thinking of what it would be like if she loved me. / You know just lately this happy song it came along / And I like to somehow try and tell you. / Jennifer Juniper, hair of golden flax. / Jennifer Juniper longs for what she lacks. / Do you like her ? Yes, I do, Sir. / Would you love her ? Yes, I would, Sir. / Whatcha doing Jennifer, my love ?” The Beatles did it, possibly before Donovan, but living across the Channel from France, it was inevitable that Donovan would put a verse in one of the great languages of love, French. “Jennifer Juniper vit sur la colline, / Jennifer Juniper assise très tranquille. / Dort-elle? Je ne crois pas. / Respire-t-elle? Oui, mais tout bas. / Qu’est-ce que tu fais, Jenny mon amour ? / Jennifer Juniper, Jennifer Juniper, Jennifer Juniper.” This song, later included in the Hurdy Gurdy Man album, was another which cemented Donovan’s position in my heart in the late 1960s.

Donovan and the Beatles in India

Meanwhile, by the way, in early 1968, Wikpedia tells us, Donovan taught John Lennon and Paul McCartney a special form of guitar picking called claw hammer. They were all together in India with the Maharishi and Donovan passed on the technique he had learnt all those years ago on the London folk circuit. Lennon’s Julia and McCartney’s Blackbird evidently owe much to those lessons. So once again, Donovan turns out to be ahead of the pack. I love discovering the origins of songs, so I must repeat the Wikipedia snippet concerning Mia Farrow and her sister, Prudence, both of whom were also in India at the time, with the latter inspiring Lennon’s song, Dear Prudence.

Donovan in Concert

It was on a US tour that he recorded Donovan In Concert, at Anaheim Convention Centre in California on September 23, 1967. Donovan also made history by becoming the first ever musician to be interviewed for Rolling Stone magazine’s debut issue, published on November 9, 1967.

Donovan in Concert was released in July 1968, from that Anaheim concert of a year earlier. My artistic side was already alert to a good cover, and the lovely painting by Fleur Cowles of a sea scene with a bird perched on a rock floating in the air, was, for me, one of the best yet. As mentioned earlier, this album has a jazz influence that renders it virtually timeless. Donovan was venturing where most pop musicians at that time feared to tread, and doing it with panache. How I’d love to hear it again.

It is only when you look at the track listing that you realise what a great album this was. Many of the songs had not even been released on albums yet, such as Isle Of Islay, which gives the album such a hauntingly beautiful start. Then comes Young Girl Blues, There Is A Mountain, Poor Love/Cow, Celeste, The Fat Angel, Widow With Shawl (A Portrait), Preachin’ Love, The Lullaby Of Spring, Writer In The Sun and Pebble And The Man (which I now recall, since Wikipedia tells me it was released as Happiness Runs on Barabajagal – “happiness runs in a circular motion / thought is like a little boat upon the sea / everybody is a part of everything anyway / you can have everything if you set yourself free”). Then came Rules And Regulations and finally Mellow Yellow.

Rules And Regs we enjoyed for its ironic rip-off of authority as we sat trapped in authoritarian South Africa – “and give ’em a double helping of / the rules and regulations / that’s the proper education / twenty-five years probation …”

But let’s see if Wikipedia has anything else to add. As noted, it was recorded on September 23, 1967, and released in the US in August the following year and in the UK a month later. It reached No 18 in the US. Classified as folk rock and psychedelic rock, it runs to a full 55 minutes. It was Donovan’s sixth album and first live album.

But why the delay in releasing it? Wikipedia says it was recorded several months before A Gift from a Flower to a Garden was released, and included several songs already well-known to the audience. Poor Cow, introduced as Poor Love by Donovan, was already a B-side to another song, and re-released as the B-side of Jennifer Juniper in February, 1968. Wikipedia says the music at the concert was “more subdued” than his singles at the time. But the core of his backing group in the studio were there, including flautist Harold McNair and percussionist Tony Carr. These were professional musicians, capable of turning their hands to many genres, including folk and jazz, which they do here.

As I don’t have the album, I must again work from memory, but the album starts with an unnamed announcer telling the tale of how, at a previous concert at the Hollywood Bowl – “some of you were probably there, right? – it had been raining, but when Donovan came out the rain stopped. “When he left the stage, it rained again. Call him what you will, Donovan is a phenomenon. And so without any further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Donovan’s father, Mr Donald Leitch.” After a few words, the older man, his Scottish voice rolling those r’s, says: “It is now my pride, and privilege, to introduce to you, your evening star, Donovan.”

And so begins one of the great live concerts in the history of rock, with Donovan, backed only by acoustic guitar, pouring forth the beautiful Isle Of Islay, which would, as observed, feature on Gift.

While most of these songs have been looked at, or will be, on various albums, no studio version was released of Rules And Regulations, says Wikipedia, except a demo tape. The lyrics, as noted, appealed to our pacifist, anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian selves, but I was unable to source them on the Net.

Again, it would be a pleasure to reacquaint myself with this album, which features several jazzy solos and has such a wonderful atmosphere, capturing Donovan truly at the absolute zenith of his creative powers.

The Hurdy Gurdy Man

And still Donovan kept churning out the hit singles. We were hearing these as they were released, in my last years of junior school. May 1968 saw the release of The Hurdy Gurdy Man, which no-one at the time would have called a “swirling psychedelic” song, which is how it is described on Wikipedia, but I guess that’s what it is.

Donovan wrote the song for his guitar mentor Mac Macleod, who had a heavy rock band called Hurdy Gurdy. He wanted to get his mate, Jimi Hendrix, to play on it but he was away on tour. With Jimmy Page also away, it was a fitting time for the brilliant young British guitarist, Alan Parker, to strut his stuff on one of Donovan’s heaviest songs to date. But, like the Who, it was heavy only as compared to its subtler parts, making it a rich combination of musical textures. Page did, however, perform during recording of other songs on the Hurdy Gurdy Man album and, with John Paul Jones on bass, this led, it is said, to the formation of Led Zeppelin.

Mickie Most’s astute reading of the move towards heavy rock, ala Hendrix and the Who, saw Hurdy Gurdy Man become a major hit single. I fortunately have it on that Greatest Hits album, so let’s give it a fresh listen. Of course this is one of the greatest songs of all times. Over 40 years old, it is as fresh as if it had been recorded yesterday, underlining, I suppose, my premise that the 1960s formed the wellspring for rock music which never runs dry. It’s key songs, like this one, will live forever, eclipsing all the imitations which flow in their wake. Again, what makes Donovan the legend he is, is his determination to do his own thing. He’s inventive, continually exploring new ideas. Here, for instance, the song starts with him humming, as only he can, the notes of the melody. Then this is overlaid by strummed acoustic guitar, before the inimitable, reverberating Donovan vocals kick in. But what was the song about? “Thrown like a star in my vast sleep / I open my eyes to take a peep / To find that I was by the sea / Gazing with tranquillity.” The sea, the heavens. Donovan was an elemental poet, and again he brings these factors to bear with great ingenuity. But more importantly, it is at the end of the first verse that the distinctive drumming and lead electric guitar, laced with feedback, are injected, giving this song the sort of impetus that few would be able to equal. “ ’Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man / Came singing songs of love, / Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man / Came singing songs of love.” With lead guitar soaring and drums ratcheting away, the seemingly meaningless words become like another solo instrument. “Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang. / Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang. / Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang.” Then those fine lyrics continue: “Histories of ages past / Unenlightened shadows cast / Down through all eternity / The crying of humanity.” The chorus and hurdy gurdy mantra are repeated, with the variation that now at one point he sings: “Roly poly, roly poly, roly poly, poly he sang. Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang, / Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang?”

Wikipedia notes that Led Zeppelin-to-be John Bonham is credited on the album for percussion on this song, with Clem Cattini as the drummer.

In my trawling through old CD and record shops, I found a Tring CD – never heard of before – called Donovan Greatest Hits (no apostrophe s), which indeed, as noted earlier, has most of his greatest hits, but is in fact a live recording. And it may well be the 1973 live album, Live in Japan: Spring Tour 1973. Anyway it contains his story of how, while in Indian in 1968, George Harrison came to contribute a verse to the song, Hurdy Gurdy Man, which he proceeds to then sing. The last verse by Harrison goes: “When the truth gets buried deep, beneath a thousand years of sleep, / Time demands a turn around, and once again the truth is found.” (It also contains a rather unpleasant send-up of his own song, Colours, in which he sings, “Yellow is the colour of my true love’s teeth, in the morning, when we rise…”)

The Hurdy Gurdy Man album was released in October, 1968. I recall the cover well, with its lovely green background with a red bird flying over green, tufty reeds. We certainly had it at some point. In fact, it seemed to coincide with a visit we made to Port Elizabeth over the summer holidays, when we stayed in a rented house in Fordyce Road, a few blocks from our grandparents at No 74. Produced again by Mickie Most, this, his sixth studio album was again only available in the US and not the UK, due to contractual problems.

Again, many of the songs on Hurdy Gurdy Man have been shrouded for me by the mists of time. The title track and Jennifer Juniper are obviously recalled, but even the familiar sounding Peregrine I can’t place. The River Song and Tangier ring loud bells, but these two songs, cannot be recalled. Indeed, neither can As I Recall It. Obviously, this is another Donovan album conspicuously missing from my collection.

Looking at the track listing, there are two other songs I do remember: Hi It’s Been A Long Time (“you’re looking fine, fine as any woman could be …”) and The Sun Is A Very Magic Fellow (“shines down to you each day”). Again, the others would surge back if I heard them again. The are: The Entertaining Of A Shy Girl, Get Thy Bearings, West Indian Lady, A Sunny Day, and Teas.

But let’s see what other insights Wikipedia can offer.

It seems the album was recorded between November 1967 and April 1968 and released in October 1968 in the US. Again, Most was the producer, and Wikipedia classifies it as “psychedelic rock, raga rock, folk rock”. It was his sixth studio album and seventh overall.

Wikipedia says Donovan wrote and recorded much of the album in late 1967, not long after completing Gift. The April 1968 work was completed after he visited Rishikesh in India, where he studied under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, along with John and Cynthia Lennon, George Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Paul McCartney, Mia and Prudence Farrow, and others. Ah, and Wikipedia notes Harrison’s contribution of that verse, first recorded live in Japan in 1973. But it seems the one I picked up is actually a live album called Rising from 1990, on which “Donovan explains the story and sings the previously omitted verse”.

The songwriting on the album, says Wikipedia, “centred around drones on such songs as Peregrine, The River Song and Tangier” As I Recall “continues Donovan’s infatuation with jazz”.

And the poor old Brits only finally got the album in 1994. Wikipedia says it was released on CD in the US in 1990, then in 1994 in the UK, Four Donovan Originals was released, this being a box set of four of his albums not previously released in the UK.

Wikipedia says while all tracks on the album are credited to Donovan, A Sunny Day and The River Song were in collaboration with Gypsy Dave (Mills), while Tangier was entirely a Mills song, having first been called In Tangier Down A Windy Street.

Having given the title track a listen (and been bowled over by it yet again), what of the rest of the album? Again, banking on my memory banks to fill in the gaps, the next song was Peregrine.

And suddenly the world is made smaller – by migratory birds. I have become something of a bird-watcher, and have on occasion encountered the peregrine falcon (though it has taken the astute eyes of my son Luke to make the final confirmation). Anyway, Donovan, up north, was also fascinated by this bird, it seems. “Peregrine falcon hooded and flying / Whither you go blindly over the mountain. / Oh your boats upon the sea are very beautiful to view / By me, by me, by me, by me, I hope by you. / Oh your boats upon the sea are very beautiful to view / By me, by me, by me, by me, I hope by you.” I have to confess, this song rings no bells at all – yet this album was part of our upbringing. “Once I tried to be your friend, but I was undergoing change / The same as you, the same as me, the same as you, / The same as me, the same as you. / And from what I’ve read you say / You feel quite certain of the way / The world will go, the world will go, / The world will go, the world will go, and so am I. / Oh, oh and there will come a time / When to each other we’ll be kinder / Than we were, than we were / And there will come, and there will come / A peace of mind, a peace of mind, a peace of mind.” Would that I could hear this song again. But what of the next one? Will it too have fallen from memory?

The Entertaining Of A Shy Girl sounds familiar. At 1:39 it is also quite short. “I’ll sing you a song, / Paint you a painting, / Dance you a dance / While you’re waiting. / What shall it be, / Chocolate or soda? / I’m having tea, / Do speak louder. / Are you hungry? / Brown bread and treacle, / Apple maybe ? / I’ve a tree full. / What do you know? / What can you tell me? / Something to show / Or to sell me. / Ah, here he’s coming now, / I’ll say cheerio. / Someone to meet / And she’s waiting so I’ll go.” While the melody eludes me, there are lines here I recall – “what shall it be, chocolate or soda? / I’m having tea, / do speak louder”. Strange, isn’t it, how snippets, vignettes, stay with one.

Do I recall “As I Recall It”. Well not from the title, but let’s check the lyrics out. “As I recall it, the sun was high, / Yellow in the blue, blue sky. / You couldn’t quite make out this boy, / He used life as a toy. / In a Marie-Antoinette room / We were introduced soon, / I was me and you were you, / How do you do? / Raggedy and tousle-haired / He looked as though he never cared / To run a comb where a comb should run, / Freckles from the sun. / Many good times we have had, / We been happy, we been sad, / But I think we both feel glad / That this life is so mad, mad, mad.” With slight variation, the opening lines are repeated in a song which I did not recall, at all.

Will I have better luck with Get Thy Bearings? “Get your bearings, know your time. / Don’ you worry, weather’ fine. / All the world knows what I’m saying, / All the world knows what I’m saying, / The world knows fine well. / Get together, work it

out, / Simplicity is what it’s about. / All the world knows what I’m saying, / All the world knows what I’m saying, / The world knows fine well.” Again, not recalled, and not overly impressed with the lyrics. Was Donovan going through a barren patch here?

I know that the next song, Hi It’s Been A Long Time, was a personal favourite, because the whole thing is fresh in my mind, both the melody and the lyrics. It was a lilting bit of fun, with Donovan back at the peak of his powers. “Hi, it’s been a long time, you’re looking fine, / Proud as any woman should be, proud of womankind. / My, your hair is longer now, it’s prettier by far, / Hope you don’t feel too unusual riding in my flash car.” This had Donovan’s assured love for the language – and for the first time I discover the line “hope you don’t feel too unusual …”, having not previously registered the word “unusual”. What of the next verse? “Hi, it’s been a long time, you’re looking good, / Proud as any woman should be, proud of womanhood. / Changes, many I’ve been through, pretty much like you, / Now as then I feel it would be pretty to touch you.” Ah yes, just to touch the woman of your dreams! Dream on, mate! “Hi, it’s been a few years, you’re looking down, / Dragged as any hippie should be in old hippie town. / My, your eyes are sadder now, it’s understandable, / I’m amazed you spend your days keeping up all the ‘cod’.” That is a rather shocking change of tack, as his dream girl ends up dragged and sad, but what, I wonder, is meant by “keeping up all the ‘cod’”? Well, the Oxford dictionary does say cod is British slang for a parody or hoax. Anyway, this delightful ditty ends with the line, “Hi, it’s been a long time” repeated several times.

The last track on the side is West Indian Lady, a title which rings no bells. “Can I be of assistance, my love? Sha la la la la la la la la / I will help you out into the room Sha la la la la la la la la / And you know what I’m thinking that very soon we will be a-drinking / From the cup of joy you have brought / From the cup of joy the lady brought.” I don’t recall it, but it certainly sounds interesting. “I see you brought your bow along also Sha la la la la la la la la / Is the arrow for me, love? / Very soon I think I’ll know / If I never return from in her eyes Sha la la la la la la la la / Even in the dark they hypnotise Sha la la la la la la la la / West Indian lady in the picture on my wall, / But I love her printer’s name and all / But he love her printer’s name and all.” It seems he is writing about a picture on his wall, which may just be scratching for ideas. “But I love her drawing pins and all. / But he love her drawing pins and all / But he love her printer’s name and all Sha la la la la la la la la / But he love her printer’s name and all Sha la la la la la la la la.” Then, having lived for two years in Acton, not far from Kilburn, I can relate in a sense to the final, repeated line, “She’s the belle of Kilburn, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Side 2 opens with the hit, Jennifer Juniper, which we looked at earlier. Then flows The River Song. Surely it is one I remember. And indeed it is. In fact, I once attempted a bit of song-writing which “borrowed” from this – mainly because I was unable to replicate Donovan’s prowess on the acoustic guitar in order to play this wonderful song. “Oh, the waters flow over rock and stone / O’er the waters blow windy wind so cold / Oh, the rivers flow so old / Oh, the rivers flow so old.” It is only the first line that is truly familiar. “O’er the rivers fly stately kingfishers / Through the waters swim stickleback fishes / Oh, the rivers flow so old / Oh, the rivers flow so old.” The remainder of the song is made up of a combination of some of the above lines. Again, this is a gem I’d love to hear again. For the record, here’s my attempt, loosely based on this, I suppose. “Oh, I’ve seen it all before / Hmm, waves crashing on the shore / Breaking hard upon the rocks, / As seagulls fly aloft …” Verse 2: “Ah, but I know it won’t be long / Before it is all gone / I have so little faith / In the keepers of the gate.” Verse 3: “Ah, but that’s why I struggle on / To find another song / Because it’s only in lament / That we can all repent / Our sins …” I was about 17 at the time.

Next up was that Gypsy Dave song, Tangier, which just has to be familiar. But it’s not. It’s like a slice of my youth has disappeared. Yet I’m convinced, playing the CD would be just the therapy my memory would need to bring it all back. “In Tangier down a windy street / Where beggars meet and on old rags do sleep / The women dressed in soiled white sheet / With starving kids by their side. / With staring eyes that never weep / Old Moroccans with their elephantiasis feet / Who life and death treat so cheap / Happy in their hunger / For they live longer than their fathers.” The British hippie generation of the 1960s had a fascination with north Africa and the East, and this is evidence thereof. The verse is apparently repeated.

And what of A Sunny Day? “Sunny day while away the afternoon / Cutting nettles that are hiding petals pink / From the river drink. / Bluebells, wood dells where dwells a squirrel / Who slinks along branched patterns heightens call of coaltit small / Hover over river. / Diving, writhing, gnattring chiff chaff chattering / Woodpecker staggering hammering / Exaggerating off his find. / Do da do.” It sounds delightful and is surely another gem set to music and sung as only Donovan can. The verse, it seems, is also repeated.

The title of the next song is uber familiar. The Sun Is A Very Magic Fellow was something which latched onto my brain and stayed for a lifetime. Again, this was a rollicking ride, full of the joys of life. “The sun is a very magic fellow / He shines down on me each day-ay-ay-ay. / The sun is a very magic fellow / He shines down on me each day-ay-ay-ay / He shines down on me each day.” We are back in Donovan as poet extraordinary mode. “The wind is a very fickle fellow / He blows all my dreams away-ay-ay-ay. / The wind is a very fickle fellow, / Blowing all my dreams away-ay-ay-ay / Blowing all my dreams away.” What a simple idea, but so well executed! “The rain is a very sad lady, / She falls down on me sometimes. / The rain is a very sad lady, / She falls down on me sometimes, / Falling down on me sometimes.” Some of these I only now register for the first time. “The sea is a very, very old man, / Deeper than the deepest blue. / The sea is a very, very old man, / Deeper than the deepest blue, / Deeper than the deepest blue.” Isn’t that a lovely image? And I loved the next verse, for some reason. “The moon is a typical lady, / I watch her wax and wane. / The moon is a typical lady, / I watch her wax and wane, / I watch her wax and wane.” You can almost see the starry-eyed Donovan serenading some delightful dame with this verse. “A star is so very far away, love, / Just between you and me. / A star is so very far away, love, / Just between you and me, / Just between you and me.” Or how about this one? “A girl is a pillow for my sadness, / She sings all my cares away. / A girl is a pillow for my sadness, / Sings all my cares away-ay-ay-ay, / Sings all my cares away.” The final verse reiterates this role of woman as man’s salvation. “Singing all my cares away-ay-ay-ay, / Sing all my cares away. / Loving all my cares away-ay-ay-ay, / She sings all my cares away. / Singing all my cares away-ay-ay-ay, / Singing all my cares …”

Finally, the album ends with Teas. What’s the bet I don’t remember it either. “I strolled into a deserted seaside café / All on a winter’s day. / I ordered up a cup of rich brown steaming tea / From an old lady. / What happened to you, man, you used to be so free, / Now all you do is sit and dream / Of a fay girl green / By a mountain stream.” Indeed, as unfamiliar as it is beautiful. “I strolled into a deserted seaside café / All on a winter’s day. / I ordered up a cup of rich brown memories, / Sat and I watched the sea. / What happened to you, man, you used to be so free. / When you were as a mountain stream / Following a dream, / Following a dream. / What happened to you? / What happened to you?” Sadly, this lovely song remains a forgotten memory, if that is possible. My body remembers it, but only hearing the album again will return it to my conscious being.

Suffice to say, though, that even based on the few songs from here I did remember, this was one mighty fine album.

Barabajagal

Just how progressive Donovan was becoming is evident in his release, also in May 1968, of the freaky single, Goo Goo Barabajagal, which featured the likes of Jeff Beck on lead guitar, Ron Wood on bass and Nicky Hopkins on piano. Donovan’s seventh studio album, Barabajagal was released (again in the US only) on August 11, 1969.

Interesting to note is that the Jeff Beck Group, including Rod Stewart (though he sang no lead) provided much of the backing on this album, which contains many major hits, including Atlantis and To Susan On The West Coast Waiting (“from Andy in Vietnam fighting”). The anti-war sentiments in this song profoundly affected us, as we watched the mess that was going down in that war, and contemplated our own deteriorating situation, which would lead to all white males having to undergo military conscription.

Apart from those hits, and the title track, which was called Barabajagal (Love Is Hot), I don’t believe I heard the other songs on this album. They are: Superlungs (My Supergirl) which seems to refer to her breasts, if our teenage conflating of the two is any criterion, Where Is She? I Love My Shirt, The Love Song, Trudi and Pamela Jo.

But let’s see what else Wikipedia has to offer on the album. Well, it was recorded between May 1968 and May 1969 and is classed, would you believe, as folk. Mickie Most was again at the production helm. Donovan’s eighth album (seventh studio album) was again denied to his fans in the UK due to that ongoing contractual dispute which threatened to make him a “retired writer in the sun”.

Wikipedia says most of the album was recorded in November 1968, with Happiness Runs and Where Is She recorded the previous May. But, with his Greatest Hits “still high in the charts”, they were shelved. Then Atlantis / I Love My Shirt was released in November 1968 in the UK. To Susan On The West Coast Waiting / Atlantis was released in the US in march 1969, with Atlantis “charting higher than it’s A-side”.

Then in May 1969, says Wikipedia, Most produced at least one session with “Donovan fronting the Jeff Beck Group.” Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot) – also known simply as Barabajagal and Barabajagal (Love Is Hot) – was the outcome. Other songs from the session went unreleased until they were used as bonus tracks on a 2005 UK reissue, says Wikipedia. We were among the receptive millions who lapped up the Barabajagal single, with Trudi on Side 2, when it was released in June 1969 in the UK and August that year in the US (and no doubt in SA about the same time). The album followed, and with those singles paving the way became “a strong seller” in the US.

Wikipedia says the songs on the album “represent all facets of Donovan’s career”, including “rockers” like the title track, Trudi, The Love Song and Superlungs. I Love My Shirt expands on his “children’s music”, while slow songs featuring his “breathy vocals” include Where Is She? and To Susan On The West Coast Waiting. Ah, and it seems that while working on this album, “Donovan’s musical vision and work ethic began to diverge from that of producer Mickie Most. The two eventually stopped working together, effectively ending Donovan’s chart success”.

The rock world in those days was relatively small, so when Donovan got some backing vocals for the round on Happiness Runs, singing alongside him was none other than Graham Nash, along with Michael McCartney and Leslie Duncan.

Again, I am only able to hear a few of these tracks, but let’s give it a bash. I had forgotten that I had picked up an el-cheapo Donovan CD, Collections, which includes the three hits from this album. The verdict: Donovan was still at the height of his powers, bridging the folk and rock genres with consummate ease. I also detected the influence of the sort of studio sophistication that the Beatles were achieving, and especially a fresh emphasis on vocal harmonies.

So the tile track, Barabajagal (Love Is Hot), backed as noted earlier by the Jeff Beck Group, starts with some serious Beck solo lead guitar, before it is joined by a strummed acoustic guitar (Donovan, no doubt). Then the full rhythm section kicks in, followed by the chanting Donovan vocals. “She came, she came to meet a man, she found an angel. / Goo goo, goo goo Barabajagal was his name now, / Goo goo, goo goo Barabajagal was his name now, / Goo goo, goo goo Barabajagal was his name now.” And so, 40 years later, I finally discover what was being sung here. How many women hoping for a mere man end up with an angel? The opposite is probably a more common experience. There are interesting backing vocals on this as the rhythm guitar and piano give it a lilting, jazzy quality. “He very wise in the herbal lore ’s got young cure now. / She came, she came to free the pain with his wild flower.” Ah, so this man is not a lover, but someone Africans here would call a sangoma, or herbalist. The chorus is “Goo goo, goo goo Barabajagal was his name now” repeated four times, before a verse, with the same melody: “Fine fine, fine fine Acelandine be prepared for her. / Tea tea, tea tea to make her free while incense burned.” Then an interesting passage I never really heard before in which Donovan speaks in a broad Scots brogue: “In love pool eyes float feathers after the struggle. / The hopes burst and shot joy all through the mind / Sorrow more distant than a star. / Multi colour run down over your body, / Then the liquid passing all into all / Love is hot truth is molten.” The phrase “Love is hot” is repeated by another voice as the song gets steadily heavier, with Donovan’s voice ideally suited to the rock role. “True true, true true the song he sang her while the leaves cooked / Ting ting, ting little bell he rang her, sleepily she looked. / He filled, he filled a leather cup, holding her gaze / She took, she took a little sip while this song he sang:” And the line he sings, until the song finally fades, is: “Goo goo, goo goo Barabajagal was my name now …”, alternating with “was his name now”. It was not an unduly interesting song, but was certainly highly original.

I’d like to think I’ve heard Superlungs (My Supergirl), but only a perusal of the lyrics will tell me. And let’s see what those lungs were all about. “You see this kind of chick in every town. / Whenever there’s a scene she’s always hanging around / She’s so naïve and innocent, stares at to it all / She’s only fourteen but she knows how to draw. / Supergirl, supergirl. / Supergirl, supergirl. Supergirl / She’s my supergirl and I love her / Supergirl / She’s my supergirl and I love her / Supergirl / She’s my supergirl and I love her / Supergirl / She’s my supergirl and I love her.” There’s a lot of repetition there, but still no indication of what this teenage “chick” is all about. “She never gets involved with blowing her cool / She’s to visit painting sky with her classmates in school / Teachers they ignore, they would if they could / She ain’t quite grown up yet but her credence’s real good…” And so the Supergirl mantra is repeated in what I gather is a heavy rocker of a song. Like to hear it someday.

The next track, Where Is She, remains a mystery. “Springtime for me has gone, where is she? Waking in the blue dawn, where is she? / Someday I’ll say to her ‘I am here’. / Smiling her words will be ‘I am cheer’. / I know she’ll wait for me, Well, I know she’ll wait for me to come to her. / Springtime for me has gone, where is she? / Waking in the blue dawn, where is she? / Lazy adorn and adorn she will be / Drowsy sleepy with blue I am here. / I know she’ll wait for me, / Well, I know she’ll wait for me to come to her.” I envy those for whom these lines are familiar. For me, the song may just as well not exist.

And so it was on In Concert, I think, that Happiness Runs first made such an impact with its round sound. Remember that opening verse? “Little pebble upon the sand / Now you’re lying here in my hand, / How many years have you been here?” Then the pebble replies: “Little human upon the sand / From where I’m lying here in your hand, / You to me are but a passing breeze.” Then a benediction: “The sun will always shine where you stand / Depending in which land / You may find yourself. / Now you have my blessing, go your way.” Donovan’s love for the lyrical use of language now comes fully to the fore. “Happiness runs in a circular motion / Thought is like a little boat upon the sea. / Everybody is a part of everything anyway, / You can have everything if you let yourself be.” Those backing vocalists help this really run along with itself. “Happiness runs, happiness runs. / Happiness runs, happiness runs. / Happiness runs, happiness runs. / Happiness runs, happiness runs.” These lines are used interchangeably, before the song culminates with the observation: “You can have everything if you let yourself be.” This is repeated, most melodically, before the song comes to a halt. Again, more highly original Donovan creativity.

And do I recall I Love My Shirt? Probably not. Apparently one of his “children’s songs” – like the predecessor! – it goes: “Do you have a shirt that you really love, / One that you feel so groovy in? / You don’t even mind if it starts to fade, / That only makes it nicer still. / I love my shirt, I love my shirt, / My shirt is so comfortably lovely. / I love my shirt, I love my shirt, / My shirt is so comfortably lovely.” Again, it’s all about context. Heard as a song, I’m sure this is superb, but the lyrics alone are somewhat lacking. The next verse deals with his jeans which he loves, even if they start to fray. But, he adds that “When they are taken to the cleaners, / I can’t wait to get them home again. / Yes, I take ’em to the cleaners / And there they wash them in a stream, / Scrub a rub dub dub / And there they wash them in a stream - / Know what I mean.” After that tangent, he now focuses on his shoes. These are “Ones that you feel so flash in” and which he doesn’t even mind “if they start to get some holes in”. Clearly meant to be a bit of fun, he reiterates that he loves his jeans, shoes and shirt, and then concludes: “In fact I love my wardrobe”, before lines about loving his shirt are repeated again and again. In fact, they look quite interesting one beneath the other. And that is how Side 1 ends.

The second side starts with The Love Song, another to escape my attention at the time. “I’m not very fancy in the mid of air, / I’m not proud to say I am merry here. / I’ve found a girl and I love her so, / Groovy, groovy woman and she set me free.” Then: “Hark awhile and listen to this love song. / Give me for sometimes I wanted to / Take her to the woods and show her what to do. / She could see the stars if she’s looking up, / Drink the sweet juice from a loving cup, / Show her what it is to make a love song.” I suspect a bit of a double entendre there… “Hey, have you ever seen the lonely ones / Putting down the lovers for having fun ? / The very same thing that would set them free, / They should catch an evening with my lover and me, / Whoopee!” It sounds like one of Donovan’s typically flippant bits of fun. The song concludes with some of the opening lyrics repeated.

Then to the delightful To Susan On The West Coast Waiting, which on that CD sounds breathily perfect. From the hard rock of Barabajagal, suddenly a sublime folk song with a tinge of bass and organ to lift it. Listening to this on CD, it is incredible how Donovan’s voice fills the room. Interesting, too, is the use of female backing vocals on the chorus, which is a bit reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. This is an intimate song; an exchange of letters between lovers – one of whom, Andy, is away in Vietnam fighting a war. “Dear Susan, I know you love me so / But I want to hear it in my ear. / You know I’d be there working at my craft / Had it not been for the draft. / Dry up your tears and feel no fears, / You’re here with me like I’m there with you.” Then, putting it into context, the chorus. “To Susan on the West Coast waiting, / From Andy in Vietnam fighting. / To Susan on the West Coast waiting, / From Andy in Vietnam fighting.” Having endured South Africa’s draft – an initial two years followed by one- and three-month “camps” – I can relate to the sense of hopelessness Andy would have felt, knowing that all that kept his girlfriend from ditching him for someone “more available” was her faithfulness. And it is easy to blame yourself if she decides to ditch you. And what worse place to receive that “Dear Johnny” letter than while in a war zone, or being forced to train for such a role. Small wonder so many young soldiers care little for their own lives. They will destroy themselves with drugs and booze even before the “enemy” gets to them, and often have a fatalistic approach to life itself. Anyway, Donovan tries to capture something of that sense of separation. “I’m writing a note beneath a tree, / The smell of the rain on the greenery. / Our fathers have painfully lost their way, / That’s why, my love, I’m here today / Hear me when I say there will come a day / When Kings will know and love can grow.” What precisely the kings have to do with it, I’m unsure, but perhaps he uses that as a metaphor for political leaders. This song impacted on us big-time, that haunting chorus reminding us of the sort of future we faced. The verses and choruses are repeated, with the one telling alteration, which underlines that Andy is a conscript not driven by hate: “To Susan on the West Coast waiting, / From Andy supposedly hating. / To Susan on the West Coast waiting, / From Andy in Vietnam fighting.” I attempted to capture something of the dilemma facing military conscripts in an autobiography I wrote about six years ago. I called it Apartheid’s Child, Freedom’s Son, but might as easily have given it the title, Whose Body Is It Anyway? Because, in the end, as Buffy Sainte Marie observes in Universal Soldier, it is all about one’s body being used as a “weapon of the war”. Once you are physically in the army, in my case totally against my will as a conscript, you become locked into a process which renders you complicit in whatever horrors are executed. I failed to find a publisher for this book, despite trying several, including Penguin SA, who only deigned to look at my brief letter of motivation and then rejected it on the basis that it did not fit their portfolio, or words to that effect. I am now considering putting it on the Net, much like this blog, so it can enjoy a wider audience than the 30 or so books I had self-published.

But that’s obviously by the by. What of the next song on Barabajagal? Well, it is a work for which Donovan became truly famous, and it deals with an ancient civilisation. It also taught us a new word, antediluvian. Which songwriters today would dare use such a word? Anyway, Atlantis was an iconic work, showcasing the great Donovan voice to superb effect. It starts with those famous opening strummed acoustic guitar chords (was it C or D?), before Donovan starts to narrate the tale of Atlantis in a strongly Scots-accented voice. “The continent of Atlantis was an island which lay before the great flood / in the area we now call the Atlantic Ocean. / So great an area of land, that from her western shores / those beautiful sailors journeyed to the South and the North Americas with ease, / in their ships with painted sails.” It’s beautifully written, and by now the anthem-like melody has started to gain momentum, with piano notes backed by a bass drum and possibly a strummed harp. There is a subtle change of mood, as he continues: “To the East Africa was a neighbour, across a short strait of sea miles. / The great Egyptian age is but a remnant of The Atlantian culture. / The antediluvian kings colonised the world / All the Gods who play in the mythological dramas / In all legends from all lands were from fair Atlantis.” That is one serious claim to make, but suspend disbelief and enter into the spirit of the Antlantian myth. Donovan clearly did, as a sense of urgency is injected ahead of the cataclysm. “Knowing her fate, Atlantis sent out ships to all corners of the Earth. / On board were the Twelve: / The poet, the physician, the farmer, the scientist, / The magician and the other so-called Gods of our legends. / Though Gods they were - / And as the elders of our time choose to remain blind / Let us rejoice and let us sing and dance and ring in the new / Hail Atlantis!” Many have speculated that mankind received a “god-like” touch, or intelligence boost, thanks to an interaction with visitors from outer space. Here, instead, the ancient civilization was to be found on earth and, like the Twelve tribes of Israel, it was forced to travel far and wide to save itself. Musically, the song then changes into a powerful rock anthem, as the chorus kicks in. “Way down below the ocean where I wanna be she may be, / Way down below the ocean where I wanna be she may be …” At one point it changes to: “My antediluvian baby, oh yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah, / I wanna see you some day …” I confess I never heard mention of antediluvian in that chorus, since suddenly you are following a lead guitar, persuasive percussion, incredible vocal harmonies and general musical mayhem which, in a sense, echoes what the Beatles were doing about the same time.

The penultimate track on Barabajagal is Trudi, which again I fear I don’t know. “I can see by your eyes you’re a good girl / And the sparkle of the ring on your hand. / You got a friend called ramblin’ Trudi, / Oh Johnny never looked at that friend.” Of course we heard this under another name, about a monkey and breaking bread, on an earlier album. Now it seems it’s a song about bedding a girl. The chorus goes: “Won’t you go to bed with me / Won’t you take a chance babe with me. / Won’t you go to bed with me / Won’t you take a chance babe with me.” So what was to stop Donovan reinventing a song? “I can see by your eyes you’re a sad girl / And the little chain around your neck. / You got to face down a ramblin’ sunset, / Oh Johnny never looked at that bad.” The opening verse and chorus are repeated before she quits: “Trudi motoring, Trudi motor away / Trudi motoring, Trudi motor away / Trudi would you, could you, would you Trudi / Would you, could you motor away for me…”

Finally, another song not heard off this album, Pamela Jo. Yet again, Donovan was never short on words. “I’ll sing you a song called Pamela Jo, / A girl with a sweet melody, don’ you know, / The words are very easy to follow, / So you can know Pamela Jo.” So who was she? “She loves to go to railroads on rainy days / Dream about the distant land, so she says. / The tracks are very easy to follow, / Why don’t you go, Pamela Jo?” She has a wild, gypsy charm about her. “She looks just a little like a circus child, / She just can’t wait to let her hair grow wild. / She’s got very top top secret charms - / She works all day to get her paper filed. / She’s easy to play on piano or juke, / She had a hard time when first she was took / But still she’s been a model child, an open book / So now you know Pamela Jo. / Oh yeah!” Much of this is repeated as the song progresses – another of those missed in my youth.

Donovan was a prolific songwriter. Wikipedia notes than on the 2005 EMI version of this album released in the UK, there were no fewer than 13 bonus tracks, none of which I am familiar with.

And let’s just check out who helped Donovan make that original crackerjack album. Donovan is credited on Wikipedia with guitar, harmonica and vocals. Then there was Jeff Beck on guitar, Madeline Bell on vocals, Tony Carr on percussion and drums, Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Alan Hawkshaw on piano, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, Harold McNair on flute, Rod Stewart on backing vocals, Danny Thompson on bass and Rolling Stone Ron Wood on guitar. Also performing, and listed as the “West Coast personnel” who played on To Susan On The West Coast Waiting, I Love My Shirt, Atlantis and Pamela Jo, were James Kehn on percussion and drums and Gabriel Meckler on keyboards. With Most producing the other part, Richie Podolor produced these songs.

Open Road

It’s difficult to confess this, but the next album, Open Road, was not part of my upbringing. Perhaps we had already started to tire of Donovan, given the wealth of work that had come before, and the new stars that were coming into their own in the firmament.

Donovan’s eighth studio album, Open Road was recorded in 1969-1970 and released in the US in July, 1970 and in the UK in September that year. Deemed “Celtic rock” by Wikipedia, it was produced by Donovan. Oh and it seems Open Road was a band, and this was its debut album. Wikipedia says that after splitting from Most during the Barabjagal series, Donovan moved back to the UK, despite his management suggesting he remain in the US due to the lighter taxation regime and in order to remain in touch with that huge market. Donovan’s production technique was “rougher and more organic” than Most’s “cleanly polished production on Donovan’s hits of the 1960s”.

Wikipedia says Donovan assembled a four-person band to play what he called “Celtic rock”, and called it Open Road. The album ponders “the negative side of industrialisation and the lost peacefulness of a previous time”, says Wikipedia. However, once the album was out, Donovan quit the band, although other members later reformed it for another album.

Wikipedia does not say how the album fared, but the CD was issued in Germany in 2000. Oh and I see from the tracklisting it does contain at least one recognisable song, Riki Tiki Tavi. It opens with a song called Changes, followed by Song For John, Curry Land, Joe Bean’s Theme, People Used To and Celtic Rock. Side 2 opens with Riki Tiki Tavi followed by Clara Clairvoyant, Roots Of Oak, Season Of Farewell, Poke At The Pope and New Year’s Resovolution. With Donovan playing guitar and harp, he was joined by Mike Thompson on bass, guitar and vocals, Mike O’Neill on piano and vocals and John Carr on drums and vocals. It is an album, given its Celtic roots and my love of Irish folk, that I’d dearly like to hear.

But, in the absence of the actual song, let’s take a look at the lyrics to Riki Tiki Tavi, which I’m sure was a hit for a while in South Africa. It certain seems to be drawn from the wonderful Jungle Books of Rudyard Kipling. “Better get into what you gotta get into / Better get into it now, no slacking please / United Nations ain’t really united / And the organisations ain’t really organized.” Correction. Since this is the first time I’m seeing these lyrics written down, this is surely an example of his attacking modern industrial society and its failings. Riki becomes an emblem for a lost, pre-industrial nirvana. “Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone / Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone / Won’t be coming around for to kill your snakes no more my love / Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone.” Ah yes, and indeed, there is a reference to Kipling’s work. “(Every)body who read the Jungle Book / knows that Riki tiki tavi’s a / mongoose who kills snakes / (Well) when I was a young man I was led to believe there were organizations / to kill my snakes for me / (ie the) church ie the government ie the school / (but when I got a little older) I learned I had to kill them myself.” That is quite a sobering observation. Of course today killing snakes, literally, is also frowned upon – unless a green mamba of puff adder happens to have got into your house! But these “snakes” were the bad guys ranged against those who do good.

The chorus is followed, says the lyric sheet, by a 16-bar instrumental. Then: “People walk around they don’t know what they’re doing / They bin lost so long they don’t know what they’ve been looking for / Well, I know what I’m a looking for but I just can’t find it / I guess I gotta look inside of myself some more. / oh oh oh inside of myself some more / oh oh oh inside of myself some more.” After the chorus again bemoans the mongoose’s absence, the song continues: “I saw you today on a number twelve

bus you were going my way / my way.” I won’t get into a later alternative version of this song which gets even more political and militant.

HMS Donovan

Such was the beauty of “A Gift from a Flower to a Garden”, I’d dearly like to lay hands on a second double album of children’s songs Donovan did in the summer of 1968, called HMS Donovan, which was released in 1971, according to the Wikipedia discography. Dononvan had married his long-time love, Linda Lawrence (Brian Jones’s former girlfriend) in October 1971. This album of children’s songs was for their first child.

Celia Of The Seals rings a bell. It was the only real hit from the album, apparently. While about half of the songs on this double album were Donovan orginals, many of the lyrics were poems by the likes of Lewis Carroll, Thora Stowell, Edward Lear and William Butler Yeats. It must surely be a masterpiece, if “Gift” is anything to go by. But it was not a commercial success, so he was forced to resume his hit-making relationship with Mickie Most. But let’s see what else Wikipedia has to add. It seems this, Donovan’s ninth studio album, was a long time in the making, being recorded between June 1968 and 1971. Classified as folk, it was produced by both Most and Donovan and, as a double album, runs to 74:10 minutes. It was only released in the UK, in July 1971.

Wikipedia notes that one Paul McCartney was present for some of the 1968 recordings. Interestingly, the lyrics for the song, Mr Wind, were printed on the British version of Sunshine Superman, which preceded HMS Donovan by a full four years.

Ah and it seems Mickie Most only produced one song, the “sole electric rocker” on the album, Homesickness. For the rest, Donovan “set to original melodies classic poems for and about children”. Interestingly, I see this includes a version of Sydney Carter’s Lord Of The Dance, which the Dubliners and Clancy Brothers covered to such good effect. By the way, Sydney Carter was the name of my great uncle. While Celia Of The Seals was a “minor hit”, the album “sold poorly and failed to chart in the UK”, which is sad, but clearly Donovan was falling between two stools – young mothers were probably not your ideal market. With the record poorly marketed, Donovan rejoined Micke Most in a bid to find a “hit-making formula for his next album”, says Wikipedia. Oh and by the way, we also learn that Donovan played the lead role in Jacques Demy’s film, The Pied Piper, which was released in the US in May 1972. He also provided the English soundtrack for Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon, released in the US in December 1972. It would be incredible to see both.

While I won’t get into this album, let’s just take a look at the lyrics to Celia Of The Seals, which was very familiar at the time. “Should you wander this land to the North, / And few seldom do, / Should you follow the song of the gull / To enchanted western isles, / Coax a fisherman to take you out / Where the silky seals are seen, / Hear the stories that they tell about / The maiden who is their queen, / The maiden who is their queen.” I confess the melody is not jogged in my memory. “Celia of the seals, / She knows just how they feel, / Celia of the seals. / ‘Voyna, voyna, voyna, voyna voyna vay’ / ‘Voyna, voyna, voyna, voyna voyna vay’.” It is an anti-seal poaching song. “Seal hunters are not brave and bold, / They murder her poor wee seals / And cut off their skins to be sold, / Cursed be he who deals. / There’s no reason for this slaughtering, / They’re left on the rocks to bleed / He’s not a man who does this thing, / It’s a cruel and a heartless deed, / A cruel and a-heartless deed.” Love to hear it again, too.

Donovan’s Greatest Hits

I had forgotten. Till I read it on Wikipedia. Donovan’s Greatest Hits. Of course we had it. Going to the website, I find it’s cover rings major bells. Yeah, there it is. Donovan, without a shirt, in profile, his upper torso exposed, with that strange, closed-lip smile, under large turquoise lettering, DONOVAN’S, and below in red: GREATEST HITS. What this album did was showcase a host of hits, many of them mentioned above, which had never made it onto albums in the UK due to those ongoing contractual problems. So finally, songs like Epistle To Dippy, There Is A Mountain and Lalena were included on one album. Many of his other hits, like Colours and Catch The Wind were there too, helping it become the most successful album of his career. Released in March 1969 (too soon to include Atlantis), Wikipedia said the album reached No 4 in the US, became a million-selling gold record, and stayed on the Billboard album chart for more than a year.

Also released as a successful single, the lovely acoustic ballad, Lalena, was a particular favourite. Another in a string of superbly crafted songs by this gifted artist it, like so many great songs of the era, was built around the adept use of idiomatic English. Here, again, that entrancing Donovan voice works its magic against subtle acoustic folk guitar backing.

Cosmic Wheels

Clearly, when Donovan and Mickie Most parted ways in 1969, there was something of a hiatus, before they paired up again on the hit album, Cosmic Wheels, in 1973.

Cosmic Wheels, was released in March 1973, when I was 17 and in Standard Nine. It contained songs which served to play havoc with the old imagination, especially when it came to that remote, seemingly unattainable nirvana known as a sexual relationship with a girl/woman. Too many songs seemed to touch too many raw nerves for me at the time.

“Take off your clothes, they’re suffocating you …” was a particularly memorable line. But consider the impact on a pimply, testosterone-charged teenager of something like Wild Witch Lady, which contains the following lines: “She got acid saliva, she got a reptile tongue. / She drive a young man crazy, she make your old man young.”

We’ll see shortly how we fare now, some 35 years on.

This was a time when glam rock ruled the roost in London, where the album was recorded, with the likes of David Bowie, Alice Cooper and T Rex making waves. Indeed, Wikipedia tells us while Donovan was recording Cosmic Wheels, Alice Cooper was in an adjacent studio recording the only album of his that I really know, Billion Dollar Babies. In fact, Donovan was roped in to sing joint lead vocals with Vincent Damon Furnier (who later called himself Alice Cooper) on the title track. That album shot to No 1 in the US. Cosmic Wheels would also do well for Dononvan, and saw him back in the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic. The album cover, a black and white photograph of him strumming a guitar with stars and moons painted on it, while seated on a pillow on a sandy moon-like surface aside a white orb, perfectly captured the mood of the title track, which kicks off with the immortal lines, “God is playing marbles, with his planets and his stars. / Creating havoc in my life through his influence on Mars.”

I remember this album being played at various jols we went to where much alcohol was consumed and the often eerie lyrics certainly toyed with my psyche. A song like Wild Witch Lady reinforced the sexual power of women over teenage boys. Probably the most disturbing song, for me, was Only The Blues, which explored the pains of loneliness, which was what most teenage boys consider themselves when they don’t have a girlfriend: “You have only what the lonely call the blues.”

But let’s give the CD version a spin, and see what it sounds like today, in the cold light of reflection.

Phew! I know I’ve said it before of other albums, but this really must rank as one of the all-time great achievements of modern rock. It is as if all that came before was in preparation for something that is so strikingly original it almost defies description. Mickie Most clearly was a genius, helping to bring out the very best Donovan had to offer. Here was a songwriter and vocalist extraordinaire – and a producer who, like George Martin with the Beatles, was able to harness that talent and showcase it in some of the finest, gentlest, most understated rock music ever. Musicality. That was the key element here. There was no need for hard and heavy stuff, instead the effects are achieved through such devices as tonal contrasts, subtle time variations and all manner of other esoteric effects I hope to learn more about from dear old Wikipedia.

For an album which almost defies categorisation, Wikipedia again settles on the broad “folk” genre label. We’ll see. It notes that the album was recorded in 1972 and released in March, 1973. I was in my penultimate year of high school. This album didn’t help – wonderful though it was. Released in both the US and UK by the Epic label, Wikipedia says this, Donovan’s 10th studio album and 11th overall, was produced by both Most and Donovan.

Wikipedia says after “the introspection of fatherhood and family life” found in many songs on HMS Donovan, he again turned his attention to popular music in 1972. Three years since he had a top 10 hit with Atlantis, Open Road had been “mildly successful”, while his children’s album did not chart in the UK and wasn’t even released in the US.

Despite their earlier differences, Donovan and Mickie Most got together in Morgan Studios in London for the Cosmic Wheels sessions, well aware that glam rock was now ruling the charts, thanks to the likes of T Rex, Alice Cooper and David Bowie – many of whom had in turn been influenced by the early Donovan. Was this relative veteran capable of competing in the fundamentally changed rock environment? With talents like his, that was hardly a question worth asking. As noted earlier, Donovan rubbed shoulders with Alice Cooper while working on Cosmic Wheels.

And the good news for Donovan was his own efforts paid dividends, with Cosmic Wheels reaching the Top 20 in both the US and UK. Interestingly, Wikipedia says by 1973 “the music business had shifted to promoting album-orientated rock, relegating singles to less promotion and fewer sales”. One would have thought the change came earlier, given that the later Beatles albums, and so many others besides already covered in this blog, were often far more famous than individual songs off them. For all that, Wikipedia says an “edited form” of I Like You did reach No 66 in the US “and became the last charting single Donovan would have”. The album was released on CD in 1994, and again in 2004 along with Essence to Essence.

Before getting into the songs themselves, it is worth observing the array of musicians brought in to make this album the delight that it is. Donovan is, as usual, credited with guitar, vocals and harmonica. Also featured is John “Rabbit” Bundrick on keyboards Tony Carr on percussion, Clive Chaman and Phil Chen on bass, Jack Emblow on accordion, Peter Halling on violin, Jim Horn and Bobby Keys on saxophone, Cozy Powell, Alan White and Dennis Ball on drums and Chris Spedding on guitar. Ten backing vocalists are also listed, both male and female. Looking at that line-up, one aspect fascinates and that is that there is just one violinist. Peter Halling must have worked his butt off to create the almost symphonic array of strings on some of these tracks.

Some interesting plucked acoustic guitar and bass introduce the title track, Cosmic Wheels, which opens the album, and as the eerie female backing vocals kick in you know this is something completely different. Still in folk-singer mode, singing to his acoustic guitar accompaniment, Donovan sets sail on his celestial journey. “God is playing marbles / With his planets and his stars / Creating havoc through my life / Through his influence on Mars …” Okay, so this borders on matters astrological, for which I have little time. But it is so incredibly well done. I think it is that accordion which, alongside bass and drums, starts to flesh out the sound as Donovan broaches the chorus. “That’s why I’m stumbling down the highway / On my boots of steel / I should be rolling down the skyway / On my cosmic wheels.” The siren call of the witch-like female voices keep one alert, while those strings add a further, somewhat sinister, dimension. But things return to an intimate folk realm as the second verse begins. “In the present position of the planets / It’s impossible for me to say / Just when I’ll find my course again / With these boulders in my way.” The chorus is again repeated, but of course within the ever-changing context of a song that is rich in texture, combining classical violin arrangements with the best of rock and folk. All in all, this was an entirely unique departure, and it sets the tone for the rest of this incredible album.

An electric guitar, gentle plucked in a slow blues idiom, launches the second track, Earth Sign Man. Then Donovan blows a couple of bars of sublime blues harmonica and you know you are in for another bit of magic. The impetus comes as the vocals are unleashed, with bass, drums and piano propelling the thing forward. “I’m an earth sign mama / I want you to understand / I’m an earth sign mama / Take me by the hand.” The astrological aspect continues, but who cares. This is another sublime piece of music, with the vocal harmonies adding great depth. “I like my trees and books I like my woman to cook / I’m an earth sign mama / Take a look.” Now I’m not sure about the spelling of “aire” on this website, since I’d have simply used “air”, but this is how it is given. “You’re an aire sign honey / You’re all around me all the time / You’re like the mountain air / Flying through my hair / You’re an aire sign honey / I do declare.” That last word, declare, acts as a trigger for more violin fireworks as an instrumental section also sees the introduction of the first searing, yet tightly controlled, lead guitar solo. “You’re like a balmy breeze / Moving through my leaves / You’re an aire sign baby / I do believe.” And that, I believe, is a further trigger, for one of the finest sax solos you’re likely to hear on a rock song, augmented as it is by those virtuoso violin and guitar sounds. Another tour de force.

But no sooner is it over, than Sleep descends. It comes in the form, again, of a few slow, bluesy notes on the electric guitar, before heavier, moodier bass notes introduce a somewhat sinister air. Donovan’s voice comes in falsetto, beside gently plucked guitar. “Sweet gentle sleep / Soothe and refresh me / Weary am I - of this life / And my fortune.” The word “fortune’ brings forth even deeper bass notes, which descend ineluctably, only to set in flight the following: “Black velvet night / Do envelope me / Falling am I - like a star / In a dark swoon.” Here, too, Donovan’s vocals have come down from falsetto to a deep bass which mingles nicely with the string variety. Now in sturdy base notes: “Winter peeps and silent creeps / Under hill over dale / Autumn leaves like crimson wreaths / Sadly down the wind sail, the wind wail.” It is wonderful songwriting, some of the best he did, and the addition of a sinister “ha-ha-ha” at the end of the line gives it a dark theatricality. Great sax and lead guitarwork takes one into the final verse. “Little Linda glowing cinder / Sparkle like a star / The sun and roses merely show us / ’Zactly where we are / A jaguar, a hollow car / Far in the winter lane – o / Lacework trees - the Jack Frost breeze / Pheasant birds are slain – o.” The saxophone at the word “jaguar” is truly brilliant, while understated wah-wah guitar adds to the rich texture. Amid further sinister calls and toiling saxes, this gem finally comes to rest.

A change of mood was probably called for, and the sprightly Maria Magenta more than provides it. Fast-strummed acoustic guitar launches the song, with Donovan’s endearing vocals kicking in ahead of bass, drums and rhythm guitar on the chorus. “Maria Magenta / Scarlet O’Hara / Henna ma honey / You are the one /Ma silver moon lady / She like a choir boy / Hair all a-cloudy / And flying and real.” The Cosmic Wheels theme resumes on this track, with several celestial allusions, especially in the chorus: “A halo a sky gold / A moon on the water / A scuddy go cloud / Aroundy the sky bowl / Henna ma honey / You are the one.” It is inspired word gymnastics. “My copper go-go-girl / She like a show girl / Delightful Dolores / Ma Anna Belinda / Maggie yer reggae / You move me along.” Interesting to note the reggae reference, too, before the advent of Mr Reggae, Bob Marley.

Side 1 ends with that bewitching tale about a woman with uncanny powers. Wild Witch Lady is a wonderful creation. Eerie electrical guitar notes are accompanied by high-pitched female wailing, as a slow, thudding rhythm establishes a menacing melody. “She’s a wild witch lady / She’s a voodoo child / She’s got poison lipstick / She drive King Kong wild / She eat boys for breakfast / She’s a goblin girl / She suck up all your insides / Make your finger nails curl.” Thanks to Jimi for the voodoo child, but also a lovely play on words with her being a “goblin” – gobbling – girl as she eats boys for breakfast, which in itself has sexual connotations. Cymbals play an icy role ahead of the shrill chorus, encased in a thick envelope of sound and screaming women: “Whoa! Yeah! Sweet young thing you are / Whoa! Yeah! Sweet young thing / Whoa! Yeah! Sweet young thing you are / Whoa! Yeah! Sweet young thing.” The menacing chants continue as her full fury is revealed. “She’s a sleazy miss teasy / Black leather kid / You know Mata Hari / Ain’t done what she did …” Donovan’s voice becomes even more theatrical. “She got acid saliva / She got a reptile tongue / She drive a young man crazy /

She make an old man young.” Spare a thought for us young lads faced with this demon. The song then plays out with the opening verse and chorus repeated. With strings sailing alongside the wailing, Donovan explores the extreme parameters of his voice on this masterpiece, surely one of the great songs in the history of rock.

But, since this is a classic among classics, Side 2 delivers a further fusillade of fulminating sounds. It starts in chucka-chucka mode, with the acoustic guitar, joined by bass and drums, setting up a steady rhythm on The Music Makers. I even detected some muted wah-wah electric guitar, not to mention those inspired strings. “People come from miles around / To hear the music maker / Bring your friends and children too / To hear the music maker / Leave the towns and villages / And gather on the hillsides / Leave your worries, cares and woes / And get yourself some good times.” This sounds like a country music festival. “Have some fun out in the country / Celebrate your music in the open air / People come from miles around / To hear the music maker.” With female backing voices crying “People! People”, this song has a funky, almost grungy feel. “People, clap your hands and sing / To the rockin’ shaker / People, get your love together / Dig a slow heart breaker / Trippy, hippy, juicy Lucy / Krishna, Nutty, soya / Yogi copper, skinhead / Copper, cokehead, camper, freak / And raver.” Again, Donovan and the backing vocalists have lashings of fun as this song plays out.

Fittingly, I Like You is a slow, gentle song which starts with lovely electric guitar notes which seem to hang and hover. Then, recalling Leonard Cohen, some haunting female backing vocalists sing a series of “laa la-la laa la-laa’s”, before Donovan’s unique voice, perfectly crisp and clear, sings: “You’re such a good friend / I’d hate to have you as an enemy / From the first time we met / I knew you were the one to set me free.” As the notes descend, the chorus: “I like you you liked me / I liked you you like me.” Quavering and vulnerable, you are left waiting when suddenly strings surge forward: “Holding my heart in the palm of your hand / Headed out west for the Indian lands / Dreams of the golden boy tangling your mind / Burning your body to fill in the time.” We are on a different plane now, forging ahead jauntily. “Sad city sister / On avenue of palm / I knew naively / That I was your man / I followed after / With heavy heart of lead / Just like a man who / Walks yet is dead.” That puts a damper on things, for now the pace subsides and that haunting la-la-laa voice returns. “I asked you to dance / And you wondered and you thought you might / So we went and took a chance / On the cat walk in the cold star light / I held you / You felt me / I touched you / You kissed me.” The resurgent strings and vocals take the song through that dynamic chorus yet again, rounding off another superb work of art.

As noted earlier, I identified too closely with the next track, Only The Blues, which starts with quietly played acoustic guitar, before bass, piano and electric guitar join in to fill it out. “When you wake up in the morning / And can’t seem to raise your head / You sit staring in the teacup / At the egg upon your bread / And the life that you are living / Doesn’t seem to be quite real / You have only what the lonely call the blues.” Can only the lonely have the blues, I wonder? Of course it is possible to be lonely in a crowd, or a big family. “When you’re feeling tired and weary / With your eyes cast to the floor / For a loved one who has left you / On a bleak and distant shore / You may think you’re being picked on / But you are not the first / To have only what the lonely call the blues.” And the loneliest of all are those who have parted from a loved one. But Donovan has some solutions, and he presents these as the tune picks up a beat or two. “There are no rules to follow / No advice to take / You’re the only one who can give / Yourself a shake / Someone will appear / To dispel all your fear / In a funny unexpected way.” I’m afraid that has the ring of an astrologist’s forecast. But if such a person were to arrive, what would be the outcome? “Then you’ll wake up in the morning / With a smile upon your face / And you’ll look out on the world / And see it is a happy place / With no memory of misery / You will soon forget / You had only what the lonely call the blues.” An instrumental section here is notable for a fine harmonica solo, while Donovan’s Scots-tinged voice, if anything, is even better than when he started out in the Sixties.

Appearances, the final track on a fine album, starts again with gently plucked acoustic guitar, Donovan’s forte, which lays down the melody. And here we get an idea of his vocal range, as the falsetto passages are dealt with with aplomb. “Can’t get this shake together with the rock / Movin’ her body before she can walk / People say you get nowhere till you talk (in falsetto) / But you feel and you hurt and you love / But you feel and you hurt and you love.” I remember somehow being closer to my sister, Jen, at this time than since we were youngsters. “You got the legs to strut it on down. / Parade your pretty self into town / Won’t be too long now and you’ll get around. / For to feel and to hurt and to love / For to feel and to hurt and to love.” The attendant strings really do recall the best of the Beatles on this song, which takes on an interesting lilt at this point. “Don’t let appearances fool you / Life’s not what the rule book tells. / Don’t let appearances fool you / Feel the vibes as well. / Feel the vibes as well.” Some understated organ and more superb backing vocals keep this thing cookin’. “Now you’re a woman you use it well. / Shakin’ your pills at the wedding bells. / People say you get nowhere till you smell. / But you feel and you hurt and you love / Yes you feel and you hurt and you love.” I’ve little idea what that’s about, assuming these downloaded lyrics are accurate. The song plays out with the chorus repeated, rounding off a fabulous album.

Essence to Essence

By now Donovan was right back in vogue, and as a result we also enjoyed Essence To Essence, released later in the year. Indeed, glancing at the Wikipedia data, I realise this was one of my favourite albums as my school years ended.

Recorded in 1973, it was released in both the US and UK that December. This time, says Wikipedia, Donovan shared production duties with Andrew Loog Oldham. It was his 11th studio album and 13th overall.

Wikipedia notes that by 1973 Donovan had “abandoned the style of glam rock featured on his Cosmic Wheels album earlier that year”. Was it glam? Who cares? Anyway, they add that Oldham was brought in to replace Mickie Most on an album which would “highlight the subdued style of his previous work”, whatever that means. They add that many of the songs were released on Live in Japan: Spring Tour 1973, but the album was not released outside Japan.

But, “in a clear sign of Donovan’s waning popularity”, Essence to Essence missed the UK album charts entirely and peaked at No 174 in the US. I find that astounding, because this album, though I’ve not heard it in over 30 years, I recall as a real gem. Wikipedia says on it Donovan “focuses on spirituality and meditative lyrics”. The album cover has him in white robes, kneeling “as in meditation”. Wikipedia adds that while “derided as a critical failure at the time of its release”, many of the songs went on to form a major part of his live repertoire in the 1970s and 1980s. And it has been rereleased on CD – in 1998 in the UK and then on that double CD with Cosmic Wheels in 2004.

A perusal of the tracks reveals how many are still totally familiar, including Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth, Dignity Of Man, Divine Daze Of Deathless Delight, Boy For Every Girl (our fervent wish at the time) and Sailing Homeward. The others, I’m sure, will spring to memory when I see the lyrics.

So let’s give it a virtual spin then.

The opening Operating Manual track, starts with a string of la la la’s, before this space age (remember Bowie’s Space Oddity?) tale is given his inimitable treatment. “Operating manual for Spaceship earth, / Read all ’bout those do’s and don’ts. / Operating manual for Spaceship earth, / Read all ’bout those do’s and don’ts.” I can almost hear the melody there, but not quite. “Do be kind to your vegetable friends, / You are the gardener of Earth garden. / Do be kind to your animal friends, / You are the keeper of Earth zoo.” Sentiments which in today’s global warming era ring all too clear. Indeed, the idea of Earth as a spaceship under our command is entirely true. And at the moment, we seem to have lost that operating manual. Let’s see what those other instructions were. “Don’t pour filth into rivers, / Rivers are like the blood in our veins. / Don’t pour filth into the air, / Air is the best thing that we can breathe.” The message was clear and concise. Another section has him sing: “We’re on a spaceship, / You may not think so. / We’re on a spaceship / And here we go.” Would that I could hear this again.

Lazy Daze, the next track, is a blank. “Looking for a place with a real lazy pace, / Lay right back, simply rest my mind. / Living in a grass hut, swinging in a hammock, / In some sleepy cove forgotten by time. / I’ll be the boy who sings songs sometimes, / Swim, sit in the sun and easy dream a while.” Then: “Don’t need nothing that can’t come tomorrow, / It don’t really matter if it never comes at all. / Don’t need nothing that can’t come tomorrow, / It don’t really matter if it never comes at all.” None of that is familiar, but oddly this chorus is. “I don’t want to be rushed and pushed and crushed and mushed. / I don’t want to be rushed and pushed and crushed and mushed.” Those vowel sounds ring definite bells. Indeed, some of this is returning, slowly. These lines seem very familiar: “She is looking for a tan with a real sensitive man, / Burn her bra, simply rest her jeans. / Just let the kids run around with their ass hanging out, / Barefoot like they do in her dreams.” These were days when I spent much spare time on Bonza Bay beach, so this all strikes a chord. “She’ll be the girl who slinks along the beach, / Swim, sit in the sun and easy dream a while.” While much of the aforegoing is repeated, further on the song is placed in Louisiana, the warm, deep south. “Lazy Louisiana / Lazy Louisiana / Lazy Louisiana / Find it anyhow.”

At a time of teenage existential angst, what was Life Goes On all about? It too starts with a series of la la la’s, before: “It’s not easy when your life has broken down / To find solace in a world of pain. / It’s not easy to pick up your broken heart / And start all over again.” Then: “It’s not easy to be strong and carry on / When the light in your life has died. / It’s not easy when the one and only one / Has left you in the dark to cry.” It ain’t familiar yet. “But life goes on and on, you know, / Just like a river flow. / If love may come and go, you know, / Your love may one day show.” As usual, Donovan’s writing is gifted. “It’s not easy for to sleep alone at night, / You keep searching for the shape you knew. / It’s not easy to wake up and realize / The big bad dream is true.” The poet and love, or rather lost love, are inseparable. “It’s not easy to believe a day will come / When another one will cherish you. / It’s not easy to be cool and act unhurt / When the pain hits you through and through.” Yet, I can’t really remember it. But if I heard it…

There Is An Ocean must surely be familiar. “There is an ocean of vast proportion / And she flows within ourselves. / To take dips daily we dive in gaily, / He knows who goes within himself. / The abode of Angels, the mystical Promised Land, / The one and only Heaven, the God of man / Is but the closing of an eyelid away.” This was very much part of me in those difficult adolescent years. “There is a silence of pure excellence / And she flows within ourselves. / To appreciate, re-deactivate, / He knows who goes within himself. / The domain of Devils, the Fearful Land, / The one and only Hades, the Satan of man / Is but the closing of an eyelid away.” This is the spiritual, meditative stuff Wikipedia spoke about. “All is as it was and ever more shall be, / Though they try to tell us it’s not so. / Over all the earth there’s nothing new to see, / Excepting every seed will newly grow. / Innocence in childhood false men misconstrue / To be years of darkness spent in shade, / Denying childhood’s vision of the God of Love, / So that Truth be turned about and untruth made, / And untruth made.” Heck, I’d love to hear this one again. “There is a reason for every season / Of change within ourselves. / To navigate, re-appreciate / And know the flow within ourselves. / The deliverance from Deluge, the good dry land, / The one and only Haven, the rock of Man / Is but the closing of an eyelid away.” The song closes with: “There is a season, ooh, / There is an ocean, ooh, / There is a silence, ooh.”

Then to the final song on Side 1, which fitted in with our rapidly growing politicisation, as we sought to confront apartheid as best we could. Dignity Of Man I recall as a lovely, lilting folk song. “Make a song, song maker / Sing of love, sweet love. / Do not make it a shaker, / Make it move from above.” Then: “Sing it strong and gentle, / Sing it sweet and low. / Let the words be simple / So that all may know…” And so the simple chorus: “The dignity of man, / Sing of the dignity of man, / Sing of the dignity of man.” Would the apartheid regime have liked this? “Sing of proud black brother, / Sing of pale-faced son. / Sing of the joys of a mother, / She’s the mother of everyone.” These were poignant words for an 18-year-old to hear. “You got red blood rivers / Rushing through your veins. / You got hearts that quiver / Full of love’s sweet pain.” After imploring us again to sing of the dignity of man, the song continues, possibly referencing Martin Luther King jnr: “Make a dream, dream weaver, / Full of hope and praise. / Sing of the joyful, / Sing of the joyful sadness / Of this human play.” It becomes quite impassioned: “Oh, gather all men’s wishes, / Show them to be one. / Sing of God’s great glory / For the humble-hearted one.” The song plays out with the “Sing of the dignity of man” mantra repeated. Again, I’d love to hear it once more.

Side 2 launches with Yellow Star, and a countdown: “A-One, two. One, two, three.” Then: “There have been bad thing done / There have been some good ones / And many people died / And many nations cried / And many babies came / As many died again / Yet always Man prevailed / Yeah though the Devil wailed.” Consider these lines: “You know we’re way out there / In some galaxy hair / With all this space around / We fight to keep our share. / With all our cruelty / And all our jealousy / We find it hard to give / To just live and let live / To live and let live.” This impacted on me subliminally. “It’s all in the Dance of Life my friend / It’s all in the Song that never ends / It’s all in the Dance of Life my friend / Following that Yellow Star / Following that Yellow Star / Following that Yellow Star / Following that Yellow Star.” This was Donovan in philosophical mode. “We think that we’re so big / The truth we never, never twig / And if some Quasar gonna blow / I guess we’d never, never know / And long before that day / When we are burned away / Let us take time to smile / And swing a little while / Just a little while.” Ah yes, and then the “turd” verse, which comes racing back to me now. “There have been many, many words / And just as many, many turds / It’s all a kind of dream / And not quite what it seems / But when the talking’s done / This Life of Death we’re gonna shun / And turn our heart to Him / Hailé Sélassié / Whose Light will never, never dim.” Well, well. I didn’t realise that at this point Donovan was going through a Rastafarian phase. Clearly it would be great to again hear this, too.

The Divine Daze Of Deathless Delight I recall as somehow being a throwback to some of those wild witch ladies on Cosmic Wheels. “Seek ye the mystery through all this energy / To set your soul bird free from deathless delight. / There are so many ways, forms upon which to gaze, / Live in a divine daze of deathless delight, / Deathless delight, deathless delight.” This was breathlessly, deathlessly delightful. “There may be so many, many pains, / Till of old the golden goal you gain. / Out on the lonely road you began long ago, / No other way to show deathless delight, / Deathless delight, deathless delight.” This song flutters on the edge of my subconscious, desperate to burst forth. The final verse goes: “I have had some tingles in my time, / Never dreaming them to be a sign, be a sign. / Out on the lonely road living a warrior’s code, / Everywhere thine abode of deathless delight, / Deathless delight, deathless delight.”

Boy For Every Girl. But a girl for every boy? We wished. This melody I remember very well. And of course the idea of some nubile shedding her clothes failed to offend. “For every boy there is a girl, / For every dream there is a real world. / For every lip there is a kiss, / For every cheek there is a caress.” Then that rather provocative chorus: “Take off those clothes, / They’re strangling you, / Let out your human song. / Take off those clothes, / They’re suffocating me, / My body wants to sing along. / My body wants to sing!” Loosely based, I suppose on that Byrds’ biblical song, Turn Turn Turn, Donovan continues: “For every up there is a down, / For every smile there is a sad frown. / For every lip there is a kiss, / For every cheek there is a caress.” Then: “Shake off those thoughts, / They’re strangling you, /Let out your human song. / Shake off those thoughts, / They’re suffocating me, / My body wants to sing along.” There is a change of mood here, possibly a bit of falsetto as Donovan explores areas most young guys are desperate to do the same. “To lie at rest upon your bosom, / Tongue still taste thy maiden musk. / To lie within your woman’s warm / Upon your rising falling form / Rising falling form / Rising falling form / Rising falling form.” That sort of repetition becomes entirely suggestive.

With a romantic mood set, what of Saint Valentine’s Angel? “Why does it have to be just one day in the year / When we give love and share our joy? / That happy feeling between girl and boy. / St Valentine’s angel, / Oh, angel of all loving, / St Valentine’s angel, / Give my love to everyone. / How I wish it could be / St Valentine’s day forever for you and me. / Oh, how I wish it could be / St. Valentine’s day forever for you and me.” Again, this hovers on the edges of recollection. “Wise men have often said / You know, from the pages of the books I’ve read / Life’s joys and misery / Walk hand in hand and keep each other company…” The song ends with the St Valentine’s angel chorus.

Still in philosophical mood, the second last song is Life Is A Merry-Go-Round. “Beneath the weight of the world I can be found / Among the chaos and the wheel, scattered all around. / On the wild windy wave I’m tossed, cast away and lost, / Now I understand what those sad songs say.” Another great song lost, though never irretrievably, in the winds of time. “Make up your mind to be happy, / Life is a merry-go-round. / If you miss out this time, / Don’t let it fret your mind, / Love will come round in the end.” Then: “Between the devil and the deep blue we find ourselves often / Out of the frying pan and into, left on the shelf. / Borne willy nilly here and there when our hearts are full of care, / Oh my, now we understand what those sad songs say, / Sad, sad songs they say.” All that is terribly familiar, and clearly beautiful in a melancholy sort of way.

Finally, Sailing Homeward I recall as an anthem-like folk song sublimely sung. “Sailing homeward, it’s time to go home, / Over the ocean of life we must roam. / And when you get there, say hello for me, / For I’ve a long, long way to go.” Here I even recall the melody. “There may be stormy days, there will be fires / There will be valleys with mountains to climb. / And when you get there, say hello for me, / For I’ve a long, long way to go.” It was a fitting track to end a fine album. “Whenever I wander weary, I’ll reach for you, / I know you’ll be there for to see me through. / Da da da da da da da da da / Da da da da da da da da da da / And when you get there, say hello for me, / For I’ve a long, long way to go.”

Thanks, Donovan, for this treasure hidden so long and now partially revealed.

7-Tease

Donovan’s innate ability to write clever lyrics and strong melodies ensured that we, at least, were still in his thrall when he released 7-Tease in 1974, my last year at school.

This cleverly titled album was recorded, says Wikipedia, between September and November 1974 and released in November in the US and January 1975 in the UK. That means I probably only heard when I got to art school in 1975. Classed as folk, it was produced by Norbert Putnam, Mark Radice and Donovan. His 12th studio album and 14th overall, Wikipedia said after Essence’s poor chart performance, Donovan opted for a new producer and set of songs. These, originally meant for a stage performance, include up-temp songs and typical Donovan balladry.

Yet, says Wikipedia, while it achieved “significantly more chart success that its predecessor” in the US, “it still marked a decline in Donovan’s popularity”. The album has, however, been released on CD, both in tandem with Slow Down World in the UK in 2004, and on its own in German the same year.

Yet for a time it was a huge hit with the Bentleys and their mates in those heady days in the mid-1970s when we merged partying and politics to such an extent that we even joked about supporting a two-party system – Friday night and Saturday night.

How many of the songs, though, will I recall? Only the first track, Rock And Roll Souljer, rings a bell, but I’m sure others would come back to me if given the chance. “There’s a certain romance about a long-haired guitar man / You can close your eyes imagine, and he could be your man / With his soft and soothing song you can just be his gal / You just turn his records on when you need a good pal.” No memory chimes yet. “Is it fantasy fascination in the melody man / Dare his music touch you deep inside, Feel the touch of his wand / With his rock and rolling song you can feel the feeling / Just a casual glance from his eyes send your senses reeling...” Then the chorus: “The Rock and Roll Souljer, fight my allergy / Rock and Roll Souljer, kill my misery / Rock and Roll Souljer won’t you help me when I’m down / Rock and Roll Souljer shoot me with your magic sound.” And, I’m afraid folks, with the lyric quality clearly waning, and my being unable to muster any recollection of this, apart from knowing subconsciously that this opening track is familiar, I’m not going to take this album any further.

Suffice to say it was still a goody, much enjoyed at the time. The remaining songs are Your Broken Heart, Salvation Stomp, The Ordinary Family, Ride-a-Mile, Sadness, Moon Rok, Love Of My Life, The Voice Of Protest, How Silly, The Great Song Of The Sky and The Quest. All, I’m sure, are worthy of the master who made them, since thus far I have encountered very little he has done that hasn’t shone with his particular magic.

By the late Seventies, Donovan was something of a spent force as far as were were concerned, the punk era (1977 to 1980) having supplanted the hippie era, with its beads and flowers, its psychedelia and joy, of which Donovan was the uncrowned king.

Donovan

At the time of writing, Donovan was still active, often playing in jazz concerts. Wikipedia records a life, since his heyday, that has remained full of good music and occasional successes.

And there have been the odd accolades. Wikipedia says in November 2003 he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Hertfordshire. In 2005 his autobiography, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, was published. He has worked with David Lynch for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, while also helping raise funds for Transcendental Meditation. In 2007 he released a three-part series for BBC Radio 2 on Ravi Shankar. He also supports a school in Ladakh, India. A concert, his first live DVD, The Donovan Concert – Live in LA, was released in October 2007. Wikipedia says he is reportedly working on a new album.

He and Linda have two children together, Astrella Celeste and Oriole Nebula. He had two children with his 1960s girlfriend, Enid Stulberger, both of whom are actors – Donovan Leitch jnr and Ione Skye.

I believe we should all give thanks for this golden light of a personality, who brought so much sunshine and optimism into our lives, even when he was singing protest songs, during those seminal years in the 1960s and 1970s.

Donovan, you made the world a happier place.

5 comments:

Steven said...

Ramblin Boy is a version of Dylan's It Ain't Me Babe. Musically identical in verses; theme the same.

roldo said...

The Bearded Gent in the film was probably Derrol Addams, if we're meaning the same one - an older cat, who finally cools out Dylan in the famous tossed glass sequence?
He's themed in two of Donovan's songs - "Epistle To Derrol" and the one about the BanjoMan with the tatoo on his hand.
Gypsy Dave's tatoo gets a musical mention in "Sand and Foam".

Michael said...

Regarding the lines "I’m amazed you spend your days keeping up all the ‘cod’.”

This is a typo in the music book; it should read "keeping up on the 'cool'."

I can only assume that the lyrics were typewritten (or handwritten) at some stage, and that the "o" and "l" got close enough together to resemble a "d".

marufhosen said...

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Borracho Billy said...

Kin...very nice stuff. Thank you.
Re: "Colours" send-up.
Like it was yesterday...I remember a segment of "The Smothers Brothers Show" where the lead off vocals was "Black is the color of my love's true hair..."
Two more notes...
Back in late 1970, I arrived at "The Zoom" in Frankfurt one evening during a break when 'Gully Foyle" was playing.
I noticed a fellow was at the back of the stage in the final stages of painting a nice picture of Hendrix in white or silver on a black curtain.
When the break was over, instead of leaving the stage, he picked up an instrument, as a member of the band. I thought to myself..."This is gonna' be GOOD.
And it was.
Their version of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" was excellent!
A few nights later I arrived at another small club, filled with foosball tables, again during the break. As was my wont, I approached the stage, to check out the band's set-up and equipment. Having never heard these guys before, I was curious about seeing a clarinet racked on the stage. To myself, "A clarinet? They told me they were Rock 'n' Roll."
As they began playing, I motioned to the lead guitar player if I could sit on the stage...leaning on the stage left PA stack. He said "Go ahead."
I noticed he was wearing shiny yellow patent leather shoes with huge gold buckles.
During the set, from three feet away he would look down at me, smile & wink.
It was during that set, for the first time, I heard them play "Mole On The Dole"...two years before "Rich Man".
Then...I understood why the clarinet.
They invited me to their table during the next break and I picked Pete Heycock's brain about various guitar tunings. All very nice fellows.
They were, at the time, "Climax Chicago Blues Band".
I don't think there were 25 people in attendance.
Back in the States a couple years later, I snapped up "Rich Man".
They've always had a very special place in my heart.
ROCK ON
Jim Kimmel
Albuquerque, New Mexico

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