Donovan in 1966 looking hip and groovy

Donovan was a lucky bastard. In the early 1960's he was an unknown folk artist, writing and singing mundane and mediocre songs, when suddenly Bob Dylan hit America. Britain needed an answer and the answer, fortunately for him, was Donovan.

But what should make the curious suspicious about Donovan, and is possibly a damning indictment of the most damnable variety, is that Mickey Most, the Pete Waterman of the era, produced his hits. Mickey Most was also responsible for inflicting Lulu, Hermans Hermits, Mud & Suzi Quatro on the unfortunate ears of the British public.

Donovan Leitch was born in Maryhill, Glasgow in 1946 and moved to St Albans in 1956. He was from solid working class roots and, in common with many of his 60's contemporaries, dropped out of art school to follow a musical career.

During 1964 he had hawked his demo recordings round most of the major record labels and been told to fuck off by all of them. How is not exactly clear, but in 1965 he secured a one-off slot on "Ready Steady Go", the premium, hip, fab and groovy baby youth television programme of the early 1960's. The rest, as they say, is history.

He was invited to reappear the following week and by the time the programme was broadcast he had been signed by Pye Records, then a major label, had recorded his first single, "Catch the Wind" (produced by the ubiquitous Mr. Most), and was the "next big thing". Truly the 60's was a happening era.

The single went to number 4 in the charts and the comparisons with Bob Dylan started. What Dylan thought of this is made abundantly clear in D A Pennebakers 1965 Dylan movie "Don't Look Back". In a wonderfully vicious four-minute sequence, Dylan parodies Donovan accurately and savagely.

Donovan reflected the wide-eyed optimism of the flower-power movement and the oblique drug references in his lyrics endeared him to hippies. His ornate songs radiated a childlike wonder that went down well with the smashed-out-of-your-face-on-acid, peace-and-love idealism of the time.

Donovan's career went stellar. He had hit singles and albums on both sides of the Atlantic including Mellow Yellow, HurdyGurdy Man, Sunshine Superman and Jenifer Juniper. He did the India thing with The Beatles and Mia Farrow and toured extensively.

He also recorded with some of the finest session musicians of the time. John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page who went on to form a minor band called Led Zeppelin, Jack Bruce, later to be a founder member of Cream, and Jeff Beck who was to have a big influence on the career of Rod Stewart, all have credits on Donovan albums.

By the time the 1960's were coming to an end, so was Donovan's career. Not that he did badly out of them. After all, anyone with enough cash to buy a substantial wee estate on Skye is worth a bob or two. But fashion had moved on from twee plinky plonky guitarists and Donovan did not have the substance to move with the times.
Fab and groovy - Donovan does a teapot impersonation
Fab and groovy - Donovan does a teapot impersonation

He buggered off to Joshua Tree in the California desert for much of the 70's and brought up a family. By 1983 had stopped making records completely. He was tempted out of retirement in 1996 to release "Sutra" which made such an enormous impact that he has hardly been heard from since.

Donovan had always had a mystical, spiritual side and perhaps the following joke from the man is an appropriate way to sign off this article:

"There was a vacuum salesman and he knocked on the door of a Buddhist monk and tried to sell him a vacuum cleaner.

So the Buddhist monk thought about it for a minute and said, 'OK, I'll have one -- but no attachments."'

Post new comment

You may also be interested in -