Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Donovan Leitch, 10 May '46, Glasgow, Scotland) Singer-songwriter, guitarist. Moved to London area age ten, first records at 18, appeared UK TV pop show Ready, Steady, Go! '65. Folkish first LP and hit single 'Catch The Wind' showed infl. of Woody Guthrie, incongruously but successfully produced by pop person Mickie Most on Pye UK, Hickory USA. His own 'Colours' and Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Universal Soldier' both hits; switched to Epic in USA, songs continued to be acoustic-based: 'Sunny Goodge Street' covered by Judy Collins, 'Season Of The Witch' by Julie Driscoll. Bob Dylan's '65 film of UK tour Don't Look Back incl. digs at Donovan, who could not escape Dylan's shadow, though comparison was unfair to both. After appearance at Newport Folk Festival '65 and during burgeoning hippy scene Donovan tapped a new audience with 'Sunshine Superman' and 'Mellow Yellow', both big hits in UK and USA, taken as encomia for soft drugs: 'Yellow' gave rise to a silly fad for smoking dried banana skins. Further childlike hits: 'There Is A Mountain', 'Epistle To Dippy', 'Wear Your Love Like Heaven' (later used as jingle in cosmetic advert); he embraced meditation, joined the Beatles in India. Two-disc set A Gift From A Flower To A Garden '68 seemed innovatory at the time, with lavish cover art and lyric sheets, but with hindsight was the apogee of English psychedelia (also released separately as Wear Your Love Like Heaven and For Little Ones, an album of children's songs). 'Jennifer Juniper' (for Patti Harrison's sister Jenny) was sweet, 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' more imaginative; 'Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)' was a rock outing with Jeff Beck '69. There were compilations and a live album Donovan In Concert '68, he had twelve hits in the USA top 40 '65--9.

His adoption as a darling of the flower children led to being dismissed as twee by a later more self-conscious generation, but meanwhile he survived the '60s by walking away and started a family with Linda Lawrence. He split from Most, formed band Open Road for an eponymous album '70 (an early attempt at Celtic rock, all the rage in the mid-'90s). Another two-LP set HMS Donovan '71 set words by by Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear and W. B. Yeats, his last for Pye in the UK. He lived in the desert in California; published poems Dry Songs And Scribbles; starred in and scored German film The Pied Piper and scored Zeffirelli's Brother Sun, Sister Moon '72. Back with Most for Cosmic Wheels '73, top 25 USA and his last UK chart album at no. 15. Essence To Essence '74 had Carole King and Peter Frampton guesting; staged show and concept LP 7-Tease '74 in California; Slow Down World supported by US tour '76. Donovan '77 was another reunion with Most on his RAK label. Further albums were Love Is Only Feeling '81, Neutronic (released only in Germany) and Lady Of The Stars '83, the latter prod. by Jerry Wexler on Allegiance, remaking some of the hits. He moved to Ireland c'90. The ethos of the '60s survives: 'The children seem to have come up with a reluctance to join the normal business world.' Linda's son Julian by Brian Jones is a musician; two English daughters are Astrella, a musician and a lyricist, and Oriole, a photographer who has children with Shaun Ryder, lead singer of Black Grape; American kids are Donovan Leitch, an actor/musician in glam-rock band Nancy Boy (album on Sire '96), and Ione Skye, an actress who married a Beastie Boy. (Astrella had hit 'We Two Exist' at age seven; with Oriole formed eclectic band Echolalia late '90s.) Slowly coming back into fashion, Donovan supported Happy Mondays at Wembley '90; Troubador: The Definitive Collection 1964--1976 was a two-CD 44-track collection '93, and Sutras '96 a new album prod. by Rick Rubin, the Def Jam wizard going acoustic with his new label, American: like Rubin's Johnny Cash album, the prod. is spare and faultless; nurtured at leisure, the album revealed that Donovan hadn't changed, but his honest balladry isn't so twee after all. His sincerity clears him of all charges, wrote Sylvie Simmons in Mojo, and maybe we've all grown up a bit.