Gig preview: An Evening with Donovan at Leeds Town Hall

Donovan. Picture: Michael Collopy
Donovan. Picture: Michael Collopy
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HE is a Sixties legend, a poet, songwriter and was labelled as the ‘British Bob Dylan’, and believe it or not, he is celebrating 50 years in the business.

Donovan Leitch, known simply as Donovan, was born in Glasgow in 1946 and it was there that he had his early influences as he tells me whilst on holiday in Majorca.

“When we had family get-togethers, I used to sit under the table with my cousins and listened to all the singing by my parents and older relations.

“There was a lot of Irish and Scottish people in Glasgow and I didn’t know it at the time, but I was listening to folk songs. There were no instruments, just singing.

“So all that was a strong early influence, as was my father who played jazz.”

Then in the Fifties, the family moved south.

“It happened often that families would move to England and we lived for a while in the industrial north, before settling in Hatfield where my dad worked for De Havilland.

“Other influences then came in and when I was around 14 years old, I was listening to pop music and the likes of Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers.”

Holly became a particular focus of Donovan. “What fascinated me was the recordings and how they were made, I mean, Buddy Holly did everything: he wrote, sang and produced and even recorded the songs in a garage.

“Then there was an R’n’B revival and a folk revival and it all came together.”

Donovan left home and played his music anywhere and everywhere.

“I hitch-hiked around, then I realised that I was a poet but I wanted to put my words to music.”

When he was just 18 years old, he had his first hit, Catch the Wind, for which he received the prestigious Ivor Novello Award.

Colours and Turquoise followed before Sunshine Superman gave him a massive transatlantic hit climbing to number two in the UK and topping the American charts.

This was the start of a string of hits throughout 1967 and 1968 as Mellow Yellow, There is a Mountain, reached number eight and Jennifer Juniper and Hurdy Gurdy Man got to five and four respectively. (Hurdy Gurdy Man was also the title of his autobiography.)

Donovan was also instrumental in introducing us to transcendental meditation, along with The Beatles.

He has toured and recorded sporadically since then, and last toured ten years ago.

“I have to be inspired to tour,” he says. “If I had a new record out, then I’d do it, but I didn’t want to be a full-time road warrior.

“When I toured ten years ago, I did 48 dates but after that I wasn’t really bothered although I did a few festivals.”

On the back of this new tour, the Donovan Retrospective album has been released.

“I’ve been concentrating on my archive in recent years – I never expected to have an ‘archive’,” he laughs. “Side one contains all the hits, whilst side two has album tracks and experiments.”

And a new track?

“Yes, there is also a new track which is being released as a single, called One English Summer which I went to Kingston in Jamaica to record.”

The album will also form the basis of his show.

“I’ll be doing all of the hits, I think I had eight Top 20s in the UK, and some cult songs that I’ve recorded and the very popular album tracks.”

As for the format, it promises to be a cosy affair.

“I’m doing it acoustic and cross-legged where I’ll sing and tell stories. It’ll be a very intimate show.”

Having written so many songs, he naturally finds it difficult to single out any, but he mentioned three in particular as songs he is rather proud of.

“Firstly, there’s a song called I Love Islay, I was very touched by the experience in going to that island.

“Then there was Catch the Wind, as it was my first recording, and Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

In a 50-year career, there have been many highlights.

“I performed a solo show in Madison Square Gardens in front of 20,000 fans, such a thing was unheard of back then, but small performances are really important to me, I have a great memory of playing my songs on St Ives beach just singing to my friends.”

Then his most precious highlight.

“Meeting my lovely Linda, my Sunshine Supergirl and my muse – that’s my most private highlight.”

When asked if he has any ambitions left, Donovan says he hasn’t.

“I’ve done everything I really needed to do,” he says. “I brought poetry back to popular culture, I’ve been a songwriter, performer and recording artist and have also worked with the like of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. What else is there to do?”

For the future, Donovan is continuing to play concerts and his autobiography is soon to be reissued.

But for the present he is looking forward to playing his songs in from of his fans in the tour which starts in his home city, Glasgow.

He ends with a simple message to his fans. “Come and enjoy it,” he says.

Donovan’s 50th Anniversary Tour visits Leeds Town Hall on Saturday October 10. For details visit http://www.leeds.gov.uk/townhall/Pages/Event.aspx?s=4488

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