It is 1973. I am on a coach on a school trip to France. I am carrying my Binatone cassette recorder, a really compact music player only about the size and weight of two house bricks. I am armed with an assortment of music cassettes, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, you know the sort of thing. My friend Tony is similiarly armed with his cassette player. He has brought tapes from a couple of musicians I have never heard of, "Songs of Leonard Cohen" and "Catch The Wind" by Donovan. Superb.
I am speaking in the present tense because there is some magical quality about Donovan and his music that transports you through time. You only have to listen to "Colours" or "Donna Donna" and you are young again. I was lucky enough to see Donovan at Guilfest probably a decade or so ago (but it feels like it could have been yesterday), but definitely felt it was time to see him again. So was really pleased to see that he was touring in the UK again.
Managed to get tickets to see him at Worthing Assembly Halls, so not trusting the traffic on the M25, we left far too early and got there with hours to spare, so we were able to have a wander on the beach. Considering it was November, the weather was quite pleasant and it was a lovely walk, so we were already nicely relaxed by the time that Donovan began.
Donovan is celebrating his 50th year in the music business and says that he is touring as a way of saying thank you for the support he has received from his fans over the years.
The stage ws set with a raised dais covered with a sheepskin rug. Donovan spent the whole of the first half, and almost all of the second set sitting crossed legged on the rug, "just like the beatniks used to play music". Between songs, he reminisced about his early career, the Beatles, myths and legends, his guitar, Keith Moon with a water pistol, folk music, and drugs, all with the lights dimmed, as he claimed there was an ancient Gaelic tradition of telling stories by firelight. Well, yes, quite possibly, but the tradition started before the invention of electricity, so the ancients probably didn't have a lot of choice. However, it made his performance feel really intimate, as if he was sitting down in the corner of your own living room, singing just for you.
Donovan has such a massive back catalogue that in one concert he would not be able to play everbody's favourite songs but he made a good stab at it. One song that was strangely missing from the set list, seeing as the concert was the night before Halloween, was Season Of The Witch. He did play a couple of songs that I hadn't heard before - one, called "The Promise" has never been released on record, but most were ones that everyone knew and loved. Wonderful to hear him play such beautiful songs in such a beautiful way.
Because he was sitting crossed legged, he had no pedals, so there were no special effects. Just him and his acoustic guitar. I had always assumed that that reverberation in his voice was electronically enhanced on record, but no. He developed that tremble in his voice using his stomach muscles which cannot be an easy thing to do when sitting down.
For his final performance of the evening,Donovan did something rather strange. In fact, I think I've only ever seen the Wurzels do something similar. Rather than sing and play the final song, "Mellow Yellow", Donovan stood up and danced, whilst miming to the record. He didn't say why, but I'm fairly sure that the reason was something along the lines that in the days when he was first on the TV show "Ready Steady Go", all musicians mimed to their records, but as Donovan hadn't actually released a single then, he played live. In a way it was fitting that the musician who was the first to play live on a show where everyone elsed mimed ended his concert with a mime.
And just in case, like me, you had often wondered whether the lyrics to "Mellow Yellow" were actually naughty, from his mime I can definitely confirm that an electrical banana is most definitely naughty.
Roll on 2025 for his sixtieth anniversary!
The Trees They Do Grow High
Try For The Sun
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