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Donovan - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 24 / 12 / 2015

Donovan - Interview


Nick Dent-Robinson speaks to singer-songwriter and folk artist Donovan before a show in Oxford about his fiftieth anniversary tour and his continued love of music

Sixties singer-songwriter Donovan, friend to Bob Dylan and the Beatles, is still living the hippy dream nearly half a century after the summer of love! In many ways Donovan was the ultimate sixties flower child. He was there through some of the key, defining moments of that long past decade. His first hit 'Catch the Wind' earned him an Ivor Novello award when he was just 18 and he subsequently released one of the world's first psychedelic albums in 1966 - his 'Sunshine Superman' which, according to George Harrison, provided some of the inspiration for the Beatles' 'Sgt Pepper' album the following year Donovan was interviewed for the first edition of 'Rolling Stone' magazine. He knew Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones (he married Brian Jones's former girlfriend, Linda Lawrence) and was such good friends with the Beatles that he joined them on their first trip to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi. Whilst there he taught Paul and John guitar finger-picking technique and he was credited by Paul as having a big influence on the band's 'White Album'. And Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin also says he learned a lot from Donovan. Donovan produced 11 hit singles - including 'The Hurdy Gurdy Man' and 'Mellow Yellow' and he was widely lauded as “the British Dylan”. Fifty years on, Donovan is marking his half century in music by touring the UK. He played a sell-out concert at Oxford Town Hall in October. Ahead of that event he told me, “Don't expect too much razzmatazz. I am taking it back to how it all began in Glasgow. It is just me, cross-legged on a sheepskin rug with my acoustic guitar. That sounds a bit of a cliché, and I know we celebrities are all supposed to be spoiled brats. I am not, though. I have been lucky enough to have had a long relationship with my fans...people who have taken me into their lives. I have been the soundtrack to so much of what they have lived through and I am deeply aware of that. And grateful, very grateful.” The tour was preceded by the release of a double CD anthology, 'Donovan Retrospective' featuring a new single, 'Old English Summer'. “It's been great being back in the saddle writing, recording, touring. It has been fun,” Donovan says. “We started in Glasgow which seemed appropriate as that's where life started for me – as Donovan Leitch. I love how Glasgow has developed in recent years – though it still has its soul intact. I've also done festivals this year including Glastonbury and I've played smaller venues that I used to go many years ago. It has been a joy.” Unlike some other 60's icons, Donovan still believes in the flower-power hippy virtues and he still meditates regularly and is a fervent vegetarian. “I am 69 but I love what I do and I look after myself. People are surprised I can still sit cross-legged, but I have really looked after myself. We all learned about drugs decades ago and I caught on early that you had to be careful and respect your body. Hard drugs and hard touring killed off many in the music game and you really need to be careful. I believe all synthetic drugs are very bad for you. The best drug I know is meditation combined with good and simple food plus everything in moderation. No excesses. I still see Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr occasionally and they would agree with that, too. “There were times back in the sixties when we all lived in the moment and never thought beyond next Tuesday. But we learned. It was a time of change in consciousness for many young people. There was suddenly a new opportunity for dialogue back then and we seized that. We weren't especially looking for answers in those days or telling people answers - we were asking people to ask themselves, think for themselves, reflect. Before the sixties nobody was talking; now everybody's talking - and that just has to be better. Communication is so important. I remain an optimist at heart...I am very hopeful about the future!”

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Donovan - Interview

Donovan - Interview

Donovan - Interview

Donovan - Interview

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