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Donovan Biography

Donovan Philips Leitch, 10 May 1946, Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland. Uncomfortably labelled ‘Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan’ Donovan did not fit in well with the folk establishment. Instead, it was the pioneering UK television show Ready, Steady, Go! that adopted him, and from then on success was assured. His first single, ‘Catch The Wind’, launched a career that lasted through the 60s with numerous hits, developing as fashions changed. The expressive ‘Colours’ and ‘Turquoise’ continued his hit folk image, although hints of other influences began to creep into his music. Donovan’s finest work, however, was as an ambassador of ‘flower power’ with memorable singles such as 1966’s ‘Sunshine Superman’ (UK number 2/US number 1) and ‘Mellow Yellow’ (UK number 8/US number 2). His subtle drug references endeared him to the hippie movement, although some critics felt his stance was too fey and insipid. He enjoyed several hits with lighter material such as the calypso influenced ‘There Is A Mountain’ and ‘Jennifer Juniper’ (written for Jenny Boyd during a much publicized sojourn with the guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi).

A number of the tracks on his ambitious 1967 boxed set, A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, displayed a jazzier feel, a style he had previously flirted with on excellent b-sides such as ‘Sunny Goodge Street’ and ‘Preachin’ Love’. Meanwhile, his drug/fairy tale imagery reached its apotheosis in 1968 with the Lewis Carroll-influenced ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ (UK number 4/US number 5). As the 60s closed, however, he fell from commercial grace, despite adopting a more gutsy approach for his collaboration with Jeff Beck on ‘Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)’. Undeterred, Donovan found greater success in the USA, and many of his later records were issued only in America. Cosmic Wheels (1973) was an artistic and commercial success, and contained the witty ‘Intergalactic Laxative’. Anticipating continued success, Donovan then released the bitterly disappointing Essence To Essence, and thereafter ceased to be a major concert attraction although he continued to release low-key studio albums on a variety of labels.

In 1990, after many inactive years, the Happy Mondays bought Donovan back into favour by praising his work and invited him on tour in 1991. Their irreverent tribute ‘Donovan’ underlined this newfound favouritism. He also appeared on UK television as part of a humorous remake of ‘Jennifer Juniper’ with comedians Trevor and Simon. A flood of reissues arrived as Donovan was deemed hip again, and he undertook a major UK tour in 1992. Troubadour, an excellent CD box set was issued the same year covering vital material from his career.

The highest profile Donovan has received in the recent past is becoming (briefly) ex-Happy Mondays/ Black Grape vocalist Shaun Ryder’s father-in-law. 1996’s Sutras was released to a considerable amount of press coverage but achieved little in terms of sales. On this album Donovan revisited whimsical and ‘cosmic’ territory. Instead of catchy folk songs (early period) and acid soaked rockers (late period), he opted for cloying, though sincere, material. Apart from the release of a number of reissues and a children’s album little was heard from Donovan until he made an unexpected return in 2004 with a fine new studio album, Beat Café.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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