Forty Years of Donovan By Patrick T. Keilch

Friday December 30, 2005

Just in time for the December holidays and the New Year, musical troubadour Donovan is releasing The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man.  

The 288-page book with many photos, published by St. Martin’s Press, very personally chronicles the 59-year life and times of Donovan. He tells many colorful stories and thoughts from growing up in a hard working-class neighborhood of Glasglow, Scotland, as it recovered from heavy Nazi bombing in World War II, to performing on the world musical stage beginning at age 18 in the mid-1960s. 

The autobiography is also accompanied by the release of a new deluxe box set of three CDs and one DVD entitled “Try for the Sun.” Both are available at local stores. 

The new book and boxed set help celebrate the 40th anniversary of Donovan’s musical career which began in 1965 when he sang “Catch the Wind” on a London TV show. Donovan was initially known as a folk singer, influenced by artists such as Woody Guthrie, while the influence of British bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and American folk artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez was spreading widely. 

In addition to his new book and package of music and film, Donovan also kicked off the holiday season and his new “Hurdy Gurdy Concert Tour” with a Bay Area concert on Thanksgiving eve. 

Introduced as a Celtic poet at the concert, Donovan Leitch, a child of the British Isles, grew up in Scotland, moved to London with his family, and later settled in rural Ireland. Playing to an enthusiastic audience at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Donovan treated the audience to a wide variety of some of his 1960s hits such as “Catch the Wind,” “Colours,” “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “There is a Mountain,” the dramatic “Atlantis” as well as diverse songs he has penned and performed in the decades since. 

Several of these songs were among the 15 top hit songs Donovan wrote from the 1960s to the 1970s. His songs are notable for their mix of message, bohemian atmosphere, humor, romance, and the mystical. 

One timely song sung by Donovan at the Bay Area event, enthusiastically applauded and cheered by the audience, was “Universal Soldier,” for which Donovan warmly credited its author, Native American folk singer Buffy St. Marie. Recalling the Vietnam war in the 1960s, when “Universal Solider” was popular, Donovan noted that the song’s powerful anti-war lyrics are still highly relevant to the wars of today. 

Born in 1946, Donovan looked fit and healthy at the Bay Area concert, as he continues his 40-year musical career. To the degree appearance matters, he wore a simple peach-colored shirt, black slacks, and white shoes, much more simple than in past years—but still had long hair. 

With the style of a poet, Donovan introduced songs, made amusing observations, and told colorful tales throughout much of the show. He was backed by a solid four-piece band of a lead guitarist, acoustic bassist, drummer, and piano player who occasionally jazzed songs up with a smokey saxophone. An acoustic string trio joined in at times. The band members were all from the Bay Area and, along with Donovan, had the audience standing and singing along by the end of the 40th anniversary concert.