Often referred to as “the British Bob Dylan,” the Glasgow-born bohemian, who divides his time between Ireland and Spain, first charted way back in 1965 with “Catch the Wind,” before going on to enjoy a further eight Top 20 hits. Inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, he famously travelled to India with the Beatles in 1968 and also helped Paul McCartney write “Yellow Submarine.”
The stage for tonight’s gig was set out like an old jazz club, a ‘Beat Café,’ with plants, flowers and a small table with a bottle and two glasses (that no one drank from) placed on top. The first half consisted of four very different acts who definitely seemed at home in these chilled-out surroundings.
They included Swedish classical guitarist Nils Klöfver, Welsh poet Ian Griffiths (who read some Dylan Thomas) and “progressive poet” Michael Horovitz, whose crazed verse and animal sound effects elicited a great deal of laughter from the crowd. I was a bit bored by the end of the first half, however, and was ready to hear from the birthday boy.
Backed by three very talented musicians, Gavin Harrison (drums), bass player Paul O’ Brien (replacing the previously-billed Danny Thompson) and long-term pianist and arranger John Cameron, the star began with “There Is a Mountain,” a UK Top 10 hit back in 1967.
This was followed by the jazzy “Sunny Goodge Street” and the underrated “Laleña.” This initial burst also featured Donovan’s aforementioned first single, the still-brilliant “Catch the Wind,” and also saw the fans serenade their idol with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” After a few songs with the band, we were treated to the singer alone and unaccompanied, save for his acoustic guitar, which he played remarkably well.
Of particular note in this segment were protest song “The Universal Soldier,” “Jennifer Juniper,” “The Alamo,” “Josie” and “Please Don’t Bend,” the opening track on his 1996 album, the Rick Rubin-produced Sutras.
The well-travelled troubadour, the first high-profile musician to be arrested for marijuana possession, regaled the crowd with stories from the old days, the most entertaining of which concerned the time he was on the bill for an end-of-the-pier summer show with the Kinks, the Who, the Walker Brothers and the Hollies.
He recalled being transported in a box with his companion Gypsy Dave from the shore to the end of the pier to avoid all the screaming girls and how Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon squirted him with water pistols from the orchestra pit while he was on stage.
I was unable to stay until the end as I had to leave to catch my last train. Still, most of the tunes with which I was familiar had already been played, except for “Mellow Yellow” and “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”
As I was walking out, I heard “Mellow Yellow,” the first song of the encore, and was pleased I got to hear at least part of it. Despite a lacklustre first half, Donovan’s skill and experience as one of the greatest songwriters of the 1960s saved the day and I very much enjoyed the show. Looking forward to seeing what he’ll do for his 80th…
For more information on Donovan, visit his official website.