Saturday 21 March 2020

Donovan: Live 1965-1969 - CD Review

(London Calling LC2CD5033)
reviewed by Stuart Penney

A brand-new Donovan album is always a cause for celebration and it’s no exaggeration to say this is probably his most important release in decades.  Here, at last, is a generous 30-track double CD of previously unavailable BBC radio archive material.
Alongside unique performances of chart hits and reworked album tracks are several rare and unreleased* songs, plus some entertaining introductions and interviews by the legendary BBC radio presenter Brian Matthew.  
First, a little background.  We have the British Musicians Union and their notoriously stringent “needle time” regulations to thank for these Donovan recordings (and countless other historic sessions like them).  Put simply, the MU agreement, which operated from the 1920s until the late 1980s, strictly limited the number of records broadcasters were permitted to play on the radio.  This was capped at around 30 hours per week in the late 60s.

To circumnavigate the draconian “needle time” restriction, everyone from the Beatles down to the lowliest one-hit wonder was invited into the BBC studios to re-record new, purportedly live, versions of their songs for radio broadcast.  Although many BBC recordings were virtually indistinguishable from the original versions (which, when you think about it, was the whole point of the exercise), some artists took the opportunity to preview new songs or perform unreleased or radically re-worked material, inadvertently resulting in a treasure trove of unique recordings by innumerable important musicians from the 60s and 70s. 
The earliest recordings here date from May 1965, not long after the unknown Donovan first appeared in the nation’s living rooms during his three-week residency on Britain’s coolest TV pop show Ready Steady Go!  The first thing you notice is how good his voice was back then.  Strong, confident and pitch perfect, it’s easy to see how the precocious 19-year-old folk ragamuffin became so big, so quickly.  
Most of these sessions were made at the BBC’s famous Paris Studios in Lower Regent Street, central London.  While many original tapes were wiped or lost, transcription discs made for overseas broadcast thankfully survived.  These are the versions as they went to air, complete with voiceover introductions and interviews.
*Donovan in Bob Dylan's Savoy Hotel room, May 1965
Of these 30 tracks, four have never appeared on any official Donovan releases.  They include two obscure Dylan songs, one by Bert Jansch and the traditional “Working On The Railroad”.  Other songs feature different arrangements and/or changed lyrics, including several which were still unreleased at the time of broadcast and appear in prototype or stripped-down form.
The early, acoustic folk recordings will be of interest strictly to Donovan completists but it’s the later more mature pop/psych material where the real value of this collection lies.  Few pop artists were making records of such charm and originality in the late 60s and while this music is, admittedly, very much of its time, most of it sounds just as fresh and beguiling as it did over half a century ago.
The songs appear in date order of recording and despite the CD title, it’s interesting to note there is nothing from 1966 here.  This is possibly because Donovan’s career was in hiatus for part of the year, due to ongoing legal wrangles with his management, producer and US record label.  There is also a dearth of sleeve note information regarding backing musicians, but we can make educated guesses for the key personnel on most tracks. 
CD 1
1: Catch The Wind (With Interview) (7 May 1965)
The inevitable Donovan vs Dylan question crops up right away during this early interview and Don is quick to dismiss any similarity before talk turns to the current folk boom.  Bizarrely, Don then aligns himself with The Seekers! That may seem highly unlikely now, but the Australian MOR folkies were a huge chart act between 1964-66, with six UK top ten hits.  Donovan’s guitar is accompanied here by stand-up bass (played by Spike Heatley or possibly Danny Thompson), but unlike the record, there is no harmonica.  
The “Catch The Wind” single peaked at #4 in the UK charts and reached #23 in US.

2: Who Killed Davey Moore (7 May 1965)
This Bob Dylan song tells the story of a boxer who died as result of injuries sustained in the ring.  It became popular in early 60s US folk circles and was first released by Pete Seeger in late 1963 on the album Broadside Ballads Vol.2, which is probably where Donovan first heard it.  Dylan’s original version is played in a major key, while Pete Seeger switched the song to a minor key and made subtle changes to the lyrics.  It’s the Seeger adaptation Don performs here. Bob Dylan’s own version remained unreleased until 1991, when a live performance appeared on Bootleg Series Vol 1-3.
A unique performance, this song appears nowhere elsewhere in the Donovan catalogue.
3: To Sing For You (16 July 1965)
“And now we’d like you to meet a boy who in a few short months has become one of the biggest teen attractions on the scene” enthuses Brian Matthew.  Hard to believe folk music ever reached such dizzy heights but, thanks mostly to Bob Dylan, 1965 was a peak year for acoustic artists. Donovan is famously seen performing this simple little ditty in Dylan’s Savoy Hotel room during the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don’t Look Back.  The incident was filmed in May 1965, at least three weeks before “To Sing For You” was released as the UK B-side of Don’s second single, “Colours”.
4: Colours (With Interview) (16 July 1965)
“I would think of all the people from Scotland I’ve ever met, you would have the least Scottish accent” ventures Brian Matthew.  “Ah, I was a kid when I left there, see, and kids lose their accents pretty quickly” counters Donovan, setting the tone of the interviews throughout this collection.  This is followed by a brief discussion of Don’s time spent “on the road” Kerouac-style and mention of an upcoming album to be released in America. This was presumably a reference to the Fairytale LP although, in the event, that was issued in the UK first.  This performance of “Colours” features double-tracked acoustic guitar with upright bass joining in on the second verse.  And, guitar fans, Don plays the song in an open D tuning with a capo on the second fret, transposing it to the key of E major. 
5: Catch The Wind (16 July 1965)
The original recording of “Catch The Wind” featured former Shadows bassist Brian “Licorice” Locking on double bass, but Spike Heatley plays on this BBC session.  A prolific session bass player, Heatley appeared on countless records in the 60s and 70s and was a member of Alexis Korner’s fusion band CCS from 1970-74. He also played with Donovan on the 1966 Sunshine Superman album and co-arranged the title track hit single with John Cameron. 
6: Candy Man (30 July 1965)
One of the highlights of Donovan’s second album Fairytale, “Candy Man” is a ragtime blues dating back to the 1920s when it was first recorded by Mississippi John Hurt.  Later versions by the Reverend Gary Davis and others established it as a folk club standard. This BBC session was recorded some months before Fairytale appeared when it was clearly still a work in progress.  The lyrics are quite different to the album recording, sticking closer to more traditional versions by John Renbourn etc.  It’s a strong performance with powerful guitar and harmonica with added double bass, possibly by Spike Heatley or Danny Thompson.  
7: Colours (With Interview) (30 July 1965)
“Tell us about the time you spent as a tramp” demands Brian Matthew abruptly, alluding to Donovan’s pre-fame Woody Guthrie period.  “Do you have a yearning for those times?” Don brushes it off, insisting “Times are good now”, before again referring to his upcoming book of poetry, which I don’t recall ever materialising.  This second version of “Colours” features only one guitar, plus stand-up bass and harmonica.

8: Working On The Railroad (30 July 1965)
The second previously unreleased song in the set, “Working On The Railroad” was a 60s folk club favourite and it’s likely Donovan learned it from Jesse Fuller’s 1954 recording, released in 1960 in the UK on the Topic label.  
The first published version of this traditional work song appeared in 1894, when it was originally known as “Levee Song”.  The earliest known recording was by the gospel group Sandhills Sixteen, released by Victor Records in 1927.  
9: Universal Soldier (With Interview) (24 September 1965)
Donovan was just back from the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where he duetted with “Joanie” Baez (as he calls her) on “Colours” and Brian Matthew quizzes him about this in a short interview.  “It was a gas”, offers Don. “Thousands of beautiful people together”. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier” was the title track of Donovan’s first EP which reached #5 in the UK singles chart.  In the US the song was added to the Fairytale album, replacing the Bert Jansch cover “Oh Deed I Do”.
10: Little Tin Soldier (24 September 1965)
Unreleased when this recording was aired, “Little Tin Soldier” turned up a month later on the Fairytale album.  It was penned by Texan singer/songwriter Shawn Phillips who worked extensively with Donovan in the 60s, contributing 12-string guitar and sitar to his early albums.  In 2011 Phillips was invited to appear on the Sunshine Superman celebration concert at the Royal Albert Hall.  
The original version of “Little Tin Soldier” appeared on Phillips’ debut album I'm A Loner, recorded in London during 1964 and released the following year. 
Fun fact: Shawn Phillips claims to have contributed backing vocals on the Beatles’ “Lovely Rita” from the Sgt Pepper album, although this has never been confirmed.
11: Running From Home (24 September 1965)
Donovan’s admiration for Bert Jansch ran deep.  In the early part of his career he recorded three Jansch covers (including this one) and two self-penned tribute songs “Bert’s Blues” (see disc 1, track #13) and “House Of Jansch” on the Mellow Yellow album.  Although “Running From Home” doesn’t appear on any of his records, Don is heard performing the song in the documentary film A Boy Called Donovan, shown on British TV in January 1966, but presumably filmed in 1965, around the time of this session.  
Bert Jansch’s tunes are always noteworthy from a guitarist’s point of view and Don handles the fingerpicking with style.  Interestingly, while the rest of us were pronouncing Bert’s name as “Yansch” for decades, in the introductions to this song and “Universal Soldier” (disc 1, track #9), both Brian Matthew and Donovan use a hard “J”, which is how Bert himself pronounced it.

12: Turquoise (With Interview) (24 December 1965)
Donovan is famous for his unashamed hubris and we get an early taste of it here.  Brian Matthew attempts to strike up a conversation regarding the current “spate of protest songs”, but Don immediately shuts him down, claiming that, in fact, HE was the only one to record a recent protest song, with “Universal Soldier”.  He then insists that, according to Paul McCartney, the next big thing will be comedy songs. Poor Brian is momentarily flummoxed by this non sequitur before quickly moving on. 
“Turquoise” was Donovan’s third UK single and it didn’t fare nearly as well as the previous two, peaking at #30.  John Lennon clearly liked it, however, as it was one of the singles on his personal jukebox which was auctioned in 1989.  The song was written for Joan Baez, who Donovan had become smitten with during 1965 and she recorded her own version on the 1967 album Joan.

13: Bert’s Blues (24 December 1965)
“Bert’s Blues” was unreleased at the time of this broadcast, eventually turning up on the US version of the Sunshine Superman album in August 1966.  The UK version of the LP didn’t arrive until mid-1967, when it appeared as a catch-up amalgamation of the US Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow albums with a new sleeve design.  The album recording used a full band, while this stripped-back BBC session features only Donovan’s guitar with Spike Heatley on upright bass.  I suspect this simpler performance with its fancy fingerpicking is closer to the Jansch tribute Don had in mind.
14: Daddy You’ve Been On My Mind (24 December 1965)
This is the fourth unreleased song and it’s another Bob Dylan cover.  Written and recorded in June 1964 as “Mama You Been On My Mind” during sessions for the album Another Side Of Bob Dylan, it remained unreleased by Bob until the Bootleg Series Vol 1-3 box set in 1991.  The first released version was by Joan Baez on her 1965 album Farewell Angelina.  Joan sang the song from a woman’s perspective (“Daddy” instead of “Mama”) and this was clearly the template for Donovan’s recording.  It’s a strong performance of an almost forgotten and hugely underrated Dylan song. 
15: Hampstead Incident (3 March 1967)
We jump ahead to the year of psychedelia, when the music started to get more complex and a little stranger.  One of John Cameron’s finest arrangements for a Donovan song, “Hampstead Incident” features a full string section with keyboards, bass and drums.  The original appeared on the Mellow Yellow album which was then newly released in the US.  British buyers would have to wait a few more months until “Hampstead Incident” became available on the UK Sunshine Superman/Mellow Yellow compilation (see disc 1, track #13).
Fun fact: “The Everyman” referred to in the first line of the song is a north London cinema in Heath Street, Hampstead.

16: Mellow Yellow (With Interview) (3 March 1967
Following a discussion about Paul McCartney’s involvement in the “party noises” on the original single, we hear a full band recording complete with double-tracked vocals and a brass section.  One of Donovan’s biggest hits, “Mellow Yellow” reached #8 in Britain and #2 in the US during late 1966/early 1967. 
17: The Tinker And The Crab (3 March 1967)
This song was still over a year away from UK release when the BBC session was recorded.  It eventually arrived on the A Gift From A Flower To A Garden box set in December 1967 in the US (April 1968 in the UK).  Harold McNair backed Donovan on the album version and without his virtuoso flute this solo guitar performance is a little pedestrian. 
CD 2
1: Lalana (16 February 1968)
Starting with a rather wooden comedy routine wherein Brian Matthew pretends he can’t read his script because Donovan has insisted the lights be dimmed, this first of two versions of “Lalana” features just Donovan’s guitar with double bass, percussion and (almost certainly) Harold McNair on flute.  One of Donovan’s prettiest, most melodic songs, “Lalena” first appeared as a non-album US single in October 1968, so it was several months away from release when this BBC version aired (although it was performed in concert during 1968). It appeared on the album Donovan’s Greatest Hits in January 1969 and in 2005 was added to the Hurdy Gurdy Man CD as a bonus track.

2: The Tinker And The Crab (With Interview) (16 February 1968)
Following a long and detailed discussion about the A Gift From A Flower To A Garden box set which was then about to be released in the UK, we get a second version of “The Tinker And The Crab”.  Unlike the earlier version (disc 1, track #17) the great Harold McNair is featured this time and his flute gives the song a much-needed lift.  McNair played with Donovan extensively in the late 60s, both live and on record, until his untimely death in 1971, aged 39.

3: There Is Mountain (16 February 1968)
No one could create a catchy tune with just one chord and a strong rhythm as well as Donovan and this song is as good as it gets.  Complete with Harold McNair’s trademark flute accompaniment, this BBC recording is virtually identical to the October 1967 hit single (#8 UK, #11 US) except for an added organ part not found on the original.  “There Is A Mountain” has been covered many times, most famously by the Allman Brothers who turned it into the 30+ minute “Mountain Jam” on their 1972 album Eat A Peach.

4: Jennifer Juniper (With Interview) (22 March 1968)
The interview includes a chat about Donovan’s impending trip to India where he planned to join the Beatles to study Transcendental Meditation under the Maharishi.  In fact, when this went to air, Don was already back in Britain and had played a major concert at the Royal Albert Hall just the day before (21 March 1968). “Jennifer Juniper” was Donovan’s then-current single which peaked at #5 in the UK (#26 in the US).  It was written for Pattie Boyd’s sister Jenny, who also travelled to India to study TM. This is another full band arrangement, with oboe, harp and double bass, not hugely different to the single.

5: Lalana (22 March 1968)
Unlike the first version of “Lalana” (see disc 2, track #1) Don is backed with a full string section here courtesy of the great John Cameron.  The third verse contains quite different lyrics to the released recording.  
6: As I Recall It (22 March 1968)
The day before this recording was made Donovan appeared at the Royal Albert Hall, where he invited US jazz singer Jon Hendricks onstage to duet with him.  This swingin’ jazz arrangement was recorded just 24 hours later and I’d bet good money that’s Hendricks providing scat vocals (uncredited) behind Donovan. Unreleased at the time of broadcast, “As I Recall It” turned up six months later on the US Hurdy Gurdy Man album but remained unavailable in Britain until the CD era.  
Brian Matthew gets quite excited as the song ends, exclaiming “Oh yeah, that’s too much! Thank you very much Don!”
7: Young Girl Blues (12 April 1968)
Another essential track.  The original Mellow Yellow album version of “Young Girl Blues” featured just Donovan and his acoustic guitar, but this radically reworked BBC recording is performed jazz style, with piano, double bass, flute and drums.  Some lyrics are different, too. Even before Donovan’s version appeared in March 1967, Marianne Faithfull had covered this song on her Love In A Mist album.  Julie Felix also recorded a version (which she titled “Saturday Night”) around the same time on her Flowers LP.
8: The Entertaining Of A Shy Little Girl (12 July 1968)
A charming song from the Hurdy Gurdy Man album, which was still a couple of months away from release when this went to air.  In the event it was one of four US Donovan 60s albums which would not see a UK release until the CD era.  With its infectious melodic simplicity, this song is almost worthy of “White Album” era Paul McCartney.

9: Hurdy Gurdy Man (With Interview) (12 July 1968)
During the pre-song interview a typically modest Donovan wearily admits to having “done it all” and claims to have no further ambitions in life other than a desire to return to the simple acoustic music he started out playing before fame got in the way.  Recorded before a live audience with a full rock band, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” sounds remarkably similar to his then-current hit single, even down to that timeless guitar solo and Don’s distinctive vibrato vocals. Frustratingly, the sleeve notes don’t tell us who the featured musicians are.
10: Mad John’s Escape (12 July 1968)
Considering they were probably knocked-off in just an afternoon at a fraction of the cost of the released versions, these BBC big band recordings are of stunning quality.  The original A Gift From A Flower To A Garden album version featured just guitar, keyboard, bass and drums, but this session with the John Cameron Group goes to town with double-tracked vocals and a full brass section.  
11: Skip Along Sam (26 July 1968)
A much-underrated ditty from A Gift From A Flower To A Garden.  Despite an abundance of jazz guitar chords the song is a masterclass in understated acid pop, with a great double-tracked vocal, plus a full band backing from the John Cameron Group.  Cameron was responsible for all those wonderfully complex brass and string arrangements on Donovan’s 60s records. The brass section intro heard here does not appear on the album version. 
12: Hast Thou Seen The Unicorn (26 July 1968)
A delightful mash-up of two very similar songs from the HMS Donovan album, “The Unicorn” and “The Owl and the Pussycat”.  “Unicorn” features a delicate piano accompaniment which is not found on the album version.  HMS Donovan didn’t appear until mid-1971, so these songs were three years away from an official release.

13: Barabajagal (With Interview) (4 July 1969)
Recorded at Donovan’s “Mauve Cottage” during an interview with Daily Express writer David Wigg, this remarkable impromptu solo acoustic performance is one of the best things here.  The BBC recording was presumably held back for some time, because the proto heavy metal single of “Barabajagal” recorded with the Jeff Beck Group was already released by the time it went to air.  Peaking at #12 in the UK and #36 in the US, it was Donovan’s last top 40 hit in both countries.  
The “Mauve Cottage” referred to in the interview is presumably Bucks Alley Cottage, Little Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, Donovan’s home in the late 60s.
Finally, a few words in tribute to the great radio and TV presenter Brian Matthew.  Starting in 1954, he worked for the BBC (and occasionally Radio Luxembourg and ITV) for 63 years and was still broadcasting until his death in April 2017.  During the 60s the avuncular Matthew interviewed virtually everyone in British pop and the Beatles considered him a personal friend. His style of delivery was friendly but always authoritative. Some of his interviews are comically dated today, but they are an invaluable time capsule into the spirit and atmosphere of the time.

*Around half of these BBC recordings were released in 2018 on the semi-legal release To Sing For You (Vogan  VCD 2016)


  1. Great liner notes that should have been included on this release! Thank you.

  2. I agree with the previous comment - thank you! I will add, however, that "Hurdy Gurdy Man", live audience notwithstanding, is simply D singing along with his record - a very common gambit in those days, for TV appearances particularly. So the backing musicians are Clem Cattini on drums, John Paul Jones on bass, Alan Parker on lead guitar... and maybe/maybe not Jimmy Page on electric rhythm guitar!

    1. Thank you. That's true, it certainly sounds like the record, with Donovan singing over the original vocals giving it a strange echo effect. As you say, it was common practice back then to get around the MU "no miming" rule.

  3. Just purchased this on vinyl and it turns out it's a Lulu album instead,


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