Saturday, August 23, 2008

Catch the Wind, Donovan (1965)

Contrary to conventional wisdom, in which easy comparisons to Bob Dylan abounded, I always thought Donovan Leitch was an original.

He had a lightness and whimsicality about him that was very refreshing - certainly helped along by his Scottish lilt - but not something I personally ever confused with Dylan, his harmonica and acoustic guitar notwithstanding.

Donovan's recording career began when he was 19 years old with Catch the Wind, a song of unrequited love that is so beautifully lyrical it almost makes you overlook the unrequited love part. His gentle, even delicate, manner was typical of a folk singer, but as time went on it became apparent he was an artist who had something more to say. He spoke out directly against the Vietnam war in his music before it was fashionable, notably with The War Drags On, The Ballad of A Crystal Man and his memorable cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie's Universal Soldier.

In a 2005 interview, Donovan revealed that he was brought up to be a socialist by his father, who was a strong union man and bohemian poet, and he was already familiar with Woody Guthrie by the age of 16. When Dylan heard Donovan for the first time (they were introduced in England by, who else, Joan Baez, and became friends), he commented that Donovan reminded him of Ramblin' Jack Elliott, who had been a Guthrie disciple even before Dylan was, according to Donovan's autobiography, The Hurdy-Gurdy Man.

Soon enough the folkie repertoire gave way to more experimental fare in the Flower Power vein that had overtaken the music industry, with many signature songs over the next few years such as Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow. He continued to record the more ethereal songs like Atlantis and Lalena into the later 60s, however. Whatever it was he was into, it was always intriguing.


cornbread hell said...

wendy, your write-up and the interview were both inspirational. thanks.

donovan was indeed almost rabelaisian. a sweetheart with an edge?

as soon as i get a sound device on this *new* computer (soon, i betcha) i'll be back to listen, too.

2 great choices: 'catch the wind' and 'universal soldier'... i can hear them in my mind.

thanks again.

KO said...

I recently discovered a song with Donovan and Jeff Beck- Barabajagal, which has been a real favorite of mine lately. Hurdy Gurdy Man has been playing on my ipod lately and it seems to come on as I ride my bike to work past the cemetery and as the sun light breaks through the trees and falls on the tombstones. It is absolutely peculiar, beautiful and haunting all at the same time. Just thought I'd share. That and the girl at Sq. Records is named Juniper so guess what I sing as soon as I see her-