Donovan life and biography

Donovan picture, image, poster

Donovan biography

Date of birth : 1946-05-10
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland
Nationality : Scottish
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2011-11-10
Credited as : singer-songwriter, guitarist, The Hurdy Gurdy Man

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Donovan (born Donovan Philips Leitch) is a Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist. Emerging from the British folk scene, he developed an eclectic and distinctive style that blended folk, jazz, pop, psychedelia, and world music. Donovan launched his career imitating American folk-rock hero Bob Dylan. While that brought him some notoriety, he didn't fully come into his own until he shed the protest singer image. Blossoming into a mystical, flower-power singer--idol to hippies the world over--Donovan soon found a broad following for his folksy, psychedelic music. The second half of the 1960s found him at the height of his popularity, evidenced by international tours and sell-out crowds. He went into semi-seclusion during the following decade, lending his talents to film scores. The 1980s saw him involved primarily in political causes and protest marches. Although his star burned brightly only for a few years, Donovan's songs have become classics and remain classic-radio staples.

The singer grew up in the working-class Gorbals section of Glasgow. "We left Glasgow when I was ten," Donovan recalled in Look magazine, elaborating, "We were in the slums there. My father was afraid for his children. We moved to England where it was green and grassy." The family relocated to Hertfordshire, in the country outside of London. In school Donovan discovered a talent for painting and writing. "My son always had that little pencil in his hand and that little paper," his mother commented in Look.

Donovan continued writing throughout his adolescence, running the gamut from ghost stories to poems hinting at sexual frustrations. He became fascinated with the American beat movement and tried to imitate the free-form writing he found there. When faced with the possibility of taking a job as a tailor, he rebelled, quitting school and opting for a career as a singer. He made a living at odd jobs: working in a toothpaste factory, making cardboard boxes, manufacturing plastic soldiers. These spotty occupations afforded him the time to hitch-hike around England, where he found solace on the lonely, haunting Cornwall coast. During his travels he composed fragments of songs on his acoustic guitar and played in any pub or cafe that would let him. He was also active in the "Ban the Bomb" movement flowering in England at the time.

At 18 Donovan was discovered in a club in southeast England, after which he was enlisted to perform on the popular British television program Ready Steady Go. By then he had adopted a Dylan-inspired protest singer persona--complete with harmonica harness and a guitar bearing the slogan "This Machine Kills," an expression Dylan had taken from Woody Guthrie, whose slogan had actually been "This machine kills fascists." Television gained him widespread exposure in 1965 and despite his obvious influences, he had hits with two original songs: "Catch the Wind" and "Colours." Also in 1965, Donovan made his U.S. performing debut at the famed Newport Folk Festival.

By 1966 Donovan's image began to change; the activist folksinger role gave way to that of peace-loving "flower power" hippie. Denims fell by the wayside--replaced by love beads and the flowing white robes of a guru. Musically too, critics noted, Donovan had come into his own. Though his songs retained a folksy, soft-rock element, they were now laced with the ubiquitous psychedelia of the era, evinced on the Number Two hit "Mellow Yellow"--a ditty that engendered a brief fad of smoking banana peels. Perhaps his biggest hit, however, was the jaunty "Sunshine Superman," which reached Number One in 1966.

The following year Donovan traveled to India to receive the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. There he continued to write songs, immersing himself in philosophies that would change his life. "I was in India," Donovan related in press material from Great Northern Arts, Ltd., "with four Beatles, one Beach Boy and [actress] Mia Farrow. We were gathered together on the roofs of our bungalows, under the tropical Indian stars. We broke out the guitars and I started to write this song. George Harrison turned to me and said: 'I could write a verse for that song, Don.' And he did--but I didn't record it." The song turned out to be the hit "Hurdy Gurdy Man"; the verse Harrison wrote was tucked away and recorded by Donovan over 20 years later on the album Donovan: The Classics Live.

Donovan returned to the West with a new agenda--to preach of the wonders of life without drugs. "I've done all drugs," the singer told Allan Parachini of the Detroit News, "and what it's led me to believe is that there's no high like a natural high.... Meditation is the only way to find what you're looking for when you get stoned." The newly sober singer reached the peak of his popularity in 1968 and 1969, the period during which he released the albums Hurdy Gurdy Man and A Gift From a Flower to a Garden. The singles "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" and "Jennifer Juniper" became huge hits and Donovan was lauded for the melodic, upbeat direction of his songcraft. Christian Science Monitor contributor David Sterritt wrote that Donovan's "current music returns to the time of the troubadour, the wandering musician whose songs were poetically influenced by the trees and green fields on his way from town to town." He added that the artist's approach to his work was "unique ... in its total lack of pessimism and its childlike delight in subject matter as basic and unpretentious as the composer's own singing style."

During the 1970s Donovan briefly retired to Ireland. When he returned, he found that he had faded somewhat from the public eye. He released a few records and toured sporadically but never again reached the popularity he had enjoyed during the late 1960s. He wrote musical scores for several films, including If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and The Pied Piper, in which he also took the lead role. He also wrote a much-loved children's double album entitled H.M.S. Donovan. 1974's 7-Tease, a concept album, was accompanied by a theatrical tour that made its way to the U.S. featuring Donovan and a company of dancers.

Donovan's career became even more low-key during the 1980s; not ready to retire, however, he spent the decade recording and marching in support of Europe's peace movement, singing at rallies in Britain, Holland, and Germany. In the 1990s three alternative rock bands--No Man, Happy Mondays, and the Butthole Surfers--each released cover versions of popular Donovan compositions. In 1991 the singer even launched a tour of the U.K. with Happy Mondays. That year he also released the album Donovan: The Classics Live.

Although his heyday was relatively short-lived, Donovan's impact on popular music has been significant. Many of his songs have stood the test of time, sounding fresh decades later--testimony to their irresistible hooks, unusual orchestration, and lyrical creativity. Furthermore, as a spokesperson for various concerns the singer has done much to promote world peace over the many years since the 1960s golden era of activism. Despite the uncertainty of renewed commercial success, Donovan's voice has remained in the mix of popular music, influencing a new generation of songwriters and performers.

In November 2003, Donovan was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Hertfordshire. He was nominated by Sara Loveridge (who was a student at the University and had interviewed and reviewed Donovan for the University paper in 2001–2002), Andrew Morris, Sara's partner and Donovan researcher/writer and co-nominated by Mac MacLeod.
A new album, Beat Café, was released on Appleseed Records in 2004. It marked a return to the jazzy sound of some of his 1960s recordings and featured bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Jim Keltner, with production by John Chelew (Blind Boys Of Alabama). At a subsequent series of Beat Café performances in New York, Richard Barone (The Bongos) joined Donovan on stage to sing and read passages from Allen Ginsberg's Howl.

Donovan has released his early demo tapes, Sixty Four, and a re-recording of the Brother Sun, Sister Moon soundtrack on iTunes.A set of his Mickie Most albums was released on May, 9th 2005. This EMI set has dozens of extra tracks including another song recorded with the Jeff Beck Group.In 2005, his autobiography The Hurdy Gurdy Man was published.
In May/June 2005, Donovan toured the UK (Beat Cafe Tour) and Europe with Tom Mansi on double bass, former Damned drummer Rat Scabies and Flipron keyboard player, Joe Atkinson.

In January 2007, Donovan played concerts at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, DC, at Alice Tully Hall, in New York City, and at the Kodak Theatre, in Los Angeles, California, in conjunction with a presentation by film maker David Lynch supporting the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. The concert at the Kodak Theatre was filmed by Palm Springs production company Raven Productions and is currently broadcast on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Public television as a pledge drive special. Donovan's partnership with the David Lynch Foundation saw him performing additional concerts through October 2007, as well as giving presentations about the benefits of Transcendental Meditation. He appeared at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa in May 2007, as well as touring the UK with David Lynch in October 2007.

In October 2007 the DVD, The Donovan Concert-Live in LA. Filmed at the Kodak Theatre Los Angeles earlier in the year was released in the UK.On 6 October 2009, Donovan was honoured as a BMI Icon at the 2009 annual BMI London Awards. The Icon designation is given to BMI songwriters who have bestowed “a unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers.” Donovan joins an elite list of past honorees that includes Peter Gabriel, Ray Davies, Van Morrison, the Bee Gees, Isaac Hayes, Dolly Parton, James Brown, Paul Simon and more.

In October 2010, Donovan's newest recording, a double CD set entitled "Ritual Groove" was made available exclusively through his official website. Prior to the album's release, he had described "Ritual Groove" as a multi-media album that was waiting for videos to be applied to it. He called the album a soundtrack to a movie not yet made and claimed that many directors had expressed interest in doing scenes.Donovan's song "Jennifer Juniper" was featured on The Simpsons episode "Flaming Moe" which aired on 16 January 2011.

Selective Works:
-Catch the Wind Hickory, 1965.
-Sunshine Superman Epic, 1966.
-In Concert Epic, 1968.
-Hurdy Gurdy Man Epic, 1968.
-A Gift From a Flower to a Garden Epic, 1968.
-(With Jeff Beck) Barabajagal Epic, 1968.
-Greatest Hits Epic, 1969.
-Open Road Epic, 1970.
-Colours Hallmark, 1972.
-Cosmic Wheels Epic, 1973.
-7-Tease Epic, 1974.
-Donovan Rak, 1977.
-The Donovan File Pye, 1977.
-Greatest Hits Embassy, 1979.
-Donovan: The Classics Live Great Northern Arts, 1991.
-Troubadour: The Definitive Collection/1964-76 Epic/Legacy, 1992.
-Island of Circles (tribute album), Nettwerk, 1992.
-Also released albums H.M.S. Donovan, Love Is Only Feeling Lady of the Stars and Neutronica.

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