Donovan, the man who played with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, as well as contributing lyrics to The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, chats to LIZ KENNEDY ahead of his appearance at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival
Donovan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Scots-Irish singer songwriter was in fine and mischievous form, when he spoke to me here in Belfast, just before Christmas.
Mr Mellow Yellow has been in the public eye since he started his career as a travelling folk musician, with the acoustic hits Catch The Wind and Colours in 1965 and his version of Buffy Sainte Marie’s protest anthem Universal Soldier.
Then from 1966 through to 1969, Donovan scored a string of eleven Top 40 hits in a row, including Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman, Hurdy Gurdy Man and Jennifer Juniper.
He’s had an eclectic career, since he ran away from home as a teenager, hoping he and his friend would get a lift from a beautiful blonde in a sports car. Now Donovan’s set to star in the increasingly acclaimed Belfast Nashville festival and he will even be taking a songwriting workshop, which is sure to be a sell-out and an inspiration from a man who’s not only a writer of hits, but a straight link to the Beatles and Stones.
He’ll also be headliner in a concert at the Holiday Inn on February 28, which is where I met him for a chat.
He’s a fascinating raconteur and told me that he was steeped in poetry and music from an early age:
“I was totally taken with Buddy Holly songs and harmonies. He tore up the rule books, with his whispering vocals and beautiful perfect pop songs. But I was into all kinds of music, jazz, classical, the lot. My mother loved Frank Sinatra. She called him ‘my Frankie’ and his music was playing all the time in our house, while my father was into blues and the likes of Billie Holiday, so I was aware of the best singers and their phrasing and how to get the best out of songs, from a very early age.”
And Donovan was mixing with the masters, during the 1960s. He was one of the few artists to collaborate on songs with the Beatles, contributing lyrics and vocals to the song Yellow Submarine and met Van Morrison then too. He was also invited by The Beatles to join them at Abbey Road Studios for the final orchestral overdub session for the Lennon-McCartney collaboration A Day in the Life.
He told me how he had evolved creatively, as a teenager:“My father read me poetry and I had two Irish grannies, O’Brien and Kelly, who loved poetry too, so I’ve always thought of myself as a Celtic troubadour, growing up in Glasgow, with those Scottish and Irish influences.”
Donovan is proud of his folk/rock roots: “I’ve played with folk music greats Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan, as well as rock musicians Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones.
“But ever since I started, I’ve wanted to be a solo performer. I became a bohemian of sorts, when I went to art college, but I suppose I’ve been a bit of a rebel, since I was a kid. I was a runaway at 16 years old and the police brought me back home twice.
“A mate and I were hitch-hiking from Hatfield down to Cornwall, hoping that a beautiful blonde would come along in a convertible, wind down her window and ask ‘ Where are you going boys?’. And we knew what our answer would be: ‘Anywhere, darling.’ We were young dreamers!”Donovan laughed his head off, as he delivered the punchline to his tale.
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