Saturday, 28 May 2022

Greece: Festival Time In Epirus

 




GREECE: 

FESTIVAL 

TIME IN EPIRUS
 



The Varkarolla festival celebrates the Pargans return home 
 from exile. It’s a patriotic event in ways that Brits no longer 
do patriotism, but it’s a whole lotta fun too… 


The woman on the next-door balcony says Lichnos Beach is just a twenty-minute stroll through the olive groves that scent the air, so we start out along the path, which soon becomes a dirt-track, then a steep trail marked only by red paint-spots on occasional stones up and up ever-higher to an ancient white church by a dry stream, where the path begins to descend the other side of the ridge towards the small cove of Lichnos Beach. In the full day-heat, it’s quite a hike. We take the water-taxi return instead. 


The Yannis taverna has a display of old pre-Euro drachma notes tacked behind the cashdesk. Some Greeks are nostalgic for the old currency. The balcony of our studio looks down on chickens strutting and scratting where olives bend low and local veg thrives. Barbara asks do we want tomatoes? I anticipate a gift of maybe half-a-dozen. She fills both my cupped hands with shiny ripe cherry tomatoes. Organic, because there’s no such thing as chemical fertilisers here, turned around neatly to natural advantage. Greece has come a long way. It has a broad fiercely-individualist anarchistic streak that I love. We could learn from their passion. If that translates into a disregard for central authority, that’s partly due to geography. Each island has its own distinct character, and a deeply-ingrained sense of self-sufficient autonomy. Loyalty to family, to community and island, if not necessarily to a government a hundred miles across the wine-dark sea. This is the way it was explained to me. 


In 1963, the final pre-Beatles months in which Cliff Richard and the Shadows could confidently divide the British Pop chart between them, the movie ‘Summer Holiday’ was doing – embarrassingly enough, the year’s highest-grossing box-office returns. Long before Ken Kesey’s psychedelic Pranksters, Cliff and the gang (including Una Stubbs and Melvyn Hayes) took a converted London Routemaster bus on an all-singing all-dancing trip across Europe, through weird Balkan incidents and down into a virtually unrecognisable Greece. Cliff sings the achingly wistful heartbreak no.1 hit “The Next Time” using the Parthenon as a visual backdrop, long before mass tourism and European Union membership, and within years of the Colonel’s far-right military junta seizing power in a violent coup. Clubbers at Malia and Falaraki may not be entirely aware of all this traumatic history. 


I’m talking to Spiro, who is not yet twenty-four. He loves Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. I argue back that surely there must be angry young innovative Greek musicians out there? Maybe a website operating from a basement studio in Piraeus doing startling new things. All it needs is that one breakthrough act. Jamaica was a miniscule player on the global musical map before Bob Marley. Swedish Pop didn’t exist before Abba. Aphrodite’s Child, with Vangelis was a long time ago, but they proved it could be done. No, says Spiro, not so. I think he’s wrong. Because there’s music in the cafés at night, and freedom in the air. 


As the planet becomes less a place of awe and wonder and more a novelty theme-park, it’s reassuring that in the Epirus region of NW Greece they have the Kanaria Festival. Not a spectacle for tourists. Nothing to do with tourism. But just the procession of Orthodox priests in full regalia down to the harbourside, a group of willing assistants struggle beneath the weight of a hugely unwieldy religious painting, as others carry icons and elaborate Byzantine crosses. Precariously they transfer their sacred load onto small boats – not special boats, just the water-taxis and caïques used to reach nearby Valtos or Lichnos, or local fishing boats. With the huge painting shrouded in a bunting of decorative plastic flowers, eager volunteers help the most aged and venerated white-bearded priest across the hazardous step from jetty to gently-bobbing deck. A crush of the curious close in to catch every incident on iPhone and mobiles, as local police stand back tolerant but vigilant. Until the priests are arranged across the stern, in order of status. 


Then a slow flotilla – devoted to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, moves out into deeper waters as every ship begins banshee-horns wailing and phoop-phooping in a celebration. Parga has its origins with the sea. The restaurants have every kind of seafood. Regular links to other near Ionian Sea islands, Paxos, Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and beyond depend on Poseidon’s ancient realm. So it makes perfect sense to bestow blessings and thanks on the tides. Even in a time of wavering faith, observation is strong here, and for those lives dependent on the sea, why risk the chance? The flotilla circles the harbour, out around the Pavloukes islets at the harbour mouth as the first stars begin to appear above the castle, to land for celebrations on the Panagia mini-island. 


The Festival has a complex history. In 1401 an already ancient Parga came under the protection of Venice, who built the impressive castle on the rocky peninsula just north-west of the town, they rebuilt it in 1572 after the Ottomans destroyed it. Under constant threat of Turkish encroachment, following the decline of Venetian power first France and then Russia guaranteed the region’s independence. Until the British assumed protector status after the fall of Napoleon, and Thomas Maitland, High Commissioner Of The Ionian Islands, promptly sold it to Ali Pasha of Ioánnina in 1817, for just £150,000! Just can’t trust those perfidious Brits. We have a lot to answer for.

 
Originally from what is now Albania, although he became Ottoman regional administrator, the flamboyant Pasha had ambitions to carve out his own autonomous enclave. Byron visited Ali Pasha’s court in 1809, both repelled by its barbaric cruelty and impressed by the sumptuous oriental indulgences of its decadent sexuality. He could perhaps be excused, he was far from the only western outsider to be hoodwinked by its fleshy odalisque fantasy. The exoticism of the seraglio was a favourite subject for lush pulchritudinous Pre-Raphaelite art, as John William Waterhouse’s excuse for draping female nudity across canvas. Anyway, meantime, resenting the imminent prospect of Muslim control the local people undertook a mass migration to neighbouring islands on 15 April 1817 – even digging up the bones of their ancestors, and burning them so they could carry the ashes with them. The triumphant Muslims arrived to find Parga a deserted ghost-town. One hundred years later, after the fall of Ottoman power, the diaspora ended. The Varkarolla event celebrates the Pargans return home.

 

The harbour-front is thronged with a compressed good-natured mass of revelry, all the tavernas are full to capacity, and those with balcony-views fully-booked with marked-up reservations. Bizarrely, for an event so emphatically Epiran, it opens with Petros Antoniou drawing in Greek-flavoured Pop versions of U2 (“One”), White Stripes (“Seven Nation Army”) and even Robbie Williams (“Real Love”). Obviously designed as an inclusive invitation to seduce unwary visitors. After which things become more reassuringly Pargan, with the intoxicatingly dense textures of Teo Kokkoris and Konstantza Melidi. There’s a musical tribute to Greek-Albanian lyricist-poet Alkis Alkaios, a naturalised Pargan, who collaborated with Notis Mauroudis to create the ‘Embargo’ album, and zeimbekiko hit-song “Erotiko” (he died of cancer in December 2012) – followed by a four-strong patriotic reading of the history underlying the event, the Greek national anthem, and spectacular fireworks, until the Parga Orchestra close the event – with its own powerful Prog-Rock interpretation of Greek traditional music. 


While Britain is going through its absurd Brexit contortions, Albania is awaiting accession into the EU. We talk to Aleksio, who works the ‘Costa Azul’ on Valtos beach as a waiter. Later on we happen to see him in a bar, and raise a glass ‘Yamas’. He takes that as an invitation to join us, pulling up a chair. Tall, with cropped greying hair, he’s serious and impressively intelligent. In Albania he’s a teacher. But during recess he can earn more per-hour slipping across the border to work the tavernas and restaurants of Epirus. We talk a lot, despite occasional language glitches. I tell him that it’s beholden on the richer countries to help the less fortunate. He says emphatically ‘no’. It’s up to the poorer countries to help themselves, through their own sweat and industry. As he is. He shows us photos of his children in Tirana. He is a powerful presence. His children will hopefully see more and better changes, in a more inclusive Europe. 

But for now, there’s music in the cafés at night, and freedom in the air.


 

Published in: 
‘THE SUPPLEMENT no.88’ print and PDF 
(UK – November 2018)




Thursday, 26 May 2022

Pop Music: Chubby Checker, The King Of Twist

 



CHUBBY CHECKER: 

C’MON LET’S TWIST AGAIN 

AND AGAIN AND AGAIN! 


Michael Jackson was the Prince of Pop. 
Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul. 
Elvis was simply the King. But there 
was only ever one King of Twist!




 
‘Who’s that, flyin’ up there? 
is it a bird? No! is it a plane? No! 
is it the twister? Yeah’ 

I’m gonna tell my tale, and it won’t take long, we’re gonna do the Twist, and it goes like this. The Twist was the big Rock ‘n’ Roll era dance craze. Everyone was twisting. Jackie Kennedy was twisting in the White House, and even used Air Force One to fetch a Chubby Checker record she’d left in Palm Beach. ‘The Daily Mirror’ provided a helpful guide on how to do the Twist, suggesting that you move your feet as though you’re stubbing out two cigarettes, while moving your upper body as though you’re towelling your back. The Twist was the first dance craze where a partner was not a necessary adjunct. You could dance it with a partner if you wanted to, but that was by no means a prerequisite. And that defined its importance as a cultural fire-break. 

Dance was always there. It always has been. Dance has a primal ritualistic element written into the human DNA. Toddlers grin and move to syncopated music in a rhythmic way before they can even talk. Every culture in every age dances. In that between-the-wars period Flappers doing the Charleston had enlivened the world’s bleakness. Just as the early Rock Hops had danced the jive. The Twist was different. You could dance it on the spot. You didn’t need a big dancehall, it was designed for a new culture of small clubs and discotheques. Sam Cooke was “Twisting The Night Away”. When they spun “Rock-A-Hula Baby” off the soundtrack of the Elvis Presley ‘Blue Hawaii’ movie as a chart-topping single, they tacked (Twist Special) onto the title as a trend precaution. And – lest we forget, the Beatles scored massively with their late cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Twist And Shout”. There have been other massive dance crazes. The Macarena in 1995, danced by Al Gore at the Democratic Convention, Gangnam Style from South Korean Rapper Psy in 2012, through to The Floss – which also has the advantage of a kid’s code that was indecipherable to adults! 


But Chubby Checker was the undisputed King Of Twist. Born Ernest Evans, 3 October 1941 in Spring Gully, South Carolina, the oldest of three brothers, he was raised in the Philadelphia projects. He was working after-hours from South Philadelphia High School at the Ninth Street chicken-market when boss Henry Colt heard him singing as he worked. Impressed, he contacted Kal Mann – a staff-writer with local Cameo-Parkway records, who introduced him to label-boss Bernie Lowe who promptly signed Ernest to a long-term contract in 1959. Ernest then became ‘Chubby Checker’ – an alias coined by DJ Dick Clark’s wife who happened to be visiting the studio and claimed that he resembled a young Fats Domino (Fats=Chubby, Domino=Checkers) and his first record “The Class” – written for him by Kal Mann, was modestly successful (no.38). But it was his fourth disc that would change the course of Pop history. 

“The Twist” had been the b-side of the Hank Ballard & The Midnighters hit “Teardrops On Your Letter” in 1959, as a routine devised to match the group’s onstage dance-steps. The Midnighters had been scoring hits with the slightly risqué ‘Annie’ songs – “Work With Me, Annie”, “Annie Had A Baby” and “Annie’s Aunt Fanny” all on King Records’ Federal subsidiary, with their ensuing fallow patch switched around by an elevation to King itself, and with Hank getting separate headline billing. According to Pop mythology Dick Clark – of the ‘American Bandstand’ TV-show, phoned Chubby in as a last-minute replacement when Ballard failed to show for rehearsals. He quickly cut his own lighter more commercialised version of the song in order to lip-synch to it. 


It was never meant to be a record to sit down and listen to. It was a record to forget sleazy political scandal and the Cold War superpower chill, and just party to. Spinning at 45rpm it was a call to toe-tapping terpsichorean action, no two ways about it, ‘come on and twist, Yeah Baby Twist, Ooh Yeah, just like this, come on Little Miss, and do the Twist!’. The original Rock ‘n’ Roll eruption had faded, there was a lull in Pop music. Chubby was an engaging performer, permanently illuminated by a big contagious grin, and his “The Twist” became an American no.1 hit – twice, for a solitary 19 September 1960 week – dethroning Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never”, then for two weeks from 13 January 1962 – subsequently knocked off the top spot by “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee & The Starliters. It’s been suggested that this double hit-status was due to its initial teen-fad notoriety, then – after national exposure on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’, it was taken up by the older parent-generation too, assimilated as a chic and amusing novelty for sophisticated suburban parties where adults could vie with each other over their dance proficiency. Whatever, it sold three-million copies, spent thirty-eight weeks on the chart, and unleashed the global dance-craze. Its success even prompting King to repromote the Hank Ballard original, which also sold a million! 

Oddly, British audiences were initially unmoved by the Twist fad. During its first release the single made two grudging chart appearances, the highest at no.44. In fact it would have to wait until June 1988 when Chubby teamed up with the Fat Boys on their Rap remix “The Twist (Yo, Twist)” which finally took the song up to no.2! He guested on their fun video too. But meanwhile, when Chubby sings ‘come on, let’s Twist again, like we did last summer’ – we hadn’t actually been Twisting last summer at all. Instead, the Twist caught fire here with “Let’s Twist Again”. Chubby introduced the follow-up with an appearance on the ABC-TV Pop Show ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ (30 December) alongside Helen Shapiro and Billy Fury, after which it entered the ‘NME’ chart at no.15 (6 January 1962) before busting him up to no.2 by 27 January, below Cliff Richard’s “The Young Ones” which it eventually replaced at no.1 for two weeks from 24 February. Over on the ‘Record Mirror’ (‘Record Retailer’) chart the record stalled at no.2 and got no higher, compensated for when a reissue of “The Twist” followed it up to no.14 (1 February 1962). But the Brits swiftly made up for lost time. Once he’d made that breakthrough, more UK hits followed. ‘The Twist was bidding fair to become the biggest dance sensation since the Charleston’ observed a staid Christopher Booker (in ‘The Neophiliacs’, Collins, 1969). “Slow Twistin’” climbed to no.23 (April 1962), “Teach Me To Twist” (no.45, April 1962), and “Dancin’ Party” (no.19, August 1962). A reissue combining “Let’s Twist Again” c/w “The Twist” returned Chubby to no.5 as late as November 1975. 


But The Twist was more than just that. It became a global phenomenon! It blossomed into an overnight craze in France to rival the hula-hoop, and since – at that time, Paris fashionistas led the world, if they considered the Twist fashionable, it was by default fashionable. It became obligatory to add ‘twist’ to the song-title for a record to even secure release, whether it was a Twist or not. “Ya Ya” had been a 1961 American hit for Lee Dorsey, retitled “Ya Ya Twist” it was simultaneously a French hit for both Johnny Hallyday and Petula Clark, with Petula’s version crossing-over into the UK Top Twenty, at no.14. Where the most unlikely opportunists began recording cash-in Twist numbers. Jess Conrad adapted the traditional French ‘Frere Jacques Dormez Vous’ into “Twist My Wrist” – ‘twist with me, my Cherie, let’s embarrass all of Paris, when you twist with your charm, you don’t have to twist my arm,’ which didn’t chart, but secured a prominent place on the ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars Volume 1’ TV-show spin-off album. Lord Rockingham’s XI – formerly house-band for Jack Good’s ‘Oh Boy!’ TV-show, reformed to do a cludgy “Rockingham Twist” and “Newcastle Twist”. 

Sax-player Dave Ede & The Rabin Band, host of BBC Light Programme’s ‘Go Man Go’ radio Pop show attempted a kind of Twist-Trad fusion with “Twistin’ The Trad”, then adapted ‘Three Blind Mice’ with just a nod at Hanna-Barbera cartoons into “Twistin’ Those Meeces To Pieces”. Veteran Music-Hall hoofer Frankie Vaughan hopped the bandwagon by grabbing a taste of the chart with “Don’t Stop, Twist”, a no.22 in February 1962, and even Frank Sinatra was hauled in for a tedious “Everybody’s Twistin’” which also got as high as no.22 that same April. 


‘The Twist was like the Atom Bomb in the music business’ Chubby enthused, ‘its energy is timeless.’ But although his records impinged on the American R&B chart, he was never seen as a heavy serious artist in the way that other R&B artists are considered. He was more a fun addition to the scene, an entertaining adornment. Yet a young Thom Bell, later one of the producer architects of seventies Philli-Soul, did arrangements and played piano on Checker sessions. While music academic Richard Williams wrote ‘Chubby’s best records had a tight precision and a chunky beat which made them ideal for dancers’ (‘Melody Masker’, 13 January 1973). A talented drummer and piano-payer in his own right, Chubby went on to capitalise as ‘King Of Twist’ by recording more dance songs – Don Covay’s “Pony Time” (American no.1, 30 January 1961), “Limbo Rock” (US no.2, 29 September 1962), “Let’s Twist Again” (no.8, 3 July 1961), the “Slow Twisting” duet with Dee Dee Sharp (no.3, 10 March 1962), “The Fly” (no.7, 2 October 1961), and more – over the next six years, most of his releases achieved chart status if few created enduring musical landmarks. 

While there were other pretenders to his dance-king status. The Goffin-King team wrote “The Locomotion” – a US no.1 (25 August 1962) for Little Eva who Pop mythology insists was the songwriting duo’s babysitter. Chubby wasn’t impressed, during a London TV interview he derisively described it as ‘Man, that’s not a dance, it’s just a hit record’, although she followed it into the charts with “Let’s Turkey Trot” – ‘gobble-gobble-doodly,’ and more. While Dance crazes proliferated, all based around the no-partner Twist blueprint, the Mashed Potato, the Hitch-Hike, the Monkey, the Frug, the Jerk, and the Watusi, all with their attendant wannabe hit singles. ‘If I told people that dancing as we know it today is my own invention, they wouldn’t want to talk to me’ he protested, ‘but dancing as we know it today started in 1960. The Twist is the invention of dancing apart. No-one’s touched since.’ 

His success led Chubby further, into movie cameo roles in ‘Twist Around The Clock’ (1961) – a partial reconfiguring of the 1956 exploitational ‘Rock Around The Clock’, with Dion and the Marcels. Then ‘Don’t Knock The Twist’ (1962) – a remake of the 1956 ‘Don’t Knock The Rock’, with Chubby, Gene Chandler, Len Barry and the Dovells. He guested in Richard Lester’s debut movie for Amicus, ‘It’s Trad, Dad!’ (1962) – ‘The Kings Of Dixieland Jazz Together With The World’s Top Recording Stars’ with Helen Shapiro and Craig Douglas, and much later in the concert-movie ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ (1973) – ‘A Movie That Makes You Feel Good!’ But to Rock historians Phil Hardy & Dave Laing, Chubby’s subsequent records were ‘largely nasal tenor chants accompanied by somewhat tuneless vocal choruses and stereotyped rhythm/saxophone band-tracks’ (‘The Encyclopedia Of Rock: Volume 1’, Granada Publishing 1976). Yet, although Chubby delivered no less than thirty-one chart entries up to Parkway’s 1968 demise, he regularly featured on TV and in movies to demonstrate his dance moves.

 
There were new fads, fancies and fashions. Rock got harder, heavier and less enamoured of The Twist. Chubby married former ‘Miss World’ Catharina Lodders – dedicating his single “Loddy Lo” to her. He made a brief comeback on Buddah in 1969, with his version of the Beatles “Back In The USSA”, was arrested and charged for possession of hashish and marijuana in June 1970, then made a disastrous foray into reggae and progressive sounds on Chalmac in 1971 with a ‘Chequered!’ psychedelic album which was not critically well-received. ‘It’s mostly filled with would-be portentious and highly derivative lines like ‘goodbye Victoria, everybody’s going to the Moon’ or ‘stoned in the bathroom, on a Sunday afternoon’’ complained ‘Melody Maker, ‘the first song “How Does It Feel’ is unpromising, sounding suspiciously like “Like A Rolling Stone”.’ 

But whatever other talents Chubby may or may not have had, his career had been effectively hijacked by The Twist. And while he eventually settled into a comfortable niche on Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival shows, his legacy persisted. He was namechecked on Billy Joel’s 1989 hit “We Didn’t Start The Fire” – ‘Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo’ as one of the highlights of the previous forty years of political history, and he guested on the TV ‘Dame Edna Experience’ (Season 2 Episode 1, 4 November 1989). ‘I’m like Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse’ he told a contemporary ‘Radio Times’, ‘a household name who sooner or later everyone gets to see’ (4-10 November 1989). His two Twist hits were extensively sampled on both 1989 no.1 hits by Jive Bunny & The Mixmasters, who remembered those days when ‘things were really humming.’ 

‘No-one really knows about Chubby Checker’ he divulged to journalist Sue Russell, ‘the difference between Chubby Checker in 1960 and in 1989 is the difference between a 1960 and a 1989 Rolls Royce. I’m the same guy – but I’m a little different.’ 

So, I’ve told my tale, and it didn’t take long. All about ‘The Twist’. And it goes like THIS!!!!!!
 



THE TWISTING TIMES...

June 1959 – ‘The Class’ b/w ‘Schooldays, Oh Schooldays’ (Parkway 804), US no.38 

1959 – ‘Whole Lotta Laughin’’ b/w ‘Samson And Delilah’ 

1959 – ‘Dancing Dinosaur’ b/w ‘Those Private Eyes’ (Parkway 810) 

August 1960 – ‘The Twist’ b/w ‘Toot’ (Parkway 811), US no.1, UK Columbia DB4503 no.44 

October 1960 – ‘The Hucklebuck’ b/w ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ (Parkway 813), both sides chart, no.14 & no.42. A revival of a late-forties dance tune, later a 1964 hit for the Irish Royal Showband. 

January 1961 – ‘Pony Time’ b/w ‘Oh, Susannah’ (Parkway 818), Pop chart no.1, no.9, R&B chart, UK Columbia DB4591, no.27. ‘Pony Time’ was a Don Covay rewrite of a classic pre-war piano-boogie record by Pinetop Smith, ‘Pinetop’s Boogie-Woogie’ 

May 1961 – ‘Dance The Mess Around’ b/w ‘Good, Good Lovin’ (Parkway 822), both sides chart, no.24 & no.43 

July 1961 – ‘Let’s Twist Again’ b/w ‘Everything’s Gonna Be All Right’ (Parkway 824), US no.8, UK Columbia DB4691, no.2

 
October 1961 – ‘The Fly’ b/w ‘That’s The Way It Goes’ (Parkway 830), US no.7 

1961 – ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ b/w ‘Jingle Bell Rock Imitations’ with Bobby Rydell (Parkway 205), US no.21, UK Cameo-Parkway C205, no.40 

1962 – ‘Twistin’ USA’ b/w ‘The Twist’ (reissue Parkway 811) ‘They shimmy in Charlotte, they shake in Baltimore, in Detroit and Dallas, and down Miami shore, so, baby, oh, baby, what are we waiting for?’ 

March 1962 – ‘Slow Twistin’’ b/w ‘La Paloma Twist’ with Dee Dee Sharp (Parkway 835), US no.3, UK Columbia DB4808 with alternate b-side ‘The Lose-Your-Inhibitions Twist’, no.23 

March 1962 – EP ‘King Of Twist’ (UK Columbia SEG8155) with ‘The Twist’, ‘Mr Twister’, ‘Let’s Twist Again’, ‘Twist Train’ 

1962 – ‘La Paloma Twist’ 

1962 – ‘Teach Me To Twist’ b/w ‘Swingin’ Together’ with Bobby Rydell. UK Columbia DB4802, no.45 

July 1962 – ‘Dancin’ Party’ b/w ‘Gotta Get Myself Together’ (Parkway 842), US no.12, UK Columbia DB4876, no.19 

September 1962 – ‘Limbo Rock’ b/w ‘Popeye The Hitchhiker’ (Parkway 849), both sides chart no.2 & no.10. UK Cameo-Parkway P849, no.32, written initially as a Champs’ instrumental by Kal Mann with Billy Strange 

February 1963 – ‘Let’s Limbo Some More’ c/w ‘Twenty Miles’ (Parkway 862), both sides chart no.20 & no.15 June 

1963 – ‘Birdland’ (Parkway 873), US no.12 

August 1963 – ‘Twist It Up’ (Parkway 879), US no.25 

October 1963 – ‘What Do Ya Say’ b/w ‘Something To Shout About’, UK release only Cameo-Parkway P806, no.37 

1963 – EP ‘Chubby Checker & Bobby Rydell In London’ (Cameo-Parkway CPE554) with Chubby’s ‘What Do Ya Say’ and ‘Something To Shout About’ plus two by Rydell 

November 1963 – ‘Loddy Lo’ b/w ‘Hooka Tooka’ (Parkway 890), both sides chart no.12 & no.17 

April 1964 – ‘Hey, Bobba Needle’ (Parkway 907), US no.23 

July 1964 – ‘Lazy Elsie Molly’ (Parkway 920), US no.40 

May 1965 – ‘Let’s Do The Freddie’ (Parkway 949), US no.40. A new dance-craze based around the Freddie & The Dreamers stage cavorting! 

1965 – ‘Everything’s Wrong’ c/w ‘Cu Ma La Be-Stay’ (Cameo-Parkway P959) 

July 1966 – ‘Hey You Little Boogaloo’ b/w ‘Pussy Cat’ (UK Sept, Cameo-Parkway P989) 

December 1966 – ‘Karate Monkey’ c/w ‘Her Heart’ (US Parkway) 

May 1969 – ‘Back In The USSR’ b/w ‘Windy Cream’ (Buddah 201-045) 

September 1971 – LP ‘Chequered’ (London sSHZ8419) with ‘How Does It Feel’, ‘Stoned In The Bathroom’, ‘No Need To Get So Heavy’, ‘Let’s Go Down’, ‘My Mind’, ‘Goodbye Victoria’, ‘Love Tunnel’, ‘Slow Lovin’, ‘He Died’, ‘If The Sun Stopped Shining’. Melody Maker says ‘the effect isn’t improved by the sub-Hendrix heavy accompaniment and a muddy mix which almost buries the vocals.’ 

October 1973 – movie soundtrack LP ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ (Bell) includes ‘The Twist’, ‘Pony Time’ and ‘Let’s Twist Again’ 

November 1975 – ‘Let’s Twist Again’ b/w ‘The Twist’ UK London American HL10512, no.5 

January 1976 – LP ‘The American Dream: The Cameo-Parkway Story 1957-1962’ (London Records Dream-U 3/4) double-vinyl includes ‘The Class’, ‘The Twist’, ‘Pony Time’, ‘Let’s Twist Again’, ‘Dancin’ Party’ and ‘Limbo Rock’ alongside tracks by Dee Dee Sharp (‘Mashed Potato Time’), Don Covay, Bobby Rydell, the Orlons (‘Don’t Hang Up’) and the Dovells (‘Bristol Stomp’) 

March 1976 – LP ‘Chubby Checker: Greatest Hits’ (London Records HAU8492), ‘Melody Maker’ said ‘a fine reminder of how catchy American punk Pop was’ although ‘the strain of constantly coming up with new dances was showing and the result was the feeble “Do The Freddie” and “At The Discoteque”.’ 

April 1976 – ‘Dance Party’ b/w ‘Limbo Rock’ (London American HLU 10524) 

December 1976 – ‘The Rub’ b/w ‘Move It’ 

June 1988 – ‘The Twist (Yo, Twist)’ The Fat Boys with Chubby Checker (Urban URB20), UK no.2 

May 1990 – movie soundtrack LP for Roseanne Barr- Meryl Streep ‘She-Devil’ (Mercury), includes ‘Party Up’ by Chubby Checker featuring the Fat Boys




Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Classic Movie: JEAN-LUC GODARD's 'ALPHAVILLE'

 




SPACE, BUT NOT 

AS WE KNOW IT –
 
JEAN LUC-GODARD’S 

‘ALPHAVILLE’




Review of: ‘ALPHAVILLE’ 
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, with Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, 
Akin Tamiroff and Laszlo Szabo. Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard 
(1965, Pathè Contemporary/ Chaumaine-Film, Studio/Canal, DVD)





 ‘Sometimes reality can be too complex to be conveyed 
by the spoken word, legend remoulds it into a 
form that can be spread all across the world…’
 

This is not the real world. This is not orthodox storytelling. Although ‘Alphaville’ is Jean-Luc Godard’s only venture into SF, it’s not even exactly SF. There’s an argument that his ‘Weekend’ (1968), a vision of autowreck and social degeneration into cannibalism, can be viewed as a Ballardian dystopia, but that’s open to interpretation too. Maybe repeated viewing of ‘Alphaville’ will clarify some difficult points. And it does. Up to a point. But the film sets up a continuum where narrative is not necessarily cohesive. It is playful, and infinite in possibility. ‘You never understand anything, and in the end, it kills you…’ There’s a lot that’s not meant to be clarified, preferring a maze of allusions culled from a disparate variety of sources instead. The fairly typical SF pulp theme of individualism resisting techno-totalitarianism, is transfigured into ambiguous allegory.



Intergalactic secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) arrives from ‘the outer countries’. He neglects to use a spaceship to get to Alphaville, by simply piloting a Ford Galaxy saloon through an ‘intersidereal space’ that closely resembles an ordinary highway. The city itself is a thinly disguised Paris, with selective perspectives of modernist glass-and-concrete standing in for the future. Its surface tone is cool and clear. Yet the luminous realism of the night-dark city is deceptive. At the time of its first release it all seemed radically innovative. The decades since have blunted some of that shock-of-the-new, subsuming it into various continuities. 


The earlier French films of Jean Cocteau now seem closer than was apparent at the time, especially his ‘Orphee’ (1950). Godard was a lead activist in the French New Wave, the movement swirling around the ‘Cahiers Du Cinèma’ journal. And ‘La Nouvelle Vague’ films, such as Alain Resnais’ ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (1959), or ‘Last Year In Mariebad’ (1961) were influenced by ‘nouveau roman’ fiction and the disjointed abstract art movements where conventional images are dislocated and re-ordered. That’s part of the non-linear game. There are pause-frames, direction arrows, E=MC2, pulsing neon lettering, and a grit-gravel voice-over. The aphoristic dialogue is deliberately non-realistic and absurdly poetic – ‘no-one has ever lived in the past. No-one will ever live in the future. The present is the form of all life’ delivered over a sequence of sketches and diagrams, words, surreal cartoons. Sometimes there’s genuine poetry. Jorge Luis Borges. Lemmy Caution destroys the central computer by countering its logic with poetry. And Natacha is shown reading from Paul Eluard’s ‘Capital Of Pain’ (‘Capitale De La Doleur’ 1926). 



Another vital input is previously-overlooked critically-derided Hollywood ‘B’-movies. Caution is not an original character, but one lifted from a series of tough-guy ‘Sam Spade’-style detective novels by Peter Cheyney. Eddie Constantine had already played him in a number of popular Euro-movies, from ‘Poison Ivy’ (‘La Môme Vert-De-Gris’, 1953) clear through to ‘Your Turn, Darling’ (‘A Toi De Faire… Migonne’, 1963). According to such fiction, New York-born Caution is hard-bitten, fuelled on cigarettes and drink. In his slouch-hat, trenchcoat and bad complexion he’s a ridiculous noir cipher, further mocked by his punning 003 codename.


 
He registers at the Alphaville hotel as Ivan Johnson, supposedly a journalist for ‘Figaro-Pravda’ magazine. He’s tetchily uncommunicative, taps the walls of his room suspiciously, and flash-photos everything. According to Godard’s dictum that ‘all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun’ there’s a level-three seductress in his room, a big chrome juke-box, and a man with a gun. ‘Are you on drugs, sir?’ asks the girl. ‘no, this is normal’ he responds. His mission is to deal with the omnipresent Alpha 60 computer used to suppress the populace in the name of the Orwellian new-speak ‘universal good’. He visits Henry Dickson (Akim Tamiroff), who is sick, in a low-rent hotel in the forbidden zones. He encounters Natacha Von Braun (Anna Karina), daughter of the city’s controller, although she claims never to have met her mysterious all-powerful father. Her pointed teeth remind Caution of the vampires in the ‘old films they used to show.’ She speaks direct to camera with ‘the voice of a pretty sphinx.’

 
Through sequences of Kafkaesque bureaucracy he’s asked cryptic questions, and replies with conundrums. Is he a spy? Will there be a pre-emptive war with the outer countries? There is no ‘why’, there is only ‘because’. He escapes – unconvincingly, by smashing through matchwood doors and shooting four security guards. In a final confrontation Caution confirms his suspicions that Von Braun is really rogue scientist Leonard Nosferatu (Howard Vernon), banished in 1964. Not so, insists Von Braun, ‘that man no longer exists.’ He taunts Caution, ‘look at yourself, men like you will soon be extinct.’ Then tries to bribe him by offering gold, women, his own galaxy.


 
With this film Godard is at his most pranksterist. Alphaville is an impressionistic dystopia, a symbolist totalitarianism. Women have control numbers printed on their bodies. Are you crying?’ asks Caution. ‘No’ she responds, ‘because that is forbidden.’ A man who displayed grief by weeping when his wife died is machine-gunned into the swimming pool for his irrational failing. The Bible is a dictionary that does not contain the word ‘conscience’, and words are systematically deleted – robin redbreast, weep, tenderness, autumn light. Yet the effect is not unsettling. It’s not disorientating or subversive, except in the form of its structure.

 
This intriguingly mesmerising film mix-matches and splices genres into an artful cinematic comic-book – there are two scientists introduced as ‘Dr Heckle & Dr Jeckle’. Caution asks ‘is Dick Tracy dead? What about Flash Gordon?’ in what seem to be Pop-culture name-checks or in-jokes. And the traditions of SF are exploited as part of the same playfulness. When he uses the phone they enquire ‘galaxy, or local call?’ There’s a Heisenberg Park, ‘Nosferatu’ is a reference back to the 1922 FW Murnau movie, and the villain’s alternate name Von Braun obviously draws from the architect of the American space-shots. But ‘like all the other components of ‘Alphaville’, SF is used merely as a means to an end by Godard’ as critic John Brosnan points out (Peter Nicholls’ ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’). ‘You should call this dump Zeroville’ deadpans Caution. Yet, as in fairy-tale and wish-fulfillment fiction, he not only succeeds, but wins the love of the mad scientist’s elfin daughter too.


As the city, and its people malfunction in a series of negative anti-matter sequences, he rescues Natacha and they drive away together through the night of ‘intersidereal space’. ‘Don’t look back’ he warns her, in a conscious allusion to Orpheus. She struggles to pronounce the unfamiliar language of emotion. Until perhaps, as she finally manages to utter ‘I love you’, it’s an indication that, just maybe, the city will also recover, regenerate.
 

‘Everything has been said, provided 
words do not change their meanings, 
meanings their words…’



 

‘ALPHAVILLE: UNE ÉTRANGE
 
AVENTURE DE LEMMY CAUTION’ 

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Producer: Andrè Michelin. Screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard. With Eddie Constantine (as Lemmy Caution), Anna Karina (as Natacha Von Braun), Akim Tamiroff (as Henri Dickson), Howard Vernon (Prof Leonard Nosferatu aka Von Braun), Michel Delahaye (Von Braun’s Assistant), Jean-Andrè Fieschi & Jean-Louis Comolli (as Prof Heckell & Prof Jeckell), Laszlo Szabo (Chief Engineer), plus Christa Lang, Jean-Pierra Lèaud, and Valèrie Boisgel. Music by Paul Misraki. 99-minutes (5 May 1965 France, November 1965 UK, Pathè Contemporary / Chaumaine-Film, Studio/Canal, Optimum Releasing DVD 2007 with bonus features Colin MacCabe Introduction, Trailer, Posters, ‘Alphaville, Pèriphèries’) 




‘THE ALPHAVILLAINS’ John Brunner reviews ‘Alphaville’ in ‘New Worlds no.165’ (August 1966) and obviously fails to understand it, judging it on its merits as a ‘science fiction film’ – ‘it certainly is not science fiction even in the loosest sense of that term.’ Opening ‘Let’s get one thing straight to start with. ‘Alphaville’ is a disgracefully bad film, reflecting no credit to anybody – especially not on those critics who have puffed it as a major artistic achievement.’ Nit-picking details such as his ‘Ford Galaxie’ is clearly a Ford Mustang. He closes ‘Miss this film. There are so many better things to see.’ 

 
Featured on website: 
‘VIDEOVISTA (March)’ 
UK – March 2011)



Saturday, 30 April 2022

Poem: 'All I Ever Wanted To Do'

 




ALL I EVER WANTED TO DO 
(From an idea suggested by Bruce Hodder)
 

All I ever wanted to do was walk along the beach and rescue stranded driftwood, carve it into the form of real mermaids, and release them back into the sea...
 
All I ever wanted to do was walk on the surface of Callisto and look up at the psychedelic storms swirling across the face of Jupiter...
 
All I ever wanted to do was take acid with Captain Trips and jam 148 verses of ‘Dark Star’ at Stonehenge during a total eclipse...
 
All I ever wanted to do was live a hermit’s life in a cave beside a stream on the Yorkshire Moors, learn the language of dragonflies and moles, write poems on pieces of bread and feed them to the birds so that every time they crap on the city street or on someone’s car, it will be puréed verse…
 
All I ever wanted to do was own an emporium that sells time, in neat parcels of minutes or hours, to barter a weekend in 1961, a month in 1482, or a chance to say ‘I understand’ to a long-dead mother…

All I ever wanted to do was lie about nude in the sand, drawing pictures of mountains that look like bumps, as in Grace’s ‘Lather’…
 
All I ever wanted to do was put Debbie Harry’s panties through the liquidiser and drink them down straight, no chaser... 


Featured online at: 
‘IT: INTERNATIONAL TIMES’ 
(31 July 2021) 





Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Donovan Interview: The View From The Beat Cafe

 




DONOVAN:
 
THE VIEW FROM
 
THE BEAT CAFÉ




… All of a sudden – Donovan Leitch is everywhere. His long-promised 
long-awaited autobiography – ‘The Hurdy-Gurdy Man’ is published 
this autumn, in the meantime EMI are issuing four digitally-remastered 
extended editions of previously-USA-only albums, while he’s launching 
a new series of ‘Beat Café’-themed gigs, with Rat Scabies on drums! 
Andrew Darlington is there to get the details…



 

HURDY-GURDY MAN…
 “Histories of ages past, unenlightened shadows cast…” 
 (‘Hurdy-Gurdy Man’) 

We’re sat in the sun outside a wine-bar some short distance from the venue where he’s due to perform. Donovan will play there tonight in a spiralling crawl of psychedelic lighting, beneath huge monochrome images of three Beat-Generation writers. Jack Kerouac with his deep darkly sensual eyes, an early Allen Ginsberg wearing a striped tie, and the supernatural stare of William Burroughs. There’ll also be a flickering candle stuck in a drained wine-bottle, wax tendrils running. A virtual Beatnik Café. But now – Jason brings us drinks. Red wine for Donovan, ‘thanks, you’re a diamond’. Not the Budweiser I’d specified, sorry – but Coors. ‘It’s American still’ chides Donovan mischievously, ‘wave the flag’. We small-talk, enjoy the vibes. There’s a raggle-taggle minstelstry air – still, about Donovan. 



He’d arrived tonight in the ‘City Varieties’ foyer, dressed in black with a ‘Donegal Cruise’ blue plastic bag. His black roll-neck and black jeans betraying their travels, yet he’ll wear the same for the concert. He can also look as worn as his years suggest, until the moments when his face lights up in a spontaneous smile. He has white false-nails on his right hand, all the better to plectrum with. And his hair – thinner, yet reassuringly tousled, up close, betrays a subtle blue tint that makes it appear darker than it is when viewed from audience-seating. He listens attentively to my questions, variants of which he must have been asked very many times before. Then his answers come in unbroken, yet carefully considered streams, addressing each point carefully and thoroughly. Both affected and compelling, relaxed and intense. But it’s obvious that an interview – to Donovan, is an extension of the performance. He is at all times the guru dispensing esoteric wisdoms, just as he, in his turn, had absorbed secret bohemian magics from those who came before him, most obviously those three Beat Poets, but beyond them through mystic and bohemian traditions stretching back, virtually to the misty Celtic dawn of time. ‘And so the journey begins…’ he’ll travelogue on-stage… 

 But first, now, ‘anyway – you’ve got a list of questions. Don’t let me go on…’ 

To begin. You’re a similar age to me, although you’re carrying it better. Fifty-nine. Yeh – somebody got it wrong and wrote that I was sixty this year – so I grew a year in just two days! I got a year older in two days! (in fact, to set the record straight, he was born Donovan Phillips Leitch, 10 May 1946)


 
And you’re in a good place. You’ve been in fashion. And out of it. Now you’re beyond it all, into your own continuum. It’s a good place to be. No commercial pressures. When you want to tour, you know you can sell-out mid-size venues like this with ease. When you put out an album you know it will sell enough to make the exercise artistically satisfying and economically viable. Well this year – yes, I’m in a good position. Why? because I’m returning to the world. I’m ready, ready to present my book – which is called ‘The Hurdy-Gurdy Man’ (2005 Century hardback, 2006 Arrow paperback, ISBN 978-0099487-036) it’s coming out in October on the Century imprint. Yes – I’ve written my autobiography over the years, and now it’s ready. I just came back from Greece last year where I was completing my book with my pal. I did some of it there. Look out for me. There’s also a documentary in the works for next year. And – yes, I’m in a good position. Why? because I’m ready to present my Fortieth Anniversary tour, which is this year and next year. I’m also very pleased with the results of the ‘Beat Café’ album (2004), and its concept is the preface to my show, to illustrate and explore where I came from, and where my contemporaries came from. What I want to do is to re-present my works, alongside the 1960’s bohemian manifesto that me and my brothers and sisters promoted into popular culture. That is – there’s the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bert Jansch – and me. And well – the poets, they are the older brothers of the sixties poets. They came before us. The poets are our Big Brothers, our older brothers. I consider Lennon a poet, we all consider Dylan a poet, and if some people don’t see the poetry in my songs… well, they got plugs in their ears. And actually, all Twentieth Century movements come out of the Bohemian Cafes – from Modern Art, Socialism, Spiritualism, to Dance, theatre and movie-makers. The cafes of the twentieth-century produced the artists and the thinkers who move society on. This is how it works. And so October kicks off my Fortieth Anniversary. I initially intended to tour the UK first, then the UK grew and grew and grew, and I thought ‘that’s good’, and I tried to stretch into Europe, and I tried to stretch into Dublin – and couldn’t make it. So, as part of this tour, I’m saving Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London, saving them for the anniversary presentation in October. And I’m missing Dublin this tour. So I hope to bring the ‘Beat Café’ to Ireland, some time soon.


 
On your ‘Beat Café’ album you do a version of the traditional song “The Cuckoo”. Kristen Hirsh – formerly of Throwing Muses, also recorded a version of the same song (on her ‘Hips & Makers’ album, 1993), but she described it to me as ‘an Appalachian Folk Song’. Did he really (sic)? Is that right? It’s an old tune. And it’s a favourite, a favourite song of mine. “The Cuckoo” is probably an Irish song that went over with the migrants. ‘Ah-diddlie, Ah-diddlie, A diddile-diddle-dah’ (he sings, emphasising its lilting melancholy). It’s an old way of singing – ‘keening’, you know? Which means it’s Celtic. Probably even pre-Celtic. Folk Songs have a way of diversifying. Folk Songs are amazing. A Folk Song can last just as long as an archaeological find. They are actually the repositories of the history of humankind, the human spirit. There are certain tunes that carry a ritual, or a circular dance that goes back millennia. And I know them. I feel them in my heart (he clutches his hand over his chest). There are five vowel-sounds – AE-Ah-OU. Although the Greeks say there are seven-to-nine vowels. But (sings) ‘a-eee-ah-owe-you’, all these root-sounds are in every language, no matter where or when. So you don’t have to understand the language to understand its particular soulful sound. ‘Cos when a local singer, whether Flamenco, or East Indian, or Native American, or an Eskimo... or a troubadour from Scotland – me!, what do you hear? When you hear the music, and it touches you – listen to the vowel-sounds (sings) ‘ah-ah-ah-ah-o-luuuuve-yu-o-oo’. It’s the vowel-sounds that are creating the emotional contact with people. And when I discovered this secret of World Music, I realised it was really very simple. When I studied it I realised it was to do with the Chakras. There are seven centres on the spine that the yoga-schools speak of. And those seven centres respond and resonate like strings on a guitar. And the masters of the art of music naturally and consciously – or maybe unconsciously, can make pieces of music that touch millions of people because they’re playing ‘their Chakras’. A Universal Language? Yes. They’re actually playing the universal language, it’s amazing isn’t it?


 
On the ‘Beat Café’ album you utilise the genius of excellent double-bass-player Danny Thomson (who also recorded “The Cuckoo” as part of Pentangle on their fine 1969 ‘Basket Of Light’ album). His presence represents the continuation of a long-term association, because Danny accompanied you on “There Is A Mountain” (a UK no.8 hit single in November 1967), and the ‘Donovan In Concert’ album (September 1968), and he’s also part of your Open Road group of the early-70’s. But he’s not with you on this tour. No – the problem is… I couldn’t get Danny. Danny was booked to do other things. And anyway, the purpose of the ‘Beat Café’ is to teach the young. So we put together a young band (including ex-Damned Rat Scabies on drums, who has his own ‘Holy Grail’ literary effort to promote!). The ‘Beat Café’ is an exploration of Bohemian influences on popular culture. And when you listen to the album, you hear the jazz influences, the Blues influences, the Folk influences, the spiritual chants, and the importance of poetry in popular culture. If it wasn’t for the three Beat Poets – (Jack) Kerouac, (Allen) Ginsberg, and (William) Burroughs, the doors wouldn’t have been opened. If it wasn’t for those three Beat Poets the doors wouldn’t have been opened for the singer-songwriters of the sixties to come in. Dylan follows Kerouac. But Dylan Thomas also broke down barriers as well. And I follow Dylan – Thomas, and W.B Yeats (1865–1939). So the word is important. It’s back to the word. Who are the manipulators of language? Poets. What are the key-sounds of emotion? The five vowel-sounds. Why has poetry been separated from music? On purpose. Because they knew that poetry and music moves the people. If the poets have the ritual again in their own control, it’s like the Shamans of the tribes. So the Governments who want to control the people separate music from poetry. That’s the first thing they have to do. And to that end they killed probably sixteen-million witches between the twelfth and the fifteenth century. The reason? The Church killed the witches ‘cos they were trying to kill the rituals. Once again – separating the cult from the people. Separating the ritual of the year. ‘Cos all these witches were just herbalists, they were doctors, they were mid-wives, they were the magic people of the local community. If someone was ill, you went to see them. And of course, they didn’t like that. Because medicine was becoming powerful, and universities were being opened – and ha-ha-ha – all that stuff, I know. But my ‘Beat Café’ explores a much more fundamental thing – the way the music and the poetry came together again, and informed the sixties. 



You actually perform a Dylan Thomas poem on ‘Beat Café’ (“Do Not Go Gentle”). I do the Dylan Thomas poem ‘cos he was saying a painful goodbye to his father, telling his father not to go gentle into that good night. ‘Rage’ against the dying of the light. Don’t take it (laughs) lying down – it sounds like a pun! Don’t take death lying down? – stand up and be proud! He didn’t mean scream and shout. He just meant, be strong – you know? Don’t give yourself up to the other world. Know that you’re passing into it having had a great life. And because my father also passed five years ago, I recorded that…

 

You’ve also recorded a Yeats poem – “The Song Of The Wandering Aengus” on your ‘HMS Donovan’ album (July 1971)  ‘and pluck till time and times are done/ the silver apples of the moon/ the golden apples of the sun’. But even earlier than that you recorded one of your own poems – “Atlantis”, which became an American Top.10 hit single (US no.7 in May 1969). “Atlantis” was kind-of a prose poem, I suppose. More of a kind of declamation. Yeah, like a prose-poem. Most of my poems are rhymed, ‘cos my father taught me how to listen to poetry. Donald was his name. He was a self-taught, well-read man. And he read – didn’t he just!, he read poetry again and again. And from the age of two he read to me constantly. He read me everything. Celtic visions. And visionary poetry. In fact – it was my daily bread-&-butter. I just took it in my stride. I didn’t think listening to great poems was anything different from going to see cartoons. And so reading my “Atlantis” piece, was very natural for me. Because my father used to get up and read to the family.


 

THE BARD OF BOHEMIA’ 
‘On a windy Saturday, St Albans market day little did I 
know the work I was to do, or the love I had to show…’ 
(“There Was A Time I Thought”) 

I understand the Beat Poet influences, and appreciate the effect Woody Guthrie must have had on you. But like me, you were entering your teens in the late 1950’s. And I’m sure I over-heard you jamming a little Chuck Berry during the soundcheck. Didn’t you ever have an Eddie Cochran phase? Weren’t you watching the ‘Oh Boy’ TV-show as a kid? I had a phase of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I was an adolescent boy. Buddy Holly was my idol when I was twelve. But no – in the beginning it was Folk music, even though they didn’t call it Folk music. I lived in Glasgow (the Maryhill district), although there was more Irish in my family than Scots. So I just heard nothing but songs all the time. Somebody would put a chair in the middle of the room, and sing their song. That happened at parties, birthdays, funerals, weddings, births – somebody would go into the middle of the room, and there would always be songs. And then when I was ten we moved down to England. My father moved us down as part of the mid-fifties migrations. People were leaving the industrial cities and coming down to the New Towns around London. So my Dad moved us into Hatfield, and that’s when I heard Buddy Holly and I went – ‘aaah, this is incredible!’ It didn’t make me want to form a Rock ‘n’ Roll band or anything like that because I very swiftly went into Further Education College… (Donovan is distracted by a newcomer) Hi Ian, I’m doing a little interview, but please join the company… have you got a fag there boy? – one cigarette a day me, here we go!... sorry…


 
(I attempt to refocus Donovan back to the interview) I can see the attraction Buddy Holly must have had, from the lyrical point of view. Buddy Holly breathed his lyrics, y’know – (sings) ‘Listen to me-ee, hear what I sa-ay…’ (‘have you heard Buddy Holly?’ to Susan, also sitting decorously at our table) ‘…listen closely to me-ee-hee’ and so – ‘ah-ah-ah’ (the Donovan vibrato in a Buddy Holly-style). So when you hear Donovan going (breathily) ‘aah-haa-haaa’, I guess it’s a Buddy Holly influence. And Buddy also – I didn’t know till later, he produced his own work, recorded his own work, wrote his own work, performed his own work. So this is like… this is a Renaissance Man. This is a man of all parts, whereas most singers of the time were being discovered by a producer, dressed up by a manager, given a haircut by an agent and put on the road. But Elvis and Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, they refused to do that. And the Everly Brothers, they came from Irish Granny’s – did you know?, and they listened to lots of Irish Folk Music when they were kids. And so – Buddy Holly was a great influence, but then I went to Further Education College and immediately met Bohemia and I said ‘this is where I belong. This is bohemia. The girls look better. The guys dress better. There’s art, there’s poetry, and the music is better.’ In the school I’d been to – a Secondary Modern School, the only instruments they had were a recorder and a tambourine. And y’know – once a month, they had us bang the tambourine and try to blow the whistle. They called it a music lesson! They had no idea about what they were trying to do. So when I went to Further Education College the world of art lay before me. And that’s when I first heard Woody Guthrie and Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. Also – in the college, I saw Folk Singers, of course. But after that I wanted to go on to Art School, ‘cos a couple of my pals were going on to Art School, but for that you actually needed passes. You had to have five ‘O’-levels, and that meant you had to study Physics or Geography, history, or biology – and what would I need those for? History I already knew. I loved it. I could do that. Biology? – I was quite interested in young girls by then, so biology was an interesting subject to me. But the others? A couple of pals were getting in for free – y’know? getting in on lots of drawings. Getting the grant with lots of paintings. I didn’t have a lot of paintings or a lot of drawings. And then I met Gypsy Dave (long-time friend and collaborator). Gypsy wasn’t in the college, but he said… he looked at me and he said ‘it’s bullshit isn’t it? it’s absolute bullshit’. And I said ‘yeah, everything’. And he said ‘yeah, EVERYTHING’. And I said ‘yeah, even going on to Art School’. So halfway through the Further Education course I went ‘I can’t do this!’ Years later my pals who’d gone on to Art School said, they were so glad for me that I didn’t go. I said ‘why?’ They said well, we had to learn all this stuff for four years, and then after we left we had to un-learn it all, get rid of it, because they’d taught us about so much stuff we forgot who we were in it all. And that was the story. And anyway, there’s only two painters making any money, Peter Blake and David Hockney. And it looked like they were going to clean up. Like Andy Warhol in the States. But I think I only wanted to go there – to the Arts School, because of the music anyway. So instead we started going to the Art School Balls – ha-ha-ha (a sly Leslie Philips laugh), and they would say, ‘well, let’s get a few guitars together’. Because at that time, all over the country people were picking up guitars and they ended up being the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Who, the Hollies, the Zombies, the Animals – ha-ha-ha. Not all of them went to Art School – but, they were hanging out at Art School. At the Art School Balls. Then I realised there was a Coffee House, a Jazz Club, a Folk Club, and an Art School in most of the old towns – and the old town for me was St Albans. That was my manor. Living in Hatfield, hanging out in St Albans. Which, of course, is a Roman city, with a thousand-year-old Cathedral. And I used to hang out in the graveyard – we’d sleep there, and then we’d get chased on by the Police, while I was learning guitar from Dirty Hugh. In my book you’ll read about Dirty Hugh. He was a tall good-looking man with long hair, a long beard and a long coat, a really interesting guy. But he never bathed. He was a beautiful-looking man, more beautiful than Rasputin, but … I don’t know, sort-of like those ideas of wizards, y’know, not the ones with the hat-with-the-stars-on-it and the cloak. But the REAL wizards. And he played fascinating guitar styles that I wanted to learn. So I spent three days with him, and he stank to the high heavens. But one must suffer for one’s art mustn’t one? We used to sleep in the graveyard, then get up the next day, and he’d show me the next pattern. Patterns which I learned were called the ‘claw-hammer’. A style invented by the Carter Family in 1928 by transposing banjo-styles onto guitar. Just as Segovia had saved the guitar for the whole century by transposing Bach from organ to guitar. He saved the guitar for the century – the whole twentieth-century. And Ma Carter saved guitar in another way by developing those finger-styles. And I learned it. And Dirty Hugh taught me. Until 42 years later (slow and calculated… 19 November 2003, the University of Hertfordshire), I’m in that same Cathedral being given the cap-&-gown, the honorary Doctor of Letters for my work, for my poetry which honours the planet, and for my work supporting ecology as well. I was there with 200 young students, and with a few other older faces, taking the cap-&-gown and the scroll, while outside were the same gravestones, where I’d slept and been chased on by the Police 42-years earlier! It was a great honour. And it’s an honour which I much value over the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame’ or the Ivor Novello award that I got for my first song, which is like an Oscar for song-writing. I value the Doctor of Letters because of my father, only he was not alive anymore. I wished he’d been there. Neither was my mother. But my family was there in the great cathedral of St Albans. My family were there.


 
I saw you recently at the Manchester ‘Bridgewater Hall’ when you were celebrating the discovery and final release of your earliest-ever demos, as your ‘1964’ album. Following those demos you made two albums in one year – 1965, ‘What’s Bin Did And What’s Bin Hid’ (June) and ‘Fairy Tale’ (November) the second one, amazingly, an evolution on the first. The track “Sunny Goodge Street” demonstrating an impressive sophistication with a jazz-sensitivity recognisably there on ‘Beat Café’. And you were nineteen! Today I saw you sound-checking with “Ballad Of Geraldine” also from ‘Fairy Tale’. It uses the same tune as Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” – but in fact both songs lift from Dominic Behan’s ‘Patriot Game’, and probably traditional sources beyond that. It’s about a young, single and pregnant girl. The father of her child (‘a groover called Mick’) doesn’t know yet. She’s hoping he’ll stay. Fearing he won’t. Yep. I’m gonna do ‘Geraldine’. ‘Geraldine’ is part of the café. In “Ballad Of Geraldine” and “Young Girl Blues” you are writing through female personae, writing with sensitivity from a female point of view ‘you are just a young girl/ working your way through the phonies…/ yourself you touch, but not too much/ you hear it’s degrading’ – a third person short story approach that no-one else – not even Dylan, has attempted. They show a degree of sensitivity unusual even now in these confessional self-authenticating times. Yes – “Young Girl Blues”. I’ll tell you what that is, it’s part of the poet’s studies. In ancient Celtic times the poet studied twenty-one years, in periods of seven, and the first seven were ‘Occasional’ verses to learn how to write for weddings, love songs, funerals… occasions, ritual songs, agricultural songs. A true poet can write in any form, and must learn how to write from all points of view. And so writing from the point of view of ‘Geraldine’ – it’s a rediscovery of that. I didn’t know I’d done it at first, and people said ‘but you’re singing like you are Geraldine’, and I said ‘yes, I wrote it for her as if she’s singing’. She’s a character. But she was real. And then – “Young Girl Blues” is my wife Linda, who – basically, walked away from modelling. But it was for all girls who were pretty and beautiful, and were expected to do things that they disagreed with, to become famous. And this young girl in “Young Girl Blues” is one who will not play the game, who will not give away her intimacy to get on in a man’s world. So these female… positions, in my songs, are what I brought in. I brought in the ‘feminised male’… in my songs, the songs which I sang. I used words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘lovely’ and ‘kind’ – and they were usually attributed to the feminine part of our race. As if only women had those emotions. And men don’t. Why is that?, I account that to two world wars and the Depression. When men were put in uniform, had their hair cut off, were de-humanised, demoralised, given weapons to kill, until all softness and all humanity was sort-of squeezed out of them. And I brought that back in the sixties into songs. And at first they thought I must be gay. Gypsy Dave will tell you – half my audience in New York and San Francisco at a couple of early concerts were gay, and they were knocking the doors down to meet me. And I’m saying ‘yeah yeah yeah, I’m hetero guys, I’m actually hetero, but I understand exactly where you’re coming from. You have a feminine aspect, and you want to celebrate it’.


 
In 1965 it was brave – as a man (years before Bowie make sexual androgyny fashionable), to stand out against the mainstream in this way. Yeah, yeah, they would print in the music papers ‘Donovan Thinks The World Is Beautiful’ in two-inch-high letters and – of course, it was really a put-down. They’d say, ‘so you think that kindness and brotherhood, peace, family and humanity are coming back into the world?’ And I said ‘no, they’ve just temporarily gone missing’ and ‘I’m going to sing about them’. So, yeh, I was doing all that – singing from other points of view. I have children’s songs as well.


 
So getting your first American no.1 single (September 1966, opening up the second, and most massive phase of his career) must have seemed like a vindication of that philosophy. Getting what? – oh, a no.1, yes. “Sunshine Superman” was very important. A no.1 in America was extraordinary, it was more extraordinary than that because the record had sat in the courts for nine months (in a legal dispute), which means that I made the ‘Sunshine Superman’ album in late-1965 and early-’66. Which, by the way, was a year-and-a-half before ‘Sergeant Pepper’ – and ‘Sunshine Superman’ was just sat there. My book tells all about it. My producer Mickie Most said ‘don’t play advance copies of this to Paul (McCartney)’, but of course I played it to Paul, because we make our records for our peers – did you know that? We don’t really make them for the audience. First, we make them for us, then for our peers. Also in the book it tells how I was the first to be targeted by the Drug Squad. I was busted, and following me was the Stones, the Beatles, and lots of other people. So we just said ‘forget all that Court Case stuff’ – and we buggered off, Gypsy and I. We went back on the road. And then – we were in Greece. We were in Greece living on 1s 3d a day in a deserted island with no hotels… 

Which island was it? The island of Paros in the Cyclades.


 
You wrote “Writer In The Sun” in Greece. It has beautifully observed imagery. Lyrics that reveal themselves with the precision of a haiku, about ‘the magazine girl’ who ‘poses’, the next line adding ‘on my glossy paper’, until giving it the final fold ‘aeroplane’. Each phrase building another level towards the full final image. So you wrote that on Paros? “Writer In The Sun”, yes. I was actually already writing the next album – ‘Mellow Yellow’, although I didn’t know I was writing the next album, ‘cos I didn’t know I’d make another album. ‘Days of wine and roses, are distant days for me,/ I dream of the last and the next affair and girls I’ll never see,/ and here I sit, a retired writer in the sun’. And it really felt like that. I was there, I had my books, and I was writing songs. And we were there until we got a telephone call that took three days to come through, because that was the way it was in those days. There was only one telephone on the island. Gypsy and I took the call in a taverna and my manager said ‘come back to Athens immediately, your record is finally released and it’s no.1 all over the world’. So we took out what money we had and we put it on the table and it added up to… like, nothing. We couldn’t even afford to get the tramp steamer back to Athens. Then the taverna-owner saw a portable record-player/tape-recorder that I’d brought in a brief-case – one of the first out of Japan. We had three records, I had (the Beatles) ‘Rubber Soul’, Leonard Cohen, and my white album – not ‘white album’, but my white-label first demo-pressing version of ‘Sunshine Superman’. And he looked at the record-player and he said ‘how much for the record-player?’ So we sold the record-player for the steamer-ticket back to Athens where the First Class tickets were waiting. So – I waved goodbye to that Greek island, but – in my book, I realised I was waving goodbye to a way of life I would never live again. And that was a great sad farewell to a bohemian side of me. Then we were back in business again…


 
Was it scary achieving that level of success, opening up the expectations it inevitably entailed? Now, a no.1 hit record means you get a heroin-chic girlfriend, you thump a paparazzi outside the nightclub, you detox, then get dropped by your record label when your third single only gets to no.13, only for your career to get resurrected by an ‘I’m A Celebrity Island’ Reality TV slot. Back then it was different. Back then you were the Pied Piper. Voice of a Generation. Shaman. All that weight of belief and expectation. I once asked Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick the same question, if she found her success-levels scary, and she said ‘no, it was fun’. Well, it was fun to begin with. And… although I took it as an accolade, and – in a way, the success I deserved, ‘cos I’d worked so hard on my ‘masterpiece’, none of us – the Beatles, the Stones, I – or any of us, expected that kind of mania. I talked to Lennon, and I talked to Joni Mitchell about it – did you intend it, do you actually want to do this? It wasn’t a stroke of luck all the way, was it? You wanted to do it. So we knew we were going to do this. But the shock was, the amount of the success. Until it got – it became dangerous for the fans, and for us. We had to invent security systems for the fans, and us, and really – we had to invent what they call ‘minders’ to look after us, but in looking after us, also looking after the audience. ‘Cos the police used to bring dogs and when the audience got excited they’d set the dogs on them! Things like this. That was scary. That the actual fans were being treated like that. Yet I took it on, as all my contemporaries did. Took on the mission to introduce bohemian ideas to popular culture. Because bohemia provides the possible cures for the illness of society. Karl Jung – the psychologist says ‘the modern societies of the world suffer from a grand complex which has been imposed upon them for thousands of years by church and state’. That situation had to be addressed. We didn’t realise the un-tapped restraint that the world had endured in the fifties, the conventions, the conditioning, all that was breaking, we were breaking it! So – there’s a calling. And we were called. With the result that now, what’s let loose upon the world is freedom. Freedom to express yourself in any form that you want. And that’s what the sixties – in my book, says. It’s a door that was opened. Doors of perception. That was Aldous Huxley’s book – ‘The Doors Of Perception’. And the American band The Doors took their name from that book. So, my book addresses a lot of things that were going on in the sixties.


 
So how does Donovan react to such success-levels? He gets another no.1 with “Mellow Yellow”, then follows it with further top five hits “There Is A Mountain” and “Hurdy-Gurdy Man”. Only, for a long time there was a persistent confusion over UK and USA release schedules, with some tracks (despite Amazon) only available in America. A rationalisation process was long overdue. That’s because the ‘Sunshine Superman’ (October 1966) and ‘Mellow Yellow’ (March 1967) albums were moving so fast that in America they had all the records complete, but in England they put half of ‘Sunshine Superman’ and half of ‘Mellow Yellow’ together to make – that’s the one (pointing to the CD I’m holding up for him to autograph), and they didn’t even release the complete album ‘The Hurdy-Gurdy Man’ (US December 1968) or the complete album ‘Barabajagel’ (US October 1969 – recorded with The Jeff Beck Group) at all, just some of the tracks as singles and B-sides. But now the situation has been corrected by EMI who have re-released the four albums that didn’t get released in the UK in their entirety, they’re all released, with bonus tracks. Which is great because UK fans think they’re listening to something new, something that they’ve never heard before, which is true, they haven’t heard them – unless they collected import American versions.




 
DONOVAN IN CONCERT… 
“My songs are merely dreams, visiting my mind, 
we talk a while, by a crooked style, 
you’re lucky to catch a few…” 
(‘Celeste’) 

You once wrote ‘well, I’ve taken every drug there is to take/ and I know that the natural high is the best high in the world’. Adding that, with drugs, ‘they don’t know what they’re doing to the nervous system’ and that ‘laboratory synthetic stimuli only goes to fuck-up your third eye’ (“Ricki-Tiki-Tavi” September 1970). Amusingly, as the track fades out, you hear Donovan asking ‘did the tea get here?’ Yeh, that was at the time when me and the Beatles, and others, were looking at the effect our music was having on millions of people. And the book will explore that further. But basically it was, we were being looked at as promoting drugs. We weren’t promoting drugs. We were doing what every bohemian does – we were exploring, with marijuana, and with LSD which was still legal until 1966. Peyote and mescaline too, the holy plants of the pagan tribes, especially the Native American tribes. So, with these drugs we were, exploring. Then there was synthetics. And I didn’t really get into synthetics, nor heroin, or cocaine. But I tried every one just a little bit. Just to see what it was about. But then we realised. The Beatles and I sat around saying ‘everybody thinks we are promoting it’. ‘What we really want’ says George Harrison, ‘is to discover how to go inside without drugs’. And that’s meditation. And we want to know. So we sought out a Yogi, and we found one. We told the world we’re going to India, we’re going to do it, and we’re stopping taking drugs and alcohol, we don’t care what you lot are doing, ‘cos that’s not what we’re about. And so, we went to India, and we studied. But then, when that word came out into the world – meditation, millions of people wanted to know what it was. So then we were promoting another part of the bohemian manifesto, the spiritual path, how to explore your own consciousness without endangering your health. Meditation is the safe way. And we brought it back. And we promoted meditation. And that was a good thing. The natural high. (If what he says here sounds like excessive name-dropping, it’s all true and well-documented. Paul McCartney appears on his “Mellow Yellow” session, Donovan guests on Beatles recording sessions – singing along with the chorus of “All You Need Is Love” at Abbey Road, and yes – they all went to India together to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, at Rishikesh by the Ganges.)


 
After all of that high-profile celebrity, it must have been a strange period of adjustment for you when the hits stopped, abruptly, in the less hospitable 1970’s. But I made nine albums in the 1970’s, and they also explored further developments of bohemia. Although it’s true they weren’t so hot on the charts. You can’t have a renaissance every decade. (Those albums include his ‘experiment in Celtic Rock’ ‘Open Road’ (September 1970), the double-album ‘HMS Donovan’ (July 1971), a re-union with Mickie Most for ‘Cosmic Wheels’ with Chris Spedding and Cozy Powell (Mar 1973), ‘Essence To Essence’ produced by Andrew Loog Oldham (February 1974), ‘7-Tease’ recorded in Nashville (December 1974), ‘Slow-Down World’ (June 1976), ‘Donovan’ – also with Mickie Most (October 1977), and ‘Love Is Only Feeling’ (November 1981) – its title quoting his own “Someone Singing” from his ‘Gift From A Flower To A Garden’ double-album box-set.


 
Don’t you ever get tired of talking about those dim and distant 1960’s? Well – this is not talking about the sixties. It’s talking about the bohemian manifesto that was set loose upon the world. I’m not getting tired of it because I’m still actually promoting it. My Fortieth Anniversary is not promoting the success of Donovan, but promoting the work of Donovan, which reflected every aspect of bohemia. I wrote about its every aspect. I’ve got at least one song that relates to each of the new movements that entered popular culture. Of course – those movements were not really new, they were very very old. Bohemian culture has contained these movements for hundreds of years, all the way back – recently, to the 1840’s in Paris where the first Bohemian cafes began in the modern world. But you can go back further to ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy and you’ll find taverns where artists gather, thinkers gather, painters gather, radicals gather (a litany he expresses like a rhythmic chant, an incantation, a poem). Something happened in Italy in the Renaissance which was extraordinary. It changed the world, and re-established what I call bohemian ideas. That means, true ideas. And so what I’m talking about is not historical, it’s a continuity. I’m not going back to the sixties, it just so happens that the work I’m going to present – the body of that work, comes from the sixties.


 
And – er, I go on stage at eight… so, I can only afford another ten minutes. And you’re not even looking at your questions. I’ll get to them later. No (playfully), you’d better get to some key ones in case you say to yourself later ‘oh, I didn’t ask him that one…’ OK, I’ll ask you about “Celia Of The Seals” (March 1971), a song that uses Celtic mythology to comment on the brutality of the so-called seal-‘culls’. It does, yes. And it’s about a model called Celia Hammond who walked away – purposely, from modelling. She was a top model – Celia Hammond (and Linda’s close friend), and she refused to wear fur because she realised that they were killing animals. She went up to the ice-floes with Brigitte Bardot and protested against the seal… they called it ‘seal culling’, which is really the seal-killing. And I asked my label in America if they would carry a photograph of a seal-hunter walking across the ice carrying his knife with blood on it, and a poor little seal with its skin cut off, and its mother crying beside it – and they said ‘yes’. So I recorded the song called “Celia Of The Seals”. And it was about the seal hunts. But it mixed mythology with it. Because in far northern Scottish mythology the seal-people and the humans, they would mate, and seal-children would be born. Of course – it’s a myth, but it’s a beautiful myth. ‘Cos the seals, just like the dolphins, are intelligent. And they say that they lived on the land once, and that they ran around, but that they eventually returned to the sea, just like the dolphins… 



And so… you’re last question? Well – much later, during the 1980’s, you toured with Happy Mondays – who also wrote and recorded a track called “Donovan” on their ‘Thrills Pills & Bellyaches’ album (1991), which quotes “Sunshine Superman” lyrics. Did you see any similarities with what they were doing, and the 1960’s drug scene? Mmmm, Happy Mondays. The Mondays were the Rolling Stones of the eighties, they were incredible. And those young bands respect me, ‘cos I take chances, because I break the rules. I broke the rules in songwriting and recording. And that’s an inspiration to a young band. Because they feel they have to follow a certain line… and I say ‘no’! Don’t follow any lines. Break the rules. And the Mondays loved that in me. So, well, they came looking for me. And they found me. I was doing solo gigs up north somewhere, I can’t remember where it was, not a big town. I was with Julian – my stepson, Linda’s boy (Julian Brian) with Brian Jones. He was acting as my Roadie. And there was a knock on the door. Julian answered, he went and I heard him say ‘I’ll ask’, then he came back and said ‘there’s five guys here from Manchester, they’re called the Happy Mondays and they want to take you now, capture you, put you in their van and take you to the ‘Hacienda’’… So, we met, and I hung out with the Mondays and went on six of their performances with them. Then Shaun (Ryder) fell in love with my daughter, and his brother Paul fell in love with my other daughter. And there’s a beautiful grandchild from Shaun with my daughter Oriole Nebula, called Coca (Sebastian). And so… that was Madchester. It was the eighties. And I was sitting in a pub with Shaun in Manchester once, and a young man came up and he said ‘Shaun, I’m going to do exactly what you do. I’m going to do what you’re doing’. And Shaun looked at him, and didn’t say a word. And the guy walked off. He was tall and good-looking, had long hair, he was in jeans and T-shirt. I said ‘who’s that?’ He said ‘oh, it’s just a singer, a fucking singer in a band’. I said ‘I think he means it Shaun. I recognise that look. I had that same look in my eyes when I was eighteen. I knew what I was going to do’. He said ‘naw, they’re rubbish, you know?’ Next Friday I turned on the television, and it was Oasis. It was Liam who had come up to us. It was Liam who had said ‘Shaun, I’m going to do exactly what you did’. Of course, there was all this inter-band rivalry between the Manchester bands, and now – over the ten years since, Manchester has continued to produce extraordinary bands. In a way, just like Liverpool had done. Black Grape was also incredible. You got Stone Roses, and the Charlatans – who recorded my “Season Of The Witch”, and more recently another band that really took me by storm – Starsailor. I think they’re incredible. I was on stage with Starsailor at Glastonbury a couple of years ago. And so, I have this relationship with bands. And my songs, songs of mine become standard warm-ups for bands. “Season Of The Witch” is a standard warm-up song for thousands of bands around the world. That’s a kind of fame and appreciation that is real. It doesn’t depend on record sales. It’s that your songs become a part of their life. I think that’s great.


 
OK Andy, there it is. And I hope you’re coming to the show tonight…? 

I assure him I will, as I pass across a copy of my own poem-collection ‘Euroshima Mon Amour’, saying ‘here are my poems for you’. ‘Ah, you have a new publication yourself? ‘Euroshima…’ ha-ha-ha, I love that! thank you for the book. Thank you man. See you later…’ It’s only then, as he’s walking away, that I remember the other questions I should have asked him. The ‘oh, I didn’t ask him that one…’ syndrome.


 
The question about do you – did you, believe what the press says about you? Have you ever been sampled (“Mellow Yellow” would make a great sample)? About ‘The Observer’ review he wrote about Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’. And about how, on the live ‘Donovan In Concert’ album (September 1968) he improvises ‘I’m just mad about… fourteen-year-old girls.’ Of course, it was a different time, with different rules. Children, and a childlike state was then seen as a kind of Pre-Raphaelite ideal-state of precociously idealised innocence, enlightened by Freud’s discovery of ‘infant sexuality’. Today such a statement takes on more sinister abusive elements. But I guess, if his belief in the natural innocence of children, and childlike innocence, is now tarnished, then that’s our loss, not his. 


“I dig Donovan in a dream-like, tripped-out way 
his crystal images tell you ‘bout a brighter day’ 
 (“I Dig Rock ‘n’ Roll Music” by Peter Paul & Mary) 

Featured on: 
‘SOUNDCHECKS’ website 
(February 2006)

See also: