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The Hurdy Gurdy Man
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 17 October 2007
This Donovan autobiography is a quick read, chokkers with chuckles and nostalgia, patchouli on every page. Yes, I must admit that I was amused by the old plucker's penchant to `Big It Up' - even Little Richard, Paul McCartney and Liam Gallagher don't come close. Apart from such wildly exaggerated claims which depict The Don as the Lodestone of most popular and classical forms of music - ok I admit a compulsion to slight exaggeration - here was a man who had made it, in the words of John Lennon `to the toppermost of the poppermost', a man who was making buckets of bullion, who enjoyed the company of The Beatles, had meditated, medicated and no doubt levitated with a couple of them and had shown them a finger pickin' trick or two at the ashram, man. Here was the Sunshine Superman who had leapt (in rage?) naked onto the back of an English bobby, yet, who now finds it necessary to resize his image to the grandest proportion. What? Who wouldn't?? Opportunity and motive, mate.

Since the late sixties the fickle focus of fame has eluded Donovan in its spotlight, apart from a flicker or two in the seventies and nineties. By his own account he dropped out after he married Linda, although from recollection he made several attempts to jump back in. Despite his undoubted successes in record sales and concerts, plus a reputation as a nice chap, pop history has not been overly kind to this magus of flower power and `bohemian manifesto'. His output in retrospect has been portrayed as fey, foppish, a wee bit silly and indulgent. Other major singer songwriters of his era have fared better in critical review, artists such as Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, (both of whom Don noted were short in stature...), and Chuckling Len Cohen - all three from the `lost tribe of Israel', as distinct from the `lost tribe of Celts' from whence Don came, via the tenements `o Glasgae, och aye. Point is, when you are wielding the pen, metaphorically or actually, you have the power to rewrite history to your satisfaction, sorry....recollection, to replace that smashed bulb in the spotlight, to shine on your crazy diamond.

I noted in another review that `autobiography is a lying art', in the words of that great Aussie Clive James. In the hands of Dylan it is great literary entertainment, and you accept that you are viewing events through Dylan's cinematic perspective i.e. historical accuracy has little to do with it. If you want that you can check his myriad biographers for consensus of opinion, but doubtless that will differ from Bob's version of events. The question here is purpose. Take Don's version of playing for Dylan as recorded in the Pennebaker film 'Don't Look Back'. Don recalls playing his song 'To Sing for You' while His Bobness remained still, showing due respect. Bob returns with Don's requested 'It Ain't Me Babe', which seals what Don experiences as an ancient folk ceremony. I recall Dylan asks `You wrote that?' in somewhat ambiguous tone, then lets loose with `It's All Over Now, Baby Blue'. It's a question of sequence perhaps, recollection, and who has the scissors.

Donovan was not the originator of `world' music, or `Celtic rock', as he claims. These titles stand for what? Indigenous musics, fused or not, change from region to region and folk instruments and music had been previously incorporated into classical, jazz, film scores and pop. Celtic rock? Pogues, Thin Lizzy, U2, Capercaillie, Moving Hearts, Van? Can't hear Donovan there. I'm not sure that he was even a folk musician in the true sense, a relocated Scot singing Woody Guthrie - carrying which tradition? What he did achieve were some very good songs, some lovely melodies and arrangements, fine vocals and guitar playing and yes some imaginative use of other genres. His arranger John Cameron undoubtedly contributed to a large extent. The Sunshine Superman/Mellow Yellow albums were excellent examples and I was surprised that one of them wasn't included in the recent Mojo top 100 `Records that Changed the World'. Fellow `reincarnated Celtic Bards' The Beatles of course did well, as did Nick Drake, the immortalized poetic singer songwriter, who is cited as an originator of `wispy acoustic folk'.

It is unfortunate that Donovan needed to pump it so hard, to inflate the image once again in this industry albeit where ego is not a dirty word and is in fact a prerequisite for entry. I wonder what happens to that ego, an ego of one who sits near the top, when sales fall and your style of music becomes passé and the music press and new artists ridicule, when old `so called friends' avoid you because to be associated is no longer hip, when people don't recognize you, when the clout and clap wane. A common story in show biz. I wonder if that happened, how you would react? An honest biography would be enjoyable, and doubtless fascinating. Meantime, get on board. Beep beep (didn't Donleavy say that....er also?).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 5 October 2009
Like a lot of cynics, at heart I'm an aging hippy. So you won't be surprised to learn that I've actually seen Donovan live several times. He attracts an audience roughly split between 20-somethings who are discovering his music for the first time and people who clearly saw him first time round. There's a lot of hair and sandals.

Donovan himself comes across as a really pleasant man, and takes the time to talk to his fans, which should surprise no one. But people who don't know him are often surprised by just how remarkably talented a musician he is. An example: during one of the concerts, a string snapped in the middle of a song. Rather than stop, get a new guitar and start again, he improvised a tune on the remaining strings while he replaced the broken string, all the while telling a story about his time in India with the Beatles. Once the string was repaired and tuned, he slipped seamlessly back into the song at the point where he'd left.

He comes across in this autobiography in much the same way: not as a drippy hippy, though he can be both hippy and drippy, but as a fundamentally nice guy who really cares about his music. The early chapters, detailing his childhood in Scotland, the family's new life in the South, and his time `dropping out' and living rough in Cornwall, were particularly enjoyable. He makes a good job of capturing the atmosphere of the time and his voice is genuine and unaffected.

Later on, as he becomes famous, you sense occasional flashes of bitterness. Well, perhaps more than occasional flashes. Given that, after a couple of years at the top, he disappeared almost as quickly as he'd emerged, and that he's now often regarded as a minor figure in 60s musical circles, a little bitterness is understandable. Nonetheless his tendency to remind us that he was the first person to fuse X and Y musical strands, that song Z was a major influence on the Beatles, or that album A sold however many copies or spent however many weeks in the chart can be a little much at times. Some people might find the diversions into 60s hippy philosophy - Zen, karma, unlocking your higher consciousness with drugs and meditation etc - a wee bit pretentious, but then others will no doubt lap it up.

He chooses to end the biography with the close of the 60s, which saw him turn his back on the music industry and finally get it together with the love of his life. Perhaps this is wise. But I'd actually have liked to find out more about his later life. There's a common story here - the unpretentious, genuine young man in love with music and life, who finds fame and money, is damaged by it, and comes out older and wiser at the other end. I would have liked to know more about how he recovered from the experience of fame and got back to being unpretentious and genuine again. If indeed he did manage it.

Still, minor quibbles aside, this is a really enjoyable book, an atmospheric slice of the 60s, a morality tale and, as he says, a reminder that, in these dark times, a little of the optimism of that era might come in handy too.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2007
Given the thousands of books dedicated to all aspects of rock and pop music it's hard to believe that nobody has ever seen fit to pen a biography on 'the British Bob Dylan' Donovan Leitch. Love him or loathe him there is no denying that Donovan was a big player in the musically and culturally turbulent Sixties and despite being terminally unhip for most of the time since is still out there making music, putting out new albums and packing the concert halls.

Whether you feel an autobiography was the best vehicle for telling his story depends very much on how you react to his often over-inflated opinion of his own worth. Objectivity is in very short supply and, make no mistake, there is a rampant ego at work here, but if you can ignore that and concentrate on the story being told then it's a fascinating read. The strongest section of the book concentrates on his early career and his rise in little over a year from unknown beach bum and barely competent guitar player to successful and prolific songwriter, enjoying a string of hit singles and albums and hanging out with The Beatles, Dylan and the rest of the new rock and roll aristocracy.

The book is very strong on personal relationships, but maybe at times concentrates on these at the expense of the music. There is little background on where the songs came from or what inspired them and hardly anything on what prevented the release of so much of his best music in his native country at the time when he was at his creative peak. There are a few factual and historic inaccuracies, which are forgivable, and a few outlandish claims which are not, surely the worst of which is claiming responsibility for inventing world music. I take it he must have been oblivious to the work of the likes of Davy Graham and the Incredible String Band, who were both experimenting in the music of other cultures some years before.

Criticisms aside this is a fine read and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it as long as you're prepared to take certain parts with a large pinch of salt.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 23 June 2006
My problem with books is I've got the attention span of .... I often find myself halfway down a page and realise I haven't got a clue what's going on, but I've mentally planned my meal for that evening. So I always see it as a sign of a good book if it keeps me hooked till the end. And The Hurdy Gurdy Man performed brilliantly.

The only problem with this otherwise brilliant book, Is the way Donovan spends too much of the book trying to convince the audience how relevant he is/was and for me he doesn't need to. To a degree, explaining his own importance in British music looks arrogant, but I think it comes more out of paranoia, because of the way he's not been recognised since the 60's as the fantastic musical talent he is. Bizarrely he is almost a figure of ridicule to some.

The truth is Donovan was vital to the sixties musical revolution. Much of his music was truly groundbreaking.

This book is at its best when he reveals what it was like to be at the forefront of that glorious time Britain, culturally and musically.

This being Donovan I feel duty bound to include a Dylan comparison. Because this book is no 'chronicles'... nor does it try to be. It's an honest, personal and intriguing book and definitely worth a read.
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on 25 March 2009
Ah Donovan, Innovator, artist, Teacher of Beatles and a man who knows how to make the world free from war and tyranny...

Well that is if you believe the words he writes himself in this poorly written biography.

Now I have no doubts that he is all these things, but the trouble is he claims on a repetitively dull basis that he is above all a poet... and then he peppers his prose with his poems and song lyrics which contradict this totally...

Check out his lyrics for Dark-eyed Blue Jean Angel, where he includes a cringe-inducing rhyme of Trincket and Kink it... It doesn't fit... He includes the words of Atlantis as if he's proud of them... Without the music they are strictly ghastly as most of his lyrics are... Just be pleased you sold songs to people Mr Leitch because a poet you are not...

Even the text in this book is un-poetic and plodding... I could not wait until I finished this book as I found the text quite bland and wanted it to be more exciting because of the life he has led...
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on 22 January 2013
really interesting book with lots of info about the 1960,s especially about p j proby .I would recommend to anyone
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on 7 June 2015
What a pretentious load of old tosh! I honestly can't think of anything more to add.
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on 14 May 2015
Passed my time away on this book.It was OK
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2006
Donovan is a man full of his own self importance (anyone who wrote something as trivial as 'jennifer junniper' needs to be) according to him he invented folk/rock folk/fusion jazz/fusion and just about every other musicial force you can think of, he probably invented the wheel as well when not changing the course of musical history. This is one of the most ego charged biographies i have ever read. He conveniently glosses over Dylan's tribes in 'don't look back' (cutting and true-he did rip him off) and seems to think he is vastly underappreciated by just about everyone. Why he even had his 'look' stolen by Liam Gallagher in the nineties! There is a lot of name dropping and i'm sorry the Jeff Beck group weren't jazz/rock (they just weren't very consistent) Really when you look at it Donovan just happened to be at the right place at the right time. John Martyn and Bert Jansch etc were far superior. There is a lot of love and peace philosophising and he is one of the few who didn't think the maharishi was er-a bit self serving. Look Donovan did write some 'nice' songs but his heriarchy isn't that important to the development of folk into rock-listen to 'hms donovan' for proof!
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