If the CSI forensic chaps decide to closely inspect the DNA of British music history, they’d ultimately discover traces of Donovan Leitch all over it. A major part of the history of British music across several genres, Donovan’s influence is far reaching. From his close pals The Beatles, right up to today’s pop stars such as Jake Bugg and Ed Sheeran.
He was born Donovan Philips Leitch on 10 May 1946 in Glasgow, Scotland. In 1956, his family moved to Hertfordshire. He had hits in the UK and USA in the 1960s and 1970s, the most successful singles Catch the Wind, Colours and Universal Soldier. Sunshine Superman topped America’s chart and went to number two in Britain, followed by Mellow Yellow at US number two and then Hurdy Gurdy Man, top 5 in both countries. Donovan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014, among countless major International Awards.
He got his big break from appearances on the TV show Ready, Steady, Go, the 1960’s equivalent to Later… with Jools Holland, which reached an audience of many millions. That early TV appearance and the subsequent release of first single Catch The Wind, paved the way for global fame and fortune, kick starting a glistening career he has sustained for five decades.
Since last year. Donovan has been celebrating 50 years in music, and on May 6 this year will appear at the Palladium in London, to celebrate his 70th birthday (which is four days later) with a giant party for friends, family^and fans, re-creating a 1960s beat cafe on stage, playing solo and with his band in an acoustic format.
Often called the British Bob Dylan, his folk period was actually quite short-lived and any likeness to Dylan’s style incidental. The truth is; both Bob and Donovan were influenced by Woody Guthrie, that was the only similarity.
There’s that scene in the famous black and white documentary ‘Don’t Look Back’, shot on Dylan’s UK tour in 1965, when Dylan is heard asking his aides “Who is this Donovan?” after seeing his name in almost every newspaper headline and on posters. Donovan shows up in Dylan’s hotel suite at The Savoy and they each pick up an acoustic guitar and sing/play for each other. Donovan delivers the beautiful and timeless, To Sing For You; the Americans a little shocked that this young Brit was so damn good. Dylan mentions Donovan in his song, Talking World War III Blues.
My chat with Donovan was also at a London hotel, 15 floors up in the bar, after he flew in from Portugal. He sips on Earl Grey tea. We break half way through and I walk with him to BBC6 Music where he has another interview. Then back to the hotel through the autograph hunters and photographers, to finish off my interview and a speedy photo shoot.