Saturday, 4 June 2011

Donovan Albert Hall reviews or How Do You Like Them Gold Apples?

[Last update: October 8th 2011. I have read that an official DVD of the gig is to be released at some point, and some of the clips embedded below have been removed from youtube so they won't play. I have read that there are plans to release an official DVD of the gig, which would explain it. Nevertheless, at the time of this note, a fair number of the clips below are still operational.]

No, I didn't go. I will add to this post over the next few days with reviews by others - y'know, people who actually went there, who took the chance and sat and sweltered on the tube in the hope of happiness to come by being present at Donovan's recreation, at the Royal Albert Hall last night, of the Sunshine Superman album.

The only review I have come across to date is by Kieron Tyler on the Arts Desk website, readable in full here. He notes that "the voice is not what it was" but concludes:

Donovan's borderline naffness is what makes him and his questing music great. With a self-consciousness, he could never have pioneered psychedelia or written a song like last night’s show closer “Atlantis”
And it certainly looks like the guests couldn't have been bettered: Danny Thompson, Shawn Phillips and even Jimmy Page, brought on for Sunshine Superman. Wonder if he hung around for Hurdy Gurdy Man, given that it would appear he wasn't on the session? (See the songfacts website.)  That would be rather neat: making the legend half-true. Bit Pinterish, even:

How did I know Jimmy Page was on the session?


I decided he was.

And with all these heavy friends (which reminds me of that unfortunate purchase of a Lord Sutch album in Woolworths, many years ago, but let it pass), would it, after all, have been worth chancing it? Tyler says that "Donovan shone" and that the recreation of the Sunshine Superman album in the second half was "almost flawless." Oh, and I've just read that Page was indeed there for Hurdy Gurdy Man in the first half. Wonder how that was introduced?

Sounds like it could have been enjoyable. Maybe it's just that I'll never be ready to embrace that borderline naffery. You see, I once loved him, unreservedly, absorbed the poetry of those early songs, discovered, rather later, the perfection of much of the Gift From a Flower album ... but it all goes back to the Festival Hall a few years ago and that creeping realisation (did I really never have it before then?) of the ridiculous aspect. I lost my faith, my Dono-faith, nurtured for so many years, a bit like the night I fell out of love with Chaplin at the Dominion Theatre (but that's another post). And it has never come back. It's one thing to talk about it here, with no more effort than fingers falling across a well-worn keyboard, but making the pilgrimage, through the heat and bustle of London, for a momentary mirage-type sighting of a land that I did know?

When bits and pieces turn up on youtube, as they probably will, I'll watch them and maybe even enjoy them. The above is a photo of last night which can be found on Donovan's Facebook page and probably his website, looking much as he has always done. I'm glad he's ditched the more severely scraped back hair.

But can you tell me how to get back to Green's Playhouse and the excitement of that first gig? One of my fellow attendees at that 1972 gig is now a psychiatrist who deals with alcohol problems among the elderly adn apparently coined the phrase "Saga louts". He was more of a Neil Diamond fan, so it's probable that he didn't book time off to travel to London.

It's not impossible that my Town Hall Humiliation brother (whose birthday it is today) might have made the trek. Perhaps, inspired by Donovan's endurance, he has finally brushed away the past and, even as I write, is bringing to an end a matter which is starting to make Bleak House look like a novella.

If only I still had my Dono-faith.

More reviews to follow below as I find 'em. Kieron Tyler's blog here; his reissue record label, RPM (including Alan Klein) here.

Page-centric review on a Led Zeppelin website here.

Below, what seems to be the first youtube clip from the Albert Hall: Mellow Yellow with orchestra and Jimmy Page:

There is a video Wall of fans' verdicts,  here. By and large very positive, although quite a few of those Don-inclined do say that there were problems with the sound in the first half and that Donovan himself took a while to warm up. There are some suggestions that there may not have been enough rehearsal time with the orchestra. Try some of them; the  experience is very more-ish. Here's one which particularly appealed:


Rolling Stone article on Jimmy Page's appearance here.

And what might be termed the case against: Donovan with vibrato in overdrive for Catch the Wind:

Rather better - Three King Fishers, with sitar to the fore:

The Ferris Wheel:

Ah - a lately added comment on Kieron Tyler's Arts Desk review says that Page didn't play guitar on Hurdy Gurdy Man at the Albert Hall, thus sort of ruining my Homecoming reference.

But I have witnessed in the past his liking for onstage glasses of water - nothing else but a penchant.

Anyway, although the upload of Sunshine Superman with Page has been removed from youtube, a new one, rather professional-looking, has been added. Some edits but excellent. Don't know whether it's the encore version or the first version.

The Guardian has just added a review:

His once-angelic voice is a disconcerting reedy quaver now, but neither the quality of the music nor his dippy sweetness have dimmed. 
Read it in full here.

A further youtube upload, Try For the Sun:

A voice of dissent added to the Arts Desk comments on Keiron Tyler's article:
I came, I listened, I was disappointed. I didn't mind Donovan's poor old voice. But the orchestra was under-rehearsed, the sound levels were a mess and Donovan used cue cards for some of the lyrics. His children were spotlight-hogging non-starters.

The man wrote some of the catchiest pop singles ever heard and I'll always love them. And him, in a way. It was a shambles of an over-priced evening but, in its own weird way, memorable. Never again, though.
Read the other comments here.

Epistle to Dippy - strings are good (although the sound on this clip, a necessary subsitution as the first one has been removed from youtube, is not great):

More comments have been added to the Arts Desk article in response to "I was disappointed" above. Here's an abridged version of one:

The truth is, it was an uneven performance due to more rehearsals being needed and technological inadequacies, with highs and lows, not slick but with the warm, human quality that Donovan has always been known for. [...] The background orchestration was glorious on some songs. Donovan's voice wasn't always on top form but was usually strong and on-key. [...] Some people don't seem to realise the old Donovan can't return; he doesn't exist. The current Donovan was simply revisiting that time in his life - for himself and his wife. It was beautiful for that reason alone

I was listening again at lunchtime to the Sunshine Superman album, and struck by just how much John Cameron's arrangements add. No point, I suspect, in trying to separate out the contributions of producer, arranger and composer/performer - and it's certainly the case that two albums I'm very fond of, Fairytale and A Gift From a Flower to a Garden, include performances which are simple vocal-and-guitar but as affecting as anything else in the canon - so I will simply note what pleasure the listening gave me.

Mind you, I'd been swimming in the morning so that might have helped.

I was tempted to change the alternate title of this post to "Lord of the Reedy Quaver." I didn't - and I feel a little ashamed at the thought. And those who might have looked through this blog will know that how performers acknowledge their past without becoming glorified labourers is a recurrent theme.

Another upload to youtube: There is a Mountain. Wish I kept the tape of his singing the scat version of this, dating from the Essence to Essence tour. "The lock upon my garden gate's a snail" - now that's poetry. He's in reasonable voice for this one too. I like the sounds of audience appreciation on this one.

You know what? I should have gone. I knew I would be saying that at some point, just like I knew I wouldn't go. What's all that about, eh?

Ah - Hurdy Gurdy Man has now been uploaded - and it is indeed pretty good. Donovan is in good voice and you can see his delight in the backing and the crowd reaction. Perhaps now is the time to thank "TheJewellian", who uploaded almost all of these Dono-vids. Sound and picture quality have been very good - and rather a fixed camera than one which wanders all over the place, even though for Hurdy Gurdy Man that means our hero is not always in shot. I also note that "TheJewellian" has put visuals to Gentle Heart, a song from the Ritual Groove album.

Here's another upload by someone else. It cuts off early, and sound is less good, but you do get to see Donovan interacting with (I presume) Tom Ellis:

Guinivere, with Don in good voice, has just been uploaded and reposted by Shawn Phillips on his official youtube site - main page, with over seventy videos, here, including a 1966 clip of Donovan and Shawn Phillips singing and playing the song on Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest programme.

More youtube clips, this time from another source. First  is Legend of a Girl Child Linda. The voice more strained, but with the full orchestral works:

Sunny Goodge Street:

Lalena, which was a highlight from some of those interviewed for the video wall cited above:

Season of the Witch:

When clips of all the songs have been uploaded to youtube, I'll rearrange them. Kieron Tyler's Arts Desk piece would seem to suggest that this was the setlist:

Acoustic guitar only:
Catch the Wind
Try for the Sun
Universal Soldier

Sunny Goodge Street
Epistle to Dippy
Jennifer Juniper
Hurdy Gurdy Man
Hurdy Gurdy Man

Sunshine Superman album

Another clip just uploaded to youtube - The Fat Angel:

And now - if you can keep up - The Trip with Donovan and Son:


Encore version of Sunshine Superman:


Bert's Blues:

Blimey, that must be just about everything, though it may be that superior recordings will surface. I'll try to put everything in order over the next day or two.

As I add these lines, about half the videos above have been taken off youtube, so you are advised to listen to what remains while you still have time.

Barabajagal - so would this be an opportune moment to remind you of my Dono-mondegreen?
Love is Hot,
Truth is Motown ...
No? Oh well ...

Related Dono-posts - oldest first:

The True Story of How I Fell Out of Love with Donovan
Donovanagain - again
Donalert aka Belated For-Albert-Hall Plea
Donalert Part Two: a sign
Donovan: why I'm not going tonight. Probably.


  1. For the record Jimmy Page did not come on until teh second half. The guitar on Hurdy Gurdy Man was Tom Ellis, a great solo much appreciated by Donovan.

  2. Thanks for that. Maybe it'll be posted on youtube. Incidentally, for those who haven't visited the songfacts website cited above, the guitarist on the original session was called Alan Parker (not the film director), although there had been an earlier attempt by Jeff Beck, which was wiped. The information was supplied by John Paul Jones, who organised the session so presumably is reliable.