[Originally posted February 2014]
I’m listening today to a superb live recording of Donovan, the 1967 The Complete Anaheim Show, and when he sings songs from the 1968 UK release A Gift From A Flower To A Garden I am reminded of how much I loved this album at its time, and more recently – for me that means in the last 10 years – when I bought it on cd. It is both beautiful and twee [e.g. a song sung to a pebble, everybody is a part of everything anyway], encapsulating all that is classic Donovan as well as late 60s, right down to the purple and mauve and pink psychedelia of the cover and all similar posters/pictures of this album and the time. Prettily purple, psychedelically purple, poetically purple. For me, Donovan’s purple patch too, though many may prefer the folk of his earliest recordings, and these are fine as well. The live recording has some excellent light blues and jazzy performance, the latter demonstrated on the track I am listening to as I write, Preachin’ Love, Harold McNair terrific on sax solo.
It isn’t that my Top Fifty or albums for that category have now become an afterthought – well, I guess that’s precisely what they have become. The defence I want to make is that favourites still resonate and for some reason I have simply left this blog focus behind a little. Perhaps that is what makes today’s ‘discovery’ so pleasing and surprising, surprising that I hadn’t written about the album before.
Songs that meant the most to me at the time from the album are Isle of Islay, The Lullaby of Spring [oh the consonants and enunciation], Widow With a Shawl [A Portrait], Epistle to Derroll, Wear Your Love Like Heaven [a single too] and The Tinker And The Crab [*]. And others, but those just mentioned are songs I played on the guitar [I have the songbook somewhere] and sang, and played with a good friend who had a flat in Putney, and as a teenager I used to go there from Ipswich to visit and grew up in all kinds of interesting ways for my age and at that time and in London. We even had a very occasional band called Proleptic Kinecy – oh yes, as pretentious as that – and played one gig as a band at a residential centre for disabled teenagers where we helped out [my friend then a social worker]. It was earnest and correct and worthy and all those things that you can’t knock and yet seems formulaic.
But those songs are so, as I’ve said, pretty. I don’t know if Donovan is an acquired taste: he wasn’t the British Dylan because he was so different, but it is easy to understand that tag. The ‘poetry’ of the lyrics was quintessentially British [I think ‘English’ but Donovan is Scottish so I am being embracive] yet it is that enunciation, again already mentioned, and the precision of the language sung in the sweetest tones that may not have appealed to all. Not the case for me, then or now.
[*] Have just returned from car trip when I played the cd: was reminded quite sharply that apart from Wear Your Love... I don’t really like what was the first of the two lps, and it is only the second one that truly appeals, so on the cd it’s track 11 onwards. Also reminded of the campfire cowboy harmonica on The Mandolin Man and his Secret as well as the dancing flute breaks, especially on The Tinker and the Crab. What a sucker I am for this sunshine pop ‘For Little Ones’].