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Donovan's Isle Newsletter

by Ade Macrow


I write 'newsletter' in the singular, as that is all it turned out to be. The Donovan's Isle Newsletter was included as an insert in the 1969 Barabajagal album and this was one of the singer's first attempts to set up a fan club-cum-information service of his own. Like the present day Donovan internet site, this was administered by others.

The newsletter had the Donovan's Isle heading in scripted, stylised writing, just off-centre at the top of the single sheet. Around the sides were drawings of ships (one with a flower symbol on its main sail), coasts, a spyglass, rocks, a mermaid and many other piratical, treasure-map style doodlings. There was even one of Donovan's archetypal seagulls, as so often featured, either on the back cover of the previous year's Donovan In Concert or on his many dedications to fans, when signing items thrust under his nose.

The letter address the Barabajagal purchaser as 'Dear Friend' and began, in italicised script, The sky is heavy with snow as I put pen to paper. Barabajagal was released on 11th August 1969. Which means that either the weather was very unseasonable or, almost certainly, Donovan had either made this opening up, to weight the letter with more poetic 'meaning' and/or he'd penned his words in the previous winter.

In fact, it was obviously winter when he wrote his words, as he continues with an explanation of how Winter drew me close to her. It was finished some months before Barabajagal's issue though, as the whisper of Spring makes clear.

Donovan then goes on to set out his case for starting a small periodical magazine, before adding that 'Donovan's Isle' lies off the coast of "everywhere", along latitude "life", longitude "joy". He concludes by stating that he hopes to hear from you soon and signs off, as so often, Your (sometimes thy) humble minstrel.

Like the almost as short-lived Donovan magazine nearly 25 years later, this venture soon faded away, although it was essentially a sound idea. One of the problems was that the unnamed persons to whom you were invited to send your $2.00 Annual Membership Dues in Terre Haute, Indiana, turned out to be criminals! Yes, there was a cut-off slip at the bottom of the page, giving a PO Box number at Terre Haute. In return, the happy subscriber would receive an exclusive 10" x 8" autographed Donovan photograph, a "beautiful" signed membership card, a quarterly newsletter magazine and special poems and letters, together with little scribblings written by Donovan especially for you.

Not everybody was completely ripped-off by the Terre Haute Tearaways. Some did receive the initial Membership Pack, although no quarterly newsletter was ever published. The Membership card had a (printed) Donovan signature and spaces for the member to fill in his or her details, including expiry date. Both sides featured a new island drawing with the Donovan's Isle script inside and one was blank - details all on obverse - with bordering like the original newsletter. Both sides of the card replicated various doodles from the newsletter.

There was a welcoming note with the Pack, again using the same patterned paper as the newsletter and Donovan stated Welcome to the most recent arrival to our isle. That was you, the lucky subscriber! Two brief paragraphs promised a journal once we become close to the flowering but the flower unfortunately withered and died, evidently becoming 'at one with the soil', as no more was heard.

A further part of the Membership pack was a two-sided card. This showed a full-colour picture of Donovan grinning through a large bell-jar of the type found in chemistry lessons and it can only be said that he looks both completely inane and more than a little mad in this shot. Part of the Donovan's Isle heading pattern was reproduced on the far left, along with a further invitation to send off two dollars and get the goodies already outlined above. Which was bizarre, as some folks had already done so, which is why they were receiving this pack!

Copies of this card were also distributed at Donovan gigs, which made sense but to ask people to subscribe when they've already done so was a little careless. The picture of Donovan-as-crazed-scientist was famously used as the cover of one of the earliest Leitch bootlegs, Bottled Head.

But it was much more than a simple piece of card. It was an unshaped picture disc, which played a song. What is more, it was a song that nobody had ever heard before. This fact alone made membership of Donovan's Isle very worthwhile indeed. To elaborate:

The reverse used the right-hand margin patterns/drawings, while printing the poem Will Our Visions Of Tomorrow Mingle With Those Of Yesterday? This latter became better-known as the song In An Old-Fashioned Picture Book from HMS Donovan. It also appeared the year after under its original title, as one of the poems included in the Dry Songs And Scribbles book. It was something of a coup to have the words to an then-unpublished Donovan piece in 1969, however. And to have the song itself as well... what more could any avid Donofan's soul desire?

On the non-playing, 'words' side the title is italicised and the words in plain script, with the structuring of verses 1, 2 and 3 clearly delineated in italicised script near the left-hand margin. The song has a 1969 Peer International copyright appended, along with Donovan's signature and that inevitable seagull.

It was an enormous shame that this venture became another in a lengthening line of Donovan projects that never really happened. After all, the Donovan Magazine was soon drawn to a close too: but that was a patently obvious marketing exercise, with little real content or any merit for any true Donofan.

This 60s attempt was much more. Rumours also say that the 'criminal' story was a cover-up and that it was realised that the cost of pressing items like the cardboard picture disc and so on made the entire exercise financially unviable, so the story was concocted to save face and discreetly "leaked". Remember, Donovan really was a huge star back then and demand would have been phenomenal, even if restricted mostly to North American fans, as importing and the like was far from the easy, commonplace exercise it is now. Whatever the truth, what a great pity.

Ade Macrow


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