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Donovan's 'Lost' Albums

by Ade Macrow


Quite apart from the scheduled UK albums that were cancelled at the last minute - like Pye NPL/NSPL 18222 For Little Ones and NPL/NSPL 18223 Wear Your Love Like Heaven; albums that were available separately in many other parts of the world, as well as in the deluxe boxed set A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, Donovan has had his fair share of LPs that have, for one reason or another, never broken the surface.

Two of these occur around the time of Winters 1970/71 and 1971/72. The first was to be backed with a cartoon, and was something of a Cat Stevens Tea For the Tillerman/Teaser And the Firecat tale regarding a child's journey through snowy wastes, until the suitably upbeat conclusion. The illustrator of HMS Donovan, John Byrne, aka 'Patrick' was to have been involved and the album may well have emerged as Tales Of Tangle. A brief clip of the purported cartoon was shown on a late Sunday afternoon TV arts programme (rather like 'The South Bank Show', together with a song that memory tells me was Cold Cold Wint'ry Soul. Other songs have since been discovered, including Maria and Hello Maria but no footage. The chill certainly set in on this project, as nothing more was heard of it.

The second was intended as Donovan's debut for Warner/Reprise Records, to whom he'd signed in the States. Unfortunately, Donovan still owed Epic Records several albums, so the contract was nullified and the corporate lawyers made another fortune. Not that legal hassles were new to Donovan: witness the Sunshine Superman single and Sunshine Superman/Mellow Yellow fiascos a few years earlier, both of which arose from Don signing for new management, but neglecting to tell his existing managers. You'd have thought he'd have realised by then that you can't just cast your current managers/record company into oblivion. It might have been the sixties and it might have been what all groovy people did with their 'chicks' but hey, management and 'The Man' have rights y'know?

The LP was to have been called Astrella after his newly-born daughter. The album was to have been produced by the notoriously drug-addled John Phillips, ex-member of The Mamas And Papas and self-styled 'Wolf King Of L.A.' and from whom, incidentally, Bob Dylan would blatantly steal the cover idea for his (Dylan's) 1976 Desire album.

Snippets of information about this album appeared sporadically in the UK and American press. Donovan himself said it was something of a 'back to basics' effort. Although the complete track listing is not known, he mentioned that Stealin', the traditional folk/blues staple, was likely to have been given a vinyl debut and that a re-recording of Keep on Truckin' was also intended. What original Leitch-composed material (if any) was scheduled for inclusion isn't known but when Cosmic Wheels was released in March '73, Donovan said he'd emerged from a long spell of writer's block, so maybe it'd all have been traditional material.

A November '72 report in the American 'Words' magazine stated that the album had been completed; recording having taken place in Los Angeles. By this time, Donovan was reconciled with Columbia/Epic Records, according to his manager Sid Maurer (his ex 'art director'. One can only wonder – and despair! – why this album, presumably, therefore, 'in the can', has been left unreleased. Let us hope it hasn't been wiped or junked and that some bright spark at what is now Sony Records will see fit to grant it release one day.

The 1976 Epic follow to Slow Down World was to have been a live album called Donovan Rising. At least the title of this project was eventually used! This earliest use of the Rising title seems to have been nixed when Donovan had his contract cancelled by mutual consent. The New York Bottom Line gig is strongly rumoured to have formed the main body of this album but no firm details have come to the fore. Like all such material, this remains the property of the company but it is likely to have been wiped long ago.

Around 1980, some songs were recorded for an album of unknown title: one such song went by the name of Catherine Wheel. This was intended as a single and a few copies were pressed up on the new Luggage record label. Neither the song nor the LP ever appeared. In fact, Luggage was an unfortunate label for Donovan, as his sole single, the re-recorded/re-titled  Love Is Only Feeling was issued with the Luggage logo and slogan 'should go far'.

Indeed, Luggage did go far: straight into liquidation! Thus, the 'forthcoming album' that this song and the B side were advertised as being taken from never came out on Luggage but on RCA Victor. Technically, therefore, the Luggage album could be considered as another missing album – it's difficult to be certain whether more than the three tracks already mentioned were recorded. The likelihood is that more exist...somewhere.

Even the Donovan Rising that did eventually emerge on Permanent Records (another 'impermanent' label that was soon liquidated!) wasn't the second but THIRD attempt at getting an LP issued under this title. A back-page advertisement on one of the Donovan's Friends fanzines showed a Polydor/Polygram advert depicting a partially unwrapped brown paper LP 'parcel' stating 'coming soon in the Spring'. Another false dawn, as it transpired.

Sutras was intended to have another Rick Rubin-produced follow-up in 1998. This was to have been called The Promise and Donovan made many mentions of it in the years immediately following Sutras . More is known about intended songs for this project, as some have been aired, albeit most on a fairly infrequent basis, in concerts since that time.

Known titles include The Promise, Refuge Of Love (initially erroneously thought to be titled In The Gentle Morning Air), The Olive Tree, Sidewalk, Tidal Waves Of Bliss, Will The Gentle Yogi Ever Speak?, From The Window Of My Heart and one that possibly might never have been intended for inclusion, simply known by my ascribed working title of 'Hemp Ditty'. A quick perusal of these titles will show the album's core matter to be a continuation of Sutras.

The execrable Pied Piper issued on the Rhino children's record division t'other year was to have had two other similarly-themed albums but this is one occasion where most of us will surely be fervently thankful nothing more has happened! On a similar front, Beatnik Cafe did see release, as the retitled Beat Café but of Superheroes, another mooted release, no more has been heard.

There are many others - the second Open Road album,  the soundtracks to The Pied Piper film (not to be confused with the aforementioned abomination) and the Poor Cow film soundtrack; the music to Linda's still unreleased Lives Of The Wives; the music to Donovan's short-lived ballet/art 1967 project Boom (not the Noel Coward effort of the same moniker). Whither the genuine Brother Sun, Sister Moon film soundtrack, for instance? Yes, Donovan re-recorded the songs for a downloadable release a few years ago but the 'proper' songs still gather dust.

Many alleged 'lost' albums emanating from Pat Hehir like the one that claims to have been intended for release between The Hurdy Gurdy Man and Barabajagal are no such thing. These are just ragbag selections of songs, issued without Donovan's approval. Likewise, Celtia, Live In Vancouver and others.

That stated, how many other genuine 'might-have-beens' are there in Mr Leitch's capacious cupboards? Even the companies themselves haven't kept proper documentation. There is little chance of any of this emerging. There again, The Universe Am I saw light of day a mere 24 years after first appearing in story form within the penned-for-NME Christmas story 'Star', so if we wait until Don's about 81 years old......


Ade Macrow

(revised September 2010)

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