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What's Bin Did And What's Bin Hid

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Precious Little

Precious little
Do we
Drink the sun
Kiss the rain
Whisper to the wind
Precious little
Do we
Think with our hearts
And not with our minds
Please teach our children
The real scene
Don't let them find out
That good can be bad
And bad can be good.


Lorne Murdoch notes (from the 2002 Castle Music reissue)

Over the course of twelve months in 1965, Donovan went from being an unknown, unsigned musician, to being an international star. In January 1965 Donovan's management was wooing Rediffusion with a view to featuring their protégé on Ready, Steady, Go! (until then a showcase for an already-signed act to lip-sync to its latest release) and Pye Records was starting to show signs of interest in the tousle-haired folksinger. Donovan went on to sing live on RSG! for an unprecedented three consecutive weeks and by January 1966 had enjoyed three hit singles and two hit albums both at home and in the States. He had survived frequent comparisons with Bob Dylan and gone on to create an exciting new creative partnership with arranger John Cameron and producer Micke Most. But his career was on hold as contractual wrangles repeatedly delayed the release of his pioneering slice of psychedelic pop, Sunshine Superman.

Although documentary evidence of his early recording sessions has proved elusive, Donovan's commercial recording career appears to have commenced in February 1965 in a basement studio in Denmark Street, at the heart of London's Tin Pan Alley. Production on all Donovan material released during 1965 was credited to Eden-Stephens and Terry Kennedy. Eden-Stephens consisted of Donovan's managers Peter Eden and Geoff Stephens. The studio was owned by Stephens' publishers Southern Music. Eden-Stephens and Terry Kennedy collectively seem to have comprised Iver Records, the company which placed Donovan's recordings with Pye Records that February.

Catch The Wind and its flipside Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do both feature Donovan on vocals and acoustic guitar. The former also features bassist Brian 'Liquorice' Locking, who had been in the Shadows from 1962 to 1963. Both songs are folky fare, but display a melodic romanticism that sets them apart from Bob Dylan's songs. Donovan has claimed that wife-to-be Linda Lawrence (then the girlfriend of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones) was an inspiration for Catch The Wind. If this is true, inspiration must have come fast, because he first met Linda at a party following his debut appearance on RSG! on February 6. This first recording of Catch The Wind features the London Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Ken Lewis of the vocal harmony group the Ivy League (who were signed to Pye subsidiary Piccadilly). The addition of strings suggests that those around Donovan may have had some doubts as to the commercial potential of such material, despite the exposure the singer was receiving on RSG!.

They need not have feared. After a 'D-Day For Donovan' teaser ad in the music press the previous week, the release of Catch The Wind was trumpeted in a full page ad on the front cover of New Music Express on March 12. Despite that paper's Derek Johnson opining 'colourful lyric, but the melody's none too hot', the single (Pye 7N 15801) showed up at #29 in the following week's NME chart and entered the Record Retailer chart on March 25. That same week Bob Dylan also made his UK singles chart debut, with The Times They Are A-Changin'. The following month Catch The Wind peaked at #4, five places higher than Dylan's single. Amongst the Donovan related news in Record Mirror on March 27 was the announcement that his first LP (reported as being Things That's Been Did And Things That's Been Hid) was due on May 7. Its US equivalent was scheduled for April on the Hickory label, a Nashville based affiliate of Southern Music.

Sessions for the album are likely to have taken place during March at Southern Music. This time around Donovan also plays harmonica on about half the material, Brian Locking again plays bass, and Skip Alan (later of the Pretty Things) drums on three tracks. However, the next new Donovan recording to emerge was neither part of the album nor a new single. Released in France on April 1, the Catch The Wind EP (Vogue/Pye PNV 24138) included one track Every Man Has His Chain which was to remain unavailable elsewhere until appearing on CD for the first time in 1996. Starting with some words addressed to Brian Locking, the track has a similar tune to Catch The Wind and sounds more like a run-through than a finished recording intended for commercial release.
What's Bin Did And What's Bin Hid was issued on May 21, one week after being trailered by teaser ads declaring 'and now: D+LP 21st May'. In NME reviewer Allen Evans awarded four stars to both this and Bob Dylan's latest album, Bringing It All Back Home. Under the heading 'Donovan And Dylan Again', Melody Maker's reviewer wrote: 'Donovan's LP... can only emphasise the British singer's allegiance to the Dylan camp of singing.' The writer continued: 'While Bob's lyrics have the vision and depth, Donovan's have the romance of youth... Donovan's performances are vocally sweet; Dylan's are more raw.'

With the benefit of hindsight it's quite clear that Donovan's album is not in the same league as Bringing It All Back Home. By the time of his fifth album, Dylan was established as a distinctive and remarkable songwriter. He had moved away from protest material and was caught in transition from the solo acoustic folk sound of Mr Tambourine Man and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue to the plugged-in ensemble rock of Subterranean Homesick Blues and Maggie's Farm. By contrast Donovan's first album is a largely derivative affair, but not without charm. Writer Brian Hogg has described Donovan as having an 'Okie lilt' on What's Bin Did And What's Bin Hid. Certainly (and in common with Dylan's earliest records) his performance and repertorie is heavily influenced by American folk and blues artists.

The opening numer, Josie, is a pretty love song which was catchy enough to be selected for release as a single on February 18 1966 (c/w Little Tin Soldier 7N 17067), at a time when contractual hassles were delaying the release of Sunshine Superman. On the album this is followed by a superior version of Catch The Wind, which ditches the strings in favour of Donovan's harmonica. Remember The Alamo, written by Jane Bowers and previously recorded by several artists including Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash and the Kingston Trio, is another strong performance. It too was readied for release as a stop-gap single in 1966 (c/w The Ballad Of A Crystal Man 7N 17088) but was withdrawn, presumably following the failure of Josie to chart.

Cuttin' Out presages the moody atmosphere of an important later recording, Sunny Goodge Street. Woody Guthrie's Car Car gives an indication of the sort of material (folk and blues learned from the likes of Derroll Adams, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Jesse Fuller) that Donovan would have played at St. Albans folk clubs like The Cock in 1964, or discovered on exposure to the London folk club scene. Keep On Truckin' is a good-time jug band-style arrangement of a song which dates back to Blind Boy Fuller. This again features Skip Alan, as well as the kazoo of Donovan's rambling companion turned road manager Gypsy Dave. (That August Donovan would supervise a recording session at which Gypsy Dave performed several songs including a Donovan composition, but no single materialised.)

Side two of the album starts with Goldwatch Blues, a strong piece of social commentary written by St. Albans contemporary Mick Softley, whose own recording career commenced in 1965 with a single on the Immediate label. Also performed solo, To Sing For You is one of Donovan's strongest early compositions. He can be seen playing this in Don't Look Back, D. A. Pennebaker's film of Dylan's spring 1965 tour of the UK. You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond is an original composition which incorporates a few elements of Blind Willie Johnson's song of the same title. Footage survives of Donovan singing this blues, along with Catch The Wind, at the New Musical Express Pollwinners Concert on April 11. The pretty instrumental Tangerine Puppet reveals Donovan to be a decent guitarist. Donna Donna sounds like an age-old traditional song, but was written by Sholom Secunda, Aaron Zeitlin and Sheldon Secunda. Donovan may well have known it from Joan Baez first LP. The album closes with the low-key Ramblin' Boy, perhaps a nod to Donovan's recent itinerant lifestyle.

The May 7 issue of NME reported that Donovan's follow-up to Catch The Wind, Colours, had been recorded two days earlier and was dure for release on May 28. 'I wrote Colours on the spot in the recording studio', Donovan told Record Mirror. 'I went along with several things, but just wrote that when I got [...] Colours (c/w To Sing For You 7N 15866) as 'a hit, of course... A really good and sensitive vocal job. Flip is also commended. A more complex song, haungingly wistful in parts.'

Colours finds Donovan playing banjo, as well as guitar and harmonica, although the latter was absent from the bridge when the song reappeared on Donovan's next album. Even stronger than Catch The Wind, Colours charted on June 3 and equalled its predecessor by peaking at #4 on July 3. On July 25 Donovan sang it with Joan Baez at Newport Folk Festival (available on Vanguard's Baez box set Rare, Live & Classic, which also contains a previously unreleased 1967 rendition of Catch The Wind by Joan and her sister Mimi Fariña). Joan Baez already recorded Colours for her 1965 studio album Farewell Angelina.

Meanwhile, in the States Catch The Wind (Hickory 45-1309) had charted in May and eventually peaked at #23 in July. Donovan's first US album Catch The Wind (LPM 123) charted in July, peaking at #30 in September. Çolours (c/w Josie 45-1324) charted in August. It too peaked in September, reaching #61. With so much success at home, in Europe, and in the States, Donovan's next release was keenly awaited.

Lorne Murdoch.

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