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October 6, 2010

Dublin, Ireland

Olympia Theatre

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Set list:

Solo:

01. The Enchanted Gypsy

02. To Try For The Sun

03. The Little Tin Soldier

04. Remember The Alamo

05. Donna Donna

06. Ballad Of Geraldine

07. Universal Soldier

08. Brother Sun Sister Moon

09. Jennifer Juniper

10. Lalena

11. Colours

12. The Illusion

13. Wear Your Love Like Heaven

 

With Band:

14. Univerz

15. E-motion

16. Sunshine Superman

17. Happiness Runs

18. There Is A Mountain

19. Slow Down World

20. Sunny Goodge Street

21. Barabajagal

22. Season Of The Witch

23. Hurdy Gurdy Man

24. Sixteen Tons

25. Mellow Yellow

 

Encore:

26. Atlantis

Donovan Catches His 2nd Wind (by Amy Corzine)

 

'Donovan's back!' exclaimed an Irishman after the ecstatic standing ovation he received from every person in the fairytale-like Olympia Theatre in Dublin on October 6th, 2010. By that he said he meant that Donovan seemed back in tune with some higher force – that was flowing through him unobstructed.

Indeed he did sing powerfully and right on-key, never placing a foot wrong on song after song. From the moment he set off with 'The Enchanted Gypsy', with new musical and vocal improvisations that really worked, you knew he truly was a musical shaman of the sort he sings about on his new album ['I Am the Shaman' on 'Ritual Groove'].  He beamed and glowed as he embraced the full house with his art of enchantment, long lodged deep in our psyches.

His obvious enjoyment of performing transferred to his audience, who, by the end of the show, were shedding inhibitions to get up and dance, after having been injected with the enthusiastic verve of their re-remembered youth and dreams of a flower-powered social revolution. Donovan had lived his wild generation's dreams himself. He was the real thing. He was the epitome of the gentle romantic mystical poet and hitch-hiking middle-class teenage beatnik troubadour, both angelic and cheeky, who had lucked out and hit it big, voicing his generation's aspirations of peace, love and power to the flower, and then had dropped out from the Big Time rather than sell out – dropped out so well in fact that subsequent generations of youngsters thought of numerous other Donovans in the media, but not 'our' Donovan.

And now - he is back.

Walking into the Victorian-red theatre with cream and ornate gold ornament, the excitement before the start of the show was palpable. Happening in a country famous for its fairy lore with an icon who touched the gentle mysticism natural to the young during the 60s and 70s, someone who inspired them with his own Celtic and medieval troubadour imaginings, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. What we're witnessing today is a resurgence of the spirit of the 60s generation, the much-maligned baby boomers who lost their way in a sea of freedom, awash with sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll, who are now becoming re-inspired by what they really sought as not-so-innocent innocents once upon a time. Donovan says 'it's love love love ... my, how they sigh'. ('Sunny Goodge Street')

He began with a solo set –  just him with his trusty green-faced guitar 'Kelly' – which Donovan calls 'an Irish girl'. The first songs referred back to his generation's romantic desire for a free gypsy life on the road and, most important of all, real love, then he carried on and on through songs that recalled a past younger self growing up through times of excitement, loneliness, desire and sadness when solace and delight, and a direction to go in the future, could be found in music.  Like butter, his voice slid seamlessly through 'The Enchanted Gypsy'; 'To Try for the Sun' about rambling with Gypsy Dave, searching for something that was above the sort of life facing him at that time; Texan songwriter Sean Phillips' 'The Little Tin Soldier', a fairytale about losing true love and its permanent return; Jane Bowers' 'Remember the Alamo' about standing fast for freedom:

Heeeey, up Santy Anna,

They're killin' your soldiers below,

so the rest of Texas will know and remember the Alamo ...

For Texas and freedom, a man was more willin' to die ...

Fear not little darlin'  of dyin', 

If the world is sovereign and free,

For we'll fight to the last for as long as liberty be.

The following songs were played, but perhaps not in the order I mention them. I recall that he turned his gaze on females (perhaps as an introduction to the goddess theme of his new 'Ritual Groove' songs), playing 'Donna Donna' from his very first album about a girl seeking freedom and its oblique sadness, whose melody felt like a warning, which only those who have experienced the losses that come along with freedom will fully appreciate.  Donovan reminded us that not everything was sweetness and light in the 60s, introducing 'Geraldine' as being about a friend of his whose rambler boyfriend had left her while she was pregnant.

He spoke of first hearing Buffy St. Marie singing her great antiwar song: 'Universal Soldier'.  It became one of his most famous covers of other songwriters' songs. Hearing it again now in 2010 in Dublin, and remembering young people's hope in the 60s about ending War for all time, made all the more poignant the words:

He's the one who must decide who's to live and who's to die

And he never sees the writing on the wall –

But without him how would Hitler have condemned them at Dachau?

Without him Caesar would have stood alone.

He's the one who gives his body

As a weapon of the war

And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame

His orders come from far away no more

They come from here and there and you and me

And brothers can't you see

This is not the way we put the end to war.

He reminded us that the great Italian director Franco Zeffirelli had chosen him to do the music for his 1972 film 'Brother Sun, Sister Moon'. In Donovan, Zeffirelli had seen something akin to St. Francis as a leader of the young, feeling his music went along very well with the Saint's teachings. And so Donovan wrote what seemed a call for selflessness from the young and the transcendence of selfishness, a feeling that permeated the 70s for many:

Brother Sun, Sister Moon,

I seldom see you

Seldom hear your tune

Preoccupied with selfish misery.

Brother Wind and Sister Air

Open my eyes to visions pure and fair

That I may see the glory around me.

I am God's creature, of Him I am part –

I feel His love awakening my heart.

Brother Sun and Sister Moon,

I now do see you,

I can hear your tune –

So much in love with all that I survey.

He played 'Jennifer Juniper', 'Lalena', 'Colours' and then leapt into a new song that is on 'Ritual Groove' called 'The Illusion', which begins:

In the blood-red corridors of power

will a gentle lama ever walk

in the heartless temples of the state

will a gentle lama ever talk...

He sang 'Wear Your Love Like Heaven', which I couldn't help singing along with as it seems even more relevant today than ever before:

Wear your love like Heaven...

Lord kiss me once more fill me with song,

Allah, kiss me once more that I may, that I may

Wear my love like Heaven...

Can I believe what I see

All I have wished for will be -

All our race proud and free

Wear your love like Heaven...

For the last couple of songs of the first half of the show, Donovan introduced his new band. It consists of skilful Dublin musicians Trevor Knight on keyboards, Noel Bridgman on drums and percussion, Paul Moore on bass, Ed Dean on guitar and his English brother-in-law Stewart Lawrence on percussion.

They sounded really tight as they accompanied Donovan throughout the second half, which began with a film of glittering stars in a black universe and a recording of a single sustained note, which changed into another note with an overlay of the wind blowing.  It was the start of his new CD 'Ritual Groove: soundtrack for a movie not yet made'.  Then a voiceover came on of Donovan-as-poet reciting a poem named 'Univerz':

One hundred billion suns spin in our Milky Way

ten million galaxies beyond

that we can hear that we just hear

and larger than our own

and out beyond beyond – an infinity of suns

vast spinning islands in the firmament

we cannot hear the sounds of what is out beyond our ken

beyond may be forever spinning worlds

how can we upon an earth view the world below

with the eye of greed and enmity

marvellous the motion of the shining univerz

open up your heart to unity

after which a female voice meant to be the ruler of the universe – Aphrodite (goddess of love) – said:

How petty these mortals be

Listen to that poet

Trying to describe the immensity of my never ending universe

My ceremonials they have debased

My rituals forgotten

Listen well my handmaids

Were there but one poet who can truly praise me

Perhaps then he may be able to save this little planet

From the foolishness of humankind

Then the band launched into 'E-motion', a musical statement more powerful live, played by live musicians, than on record.  It felt so appropriate, showing where humanity is in this present moment, that it sent chills down my spine.  It rumbled and burbled through the crowd like a steam train, strong and true.  The crowd lapped it up as if it had been starving for such a sound and impulse from Donovan as he sang:

we're all feeling the same pain in our hearts

at the point of revolution we realize

we're all on the same earth whose only border is fear

emotions it's an emotion in my heart that I'm feeling

feeling

takes a braver man than goes to war

at the point of revolution we realize

the journey that matters is the one that looks inside

emotion it's an emotion in my heart that I'm feeling

feeling

It was then that I knew what his hoped-for Ritual Groove movie would be about – and why he's doing what he's doing now.  It's a battle for the goodness of the human spirit that he's in the middle of – against the mechanical hard technological mindset that is now destroying our natural world. The Irish crowd erupted into cheering afterwards, having heard and felt what he meant.

Then the ever-gentle, essentially traditional Donovan returned to the more comfortable realm of his repertoire of well-known songs, playing 'Sunshine Superman' and encouraging his audience to become active in the creation of music, instigating singalongs of 'Happiness Runs' and 'There Is a Mountain'.

At other times in all this flying, dazzling emotion, which is a trademark of his concerts, he played other well-loved songs such as 'Slow Down World', 'Sunny Goodge Street', 'Barabajagal' and 'Season of the Witch'.

'This is for all the witches out there – are there any out there?' Donovan asked, at which point a loud cheer resounded from a good central portion of the audience.

At one point he noted that the late John Lennon's 70th birthday was coming up that very week, in honour of which he played 'Hurdy Gurdy Man', with pictures of Lennon and the other Beatles passing by on the backdrop behind him.

Donovan chuckled as he introduced what he called a little bit of fun for the crowd.  Behind him flashed the logo of Allied Irish Banks on the backstage screen as he sang:

You load sixteen tons, what do you get? 
Another day older and deeper in debt.

Saint Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go; 
I owe my soul to the company store.


It was a cover of 'Sixteen Tons', an old coal-miner protest song first recorded in 1946 by American country singer Merle Travis, in 'honour' of the current Irish banking crisis. Afterwards, he reassured the crowd that they will be alright.

Then the familiar chords of the party song 'Mellow Yellow' rose. At that point it was all just too much for some people, who stood up in the confines of a building made for restrictive Victorian mores (which most of them had been brought up with in 1950s Dublin) and danced. Donovan also played 'Atlantis' – very appropriate since Ireland was once thought to be a remnant of Atlantis by some 60s theorists.  Perhaps it was – given the joyful reaction of the crowd to that song.

Having been kept on the boil throughout the show, the crowd burst with goodwill and delight that he was still so good.  A sort of joy and humorous warmth percolated and bubbled in people throughout the encore set and afterwards, as if they were delighted that Donovan had returned something precious to them.

Actually Donovan was 'showing', not telling. He was demonstrating to the crowd that they could still do a lot of what they wanted to do too, that the future would be brighter if they would now do the things they had dreamed of doing while young. By exposing his soul and that his dreams hadn't changed at all, he opened the door for others to walk through towards expressing their own dreams.

After the show, there was much lively chatter about Donovan's resurgence and how good he had been. A very long queue trailed through the Olympia's front hallway past a table where a young Irish girl was selling Donovan's work, including his just-released new double-CD of 27 songs entitled 'Ritual Groove' and his autobiography 'The Hurdy Gurdy Man' and biographical movie 'Sunshine Superman'.

A lean, white-haired Irish man supposed it to be a line of people buying CDs but I told him Donovan was signing things and he excitedly responded, 'You're joking! Pulling me leg. He isn't really.' No, no, I said, he really is, which was confirmed by others. By that time he was jumping and said to his wife, 'Go on there, Maura. Buy that book of his now. Hurry – let's get in the queue!'

I asked the young salesgirl if she thought it interesting seeing all the oldies there and so excited and did she even know who Donovan was? She replied not really, she had heard about him but that was all, but she found it all fascinating – the older people there really were very excited and she hadn't a clue why. I explained that Donovan was an icon for young people in the 60s, that he had become a kind of symbol at the forefront of big social changes and dreams that we hadn't forgotten.

What I didn't tell her was that he also holds the power to influence that generation again, only now with a more mature perspective regarding his and their old dreams.

If the elder generation can be reinvigorated to express the maturing of that 60s spirit of love, hope, peace, freedom and understanding in a positive, active manner through taking care of the Earth and who and what we love...
if it can be reminded of the nobility in the human spirit that so many of our leaders have lost through greed...
if it can teach the young how to avoid the pitfalls of attempting to reach and express real love, which the 60s generation know so very much about, who knows – we just might recreate a new Atlantis without destroying it this time.

So, hey ho, Donovan –  you'll be busy for a long time yet!

 

Amy Corzine, 9th October, 2010 – the late John Lennon's 70th birthday

 

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