Tuesday, 16 March 2010
A: Ade Macrow also wants to know ‘Do you have any memory about The Lord Of the Rings film project with the Beatles ?’ Don did write a song for it which became Poor Cow and then was adapted into Poor Love for the film Poor Cow by Ken Loach, any recollection ?
G: I do remember the time that the idea was going around to make a film of The Lord Of The Rings. Donovan wanted to see about this project but when we made inquires we were told that the Beatles were first in line, if it should come about at all . It was stopped at that time because Tolkien did not want his story even illustrated let alone made into a film . Why you may ask, the reason was that he wanted everyone that read his story to make the characters up in their own imaginations while reading his book. Good for him I say . Donovan was already writing songs for the book though, that was how Poor Cow came about .
Part of the original lyrics to Poor Cow :-
Oh, I dwelt in the north in the green country,
Faramir, far from here
A: In the early 1970’s during the Open Road (which you photographed the album cover ) period you had an incident with Don’s car (the Landrover and the Jag),what was that all about? What was the Open Road time like with Candy and Mike?
G: Re. the Landrover- Jag incident…this was the most serious row with Don that I ever had, its quite a story, but that I am saving for my book too as it makes for a good yarn. Also it is complicated and would fill two or three pages - so many roads converged over this bridge of Don's and my journey through life. Candy, Mike and Dono worked very well together, given time I think they would have become a great convergence in sound . Donovan could write songs very easily for this combination of musicians and add what he wanted afterwards with no problems of ego getting in the way as he had total control of the sound he was getting as both Mike and Candy although contributing to the music to a great degree felt the true input was Donovan’s songs. We had a great deal of fun in Corfu where the band and Don stayed in a wonderful mansion right on the coast .The house belonged to a famous Greek poet who was on the run from the Junta who were going to throw him in prison and torture him for things he had said publicly about the Junta. We got the house through Alex Mardas - of Beatles fame - who supposedly gave the rent to the poet. We also got the boat - a ketch - through Alex from another runner from the Junta whose factory had been taken over by them. We paid £520,000 for the boat through a bank in the Bahamas and formed a Nautical Company to be able to sail it under a flag of convenience .I was one of the directors of that company .
A: What are you favourite memories of Don ? Any other memorable times with Julian -like the Turkey attempt at a prison break, the first tour with Don etc. What are your least favourite memories of that time?
G: Wow!… this is a huge bunch of questions! There are so many favourite memories from the early days. I suppose one would be the look of happiness on Dono's face as he looked across a cafe table at me . We had just come from his publishers, we ate double scampi and chips and ordered another helping each. It had been a matter of weeks from sleeping rough for us where a half empty packet of potatoes chips would have been a luxury. The Turkey prison breakout was a very dangerous thing for us to get involved in but the injustice of the whole story was so disgusting for Julian we were tempted to help him out all we could. In Istanbul up to that time smoking dope had been a usual thing to do for some in the know - foreigners and Turks of like mind. Whether it was legal there or not at that time I don’t know. It was no big thing until the American Government asked the Turkish Police to clamp down on Americans using dope in Turkey. This was a vain attempt on their part to do away with the dreaded drugs revival happening throughout the world. Anyway to cut a long story short, a bloody stupid young American youth had come to Istanbul determined to try some of its famed Hash .He recognised in our dear friend Julian McAllister a likely partaker and asked if he could buy some Hash from him . Julian refused. He told him he could get all the Hash he needed from many local people and gave him a small lump for free telling him he could give it back when he had found his own supply. But this idiot American was so un-cool he attracted a lot of interest in his quest and the police turned up at his hotel and searched him, whereupon they found the small lump Julian had given him. Instead of saying he got it from any one of the thousand faces passing by in the streets he put Julian right in the shit. Said Julian had sold it to him. The youth was sent packing back to the States while poor Julian was send packing to the most disgusting prison in the whole of Turkey. Julian was not heard from again for five months while he awaited trial. If anyone saw the film Midnight Express they would get a fair idea of how Julian lived in the care of the Turkish Jail. Again to cut a long story short Donovan and I got to hear of Julian’s plight through our dear friend Sammy (real name David Samuels) We three went over to Istanbul to try and sort things out. We thought with enough money thrown at the problem, the problem would go away and we could get Julian out of jail. We thought we could provide a Get Out Of Jail Free card, but it was not to be. Sammy was informed there were people to see who could indeed get Julian out of jail free, only it would cost us a lot of money . Sammy was left in Istanbul to do the deal and we promised to get him any cash he needed .It was decided before we left Istanbul that to break him out of the main jail was near on impossible .At that time there had already been a successful break out and the police had doubled their security. The best plan from our informant would be for Julian to act as if he had gone mad. If he could pull of this charade off then they would take him to the insane asylum and from there it was possible to get him out with bribes. Julian was a good actor and once told the plan by Sammy acted the part of a madman to such good account as to be whisked off to the nut house within days of our plan. Well the best laid plans of mice and men, etc, etc. Dono had given Julian a set of coloured fibre tipped pens and a book to paint. Starved of any way to express himself creatively these coloured pens were an island of freedom for Julian . He kept them proudly in the top pocket of the only jacket he had .While acting insane he was wearing this jacket, it was night time and cold in the prison. By dawn Julian was being frog-marched through the gates of the Insane asylum where a guard seeing the gaily coloured pens sticking out of his pocket made a grab for them. Julian so near to freedom snapped out of his play acting and grabbed the pens back looking the guard squarely in the face, looking very sane as he did so. That was the end of that. Julian was whisked back immediately to the disgusting prison he had just been transported from. . Not to be beaten we went through the proper channels next time and managed to get Julian’s trial brought forward and also managed to get him to a much better prison in the country once he had been sentenced. Julian received a two year sentence for what would have been no more than a pound deal in London. The nearly six months imprisonment prior to the trail was not taken into consideration . Another great victory for the American Drugs Agency. OK, lets go on to the other questions, just remembering Julian’s suffering for what was a brotherly act on his part, is about one of the worst memories from those days anyway .
A: Another question from a fan who wants to know, ‘Can you please, ask Gyp how far sessions for his planned 'Hooker Tooker' single on Decca (to be produced by Donovan) ever got? I suspect nothing at all happened in the end but it'd be nice to have this confirmed.
G: Ah, what long memories some people have - yes you are right, it did not get very far off the ground Its best anyway to keep my singing to the bath and as I am a shower man my vocals got drowned at birth, a fate that they well deserve .My interest was always in the poetry of songs, words are everything to me and the melody acts as the medium to make me interested in what is being said through the song. Thank your Blog questioner for his or her interest .
A: How did you first get into sculpture was it due to your connection with David Wynne ?
G: Ah there, now you have it, my love of Sculpture. Well I would say that the work of David Wynne was the very first influence on me, but for an early memory of mine. I don't hold many memories from childhood but this one is almost the first on the list. My mother used to take my sister and I to a museum near to where we lived in Peckham Rye. It was called The Horniman Museum. This particular day they were having an exhibition of early Wedgwood Pottery. Wedgwood originally had a darker blue to the background of their pots. I remember having my forehead pressed against the glass of the display case. This came up to the height of my eyes and seemed gigantic to me as I strained to pick out the beautiful figures in white. These were scenes from Greek Mythology and the artistic reproduction second to none. They were executed to perfection, most of them being taken from the design of ancient Greek sculptures. I fell in love with these exquisite relief’s for they touched a part of me deeply embedded in my inner being. I had a feeling that was somehow a memory covered by a mysterious veil of knowing, yet not knowing. When I met David Wynne I was fascinated with his wonderful sculptures and spent a lot of time in his studio while he worked. I was picking up as much knowledge of sculpture as I could pack into my mind as David spoke of his sculptures and the process. Eventually I modelled for a huge piece of his called The Tyne God. A famous athlete of the day had started modelling for the work but, due to too much pressure of work, had to decline from further participation. It was at this stage that I took over and became the model and David found our figures to be so alike it took little work to change what needed to be changed for his sculpture to dovetail into what it became. In these sessions I learnt so much about the process of sculpting, it was unreal . David was an amazing artist, he was a true artist. He had never taken one art class in his life for sculpture yet he is England's greatest living sculptor. He recognised the same spirit in me and one day around his table eating a meal with his family and friends he suggested that I should take up sculpting myself ." But I have never done any sculpting David,“ I said. "Ah but you are a sculptor Gypsy, this I know by the answers you give me to my questions about my work and other sculptures I have asked you about over the time we have known each other. Your knowledge could only come from someone that was a Sculptor." I knew how serious David was as far as his work went and these few words of his sent shivers up and down my spine. I looked deep into his eyes and the very next day started my first piece. I doubt very much that I will ever attain the heights of sculpture that David Wynne has reached but even 25% of his skill would make me a happy man.
A: Did your love of sculpture lead to your move to Greece?
G: ....did it? Well yes and no .When Donovan and I first went to Greece in 1966 we discovered by accident (if there is such a thing ) the Island of Paros. This Island just happens to be the Island where all the Ancient Greek sculptors came to find their Marble and to work on it. It was known as Lychnitis and all the famous pieces of sculpture in antiquity came from this marble. Many years later and knowing this as a fact I decided, after meeting and falling in love with an artist called Rita Schmeiser, to move to the Isle of Paros to continue with my sculpting. I found a lovely house in the hills above Parikia and persuaded the beautiful young and talented painter Rita to live with me there in seclusion.
A: Can you tell me a little about your time in Paros ?
G: I had gone to Paros for the second time with my son Matthew, who was about 9 years old at the time. I regaled him on the boat journey over from Athens with some stories of my previous stay. When we arrived on Paros it had changed so much I had little idea of where we had stayed before - the way to the old house having been bulldozed up and three dozen hotels blocked the donkey path that I remembered - so I could not tell how to find the old cottage. Matthew was disappointed about not seeing the old house so one day, with little hope of finding the house, we took a small path up into the hills. Sure enough we found a place a bit like the cottage we had rented but the view seemed to me the wrong way around. In my memory I had another picture . We walked into the garden, then I was sure we were in the wrong place. Just then a very pleasant man, a German named Holger Troltze, asked us if he could be of any assistance .He showed us around the inside of the house and again I was sure it was the wrong place. We sat and had a cup of tea with Holger and his famous model girlfriend while I explained our circumstances. The upshot of it all was that a day later I went with him to the barbers and put a years rent down in advance on the house, as I was going to rent the property. I also bought all Holger’s furniture, gas stove etc from him and I also bought some chisels and hammers as he was a painter and a sculptor too. On my first day back from Paros, at a friends house, I met and soon fell in love with a pretty young girl called Rita . We subsequently spent 27 years on this amazing island. After starting to sculpt in the marble there, I eventually gave it up as Rita and I started work my book called Sandylea . I had started the book on Paros years before but one of Rita's paintings reminded me so much of the main character, Sandylea, that she started more illustrations for the book and we had great fun through the winter months writing and illustrating this project together .You will have to read my book to find out further details but I did start my work sculpting again in marble and many wonderful people have in their houses on the island my work in marble and bronze .
A: How did you come to leave Greece and set up your own school and artists retreat in Thailand?
G: I finally left my beloved Paros, not meaning to at all . My dear mother, God rest her soul, died quite a while prior to my leaving. She died of complications from emphysema contracted at her work, where her other two colleagues just happened to be chain smokers, passive smoking they call it, but its not very passive for the sufferer I can tell you . My poor mother went through a further 25 years of torment, and I do mean torment, before she died from this disease, she was a non smoker all her life with never a cigarette touching her lips. Anyway the point being, in her will she left me and my sister Sandra a little money. After I had got somewhat over her death (do we really ever get over a loved one dying ?) I thought I would use the money to take a three months holiday in a part of the world I had never visited before. That country was Thailand .Within two weeks of my visit I met a most amazing Thai woman called Pannee. We got on like a house on fire even though she was half my age. I felt from the start that I knew her so well. It was soon realized that Pannee had the same birthday as my son Matthew, 26th October, although Pannee was born one year later then my son. Age has another meaning in the East,it still has a lot to do with respect and knowledge gained and a settled life as far as finances go . It is very common for an elderly man to marry a younger woman in the countries of the East. Thus it is very pleasant to live in Thailand without the constant looks of jealousy one can get in the West from men and woman stuck in marriages that have long lost there sparkle. So there you have it . I have been interested and have done quite a lot of teaching of sculpture in Greece and it was always a dream to have a place where potential or already established artists can come to get into the medium of sculpture or maybe find there inspiration again in whatever realm of the arts they are proficient at. I wanted to create a quite and tranquil setting predisposed to creativity and peace. Well I think I have managed to do just that here in Thailand by designing my own house, school and grounds with that purpose in mind. The courses last two months and includes all food ( made by my wife Pannee ), drinks, a beautiful double room all with french windows overlooking my lake or overlooking unspoiled jungle like flora .Each room has a shower toilet and washbasin. There is a huge living room with computers and comfort to read, write or just relax .Outside we have a pleasing gardens and a lake full of fish that covers three sides of the house. Here in a Thai style boathouse, reached by a wooden bridge, it is very relaxing to fish. Eat them or put them back, that is up to you , Pannee will gladly make a delicious dish out of them . All this plus tuition is only 3,000 euros for the two months.We have a bronze foundry nearby where for a fraction of the cost of casting in Europe you can have your clay sculptures cast into bronze .
A: How is your School of Sculpture and Artists retreat going?
G: How is it working? Well we are in a recession at the moment in the parts of the world where culture matters, so it is not such a good a time to get students. They must come from abroad, all my students must come from Europe or America . The cost of the fare to get to Thailand is a little heavy and although the schooling is very cheap compared to many schools, with the strong Baht it works out a little difficult to pull together for many potential students. I don’t want to go about spending fortunes on advertising for our little school - the best way is always through word of mouth and any students that have gone through our school have loved the experience, so slowly we will arrive at the amount of students we need to make a little profit to build more small cottages in our grounds for a few more students to also enjoy the experience. Keep your fingers crossed that it works for us please Andrew.
A: I read somewhere you exhibited in Athens during the Olympics, what did that entail?
G: I think you are referring here to an exhibition in Athens we had called THE CLEAR LIGHT ON PAROS. It was first proposed to the then Mayor Of Paros to have an exhibition of the artists involved in IPAC, a society for the artists of Paros that I had a hand in starting and supporting in Athens. The Mayor took the idea and ran with it, inviting other artistic groups like ours from Athens to join in the exhibition. There were not a lot of sculptors involved so the organiser (a very well known Athens critic) after seeing my sculptures asked me if I would put nine of my pieces in the exhibition. Anyway the exhibition was a great success.
A: Big question, who are your favourite artists and why?
G: Difficult again because there are few artists as such where I like all their work. Salvador Dali would be one, David Wynne another. All the classical orientated movements I enjoy their work. Klimt I love; a Swedish artist called Carl Larsson; Rodin of course; some of Picasso's work is outrageous; I also like Van Gogh's work. Oh there are so many really it’s impossible to name them all .
A: Is there one dream art project you would want to be involved in, what would it be? There is talk of a new Colossus of Rhodes project - would that interest you?
G: No plans to get involved in that project although I will do anything to support the new Museum at the Acropolis, its been a long time coming and is modern enough to be able to hold what we call the Elgin Marbles, but it is really the frieze from the Acropolis’s buildings and should by any rights be returned to Athens. If an American Indians Shirt can be considered so important as to be returned to its tribe because of its religious significance, then the Elgin Marbles are ten million times more important to the Greeks. God bless Elgin for saving them from the Turks who were selling them to local merchants to be broken down in lime to make a white paint called Asphesti.
OK .all my love to all my old friends that might read this blog of Andrew’s and my love goes out to any fan of DONOVAN who reads this. All I can say is you have very good taste in music and are interested in a genuine artist - not some hyped up nothing.
Many Thanks to Gyp for taking the time out to answer these questions . Some very interesting answers there. The first 19 chapters from Gypsy Dave’s autobiography are available at his site .The site also gives details as how you can study at Gyp’s School of Sculpture or relax in the creative atmosphere of the Artists Retreat.
© Andrew Morris
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Gypsy Dave Mills Interview Part 1
Gypsy Dave was Donovan’s legendary road buddy and best friend here is the first part of an exclusive interview with him.
On The Autobiography
Andrew Morris: When did you decide to write your life story?
Gypsy Dave Mills:....O.K. HERE WE go, When Dono was finishing off his book of his life , The Hurdy Gurdy Man, he came to Paros ,Greece , to a lovely seaside house that I found him where we worked together on it for about six days, in so doing I wrote memories of what I could remember of stories we lived through together to remind him of some of them .These Dono loved so much that he suggested he should send them of to the publisher to be inserted into the book as a recollection of mine (our life almost being joined at the hip for many years). The Editor in chief of the company publishing the book for Donovan (Random House ) ,Mark Booth, thought that a bad idea as it might confuse things ,(it was Dons life being told not mine ). But Mark Booth did give many compliments on my writing skills ,(much to my surprise ) .To cut a long story short ,whilst in London at the Publishing house Do to publicize Dons book , Mark Booth asked me about my story and said that he had enjoyed what I had written and that if I ever wrote my own story he would like to be the first to see it . A few months later ,in a way to relieve my mind from a very complicated piece of sculpture I was doing ,I started very casually to write my autobiography, 'Knight(s) of the Road', a title suggested by Donovan by the way .
A: How are you finding putting it all down in print?
G: I am actually loving it .It brings back the times as if they were yesterday and I remember them so well. It surprises me what with all the smoking I did in my early years, they say if you really lived the sixties then you wont remember a thing about it, which is really true in the sixties but now in the 20th century a lot of what was forgotten has re-emerged, which might prove the old adage that as you die your life floats before you ,maybe trying to write about your early life touches that same spot in your soul, who knows .All I know is I am busy writing the rest of the chapters now .
A: You have written 19 chapters so far , some wonderful stories in there, any news on how many more you are going to write and when?
G: I am on chapter 22 now ,chapter 20 and 21 are ready for Davy McGowan to see them for Editing, but I will let him have them 4 chapters at a time , that's if he doesn't mind helping me again. Its been a while now , after the death of my poor son Matthew of cancer I finally feel creative again in my writing .
A: Davy McGowan is helping you out with editing etc on the book, did you enjoy working with him?
G: Davy is fantastic , a wonderful person and has a great understanding as an editor , through his magazines about Donovan he has interest in seeing Donovan’s life through my eyes too ,so it makes it a very personal thing working with Davy although we only met once at a Donovan Concert I feel we have a strong artistic bond in ourselves ,he is a good musician as well as writer and Editor and I feel very lucky and privileged to have found him to do this work with me .
A: I have a Question from Sara Loveridge , she wants to know about your thoughts on 'To Try For The Sun' is it about your time with Don in Manchester?
G: Hi Sara, ‘To Try For The Sun’ ,its about a time in Hatfield actually our second time of leaving home. My mother was trying to blackmail me to stay home because a landlady from St Ives had sent some letters addressed to me and re-directed them to my mothers house in Hatfield. In one of them was a lot of references to drugs and names of friends who were doing them and a packet of Morning Glory seeds with instructions on how to bake them into biscuits . I had hitched all the way from St Ives thinking that there was some serious problem .My dear mother was hoping I would stay at home if she had this over my head . Dono had come to my mums house having been thrown out by his mum, all his clothes thrown out onto the pavement through his bedroom window etc .He came round to see me and I thought it a good time (after spending two nights at home ) to search my mothers room for the letter and turned everything upside down in her room . She came home found the mess and came down with the letter and threw it into the fire saying that that was obviously what I wanted . I said thank you Mum, and with that I walked out of her neat and tidy house with Dono in tow and we went to spend that first night on the doss in a really nice bandstand that I knew of .I woke up to find Dono shivering in his sleep so I lay my poor coat around his shoulders ,before falling asleep myself . The reference to ‘the windy city’ was our first leaving (second for me ) when we shared some bread and jam by the side of the road in the drizzle in a city . The rest is a hotchpotch of our adventures.
A: You headed off to India with Don to Rishikesh, how was it with the Beatles and all meditating ? What did you make of the Maharishi?
G: Too complicated to explain at this time although I will have to write it up soon in my book ,you will have to wait with baited breath for that episode it might shock some people ,as you know I left before anyone else and at the last moment Ringo and Maureen came with us in our taxi after Maureen had come to our bungalow to ask if she could come with us to New Delhi .Ringo joined us at the last minute saying he felt the place ‘Rishikesh was like an Indian Butlins Holiday Camp’ .
A: How did your songs with Don ‘A Sunny Day’ and ‘The River Song’ and your sole effort ‘In Tangier Down a Windy Street’ (with Bert Jansch on guitar) come about on the Hurdy Gurdy Man album and did you work with Mickie Most on these songs?
G: I was sitting with Dono one early evening in the woods by his house in Hertfordshire around a fire we had made the dogs snuggled up to us and our ladies making dinner for our pleasure ,when Dono turned to me and said he was worried about the next album .Worried that he didn't have enough songs for it and it was due out soon .‘Your writing a lot of poetry at the moment Gypo got any you think I can turn into a song mate’ he asked me . Well I thought a bit and said 'Sunny Day would work for you mate' and sort of sang or more like crooned the words ‘Sunny day while away the afternoon , Cutting nettles that are hiding petals bright’ . It was in fact written about his lovely cottage and my friendship for him . We had fun playing with the words and tune until he came up with the melody that stuck .Took us about 5 minutes .Dono was well chuffed and said any others .Well how about 'The River Song' ,it was a poem I was just writing myself at that time ,the words had just come to me a few days before. Ten minutes later ,and with us both on the same wave length it was finished . 'Any more Gyp?' ,he asked knowing he was pushing it . Well just like that ,I began ‘In Tangiers down a windy street where beggars meet and on old rags do sleep’ ,the melody came to me as if by magic and I sung the whole poem as a song for the very first time and it felt to me as if it had been a song all along . ‘F*cking Hell ,Gyp that's fantastic mate ,that's a song without me doing a damn thing about it’ and then he played and sang the melody and words that he could remember while I wrote the rest of the words down for him . I think the three songs took about 35 minutes to get down ,then feeling very happy because now he could finish the album Hurdy Gurdy Man we went into his wonderful cottage feeling ecstatic with joy .
A: What did you think of Mickie Most and his work with Don?
G: Micky was a darling of a man and had a very special vibe with Dono and of course with his songs , Micky and his brother David Most had had a band together called the Most Brothers ,but it had not done too well although they tried to get it off the ground . Dave Most did all the hassling for the band and met many a influential person in so doing , although Micky did all the work on the music, Dave went out and hassled all his finished disks for him, he did a very good job too especially if he liked the music and he too loved Dons work as it was something of the style the Most Brothers tried to achieve .
A: The chapters of your book so far have included stories of St Ives, Manchester Cinemas , sleeping rough and much more besides. Can you tell me a little about your time up in Skye with Don, Julian, Mac etc?
G: Isle of Skye I have not got to in my book yet so I don't want to recall that period yet as it might get in the way of my story telling, it was great fun though and we all had a gas, as I recall Julian’s girl was about to have a baby I remember she modeled for me, the sculpture was to be of a mother pregnant and about to give birth with a baby on the breast not yet 6 months old they were all balancing on a pill tuned upright, I called the piece . ‘The Miracle of the Roman Catholic Church’ I wonder what happened to it ?
A: Don mentions two women at around this time Rosie and Enid . I understand Enid had a hard time fitting in to the lifestyle in Skye, what are your memories of this?
G: He was not with two women in the farm where all our caravans were that's for sure and Enid was such a clever girl when it came to keeping woman away from Dono that I doubt he was with this girl Rosie unless he kept her somewhere else on the island ,I have no personal recollection of her at all but that doesn't mean it didn't happen . It don't take long to ‘get yer knickers off’ if that's what you are planning to do, between two consenting adults . Poor Enid had a hard time fitting into anything in England let alone Scotland, where a lot of the time we were all being castigated by a local priest in a church for bringing the devil into the Highlands because we had a fire outside on a Sunday and went out in the boat on Sunday. Enid really loved L.A . It was in her blood and tame old England came a second best in most things for her, She wanted to party and have light hearted fun . We all partied in a strange way for her, far to intellectual and arty.
A: A couple of questions from Ade Macrow, first he wants to know , ‘Could you please ask Gyp about the writing of Sandy Lea - where it was published; any plans for reissue and so on? Thanks’
G: Sandylea never got published ,although one big publisher said they were interested and would I write the island parts longer . Don was all for us publishing it ourselves but that never got together either . About twenty years later I returned to the publisher saying I had finished the island scenes, it was funny and of course tongue in cheek.
(c) Andrew Morris