Friday, 17 April 2015

Ten Facts about Donovan and the Real Hurdy Gurdy Man

"When the truth gets buried deep. Beneath a thousand years asleep. Time demands a turnaround. And once again the truth is found."
George Harrison's verse for 'Hurdy Gurdy Man'

Mac MacLeod and Donovan
 I have spent several years researching Donovan and his music, I met him several times, I got to know many of his friends and spent a long time interviewing people around St Albans who knew him.

Here are a few things I found out that have been confirmed by many sources.

I am only going to mention today (after a long while with no posts) facts regarding Donovan and Mac MacLeod -The Original Hurdy Gurdy Man. I often get fed up trying to set the record straight on these issues and I have included Donovan's own words to back these up.

1.) Mac MacLeod showed Donovan how to finger-pick, this is well known by those who knew them both in the 60's. Mac was the only finger picker in the area as Mick Softley and his student Dirty Hugh were flat pickers. This has been confirmed from several sources. These were the same techniques Mac MacLeod had passed onto Donovan that he in turn shared with John Lennon in India.

'...Mac MacLeod — whom I looked to in the early days to learn how to pick the guitar..'

Donovan June 1968 NME

2.) Donovan and Mac spent one summer in the early 60's in Torquay, again confirmed with many sources , this appears to be a fertile time for Donovan. Mac had spent previous summers busking in Torquay with the late John Renbourn , I have that on record from John himself , indeed Mac introduced Donovan to John and then onto Bert Jansch. John goes on to mention what a big influence Mac was on him. Mac was also a big influence on Donovan.

"Mac was a very big influence on the young Don..''
  John Renbourn 2010

  "The man who encouraged and helped me most was a fellow called Keith 'Mac' MacLeod. I've known him for about three years, and he's taught me everything from chord progressions on the guitar, to how to appreciate folk and real blues".

Donovan- Beat Instrumental May 1965

3.) Both Donovan and Mac were regulars at The Cock and other pubs around St Alban's. This is one the places songs and records were shared. Mac had acquired a lot of hard to get American records during his time in the merchant navy doing the Atlantic run and this allowed his friends, including Donovan to hear many of the same tunes that Bob Dylan was also listening to. In a interview I did for KFOK radio Mac recalls "The press were fond of calling Donovan a Dylan clone as they had both been influenced by the same sources: Ramblin' Jack , Jesse Fuller, Woody Guthrie, and many more."

4.) Donovan asked Mac to come on his first tour which he did, video exists of the NME Poll winners party 11th April 1965 with them both on stage.

5.) Mac was the inspiration and originally intended recipient of The Hurdy Gurdy Man song, again this has been confirmed by many sources. Mac had written to Don's manager asking for help and Don wrote them the song named after Mac's band 'Hurdy Gurdy'. Donovan wanted it light and acoustic but Mac's Power Trio 'Hurdy Gurdy' played it in a heavy electric style. Don took the song back and recorded his own version with a heavy sound.

Hurdy Gurdy -Mac MacLeod, Jens Otzen and Claus Bøhling

'Hurdy Gurdy Man" was originally written for a Danish group by that name (...). There is a friend of mine in the group — Mac MacLeod..'

Donovan- NME June 1968

6.) Donovan had a commune on the Isle of Skye with amongst a group of good friends  which included Gypsy Dave, Candy Carr and Mac. It was during this time a group 'The Skye Band' was built around Donovan for a tour of the US with Candy and Mac. Don eventually went on his own. This band appears to have been a prototype for 'Open Road' as they had amongst the set list 'Riki Tiki Tavi' and 'Poke at the Pope'.

7.)  'Soft Cloud-Loud Earth' was the band formed after returning from Skye with Mick Softley, Mac, Candy Carr and Mike Thomson.  The rhythm section of Candy and Mike left to join Don as 'Open Road'. MacLeod continued with Softley as 'Soft Cloud'.

8.) Mac had formed another band after Soft Cloud called 'Amber'. In Amber Mac played the sitar George Harrison had given to Donovan and in turn Donovan had lent it to Mac. Amber also featured Julian McAllister who was also a friend of Donovan's and had spent time in the commune.

Amber Julian McAllister, Ray Cooper and Mac MacLeod

9.) When myself and my partner nominated Donovan for a Honorary Doctorate it was Mac MacLeod who co-nominated him with a letter to the University in 2003.

10.) The two men have met twice since then at Donovan's birthday party in London in May 2005 and again onstage together at Oxford that June.

Mac MacLeod and Donovan in Oxford

One of the biggest influences on Donovan throughout the 1960's and beyond the original Hurdy Gurdy Man -Mac Macleod .

 I have to mention that I spoke to Donovan in some detail to get his views on Dirty Hugh and Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan could not remember Hugh but he did recall he wrote Hurdy Gurdy Man for a Danish group, he did forget it was actually Mac's group. In addition to this when Donovan and Mac met up after his Honorary award Don did mention some of the songs he got from Mac, Mac handed him his single which had The Cuckoo on it, Don recalled learning the song from Mac back in the 1960's. A couple of years later Donovan's album Beat Café had The Cuckoo on it.

 Much of the research I did including formal and informal interviews with Donovan, Mac MacLeod, John Renbourn, Julian McAllister, Gypsy Dave, Rex Bird and many of the local music scene of the 1960's in St Alban's , Hatfield and WGC. I have also spoken to school friends and youth club friends of Donovan including Dippy and Mick Sharman. This research was aided by Pete Frame and Nigel Cross, Phil Smee, 'Get They Bearings' Donovan Fanzine experts , Davy McGowan, Tom Grierson, Ade Macrow and Donovan archivists Mike Zarro and Karen Schwartz. I also managed to speak to some of the journalists who's article's feature here. This article represents many thousands of hours of research over a 7+ year's .

(c) Andrew Morris

About the author Andrew Morris has amongst other things written for the Donovan Fanzine 'Get Thy Bearings' , held radio interview's for US radio stations, nominated Donovan for an honorary award at the University of Hertfordshire, assisted EMI with Donovan related products, helped Donovan with his archives, provided Photo's for Donovan's website (Cowdray Concert), did research into claims of a Donovan / Marc Bolan recording, assisted other writers with research etc.

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