Sunday, May 8, 2016

Donovan's 70th Birthday Party

Thoroughly enjoyed attending Donovan's 70th birthday celebration at the Palladium last night - courtesy of Garth Cartwright who said I was the most 60s person in his address book and therefore had to attend. I'm glad I did. Donovan is irrepressibly, one might almost say *remorselessly* himself at all times and he seemed in excellent spirits this evening as he attempted to provide the audience with the ambience of an early 60s beatnik cafe. In this he was surely successful, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of a Swedish classical guitarist whose unassuming manner belied his formidable technique. A lifetime's work has gone into those renditions of popular pieces by Albeniz and Tarrega et al. Next up was a poet who read a section of "Fern Hill". How difficult Dylan Thomas's poetry seems nowadays, so far removed from its source. But then - hooray! - Michael Horovitz shambled onstage and delivered a long anarchic poem full of kazoo interjections. At over 80 years old, he gave us a genuine display of the energy and irreverence of the beat era that did a lot to dispel the air of cosy nostalgia.
Then came Don. He did all the hits of course. His trademark slow vibrato was a bit wobbly but he warmed up after a few numbers. His guitar playing lost the groove here and there but it really didn't matter. The expert jazz rhythm section, featuring Don's arranger John Cameron on piano, rescued him each time with effortless grace and no small amount of affection. Best of all were the between song stories. The tale of the Billy Fury b&b was worth the price of admission in itself. Don is a first class raconteur in the Celtic Bard tradition (a tradition he claims, with some vigour, as his rightful inheritance). He is a benign egomaniac, basking in the love of the faithful, a true survivor of a gentler age. He threw Iris's into the audience at the end. Of course he did. Such good taste in flowers. It seems all is well on Planet Donovan. Bless him.
Musically, I noticed for the first time the similarity between "Season Of The Witch" and "I'm Waiting For The Man". One is about scoring heroin in Harlem, the other about beatniks making it rich. One seems to have proved considerably more durable than the other. And Andy Medhurst will be pleased to hear that Don opened his set with "There Is A Mountain" and Juanita the Mexican drag queen was called for with due urgency. Sadly, she did not appear.
A very enjoyable evening - thanks again to Garth Cartwright
(The vintage playbills at the Palladium are worth a visit in themselves. Such a treasure trove of British entertainment. A testament to the times when playing The Palladium was just about as good as it got.)

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