In the mid 1960s if you were a teenage male and couldn’t find enough mates to form a band with then the world was in danger of being a lonely place. And the chance of appealing to the opposite sex was almost out of the question
As a standalone you could try and be the new Bob Dylan but in those days Mr Zimmerman tended to move too quickly musically to keep up with – unlike today when physically he barely moves at all and musically he’s more inclined to go backwards.
Then along came Donovan and overnight it seemed like you only needed a passing knowledge of Woody Guthrie’s back catalogue, a fading denim jacket, a peaked cap, tousled hair, a harmonica and an acoustic guitar which you may or may not be able to play – oh and a few songs of your own might help but weren’t absolutely necessary.
In retrospect when Catch the Wind first charted in June 1965, Donovan came in for a lot of flack he didn’t really deserve. Or did he? Future influential tunes such as Mellow Yellow (he had a thing about colours – hence second hit Colours and third hit Turquoise not to forget album track Tangerine Puppet), Sunshine Superman, Jennifer Juniper, Hurdy Gurdy Man and the jibberish which was Goo Goo Barabajagal were still a while away.
With its Alka Seltzer title it’s easy to see why Catch The Wind was difficult to take seriously. And that’s before you look too deeply at lyrics such as: “In the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty I want to be in the warm heart of your loving mind, to feel you all around me and to take your hand along the sand.”
Still it’s probably the only hit ever to contain the word “t’would” as in: “For me to love you now, would be the sweetest thing, t’would make me sing, ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind.”
So who was this fresh faced troubadour who brought so much hope to loners everywhere starting with his early 1965 Ready Steady Go! debut?
Donovan Philip Leitch was born on 10 May 1946, in Maryhill, Glasgow, to Donald and Winifred (née Philips) Leitch. His father was Protestant and his mother was Catholic. He contracted polio as a child – leaving him with sympathy earning limp. In 1956, his family moved to the new town of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England – but he’s still regarded as a flower of Scotland.
Influenced by his family’s love of folk music, he began playing the guitar at 14. He enrolled in art school but soon dropped out, to live out his beatnik aspirations by going on the road and submerging himself in the burgeoning British folk scene.
In Hatfield, he spent several months playing in local clubs, absorbing the folk scene around his home in St Albans, learning the crosspicking guitar technique from local players such as Mac MacLeod and Mick Softley and writing his first songs. In 1964, he travelled to Manchester with regular sidekick Gypsy Dave, then spent the summer in Torquay, Devon where he took up busking, studying the guitar, and learning traditional folk and blues.
Along his early career he became a friend of pop musicians including Joan Baez, Brian Jones and The Beatles – allegedly teaching John Lennon a finger-picking guitar style that Lennon employed in Dear Prudence, Julia, Happiness Is a Warm Gun and other songs.
Catch the Wind revealed the influence of Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who had also influenced Bob Dylan so Dylan comparisons followed for some time – not helped by Donovan’s appearance in D. A. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back documenting Dylan’s first UK tour.
Dylan later told Melody Maker: “He played some songs to me. … I like him. … He’s a nice guy.”
In an interview for the BBC in 2001 to mark Dylan’s 60th birthday, Donovan acknowledged Dylan as an influence early in his career while distancing himself from “Dylan clone” allegations: “There’s no shame in mimicking a hero or two – it flexes the creative muscles and tones the quality of our composition and technique. It was not only Dylan who influenced us – for me he was a spearhead into protest, and we all had a go at his style. I sounded like him for five minutes – others made a career of his sound. Like troubadours, Bob and I can write about any facet of the human condition. To be compared was natural, but I am not a copyist.”
Meanwhile back with Catch the Wind – it reached No 4 in the United Kingdom singles chart and No 23 in the United States. The single version featured Donovan’s vocals with echo and a string section. The song was re-recorded for Donovan’s first album What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid, without the vocal echo and strings and with a harmonica solo added.
When Epic Records was compiling Donovan’s Greatest Hits in 1968, the label was either unable or unwilling to secure the rights to the original recordings of Catch the Wind and the follow-up single, Colours. Donovan re-recorded both songs for the album, with a full backing band including Big Jim Sullivan playing guitar and Mickie Most producing.
It has also been covered by umpteen acts including Johnny Rivers, Melinda Marx, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Cher, The Blues Project, Glen Campbell The Lettermen, Eartha Kitt, Sammy Hagar, Chet Atkins, Rickie Lee Jones and Joan Baez.
|PRODUCER:||Tery Kennedy, Peter Eden, Geoff Stevens|
|RELEASED||12 March 1965|
|COVERS||Cher, Glen Campbell|