Donovan embraces 50th anniversary of his ’60s heyday
Flower power progenitor Donovan returns to Boston for the first time in nearly three decades Saturday to play New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. The British folk-rock icon, best known for enduring classics like “Season of the Witch” and “Mellow Yellow,” helped shape the aesthetics of the psychedelic era with his bardic lyricism and early embrace of Eastern philosophy.
Now 70, Donovan is on tour this fall revisiting his storied body of work and raising funds for the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Fifty years after his first Boston interview in the pioneering local rock magazine Crawdaddy!, Donovan spoke to the Globe about the music industry, folk traditions, and transcendental mediation.
Q. The modern music industry is radically different than the music industry you started in. What was it like working in the music industry in 1966?
A. Have you got some time? I can sum it up, though: It was a completely different world. Most bands were playing live. There wasn’t a lot of [music programming] except once a week on television, “Ready Steady Go!” or “Top of the Pops,” that sort of thing. Radio was big, but in the early days the BBC wouldn’t play our records, and in those days it was live, live, live.
If you can imagine a summer season, one was on the pier at Blackpool, and I was on the bill with the Who, the Hollies, the Swinging Blue Jeans, and each of us played two songs. There was a certain late ’50s vibe about the music industry then. But soon enough, the BBC was forced to play our records and the DJs became big pals of our recordings, and of course John Peel being the chief one to present the brand-new kind of music that was invading popular culture.
Q. Do you remember your first trip to Boston?
A. Well, my first trips to America were for those crazy little TV shows in LA. But my first [East Coast trip] was “Ed Sullivan.” Ed Sullivan, or his people anyway, saw me on TV and said, That kid’s gonna be on our show. The first real concert was at Carnegie Hall in 1966; that trip may have taken me to Boston. I have played Boston many times, but I can’t remember the first time. Boston has always been a very strong musical town.
Q. When did you discover meditation?
A. In books. See, what happened was I was brought up in kind of a bohemian family — you might say that all thinking Irish and Scotch families are quite radical, there’s libraries and poetry and song — and in the poetry my father read there was lots of talk of how can one help one’s fellow man. I was brought up on the zeal of that. . . . I felt that these poets were educated and that these poets worked in service to society — the poets actually declared that — so I realized soon that I was a poet.
Then there were the books. The older bohemians had bookshelves, they had jazz records, blues records, they had everything one would need to look inward. And when we looked into it, it became clear that mediation was still a vital, living, practiced technique for entering the inner world. Because we were convinced, as were many of our contemporaries, that if all of our problems arise from within, as Freud and Jung say, then the solutions must come from within as well. . . . George Harrison and I spent many a night talking about it: Our fame is wonderful, and our intention is to help, because we are poets of the popular, modern world.
Q. How does it feel to revisit your life’s work onstage?
A. I’m presenting it to the world as a body of work to be slotted into the history of music in the last 50 years as you see fit. . . . It continues to be a sort of learning process and a form of study of music, because my lyrical forms and musical compositions were very experimental and remain so.
It’s kind of a line, the 50th anniversary. And yet I’m 70, I’ve still got my hair, I’m not overweight, and I’m healthy. And I’ve still got my lovely Linda muse, and we’re a group, we’re a partnership, we’re still together. At the end of this year the line will be drawn: After that there will be new music from me and new projects. . .
It’s my bliss. It’s a vocation. It was never a job, I never was an entertainer. I’m still on the same journey, nothing changes. What I did when I was 18, I’m still doing now that I’m 70.
At New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall, Boston, Sept. 17 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets: $62.50-$102.50, 617-585-1620