The mellow, yellow mists swirl soporifically, as your heroine and her beau approach Castle Magnor, on this particular moonlit night. Red lace curtains shimmy in candle-lit windows and Tibetan monks chant from within, enticing them to climb the steep, silvery steps to where the front door stands open, welcoming them inside. In the magnificent, empty hall, an exotic-smelling incense burns, beneath a beatific Buddha and a grand piano waits patiently, to be played. We cast aside our belongings, wearily, and look around, but there is no-one to be seen. Suddenly, in a cloud of red silk dressing-gown, Donovan himself appears, barefoot, greeting us. Genially, he shows us to our room, a lofty, luminous, starlit space and whoosh, he is gone. Back to bed. From whence we have aroused him. Donovan. The man himself. The Founding Father of Flower Power. Troubadour, wandering minstrel, Sixties icon, Renaissance man. A living legend. The man who wrote “Catch The Wind”, “Sunshine Superman”, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” and on and on. England’s answer to Bob Dylan. Groovier than Dylan. Here, in this house in Mallow, tonight.
Reverently, joyously, we shed our clothing and succumb to the bed. But wait. What is this door? Where does it lead? Trembling, we try the handle, and the door opens, revealing a staircase. This will surely lead to the bathroom, which could be handy. The fearless heroine climbs the narrow staircase, in the dark. At the top, another door. Beyond it, some kind of tapestry. “Who’s there?” A man’s voice enquires. Holy shit, we’ve woken him up again. Twice in one night. What will he think? Will he still be mellow, in the morning?
At breakfast, in his Kimono, Donovan is gracious. Laughs off the incident. Thank the Good Lord. Buddha, not Krishna. George Harrison is into Krishna, Donovan is into Buddha. His kitchen is absolutely spotless. Pristine. Linda, his lovely lady wife is away. She will appear, this evening. We drink coffee, he makes toast, the sunshine makes golden all around us, birds sing and everything is perfect. Donovan talks to us softly, in a sweetly musical voice, about a Disney film called “Atlantis’, to be released in November, for which he will be re-recording his hit song of the same name, as the title track, with the German pop group, “No Angels”. “I understand they are similar to Hearsay’, he says, curiously. There will, apparently, be a new Donovan album to follow, next year, this will be released on his own label, Donovan Discs. ‘This is a more mature approach to the record industry for me. Simply because I own the label and I won’t have to sign any record deals,” he explains.
Donovan was a huge star, in the sixties, but retreated, gracefully, to a commune on the Isle of Skye, while he was still in his twenties. Since then, he has kept out of the mainstream record business, mostly, although I’ve counted forty different compilations of his work and he has performed on too many things to keep track of. In 1996, he released an album called “Sutras”, less poppy than his previous work, more mysterious and mystical, but still beautiful. “That was more of a cult album,’ he says. “What I’m doing now, I call pop mantra, or mantra rock. It’s destined for my new fans’ record collections, I hope, but it’s also directed towards the film business. For the last five years, the phone has been ringing constantly with requests to use my music in films. For instance, “Season Of The Witch” was used in its entirety for the film “To Die For”, with Nicole Kidman. But if you didn’t notice, that’s even better. They say that film music works best when you don’t notice it. It should be seamless.”
Recently, Donovan made a trip to Hollywood. “I decided that I would go towards the film industry, rather than waiting for the film industry to come towards me. I swished into town, with my long cape and met them all. Warner Brothers was like Shangri La. The magic of Hollywood continues. I really love movies.”
Donovan endures, not least because he still represents the same principles that he did in the sixties. Peace and Love. But business is business. And even troubadours have to eat.
“One thing we all have to learn is that you must take responsibility for your actions,” he says, gravely now, munching a piece of brown toast. “And I kind of denied that I was a successful artist, to protect my privacy and to protect my sanity. But then I realised that millions of dollars were passing through my company and I have to take responsibility for all that. It was very painful, going through contracts and seeing why I didn’t really want to look at the contracts in the first place. Most music business contracts are slave contracts, really. But how could we be great song-writers and performing artists, and have a business brain as well?” Some people don’t manage, obviously. But Donovan, one suspects, has a business brain in there somewhere.
After breakfast, Donovan describes his meditation practice, which leaves us entirely serene, as we dress ourselves in velvets and silks, to cavort merrily in the grounds. Don wears Lainey Keogh, who is a dear friend. “You must mention Lainey,” he says. “She’ll be thrilled.” We take with us a green guitar, which he calls his “Celtic Guitar”, decorated with figures from the Book of Kells and Nordic runes. I ask to be allowed to play it. I am allowed to. I am further honoured when he teaches me a new chord and sings along, while I play it. “La, la la la la. That could be a song,’ he says. We pose together, prettily, in the garden, at the church, and at the ruined castle. I am wearing orange, he is wearing burgundy. Colour is very important. Back in the sundappled kitchen, Don makes spaghetti, we all drink red wine and he explains why.
“The lyrics of my songs are very descriptive. Painterly, I would say. They set scenes, like landscapes and use a lot of colour. I was headed for art- school, when I started out. Art- school was a great attraction , all the best looking girls went there, the girls with long hair and sandals and sloppy-joes and striped t-shirts and black mascara and pure white faces.” A faraway look comes over the angelic features of our host.
“Most of the British rock and roll bands went to art-school,” he adds, returning to the room. “Most of the singer-songwriters in the sixties had a pencil or a paint-brush in their hands, as well as a guitar. But all of us realised that there wasn’t going to be much money in painting, so music was more attractive.” Aha. He does have a business brain. ‘Do you like the spaghetti ?” he asks, proffering fresh basil and an unusual kind of parmesan. We do. “But because of this art-school element, when the bands started performing, you saw the interest they had in art. Pete Townsend was burning guitars before Hendrix, incidentally. Roger Daltrey was throwing himself off the stage, this was a form of Modern Art, basically, and it was pre-Punk.’ ‘Impressive’, I say. I ask him what kind of art he was into, at that time. He smiles, pours more red wine.
“ I was interested in Pre-Raphaelite Art, so I started presenting myself as a Neo-Romantic, I was wearing velvets and lace and things.” He still is a romantic, obviously. “But before that, I wore a sailor’s pea-coat and cap. For me, this wasn’t a fashion thing, I was hitch-hiking and sleeping rough in old houses and on beaches, so my clothes had to be warm. Gypsy, my road-mate and I lived rough, in St Ives, in Cornwall, in the sixties. We used to go to the bakery and ask the kind lady to give us yesterday’s buns, because they were going to be thrown out, anyway, and we were starving, so that was what we existed on. Milk and buns and any sandwiches we could cadge from girl students or tourists. I would sing a song and he would tell fortunes. He had an earring in his ear and he looked like a gypsy and we would waylay a couple of girls, one beautiful and one in glasses and we would give them the line. ‘You’re going to have two kids, but you’ll lose one. You’re going to fall in love with a tall, dark, handsome man, with an earring in his ear!” They knew we were kidding, but this was the most romantic thing that had happened to them in their lives.” Donovan grins, wickedly. “We very rarely slept with them. Very, very rarely. Probably never. But we would get a cup of tea off them and a sandwich. Gypsy reminded me, recently, about this cake we used to get, saffron cake, a Cornish delicacy. “I’m Just Mad About Saffron” was, of course, about saffron cake.”
The light is so good in the kitchen that we decide to take more photos. “Where do you want me?” Donovan positions himself to be picturesque. And tells us about the Maharishi, the famous yogi that all the groovy people were into, in the sixties, including, of course, the Beatles. Donovan, incidentally, sang on “All You Need Is Love” and George Harrison played lead guitar on “Sunshine Superman”.
‘I met Maharishi and that was interesting, because they’re supposed to be able to see auras, these guys. He said I must always wear gold and he hadn’t even heard the songs. In recent years, I had my aura photographed and it was purple and red. Is this a good angle? Is Victoria going to be in every photograph? They might think there’s something going on! You know what the Press are like. Keep talking? Okay, what do you want to know? Anyway, back to St Ives. There was this particular house that I wanted to rent, because it overhung a beautiful rock. But the woman thought we were vagabonds and chased us away. As I walked away, with my friend Dippy, I said ‘I’ll make some money one of these days and I’ll come back and buy that place and I’ll throw her out.” But when I got the money, which was about seven months later, when I had a record in the charts, I didn’t go back and buy it. It’s crazy, the things you don’t do.”
Julian, Linda’s son with the late Brian Jones arrives suddenly, unannounced. He shakes hands, looks around the room, laughs raucously and suggests that Don is very particular about having his photo taken and is not in a photographic mood. Don laughs. “Oh, you don’t think so?” “No, I don’t,” Julian says. “We could go out and get some shots of the house”, we say. Don is plainly relieved.” We do go outside, but Don needs some space. Julian very kindly invites us to come with him to his house, which is just up the road. He’s driving a van and inside it I can see three Rottweilers. We decide to follow in our own vehicle. Julian’s place is pink, with cacti painted on the walls and speakers on the outside of the building, blasting out reggae. He offers a beer and says he’s got to walk the dogs. Bravely, I volunteer to accompany him. As we set off, we’re joined by a Billy goat who trots behind us, looking menacing and smelling quite iffy. The dogs career off ahead of us and Julian tells me about his son, who’s just been to visit. Afterwards, he shows me his photo albums, pictures of himself as a beautiful blonde child, looking like a girl, in feather boas. Just like his father. It must be so weird to be the child of Brian Jones, the good-looking Rolling Stone.
Next morning at Castle Magnor, Linda appears. The most beautiful rock chick of them all. She met Brian when she was fifteen, had Julian when she was sixteen. Then she married Don. Now she’s a grandmother. Linda is gentle, serene, lady-like, with soulful brown eyes and waist-length dark hair. Songs have been written about her. She takes me up to her meditation room and reads my cards. In here, she and Don practice Tibetan yoga, on sheepskin rugs, every morning. She shows me a velvet suit she wore, in the sixties, asks me if I’d like to try it on. I can’t even get my leg into the trousers. “I was very thin,” she admits.
Now everyone’s going to Dingle, to meet Nigel Kennedy, the violinist with the punk hairdo. We’re invited. We swim in the sea and follow the sun, around the peninsula to Ballyferriter. In the Tig Tobair restaurant, we eat dinner and afterwards, the instruments appear. Nigel and Don and a man called Caleb play and sing all night. Linda plays bodhran for a while and then sneaks off to sleep in the car. Copious amounts of wine are consumed. Chocolate cake is produced, the crack is mighty, altogether. Nigel says this is the great thing about Ireland, that people still do this kind of thing. The door is left wide open and locals and tourists come in to watch and join in. Nigel plays a mean country fiddle and Don sings a new song called ‘Intergalactic Laxative”. I think he just made it up. Just as I’m about to be too tired, Don decides to teach me some more guitar. I learn how to do a B minor seventh, for the first time and he shows me how to play ‘Satisfaction”, by the Stones. All of a sudden, I’m awake, wanting more drink. That’s why rock-stars stay up all night, drinking, it’s because they’re having so much fun.
When the restaurant finally throws us out, we go back to Nigel’s house and the party continues. Don gets out a CD of his new material and lets us have a preview. I am practically comatose on the sofa, with a bulldog eating my toes and Don’s talking me through it. There’s a huge variety of songs, some very poppy, some medieval-sounding ballads, lots of them I like and would want to hear again. But I’m so tired I can’t stay awake and I have to leave them to it. Later on in the morning, when I’ve slept for a while, I can still hear music, loudly from the living-room. Finally, the house goes quiet and I get up to get water. In the kitchen, Linda is washing the floor, and humming to herself. Someone has passed out face down on the sofa and the bulldog is chewing his feet, contentedly. Soon, Linda will coax Don out of bed and they will head back to Mallow. I am supposed to join them in London, next weekend, for a charity dinner, in aid of a school that is being built in Ladakh, in the Himalayas. Tragically, the terrorist attacks in New York mean that my flight is cancelled, but Don and Linda make it and so does His Holiness, the Drugpa. ‘We had a wonderful time,”Linda says, afterwards. “And met wonderful people. Don’s going to work with Fatboy Slim, isn’t that great?” Next week, a German documentary company will begin work on the Donovan story, just as Don goes into the studio to record his new album. After which he plans to tour, possibly with Jethro Tull. In the meantime a bio-pic is planned and there’s the auto-biography, still in progress after six hundred pages. On they go, Donovan and Linda, the Troubadour and his Lady, spreading sunshine and lavishing love on a new generation of flower children. May the wind be at their backs and may their sun never set.