After two postponements and a last-minute change of venue, the legendary Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan finally made it to Israel on Saturday.
It wasn’t a packed concert – there were 400 people, maybe — nor was the local cultural center in the coastal city of Bat Yam the most prestigious of venues.
But nothing was going to stop the still upright, still curly-haired symbol of ’60s flower power from sharing a musical trip down memory lane to celebrate a half-century on the stage.
“I’m traveling the world to say thank you to my fans. The best thing about a 50th anniversary is being alive to celebrate it,” he told the boutique crowd, from his stool in the center of an empty stage. “I’ve got my hair, I’m not overweight and I’ve got Linda (Lawrence, his wife) who still loves me.”
Linda had lived with, and had a child with, Brian Jones – the original leader of the Rolling Stones — before meeting Donovan, with whom she had another two children, going on to become the Scotsman’s muse.
Drawing mainly on hit songs from the ’60s, in a concert to raise funds for transcendental meditation in Israel, Donovan, now 69, brought echoes of a time when lyrics were important, when singers could make headlines for smoking (only) marijuana, and when artists and their fans thought a song could change the world.
“We’d had two world wars and a depression and we had the nuclear bomb and ecological destruction… I was brought up to want to help my fellow man,” he recalls, before launching into “Universal Soldier” and “Catch the Wind.”
Donovan’s friends and co-artists read like a who’s who of the swinging sixties, among them the Beatles, Bob Dylan (to whom he was relentlessly compared), Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez. His was a time when “we painted in our songs,” when “the touring was manic,” and he was “moving so fast, I thought the songs were writing me.”
Of “Happiness Runs,” he says: “I wrote this one by the Ganges while I was in India with the Beatles, to learn meditation.”
“They say I had 13 Top 20 hits,” he lets slip, as if talking about someone else.
The audience, mostly gray- or white-haired (if they have hair at all), enthusiastically joins in with “Donna Donna,” which he had picked up from Joan Baez, “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” “Jennifer Juniper” and the psychedelic “Sunshine Superman.” The encore number, the Beatles-styles hit “Mellow Yellow,” has them dancing in the aisles.
As if to set the stage for the ’60s zeitgeist, the show opens with a 25-minute set of songs performed by teens from a program called Ukeleles for Peace. Introducing them is program founder Paul Moore, a former Englishman dressed in dungarees and a large flower-covered straw hat, who declares that his love for Donovan’s music in the 1960s pulled him away from a promising financial career into being a “bum, a beatnik and a musician.”
We need “more peace, more flowers in the world,” he intones, as the youngsters launch into tunes of hope such as “You and I Will Change the World” and “Down by the Riverside,” (“we ain’t gonna study war no more”).
If only things could be so simple.