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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Donovan remembers Dylan
Donovan in 1968
Donovan witnessed Dylan's impact on British folk
Scottish-born Donovan made his first records in 1964 at just 18, and his idealistic songs and folk background made comparisons with Bob Dylan inevitable.

He went on to embrace psychedelia and produce pop classics like Mellow Yellow and Sunshine Superman, and has continued to to work, record and tour ever since.

To mark Dylan's 60th birthday he told BBC News Online's Alex Webb about the impact his arrival had on the British music scene in the early 1960s.


Q: What was the British folk scene like before Dylan's presence made itself felt?

Donovan: The British folk scene was ruled by Ewan MacColl, who wanted us to keep to British traditional music and not listen to Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger or Joan Baez - although he married a Seeger girl.

Joan Baez
Baez conquered British hearts before Dylan
The one who really taught us to play and learn all the traditional songs was Martin Carthy - who incidentally was contacted by Dylan when Bob first came to the UK.

Bob was influenced, as all American folk artists are, by the Celtic music of Ireland, Scotland and England.

But in 1962 we folk Brits were also being influenced by some folk Blues and the American folk-exponents of our Celtic Heritage.

Q: What was the first Dylan song you heard - and what did you think?

Donovan: Can't recall - it could be Song To Woodie.

Jack Kerouac
Kerouac's streams of consciousness influenced Dylan
Dylan appeared after Woodie [Guthrie], Pete [Seeger] and Joanie [Baez] had conquered our hearts, and he sounded like a cowboy at first but I knew where he got his stuff - it was Woodie at first, then it was Jack Kerouac and the stream-of-consciousness poetry which moved him along.

But when I heard Blowing In The Wind it was the clarion call to the new generation - and we artists were encouraged to be as brave in writing our thoughts in music.

Q: Was it hard for an acoustic singer-songwriter to escape the influence of Dylan in the early sixties?

Donovan: We were not captured by his influence, we were encouraged to mimic him - and remember every British band from the Stones to the Beatles were copying note for note, lick for lick, all the American pop and blues artists - this is the way young artists learn.

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.

Q: How did you feel about some journalists identifying you as Dylan's British counterpart?

Donovan: I am the counterpart to what Bob represents in the USA - I am the European singer-songwriter who is the most successful at appealing to the mass yet keeping the integrity of the subjects of which I write.

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.

Q: How did you feel about Dylan's switch to electric sounds in 1965?

Donovan: This seemed like a shock at the time as everyone thought he was folk, but Bob is really an R&B artist who is influenced by American R&B, so when he played electric he was emulating his heroes.

Bob Dylan
Dylan shocked Newport Folk Festival by going electric
I loved it when he played electric guitar and I was there when it happened!

The audience at Newport Folk in the USA were still na´ve - the girls in Bobby Sox and pony tails and the boys in plaid shorts and crew-cuts - what did they or the press know about folk and R&B?

Q: Did Dylan's influence wane as the 60s progressed?

Donovan: No - the great, influential artists in all the arts continue to encourage all generations, because their art is timeless and will always relate to the human condition - which has been basically the same inside us all through the millennia.

Q: What is your favourite Dylan record?

Donovan: A hard one - what is my favourite Yeats poem or Picasso painting?

I have favourites from different times - and I agree with Leonard Cohen that a serious songwriter/poet writes only one song his whole life through. I like the whole of his work.

Q: What does Dylan still have to offer at 60?

Donovan: An edge to disturb complacent hearts.

Q: With the "new acoustic movement" and other recent successes for singer-songwriters, has there been a return to some of the values and sounds of the '60s folk revival?

Donovan: It's a misnomer that there is an acoustic revival - it never went away. It is the root of popular music and electric is the child.

From Elvis' first record, to Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers and on to Beatles and early Stones records, the folk sound is there always.

My songs are appearing in movies more and more, and my own life-tale is being considered as a film-drama.

I'm also returning to the studio to make a new record for my own label, Donovan Discs, and I want to do a world tour with the new record in 2002.

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