Donovan Leitch

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Donovan Leitch pictured being interviewed in Musicroom, 11 Denmark Street, London WC2 on 14 May 2015 Photo (c) DNB Coda

Former Hatfield resident, Don Leitch, used to work in the Music Department of Welwyn Department Stores (now John Lewis), Bridge Road, Welwyn Garden City.


Donovan - Hatfield Memories
Provided by Andrew Morris

The early years: Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, and the scene that was St Albans.

My real Hertfordshire beginning was really at the age of 10, when I came down from Glasgow to live in New Hatfield. We were part of the migrations from the industrial areas in post-war Britain, my Father included. He came down of course, from Glasgow. He came down first, and he moved into what they call digs, which means flats for workers, without the family, while we stayed in Glasgow. We were brought up around bomb sites and warzones my brother and I, Gerald, who is five years my younger. My mum was still living in Anderson in Glasgow while my dad moved in, in 1955, to those flats on the A1. They face what used to be called De Havilland aircraft factory - my Father worked there during the war making the engines - the Rolls Royce engines of Spitfires and Hurricanes and things like this.
So as a kid I grew up around, from the age of 10, in Hatfield, with the sound of aeroplanes down the road, because new Hatfield was on the top of the hill. Hilltop they called it, and we were in these cheap, wimpy built houses -wimpy was a pun I don’t think they intended because they were all put together with sticky tape and four inch nails! Of course there was a little pub down there called The Comet, and it had the famous single engine aircraft that was built by De Havilland. So De Havilland aircraft factory was my Fathers work. But at first when I came down, I had a Glasgow accent, in the local school St. Audrey’s I think it was called. The first one was more of a younger school down at Hatfield, and it’s in my book. But St Audrey’s when I was 11. I went to secondary modern, and that’s when I got fully plugged into English schools, and boys, and girls. It seemed like I excelled in various subjects of Geography, which makes sense because I became a Gypsy, and Literature, which makes all the sense in the world because I became a writer.
My Father [Donald] read to me poetry of noble men, and also the anonymous poems of working class men and women who passed around amateur poetry. He also read to me Shelley, and Byron, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, especially Robert Burns - the Shakespeare of Scotland. My Father was a Socialist - the books on his shelves were the Communist, and Russian revolutions. He was a Unionist and saw Woodie Guthrie, music I was learning, and the story of the working class struggle which my Father grew up in. Being a Union man was very much part of my backround.
But transplanted into England was extraordinary, because out of the Grey, granite streets industrial North of Scotland, I was plugged into the Green-rolling, bird-singing, frog-jumping, newt-splashing rivers and lakes, and valleys, and oceans of England which were just down the road. Also Hatfield park. The great park that I didn’t know until later, was the place where Elizabeth I had been kept, imprisoned, and I used to play there. There were these rusty old tanks rotting into the ground - I think first world war tanks. I think the Hatfield park was where tanks were experimented with, and they were invented in Britain, so I was starting to become aware of England in a different way. It was a shock - the Green, the lush forests, the rivers, and ponds. Colours! So many colours, and so, from the age of 11, 12, 13 I slowly became part of the scene around Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, and St Albans.
I did work in St Albans on the markets selling cake with my Father, and a pal of his who owned a pub in Angel, in London. On those weekends I would make the £3/£4 that would buy Buddy Holly, and Everly Brothers records in Hatfield market. There was a record store just above. It looks worse for wear that little shopping centre now.

I became aware of St. Albans through going to Welwyn Garden City college of further education, which I got in by the skin of my teeth. You were supposed to have A-Levels or B-Levels or C-Levels, or whatever. I was not into that! I was saying I was into Geography and Literature of course, and drawing I was good at. I wanted to do Music, but the only instruments they had in the secondary modern school, St Audreys, was a Recorder and Tambourine! Not much good - the Triangle, there’s not much you can do with that really! But it was to do with English music, and playing songs. I had come down from Scotland with a wealth of children’s songs, Scottish songs, and Irish songs, where I learnt in parties in Glasgow. So when I came down I had that all at the age of 10. But 10, 11,12,13, adolescent, Buddy Holly, Everly Brothers - too young for Elvis, fell in love with various gorgeous little girls that were mods, and I was a mod first I think. There was a youth club - the Downs Farm Youth Club. There was a lovely guy - can’t remember his name, and we all gathered there at weekends, played snooker, and he encouraged us, and gave us a little bit of the farm, and Sam, and David Richards, and then another mate who I’ve just got back in touch with - Dippy! I wrote a song called Epistle To Dippy, and Dippy was actually Ron Gale. So there was the four of us, and that was the team. We used to collect eggs from the rafters, and play in the fields. He gave us this little area - a barn, and we used it as an art student kind of thing. We were in there. Sam became a painter, and I was painting. Dippy wanted to play Sax, and Nick Sharman played Guitar. At the time I actually wanted to play Drums, I wanted to be a big drummer. I encouraged my mum to get it on the H.P. - a drum kit, and I kept the neighbours up because I didn’t know how to put cloth on the skins. I just kept playing drums all the time, until the neighbours complained so much that it was sent back, but by then I learnt the Guitar. Universe, Volume 9, Issue 6 May 2002 Page 25

Arts Editor Sara Loveridge and Andrew Morris talk with the bard Donovan before a performance at Vicar St, Dublin Sara Loveridge, Hatfield uk Welwyn Garden City college of further education - the common room and the girls were much better looking anyway, than the mods, and... and mascara, and Sloppy Joes, and sandals, and everybody was walking thinking how the world could be changed, how we must get involved, and digging was being replaced by pot, and the music was just so amazing, and that’s the end of that year I was going to go on to art school, but then again they which was absolutely nuts! So during that year at Welwyn Garden City I became aware of Jack Kerouac, Alan Watts, Zen, the Buddhist philosophy, Then Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Jack Elliot, and Deroll Adams, Buffy the same time he visited the Peahen folk club in St Albans (where he saw the Renbourne and Bert Jansch) and it all started flooding in. Of course Dylan when he bound to be compared to him from the history that’s been written in the newspapers. was just one part of the scenery of things I was absorbing, especially Joan Baez, do this. Then as the year came to a close, that would be, I would be 16. I started talked to Dippy saying ‘look, the Summer’s coming, and hundreds of kids are going and they’re all leaving all these industrial cities in the North, and they’re all going Beatnik place called St Ives, and why don’t we go? ’We had been threatening to do it, leaning other side of Bishop’s Rise that goes down to the Green part of the A1. We used to lean on there cos’it was just all Green, the Great North Road. We dreamt of hitch hiking down like Kerouac out into the world, and we would dream a sports car would come up, we’d hitch it, and it’d be Red, and she’d say ‘where are you going boys?’, and we’d say ‘anywhere!’. The year, and a half that I travelled I caused complete trouble to my parents. The police brought me back a couple of times - they locked the room, and I got out the window, you know I was still a child in a way, but still wanted to go. I knew I had to go, I could go, and wanted to go. I knew it was going to break hearts, and I broke a young girls heart when I left, and I wrote a song called ‘Ramblin’Boy’ about it on my first record. Then I hitch hiked away properly, and lived in St Ives, met Gypsy Dave my true road buddy. We went on a ‘Ban The Bomb’ march one of those Summers. We marched to Aldermaston, to protest against the nuclear arms race, and many things happened, and Gypsy, and I buddied it up. But before that Dippy, and I went down to St Ives. That Summer of, what was it? 64 ’now, must have been when I was 17. I came back of course. In the Winter everybody came back. One afternoon in my Mums house in 230 Bishop’s Rise, I was in the house, and I was wandering about, looking in my room that still had my stuff from the old day’s was when I thought I was going to be an artist. I had some drawings, and sculptures, and there was a piano in the room, and writings in a shoe box, sort of the adolescent Donovan and as I was walking up, because I was going to play in the loo. The loo was like one of those rooms, and because it had tiles and Fablon on the wall, it had an echo. So I’d always go in the toilet and play Guitar. My Mother and Father were saying ‘shut that rubbish up!’, but I liked it, and it sounded like a recording studio in the toilet. So I was half way up the stairs to go through another number with my Guitar, when the Bakelite radio on the Fablon kitchen table downstairs well, it was on, and started playing a pop song, and I’d never heard it. I didn’t know who it was, and it struck me, and I remember distinctly I just stopped as I went up this stupid little stairway in those wimpy built houses, which Pete Seeger spoke about called [sings] ‘Little boxes on the hillside, and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky, little boxes on the hillside, and they all look just the same… This tune came on, and I remember it hit me, and I had to sit down, and I listened and it was [sings] ‘Love, love me do, you know I love you…’ There was Guitars, acoustic, Harmonica, Drums, and Bass harmonies ‘I’ll always be true, you know, love me do’, and I went ‘Christ! that’s it, I’m gonna do that! So it wasn’t Folk music, it wasn’t Pop music, it was a merging of two things. Later I heard when the D.J. said it was The Beatles I didn’t know who they were. Fourteen months later I met them in London, and we became friends

Donovan - Living, and growing up in my teens in Hatfield in Hertfordshire, where my, what they call the stomping grounds, you know, my rights of passage, my entering my teen life and the whole world of dreams. There were others who also had dreams, but it wasn’t for everyone to come out of anywhere, that has dreams as big as I had. See, my dreams were huge, and when a school mate met me after my fame I said ‘what a stroke of luck my first record went to number and he said ‘no it wasn’t luck’, and this guy who, I’ve forgotten his name, and we used go to the Mecca Ballrooms, and dance in Luton, or something, and he said, ‘one night we were there, we were dancing with a couple of lovely mod girls, well actually we a couple of other mod girls the other side of the room, but we kept switching from the two you know, we were so sharp, and we were so cool, and we were so full of ourselves, and we liked too many girls’, and he said ‘that night, you stopped dancing, and you came up to and pointed at the stage, and there was Freddie and the Dreamers, or The Who. The Who were called The High Numbers then’. He said, ‘I pointed at the stage, and I said ‘see that, what they’re doing?, I’m going to do that!’, and we all said ‘rubbish!’. So you really did dream it, and I asked other people who I met later on, who did what I did, and they said they also dreamed it. So Hatfield was my dreaming ground now had Miles Davis in it, Billie Holiday, and they all had long hair, pale faces, and walking round really melancholy, and thinking digging Jazz, and smoking pot! Alcohol was that’s when I realised. Then I thought at the they needed these academic things, City college of further education, philosophy, and it all made sense. Buffy Saint Marie (around the, the likes of John Renbourne he came, although I’m bound newspapers. In actual fact he was Baez, and so I wanted to do started to get itchy feet, and talked going down to St Ives you know, going to hang out in this Beatnik leaning on the banks of the other on the banks of the highway there Kerouac away, down, and away, out Red, and there’d be a blonde girl in it.

Donovan on life after Hatfield and beyond…
Sara & Andrew: You left Hatfield behind to spend a heady summer in St Ives where a certain scene was emerging among the young beatniks. How did this experience effect your outlook on life?
DONOVAN: I travelled the highways and byways of the lovely counties that wander down to Cornwall. I was becoming a vagabond and living the life of the rambling poets and folk singers that I read about and heard on the records I listened to - I followed my dream and it led to my life.
S&A: Jack Kerouac’s ‘On TheRoad’ greatly inspired many people, what impression did this have on the young Donovan. Is this physical journey as relevant to you now or has it changed to follow a more spiritual one?
DONOVAN: Yes I read Kerouac's book and was thrilled to follow the open road to my destiny. Kerouac wrote of the Buddhist way and the path today is wide open for the spiritual traveller. It was so in his book ‘On The Road’.
S&A: At college you listened to Miles Davis, can you tell us more about your love of Jazz and the influence it had on your music?
DONOVAN: I listened to the roots music of all nations and of course heard the birth of Jazz up to Miles Davis , Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Although I studied Folk styles exclusively when I began writing, I did not know how much Jazz entered my work until I recorded Sunny Goodge Street on my second album Fairytale in 1965. It was then I found my fathers old records and saw that he had also played me Billie Holiday and the great jazz combos of the 1930’s- wow! What a scene man -I was a Jazz Cat too!
S&A: Following on from the last question, in 1965, a play called Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against The Eunuchs appeared in the West End. It was about the toils and troubles of an art student to a musical backdrop of Jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane etc). In 1999 it was staged once again for a short period of time in London and starred fellow Scot Ewan McGregor. Have you ever seen this play yourself ?
DONOVAN: No, but now I am intrigued.
S&A: According to John Cale, during the 1960’s you visited Andy Warhol’s silver factory. With its fusion of visual art, music and performance how did the event inspire you?
DONOVAN: I was seeking all the new creators of poet, Musical and visual art when I arrived in the USA- Ginsberg and Dylan - and of course the Andy Warhol studio called The Factory. We sixties bohemians were all art-school influenced, hence the very cool images that we all projected. At The Factory, Andy had me sit before a super eight camera and there is a piece of film I seek for my documentary. I met The Velvet Underground and hung out with them and Nico - it was mad and crazy and a time to be around -yes.
S&A: In your time, you have worked on various projects setting . . .










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