Donovan Phillips Leitch was born in Glasgow in May 1946 and moved to Hartfield, England, when he was ten.
By 1964 he was living in a seaside art studio in St Ives, Cornwall, writing songs and waiting on tables in cafes and occasionally travelling around England to perform at folk clubs with a Kazoo player called Gypsy Dave (David Mills).
Also in 1964 – while in Manchester to perform at a folk club – Donovan was arrested for stealing 5,000 cigarettes and some chocolates from a cinema. He spent two weeks on remand in Strangeways prison.
Early in 1965, he attracted the attention of a few people who would help shape his future. Firstly, Geoff Stephens and Peter Eden spotted him performing in Southend and offered to manage him.
At their insistence, he recorded some demo tracks at a Denmark Street studio, which came to the attention of a production staff member of the TV show Ready, Steady, Go!, which resulted in slots on the show for three consecutive weeks.
Despite widespread media comments about his similarity in style and appearance to Bob Dylan (right down to the denim cap, harmonica rack and guitar inscribed “This machine kills”), Donovan’s TV appearances landed him a record deal with Pye.
In July of that year, Donovan made his debut appearances in the US, including a set at the Newport Folk Festival, where (ironically) Bob Dylan was booed by the crowd for performing an electric set.
By December, he had fired his managers, signed with Allen Klein in the US and recorded Sunshine Superman with producer Mickie Most – a move away from pure folk to pop.
Sunshine Superman hit #1 in the USA, earning Donovan his first gold record, and much of 1966 was taken up with a tour of Europe.
December 1966 found Mellow Yellow at #2 in the USA – his second million-seller, despite being banned in Boston, MA, for allegedly being abortion-themed (?!).
The single peaked at #8 in the UK. In the wake of The Beatles’ visit to India, Donovan flew to a Transcendental Meditation course there in 1968, meeting Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and becoming his disciple for a while.
Released in February 1968, Jennifer Juniper was written by Donovan about Jennifer, the sister of George Harrison’s wife at the time, Patti Boyd.
‘Juniper’ was the name of a boutique that was run by Jennifer, who married Mick Fleetwood but divorced him only to marry him again before leaving him for Ian Wallace, once the drummer with King Crimson.
The B-side of the single, Poor Cow was produced for the Ken Loach film of the same name.
The early 1970s found Donovan living in Ireland and touring with an electric backing band called Open Road. After recording with Cozy Powell, Carole King and Peter Frampton, he moved to California in 1974.
His career remained quiet throughout the 80s, with occasional low-key tours and little in the way of recordings.
The 1990s gave Donovan a second wind as he became increasingly hip once more with a new wave of bands like the Happy Mondays (not least because Donovan was father-in-law to the band’s vocalist Shaun Ryder), and he continued to tour and record into the new millennium.