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Heavy Load: Donovan

Hurdy Gurdy Man Donovan on Led Zeppelin, chasing beatnik girls and the healing power of cannabis.

Born in Scotland in 1946 and famous enough to have dropped his surname, singer, songwriter and guitarist Donovan Leitch has written songs for more than five decades, taking influence and returning it to the disciplines of folk, jazz, rock, pop, psychedelia and world music. A Bohemian lifestyle led to him settling in many cities across the world, but at heart he’s a child of the universe.

What was your early life like in Maryhill (the Glasgow suburb later portrayed in the film Trainspotting)?

I was born in Maryhill but almost immediately we moved to Anderston. My first ten years were spent in Glasgow. I was sick with polio but that didn’t stop me swimming and running about, playing in bombed-out buildings – it was after the war.

Were you a willing or able student?

I can’t recall much of my schooling in Scotland except being hit with the leather strap, so I must have been a cheeky brat. Things improved when we moved to England in 1956. I quite liked painting and writing.

What might you have done in life had you not become a musician?

I considered being a painter until Dave Richards, who designed the sleeve of The Hurdy Gurdy Man [1968], told me that if I went to art school they’d teach me to unlearn everything I knew. That seemed stupid.


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