The Sunday Times Feature Story on Donovan and the Climate Summit

by Chris Murray on November 3, 2021

Donovan was born and grew up in Glasgow, where the world leaders are now gathered at the crucial climate summit. The Sunday Times in Scotland just published a terrific story on Donovan and his wife and muse Linda, who, for over four decades, have been raising consciousness regarding protecting and preserving Mother Nature. Much of that work is detailed in this story by Jean West. Donovan told me that being born in Glasgow he knew all too well about the Industrial ‘Revolution’ and the mess that has been made on our beautiful planet. His last album, aptly named Eco Song, is a compilation of his songs about the environment. Check out the video for the song, “Diggin the Future Now,” at the end of the article.

Bard of Atlantis brings his call for change to a new generation

As world leaders fly into Glasgow for Cop26, the Cork-based star Donovan heralds the second coming of the protest song as he gifts school children his new green youth opera

Jean West | Sunday October 31 2021

Donovan and his wife Linda’s work has led to Slow Down World, an eco-opera

In 1999 Stephen King wrote Hearts in Atlantis, an anthology about the baby-boomer generation and its failure to honour its ideals. His titular inspiration appeared to spring from Donovan’s song about that mystical land submerged by the sea.

Written in 1968, Atlantis mourns a disconnect from Mother Nature with urgency: “Wake-up, wake-up . . . As the elders of our time choose to remain blind/ Let us rejoice and sing/ And dance and ring in the new.” For King, Donovan’s lyrics were “a warning — as true and emotionally wrenching now as when first recorded”.

Today Donovan, whose psychedelic Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman and Jennifer Juniper became seminal Sixties hits, is rattling the same sabre with even more urgency. In lockdown, inspired by the children’s climate movement, he wrote Slow Down World — an original eco-themed opera for school pupils and college students. Today he is offering the libretto free for teachers to download on his website.

Donovan hopes the opera will one day grace stages in London and New York

The Celtic balladeer is so passionate about the public engaging with the energetic new work, composed with his grandson Sebastian Dean and inspired by the startling Fridays For Future school marches, that he is throwing in backing tracks and stage directions as a contribution to saving what he often calls Gaia — “the source of all life”.

Slow Down World is an inspired discourse between four young activists who meet after a climate strike and demand a radical new green curriculum. It dramatises last year’s reflective Eco-Song album, compiled by the singer and his campaigning muse and wife, Linda Lawrence. The 21-track recording pulls together the poetic lyricist’s ecological musings from over 50 years. The couple have dedicated the opera to Greta Thunberg and her followers.

From his home near Cork, Donovan, 75, explains: “When Greta began her career, Linda and I were surprised there were no songs for her or any other Sixties artists supporting her.”

He recalls his own support of Sixties civil and women’s rights, the environment and against nuclear arms: “But our street protest moved swiftly on to stage, radio, TV and film. We need to get the children’s climate movement ‘offa da street and on to da stage’.”

He believes his birthplace of Glasgow, as a hub of the industrial revolution, is part culprit for the global temperature rise. The “disaster” started with the industrial and technical revolutions — seen originally as saviours of humanity — leading to two world wars and the nuclear bomb. “The libretto is designed for youths to explore the deeper levels of why humans have created this mess and to help us save the world from ignorance and greed.”

Only now are we “digging” the true scale of things, and the arrival of Covid “has bonded humanity in one single purpose: to be aware and take care of each other”. He has hopes for Cop26 but pressure must remain after delegates leave. “This is Mother Nature’s wake-up call for humanity to review what social community is really about.”

His timing — as world leaders gather for the UN summit — is auspicious. When better to lobby for a Sixties-style protest movement to assist the ailing planet?

Donovan has long sought to raise human consciousness since meeting the transcendental meditator Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. His teenage charisma impressed the producers of Ready, Steady, Go while today his flowing white curls and gentle eloquence present something of a Merlin. But Donovan’s brand of wizardry extends beyond fanciful lyrics fused from Gaelic, Sanskrit, pop and beatnik cultures. His opera is threaded with hard-hitting tracks like Diggin’ the Future Now, referencing melting polar ice-caps, a burning Amazon and rising oceans and , which goes: “No teacher is teaching/ No plan is far reaching/ The hawks of greed are screeching/ Poisoning our day.”

Eventually, Donovan hopes, the opera will grace stages in London and New York, but for now school assembly halls are his target because any government “redesigning of education to save the earth will not be in place in time” to reintroduce “praise, honour and true natural-law teachings”.

Working with his grandson, a 29-year-old composer and singer, keeps the project for 16-18 year-olds contemporary. They hope a podcast will ensue.

Donovan, who famously taught Paul MacCartney the chords for songs like Blackbird – itself a civil rights melody – is also calling on Scottish youth theatres to breath life into the libretto for audiences across the country immediately after COP26. “This message cannot be forgotten – act today.”

The songwriter is on a bit of a green-themed roll just now. Tales of Aluna, an animated series developed with Linda, was showcased at the MipCom TV festival in Cannes.

Developed by an Australian production company, the 26 episode cartoon for six to eight-year-olds, about a little girl living in the last bit of Atlantis has strong educational content.

Donovan’s “Yellow Submarine,” it fables how a musician and his entourage crash onto a desert island cared for by Aluna and mystical Barabajagal. Sustainability issues are thrown up as little minds are encouraged to consider their actions. It is based on the love story between Donovan and Linda who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year.

With both projects Donovan is responding to Thunberg’s recently voiced fears for COP26: “We will hear many pledges that – if you really look into the details – are more or less meaningless….The COPs as they are now will not change anything unless there is big, massive pressure from the outside.”

The popstar adds: “Greta is now looking for the same urgency to be applied to Climate Change as happened with the pandemic. All nations – one focus. Prevention must be taught in schools.”

He adds: “I saw clearly as a child in wartorn Glasgow that modern humans have no respect for Mother Earth . It was my duty to sing out the warning of poisoning the planet from my very first recordings.”

Once dubbed the British Bob Dylan, Donovan made his mark on popular culture, and Dylan’s jealous jibes in D.A. Pennebaker’s famous documentary about the American folkie’s British tour hasn’t impacted his longevity. He graciously dismisses the incident as partly driven by the different drugs the twenty somethings were experimenting with at the time – Dylan with “amphetamines” and Donovan, “hashish”.

The songwriter survived polio as a child and was raised on proletariat verse and wisdom from his socialist, poet father before transporting it on a magic carpet ride through rough sleeping and performance in Cornwall with exotically-named friend Gypsy Dave, past bigger stardom and screaming fans. His epic friendship with The Beatles, bonding over guitar styles, his own secret chord progressions and spiritual endeavour is legendary. George and Donovan were closest. Says the singer: “George would always say: “It’s always nice to see you Don – you never ask any questions.” He was a wit too: “He would say: “If I’d known I was going to be a Beatle, I’d have tried harder.””

Donovan recalls their trip to India to study Transcendental Meditation. He remembers John spying a paparazzi photographer on the roof whilst washing his hair and chasing him through the jungle: “John shouts: “You bugger, I’m after you” and, with his hair all soapy, starts chasing him through the jungle. He was swaggering like a Liverpool sailor.”

The band’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something, Dear Prudence and Julia were, he says, influenced by his friendly tutoring.

Today Donovan lights up when relaying the love for his adored Linda. She had been in a relationship with “the Gaelic creator of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones,” Donovan’s friend, and they had a son, Joolz. He believes “karmic destiny” pulled them together after the musician’s death and he became the child’s stepfather.

He believes a similar Divine guidance has also informed recent times: “The worldwide arrival of Coronavirus has bonded humanity in one single purpose: to be aware and take care of each other.”

The pioneering peaceseeker hopes this will now extend to the climate emergency and that the warning shots from Atlantis will at last reach their timely target.

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