1968 – Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan

In the Nineteen Sixties Morecambe had two piers, West End Pier and Central Pier; now there are none. Central Pier was one of the two venues in Morecambe where young people went dancing – the other was the Floral Hall (The Beatles played here twice, in 1962 and 1963; sadly I didn’t know about it and anyway I was only 13 so probably wouldn’t have been able to go). The West End Pier was wrecked by storms in 1977 and Central Pier suffered several fires in the 1980s and was finally demolished in 1992 after a further fire destroyed the ballroom a year earlier.und6

So, to the music. I have a vague memory of going the Central Pier ballroom when I was about 16 to see The Undertakers, a sixties Liverpool band. I can’t remember much about it (this is a constant refrain, probably due to an excess of alcohol consumed over the years – but not for over 30 years and something I intend to blog about at some point), but I do know that I was very nervous being there, surrounded by older boys and men who were probably planning to beat me up. Just as an aside, I spend much of my adolescence and early adulthood afraid of violence; I had been bullied as a kid and tended to roll over and show my belly when threatened. There, mini-confession over and again, back to the music.

This is the West End Pier, obviously not in the best of health. At the end of the pier, the bit at the right of the picture, was an open-air skating rink where Steve and I, and a bunch of people we knew, used to go roller-skating several times a week in the Summer. We would walk or skate from Heysham Village to Morecambe along Sandylands Promenade, skate for the evening, then back to Heysham. One thing that made the skating a must-do was the music – over speakers whoever was selecting the records was playing all the latest hits and, particularly, Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan. The first place I heard it was on the pier and it floored me. There’s something about particular records that  when I hear them for the first time they create a feeling of excitement and dizziness, almost as though they are giving me a glimpse of some other world, a world which is stranger and more magical than the one I inhabit. It happened with Bo Diddley (Pretty Thing), The Beatles (Strawberry Fields Forever), The Yardbirds (Shapes of Things), and it happened with Donovan.

One thing which hit me about this song, and is true of most of Donovan’s records, is the quality of the production; he gets a great guitar sound, and particularly the sound of acoustic guitars. I’ve played guitar for most of my life – well, since I was fourteen, and I’ve been obsessed with getting that guitar sound for most of that time. The only guitar I’ve played that came close was a little Epiphone acoustic that I borrowed from a music shop in Morecambe in about 1967 that had a beautiful full, rich sound. I could have bought it for fifty quid, but it had a small crack in the body so I didn’t….. regrets.
Another quality I love is the voice – strange, otherworldly. Again, Donovan’s voice is always focused and well articulated. But on top of this is that weird tremolo effect giving it a pulsing, vibrating feel. And then the electric guitar, drums and tambura come in and lifts it to another level. I always thought that the electric guitarist was Jimmy Page and Donovan seems to believe it was him; in fact he credits the recording session for Hurdy Gurdy Man with possibly leading to the formation of Led Zepplin. But there are other claims – that it was Alan Parker who played lead.
I still love it and pick up my acoustic occasionally and play it (it’s dead simple, a few repeated chords, nothing fancy).
Have a listen and see if you agree. Hurdy Gurdy Man

One thought on “1968 – Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan

  1. Pingback: 10 Songs That Bring Back Memories | dive for your memory

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