By MARTIN SIBEROK
Special to The Gazette
Dressed in a blue shirt and sitting on a white stool, the former flower-power bard played songs the audience had grown up with. Even though the evening was filled with memories, no stale nostalgia permeated the air.
The evening turned out to be most invigorating as Donovan infused a fresh elegance into his songs. There was no sense of an attempted comeback, or the embarrassment of recapturing some elusive moments of the past. Donovan is simply an entertaining singer with an exceptionally well-known repertoire. Possessing no superficial airs of some famed celebrity, he radiated a warm modesty that added charm to the show last night at Montreal's Old Port.
His performance signaled a return to his roots as he played a surprisingly large selection of songs from his early albums, What's Been Did And What's Been Hid and Fairytale. Those were the days when he was considered Britain's answer to Bob Dylan; the days when he wore a faded denim jacket, a denim cap and played a guitar with a sticker that read, 'This Machine Kills'.
Judging by the boisterous response he received last night at the Grand Tente, he still commands the respect of a loyal following who worships this wandering minstrel. A Donovan show is not only a very personal experience, it allows the active crowd to participate - singing, clapping and even howling with approval at each song.
His repertoire stretched the entire '60s, starting with his earlier ballads, Josie, Colours, and a chilling-sounding Catch The Wind. But the biggest response came with his later material, that included Hurdy Gurdy Man, Sunshine Superman and the classic Mellow Yellow.
The standing ovation he received was well-deserved. He has been able to give his songs a sense of timelessness, and by reverting his folk roots, he proved he wasn't just some aberration of a time gone by.
Opening the show was another Glaswegian, John Martyn, whose fine performance was marred by atrocious sound quality making his voice at times inaudible. For nearly an hour, Martyn played a mix of old and new material, with a rendition of Judy Garland's Somewhere Over The Rainbow that included a few lines of Singing In The Rain.
Unfortunately, Martyn's intricate and graceful guitar work was occasionally drowned out by the loud rhythm of bassist Alan Thomson and the electronics of a drum machine.
This Canadian review is reproduced in its entirety for historical reasons and was originally published in The Gazette (Montreal), Friday 28 June 1985.