Donovan live at Leo’s Tavern

Legendary troubadour Donovan treats folk-music fans to a set of classics from the sixties during the birthday celebrations at Leo's Tavern in Donegal.

Friday the 13th is well known for the reputation it has earned over the years but this year there was no hint of bad luck, only good music and great company as Folk and Tumble joined in the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Leo’s Tavern in Donegal.

Tonight’s programme features a special line up of artists who have previously taken part in a regular club night hosted by the bar known as Clubeo.

It’s run by Moya Brennan with help from others and was set up several years ago to provide a stage for, and to give new and emerging musicians from all over Ireland a chance to play both covers and original material to a live audience.

Over the course of the evening we are treated to sets of original material by Without Willow, Eve BellMegan Nic RuairíEmma Ní Fhíoruisce and Blackbird and Crow.

All of the aforementioned acts were superb, but without a doubt the duo of Blackbird and Crow stole the show with their fusion of blues punk and Arabian soul. Lyrically and musically they were on a higher level and Folk and Tumble will be watching their career with interest.

The main act or special guest at tonight’s show is Donovan.  Looking very fit and well for a man of 72 years old, he takes to the stage with vigour and good nature. He wastes no time and launches into ‘Try And Catch The Wind’. He tells us tonight that he’s going to focus on his first two albums and no one complains about that. ‘Colours’ follows and we settle in for an evening of stories and songs.

As the night progresses we realise that Donovan has a unique ability to appear to look the listener in the eye and make them feel as if he’s singing to them alone. On stage his charisma is spellbinding. He simply commands attention and he gets it.

Fan favourites keep coming too. ‘The Little Tin Soldier’‘Sunny Goodge Street’ and ‘Season Of The Witch’ delight the gathered fans. A humorous tale of bohemian times spent in a folk club run in an Engligh pub known as the Cock and Inn and a girl in love with an Irish guy named Mick leads us into ‘The Ballad Of Geraldine’.  He also gives some tongue in cheek advice to the supporting cast of performers who graced the stage before him when he tells them the best way to catch their audience’s attention is with a couple of covers before trying out any original material on them. Although, he like the rest of us in the room know that none of the earlier acts need to do that given the strength of their work.

At one point he asks the audience if there are any ladies called Josie in the room. When none respond he asks if any of the men are called Josie, or want to be, before beginning the song.

Donovan is of that golden age of music when great artists were emerging, sharing ideas and as well as finding success, they were discovering other indulgences. He tells us that ‘The Hurdy Gurdy Man’ was written while he was on the well-documented trip to India with The Beatles. It’s also a well-known fact that the late George Harrison contributed a verse to the song that was left off the final recorded version.

A slow down in tempo allows for a folk sing-along to the classic ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ which everyone enjoys. Then ‘Mellow Yellow’ brings down the house and finally shuts up the fan in the audience who’s been shouting for it since Donovan took to the stage. He returns quickly to treat us to one last vivid trip to ‘Atlantis’.

This was an evening that the late Leo Brennan would have been proud of. Emerging artists honing their skills followed by a masterclass in songwriting and stagecraft by the enduring folk legend that is Donovan. A big thank you to Bartley, Moya and all the hard working family and staff at Leo’s Tavern for putting on the festival and having us there.