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Music

Watch Bob Dylan scold Donovan’s drunken groupie

Donovan was often labelled the British answer to Bob Dylan during the mid-1960s after the Scottish folkie rose to prominence in 1965, aged just 19. With frequent performances on the pop TV show Ready Steady Go! and a string of successful singles, including ‘Catch the Wind’, ‘Colours’ and ‘Universal Soldier’, it wasn’t long before he broke into hearts and minds across the Atlantic. 

His early folk style was noted for its striking similarity to America’s new folk-rock idol, Dylan and word soon got round to the man himself. In the spring of 1965, he visited the UK for a run of shows and to mingle with the bustling elite of the British invasion. At the time, the British press were highlighting comparisons between the two singer-songwriters and falsely presented it as a fierce rivalry. 

In a 2001 interview with the BBC, Donovan addressed the early comparisons between himself and Dylan. He explained the American had inspired his early work but asserted the singer-songwriter wasn’t his sole influence at the time and distanced himself from the “Dylan clone” assertions. 

“The one who really taught us to play and learn all the traditional songs was Martin Carthy – who incidentally was contacted by Dylan when Bob first came to the UK.,” Donovan clarified. “Bob was influenced, as all American folk artists are, by the Celtic music of Ireland, Scotland and England.”

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Adding: “But in 1962 we folk Brits were also being influenced by some folk Blues and the American folk exponents of our Celtic Heritage … Dylan appeared after Woody [Guthrie], Pete [Seeger] and Joanie [Baez] had conquered our hearts, and he sounded like a cowboy at first but I knew where he got his stuff – it was Woody at first, then it was Jack Kerouac and the stream-of-consciousness poetry which moved him along.”

To conclude his point, Donovan insisted that while he was using threads of American music to help create his own, he was not a “copyist”. “We were not captured by his influence, we were encouraged to mimic him, and remember every British band from the Stones to the Beatles were copying note for note, lick for lick, all the American pop and blues artists – this is the way young artists learn,” he said.

“There’s no shame in mimicking a hero or two – it flexes the creative muscles and tones the quality of our composition and technique. It was not only Dylan who influenced us – for me he was a spearhead into protest, and we all had a go at his style. I sounded like him for five minutes – others made a career of his sound. Like troubadours, Bob and I can write about any facet of the human condition. To be compared was natural, but I am not a copyist.”

The below footage was taken from In D. A. Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back, which documented Dylan’s 1965 UK tour. The undercurrent of the film was this overstated rivalry with Donovan, and in a bid to play up to the press, Dylan agrees to meet the young British folk star. 

Donovan visits Dylan in his room at the Savoy Hotel in Westminster, London, along with fellow musician Derrol Adams. After a meet and greet, Donovan sits with his guitar and performs ‘To Sing For You’ to a respectfully quiet audience. As he finishes, he receives a round of applause while he hands the guitar to Dylan and asks him to play ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ from the recently released Bringing It All Back Home.

After the meet and greet, the various groupies surrounding the two stars continue the party at the Savoy Hotel. The footage in the second video below was taken in the immediate aftermath of an incident where one of Donovan’s groupies had ostensibly thrown a glass bottle from a high-up window into the street below.

Dylan, not willing to stand for such dangerous and infantile behaviour, proceeds to seethingly assert the full weight of his status to rebuke the assumed perpetrator. Dylan then demands that he go down and clear up the broken glass with Donovan placatingly offering: “I’ll help you, man.”

Watch the intense moment below.