A Visit With Donovan on the Isle of Skye

ONE DAY last summer I started out from a youth hostel in Inverness, at the end of Loch Ness in Scotland. I left the hostel at 8 a.m. on my motorcycle. She was a vintage, 1958 blue Triumph, a bit rusty around the crankcase, but like a good woman, faithful.

We headed out of town and soon were cruising along roads so narrow two cars meeting could not pass. At every hundred yards or so there were spaces where you could pull off the road to let the other guy by.

In a couple of minutes a ferry appeared and took us across. We continued on keeping a sharp lookout on the road for flocks of sheep. Finally, we arrived in Portr??, the capital of the Isle of Skye.

I asked a lady in a wool shop how to get to Donovan's house. She gave me directions and again I set off. But it started to rain, as it is want to do in Scotland, and, I got wet. However, the key to success in this world is perserverance, and my motorcycle and I did just that.

After a couple more hours we turned down a road that meandered into the small village where Donovan was supposed to live.

A NUMBER of trailers were camped around an old stone house. I asked at the door of one where I could find Donovan. "You might find Don down the road in that house on the right," I was told. Trusty motorcycle and I went to the house on the right and again I asked for Donovan.

"Yes, he's in. He's busy right now. All the way from America, are you? Come on in and sit down." So I sat down. I talked with several of the kids in the kitchen. They offered me a cup of tea which I was drinking when Donovan walked in.

Donovan is a difficult person to describe. He is young and likes to kid around. yet has a deep sense of responsibility belying his boyish look. He plays about in an old black cowboy hat, but when dinner is set he sees to it that everyone has enough to eat. He loves music and his house revolves around song; the people whistle snatches of tunes as they moved about. But words, too, are handled lovingly: when I was there Donovan took much delight in hearing others use a Scottish accent.

The playfulness of his character also mixed with his love of words. Once, when someone was fixing a fuse on the water kettle and remarked that the wires were worn, Donovan chimed in, "And when the screwdriver got there, the wires were all bare." At another time, one of the girls was putting blue sparkles on her eyelids. I asked how they stayed on. "Magnetism," said one fellow. "The eyes have it," added Donovan.

Though his delights were simple, Donovan's mind was a complex of projects. He had the music for his fall tour to think about, and the myriad of details needed to set up the house, such as how to get the phone company to install phones when they claimed they were "short of cable in his area." He mentioned some plans to make short movies. Most important, however, seemed to be his concern for the community. He mentioned it several times while I was there, and wanted to know what Arlo Guthric was doing in Stockbridge. Donovan is trying to build a community of friends on the Isle of Skye, away from the bustle and rush of London.

On the back of his banjo were inscriptions by the former owners. One described himself as a champion water skier, and the other as a champion cheeker player. I asked Donovan how he would describe himself. "Champion community builder," he said with a smile.

AT THE beginning of August, the community was living in five trailers clustered around the walls of an old stone house. Farther down the road, a building which used to be a schoolhouse was being added. The schoolhouse had only been occupied for three weeks and was in a delightful state of confused transition. Old schoolbooks lay in the corners while tins of colored chalk and handwriting books inscribed in Gaelic were strewn all over. Electric guitars and amplifiers surrounded a set of drums at one end of the classroom. Stacks of cardboard eggcrates, to be used to improve the acoustics, sat on top of some boxes off to the other end. Built next to the classroom were the kitchen and bedrooms for Donovon, his drummer, guitarist, and other friends.

During the week, the guitarist, the drummer and Donovan practice in the classroom. Now Donovan was getting ready for his September tour through the United States. He was trving to get together an electric sound to add to his acoustical one, though he was not quite sure how it would work out. He had set up the band so that he could work more intensively on his sound than was possible with studio musicians. The band had been rehearsing only two days, yet the small group worked well together.

The guitarist was blessed with the good Scottish name of MacLeod. This drew admiration from everyone, as did MacLeod's two and a half year old daughter who was the common care and joy of the household.

The sounds in the classroom that afternoon were good, but as Candy- the drummer-said, "They have to be." Like when Dylan picked up his electric guitar at the Forest Hills concert, there are going to be a lot of people who say Donovan should not go electric.