Donovan, Assembly Hall, Tunbridge Wells

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The Independent Culture

Like many artists from the Sixties, Donovan Leitch suffers at the hands of golden-oldies stations' programmers who seem content to reduce his output to the epochal "Catch the Wind", the sugary "Mellow Yellow" and his era-defining rendition of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier".

Like many artists from the Sixties, Donovan Leitch suffers at the hands of golden-oldies stations' programmers who seem content to reduce his output to the epochal "Catch the Wind", the sugary "Mellow Yellow" and his era-defining rendition of Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Universal Soldier".

In a two-hour-plus set, the singer-songwriter, who was once tagged Britain's answer to Bob Dylan, succeeds in pleasing an audience spanning fans old enough to remember scoring cannabis in "Sunny Goodge Street", as well as keeping the attention of their children and grandchildren.

But Donovan also keeps his muse happy and performs six new songs from Beat Café, his most recent album, issued last year, as well as playing several gems from a rich back catalogue.

The virtual Beat Café format is little more than a couple of chairs, a table, the obligatory candle in a wine bottle and a tour manager masquerading as a bongo player on a couple of occasions, but it enables Donovan to drift in and out of his Sixties heyday, and to pay tribute to Beat heroes Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs - whose portraits adorn the stage - and even Dylan Thomas, whose "Do Not Go Gentle (Into That Good Night)" poem he recites over a jazzy backing in tribute to his late father.

Following his daughter, Astrella Celeste, the bohemian minstrel appears with just an acoustic guitar, harmonica and his fine, tremulous, occasionally quivering voice for the first 30 minutes, and instantly demonstrates how much Marc Bolan stole from him.

However, Donovan's secret weapon, deployed after a short interval, turns out be a superior backing band comprising Tom Mason on double bass, Joe Atkinson on keyboards, and a very familiar-looking and -sounding drummer who rains down on the tom-toms during a fabulous "Sunshine Superman" and drives "Wear Your Love Like Heaven", which sends shivers down the spine. The sticksman turns out to be Chris Miller, in another life Rat Scabies, formerly of The Damned, the first British punk band to release a single and album before majoring on covers of Barry Ryan's "Eloise" and Love's "Alone Again Or".

Or course, Miller is right at home providing the backbeat on the groovy "Goo Goo Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)", the 1969 track on which Donovan arguably pioneered the blind alley that became baggy.

The songwriter also showed John Lennon the finger-picking style that the Beatle(s) used to create "Dear Prudence", but tonight he doesn't draw attention to that fact. He doesn't need to. Having divided the audience along gender lines to sing "Happiness Runs", he closes with "There is a Mountain", encores with "Mellow Yellow", and proves that there's a way out of the Sixties nostalgia mire after all. Quite rightly.

Touring to 11 June ( www.donovan.ie/beatcafe)

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