Category Archives: Vinyl Art / my writing

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Vinyl Art: Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis

Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis

Philips, Brazil, 1968

Design: Rubens Gerchman

Photography: Olivier Perroy

Set against a backdrop of cultural censorship and political repression, the Tropicália movement and this, its resultant album, was a powerful sign to the Brazilian governing military junta that all was not fine and dandy.

Envisioned as both an act of rebellion and a manifesto for the movement, Tropicália: ou Panis et Circensis sets out its stall with deliberation and panache. The album, with its fusion of traditional MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) and Western psychedelic rock (it’s actually a bit more complex than this), was furthermore an attempt to communicate musically and politically with the world outside the restrictions of Brazil’s dictatorship – an attempt which resulted in the imprisonment and exile of some of the movement’s main players.

Tom Zé describes the movement as, “Freedom and innovation on an aesthetic and behavioural level, and the lyrics and musical rhythms were similar to the clothes we were wearing. And we were in a phase of planetary transformation.”

The album features some of Tropicália’s leading artists: Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa and Nara Leão, and is very much a joint effort, with performers appearing on each other’s songs in different variations.

The front cover design is a whimsical and knowing nod to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; The Beatles being much adored by the Tropicálistas. The cover photo was taken by Olivier Perroy, a photographer from the publishing giant Editora Abril, in his home in São Paulo, and could also be seen as a play on the traditional Brazilian middle class family portrait, with all the protagonists lining up smartly for the photographer. The artists are mostly portrayed holding symbolic possessions – humorous or serious: Os Mutantes with their guitars, Caetano and Gil with photos of lyricist Capinan and the absent Nara Leão, arranger Rogério Duprat with a chamber pot. The photo was a joint idea, with everyone chipping in ideas, which is very much similar to the album itself. Perroy also took the photo for the cover of Os Mutantes’ first album, released earlier in ’68.

The artwork was the brainchild of Rubens Gerchman, who was a sort of Brazilian Concrete Pop Art artist, whose main areas of interest included urban isolation, alienation and populist or politically-themed comic strips.

The cover he created – in the splendid colours of the Brazilian flag – is simple but effective. It’s stylistically similarly to Rogério Duarte’s designs for both Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso’s albums of the same year, with bold primary colours and typefaces.

The back cover features the same photo but in black & white, and has the tracks listed along with the performer’s first name; a nice touch which makes the album – and by extension the movement – seem inclusive and in stark contrast to the ethos of the oppressive regime under which they lived.

The back of the album also contains a supposed extract from a film script, fairly randomly filling up the rest of the space, written by Caetano Veloso and “starring” some of his fellow Tropicálistas.

Tropicália: ou Panis et Circensis has gone on to encapsulate the artistic quest for freedom of speech and is now seen as a potent symbol of art versus oppression, as well as being one of the most influential Brazilian albums of all time. The cover is bright, optimistic and bears a hint of the slightly zany and humorous avant-garde, much like the album itself. “Power to the imagination!” and “Be an outcast, be a hero!” as our friends in Brazil would have it.

Lindo Sonho Delirante: 100 Discos Psicodélicos Do Brasil (1968-1975) by Bento Araujo is published by Poeira Press

Gitte Morten © 2018

This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, January 2018.

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Vinyl Art: Quatermass

Quatermass 

Quatermass 

Harvest, UK, 1970

Cover design and photography: Hipgnosis 

 

Entropy…. Did I say that out loud? Transformation, unpredictability, a slide into disorder: so begins hard rocking progsters Quatermass’s self-titled 1970 albumThe band,of course, took its name from Nigel Kneale’s fictional professor and star of ’53’s seminal The Quatermass Experiment and the artwork is clearly inspired by the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere of the series. 

Quatermass was recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road studios but – you guessed it – had very little impact on the habits of the record-buying public of May ’70. Comprised of experienced beat/pop/session musicians, who’d been selling their wares in various forms since the early ’60s, Quatermass’s Johnny Gustafson (The Big Three, The Merseybeats), Mick Underwood (The Herd, Episode Six) and J Peter Robinson (later a very successful film score composer) embraced this here new-fangled prog with open arms on this, their only album. 

Quatermass is also remembered as the band that inadvertently caused Ritchie Blackmore to leave Deep Purple. His band mates’ refusal to cover their song, ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’, on the Purple’s Stormbringer caused a rift from which they never recovered.

Harvest, EMI’s “progressive” imprint, brought in the top guns to illustrate these new experimentations in the form of Hipgnosis’s Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell. The darlings of ’70s art house album cover design, Hipgnosis’s technique often focussed on off-beat photography and inventive post-production image manipulation. (Did they invent Photoshop? They kinda did.) The team preferred a medium format Hasselblad camera, ideally suited to the square album cover, although in this case it’s likely they took a square photo and cut it to gatefold size afterwards.

The gatefold outer cover itself is a photograph – or possibly a composite – of office buildings, taken from a low angle against the sky; narrow tall buildings encroaching on the viewer. Aubrey Powell described how the image came about. “This was totally Storm’s idea, although we took the pictures together near Victoria Station. Our insecurity was such that we often did this to cheer each other up in the knowledge that we were no David Bailey or Richard Avedon.”

The album cover followed the TV series and made full use of an eerie and somewhat menacing monochrome look; a mood accentuated by the pterodactyls (our resident dino-expert tells us they’re actually pteranodons) circling above the viewer’s head. The flying lizards were images found by Thorgerson and Powell in a book, cut out and glued onto the background, low tech Blue Peter-style. 

The repeated geometric pattern of the towering buildings, coupled with the swooping creatures stretching up as far as the eye can see, has a dizzying yet strangely pleasing effect.

The outer sleeve isn’t exactly overflowing with info or excessive typefaces – “Quatermass” is stated simply in a plain Letraset font (the ubiquitous Eurostile Extended), referring to both band and title. The plain typefaces continue on the inside of the gatefold. No fancy pants photography from the Hipgnosis guys here – a straightforward portrait of the trio set against a stuccoed building suffices. Heads emerging from the bottom of the cover, Quatermass present a unitedly serious and slightly forbidding front. No smiles, please, it’s the ’70s now.

Quatermass then bears a lot of the hallmarks of your archetypal ’70s Hipgnosis album design – the gatefold sleeve, the off-beat photography, the cut and paste post-production. The result is stylish, quirky and a little bit bodeful, and as such fits in perfectly with the mood conveyed on the ensuing album. 

 

Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue is published by Thames & Hudson

Gitte Morten © 2017.

This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, July 2017.

 

Vinyl Art: Come My Way


Marianne Faithfull 

Come My Way

Decca, UK, 1965

Design: Chris O’Dell

Cover photography: Gered Mankowitz

 

Can a recording artist release their first two, very different, albums on the same day and get away with it? Well, in the ’60s you could, au naturel. 

In a bid to escape her shallow, NME Instamatic image as Andrew Loog Oldham’s “angel with big…” attributes, Marianne Faithfull insisted on releasing Come My Way, her serious and rather earnest folk album, alongside Marianne Faithfull, the album that her managers and pop-puppet masters at Decca demanded.

​Released on April 15th 1965 and, as was also the case for Marianne Faithfull, produced by ALO cohort Tony Calder, Come My Way, somewhat against the odds, reached #12 in the UK charts, higher than its poppier counterpart. It consisted of wall-to-wall folk tunes, most of them trad arr favourites; pleasant enough but not that mind-blowing.

​The album was designed by Chris O’Dell, a photographer who’d snapped the teen Marianne as far back as ’60 when she was still a convent schoolgirl. Although his memories of this time are a bit sketchy, he was far from enamoured by the way Marianne was packaged and stilted and he soon left the Oldham fold. “I went on to take some photographs of The Rolling Stones and some one hit wonders for Oldham, but he wasn’t very good at paying, so I packed it up in the end,” O’Dell recalls. “Working in the pop music business in the ’60s was no picnic, and I was happy to be able to follow a career in another area.”

​Whereas Marianne Faithfull features a pretty and cutesy, if slightly pouty, portrait by David Bailey on its cover, the overall look of Come My Way is more serious. Gered Mankowitz photographed Marianne extensively during ’65 and had an easy working relationship with her. Being the mid-60s, Mankowitz was able to simply head out with his camera and his subject without any particular record company brief. “I think it was the third or fourth session I did with Marianne,” he explains. “We had complete freedom, no concept or art direction, just the two of us in a well-known pub that I had been aware of for a while. She was very natural in front of the camera and exuded a powerful yet innocent sexuality.” 

​The photo session (in The Salisbury Arms, Covent Garden, still worth a visit, intrepid travellers!) yielded a number of shots (no pun intended). Mankowitz’s preferred cover image – an absolute beauty of Marianne surrounded by Victorian splendour – was rejected by Decca due to the reflection of some curious male onlookers being visible. They chose a less exuberant image of Marianne in a pensive mood, a slightly gloomy black & white image taken by a window in the pub. Marianne looks imploringly straight at the viewer while absentmindedly playing with the etched windowpane.

​A less downbeat portrait was used for the back – another Mankowitz shot, this time from IBC Studios in Portland Place while Marianne was recording the album. A natural picture with a slightly cheesy grin, it demonstrates the youth of the subject and lifts the overall sober mood. 

​It would be interesting to see how the album would have looked if Marianne had had any kind of artistic control over it; would she have attempted to match the somewhat limited power she had over her musical direction with the same control over her image as an artist? In later years her album covers certainly became less winsome.

​A period piece in both look and sound, Come My Way perfectly encapsulates where she was at in ’65, mixing innocence with a purposeful pursuit of self-expression.

 

With many thanks to Gered Mankowitz (mankowitz.com) and Chris O’Dell (chrisodell.biz)

Gitte Morten © 2017.
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, May 2017.

 

Vinyl Art: McCartney

Paul McCartney

McCartney

Apple, UK, 1970

Artwork by Paul & Linda McCartney, Gordon House and Roger Huggett

Photography by Linda McCartney

 

mccartney

 

Nineteen hundred and seventy was the year Paul McCartney grew up. After 10 years of unprecedented backslapping and screaming, the cold, hard hangover of the new decade dawned as Paul worked on his first solo album.

McCartney was written partly as keeping-head-above-water survival therapy in Kintyre during what he calls “one of the worst times of my life”, and partly as spur of the moment flights of fancy as the songs were recorded, and the artwork reflects both these moods.

Both the music and the look of the album are overwhelmingly influenced by Linda McCartney, whose photographs are displayed throughout. The cover is remarkably stark and unfab, featuring a still life of a bowl of spilt cherries – possibly a nod to Paul’s interest in the nature of chance at the time. One could wonder if a conscious decision was made not to show Paul’s image on the front cover at all, much for the same reason that he recorded parts of the album at Morgan and Abbey Road studios under the pseudonym Billy Martin, keeping the project under wraps until it was ready.

The artwork as a whole was put together by Gordon House of Hipgnosis and designer Roger Huggett – both of whom had previously worked on Beatles albums and continued to work on Paul’s solo endeavours – following a rough mock-up from the McCartneys but really, the album is dominated by Linda’s homespun but remarkable photographs. The back cover is illustrated by the iconic ’69 shot of beardy Paul with baby Mary, an image which has become emblematic of the Paul ‘n’ Linda happy families love story.

More of the same can be found inside the gatefold: Paul on the beach, Paul looking moody or silly, kids, family, animals and landscapes; the stuff that went on to characterise Linda’s photography career in capsule form – candid images of family life seen through Linda’s eyes. Again, the cosiness of the images and the homemade vibe reflect what Paul was attempting to do with the album, creating music from the safe womb of the family and avoiding the mounting difficulties of the outside world.

Controversially – and blowing the Beatle myth right open – also included in press copies of the album was a typed-up sheet of paper detailing the de facto demise of the band, and sending already frayed friendships and business affairs spiralling into an unholy mess. The pink questionnaire and a yellow information sheet were stuffed into envelopes with the album by the McCartneys at their home on Cavendish Avenue. Paul: “We were actually enjoying ourselves like children, Linda and I, actually enjoying life for the first time in a while. And I had put the killer scoop in there, and then I just sent this out to the press.”

McCartney was received by the public and critics alike with mixed emotions, mostly as they all expected it to be another Abbey Road, and as such were destined to be sorely disappointed. Rolling Stone called it “distinctly second-rate”, whereas NME went with “an immensely warm and pleasurable album”. Despite the record reaching #1 and #2 in the US and UK respectively, no single was issued, although a promo clip was made for ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, which was broadcast on US TV. The lack of a single – and the lack of promotion of the album by Paul generally – was the result of the scheduling problems of fitting both McCartney, Let It Be and Ringo’s Sentimental Journey into the spring of ’70, and the recriminations and running away to the country it spawned.

A slice of whimsy with a depressive if sugar-coated undercurrent, McCartney presaged the ups and downs of his solo career, and the homespun artwork perfectly fitted his mood of detachment and withdrawal from the world.

Gitte Morten © 2016.
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, December 2016.

Vinyl Art: Caetano Veloso

Caetano Veloso
Caetano Veloso
Philips, Brazil, 1971
Cover Design: Linda Glover (Design Machine)
Photography: Johnny Clamp
 1971 - Caetano Veloso - Brasil
Recorded in 1971, when Caetano Veloso’s mood was at its lowest ebb, his self-
titled album (tellingly sometimes referred to as A Little More Blue) is, as he says,
“a document of depression.” Set against a backdrop of uncertainty about his
future, as well as a profound melancholy, the songs are distinctly downbeat.
In order to understand the ’71 Veloso, we have to skip backwards a couple of
years to his and fellow Tropicalista Gilberto Gil’s Technicolor rise to fame, and
consequent arrest and expulsion by the Brazilian military regime. Veloso and Gil
chose to decamp to London, as it seemed the most happening place in Europe,
and took their places on the scene as exotic figures, renting a house in Chelsea
and hanging out in the hippie community.
The album’s artwork, designed by Philips staffer Linda Glover, perfectly illustrates
Veloso’s melancholic state of mind and sense of detachment from his unfamiliar
surroundings. Linda Glover also designed a whole host of other Philips albums,
including Scott 3, Ambrose Slade’s Beginnings and Magna Carta’s debut, as well
as the original “swirl” Vertigo logo (more on this story to follow).
At this point in his career, Veloso could not really be said to have a set visual
style. His first two albums, both of which are confusingly also self-entitled, feature
vastly different styles – the crazed super-psych of his ’68 debut and the following
year’s White Album-esque follow-up.
The cover of album number three is filled by a magnificent close-up portrait of
Veloso taken by Johnny Clamp, who also shot the cover image for Gilberto Gil’s
album from the same year, as well as fellow Philips/Fontana should-have- been-
massives Kaleidoscope and Jimmy Campbell. This visual introduction sees
Caetano Veloso wrapped up against the London cold, his sad eyes the very
antithesis of every Brazilian cultural stereotype you can think of; this is about as
far from bikini-clad dancers, palm trees and sunny beaches as you can get.
Veloso’s sense of homesickness and displacement (he says, “London felt dark,
and I felt far away from myself”) permeated his life as well as his music during his
three-year stay. The house he shared with Gilberto Gil – nicknamed The Sixteen
Chapel – became a place of pilgrimage for visiting Brazilians and members of the
London counterculture alike. However, whereas Gil embraced the change of
scenery with gusto, discovering the delights of reggae and advising on the setting
up of The Glastonbury Festival, Veloso tended to stay at home, although to be
fair, he did go to gigs and discover a love of Monty Python’s Flying Circus as well
as the Stones in their live incarnation.
The back cover of the album features another of Johnny Clamp’s photos, of
Veloso sitting on the steps of London’s Albert Memorial. The grainy black and
white image is taken through the railings surrounding the monument, giving an
unsettling impression of both imprisonment and voyeurism, and further
accentuates the bleak mood of the whole package.
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that all of the song titles bar one are in
English; an experiment Veloso began while still in Brazil. Although not really
speaking any English at all, he understood the importance of trying to
communicate with the world outside the constrictions of the military regime,
which, as dictatorships are wont, did not appreciate the flourishing of radical
artistic expression. For his London album though, Veloso was specifically asked
by producers Ralph Mace and Lou Reizner to write in English, as well as be the
main guitarist; something he was very reticent about, considering himself less
proficient than his contemporaries – Gil included.
A perfect match of mood and style, Caetano Veloso’s third album offers, as the
liner notes state, “a two-way mirror, focusing thoughts and memories of home
and absent friends and reflecting his reaction to a new but friendly environment”
– an artist coming to terms with a profound and distressing change of life.
Gitte Morten © 2016.
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, July 2016.

Rasa Didzpetris

I went to see Sunny Afternoon at the weekend, which reminded me of this sidebar I wrote for Shindig! Magazine

rasa

Schoolgirl meets popstar, 1964.
Who is Rasa Didzpetris, did you say? Here’s the story…
Eighteen-year-old Lithuanian-born pop fan and convent school girl Rasa met The Kinks after a gig in Sheffield on May 19th, 1964, and got along so well with Ray that they corresponded over the summer and eventually met up in London in mid-August. Ray has described a movie-style reunion at Tottenham Court Road tube station, after which romance blossomed, followed somewhat swiftly by the young couple’s wedding in the bride’s home town of Bradford on December 12, ’64.
However, by this time Rasa had already seen her debut as backing singer for The Kinks, first appearing (probably) on ‘Stop You Sobbing’, recorded back in August during her first visit to Ray. Precise details of the whens, hows and whys are unclear but Rasa says that she sang with The Kinks from ’65-’72. Her ambition had been to become an actress but instead, starting to sing just “happened”, she says. “I found my voice and was truly happy to contribute.” Rasa’s voice can be heard on a number of Kinks and Dave Davies songs, most notably on ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Death Of A Clown’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and ‘Days’, but really – if you can hear an ethereal high voice in the mix on any song during this period, that’s Rasa.
Singing and recording quickly became an important part of her life: “Working in Pye Studios in Marble Arch in London with producer Shel Talmy was exciting. My life changed; from the girl who was from a convent school in Bradford, to a girl singing backing vocals with my husband and other members of the group. After the various takes of the song(s), to hear the final vinyl was amazing and I remember my head ‘buzzing’ with joy, tiredness and achievement.”
Tensions within the band became apparent, though, as Ray could be secretive about his songs even during recording. Rasa, however, would sometimes take a very active role during the writing of the songs, many of which were written in the family home, even on occasion adding to the lyrics. She suggested the words “In the summertime” to ‘Sunny Afternoon’, it is claimed. She now says, “I would make suggestions for a backing melody, sing along while Ray was playing the song(s) on the piano; at times I would add a lyric line or word(s). It was rewarding for me and was a major part of our life.” This was bound to result in some resentments, as some of the other members of the band were at times not even aware of what the vocal line they were recording parts for would be. Dave, who asked Rasa to sing on ‘Death Of A Clown’, was very complementary about her singing, though, and has said – about her performance on ‘Waterloo Sunset’ – “Having Rasa there, that female vibe, softens the attitude of the song. It makes it warmer.”
Rasa and Ray divorced in ’73 and Rasa has since occasionally appeared live with The Kast Off Kinks. Her memories of her time as backing singer with The Kinks remain, she says, “bittersweet.”
© Gitte Morten 2015

Vinyl Art: A Gift From A Flower To A Garden

Donovan
A Gift From A Flower To A Garden
Epic, US, 1967
Pye, UK, 1968
Art direction: Sid Maurer
Photo design: Karl Ferris
Illustrations: Mick Taylor and Sheena McCall
don
Here’s a thing: the complete vinyl box set of Donovan’s triumphant A Gift From A Flower To A Garden can still be purchased on a well-known online auction site for less than 20 quid. I know, because I just did and it is a shining morsel of splendidness.
Released in December 1967/January ’68 in the US but not until April ’68 in the UK due to Donovan’s continuing and debilitating contractual wranglings with Pye, the album is considered the first rock box set, at a time when only classical artists were afforded such extravagance. Donovan’s American record company, Epic, were initially very sceptical about the whole project and insisted on releasing it as two separate albums first, despite Donovan’s protestations. Furthermore, Don would have to foot the bill for any extra costs incurred in producing the actual box as well as the fancy six colour separations (or, according to Donovan himself, seven!) needed for printing the photographs.
In the end, the box set sold healthily as the record-buying public preferred the luxury package, and the two standalone albums, Wear Your Love Like Heaven and For Little Ones, stalled in the US charts at #54 and #185 respectively. The complete article was advertised in trade magazines as “His music, his art, his poetry… all in a magnificently designed volume that includes the two LPs, a beautiful art portfolio, complete lyrics, and full-colour photographs. Gift From A Flower To A Garden, a totally unique concept that only an artist as excitingly different as Donovan could accomplish… and he does… on Epic.” I’d rush out and buy it, wouldn’t you? Consequently, the box set reached #19 in the US and  #13 in the UK.
Recorded after soon-to-be parent Donovan retreated to the countryside of Hertfordshire in spring ’67, the album was a conscious attempt to reach “little ones” of all ages, “the blessed inheritors of all these lands”, with both the musical and visual elements of the set. Donovan recalls in his 2005 autobiography The Hurdy Gurdy Man, “I envisaged a double album. One would be for the children and the other for the parents. I wanted to release both albums in a set, singing for my generation, our hopes and wishes, and also for our children.”
As for the title, the “gift” is the album, Donovan is the “flower”, who is presenting his gift to all the other flowers, the people in the world, who make up the “garden”. Come on, it was still The Summer Of Love. He also uses the opportunity to directly discourage his fans from the use of drugs; something he himself decided on after being, hmm… turned off during his recent Initiation by Maharishi in LA.

So, what wondrous visual delights do you get for your hard earned 32 shillings and sixpence? Well, you get a beautiful box, on the lilac front of which is an ornately printed title and the iconic infrared “head icon” shot of the boy himself, standing on a cliff top in full psychedelic regalia. The photograph was taken by Karl Ferris, “The Icon With The Nikon”, psychedelic photographer of, most notably, Cream, The Hollies and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Ferris started out as an aerial photographer in the army before working mainly as a fashion photographer (see the full story on Karl Ferris in Shindig! Quarterly #2). Chas Chandler introduced him and his portfolio to Hendrix in ’67, causing the guitarist to comment, “You’re doing with photography what I’m doing with music – going far out beyond the limits and blowing minds.” Ferris’ mindblowing style involved the use of fisheye lenses and the brand new military infrared film, which he pioneered the use of as an art statement – perfect for a London scene immersed in artistic and social experimentation, and influenced by the vibrant colours of the liquid light shows which Ferris was also working on.

The inside of the first box contains the lyrics to “Phonograph Record/The First”, as well as a message from Donovan to his listeners. The back of the second box is navy blue and has Ferris’ photo of Donovan and Maharishi in the latter’s inner sanctum, taken during Donovan’s ’67 US tour, pasted onto it. Inside the box is yet another Ferris photograph, this time from his series taken at Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, showing our mystical minstrel floating in a small boat, opulently decorated with fabrics, flowers, feathers and his mandolin. The photo is surrounded by a colourful border introducing the For Little Ones album, drawn by Don’s artist friends Mick Taylor and Sheena McCall. Epic used this image on the front of their standalone release of the second album, and a further beautiful alternative shot from the Bodiam Castle series on the perfectly dreamlike cover of the Wear Your Love Like Heaven album.
Aside from the two albums, the box also houses the real gem of the package, an orange portfolio containing 12 individual rainbow-hued lyric sheets to the second album, again lovingly illustrated by Taylor/McCall in their folk/psych/Nouveau/arts and craft-stylee.
Donovan’s attempt to speak to his own, as well as to the coming generation extended past the musical content of A Gift From A Flower To A Garden. He purposefully sought to convey beauty and childlike wonder in nature and in human beings, and depicted this in the ethereal images and words of the box set, thus suggesting a way for us all to achieve harmony through the Bohemian Manifesto. It could happen.
Haven’t had enough Gift-era Donovan? Then watch Karl Ferris’ contemporary promo film Wear You Love Like Heaven (also starring Jenny Boyd and Graham Nash), which can be found on the 2010 DVD Sunshine Superman: The Journey Of Donovan.
Gitte Morten © 2013.
This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, April 2013.