Wednesday 24 April 2019

Sixties meets 80s as Donovan makes music with mum-in-law

GUITAR HEROES: Donovan and mother-in-law Violetta, with whom he recorded a single for Barnardos
GUITAR HEROES: Donovan and mother-in-law Violetta, with whom he recorded a single for Barnardos

RICHIE TAYLOR

IN AN age of novelty seasonal songs which has seen Shane MacGowan team up with The Priests, Sixties star Donovan has gone one better and recorded a new Christmas song with his 88-year-old mother-in-law.

Violetta and Donovan have written, recorded and released Christmas Time is Here Again, with music by Donovan and lyrics by Violetta.

The song is actually the latest of seven numbers the pair have written together, and it is already available on iTunes for just 99 cent or from tomorrow from Barnardos charity shops.

Donovan has been married for 40 years to Violetta's daughter Linda Lawrence, and the couple have lived in Mallow, Co Cork, for more than 20 years. He enjoyed numerous hits in the Sixties and early Seventies, including Sunshine Superman, Jennifer Juniper, Atlantis, Season of the Witch and Catch the Wind, and still tours and records.

Several years ago, he gave his mother-in-law a gift of a Steinway piano, and she has been immersed in music ever since, having grown up with the tradition of the street songs of London. For a while she even sang regularly in East End music halls, and can still hold a tune, as demonstrated on the new single and a version of The White Cliffs of Dover which herself and Donovan suddenly break into during our talk.

"Violetta gave me the lyrics to the song and I bashed the melody out on a harpsichord. We were originally just going to keep it as a Christmas song for the immediate family, but we then decided we had to record it. It has a lovely jingle- jangle feel, like sleigh bells, and the lyrics are full of hope. So we recorded it in a studio in Fermoy with four generations of singers on it. Violetta is in her 80s, I'm in my 60s, a young Polish girl singer named Lillie is in her 20s and then we got a local school choir in Ballyhass on it.

"So we decided to put it out as a single and rang up Barnardos to ask them if they would come on board. You can pay as much as you want for it in the shops and the proceeds all go to Barnardos. So far we've had a great reaction. The local postman and our window-cleaner in Mallow both love it and sing or whistle it all the time."

Violetta, whose real name is Violet but was recently given the stage name by Donovan, entered her first talent contest and won it at the age of 13, but was afraid to tell her strict dad. "Dad was originally from Russia and my mum was a chorus girl. He didn't want her to perform after they met and then there were fisticuffs when some other guy wanted to date her. Dad avoided jail but was put in the army."

When Donovan and Linda's children were growing up, Violetta became a second mother to them when their parents were touring around the world. She also briefly became a second mother to the tragic Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, who made Linda pregnant when she was still a teenager.

"Brian asked to marry Linda but I managed to make them decide to wait. Then the state wanted to take their son Julian away, but I wouldn't let them. People wanted to keep his identity a secret. Julian was later adopted by Donovan and Linda and raised as one of the family."

And Violetta revealed how many of her lyrics were actually letters to her husband of 60 years, Alec, who passed away four years ago. "He was a wonderful man and I still miss him. When he was ill Donovan suggested we recorded two poems I wrote for Alec. We played them to him and after he died I kept writing letters to him, then rhymes started to come out of them."

For Violetta, music has given her a new lease of life. "I like to dress nice and I will never let myself go. I think I've shown that anything is possible by making a record at 88! It's important for people of my age group to never give in, to never give up."

Sunday Independent

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