Mac MacLeod,
The Incredible Musical Odyssey
of the Original Hurdy Gurdy Man

(RPM, 2003)

Donovan, John Renbourn and the Beatles have all been influenced by Mac MacLeod, either directly or indirectly as in the case of the Fab Four. But who is Mac MacLeod?

This 20-track anthology answers that question and a few more mysteries of the 1960s music scene. Extensive liner notes reveal much, and with quotes from Renbourn calling MacLeod "a pivotal influence," it gives food for thought. Having busked with Renbourn in 1962, Mac returned home that year and became the mentor to a young guitar player called Donovan. Mac also cites the influence of the Rev. Gary Davis, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Jesse Fuller, Big Bill Broonzy and Davy Graham in his work.

Mac's rendition of "Candy Man" kicks off the anthology, followed by "Donna, Donna." These first two tracks from 1965 show Mac's wonderful acoustic guitar sound. Always experimenting, the next four numbers from 1966 mark a shift into the realms of garage and folk-rock with two bands -- first, the Other Side with Mac on lead electric guitar, then the Exploding Mushroom with Mac on bass -- to good effect.

Come 1967, Mac is back with acoustic guitar, this time with flute and gentle percussion on a trio of acoustic delights: "Cod'ine," "Been on the Road So Long" and a beautiful solo rendition of "London Town." Another sound evolution that Cream began towards the end of 1966 is also evident. By June 1967, Mac's new band Hurdy Gurdy takes a "power trio rock" style just as the Jimi Hendrix Experience begins exploring the same territory. Two 1968 tracks by Hurdy Gurdy appear here in all their heavy psychedelic glory, "Tick Tock Man" written by Richie St John and the instrumental "Neo Camel," which it has to be said sounds positively trippy. At this time Donovan wrote "Hurdy Gurdy Man" as a gift to Mac but changed his mind and recorded it himself.

Towards the end of 1968 Mac is on guitar with the post-Zombies band Argent. The Argent track "Telescope" is a real gem with its lyrics written from the viewpoint of a peeping Tom.

By 1971, Mac has formed the band Amber. Four wonderfully enchanting Amber tracks follow, each one a delightful blend of Celtic acoustic and Indian sounds. "Swan in the Evening" is particularly magical, featuring Mac on sitar.

Fast forward to 2000, and Mac with his new band Silverlining provides two songs of an electric-folk variety. The last two tracks from 2002 include "The Cuckoo" and, finally after 34 years, Mac tackles "Hurdy Gurdy Man" with aplomb. It is interesting to note whilst in India with the Beatles, Donovan taught John Lennon the finger-pick styles he learnt from Mac. Without Mac's indirect influence, "The White Album" would have been very different.

This eclectic collection has something for everyone, not to mention an important piece of the musical jigsaw that defined that period in time.

- Rambles
written by Andrew Morris
published 30 April 2005

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