Standing by the Everyman
Digging the rigging on my sail
Rain fell to sounds of harpsichords,
To the spell of fairy tale.
The heath was hung in magic mists,
Enchanted dripping glades.
I'll taste a taste until my mind
Drifts from this scene and fades
In the night time.
Crystals sparkle in the grass;
I polish them with thought.
On my lash there in my eye
A star of light is caught.
Fortunes told in grains of sand;
Here I am is all I know.
Candy stuck in children's hair,
Everywhere I go
Gypsy is the clown of love;
I paint his face a smile.
Anyone we ever make
We always make in style.
[Break]Strange young girls with radar screens,
[Repeat 1st verse]
The album Mellow Yellow was released only in America due to contractual disputes in the U.K. It presents a departure from the sound palette of Sunshine Superman, creating overall a more modern and jazzy impression. There are several songs I enjoy on this album but they would not be considered psychedelic and so are not included here.
In my estimation, The Hampstead Incident is the best psychedelic cut on the album. My primary enjoyment of the song is in the harpsichord arrangement, my favorite harpsichord piece of the psychedelic period, for which I suppose I should thank James Cameron, the musical director. The song exhibits the psychedelic penchant for a falling bass structure (frequently used in this history), with a chord pattern that has been compared to Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, released in 1968. But the surprise coda in Hampstead interacts with the structure in such a manner as to almost instantly turn it on its head, rapidly rising with a flourish when the listener had been accustomed to slowly drifting downward. It is as if a "heavy" meditation had reached a sudden enlightenment.
The content of this enlightenment is difficult to ascertain, but its quality is clear. This is one of the last songs Donovan has admitted to having been composed under the influence of an hallucinogen (he was one of the first to denounce drugs, after a pot bust in 1967). The first verse sets the scene, heavy with dew; Donovan told Lorne Murdoch, for the liner notes of the album Mellow Yellow, that he is describing the scene of stepping out of a cinema called the Everyman. That is, he is stepping from the virtual reality of film, viewed in the darkness of the theater, back into his present circumstances in nature. What light he ascertains is reflected by droplets of water; if they are tears he is referring to (Donovan told Murdoch he was missing his girlfriend at the time) this is not directly stated. It is evident that he is wondering about the future, and feeling his incapability to see into it. Here I am is all I know. The present appears to be a sticky mess. But the singer has his gypsy persona with which to hide away from love, behind a painted smile. The singer claims he is very good at this, and able to change "style".
With the final quatrain of the third verse the tempo and general feel of the music changes from classical to jazz, and the singer tells of attracting women who seem to pick him up on their radar when he's in the middle of his gypsy performance. And yet, the singer holds back, waiting, hoping perhaps that with the sacrifice he'll soon see his girlfriend. He returns to the first verse, back to the natural environment surrounding him, until the darkness of an interior night swallows up his perceptions again. The structure of the song suggests that by forestalling a seemingly inevitable infidelity to his girlfriend, the singer returns to himself and his real circumstances, outside virtual reality, and thus reaches a moment of crystalline (harpsichord) clarity.