Having received his first harmonica from a kindly aunt at the tender age of four, Donald is totally self-taught, and, with his own unique style and mastery, has almost single-handedly been responsible for the humble mouth organ having been given a new respect and acceptance – forcing professionals and reviewers to sit up and take it seriously as a significant part of the Scottish music scene.
He plays much of his music on the TREMOLO harmonica (favoured in and played extensively and mainly all over China and other parts of Asia) and is one of a very few players in the western world to do this. “There are some prominent western tremolo players, such as Donald Black from Scotland.” (Tony Eyres, Harmonica World, Oct/Nov 2010) – visit www.tremoloharmonica.com
Being a native of Benderloch, Argyll, Scotland, Donald’s roots are firmly steeped in the West of Scotland Highland Bagpipe and Gaelic tradition – but his repertoire extends well beyond this to embrace the idioms of Ireland, the Shetland Isles, Cape Breton / Nova Scotia and mainstream Scotland.
Donald Black’s live performances have delighted audiences from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, UK-wide, through Europe – and from Moscow to Kansas City. His playing of thoroughly challenging jigs, hornpipes, marches, strathspeys and reels, and emotionally charged slow airs and laments can only be described as spellbinding.
He has, over the years, received wide acclaim for his recordings.
Donald Black – “the instrument’s foremost exponent in Scottish traditional music” (Norman Chalmers – Scotland on Sunday, 02-03-08) – is married to Lorna and lives in his native Scotland.
He was heard playing “for fun” in a Glasgow bar in 1993 by Phil Cunningham, the musical director of the Gaelic BBC TV programme “Talla a Bhaille” (Village Hall), who was so impressed with what he heard that he immediately invited Donald to guest on it. Donald himself then decided to take things further. Soon afterwards, as a result of his own determination, Donald Black’s debut album “Westwinds” was recorded and released on the prestigious Greentrax label. This was given extensive air play and many favourable reviews. On the strength of this Donald increasingly played in public at ceilidhs, concerts and festivals (initially throughout Scotland, then overseas) with eventual TV appearances and considerable resultant radio air play.
Shortly after this he formed a duo with multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Jones from top Scottish Celtic Rock Band Runrig and also with Lewis-born guitarist Donnie MacKenzie.
In October 2000, Donald and Malcolm released their “Close to Home” album on the Skye-based Macmeanmna label. This proved to be a very well received and enjoyable project, recorded in the Scottish highlands, utilising the full range of Donald’s harmonica collection and Malcolm’s stringed instruments and accordions.
In October 2007 Donald released his second solo album “Keil Road” – again, on the Macmeanmna label. This also well received recording of “slow airs and reflections“ was the realisation of a passion which Donald had held for quite some time. On this excellent (Allan Henderson-produced) venture Donald is ably assisted by a fine array of musicians – i.e. Aly Bain M.B.E., Duncan Chisholm, Maggie MacInnes, Donald Shaw, Fraser Fifield, Alex Dalglish, Iain MacDonald, Neil Johnstone, Catriona Laird, Duncan Lyall, Donnie MacKenzie and Allan Henderson himself.
January 2013 saw the release of Donald’s “Dreams & Dances” album. This (again Allan Henderson-produced) Creative Scotland/Macmeanmna venture is a very impressive 16 track collection of “mainly Scottish/Celtic sets of different moods, textures and tempos” (some very traditional and some new) played on 10 hole diatonic and tremolo harmonicas. Guest musicians here are:- Ross Wilson (Keyboard/Double Bass/Accordion), Allan Nairn (Guitars/Mandolin/Drums), Allan Henderson (Fiddle), Harvey Leckie (Keyboard) and Trish Strain (Cello).
In 2015 Donald was proud and honored to have guested on the legendary Charlie McCoy’s latest CELTIC DREAMS album. Nashville-based Charlie McCoy is “the most recorded harmonica player in history“. Together they duetted “Lonesome Eyes” – Donald’s version (from his above-mentioned) album “Dreams & Dances”, of that beautiful tune by the late great fiddler/composer Jerry Holland from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
For details of Donald’s Bho m’ Chridhe (From the Heart) latest album, see Homepage.
Some events Donald has played at:
Edinburgh Folk Festival, Heb-Celt Festival (Isle of Lewis), Visaginas Festival (Lithuania), Killin Folk Festival, Bute Folk Festival, Fèis an Coisir (Isle of Lewis), Speyfest (Fochabers), Crawley Folk Festival, Auchtermuchty Folk Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh Festival, St Patrick’s Day Festival (Moscow), Celtic Connections Festival (Glasgow), Lewis & Harris Annual Gathering (Glasgow), Fèis-Isle of Tiree, Fèis-Isle of Mull, Seafood Festival (Oban), Drams in the Field (Gleneig), The Royal National Mod, Orkney Folk Festival, Carrbridge Folk Festival, Tønder Festival (Denmark), Harmonica Festival (Casnigo, Italy), Cowalfest (Strone & Strachur), Blas Festival (Strontian, Durness, Nairn and Isle of Mull), Cowal Annual Gathering (Dunoon), NHL Annual Harmonica Convention (Bristol), Syracuse Highland Gathering (USA), Celtic Harmonica Concert – “The Corrib”, Chicago (USA),** SPAH Annual Harmonica Convention, Kansas City, USA.
** in August 2005 Donald was particularly honoured to have been the first (and thus far) the only Scot to have been invited to take part in this prestigious event.
Donald’s musical influences have never come directly from the harmonica world, however. Rather, they have been predominantly from the west-coast Scottish pipe and Gaelic music exponents on accordion – and to some extent from fiddlers and pipers. It is no wonder that he is recognised for making the (tremolo) harmonica “sound like an accordion”.
But Donald’s love of and enthusiasm for the music he plays surely comes from his late mother Christina (“Teenie”), herself an Argyll-born West Coast Scottish Highlander and fluent speaker of her native Gaelic tongue. Right up to her late 80s she could knock out a good tune on the mouthorgan and 2-row button accordion with great style and feeling. So, needless to say, over the years, when at all possible, she and “Donnie” would get together for a “wee tune or two”. Donald and she were very close and he is especially proud of a TV appearance she made with him (at the age of 86) in October 2002 on a BBC TV Gaelic documentary playing her favourite 2/4 pipe March – “Jim McBay’s Welcome“.
In his life so far, Donald Black has found himself in a whole variety of different roles from forestry worker, cattlehand in the Australian outback – to insurance salesman, building site labourer and University Honours graduate. None, however, will ever be more meaningful or spiritually rewarding to him than playing the exquisite music of his people.
These days Donald generally performs with his very compact three-piece lineup: Màrtainn Skene (accordion/keyboard) or Ross Wilson (keyboard/accordion/double bass) – whichever one may be available – and Donnie MacKenzie (acoustic guitar) – THE DONALD BLACK BAND