Donald Black, “the instrument’s foremost exponent in Scottish Traditional Music” (Scotland on Sunday), received his first harmonica from a kindly aunt at the tender age of four; is totally self-taught and with his own unique style and mastery has single-handedly been responsible for the instrument having been given a new respect and acceptance; forcing afficionados, professionals and reviewers to sit up and take it serious as a significant part of the Scottish Traditional Music scene.
Being a native of Benderloch, Argyll, Scotland, his roots are firmly steeped in the West of Scotland Highland Bagpipe and Gaelic tradition but his repertoire extends well beyond to embrace the idioms of Ireland, Shetland Isles, Nova Scotia and mainstream Scotland.
Donald’s live concert performances of thoroughly challenging jigs, marches, hornpipes, strathspeys, reels and emotionally charged slow airs and laments have delighted audiences from the highlands and islands of Scotland, UK-wide, through Europe – from Moscow to Kansas City, Syracuse and Chicago, U.S.A..
In 1996 Donald and Malcolm Jones (multi-instrumentalist with top Scottish Celtic Rock band Runrig) formed a hugely popular and very successful musical partnership. Later health issues meant, however, that Malcolm was forced to reduce his music/work commitments and Donnie Mackenzie quite regularly stepped in.
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).
Donald’s fifth and latest “Bho m’ Chridhe” (From my Heart) album was released in May 2017, receiving excellent reviews – see Albums
In 2015 Donald was very honoured to have been invited by Nashville harmonica and multi-instrumentalist legend Charlie McCoy, “the most recorded harmonica player in history”, to duet on his Celtic Dreams album; after which Charlie reciprocated by guesting a duet with Donald on the above-mentioned Bho m’ Chridhe (From my Heart).
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.
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. Donald lives in his native Scotland and is married to Lorna.
These days Donald generally performs in a very compact three-piece lineup with Màrtainn Skene (accordion/keyboard) and Donnie Mackenzie (acoustic guitar) – THE DONALD BLACK BAND
Lewis-born guitarist Donnie Mackenzie has played with Donald both in Scotland and beyond for several years.
“New kid on the block” Màrtainn Skene (from Spean Bridge near Fort William) has recently joined the “Two Donnies” on accordion and keyboard.