Hear Donald being interviewed by Neil Warren on the Happy Hour Harmonica podcast here:
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 to embrace the idioms of Ireland, Shetland Isles, Nova Scotia and mainstream Scotland.
His 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, Chicago and Tulsa, U.S.A..
Donald got involved in the Scottish traditional music scene later on in life, however, when, in 1993, he was noticed playing “for fun” in a Glasgow bar by the hugely talented multi-instrumentalist/composer Phil Cunningham who invited him to appear on the then currently running “Talla A’ Bhaile” (Village Hall) BBC TV programme of which Phil was the musical director. This gave Donald the impetus (combined with self-determination) to take things further. So, in 1995, his first album (“Westwinds”) was released on the Greentrax label.
One of the guests on this was Malcolm Jones from the legendary Celtic Rock band Runrig and soon after that he and Donald formed a very successful musical partnership lasting several years. However, later health issues meant that Malcolm sometimes was forced to reduce his workload and guitarist Donnie Mackenzie 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).
Apart from many many others, here are some events which Donald has performed at:
S.P.A.H. (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) (Kansas City, Missouri in 2005 and Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2019 – the biggest event of its kind in the USA), Celtic Connections Festival, Glasgow (Scotland), Edinburgh Festival (Scotland), Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Scotland), Edinburgh Folk Festival (Scotland), Hebcelt Festival (Scotland), Piping Live, Glasgow (Scotland), Bute Folk Festival (Scotland), Orkney Folk Festival (Scotland), Speyfest (Fochabers) (Scotland), Killin Music Festival (Scotland), Blas Festival (Scotland), Cowal Annual Gathering (Scotland), National Harmonica League Annual Convention, Bristol (England), Crawley Folk Festival (England), Tonder Folk Festival (Denmark), Syracuse Highland Gathering (USA), The Corrib, Chicago (USA), St Patrick’s Day Festival, Moscow (Russia), Harmonica Festival, Bergamo (Italy), Klingenthal Harmonica Festival (Germany), Visaginas Festival (Lithuania).
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 Donnie Mackenzie (from the island of Lewis) on acoustic guitar and Màrtainn Skene (from Spean Bridge) on accordion/keyboard – THE DONALD BLACK BAND.