Donald Black

from "Close to Home" by Donald Black & Malcolm Jones
SKYECD15 © Macmeanmna

Donald Black - The instrument's foremost exponent in Scottish traditional music - Norman Chalmers, Scotland on Sunday

Ex-manual labourer/University Economics Honours Graduate Donald MacKenzie Black is married to Lorna and lives in his native Scotland. He was discovered playing "simply for fun" in a Glasgow bar in 1993 by highly respected composer/ musician Phil Cunningham. Up until then he never gave it a thought that what he was doing might be of any great significance.

Phil was musical director of the BBC TV programme "Talla a Bhaille" (Village Hall) and asked Donald to perform on it. This gave him the impetus to take things further.

Soon afterwards "Westwinds" was recorded on the prestigious Greentrax label. The album was given extensive air play and received many favourable reviews. On the strength of this Donald increasingly played in public - at ceilidhs, concerts and festivals.

One of the guest musicians on "Westwinds" was Malcolm Jones of Celtic Rock Band Runrig. As a result of this appearance, a musical bond was formed, with Donald and Malcolm playing extensively in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and beyond, with guitarist Donnie MacKenzie standing in when Malcolm was tied up with Runrig duties. In October 2000, Donald and Malcolm released their “Close To Home” album on the Skye-based Macmeanmna label. This proved to be a very enjoyable project, recorded in the Scottish Highlands, utilising the full range of Donald's harmonica collection and Malcolm's stringed instruments and accordions. This album also proved to be highly successful and still receives considerable air play.

In October 2007 Donald released his second solo album “Keil Road”; again, on the Macmeanmna label. This, again well received, recording of a “slow airs and reflections” collection is the realisation of a passion which Donald has held for quite some time. On this excellent Allan Henderson-produced venture Donald is ably assisted by a fine array of musicians ( some very well known – some not so), including Allan (from Blazin' Fiddles) himself.

Some events Donald has played at: Edinburgh Folk Festival, Hebridean Celtic Festival (Isle of Lewis), Visaginas Fesival (Lithuania), Killin Folk Festival, Bute Folk Festival, Fèis an Coisir, Speyfest, Crawley Folk Festival, Auchtermuchty Folk Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, St Patrick"s Day Festival (Moscow), Celtic Connections Festival (Glasgow), Lewis and Harris Annual Gathering (Glasgow), Fèis / Isle of Tiree, Fèis / Isle of Mull, Seafood Festival (Oban), Drams in the Field (Glenelg), The National Mod, Orkney Folk Festival, Tønder Festival (Denmark), Harmonica Festival (Casnigo/Italy), Cowalfest (Strone & Strachur), S.P.A.H. Annual Harmonica Convention (USA), Blas Festival (Strontian & Durness), Cowal Highland Gathering (Dunoon), N.H.L. Annual Harmonica Convention (Bristol).

In August 2005 Donald was honoured to be invited to appear at the S.P.A.H. (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) 2005 Annual Convention which was held in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. He is particularly proud of this as he was the first Scot ever to be invited to this prestigious event where he, with Donnie MacKenzie, was promoting Scottish Celtic Music in the company of many of the world's top harmonica players. In October 2007 Donald was invited to perform at the British National Harmomica League's annual convention in Bristol, England, where he and Donnie MacKenzie received a very warm reception.

Donald and Malcolm guested together on the BAFTA award-winning "Tacsi" series - courtesy of Capercaillie"s Donald Shaw, appeared as part of ITV"s Gaelic music output and participated in "Imagination is Limitless" (a German TV documentary tracing "the harmonica"s journey around the world" - shown on German ARD TV) and he has also provided soundtrack music for BBC Scotland"s Gaelic TV documentaries.

In 2006 Donald and world-famous German harmonica manufacturer Hohner collaborated to create and produce the mixolydian-tuned amended tremolo “Echo Harp” Hohner Highlander mouthorgan; the inclusion of the “flattened seventh” notes now making it possible to play so many Scottish Bagpipe tunes on mouthorgan-hitherto not possible.This is the first fundamental change which Hohner have made to the aforementioned model since its inception-over 100 years ago!

Donald"s work has been recognised in Christoph Wagner"s book Die Mundharmonika (a history and global overview of the harmonica). This book was published in 1996 by Transit and is available in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

He is also very proud to be included in "The Encyclopaedia of the Harmonica" by Peter Krampert - published by Mel Bay in 2000 - available worldwide.

Donald Blacks musical influences have never come from any other harmonica players, rather, from prominent Scottish accordion players such as Bobby Macleod, Jimmy Shand, Phil Cunningham, Fergie MacDonald and Iain Maclachlan, as well as to some extent fiddle players and pipers. It is no wonder therefore that people remark that he makes the harmonica "sound like an accordion".

Donald mainly plays the tremolo double-sided harmonica, often (before the arrival of the new Hohner Highlander) with “doctored” reeds to accommodate the bagpipe scale. This is something of a rarity as most players favour the "chromatic" or "blues harp" models to suit their respective styles and types of music. This, along with technique, has a large bearing on the deliberate above-mentioned accordion-sounding effect. However he does play the "blues harp" 10 hole diatonic harmonica with one or two "doctored" reeds. This is particularly suited to pipe/gaelic slow airs/laments - played in first position.

But Donald"s love of, and enthusiasm for, the music he plays surely comes directly from his late mother Christina (Teenie), herself an Argyll-born native West Coast Scottish Highlander and fluent speaker of the Gaelic language. Right up to her late 80"s she could knock out a good tune on the "moothie" and 2-row button accordion with great style and feeling. So, needless to say, over the years, when at all possible, she and Donald would get together for a "wee tune" in the house. They were particularly close and he is especially proud of the appearance she made with him (at the age of 86) in October 2002 on the 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 variety of different roles - from forestry worker, cattlehand in the Australian outback - to insurance salesman, building site labourer and undergraduate student at Strathclyde University. But none will ever be more meaningful, fulfilling or spiritually rewarding to him than that of playing to a live audience the exquisite pipe and gaelic airs and traditional music of his people which he loves so much.

Donald's second CD "Keil Road" is available here
Keil Road is played on the 10 hole diatonic harmonica, in first position, with one or two doctored reeds.

For live performance bookings please contact Donald:
Phone: 00 44 (0)141 885 0138
Mobile: 00 44 (0)7827791632