Ex-manual labourer / University Economics Honours Graduate Donald MacKenzie Black is in his late fifties, the eldest of a family of four, married to Lorna, and lives in Renfrew 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 from Celtic Rock Band Runrig. As a result of this appearance, a musical bond was formed, and Donald and Malcolm have continued to make music together since then, touring extensively in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. When tied up with Runrig duties, Malcolm's place is taken by guitarist Donnie MacKenzie.
In October 2000, Donald and Malcolm released their first album together, 'Close To Home', 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 extensive harmonica collection and Malcom's stringed instruments and accordions. This album was also very well received.
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 (Italy).
Donald has been asked to appear at the SPAH 2005 Annual Convention, held in August in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. He is particularly proud of this as he is the first ever Scot to be invited to this prestigious event where he will be promoting Scottish West Coast Pipe and Gaelic Music in the company of some of the world's top harmonica players.
He 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.
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 Black's 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'.
Harmonica players please note:
Donald mainly plays the tremolo double sided harmonica, often 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.
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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