Well, I'm quite partial to a good mystery (as my bookshelves, groaning under the collected works of Elmore Leonard, Robert B Parker, James Lee Burke, James Crumley and all those other American crime writers, can attest) and, having moved to within 3 miles of the Scottish border, I thought that somebody, somewhere, should know something about Donald and his moothy, if only I knew where to start. In fact, that somebody was Bill Dean-Myatt, a Rushall-based record researcher who is currently compiling the definitive tome on the Beltona Record label. This was the company that Donald recorded for, and, within minutes, Bill had found a Beltona flyer which said that Donald was from the town of Banchory, some miles to the west of Aberdeen. By chance, Rod and Danny Stradling had recently stayed in Banchory when they were launching their Daisy Chapman CD - in a B&B run by Bunty and Fred Davidson! Having phoned the B&B, I soon found myself talking to two of Donald's nephews, Gordon and (another) Donald Davidson. They, in turn, suggested that I should speak to Peter Davidson, a nephew who lives in Poole, Dorset, and who, it turned out, had been researching his family's history. Now, thanks mainly to Peter and Bill, I am glad to say that Donald Davidson is no longer a biographical mystery.
Peter and Isabella had been married on 8th August, l896, in Aberdeen and their first two children, Helen (b. 27.1.1897) and Peter (b. 7.5.1898) were born in Aberdeen. The remaining children, Annabella (b. 15.10.1899), William (b. 21.2.1901), Robert (b. 11.2.1902), George (b. 15.10.1904), Dora (b. 19.6.1906), John (b. 27.7.1908) and Donald were born in Ballater. So it would seem that the family moved to Balater in l898 or '99.
Donald first went to school in Banchory, a few miles east of Ballater, where the Water of Feugh joins the Dee, probably because the family moved to Banchory when Donald was aged about four or five. By then, Donald's father, Peter, was working as a carrier for a Banchory firm called Smarts, delivering goods between Banchory and Balmoral Castle. As a carrier, Peter was daily at the Castle during the visit of the Court and was known to members of the Royal Family, the younger members of whom apparently used to wait eagerly for his arrival. On his retirement he was presented with a clock from the staff at the castle.
Banchory was, of course, the home-town of the fiddler Scott Skinner, and a well-known centre for traditional music, folksongs and balladry.
Four and twenty noblemen rode thro Banchory fair,Donald told friends that he started to play the mouth-organ when he was only four years old being inspired by the music that he heard on his parent's old wind-up gramophone (with a gold and scarlet horn). Donald, it seems, was especially taken by the music of Peter Wyper and several other early melodeon players. All of his brothers were musical and could play the mouth-organ and at least one sister, Dora, could play the piano. Later, Robert, a house-painter, John, a telephone linesman, and George, a slater, took up the pipes, becoming one third of the Banchory Pipe Band, which became known locally as Davidson's Pipe Band.
But bonnie Glenlogie was floor o' them there.
Four and twenty noblemen rode from Banchory ha ,
But bonnie Glenlogie was floor o' them a .
Glenlogie or Jean O' Bethelnie (Child 238)
Donald completed his education at a school in King Street, Aberdeen, and it was during this period that one teacher, a Lancastrian called John Stordy, taught him to read and write music. Some of Donald's later recorded tunes, such as Frisky Lambs, Dobbin's New Shoes and The Alpine Waltz, were his own compositions.
In the late 1920s Donald began to broadcast frequently from 2BD in Belmont Street, Aberdeen, and he came to the attention of Tom D Walker who worked in the north-east of Scotland for Beltona Records, possibly as a talent scout and record salesman. (In the 1950s, Walker was to move to Decca Records.) Walker arranged for Donald to travel to London in October, 1929, where he recorded a dozen unaccompanied mouth-organ sides for Beltona. Many of these sides were of relatively well-known tunes, such as Monymusk, The De'il Amang the Tailors, Kafoozulum, The Soldier's Joy, The Bonnie Lass o' Bon Accord, The Mason's Apron and The Muckin o' Geordie's Byre.
Less than a year later, in August, 1931, Donald was back in London to record a further dozen sides. (sound clip, left - Inverness Gathering) Again, there was a mixture of well-known and less well-known pieces. (sound clip, right - Dornoch Links) As soon as these were issued, Hohner began to advertise their wares using Donald's name:
Donald Davidson of Banchory is a brilliant musician whose pungent performances on the Harmonica are played from music, not by ear. His instrument is the Tartan Echo and we think you will agree with the general opinion, that he is the doyen of Strathspey players. The assemblage of sweet sounds that he produces is loud enough to be heard above the din of dancing feet and so affords pleasure to listener and dancer alike.Or, again
BELTONA ELECTROGRAPHICS Introducing DONALD DAVIDSON and his Hohner Harmonicas in Sparkling Records of Scottish Music. Imbued with the gay reckless spirit of Tullochgorum, Davidson plays these Rugged Reels and Sprightly Strathspeys with a forceful resonant tone in a manner that is absolutely correct in rhythm and time. We are pleasantly surprised at the clarity and colourful recordings, but then the mouth-organ is no Cinderella among instruments, but truly the Hohner Harmonica is a musical instrument of the very highest type.Seventy years later such Brig o' Doon-ish sentiment sounds slightly forced and out of place. But then that was the style, as this thirties' newspaper report also shows:
Meet the sook-blaw-sook expert extraordinary, a mouth-organ player who adapts and reads his music, scorning the assistance of even a faultless ear. That's the difference between Mr Donald Davidson, 254, Union Street, Aberdeen, and the general run of mouth-organists. To him the BBC studio has been familiar ground since the days when Mr Neil MacLean controlled affairs at Aberdeen ... Donald and [his] mouth-organ (Mr Davidson thinks harmonica highbrow) have been pals in variety concerts, single turns and children's hour work. Broadcasts have brought him many letters of inquiry, mostly in the strain, Where can I get an instrument with tone like yours? Here's the reply right now, It's not the instrument, it's the man .Interestingly, the newspaper makes no mention of Donald playing for dances and most people that I spoke to in the Banchory area also remembered Donald's radio work, rather than anything else.
Donald does not appear to have ever been a full-time musician. He always kept his day job as a house-painter and, for a time, worked in Banchory in partnership with his brother George. On 1st October, 1931, he married eighteen year old Isabella Fortune in Aberdeen. The couple had one son, Donald Junior, who, like his father, studied music at school. Sadly, though, Donald Junior died at an early age.
In November, 1939, a few days before the battle of the River Plate, Donald returned to a London recording studio for the last time. He had travelled down to London with the singer Willie Kemp, a stalwart of the Beltona catalogue, and he recorded eighteen sides, accompanied by an unknown pianist, before recording a number of duets with Willie Kemp. Willie was from Oldmeldrum, to the north-west of Aberdeen, and the pair had previously worked together in Aberdeen. They recorded a total of six sides, although only five sides were issued, which, today, are extremely hard to find. They were certainly issued, but, with a shortage of shellac, it may be that few copies were pressed. A 1949 Beltona catalogue shows that none of Donald's records was then available, although twenty-two of Willie Kemp's records - including many pre-war recordings - were still being offered for sale. Times had changed, and the solo mouth-organ had been superseded by the more popular accordion band.
Donald spent most of the war in an anti-aircraft (ack-ack) brigade. It seems that mouth-organs were hard to come by during the war, so, whenever he was called on to provide some music, he would play the piano or banjo! In 1945 Donald solved the shortage problem by making his own mouth-organ, an extra large, double-reeded instrument, that was designed to get a tremolo sound very close to the double-keyed button accordion.
Following his retirement, Donald became interested in symphonic music and would spend his evenings listening to recordings and reading complicated scores. He died on 21st June, 1987, at his home, 139, Gairn Terrace, Aberdeen. Although his son had predeceased him, other members of the Davidson family continued to make music. Donald's brother John became a music teacher in Banchory and is remembered today by many of his former pupils. Donald's nephew Gordon continues to play the pipes in Banchory, whilst Gordon's daughter, Judy Davidson, is making a name for herself as a fiddle-player in the Shetland Isles, where she now lives.
|Recorded Peckham. October 1929|
|M 12490-||Monymusk(Strathspey); De'il Amang the Tailors(Reel)||1497, BL 1497|
|M 12491-||Invercauld March & Marchioness of Huntley (Strathspey)||1502, BL 1502|
|[12492-93 = Dan Jones & Alick Lilley]|
|(Hohner hca solo):|
|Recorded Peckham,October 1929|
|M 12494-||Rose Amang the Heather; Kafoozulum||1499, BL 1499|
|M 12495-1||Stirlina Castle; The Soldier's Joy||1501, BL 1501|
|M 12496-||Lord Lyndoch (Strathspey); The High Road to Linton||1498, BL 1498|
|M 12497-||79th's Farewell to Gibraltar||1498, BL 1498|
|M 12498-||The Highland Wedding||1497, BL 1497|
|M 12499-||The Bonnie Lass o' Bon Accord; The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre||1500, BL 1500|
|M 12500-||The Smith's a Gallant Fireman, & The Drummer||1502 BL 1502|
|M 12501-1||The Marquis of Huntley's Highland Fling;Mason's Apron||1501, BL 1501|
|M 12502-||Eriskay Love Lilt; The Road to the Isles||1500, BL 1500|
|M 12503-||Atholl Highlanders||1499, BL 1499|
|Recorded Peckham, 12 or 13 August 1931|
|M 13716-||Miss Forbes' Farewell (March); The White Cockade (March)||1717, BL 1717|
|M 13717-||There's Nae Luck Aboot the Hoose; Lady Madeline Sinclair (Strathspey)||1717, BL 1717|
|M-||The Lass o'Gowrie (Lancers); My Love is But a Lassie Yet (Lancers);|
Duncan Gray (Lancers)
|1713, BL 1713|
|M-||The Deil's Awa (Lancers); Cum.berland Reel (Lancers);|
John Grumlie (Lancers)
|1713, BL 1713|
|M 13720-||The Cock o' the North (March); Bonnie Dundee (March);|
Come Under My Plaidie (March)
|1712, BL 1712|
|M 13721-||Come Ower the Stream Charlie; Logie o'Buchan (Waltz)||1716, BL 1716|
|M 13722-||Jesse Smith (Schottische) Duke of Gordon (Strathspey)||1715, BL 1715|
|M 13723-1||Lady Ann Hope (Schottische);Stumpie(Strathspey)||1714, BL 1714|
|M 13724-2||Awa' in the Heilans; Where Gadie Rins;|
Flowers o'Edinburgh; Kate Dalrymple
|1714, BL 1714|
|M 13725-||Inverness Gathering (March);Dornoch Links (March)||1716, BL 1716|
|M 13726-||Wha Wouldna Fecht For Charlie (Strathspey); Cawdor Fair (Strathspey)||1715, BL 1715|
|M 13727-||The Orange and the Blue; The Lad wi' the Plaidie||1712, BL 1712|
|(hca or chromatic tremelo hca -1;), acc. unknown pno:|
|Recorded prob. West Hampstead, London,prob. 21st. November 1939|
|M 899-||Frisky Lamibs;Dobbin's New Shoes -Strathspeys -1||2420, BL 2420|
|M 900-||Alpine Waltz||2420, BL 2420|
|M 901-||The Blackthorn Stick -1||2421, BL 2421|
|M 902-||Sir Roger de Coverley||2421, BL 2421|
|(baritone vcl), acc. unknown pno:|
|Recorded prob. West Hampstead. London, 21st. November 1939|
|M 903||I Canna Get a Lass||2429, BL 2429|
|M 904||Sings That Auld Song: There's Aye a Wee Bit Slippery Stane|
at Ilka Body's Door
|2424, BL 2424|
|M 905||Work o' the Weaver||2429, BL 2429|
|M 906||Sings a New Humorous Song: Aye Scrubbin'||2423, BL 2423|
|M 907||Ower By the Auld Quarry Knowe||2430, BL 2430|
|M 908||Sings a New Character Song: Piper Tam||2424, BL 2424|
|(Harmonica) with unknown piano|
|Recorded prob. West Hampstead, London, 21st. November 1939|
|M 909||Millicent's Favourite||2422, BL 2422|
|M 910||Petronella||2422, BL 2422|
|M 911||Strathspey & Reel:Cameron's Got His Wife Again||2431, BL 2431|
|M 912||Donald Davidson Plays on the Mouth Organ a|
Yokie Auld Reel - The Old Bog Hole
|2419, BL 2419|
|(baritone vocal) with unknown piano|
|Recorded prob. West Hampstead, London, 21st. November 1939|
|M 913||Sings the Old Ballad: on the Banks of Sweet Dundee||2423, BL 2423|
|(harmonica) with unknown piano|
|Recorded West Hampstead, London, 21st. November 1939|
|M 914||The Atholl Highlanders' march to Loch Katrine||2431, BL 2431|
|M 915||Marches - The Cory blend||2432, BL 2432|
|(Baritone vocal) with unknown piano|
|Recorded West Hampstead, London, 21St. November 1939|
|M 916||The Massacre of Ta Macphairson||2430, BL 2430|
|(harmonica) with unknown piano|
|Recorded West Hampstead, London, 21st November 1939|
|M 917||Strathspey and reels - Duncan Davidson, Within A mile|
of Edinburgh Toon;
|2433, BL 2433|
|M 918||Hornpipes - The Liverpool, etc.||2433, BL 2433|
|Donald Davidson & Willie Kemp,|
|Davidson(harmonica), Kemp (ocarina-1, jews harp (trump) -2, tin whistle -3)|
|Recorded prob. West Hampstead. London, 21st, November 1939|
|M 919||Wille Kemp & Donald Davidson play Favourite Melodies|
on Trump and Harmonica - Losh! -1
|2418, BL 2418|
|M 920||Jist! -2||2418, BL 2418|
|M 921||Willie Kemp & Donald Davidson Play Pipe Tunes and Marches on|
Tin Whistle and Mouth Organ -Fegs! -3
|2419, BL 2419|
|M 923||Fairly Musical Sketch - Yavels an' Chaff Part 1||2425, BL 2425|
|M 924||Musical Sketch - Yavels an' Chaff Part 2||2425, BL 2425|
Sometime, during the period 1933 - 35, the Band made a number of recordings for the Great Scott label, which was owned by John Drummond of Megginch, 15th Baron Strange, and his wife Violet. The recordings were probably made at Megginch Castle, the family seat, which is at Errol in Perthshire, and there were possibly two different recording sessions. Like all Great Scott recordings, the Silver City Harmonica Band sides are extremely difficult to find today and, like the Donald Davidson/Willie Kemp sides, it may be that they were only pressed in small numbers. After Great Scott stopped trading, stocks of records were kept at the castle but these were melted down at the outbreak of war, in 1939, to supply shellac to the armaments industry.
The war also brought about the demise of the Band, although Eddie Middleton was still playing in the early 1970s, when not working as a photographic technician in the botanic department of Aberdeen University.
Thanks to Chris Hamilton, we have details of the following five records made by the Silver City Harmonica Band (1).
|Hymn of Lourdes|
|Great Scott A233|
March, Strathspey & Reel
|Great Scott A235|
Savoy Irish Medley
|Great Scott A380|
The 93rd Farewell
|Great Scott A382|
|Great Scott A384|
Mike Yates - 20.11.00
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