I talk with Ian Donaldson , the good looking dreamy sounding singer from 80s band H20 who had a huge hit with the beautiful 'I dream to sleep'. Ian has worked alongside Derek Forbes from Simple Minds , & Bruce Watson from Big Country as lead singer in the band Fourgoodmen. He has also been busy working on his new novel!
I am keen to find out more about the man behind the haunting I dream to sleep.
HI Ian , What were your early musical influences, what did you grow up listening to?
David Bowie, Roxy Music, T Rex, Motown, Mott the Hoople all the good stuff! For me, those artistes delivered songs with great melodies and lyrical imagination that provoked a reaction and created films and images inside my early teenage mind. The arrangements and sounds were exciting, the grooves fantastic. Most have stood the test of time.
Do you come from a musical family?
Not really. An uncle played drums and another sang and played guitar. They were the two exceptions.
What would you say is different in the music industry today compared to when you first began?
Due to new ways of accessing recorded music, there is no real centralised record business like there once was. I also see parallels between the Glorious Punk Uprising of 76 and today in as much that people are making the music they want to make without the financial backing from what is left of the industry. Home studios are becoming affordable. Even with a basic set up people can produce a decent result. There are loads of different platforms for musicians to get their music heard now. When H20 were trying to break through, the Holy Grail was getting played on Radio One. And if that went to plan, an appearance on Top of the Pops. With the help of Face book and You Tube and so on new bands don't have to gig constantly anymore to get noticed. Which is just as well, the number of gigs now compared to back then is sad. The flip of that coin is the amount of musicians and new music makes it more difficult overall to get noticed. Young musicians are much more aware of the business side to the industry as well. Can only be a good thing. It's certainly harder to make money from music nowadays but they are switched on to how income is generated and how it should come to them FIRST. I believe that if we don't work at life there is no life in our work.
What inspires your song writing & why ?
I try to stay connected to life, the everyday , the unusual, love & loss, allowing it to inhabit me without a filter. Also other peoples songs. Great songs, sung by great singers and the stories and emotions they convey. Movies, books and art are great sources of inspiration. Leonard a song from H20s album Faith was inspired by The Pedestrian a short written by Ray Bradbury. A new song from my up coming solo album is called Angel Pale. It tells the story of how my 12 year old self was changed forever when I saw David Bowie and Mick Ronson on TOTP performing Starman.
What was it like having success in the 80s, was it a great time for Scottish talent ?
It was amazing! Radio One TOTP it all happened for the band. Touring, having success abroad our Rock n Roll dream come true. Having said that, we worked hard for it, playing over 500 gigs before we signed to RCA. Even with all the hard work it wouldn't have been possible without I Dream to Sleep. It's still being played on the radio and being included on the latest Best of the 80s compilations. It was a very creative time in Scotland. Many bands were making records and having success. A lot of the inspiration came from Bowie, T Rex, Roxy Music and Motown 10 years earlier. Musicians were now old enough to use those influences to create something of their own.
Did you find writing your novel a challenge? Were there any personal experiences contributed to it?
If I'd known how long it was going to take 20 years - as it turned out, then, maybe I wouldn't have started it. Maybe. At Secondary School I began to write song lyrics, and joined my first band at 14. In the same year I wrote a short story that was printed in the school magazine. It was called A Christmas Story. A re-telling of The Nativity set in a derelict building in Govan, Glasgow in the 70s. I didn't follow this up and ran off to join the Rock n Roll Circus.
It was much later, when I had a dream over two consecutive nights that the idea for A Rainbow in the Basement began to take shape. I had no idea about structure or sentences and paragraphs and style and 101 other things that I would need to expand my initial idea and try to make it work. So everything was pretty much trial and error. Painful and frustrating. I looked upon the task as though it was a biiiiiig song. It had to have a great start, middle and ending. Easier said than done. At the same time as writing I increased my reading. Different styles and genres, trying to understand why those stories worked. At times I put Rainbow away for a while, years, on a couple of occasions because I knew that what I had wasn't good enough.
The last time I brought it out was a couple of years ago. I decided to take a different approach and read through it as though it was someone elses work as if it was an album of songs by another musician. How could I improve what essentially was already there. As songs I would do this by looking at the arrangements of the songs, the tempos, the lyrics, the melodies, the instrumentation and overall production. I also knew I needed to be brave and keep what worked and let go of what didn't. With this newly found perspective I worked on a final, final FINAL version, ending up with something I liked, but also something I also believed would stand up to scrutiny as a bona fide piece of storytelling. People who know me and have read Rainbow have told me they see a lot of me in the novel. Much of the story is based on my early life. Elements are true ... just not telling you which bits.
How does writing a book differ from lyric writing?
They are both forms of storytelling. With a song, you try to do it as convincingly as you can in 4 minutes. With a novel, it's the same principle, only over 400 pages. Both are difficult to do.
A song can be a spark captured quickly and realized in the studio in a few hours, set free and your mind is clear to do something else. A novel is again about capturing a spark but then another and another and somehow keeping their life and energy alive day after day in my case year after year to keep me interested and wanting to turn the page and hoping that future readers might also be interested and willing to invest their time to stay with it until the end. And ultimately to get something from the story on whatever level/levels they choose.
One reviewer said it was about hope amidst despair, do you agree with that?
Yes, I do. It's also about, as another reviewer said: trust, friendship, family, understanding, human greed, healing, sacrifice, loyalty, miracles, wishes, magic, belief and innocence. It mixes the magical with real life issues very cleverly.
I also hope it is simply a story worth reading.
In your band Fourgoodmen you worked with Bruce Watson from Big Country, & Derek Forbes from Simple Minds, how was that?
It was an unforgettable experience. We performed our collective hit songs. As the singer that was a challenge I enjoyed. The band played to huge audiences. Touring Canada and the US was special. I met some amazing people along the way. I am still friends with many of them. We wrote and recorded original material together. And I'm pleased to say I survived the journey.
You were in an identity parade on Never mind the Buzzcocks in 1999, was that fun?
It was. The funniest part was the panel didn't pick me. Instead they picked a blonde haired man half my age.
Lastly, what colour is January?
January is the whitest white with a touch of the palest blue.
Thank you Ian for a great & informative interview.
Ians novel 'A Rainbow in the Basement' is out now on Amazon & at Waterstones.
He is currently working on a solo album.