Singer, Writer and Producer formerly of Band H20 takes time out for a chat with Martin Bone Photographer and of Patchchord News where Ian chats about The 1980s , A new Song ” Let Love In “ & his publication of his new book A Rainbow in the Basement

Ian Donaldson

Ian Donaldson – Photo Credit : Martin Bone 2017


It was on a wet cloudy Tuesday morning in June that, I had the pleasure of meeting with musician ,Ian Donaldson who is best known as the  lead singer with H2o. H20 were a eighties band from Scotland who had UK Top 40 hit songs with ‘I Dream to Sleep’ ,’Blue Diamond’, ‘ Just Out of Heaven’.

I was nervous meeting and chatting with Ian, however once we had met i soon settled and felt fine. I think I was a little star struck and i was a fan and actually for me meeting up with him, was certainly a privilege.  I am very proud to have met and connected with Ian as I feel we will be friends for a long time to come. We have already planned another meeting when he goes back into the recording studio.  

It was around 11am in the  Glasgow Central Train station,  I met with Ian. Ian asked me if I was hungry and if I fancied some breakfast? of course  I agreed that i would like to grab something to eat and a cuppa . This was obviously nice of him to do this, however I have to say  I did get the  coffee’s the next time round. Its not often you get your breakfast bought for you by a famous musician.

I guess I had quickly forgot that i was there to interview Ian.  I was enjoying our chat and his company as it was if , I knew him for years.  We were discussing growing up in the 1970s,and 80s  and how our own music tastes varied and our likes and dislikes  and how cool it was in the 80s at that time with fashion and other politics going on in the world.

 I had actually asked Ian what his Top 5 songs would be and I mentioned some of mine but with everything I had totally forgot to note all of  this down  on my notepad. We then discussed music video production and  Ian explained about his music  own video production and he showed me a video which Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry had inspired him to create during his solo career, called “I’am Burning Inside “ .

For me as a Photographer and Videographer, this was amazing to see and discuss about the look and production on this and how retro and eighties it is. I felt it was a little like Rick Astley. I then showed him some of  my work and my photography and video work . It has changed so much in the years and its very easy to produce and film a music video these days and  he explained about all the technical things  back in the day and how technology has advanced now.

H20 ,who I thought had a very distinctive sound with a hint of an electronic feel to their music. They were listed in the genre of music that at the time was New Romantic.  Music in the 1980s for me at that time was tremendous and so special I still love that time and have happy memories growing up as teenager with the likes of  Japan, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Yazoo, H20, Simple Minds, Flock of Seagulls, Tears for Fears, The Bluebells the list is endless.

I do recall the 80s Music scene was  so active and there was a mixture of styles and genres of music on offer at that time. Pop, Rock, Mod, Blues, Electro-Pop, Energy Dance, and New Romantic . I just remember that a lot of Scottish Acts were in the charts at that time.  I was an avid reader of music magazines like,  Record Mirror, Number One, Smash Hits and as I was the youngest I had 3 older sisters who were buying all the girl pop magazines and I am sure Ian was a Pin Up in his day !!. I was just getting in to DJ’ing then also with a local youth club and i told Ian of a time we jokingly said to our friends that we sang ‘CATH’ by The Bluebells and also his track ‘I DREAM TO SLEEP’ by H20. he found this little story funny. I  guess i wasn’t the only one in the 80s who used to update yourself on the latest trends and new releases into the charts . Then you had the music videos, which  were in there infancy at that time.

I finally got around to ask Ian some other questions on how it all started for him as a musician and how the bands all transpired. 

Ian explained that It would be as a 12 year old boy, watching and listening to musician  David Bowie and  with Ziggy Stardust was a big influence on him. Ian said ” It was Bowie who made me want to be a Singer “ and other artists like Roxy Music  with Bryan Ferry, & Mark Bolan were for him a heavy influence  in his making his career as a musician.  

In Scotland growing up in Govan, Glasgow was pretty hard, and you stood out if you didn’t fit in, Ian explained . This could be because of what you would be wearing or your music tastes.  It was also If your style of dress wasn’t exactly right and you stood out from the crowds i certainty did at that time and you were targeted on some occasions because of this and certainly if you wore jewellery as I had earrings in both my ears at the time. It was certainly a scary time.

 Ian explained ‘”I was singing in a band called ‘8 Miles Out’ at 16 years old playing rock music as that was popular with most people at the time. I wanted to be different so I left to form A Punk band called ‘SKROO’. We would perform in The Mars Bar in Glasgow A legend in the city’s music scene, the Mars Bar was the pogoing place of choice for the city’s young punks. ”

First single for H20 was Hollywood Dream here is a old video on You Tube the venue is the Dial Inn, Glasgow. 1981 


He explained at that time that he formed the band with Alan McGee a bassist and was later to be the manager for Oasis.   

The name H20 came about during a chat at that time I had with the rest of the band and I said C02 as I read it off the back a fire extinguisher , nearby in the room. Then someone just shouted out ‘ H20′ and then it was decided to go with that name of the band.  which then was the favourable choice .  the band performed their first gig on the back of a lorry at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Rally in Govan’s Elder Park then later signed a record deal and performing on UK TV show Top of the Pops.

Publication from Smash Hits Magazine circa 1984

We chatted about being a New Romantic and  being a Pop Idol and a poster pin up and being photographed for music and teenage pop magazines.  He said that people nowadays don’t allow you to grow older, as they expect you to still look the same as you were in your prime and in your twenties .

and  that unfortunately,we grow older ,I have. I have embraced this its how life is.   I had lost track of time and i think we had been just chatting for about 2 hours.

Ian Donaldson – Photography Credit: Martin Bone 2017

I asked Ian what advice he would give to anyone now starting or thinking about coming into the world of music and fame. Advice to young musicians   would be to research first. Use the information that’s freely available online to make informed choices.  Make the music you want to make and don’t apologise to anyone for doing so. There is no substitute for hard work and songs are the most important things. They will be what you stand or fall by. And finally, don’t run down stairs with your hands in your pockets ’ I had asked Ian about his feelings on online sharing of music, and would if he would give music away for free and also about his fears for the world .

Ian,with Spotify – Online music sharing is making it tough for musicians to make a living from their original music. On the one hand it is a great way of getting your music heard around the world, but on the other, the financial payment Spotify offers in return is tiny.

It then led me onto his new  a song  ‘LET LOVE IN’ and how its seems its release at this time is so relevant at a time the world has gone a bit mad, so the track fits perfect with current events today and years gone by.  

We then chatted about his new book ” A RAINBOW IN THE BASEMENT ” and its launch recently .

Photo Credit :Martin Bone Photography 2017

He explained its a book about Life & death, love & loss, hope & despair, belief & disbelief. Its Fiction and some true things.  A novel about a lot. Magic is more than a word – something Matthew Ellis discovered when he was 12. It was the year he crossed an ocean. His mother told him it was for the best. He saw it as an escape from hurt. He also had a bone to pick with God. Many years later Matthew returns to Scotland. He will fly back to America before the day is over. He has come in search of something, though he is unsure what. As he visits the neighbourhood of his Glasgow childhood, ferried by an unusual taxi driver, he recalls seeing Calvary and torching a dragon ship. Then there was the funeral and those strange lights. They were only the beginning; he has been carrying even more unbelievable secrets ever since. Now that he has brought those secrets home, what sort of welcome will they receive? And will he find whatever it is that he is looking for? Unique is an overused word nowadays, but here it is apt. This story transcends genres with an extraordinary mix of magic and gritty reality as it explores love and loss, friendship and family, sacrifice and innocence, miracles and wishes, and so much more. You can purchase the book on here   and at Amazon UK 

Here is a little Jotted History about the band :- 

H2O were formed in late 1978 by Ian Donaldson, following the demise of Glasgow punk band “Skroo”. The band’s original line up was Ian on vocals, Davie Wells on Guitar, Alan McGee on Bass and Kenny Dorman on drums, H2O’s first gig was Mayday 79 on the back of a Lorrie in Elder Park, Govan, Glasgow.

1980 saw the addition of Ross Alcock on Keyboards, Colin Ferguson coming in on bass and Later still Colin “Biggles” Gavigan on saxophone. The band’s first independent single, on their own Spock label, “Hollywood Dream” was released in 1981 and radio play helped raise the H2O profile. A live TV appearance on BBC Scotland’s “Street Buzz” allowed the band a chance to spread the word (and music) to a larger audience, also a video of the show allowed the band to show to London record companies what they could do.

Image Provided by Ian Donaldson. H20 performance on Street Buzz

In 1982, with the addition of new guitarists, John Harton and then Pete Kean, The Band signed to RCA and, subsequently, began work on their first recording- deciding at the last moment to put the intended ”A” side “Burn To Win” on the flip side and go with “Dream To Sleep” which spent ten weeks in the charts and reached no.17 in May 1983.

The follow up single, in August of the same year ”Just Outside of Heaven” reached no. 38 and spent six weeks in the charts. The pressure of finishing their album “Faith” 

and a nationwide tour with Kajagoogoo meant that their third single, “All That Glitters” produced by Steve Harley, was not released until 1984.

The band with new members, Phil Kean on drums and Johnnie McBriar on bass continued to tour and to release singles: “Who’ll Stop The Rain” and “You Take My Breath Away”

The inevitable record company in-house shuffles led to the band parting company with RCA. The year of 1985 saw the band continue to tour, but the strain of keeping a six piece outfit together, without a record deal, led to a split in October of that year.

Ian and Ross continued to write and demo new songs- using several new names for the band – in an attempt to secure a new record deal and in the early months of 1986, they began to gain interest, they augmented their studio duo, becoming a five piece, to perform a number of showcase gigs for record companies, with auditions of former “Skroo” guitarist Frank O’Hare; drummer David Edgar and George Sinclair on bass. A new look and tougher sounding H20 was born. 

The fledgling company, “Legend Records” looked like the label that offered the best chance of keeping H2O a priority band, which they had been less and less so at the major label RCA. The band released the single “Blue Diamond” which just failed to reach the top forty in 1987 despite plenty of airplay from major radio stations.

Frank O’Hare left the band in late 1987 to be replaced by Ali McLeod, ex Hipsway, on guitar and the single “ The Sun Aint Gonna Shine Anymore”, Ian’s first solo record, was released at the end of that year to excellent reviews. Scott Walker, who originally recorded the song  2 decades before was quoted as saying he really liked the recording.

 Since 1988 the band have played a few one off gigs, notably in April 1993 for Radio Clyde’s “Cash For Kids” and later, in April 1994. the opening gig for the newly converted venue “The Renfrew Ferry” and a sell out gig in “King Tutts” in June 2003, celebrating 20 years of “ Ian then with a few others musicians then formed  FOURGOODMEN

You can find Ian Donaldson on Facebook. Work on a solo album of brand new songs is almost complete and will be released on vinyl in late Autumn on Toy Town Records.
Below is the Interview he had with Derek McCutcheon of CAMGLEN radio in 2016.