Obituary: Alastair “Ali” Donaldson, musician, 58

Alastair Donaldson ran open mic nights in city pubs. Picture: contributed
Alastair Donaldson ran open mic nights in city pubs. Picture: contributed
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Alastair “Ali” Donaldson, musician, has died aged 58.

Born in Edinburgh on April 27, 1955, Alastair Gilfillan Donaldson was the youngest of three children born to John, an accountant, and Beth, a college lecturer. Raised in Currie, he had two older sisters: Jean, who now lives in Canada, and Margaret, who passed away in childhood.

He went to George Watson’s College, where he did well in English and art, but excelled at music. He left school for university a year early at the age of 17. He was enrolled at Heriot-Watt University between 1972 and 1975, but the architecture department, of which he was a part, was based at Edinburgh College of Art in Lauriston Place.

It was here that the musical associations which would shape his life were formed, first playing bass, flute and organ on 1976’s eponymous Silly Wizard debut album on Transatlantic’s Xtra label. His friendship with drummer Alasdair “Angel” Paterson introduced him to the rest of the new wave punk group The Rezillos, with which he would make his name.

He left his architecture degree without finishing it in 1975 and joined the Rezillos the following year as a saxophone player before being invited to join permanently as a replacement for their departed bassist Dr DK Smythe. He took on the alias William Mysterious.

The Rezillos were a short-lived success. Donaldson travelled with them to New York to play on their 1978 debut and only album, Can’t Stand the Rezillos. Amidst the culture shock of 1970s New York and all-night recording sessions in the dangerous Hell’s Kitchen district of Manhattan, he chose to leave suddenly during a rehearsal in 1978. The band split a few months later.

In the early to mid-1980s, Donaldson returned to his original career choice, completing his architecture studies at Hull University, where he also performed gigs and established his own record label Mezzanine.

He returned to Edinburgh in the late 1980s and worked as an architect in various firms, including Broad & Hughes on South College Street. He worked as a studio musician with the Waterboys, among others.

He met his first wife Janice at an all-night disco at Edinburgh’s Playhouse. They married in 1991 but separated in 1993. Their daughter Ailsa was born in 1990. He met his second wife Dr Ksenija Horvat in his then-local bar the Southsider, while she wrote up Edinburgh Festival reviews in August 2002. They were married in 2004 in Leith. Their son Johnny was born in 2006.

Throughout his later years Donaldson made his living entirely from music, playing and running open mic nights at bars including The Royal Oak, Sandy Bell’s, Bannermans and the Three Tuns. He regularly attended Edinburgh concerts by the Rezillos when they reformed in 2001. He died at home on June 18.