The Scotsman Sessions #362: Ian Donaldson

Welcome to the Scotsman Sessions, a series of short video performances from artists all around the country introduced by our critics. Here, former H2O frontman Ian Donaldson performs an a capella version of the band’s biggest hit, I Dream to Sleep

This week’s Scotsman Session features a returning familiar face and voice – the rich tones of former H2O frontman Ian Donaldson singing his band’s biggest hit I Dream to Sleep a cappella from his home on the southside of Glasgow.

This enduring Scottish pop classic is 40 years old this year and Donaldson has marked the occasion by recording a new acoustic version with piano, harp, cello and guitar for release “in association with Alan McGee”.

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Donaldson and the Creation Records head honcho go back a long way. Both avid teenage punk fans, they formed the first line-up of H2O in 1978, a time of new bands galore in Glasgow. A year later, McGee moved to London, ultimately to found his influential independent record label, manage the Jesus & Mary Chain and discover Oasis, while Donaldson continued to helm H2O until their break-up in 1987.

Ian DonaldsonIan Donaldson
Ian Donaldson

While McGee got the long-term career, Donaldson was the first to taste fame. H2O’s major label debut, I Dream to Sleep was their only Top 20 hit. “The title was a combination of ideas,” he says. “I was reading a book by Brian Aldiss. His theory was that humans need to sleep in order to dream so that our subconscious can analyse our thoughts, hence ‘I dream to sleep, I sleep to dream’. Oh, and a little bit of Shakespeare I remembered from school….”

Donaldson describes the song as “an old friend” and is grateful for the profile it generated, not least the opportunity it gave to join peers such as Simple Minds on Top of The Pops. “Thrilled doesn’t come close,” says Donaldson. “Just before the show went out live I went to the makeup department only to find Elton John already there. He told me he loved I Dream to Sleep and sang the first line of the chorus to me. As memories go, it doesn’t get much better.”

Donaldson has since played in Four Good Men with Big Country guitarist Bruce Watson, and former Minds bassist Derek Forbes and keyboard player Mick MacNeil, and released his belated debut solo album, From Stars We Came, in 2018. McGee liked what he heard and reconnected with his old bandmate during lockdown. “We met up after 40 years and immediately hit it off again,” says Donaldson.

Last year, he released two new songs, All I Have is Forever and The Alchemy of Us, on McGee’s It’s Creation Baby imprint, and there are plans to release two more singles this year as well as a vinyl album in the autumn. With classic McGee spin, he has declared Donaldson to be “like a Scottish Bowie”. He is also officially big in the Philippines, touring there last year in a territory where H2O had two chart-topping singles and a Number One album. Meanwhile, back on home turf, he is set to give a lot of middle-aged pop fans a nostalgic glow with his anniversary rebooting of I Dream to Sleep. “I’m happy with how it turned out,” he says. “I hope listeners old and new will like it too.”

I Dream to Sleep is out now on Alchemy

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