It’s not often I’d open an article quoting someone else’s words but when Q Magazine has described your subject’s voice as “a soul deep purr…” anything else seems slightly redundant.
For those of you who have yet to experience this wonderful voice, Horse McDonald is a Scottish singer-songwriter who has spent an impressive 30+ years in the UK music business writing, recording and touring. This year marks the 25th anniversary of her second album, God’s Home Movie, undoubtedly one of her most acclaimed pieces of work and the reason she has spent the last 15 years in various legal conversations with UNIVERSAL.
She has finally just signed a contract licensing the physical rights to re release those ten songs, originally released in 1993. There is also the anniversary tour in November and into January, but before that she will play Perth Theatre in September as the closing act in the Women of the World Festival.
“My dad is from Perth,” is her opening statement. “As was my Grandfather, Great Grandfather and Uncle. I’m doing my ancestry just now so I can tell you that my family lived on Scott Street and South Methven Street. My Dad sang in Perth Rep – I feel a real connection to the city – it’s an important place for me.”
Following on in her dad’s footsteps, more than 50 years on, Horse will bring her unique talent to the Joan Knight Studio where audiences can expect an evening of song and conversation, much of which could have been written especially for the festival which aims to highlight the issues of women and girls in modern Scotland.
“I’m hoping Gemma Filby will join me on keyboard, so it’ll just be us two ‘badass’ women on stage!
Within my back catalogue I have so many songs about struggle. ‘Careful', which is one of my best known songs, has a real simplicity to it but it’s also has a lot of emotion. When I sing my whole spirit and body merge… I’ll definitely be singing ‘Careful' at WOW.”
Horse will also be appearing in the Badass Women From History: Pride Edition panel conversation earlier that day with Carrie Lyell, editor of Diva Magazine and Mridul Wadhwa, activist and campaigner. The trio will be discussing some of history’s greatest LGBTQ+ women in history which will no doubt result in conversations around their own experiences growing up as a gay in Scotland.
“Badass Women! Yeah… I don’t know if we need to be bad ass but I do think that’s the word that’s used if you happen to be a strong woman; if a man did the same he’d be congratulated. It reminds me of that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water’.
We tend to pull together too, we’ll gather for important issues and I think this is what we need. We need more sheroes.”Women can be more philosophical than men, and the older we get the more we realise you don’t have to put up with nonsense and just say so! We tend to pull together too, we’ll gather for important issues and I think this is what we need. We need more sheroes.”
With over thirty years in the music industry under her belt, all of which have been spent as an out-and-proud gay women, Horse has experienced her fair share of prejudice. I ask her what has changed, and if any of it is for the better.
“Well, firstly, the whole music industry has changed and of course with that come more problems for women. When I started off, promoting and marketing was hard and you were just a drop in the ocean, now with this gargantuan net to surf you’ve now become a tiny dot in the universe making it even harder to flag yourself up. That’s hard for everyone but inevitably women are affected potentially more.
The same issues prevail as of 35 years ago. What you look like, how you behave affect you and if you cannot be compartmentalised then you do not fit the ‘plan’. I don’t think I have ever fitted. I have always felt that my goal is to recognised for the music I create, not being diluted, reinvented or reduced to something I am not.
Trying to fix the ratio of women to men eg by forcing festivals to book women isn’t really practical. I don’t think we need to do that. There absolutely are some amazing artists and musicians out there and they are damn good!' Mostly, bookers are men and some of the perceptions are changing. However many thinking of artists, automatically think of all obvious male artists/bands and what genre they are first. When they think women - its 'women's music’ but when they book men that isn’t categorised as 'mens music’?!"
If being open about her sexuality was a battle to be fought in the eighties, then she is under no illusion that her age is the one she is fighting against today.
“There still seems to be a real need to label female singers - my label seems to have had old added ! Women cannot possibly be old and still making music! There absolutely still prevails a boys club in this industry; a recent exhibition about pop music history in Scotland, upholds this - it’s as though some of us never existed. We wrote some great songs, both albums and all singles in the charts, making credible music, credible band, two women at the front and core.
If being open about her sexuality was a battle to be fought in the eighties, then she is under no illusion that her age is the one she is fighting against today.Perhaps because I was openly gay and described as ‘cult, lesbian singer’ has tainted the ‘music’ genre - I seem to be looked upon as making ‘Gay’, ‘women’s’ music! Most of my male my peers do not seem to recognise me as their peer. It may surprise them to know that 70% of our audience are most likely heterosexual and male - and that our music has been the backdrop to their lives! How do you change that ingrained cultural attitude?”
We talk for a while about this - – we’re on the phone for over an hour in fact – and decide that arguably, that particular box is no longer quite as restrictive today as it was in the eighties. She cites young female, gay talent such as Lucy Spraggan and Lauren Bannon as great examples of amazing songwriters doing well and building great careers, recognised for their music and you can hear in her voice that she is impassioned by this small step forward.
So what would she change if she could?
“For myself, not much really. If I’d have given into the demands that they were made about my looks and being openly gay, then I might not be here in this place now, still writing songs, still making music. I’m also involved with Switchboard, a charity helpline for the LGBTQ community that covers the whole of the UK.
That was important for me - because I’m here in Scotland, visibly here, it had to be available for everyone. Making a phone call to a stranger can often be easier than speaking to your family – when I was growing up I’d have used a service like Switchboard. Making a difference means a lot to me”
And it’s not just Switchboard, that she is an ambassador for - there are a few other charities she connects and works with either as a singer, or through her own life experiences, like Nordoff the music therapy charity.
“I do think that the more you give of yourself the rewarding it is. I find it hard to believe that I am 60 in November, God’s Home Movie is 25. It’s taken some guts and determination to get here, but I shall never give up - I am far too aware that my songs shall be my legacy and I shall happily sing to my last breath"
Horse McDonald is not your usual singer. There is so much to this woman – this badass woman – that can never be summed up in a few paragraphs of text. You have to see the show, to experience the deep soulful voice, the years of wisdom and life, and the songs that have stood the test of time to be as relevant today as they were thirty years ago.
Photo Credits: Kris Kesiak
An evening with Horse McDonald” | Sunday 30th of September at Perth Theatre
This rare, intimate, acoustic performance will feature songs from 'Gods Home Movie' as well as other classic Horse songs from her rich catalogue. She's toured many times throughout the UK, Europe, USA and Australia and opened or toured for other artists including Tina Turner, Burt Bacarach, Bryan Ferry and BB King. Her signature song, 'Careful' was covered by Will Young.
A multi award winner, her most recent include induction into the Saltire Society Outstanding Women of Scotland, the DIVA Lifetime achievement award and most recently placed at #43 in the World Pride Power List!