Mike McDonald – A tribute by Willie Sinclair

A friend of Irvine Folk Club for many years Mike McDonald was a regular floor-singer and later a volunteer provider of subtle sound reinforcement for visiting musicians, using his own equipment and years of experience. His contribution is an important piece of the club’s historical jigsaw. In 2019 he had life-changing surgery and chemotherapy for cancer. He pulled through and fought the disease but today, October 19th 2021, he lost the battle. Our thoughts go out to Moira and the family at this sad time.
Mike played bass guitar with Tommy Truesdale and the Sundowners for thirty years but his real solo talent was to recognise and interpret great songs from many genres, reshaping them and making them even more interesting and memorable. Standouts would be his version of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and (Maureen’s favourite) Mark Knopfler and James Taylor’s “Sailing to Philadelphia”. No style was out of bounds: The Beatles, Tom Waits, The Roaches, Fats Domino, Robert Burns. He was his own harshest guitar critic. Many instrumental pieces he played were his own work and I could always tell if he thought he’d missed a note even though the audience wouldn’t be able to tell. His face was the giveaway.
When Mike, my irascible, amiable, opinionated, self-deprecating, talented friend, was 50 (it was on his actual birthday) we were sharing a chuckle at the Folk Club at the Redburn Hotel. He was joking about how hard it would be for people to detect any early signs of dementia in him because he felt he’d always been a bit absent-minded, always going back to double-check he’d locked the house door or the car or his motor-bike. I laughed with him and went to introduce the first floor-singer. Some folk might remember that in the early days of small mobile phones I used to wave my phone at the audience and ask them to be sure to turn theirs off. That night I reached into my pocket and, instead of a mobile phone I produced a TV remote control. Mike loved that! A few weeks ago, more than twenty years later, I went to see how he and Moira were faring as his illness progressed. He was weak, a shadow of his old self, but the spark was still there. As I was leaving, my smart-phone fell from my jacket pocket and, hearing the clatter Mike called through from the front room: “I hope that’s not your remote-control.”
My friend has sung his last chorus. The world is a quieter and less interesting place without him. I miss him already.