George Donaldson, “Big George” as he was affectionately known by friends, family, colleagues and fans, passed away suddenly on March 12th at home in Glasgow. Born 1st February 1968, George had just turned 46 years old. His wife, Carolyn, and his daughter, Sarah, 13, who he described as the “lights of my life,” survive him.
One of nine children, George was born and raised in Glasgow’s East End and was a self-taught musician, accomplished on both guitar and flute. He had a lifelong passion for Celtic music, which was inspired by his late father Bernard, and he often said that one of his greatest thrills was the day he performed for his Dad – and 65,000 other fans – at Celtic Park for the 2000 Season opening match.
George started his singing career in local pubs and clubs at home and became a well-established singer on the vibrant Glasgow and West of Scotland Folk scene for over 20 years. In addition to his love of Celtic music, his musical path was influenced by Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, and of course his fellow Scots - The Proclaimers. George recorded folk sessions for BBC Scotland and often made appearances at Glasgow’s own Celtic Connections and the Glasgow West End Festival. He loved interacting with his audience whilst he played and in his solo career he performed alongside the Dubliners’ Jim McCann, as well as Ireland’s Phil Coulter, on many occasions. When not on tour, George was a resident singer at Jinty McGuinty’s bar in Glasgow’s famous West End.
George joined Celtic Thunder in 2007 after auditioning for the show’s Producer Sharon Browne and Musical Director Phil Coulter and he was invaluable in helping to establish the show’s trademark celebration of Irish and Scottish heritage. Known in Celtic Thunder as the “steadfast” one, George carried the distinction of being the sole Scotsman in the show, as well as the only married family man of the group. He appeared in all nine Celtic Thunder concert specials and on all of the show’s CDs and DVDs released to date, the most recent being last year’s Mythology. A hugely successful touring act, George performed with Celtic Thunder around the world, with highlights including St. Patrick’s Day parades in Chicago, Boston, and New York City; at the White House for President and Mrs. Obama’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration; for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon; for UN Human Rights Ambassador Mary Robinson and for literally millions of fans across the United States, Canada and Australia. His Celtic Thunder fans, “Thunderheads” as they are affectionately known, took great joy in watching George perform his signature songs within the Celtic Thunder shows, from “The Old Man” and “My Boy”, “Scarlet Ribbons” and “Red Rose Café” to the Proclaimer’s “500 Miles” and “Life With You”. George’s talent, warmth and love of music always shone through.
George’s success as an artist was not restricted to only Celtic Thunder. In his extremely successful solo career he won numerous Irish Music Awards in both 2011 and also 2012. His first solo CD, entitled The White Rose, was released to critical acclaim in 2011, as was last year’s follow-up album, The World In My Mind. Although George’s inspirations came mostly from his homeland of Scotland, he also had a great appreciation for different sources and styles of music. He had a great love and affection for meeting people all around the world. He loved to find out what their life stories were and he enjoyed talking with them. He believed there was a song in everybody that he met. On George’s numerous musical journeys all around Europe he found that he was drawn to Germany, the culture and the people. He spent many nights in discussions with the locals and he had found himself becoming an eternal struggling student trying to master the German language. It was during these late night sessions that the seeds of “The White Rose” his first solo album, were sown. The album includes a heartfelt mix of his own penned words and traditional songs, carefully chosen by George for their content and meaning. The album is about storytelling and reflection and is a salute to those wonderful people and places that inspired him.
When George was not on tour he was happiest to relax into his home life as the loving husband and father he was, doing what he loved to do best…. Gigging In Jinty’s on a Sunday night, “letting his hair down”…. or sitting on the banks of Loch Tay locked in a battle of wits with the fish.
George lived life to the full; he had the greatest sense of fun and was always ready with a smile, a joke and a bear hug. He imbued a sense of camaraderie with him wherever he went and he was the focal point and rock in any group. George was beloved by his family, friends and colleagues, a sentiment that he returned in spades.
RIP George, you have touched the lives of those whose paths you have crossed and you will be sorely missed. You have left us with many fond memories to cherish and recall.