Review: Horse - Careful: Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Horse McDonald

ALLAN CROW Published: Friday 21 April 2017

It’s all about finding your voice.

There is no doubt Horse McDonald has an astounding musical voice. As a singer she has produced some stunning albums and performed countless outstanding concerts. Finding her own voice has been a lifetime’s journey, one she tells in ‘Careful.’ Growing up gay in rural Lanark in the 70s was far from easy. Trying to fit in saw her bullied, and there were moments of real darkness - incredibly tough times as she strived to find her voice. She tells it all with remarkable honesty in this one-woman drama which took her on a journey well out of her comfort zone at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. It has been expanded to include a Q&A with Horse and director Maggie Kinloch, and more music, but it still packs a mighty punch. There are moments of absolute stillness in the auditorium as Horse recalls life-changing, traumatic, challenging incidents. But there is also the warmth of her parents’ love and the music which gave her that voice and led her to huge success and, ultimately, contentment. Her story also chimes with the changing times as Scotland enshrined equality in law - the education resource pack which accompanies the show is aimed to helping young people find out more, and giving them the support they may need as they too seek to find their voice. The warmth of the Q&A brought the evening to an end on a high note - and, as always, it produced surprises. The ties that bind were evident as Horse encountered one woman who knew her parents well, and often served her dad when he visited her Lanarkshire cafe. Each time he did, he burst with pride at his daughter’s achievements. It’s moments like that which sit at the heart of Careful - on and off stage.

The biography which is set to follow will be equally fascinating. Horse McDonald: Careful is currently touring Scotland. For dates please visit: Gilded Balloon To receive a copy of the educational resource pack, contact

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Working at New Struan School as Nordoff Robbins ambassador

1st March 2019

Delighted that on #NationalMusicTherapyDay on BBC Scotland new channel, "The NINE"@BBCScotNine has a piece on Jason and Jack from @StruanSchool with Andy Jackson ( @jfunc ) and myself @lucychetty @scottishautism @JanetMcLachlan @NordoffRobbins1 @jfunc - airing from 9pm GMT @Fionasstalker and @nick_sheridan filmed us talking about our special project with the guys. The work by Janet from Nordoff at New Struan is ongoing and lead me to this wonderful place #musictherapy #NordoffRobbins #ambassador #autism #powerofmusic #team  #NationalMusicTherapyDay

Review - Horse accompanied by Gemma Filby, Freckfest, Harbour Arts Centre, Saturday 10th March 18

Horse with Gemma Filby at Harbour Arts Centre 2 credit Paul Camlin.JPG

image - Paul Camlin

It’s been two years since Horse played her first and, until now, only Freckfest show. An instant sell-out, she vowed to return. After touring several times in the interim, not only with her music but also in a one-woman play – the critically-acclaimed ‘Careful’, she stayed true to her word. Last Saturday night (10thMarch) Horse once again slayed a sell-out audience with a combination of richly-crafted songs and stories.

“I was absolutely delighted to find the HAC rammed once again. With the audience literally feet away, it is a very intimate space. It keeps you on your toes and automatically creates a real buzz. It’s easy to have an instant rapport with the HAC audience, it feels like they really appreciate you being there! I loved the gig.”

Everyone in the room was well aware of the amazing power of Horse’s vocals beforehand. Indeed, it’s the main reason we’d another full house on our hands. It’s not until you’ve seen her up close and personal though that even the most ardent of her supporters would’ve been blown away at just how wonderful a singer she is. Freed up from the constraints of playing (although she does strap on a guitar for many of the songs), Horse is accompanied for the night by the excellent and understated Gemma Filby on keys and backing vocals. Horse allows her vocals to really fly. The way she steps up to and away from the microphone to vary the dynamics and range of her voice is very effective. Off mic she stamps out a beat on the heel of her shoe. She slaps a rhythm on her thigh. She clicks the offbeat on her fingers. In the small confines of the HAC, every individual noise can be heard and it’s these little involuntary things that elevate Horse beyond ‘good’ and into the realms of ‘great’. At times, she nearly veers into scatting jazz territory, her whole self vibrating with sound. Even the great David McAlmont talks reverentially when her name is mentioned. 

Talking about this after the show, a slightly shy Horse blushes. “I sing with my whole body, don’t I? Not just from here (pats tummy) but from everywhere(makes big circular motion). Big voice, big personality!” 

And she does have a big personality. Her between-song chatter is very funny at times. Her photographic memory perfectly recalls studio details from 20 and more years ago. At one point in the set she has an impromptu conversation with an audience member, Kevin (check!)who in the mid 1980s was her bass player. There’s talk of an anniversary tour to celebrate 25 years of Gods Home Movie, her big breakthrough album. There’s also talk of taking her celebrated ‘Shirley & Dusty’ show on the road with the aforementioned McAlmont. It might be another couple of years before she’s back in the HAC, but she never stops. 

On this form, it’s easy to see why Horse was named one of The Saltire Society’s Outstanding Women.