It was with great sadness that I learned Alastair Donaldson (aka William Mysterious) passed away last Tuesday, the 18th of June.
Donaldson joined the well-received Celtic fusion / folk ensemble Silly Wizard during its infant stages in 1975 and played flute on their debut album release before being initially drafted into The Rezillos as a sax player in late 1976, adopting the stage name William Mysterious.
As the band evolved professionally and inevitably split into factions, original Rezillos bassist David Smythe quit to pursue a career as a research geophysicist, leaving Donaldson to take over on bass full time.
The irreverent fun and cartoon space kitsch of The Rezillos was perfectly suited to Donaldson’s snazzy attire and almost 50’s style melodic bass grooves. The rapidly flowing notes of his incredibly dexterous playing can be heard on their first and only album, Can’t Stand The Rezillos, and it is no wonder J Mascis remarked in the sleeve notes to the 28 track expanded reissue (The Almost Complete Rezillos) that it could be the best bass performance in the entire Sire Records catalogue. I’m inclined to agree!
The insistent and lively, yet wonderfully precise bass riffing of Donaldson / Mysterious is the album’s beating heart and dominant core, and without a doubt remains a huge part of the reason it is still cherished by punk aficionados and critics alike, more than 30 years after its release.
One needs only to hear the “Flying Saucer Attack” intro, or other upfront bass-driven compositions like “2000 AD” and “No”, to realise how indispensable the gifts of William Mysterious truly were.
Mysterious departed The Rezillos following the Rocket To Russia UK tour with The Ramones, but returned to reprise his role as sax player during a farewell show at the Glasgow Apollo on the 23rd of December, ’78, which was recorded and released posthumously under the title Mission Accomplished: But The Beat Goes On. This would be the band’s last live performance until their reformation with a new lineup 23 years later.
His sax skills also made an appearance on “20,000 Rezillos Under the Sea”, an instrumental reworking of the William Tell Overture (also known as The William Mysterious Overture) and the b-side of The Rezillos’ 3rd single “Top of the Pops”, which made it into the UK top 20.
After The Rezillos disbanded, Eugene Reynolds and Faye Fife established The Revillos in an effort to be freed from contractual obligations, and William Mysterious once again played bass with the pair for the recording of the classic Rev Up LP.
Mysterious released one single as Alastair Donaldson With William Mysterious on Mezzanine Records in 1982, “Security of Noise” b/w “Alright”, which featured backing vocals from Fay Fife and The Revettes.
Although he soon retired from recording music, Donaldson / Mysterious was still performing live in Edinburgh until his death.
Long may the legacy of his fine talent live on through the enduringly joyful music he played an integral part in creating, and maybe we’ll meet him again, coming through the airwaves in space one day.
All words by Carrie Quartly, you can read more of her writing on the site here.