Dougie MacLean’s name might not be instantly recognizable here in Santa Barbara. Unless, of course, you are of Scottish heritage, have come across his stunning new album Inside the Thunder, or are a diligent subscriber to the Sings Like Hell music series. But for a writer and musician who has produced 18 albums, toured the world countless times, and penned the unofficial national anthem of Scotland, his is a name that certainly deserves to be known. And when Dougie MacLean comes to the Lobero Theatre this Saturday, February 11, he’ll ensure that his name—just like his heart-rending music—won’t easily be forgotten.
Frankie Miller took one of your songs—“Caledonia”—to number one in Scotland. What was it like to hear one of your own compositions reaching such heady heights in the hands of someone else? It’s a lovely thing actually. “Caledonia” was a homesick song that I wrote many years ago and now it’s become part of common culture. It’s sung by rugby teams and played by pipe bands. When a song becomes part of common culture and people hear it all over the place, that’s a great compliment. But nobody knows I wrote it! And I have a wee giggle to myself when I hear people singing it or hear a pipe band playing it. I have something like 18 CDs worth of songs, but that one song has grown legs. They’re looking for a Scottish national anthem at the moment and that’s the song that keeps getting bought up. It’s heartening watching it have a life all its own.
You have your own label, Dunkeld Records. Tell me a little about Dunkeld the place. I live in a little village called Butterstone and it’s about three miles outside of the village of Dunkeld. We’re right at the foot of the Scottish highlands and it’s a very beautiful place. It’s actually where I grew up. My father grew up here as well and we have our recording studio in the old village school that my father went to. About 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to buy the building and all of my CDs have been made there.
How has maintaining such a close connection to your roots worked its way into your music? It’s great for the writing because it keeps you grounded. And there’s a great sense of contentment when you’re in a place where you grew up as a child. I remember being shown around the hills and woods here by my grandfather, so there’s also a great connection to the land. … Being on top of the hills here on a wild and windy day can’t help but transfer itself into melodies and musical imagery.
I’ve heard stories that rural Scotland is filled with pubs brimming with music and gaiety, and the village halls are alive with dance every weekend. Have things changed? It’s still very much like that. One of the great things that the Scots and Irish have as part of their heritage is their love for music and a love for expressing themselves musically. It’s in their DNA! And that’s where my own musical background comes from. The world has changed a lot, but we still have a village hall here in Butterstone and it’s the same hall I got dragged to as a kid where my mother and father would dance as teenagers. We still have traditional dances where there’s a mix of people—old and young, rich and poor—all coming together in one little wooden hall. It’s a great chance to get a glimpse of what humanity is capable of given the right conditions.
Sings Like Hell presents Dougie MacLean at the Lobero Theatre, on Saturday, February 11, at 8 p.m. Visit singslikehell.com or call 963-0761.