Dougie MacLean - Biography
By J Poet
Dougie MacLean is one of Scotland's most acclaimed singer/songwriters, a composer with a gift of crafting folk like melodies and down to earth lyrics that celebrate the land and working people of Scotland. He played briefly in Silly Wizard and The Tannahill Weavers, both seminal bands in the revival of Scot’s music, but it’s as a solo artist that he made his mark. He started his own label, Dunkeld Records, in 1983, and slowly branched out to booking and promoting his own concerts, and those of the other performers he’s signed, including Sheena Wellington, David Allison, Gordon Duncan, Hamish Moore, Frieda Morrison and other notable folk artists. He got a gold record for the original music he contributed to the soundtrack of Michael Mann’s 1992 film the Last of the Mohicans, and for his production work on Kathy Mattea’s Time Passes By (1991 Mercury). He’s written three instrumental suites - Perthshire Amber (2000 Dunkeld), commissioned to do this by the Perth Arts Festival and Rural Image: A Song Vision Symphony in 2005 and Muir of Gormack- A Pictish Story in 2006, both commissioned by Celtic Connections.
MacLean was born in Perthshire in 1954. He grew up in the country surrounded by traditional music: his mother played mandolin and his father was a fiddler. He played guitar and fiddle from an early age and as a young man worked various hard jobs tending gardens and laying pipelines. In college he majored in engineering and played in a folk group with Martin Hadden and Andy Stewart, who later founded Silly Wizard. He was fiddling on the street for spare change in 1974 when Roy Gullane, guitarist of a yet unnamed folk band heard him. He asked MacLean if he’d like to join the group, which eventually became the Tannahill Weavers. MacLean toured the UK and Europe with the band playing fiddle, mandolin and singing. He cut one album with the band, Are Ye Sleeping Maggie? (1976 Plant Life) before leaving to start singing with Alan Roberts as a duo. They made an album, Caledonia (1979 Plant Life), which won critical acclaim and a large audience before adding Alec Campbell to the line up for C.R.M. (1979 Plant Life), a collection of traditional songs.
For six months in 1980, MacLean filled in for Silly Wizard fiddler Johnny Cunningham Silly Wizard on a tour of the US and Europe, then briefly rejoined the Tannahill Weavers. In between, he cut his first two solo albums Snaigow (1980 Plant Life) and On a Wing and a Prayer (1981 Plant Life). Unlike many solo artists, MacLean solo is just that, one guitar and one voice, with occasional fiddle or didjeridu overdubs adding color to his intimate musings.
In 1981, MacLean moved back to Perthshire with his wife, buying the old school building he attended as a boy and turning it into his home. He also built his own recording studio and started his own record label, Dunkeld Records, which has become one of the most successful indie labels in the UK. He continued touring the UK and America and released Craigie Dhu (1981 Dunkeld), which mixed traditional Scottish fiddle tunes and MacLean originals, the all instrumental Fiddle (1984 Dunkeld), and Singing Land (1986 Dunkeld).
Dunkeld Records signed other artists including, Hamish Moore, Sheena Wellington, Frieda Morrison, Gordon Duncan, David Allison, and Blackeyed Biddy, and started booking tours. They put together two sold out package tours of the US and MacLean released one of his best albums, Real Estate (1988 Dunkeld), which slowly went gold. In 1990 MacLean went to Nashville to produce Kathy Mattea’s gold album Time Passes By (1991 Mercury). He also released three more albums on his own label Whitewash (1990 Dunkeld), an album of protest songs that went gold in Scotland, The Search (1991 Dunkeld), an orchestrated instrumental commissioned by The Official Loch Ness Monster Exhibition, and containing some of the music later used on the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack and Indigenous (1992 Dunkeld) another powerful album of protest songs.
In 1992 the Last of the Mohicans used music from The Search and earned MacLean an American gold record. Pop singer Frankie Miller got a #1 Scottish single with MacLean’s “Caledonia,” and the TAG Theatre Company asked him to score music for their production of A Scot’s Quair, based on the books of Lewis Grassic Gibbon. MacLean later released the score as Sunset Song (1993 Dunkeld).
Marching Mystery (1994 Dunkeld) got rave reviews and MacLean participated in the BBC documentary Transatlantic Sessions, which traced the influence of the folk music of Britain, Scotland and Ireland on American music. Putumayo, the world music label, released The Dougie MacLean Collection (1995 Putumayo), their first single artist album. He also scored the music for the BBC series A Mug’s Game and recorded Tribute (1995 Dunkeld) settings of Scottish folk songs and tunes by poets Robert Burns, Robert Tannahill and Neil Gow. Riof (1997 Dunkeld) got rave reviews on its release and MacLean opened a pub MacLean’s Real Music Bar. In 1999 MacLean spent the year working on Perthshire Amber (1999 Dunkeld) commissioned by the Perth Arts Festival. It was his first opportunity to write for a full symphony orchestra. He recorded Who Am I (2000 Dunkeld) and found out that Jennifer Lopez chose his song “Turning Away” for the soundtrack for her film Angel Eyes.
In 2003 MacLean re-recorded some of the first songs he wrote for the album Early (2003 Dunkeld) and borrowed the Perthshire chamber orchestra for With Strings (2003 Dunkeld) orchestrated versions of fan favorites including “Broken Wings”, “Holding Back” and “Ready for the Storm.” Inside the Thunder (2005 Dunkeld), a dark moody album written in the aftermath of the death of Johnny Cunningham got universal raves for its moody vision. In 2007, MacLean put together the two CD retrospective The Essential Dougie MacLean (Dunkeld), as well as releasing the LP Muir Of Gormack, followed by Resolution in 2010.