It’s evening in Canada as I write this. I’m sitting at my desk overlooking the park as the sun sets, a candle burning in the window, listening toDuncan Chisholm‘s CD ‘Live at Celtic Connections’ and specifically to his tune The Farley Bridge.
I’m still thinking about Dougie Maclean’s concert last week and playing his music on my iPod as I’m writing this. All his songs are very beautiful and powerful but, when people go to one of his concerts, there is one song, above all, they want to hear.
Caledonia was the name the Romans gave to Scotland, the country beyond the wall that they were unable to conquer. (Sound familiar, Game of Throne-ers?) Somewhere around Perth (not Hadrian’s Wall) is where The Roman Empire ended. Caledonia, the song, has become popular world-wide.
The Americans love it, the Irish claim it as their own. It’s played at weddings, funerals, football matches, military tattoos, rugby games, adverts and is often called Scotland’s unofficial national anthem.
Dougie Maclean calls Caledonia his loveable monster because it’s taken on a life of its own. He wrote it a long – long – time ago on a beach in France when he was feeling very homesick. It’s a song of longing – and belonging – written from the heart.
And therein – I believe – lies its magic.
As writers we’re told to write about the specific, not the general. By writing about the specific – in the case of Caledonia, Maclean’s homesickness – he touched on one of the unique experiences and emotions every single person in the world feels, understands and relates to.
You don’t need to be Scottish to understand the love you have for your homeland – whatever that country may be – or your need to be with your ‘ain’ folk.
You just need to be human.
There are all different versions on Caledonia available on Youtube, but even though I’ve already posted this one several times it remains my favourite. Enjoy.
I’m on my holidays and finding it hard to stick to my routine of Mon/Wed/Friday posts on History/Travel/Writing. Which is a good thing really, because holidays are a time for stepping back and taking time to look at yourself in the world.
One of my best experiences this trip has been the opportunity to hear Dougie Maclean perform in a tiny village hall in the back-of-beyond Perthshire. For those of you who don’t know of him or his music, if you’ve ever watched the film The Last of the Mohicans and listened to that wonderfully hypnotic music– that’s his. Or how about ‘Caledonia‘, a song that people around the world have taken to their hearts – his ‘loveable monster’ as he calls it – and which one day may become Scotland’s national anthem.
One of the songs he performed the other night was The Scythe Song, a haunting and incredibly wise song about learning, practise and patience.
He told us the story behind it; of how his father, a farmer, was skilled at scything the old-fashioned way, slicing through the wheat which then fell to the ground with a softly whispered hishh. Dougie tried to copy him but was unable to match his father’s skill.
“Oh, this is not a thing to learn inside a day,” his father says in the song. “Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show you the way. You’ve got to hold it right, feel the distance to the ground. Move with a touch so light, until its rhythm you have found. Then you’ll know, what I know.”
The final verse suggests that years later Dougie’s daughter asked him to show her how to play like him. “So little dancing girl you want to learn to play a tune. One that your heart can fill to help you shine under the moon.”
His reply? “Well, it’s not a thing to learn inside a day. Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show the way.”
Then, by changing one single word and adding another, he completes the circle and teaches all of us that, no matter what our passion, whether it’s writing, singing, knitting, sports, building, engineering, science, the answer is the same.
“You’ve got to hold it right feel the distance to the sound Move with a touch so light until its rhythm you have found Then you’ll know what I know now.”