Caledonia

Caledonia is one of those amazing songs that becomes a folk music classic within years of being written (like Green Fields of France, Crazy Man Michael, Fiddler’s Green and Fields of Athenry). It was written by Dougie MacLean in 1977, I believe, and released in 1979 on the album of the same title. It was barely out of nappies before everyone and their piper were performing it.  For 2 reasons:  It’s a fantastic melody; and it has a genuine feeling of longing to the lyrics.  An authenticity that cuts to the heart.

I came to the song quite late.  I’d heard it performed by many people, and loved it, but didn’t have it on my list of “must sing” numbers…mostly because I felt I had enough Scottish repertoire, and more songs about Scottish people missing Scotland were low priority – particularly as I was mostly performing upbeat stuff for pub audiences or else rock-based covers and originals.  I finally learned it about 4 years ago, and coincidently just before I got together with a group of musicians from my local area of Fyn in Denmark.

We drank coffee on Tuesday mornings and played folk music.  Folk music is a broad term, and – as we came from very different musical backgrounds –  we took material and inspiration from everything from Americana to Irish trad and from blues to ballads.  Suddenly there was a place that Caledonia belonged, and I can’t remember who suggested it.  But I had been playing it the same as Douglie MacLean’s original: in open C tuning, but with a capo on the 6th fret (as opposed to Dougie’s 4th) so that I was singing in G.

Doing it this way in a band set up meant either tuning the guitar or having an extra guitar handy, and that was too much effort, so I made a version in standard tuning, with captures the essence of the song (hopefully) though without those lovely open string timbres.  This has become my “go to” version, as it means I can seamlessly throw the song in at solo gigs without a major retune before and after…and this is then the version I have played on the following video.