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.