A Night of Folk Music at the Perthshire Amber Festival

by Keith Savage · 1 comment

Dougie MacLean Performing at Perthshire Amber

Year after year Scotland brims with traditional folk music festivals from Edinburgh to Orkney, Glasgow to Skye, and many small towns in between. The musical heritage is so rich that no matter the time of year you’re bound to find a music festival near wherever the road takes you.

That’s what happened to me last fall.

An opportunity to visit Perthshire at the peak of autumn colors arose on short notice, and I quickly threw myself into researching how to best fill my week-long visit. I chanced upon a serendipitous discovery — Perthshire Amber, one of Perthshire’s premiere music festivals, totally overlapped with my visit. Perthshire Amber is the brainchild of local musical legend Dougie MacLean, an early member of both the Tannahill Weavers and Silly Wizard and whose solo career is prolific, who founded the festival in 2005 as a two-day musical outing. Over the years it has grown into four-day and 10-day iterations, but last year it returned to the snug four-day schedule with star-studded concerts and events all over central Perthshire from its base in Dunkeld. Perthshire Amber is on hiatus this year, and I’m hoping this post will tide you over until it returns in 2018.

I managed to secure a seat for Dougie’s “Caledonia Cantata” in the beautiful Perth Concert Hall after a busy day of sightseeing Perthshire’s highlights with the Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust. This particular concert wove together several of Dougie’s previous musical suites into a kind of greatest hits alongside the Perthshire Ensemble’s strings and folk music luminaries Ross Ainslie, Jenna Reid, Sorren Maclean, and Iain Sandilands.

Upon arriving to the stage Dougie promptly notified the audience that he was enduring a very high fever and that he would do his best to soldier on. He’s a modest man. Dougie ripped through a dozen songs with his all-star cast, including such hits as Caledonia, Scotland’s alternate national anthem, Ready for the Storm, Turning Away, and a host of wonderful songs from a musical he wrote set in the period when Iron Age met Roman expansion.

This was my first visit to the Perth Concert Hall and I was impressed by the acoustics. Dougie and company sounded wonderful from my position dead center in the hall, and Dougie himself was a consummate musician, perhaps a slight scratch to his voice the only tell that he was locked in flu’s embrace.

During the planned intermission I sipped on some of Dougie’s own Caledonia single malt from Edradour distillery and savored a couple of local chocolates that completed the pairing.

Following the break Dougie launched into some songs, like All Together, that wrapped in audience participation and others that shined the spotlight on his guest musicians. A few of the ballads in Dougie’s emotive voice even brought a tear to my eye.

What more can be said about Dougie? He has earned showers of accolades in his 40+ years as a musician, including being invested as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) and the BBC Radio 2 Folk Award for Lifetime Achievement for Contribution to Songwriting. He is a central figure of the folk music Renaissance that began in Scotland in the 1970s, and he proved with this performance that he still carries the torch.

The “Caledonia Cantata” at the Perth Concert Hall was one of the headlining events of Perthshire Amber 2016, but dozens of smaller events occurred in churches, coffee shops, and pubs from Dunkeld to Pitlochry to Blairgowrie during the festival’s four days. I only had the chance to attend one event, but Perthshire Amber is a great excuse to visit the region for several days in the autumn and take in a full slate of excellent folk music.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings for this great festival.

Disclosure: Perthshire Amber provided me with complimentary access to the concert. All thoughts and opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.

Joanie MurrayNo Gravatar October 27, 2017 at 3:40 PM

How serendipitous! He’s one of my favorites. Glad you were able to see him.

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