Dougie MacLean

Dougie MacLean

Perth Concert Hall

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Lorraine Wilson

four stars

FOR the closing night of this year's Perth Festival, it's tempting to say that Dougie MacLean has returned to his Perthshire roots. In truth, however, he has never left, despite the fact that for the past 40 years he has travelled the world as an ambassador for popular traditional music.

This concert, the Perthshire Cantata, is the debut of new songs, woven into the instrumental Perthshire Amber Suite, which was commissioned by the Festival in 1999.

This was the first performance of these songs and he confessed that he was using notes on an iPad to save himself from any "senior moments".

He was in good supportive hands, however, with the arrangements of John Logan. With universally excellent playing from Ross Ainslie on pipes, whistles and mandolin, Sorren MacLean on guitar and vocals, a guest appearance from Gordon MacLean on double bass, Jenna Reid on fiddle, and Iain Sandilands on percussion, there were also 11 string players of the Perthshire Ensemble to provide the texture and atmosphere that the compositions required.

Any Dougie MacLean performance is about more than the music, however. The communication with the audience is key, particularly family stories, which could as easily be told around a kitchen table with a couple of guitars and a bottle of single malt. It's impossible to avoid being swept along by his enthusiasm.

For many harder line traditionalists, the music might be a little heather-tinged and at times, overly sentimental, but it's obviously heartfelt.

As he tells the audience, his recording studio is in the Butterstone school attended by his father and grandfather, and it's clear that Perthshire is his first love. Festivals like Perth are right to support its own.