IF JAMIE MacDougall’s musical brain were a working jukebox you would assume that this Glasgow-made Wurlitzer has taken a severe dunt.

The output of the famous tenor, as we know from his 30 years on the world’s opera, baroque and symphony stages with the likes of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, most often features the classics, from Handel to Schubert.

Right now, however, the cultural sound emerging from MacDougall is something very different. And decidedly lowbrow.

The singer, who has graced the stages of Salzburg and the Sydney Opera House, is currently spouting lyrics featuring a man called Jock who can’t stop tickling people. He’s talking up his devout heterosexuality with I Love A Lassie and professing an even deeper love for Roaming In The Gloaming (whatever gloaming is). And he’s extolling the delights of A Wee Deoch-an-Doris, (the drunk driver’s lament?).

Yes, MacDougall, for some reason, has fallen in love with the music of Harry Lauder and is set to perform Jimmy Logan’s musical biography as part of the Celtic Connections extravaganza. Which begs the question; what the Bach are you thinking, Jamie? You’re Proms In The Park. You’re the Royal Albert Hall. Lauder was a turn-of-the-century music hall act, a panto performer. A turn.

Instead of performing lung-bursting arias in a sedate dinner jacket you’re going to carry a cromach and dress up in a kilt – and wear a hat more plumed than any Wildean duchess ever wore. Isn’t starring as the five feet-four-inch warbler stooping a bit low?

MacDougall, sitting in a comfy chair in a dressing room in a quiet corner of the RSNO building in Glasgow, smiles and offers a soft, unapologetic voice. “My love for Harry Lauder goes back to when I was 10 and I was taken to the King’s Theatre (in Glasgow, in 1976) by my grandpa, Uncle Willie and Aunt Elsie to see Jimmy Logan appear as Lauder. I loved the songs. They were catchy, and the recording was bought for me and I learned all of them.

“Many years later I took my wife to see Jimmy’s [revived] performance and decided I wanted to bring back his play. Luckily, I managed to get hold of the script from Jimmy’s widow, just before she died.”

Yet, Lauder was a performer who sold tartan kitsch to the world, Jamie. You’re playing a joke character once “despised” by the great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who believed that Lauder corrupted the working classes by reinforcing stereotypes, such as that of the Scot who would start a fight in an empty hoose. "Lauderism," thundered MacDiarmid, "has made thousands of Scotsmen so disgusted that they have gone to the opposite extreme and become, or tried to become, as English as possible."

Lauder was indeed seen by many as an Uncle Tom Scot, a performer who helped colonial England keep Scotland subdued by claiming Scots were parsimonious, and sustained by zealous Presbyterianism. "Lauderism is, of course, only the extreme form of those qualities of canniness, pawkiness and religiosity which have been foisted upon the Scottish people by insidious English propaganda," the poet argued.

Comedy legend Stanley Baxter wasn’t keen on the image Lauder projected to the world. He believed Lauder to be "phoney baloney," and "a man who sang of his granny’s heilan hame and the mountains and glens yet never lived north of Rutherglen."

For god’s sake, Jamie. Lauder’s Christian name wasn’t even Harry. It was Henry. Doesn’t Stanley have a point?

MacDougall listens to the anti-Lauder argument but maintains his musical head hasn’t been bumped at all. “Lauder’s story is a classic rags-to-riches tale,” he enthuses. “I had to tell it. When you learn of his life you can’t not wish to perform as this incredible man.”

Lauder’s backstory is certainly fascinating. Born in 1870, his early widowed mother had seven children to look after at their home in Hamilton. Young Henry found himself working part-time from the age of 11 in a flax mill, going on to become a miner, a working life which at the time almost guaranteed early death.

But Lauder was a natural performer. He entered local singing contests and won out, gradually taking to the professional stage. By the age of 24 he was making enough to leave the mines behind for ever. “Lauder was a success in London as a music hall act and in 1905 became a panto star at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow, where he sang the likes of I Love A Lassie,” says MacDougall. “There’s no doubt he was a star in the making.”

By 1911, Lauder was the highest-paid performer in the world, and the first British artist to sell a million records (by 1928 he had sold double that.) He worked for 40 years and travelled to performances in the US more than 20 times.

But what of the tartan Uncle Tom argument, Jamie? What of the tiny, tammie-wearer selling a Brigadoon version of Scottishness, dished up in a dour, stingy wee face?

“You have to consider that the criticism that came in his direction was perhaps down to sour grapes by some,” says MacDougall, without mentioning MacDiarmid specifically. “And they chose to forget the fact that Lauder was a music hall man. He wasn’t some high-falutin’ intellect. He began his performance career as a comedian, and he’d take on lots of different characters; he was also an Irishman, an Englishman.”

So his Scotsman was a character he came up with? “Oh, yes. And if he had been upsetting people [with his caricature] it didn’t show in his record sales or the size of his audiences in Canada or America or New Zealand. Lauder was very much in on the joke.”

Expats, even Anglos, MacDougall says, were all too keen to remember the Auld Country in an idealised way, dreaming of Scotland’s warm, cosy crofts and being knee-deep in beautiful heather. Who, after all, wants to recall urban squalor, Highland clearances and sectarianism?.

Yet, there is another reason to explain Lauder’s success. Scots at home are more than happy to make fun of themselves. While Stanley Baxter is quick to point out Lauder’s paradoxical life his own early stage and TV success owed much to his laughing at the Scots character, either via the Glaswegian dialect in his brilliant Parliamo Glasgow parodies or his front cloth variety sketches in which he played the pretentious lower middle class women from Kelvinside or Morningside.

Billy Connolly also milked our social mores dry, as did Rikki Fulton, highlighting our national dourness with IM Jolly. And the Chewin’ The Fat pairing of Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill successfully carried on where Baxter left off in translating Glaswegian into English via their courtroom interpretations. “I’m sure that the Scots who went along to see Lauder perform were laughing at themselves,” says MacDougall. “They were in on it. And just look at the success Rab C Nesbitt achieved. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and I think that’s a really healthy thing.”

Even the Alexander Brothers' tartan show was invented out of necessity, when the pair failed to make it as a modern-day act. Yet, MacDougall adds there are more reasons to love Lauder. The entertainer, he argues, was not a one-trick pony. He could tell jokes, he could play Dame in panto. And he went on to appear in movies alongside Charlie Chaplin.

But the tenor also sings the praises of the depth of character of the man. Lauder had been a poster boy for the First World War effort – like Vera Lynn was for the Second World War – entertaining the troops in Europe. “This period was all about King and Country.” About patriotism? “Yes.” One of Lauder’s greatest hits was the rally cry Keep Right On To The End of the Road. ‘If these German savages want savagery, let them have it!’ Lauder once declared.

Yet, Lauder repositioned his thoughts on war and its human cost after his son, the Cambridge-educated Captain John Lauder, was killed in action in 1917. Harry Lauder launched a scheme to raise money for the care of ex-servicemen, a £1m charity fundraiser that recalls the more recent Live Aid efforts. Erskine Hospital in Renfrewshire was a huge beneficiary. When Lauder was raising money for the fund, he was recorded talking about, ‘the thought of a soldier reduced to selling matches or laces on the street makes me wish my son never died for his country’. You can hear his pain.

Lauder took off to Hollywood to beat Americans into surrendering cash and he received ticker tape parades and vast amounts of money. His efforts saw him knighted. To this day Erskine Hospital still receives funds raised from his royalties.

Harry Lauder was knighted for his charity work in 1919. Indeed, Sir Winston Churchill described Lauder as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador."

But if Sir Harry Lauder was a man of contradictions, who sang of little but n’ bens while living in a Dunoon mansion (which he called Laudervale), it seems appropriate he should be played by someone of a similarly paradoxical life. Jamie MacDougall grew up in Dennistoun in Glasgow’s east end which, 53 years ago, offered little more occupational variety potential than work in the local Mother’s Pride factory. Yet he became a classical musician.

MacDougall explains his father was a joiner and his mother a medical secretary but life changed dramatically when the family moved in with his grandfather, after his grandmother died. “My Grandpa, who besides working as a builder, was a fabulous tenor with a range from Scots songs to Wagner.” Grandpa could have made it in London as a tenor with the likes of D’Oyly Carte opera company but family commitments stop that happening.

Back in Glasgow, five year-old Jamie would sing Panis Angelicus around the piano with his Grandpa, and already knew he would become a tenor. MacDougall later took up the violin, was accepted into the music school at Douglas Academy and became the first student there to specialise in voice. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) and a postgraduate at London’s Guildhall followed.

Since 2001 MacDougall has been the nation's voice of classical music for Radio Scotland, and in 2003 he made his first television appearance when he presented and sang at the BBC Proms in the Park from Glasgow. His success is pronounced. Yet life hasn’t been kept apart from disaster. A serious car accident threatened to end his career just as it was beginning. “It was only a chance meeting with an osteopath who told me my spine had been put out of alignment badly,” he recalls.

MacDougall couldn’t perform hugely demanding opera. Meantime, he had had two children with his Mexican wife Susy, whom he met in 1990 at the International Youth Festival in Aberdeen. MacDougall simply had to keep working. “I set up Caledon [his three tenors project] with friends, which offered the harmony, [resulting in less pressure on his voice.] There wasn’t the expectation that comes with the likes of a Lieder recital. We could just go out there and entertain and the classical world wasn’t peering at me.”

But he admits a terror that his powerful tenor voice would never return. “If it hadn’t been for Susy I wouldn’t have kept going,” he says in soft voice. “And what also helped was I listened to music at the time, thankfully I was still connected thanks to the classical music programme I was presenting.”

Gradually the powerful voice returned to the operatic stage. However, right now he’s rehearsing Lauder’s populist, very simple little tunes. MacDougall says his personal jukebox was never built on snobbery. He loves Roy Orbison, Elvis. Michael Buble. “And I like Louis Capaldi. And Simple Minds.” Really? How does he rate Jim Kerr as a singer? “Well, he’s a great frontman, and I’m a friend of Derek Forbes [the Minds’ bass player] so I suppose my opinion is tainted,” he says, diplomatically.

His Lauder tour is playing small theatres and he hopes to take the songs into Scottish schools. For the man who’s played Sydney Opera House isn’t this like Rod Stewart appearing in a basement bar in Brora? “Well, it may be small in scale but it’s huge in commitment,” he says, grinning. “And I love a challenge. I’ve had to learn complete songs in German, and I’ve performed since I was five. No matter what the venue.”

He adds, laughing: “I once put together a tribute to Kenneth McKellar and toured it around Scotland. One night in Plockton we played to an audience of 12 people. But I still gave my show.”

MacDougall can’t wait to bring Harry Lauder back to life. He knows the play offers a real acting challenge, a gripping bitter-sweet story that doesn’t shy away from darkness. (Lauder’s wife Nance died young, and he was bereft.) It’s also the chance to play a hugely charismatic man who played out a caricature, while offering a knowing nod to the audience.

But MacDougall is also tickled pink to be singing the likes of Stop Your Tickling Jock. “And there are a few changes of kilt on stage to please the audience,” he adds, laughing, with an enthusiasm that’s entirely infectious. “Beyonce, at least, gets to go off stage.”

MacDougall sells Lauder almost as well as Lauder sold Lauder. “I hope so, because I believe in this great entertainer. His is a life that can’t be forgotten.”

Jamie MacDougall: Lauder, The Tron Theatre, Glasgow, January 22.