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Issue 26 - Caledon's success is music to the ears

Scotland Magazine Issue 26
April 2006


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Caledon's success is music to the ears

Ihave just returned from Germany where on two successive nights I witnessed 550 Berliners giving a standing ovation to three kilted Scotsmen who had been singing a cross-section of those wonderful and traditional Scottish songs which many Scots here in Scotland tend to dismiss as obsolete.

Having been brought up with the tradition of Harry Lauder, Will Fyfe and Kenneth McKellar, I would disagree intensely with these people, but I have to admit that back in the early 1970s, I laughed as loudly as anyone else when the United Kingdom television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus ran a sketch about Scotsmen being locked up and forced to listen to Moira Anderson records. That sketch did Scotland no favours.

I have been following the fortunes of Caledon – The Scots Tenors (Die Schottischen Tenöre), for more than five years now, performing in front of a 55,000-strong soccer crowd at Hampden Football Stadium, for United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan at the UN Headquarters in New York, as well as Whisky Live in Tokyo, and closing T-in the Park, Scotland’s largest rock and pop festival, but I never expected to see anything like this.

One of the many consequences of the Second World War was that Germany was stripped of its folkloristic traditions. Stirring songs about patriotism and homeland were too closely associated with the Nazi Regime, and although most Germans affectionately remember those songs in the way that we cherish the ballads of Robert Burns and Lady Nairne, they are embarrassed to publicly respond to them.

However, it was an entirely different situation when two of those songs – Kein Shöner Land and Dermond ist auf genganen – were sung by three kilted Scotsmen.

I looked around the audience and, after an initial intake of breath, the applause was rapturous. No, these were not militaristic songs, but ballads about mountains and forests and love. Yet further victims of our world’s obsession with political correctness.

All credit must go to Lutz Deisinger, the artistic director of Berlin’s Tipi Das Zelt and Bar Jeder Vernunft cabaret theatres. He has been a regular visitor at the Edinburgh Festival for 15 years now, and some of the top international performers of the day have honed their talents under his guidance in Berlin. To my mind, he is a genius.

The show he has produced presents Scotland as it deserves to be recognised on a world stage, a spectacle that was not only superbly choreographed and lit, but mercifully free from the plinkety-plunk Celtic indulgences which so often masquerade as de facto Scottish music. Let me say that while Ireland has its traditional music, and splendid it is too. So has Scotland and we must never forget it.

Whereas there is, as there should be, a certain coming together of Irish and Scottish sound, particularly in the west of Scotland and the Gaelic-speaking Hebrides, the two disciplines are entirely different. For a start, Scottish music is far more robust.

Perhaps the problem is that we Scots have in our lifetimes been over-exposed to all those catchy Jimmy Shand accordion sounds and this encourages us to search for something different.

The answer, however, is not to be found in the Celtic connection. Ironically, it is necessary to travel rather further from home to see things from another perspective.

The Italians, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and José Carreras started the trend for collectives of operatically trained singers. Next came music producer Simon Cowell with Il Divo and G4.

However, Caledon is actually carrying on an ambassadorial mission which began in the 18th century. Do not forget that great European composers such as Franz Schubert, Ludvig van Beethoven, and Richard Wagner were profoundly influenced by such classics as Ae Fond Kiss and My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, both from the pen of Scotland’s national bard. All the same, it comes as a shock to hear operatically trained voices belting out Sweet Things are Made of This and I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), and to recognise that these too are ostensively Scottish songs.

What I became aware of in Berlin was the startling contribution which Scotland has made to popular music in recent years. The list includes The Eurythmics, Wet Wet Wet, Rod Stewart, the Proclaimers and Franz Ferdinand.

Singers Alan Beck, Ivan Sharpe and Jamie McDougall, and their musical director Michael Barnett, whose uncle wrote lyrics for some of the theme tunes of the James Bond movies, have taken Berlin by storm.

This is only the beginning. Watch out Riverdance!

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