Dougie MacLean

20th July 2012 at 01:00
The musician's first teacher was his finest as she allowed him and his small group of classmates to learn organically and from each other, too

Because my father worked in service as a gardener, he would get a new job on the big estate and we would change houses and end up in another village school. It was brilliant fun to have a flitting every couple of years, a new house and a new area.

A lot of village schools have closed since then; I bought my first school - Butterstone - about 25 years ago. It was just a one-room village school that we turned into a recording studio and we live in the teacher's house. It was built by the church in the 1870s and used to be used as a preaching station on Sundays. There was a pulpit in the school hidden behind a screen when my father was there, but that had stopped by the time I arrived.

My favourite teacher was Miss Ross - my first teacher. The village only had about 10 houses and we spent a lot of our time outdoors. We learned stuff in a very natural way because she would tell us about things as we came across them, instead of it being abstract.

There were about 30 kids at Butterstone of all ages. It was a brilliant way to be educated, because the older ones helped the young ones and they in turn would be listening when the big ones were being taught and would pick things up almost by osmosis.

I've got photocopies of the original log books for Butterstone and when you get to the 1930s there are mentions of my father and his two brothers. They lived up the mountains and it was a big thing to come across the moors in the winter time, so they didn't always turn up.

Another entry I came across said this kid had been terrible all year and they were going to suggest to the inspector that he be "sent to Mars". I just could not work it out. Then one of the old guys in the village told me that Mars was a borstal ship moored off Dundee, so they were going to send him to the borstal.

My final year of primary I spent at Blairgowrie. That was a huge traumatic change. From the idyllic rural school setting to go to Blairgowrie was a leap and I did not particularly like that. I had to get a bus the eight miles there.

I had a terrible time at senior school. It was something about the school at that time - it just wasn't a very kind school if you were a little bit different.

I remember in sixth year a few of us grew our hair long and they refused to make us prefects because of it. That was hard, because it meant you were left out of the prefects' room. About 10 years ago I was asked back to give out prizes and at the end of the ceremony they presented me with a prefect's badge.

I was quite into art and creative things and remember going to the careers officer and saying I wanted to study art, but he said: "That's not for a boy who's studying physics and chemistry. Engineering's for you." That's how I ended up studying building engineering at college in Dundee. I feel my further education was stolen from me, because I was channeled into something that would get me a job but had nothing to do with my natural talents. I did one year and did not like it. Then, when I was 20, I joined a band called the Tannahill Weavers and I've been a professional musician ever since.

Dougie MacLean will perform at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on 17 August and at his own Perthshire Amber festival, a 10-day music festival based in Dunkeld, from 26 October-4 November. He was speaking to Emma Seith. For details, visit and


Born: Perth, 1954

Education: Butterstone School, Clunie School, Glendelvine School, Blairgowrie Primary and Blairgowrie High, all Perthshire

Career: Musician.

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