In the second part of this interview, the veteran performer discusses his virtual gigs and adapting to the new normal
Collaborations and moving live streamed gigs through different areas of his home and garden are ideas being considered by singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean as possible future innovations that could help him stay connected with fans, even post-lockdown. As the COVID-19 crisis lockdown enters its sixth week, the veteran performer has had to learn new skills quickly and invent 'roadies' in order to stream live to hundreds of thousands from his home in lieu of hitting the road on tour or staging shows nearby. And, as other platforms and performers look to harness technology and look to the future, so too is the man who in the past has already found ways to press his own records, founded his own record label and butterstone.tv channel.
Dougie, who is on a run of 23 virtual gigs so far this week, says, 'These things are technically possible, but you need a crew and that's where we had a problem. I wanted to use a backing track and my son Jamie had to come over with the rubber gloves and mask and we had to vacate the place and disinfect the place after him. Jenny presses two or three buttons and it all happens automatically; we don't have cameramen, we don't have sound guys or any of that stuff. That's where Mr Potato Head came from; I needed a character to frame up the cameras and focus them, I needed a fake person with his guitar. You don't realise how much a film crew is doing until you have to do it on your own.
'We wanted to keep it as a concert so it felt like going out to a concert, so you could put the lights out in the house and put it on the big telly. We film it like a concert with the lights and the stage, and I treat it as a concert so people can imagine they are not shut in their house but sitting in a wee club somewhere.'
It's also given him a chance to delve back into his own repertoire of songs and really challenge himself to keep on pushing the boundaries of his art. 'I decided on the second or third night I'm going to try and not repeat myself.' He explains. 'I've got a huge catalogue of songs and it would be a lovely thing in my own controlled environment to do some of these songs that I would never do if the audience was actually sitting in the room, which is a very strange feeling. There's something about the separation that actually allows me to take a wee bit of a gamble with older songs and things like that.
'I've been enjoying that bit for myself because I've been going into my old back catalogue and old songs and trying to do them. I'm up to about 80 or 90 of my own songs that I've written now; we're bound to run out at some point.'
The adjustments to his music will, he thinks, be indicative of changes in society as everyone tries to come to terms with the new world as we know it. 'It's not easy because it's just me or Jenny,' he says. 'We put ourselves into real isolation because I'm that bit older. My kids deliver the food to us. Jenny presses the buttons. I'm looking at what I do and I think it will be a long way off before I'm going around doing concerts. That will be one of the last things that are allowed just because of the gathering of people.
'I'm at a stage of my life where I was slowing down travelling anyway; I was winding that side of things down, doing it in a more relaxed way. I don't know what will happen to the touring side of what I do, I'll just have to wait and see how it all pans out. I enjoy doing concerts and I enjoy the travelling. But now I have found another way of doing it as I become an older musician. I have my old school and I can do the odd wee concert from there. It's quite reassuring to know that I can keep in touch with all the lovely people who have been coming to my concerts for the last 45 years, who have been paying for the tickets and feeding my children and meet new fans on the journey. It's been one positive thing for me to come out of this nightmare.'
'One of the things I've noticed is everything is much slower,' he continues. 'I didn't realise how fast life had become since I grew up as a rural kid, how hectic and manic and fast. I think people will look at it and will slow their lives down. People's priorities will change and they'll realise they probably don't need as much as they thought they did to be happy. It will change everything, or at least I like to think so, because it was beginning to get a bit out of control. The speed that humanity is operating at was getting unsustainable and I think people will have to look at that.
'I'm sure there are a lot of songs being written and tunes getting made – maybe all a bit depressing – a dearth of depressed songs. For me, though, it would be something to do with the simplicity of life, the beauty of the simplicity of life and making sure that people would actually recognise that. For example, I've not seen my grandchildren and I really miss them; it's just a very simple little thing. But it's all these little things that you take for granted when life's normal that when you get into a crisis like this you realise how important and how special they are.'