Carronshore Burns fanatic Dougie now set for Jakarta tour
Fans of Robert Burns have plenty to look forward to in Falkirk this month, but Carronshore entertainer Dougie Smith is getting as far away from it all as possible.
That’s because - after a surprise booking late last year - he’s heading to the metropolis of Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, for the most prestigious Burns gig of his 25-year careeer.
He has been asked by the Java St Andrew’s Society to fly there to stay for a week in a luxury hotel and entertain dozens of guests at a premier league Burns Supper event.
The 51-year-old, who works for Ineos as his day job, was astounded to get the contract for this prestigious event, even although his name is very well known on the Scottish circuit.
He is now thoroughly looking forward to an evening performance where he’ll be master of ceremonies.
In the run up to Christmas, by contrast, he was performing for free to raise money for local foodbanks - a cause he believes is thoroughly in tune with Burns’ philosophy of helping your fellow man.
While Dougie was still a teenager he learned half of Burns’ epic Tam o’Shanter in a weekend, and went on to immerse himself in Scottish poetry and folk music as the years went on.
Now he is a regular “turn” at events ranging from funerals to weddings, and has considered making his act - “One Man and his Doug” a full time career.
His 28-year-old son Richard is following in his dad’s footsteps with an act called The Ghost of Robert Burns, which he rates highly.
Back on the home pitch, Burns events this year range from the Falkirk Burns Club Annual Celebration on January 24 to special Burns events at venues ranging from Behind the Wall to a Burns social night at Allandale Bowling Club 1929 in Bonnybridge on January 25.
Many more events and activities are likely, from trad Suppers to the Burns-themed beer on offer at Falkirk’s Carron Works pub, part of the huge Wetherspoon chain - called Haggis Hunter, it’s a 4.3 per cent abv cask ale from the highly respected Harviestoun Brewery in Clackmannanshire.
Meanwhile local pupils may be reminded in school that the bard once wrote some sardonic lines about the day he arrived at the town’s Carron Works (the historic iron works, not the pub) only to find it shut.
Some lines penned in reply put him thoroughly in his place - to cut a long story short he hadn’t bothered to find the place was shut on Sundays.
When he revisited the Works he summed up the experience in style: “The blazing furnaces and melting iron realised the description of the giants forging thunderbolts”.
Now a plaque on Falkirk High Street commemorating his visit is one of the town’s most cherished heritage icons.
But isn’t “Burns Night” all a bit of a relic of former times, an elaborate joke about haggis accompanied by antediluvian sexist comments about women?
While Burns has been lionised as a dashing romantic less charitable souls see him as an old-fashioned chauvinist with a Don Juan complex.
Some argue his tragic death at a young age has given him an edge in the posterity stakes which has eluded other hugely talented Scots poets of the same era.
This is heresy to the true believers, of course, but meanwhile - in strictly pragmatic terms - it’s also a fact that the bard is a phenomenal success in straight cash terms.
The great irony is that a man who was perpetually skint (as he may have put it) is now worth more than £200million to the Scottish national economy.
The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway is second only to Shakespeare among UK writers’ museums in its visitor numbers
Professor Pittock of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts said: “More than 250 years after his birth, Robert Burns, his life and work, still holds a huge fascination for a worldwide audience.
“Burns has universal appeal with his work being translated into every single major language including Russian, German, French and Chinese.
“Auld Lang Syne is our New Year anthem and has been performed by everyone from Elvis Presley to Jimi Hendrix”.
Burns Festivals throughout Scotland have an estimated value of £7 million to Scotland’s economy, and spending on Burns-related food and drink is estimated to be £20 million.
The University study contains many proposals for developing the Burns brand much further - even suggesting the new owners of Prestwick Airport should ditch Elvis from the name and adopt Rabbie Burns instead.
Far from being some dull old retro-fad your great-grandad used to enjoy it seems Burnsiana is the Scottish cultural gift that just keeps on giving.
Dougie Smith, and Burns aficianados in Falkirk and across Scotland, will surely raise a glass to that.