Runrig’s Party on the Moor
Black Isle Showground
Muir of Ord
"WHO would have thought it?" Manran’s Gary Innes asked as he warmed up the ground for the main event.
"The north of Scotland, dry. At a Runrig gig."
As long term fans of the band know only too well, this has not always been the case.
The last time Runrig attempted a north show on the same scale as Saturday’s 40th anniversary Party on the Moor, 2007’s Beat the Drum, the elements relentlessly battered both stage and audience, though in the best traditions of he business, the show went on.
No such issues at the Party on The Moor, with even the Highlands’ notoriously temperamental climate seeming to co-operate with this rather special birthday celebration. Not a single drop fell at any point during Runrig’s marathon three hour set,
Even if that had not been the case, it would be hard to imagine even the heaviest of rainfall dampening the spirit of the fans. In that 40 year career, Runrig may never have been seen by the music media as a fashionable band, but few Scottish acts have a following as devoted — or far travelled.
Tellingly, among the services provided at the Black Isle Showground were not just cash machines, but a full bureau de change, though the many flags on display from Denmark, Norway, Germany and Sweden were already a good giveaway of the international composition of the 17,000 strong crowd.
"I’ve even heard there are some people here from Dingwall," Rory Macdonald joked early into a set that was introduced with a giant image of an ancient looking radio and snatches of the music that inspired the young Macdonald brothers, Rory and Calum. Gaelic song blurred into The Beatles before teasing the crowd with little bits of Runrig themselves.
For long term fans, the bumper 26 number set was a treat, drawing on songs from the 1970s to the 2000s, not leaving much room for anything fresh. Only final song of the evening, And We’ll Sing, the band’s latest single, could make a claim to be new.
However, with 40 years to celebrate, the band can be forgiven a backward look, even if most of the elements on the night, including frontman Bruce Guthro attempting to coax the crowd into singing up by slipping a bit ofThe Locomotion into May Morning.
Book of Golden Stories played up the nostalgia element with background images of the band projected onto the big screen, though old favourites like Dance Called America and City of Lights might also have prompted a nostalgic look back.
Singer Julie Fowlis, who had also been on duty earlier in the day as MC for the event, made a guest appearance on the song Faileas Air an Airigh, though her sweetly pure voice was not the most natural fit with Runrig’s rock line-up.
After a crowd-pleasing turn on the drums from Calum, Iain Bayne, keyboardist Brian Hurren and lead guitarist Malcolm Jones, with main stickman Bayne getting mid-solo refreshment from Guthro, it was the turn of the special guest most long term fans had been hoping for.
Following a film clip of Calum and Rory jamming with fellow founder-member accordionist Blair Douglas — sadly the closest the Skye musician made to an appearance on this special night — the band returned to the stage accompanied by former frontman Donnie Munro and launching straight into The Cutter to a predictably resounding cheer.
The band were soon joined by another familiar face in Pete Wishart, who spent 15 years as the band’s keyboard player before following a very different career path as a SNP MP.
It was a historic moment for the band as Runrig’s two lead singers finally combined forces.
"I’ve been 15 years in this position and it’s about time this man and I were on stage together," Guthro declared.
In turn, Munro also seemed delighted to be part of the celebration.
"It was something fantastic that we shared together — thanks for the journey," he said.
Though Canadian-born Guthro has served Runrig well as frontman over the years, Munro’s departure left the band with a lead singer who does not actually sing in Gaelic — always such a vital element of Runrig’s music.
So Munro’s parting gift to the audience, the psalm-like An Ubhal As Àirde, provided a memorable change of pace in a generally upbeat set and made for the most moving moment of the night.
The band sped up again with Rocket to the Moon and Alba, another two songs from 1987 album The Cutter and The Clan — which provided no less than seven songs for the set — before the band made room for an entire pipe band on Pride of the Summer, giving Bayne another opportunity to showcase his solo drumming.
Another old friend, fiddler Duncan Chisholm, joined them for the gentle ballad "Going Home" before the band left the stage, but they were not long in returning for a six set encore.
Inevitably that included Loch Lomond, but aso the band’s bracing Clash of the Ash — surely Runrig are the only band in the world who can combine a song about shinty with a bit of surf guitar? But then, other band's don't have Runrig's quiet guitar wizard Malcolm Jones.
With such a backward looking set, there were no clues to what the future might hold for the band, just the promise that there would be a future.
"We’ve been doing this together for 40 years. I don’t see any reason why we should stop now," Guthro declared.
And for 17,000 Germans, Danes, New Zealanders and Scots in a field in Muir of Ord, that is probably another cause for celebration in itself.