If you were to conduct a street poll asking Joe Public to name Scottish bands you would no doubt get the likes of The Proclaimers, Wet, Wet, Wet and possibly even the Bay City Rollers. I have a sneaking suspicion though that well down that list, if there at all, would be Runrig – which is a travesty.
Runrig have been providing us with anthemic, rousing rock for the past 43 years and have gone about their business with little fuss. During arguably their most commercially successful period of the late 80’s and early 90’s the band played huge gigs and had the odd Top Of The Pops mention but they never really courted the press and the hype surrounding the band at that time, mostly they let the music do the talking.
The band have always had a loyal core following, though, which leads to gigs selling out almost instantly when announced and album releases are eagerly anticipated. The band’s latest release ‘The Story’ is the first in 6 years and it was well worth the wait as was this tour. With the inevitable ‘Sold Out’ signs on the door it looked like the faithful were keen to hear the new material in the live setting.
After a bit of a delayed entry into the Usher Hall I was greeted with support act James McKenzie in full flight. In fact by the time I got to my seat he and keyboard player Chris Gorman had the whole of the hall singing along to one of his songs, a good sign.
James is a singer songwriter from Inverness and by his own admission is more used to playing in a bar with 60 people throwing things at him than playing a venue the stature of the Usher Hall.
Judging by the reaction tonight that may be about to change as he went down a storm and following his last number ‘The Boat’ he got a rousing send off from the crowd. If he gets the same reaction on the rest of the tour, and I have no reason to doubt it, then he could be heading out of the pub circuit sooner rather than later.
43 years ago Runrig started out in similar circumstances playing the dancehalls along the west coast of Scotland. Rory Macdonald joked at one point during the show about his father telling him and brother Calum to get real jobs, thank goodness they ignored his advice!
It has been well publicised that the current album will be the band’s last studio release, as to the future of the band itself that is less clear. So tonight the crowd were there to celebrate the long career of the band and ensure that if this proves to be the last tour they would send them off in style.
The band chose to open proceedings with two new numbers ‘Onar’ and ‘The Years We Shared’ and judging by the reaction the faithful had not only listened to nothing else since the album’s release two weeks earlier, but fully approved of the new material. In a well-balanced set though it was the back catalogue tracks which got the bums off seats and had them dancing in the aisles.
The first of these was the rousing ‘Pride Of The Summer’ which was followed by ‘Harvest Moon’, a track that had been missing from the set list for many years. Another new track ‘Rise And Fall’ followed complete with images of World War One troops and poppy fields which added atmosphere to the proceedings. The video screen at the rear of the stage was used to good effect throughout the night showing dramatic scenes of the Scottish landscape and video effects which enhanced the visual package.
The classics kept coming with the crowd singing along as one especially at the start of ‘Every River’ with singer Bruce Guthro happy to let the masses take the lead. Guthro then had his moment in the spotlight with a solo rendition of ‘In Search Of Angels’, it is easy to forget that Bruce has now fronted Runrig for nearly 20 years and his laid back vocal style perfectly suits songs both new and old.
We were then transported back to the roots of the band with ‘Where The Rivers Run’, a song about the early days when the band were trailing round the dancehall circuit in a beaten up Transit van. All the band gathered at the front of the stage for a rousing rendition. Following that guitarist Malcolm Jones had a chance to shine cranking out some fantastic guitar work accompanied by Calum Macdonald and Iain Bayne on drums, I am sure I even heard a bit of George Thorogood in there at one point.
By now we were nearing the end of the set with ‘Only The Brave’, ‘Alba’ and ‘Skye’ bringing the main set to a close and raising the temperature in the hall to boiling point. The first encore brought things down a level but was no less intense as the band played another new track ‘When The Beauty’ which shows the spiritual and ethereal side of Runrig with Rory Macdonald providing a heartfelt vocal.
The pace was upped once again with a rocking version of ‘Clash Of The Ash’ before the stirring sound of ‘Loch Lomond’ brought things to climactic end, by this time anyone who had a voice left just wasn’t trying! Just to ensure those vocal chords were completely shot a quick unaccompanied chorus of ‘Hearts Of Olden Glory’ closed another fantastic show.
The question on everyone’s mind though was had we witnessed one of Runrig’s final shows? By Bruce Guthro’s admission during the set even the band can’t decide on what lies beyond this tour and a couple of summer shows.
The answer though may lie in the final bars of ‘Loch Lomond’ when Malcolm Jones teasingly played a chorus of the old Scottish song ‘We’re No Awa Tae Bide Awa’, fingers crossed they will ‘aye come back and see us’.
Review by David Wilson
Photos by Iain Scott
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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