Music review: Runrig, City Park, Stirling

Runrig, City Park, Stirling, 18 August 2018. PIC: John Devlin
Runrig, City Park, Stirling, 18 August 2018. PIC: John Devlin
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And so it all came to an end; here, on the flat farm fields of Falleninch, under the spectacular glare of an illuminated Stirling Castle and in front of 45,000 fans who had gathered from all around the globe to witness The Last Dance – Runrig’s swansong after 45 years as one of Scotland’s most enduring and inspiring groups.

Runrig, City Park, Stirling ****

A band that put Highland issues at the heart of their music, who reinvigorated Gaelic culture, and who could make the local universal, Runrig took their folk-infused rock from the village halls of their native Skye to Top of the Pops and Times Square. Saying goodbye was never going to be easy. And it wasn’t.

You could sense the bittersweetness among the crowd during the first hour of this three-and-a-half-hour epic – the normally upbeat singalong of Once in a Lifetime (Protect and Survive) notable by the audience’s slightly muted response. Flags, normally waved high and proud, were limited to small flapping Saltires as that the organisers didn’t want them obscuring the filming of the concert. Even the band members took it in turn to bid their personal farewells to fans as the grey clouds overhead began to darken. It was all turning into a bit of a wake.

Then it all changed. The dancing, sporadic by this point, started to rapidly infect others nearby. Flags (Welsh, English and Danish among them) became more noticeable. Folk found their singing voices: smiles of sadness turned to wide grins of celebration as classic Runrig songs - Rocket to the Moon, Dance Called America, Skye - were received like long lost friends. We were on our way.

Guest instrumentalists came and went, flames occasionally shot out from the front of the stage and the band couldn’t resist an accordion-led version of A-Ha’s Take On Me. It was that kind of night now: fun.

Later, Calum Macdonald and Iain Bayne got funky with the snare drums upfront, while now and then guitarist Malcolm Jones took the chance to live out his AC/DC and Led Zeppelin fantasies. Rory Macdonald sweated out every bass-line with steely determination, while Canadian vocalist Bruce Guthro looked on with a mixture of pride and disbelief.

Then it was over. Loch Lomond – the band’s perennial closer – echoed out across the night sky for the last time as fans sang, hugged and cried. It was the end they hoped would never come. True loves they’ll never meet again. Or will they...?