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Precious Years


"I think our music is a very spiritual music,very serious music,but very spiritual in a very wide sense...specifically n a Christian sense.I`m personally a Christian.And other than that there are a whole variety of influences." Calum MacDonald



Playing Gaelic

Then,in October 1975,they got their first break when one of Calum and Rory's compositions, ,,Sguaban Arbhair", later to appear on ,Play Gaelic", won second prize in a BBC Gaelic song contest. Encouraged by this success, the MacDonalds spent much of 1976 fashioning a set of original Gaelic language songs, and with the help of occasional band member and ,Sunday Post' journalist Campbell Gunn, eventually secured a one-album deal with Glasgows Lismor Records.In May 1977,while punk blazed in Britain's major cities, Runrig entered Black Gold studios in Kirkintilloch and,with ex-Middle Of the Road members Ken Andrew and lan McCredie at the controls, recorded the magnificent ,,Play Gaelic" LP, the first notable Gaelic-language folk-rock album. ,,We have a lot of feeling for that record, because it was very exciting at the time to do it", remembers Galum. ,,But it was musically naive, and there are many things wrong with it.lt didn't reflect what we were like live- it was very,very tame and the vocals were tentative to the point of being frightened.But one or two of the songs still stand up and are still performed - like ,Chi Mi'n Geamhradh'."With one album track, ,,Tillidh Mi", reaching the final of another song contest, held at the Pan-Celtic Festival in Kilarney that summer, it looked for a moment as if Runrig were in the vanguard of a Gaelic-music revival.But it was not to be: the road to success was going to be more treacherous than they could ever imagine.It was back in Skye, where they were booked for another summer season, that this truth began to dawn. Playing the material from their as-yet-unreleased album to their hometown audience proved a disheartening affair. No-one was interested in the band's own Gaelic compositions: instead they wanted to hear the more customary Pop covers and traditional jigs. Although the band duly hammered these out at the end of their set, the audience still acted as if they'd been a little cheated.Understandably, Runrig felt hurt and misunderstood. After all, it was pride and not vanity that was fuelling their creative engines and, moreover, if Gaelic audiences didn't like their music, then who would? ,,It was too much of a shock for people," says Galum. ,,lt wasn't what they were used to. But if people go to dance, I suppose they want to hear Beatles covers or whatever." If the people of Skye weren't immediately taken with the material on ,,Runrig Play Gaelic", then the critics were. On its release in April 1978, via a folk-rock subsidiary of Lismor's called Neptune,the album drew plaudits from a variety of Scottish newspapers and radio stations, who had been waiting for years for a fresh young band to hoist up the flag of Gaeldom. Not everybody liked it,of course,influential establishments like Radio Highland instantly recognised the album's cultural significance. At last,it seemed,things were moving,and the band decided to turn professional,though in doing so they shed Robert MacDonald,who thought the lifestyle would be too unsettled for his liking.Blair Douglas,now a self-styled "Celt-Punk",was drafted back in as his replacement,while Malcolm Elwyn-Jones,a young guitarist from Skye,was enlisted to free Rory to play the bass.To make ends meet,the band embarked on a period of furious gigging,which ended in late September 1978,when the group were asked to become the resident musicians on Grampian TV`s "Cuir Car",a kind of Gaelic version of "Playschool".Performing various songs and skits,the band didn`t feel wholly comfortable,but the money was too good to turn down.Blair in particular felt he was compromising his status as a musician,and after only three months on the programme,he left.Undetered,Runrig steamed ahead,playing as many gigs as they could to supplement their payments from Grampian.However,by the spring of 1979,Rory and Calum were itching to get back into the studio,though this time they were determined to make a record on their own terms.So,in April 1979,having borrowed 8000 Pounds from the Royal Bank in Portree,the band set up their very own label,Ridge Records,and began writing and rehearsing an LP`s worth of fresh material.Two months later,the group booked themselves into Edinburgh`s Castlesound Studio,where they quickly taped eleven songs,all but three of which were in Gaelic.There then followed a rush to issue the album,titled "The Highland Connection",before the Stornoway Mod,a festival of gaelic music held at the end of the summer.No longer a mere dance band,but now a fully-fledged Gaelic-rock crossover band with attitude,Runrig took this event by storm,creating much-needed publicity for the imminent release of their new LP. When "The Highland Connection" finally reached the shops,in September 1979,it was critically acclaimed in virtually every corner.Whereas "Play Gaelic" had been shackled by a semi-conscious desire not to upset the folk purists,this new album let rip with an unbridled lust to rock,with Malcolm Elwyn-Jones`complex and accomplished guitaring adding a youthful vigour to tracks like "Fichead Bliadhna" and the traditional air,"Gamhna Gealla".At last,it seemed as if Runrig had truly come of age and,on songs like the vintage "Going Home",sentimentality,tradition and 70`s rock sensibilities were made happy and lasting bedfellows.Fortunately,the public responded by buying the album in droves,and within a year,Ridge was in the black-a big boost for the group.

Celt-Mania

By November 1979, the band felt ready to stage a large-scale gig. The 900-seater Eden court Theatre in Inverness was duly booked, and within a few weeks, was almost sold out."It was Beatlemania Celtic style," claimed the local "Press and Journal", whose gushing review concluded:,,Run Rig are the most original band working on the Highland popular music scene." But though the band were making pretty big waves, money was still a problem, and for most of 1980, the band decided to take a step back from it all, and return to working part-time."In fairness, we hadn't been utterly convinced that we could sustain full-time employment from the band,"explains Calum. ,,But we thought we'd try, knowing that we could slip back into part-time employment relatively easily." Other changes were afoot, too. Calum had long since realised that his drumming left something to be desired, so in November 1980,Runrig recruited 20-year-old lain Bayne from folk rock band New Celeste to fill the empty stool, while Calum moved on to percussion.With this new line-up, the group spent the early months of 1981 rehearsing with a vengeance,and wondering how they could raise 15 000Pounds to record a new album. Eventually,John Mayer,an Edinburgh record shop owner,offered to provide half the money - on the understanding that he'd get half of any profits. Somewhat naively,Runrig agreed, and entered Castlesound in the spring to tape "Recovery" .Produced by the Blue Nile's Robert Bell,and engineered by Calum Malcolm, this album captured Runrig in a far mellower mood. Gone were the harsh rock sounds of the "Highland Connection", to be replaced by softer acoustic instruments and an altogether more rounded, warmer feel.Lyrically, however, there was no toning down. If anything, the words on ,,Recovery" were more pointed than ever before, with the title-track itself tackling the subject of civil disobedience in the Highlands in the 1880s,"Tir An Airm" rueing the strong Nato military presence in Scotland and "The Old Boys" telling the tale of Gaelic army colonel Jock MacDonald. Few could argue that Runrig`s early radicalism was waning. To promote the LP, the band set off in the summer of 1981 on a Iengthy tour of the Scottish Islands, taking a new keyboardist,Richard Cherns, with them. By now, Runrig had acquired their own P.A. and lighting rig, so every concert had to pay. Times were hard,but after another sell-out gig at the Eden Court Theatre at the end of the year, and several successful European dates, Runrig decided to go full-time once again - much to the delight, apparently, of the young, success-hungry lain Bayne.
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