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Precious Years

Not so simple

The band's next move was to release a single,and in late 1982,they recorded a new Version of the traditional ballad,,,Loch Lomond", with Chris Harley -who'd enjoyed a successful career in the 70s as ,Chris Rainbow' - as producer. Issued by Ridge in January 1983, the 45 climbed to No.72 in the national charts, immediately rompting cries from some quarters that they'd sold out.They hadn't, of course; all they'd done was enlarge their audience slightly,especially in Scotland,where many Lowlanders were still unaware of their existence. Sadly, England still remained oblivious to the Runrig phenomenon.With all this activity, it became clear that the group needed a manager, so they approached an old friend, Marlene Ross, who agreed to offer her business services free of charge. However, this didn't stop Runrig entering into a dangerous liaison with Myles Cooney and Roger Ferdinand, a pair of hot-shots who traded under the name of Top Concerts,and who booked them on a Scottish tour in February 1983 that netted the princely sum of £70. Needless to say, that particular relationship didn't last very long.More touring in Scotland and Europe followed,before the band made possibly their worse ever mistake-signing to Simple Records, a London-based label which looked as if it might have the clout to break the group nationally. lnstead,Simple nearly broke Runrig themselves.The band had been introduced to the label in March 1984 by Myles Cooney, who considered Simple's boss, Gordon Simpson, to be a ,,genuine guy". Simpson appeared to like Runrig, and offered the band a five-year contract, which they duly signed in May. The following month, the group were booked into a London studio to record a single, ,,Dance Called America", written about an l8th century aristocratic jig celebrating the leaving of British peasants for the new land. On hearing the finished song a couple of weeks later,Simpson decided that the track needed remixing.The job was given to producer David Lawrence, who discovered that the master tapes had been stretched during the first mix-down, causing the rhythm guitar parts to go out of tune. The band were astonished, but before they could take any action, the single was released on 7" and 12". It flopped completely. To placate the by-now-angry band, Simple suggested that they record another single. The song chosen was ,,Skye", which was taped in September with Horslips producer Alan O'Duffy. Strangely, the sessions were terminated before the final drum tracks were laid down. Runrig wondered why - only to find out the answer a few weeks later when Simple presented them with the finished single, complete with synthesized rhythm parts.The band were shocked and angry, but could do nothing, as contractually Simple had the final say in what was released. So, in December 1984, the 45 was issued - but with the B-side, the traditional air ,,Hey Mandu", wrongly credited to the MacDonalds.To Runrig's surprise, ,,Skye" did quite well, jumping from No. 200 to No. 108 in the first week of its release, despite virtually no promotion. A week later, it was removed from the list altogether, after Gallup had suspected Simple of chart-rigging. Runrig - to whom integrity is everything - were furious, embarrassed and deeply hurt. A band with less resolve would have packed it in there and then.,,It put us out of business, both legally and financially." says Calum. ,,In truth, there was nothing much we could've done at any point of the Simple scenario. They had the rights over the final recordings and we couldn't get out of it. And we`ll never know the real truth about the rigging." But the band forged on. Fortunately, Simple folded immediately after the ,,Skye" catastrophe, though not before selling off the rights to four of their songs -,,Skye", ,,Na H-Uain A's t-Earrach" and a version of ,,Lifeline" - all of which later appeared on AIba Records' ,,A Feast Of Scottish Folk: Volume One" (ALBA 001). Runrig decided their next move should be to revive Ridge Records, so they set about raising £40,000 from various banks to finance a new album. Via a succession of small loans,Runrig secured enough money to piece together ,,Heartland" at Castlesound over the summer, while a tour of Denmark with heroes Fairport Convention helped to line their severely depleted coffers.

Back to Heartland

When "Heartland" appeared in February 1986, it was immediately proclaimed a masterpiece, though again, there were murmurings from the purists, this time because there were only four Gaelic language tracks. The previously Runrig-friendly "West Highland Free Press" was particularly vocal, attacking the band's move towards the English language in a vitriolic review. But luckily, the public liked the album, which was evidently ,bigger' in its sound and scope than their previous offerings,and which, in "Lifeline", "Dance Called America" and "Skye", had a triumvirate of solid, emotive folk rock masterpieces. Runrig looked set to become an older, more rootsy version of Big Country - a fact underscored by the addition of ex-Big Country keyboardist Peter Wishart on the depauture in February 1986 of Richard Cherns.Following the critical success of "Heartland",Runrig embarked on a string of London gigs in April 1986, and it was before one of these dates that the band heard that their erstwhile accordianist,Robert MacDonald,had died of cancer-at the age of 32.It was an emotionally draiting time for the band, but they pressed on, appearing at several summer festivals at home and abroad, before returning to the studio in October to record a new single. The resulting 45,"The Work Song", a sentimental ballad about a young Scot desperately looking for work, failed to generate much interest, and to this day, the band still have thousands of copies tucked away under their beds. Runrig kicked off 1987 with a barnstorming performance at the BBC's special Hogmanay concert, which set the tone for what was arguably the pivotal year of their career. With money coming in from numerous festival appearances and foreign tours, Ridge were able to finance a new album, though the finished product didn't surface until November, by which time Runrig had supported U2 at Murrayfield rugby stadium, on a bill that also included the Pogues, the Mission and Love And Money.On its release, the sumptuous, uptempo ,,The Cutter And The Clan" LP provoked an electric response from the music press, with the two Gaelic tracks, ,,Alba" (later lifted as a single) and ,,An Ubhal As Airde", inviting particular praise. ,,lt got a lot of good reviews and the whole thing just took off," recalls Calum."The flat from which I ran Ridge just couldn't cope anymore. We thought it was sensible to sign to a major record company, and we were in a good position to negotiate, because we already had a product that was selling weil."As expected, Gaelic purists tut-tutted Runrig's continuing drift into the mainstream but, for the most part, their audience was excited by the splash the band were making. In London, record company cheque books were twitching, and with more than 30,000 copies of ,,The Cutter..." selling before Christmas 1987, Virgin offered the band a contract. The deal fell through, but in the summer 1988, Chrysalis stepped into the breach, signing the band internationally, and immediately reissuing ,,The Cutter...", promoted with a single, ,,Protect And Survive".From that point on, Runrig were big-time, signing on with the Solo booking agency in London, and playing enormous gigs from Glasgow to Skye and from Cardiff to London -many of them with Chris De Burgh,who they supported in November. To celebrate their status as a major live draw, and to generally keep up the momentum, Chrysalis issued a live album, the moody, emotional ,,Once In A Lifetime", most of which bad been recorded at Glasgow Barrowlands earlier that year.

Pinned to The Big Wheel

In 1989, having sold out the Dominion Theatre in London, their first full-house at a major London venue, the band set about recording a new album, ,,Searchlight", at Great Linford Studios near Milton Keynes. lt proved to be a hard record to make, though the results pleased Chrysalis - if not all the die-hard fans.One criticism levelled at the LP,which appeared in October 1989, was that the ,Gaelicness' of the record had been diluted, though, in fairness, it contained two highly engaging Gaelic songs,"Tir A' Mhurain" and ,,Siol Ghoraidh", whose pithy poeticism still seemed to cry "no sell out". And in the autumn, ,,Searchlight" spawned two very strong singles in the rousing, Big Country-ish ,,News From Heaven" and the slow, anthemic ,,Every River", both of which failed to chart. ,,I must say,I do like ´Searchlight´," admits Calum."It`s a collection of songs-maybe more so than the other albums.It takes you years to get an album out of your system once you've written and recorded it" At the end of 1989, Runrig started work on an autobiographical documentary, ,,City Of Lights". lt was a high-quality, sensitive and beautifully shot affair, and having been screened on TV in April, it was issued on video. By Christmas 1989, no fewer than 50,000 copies had been sold, earning the tape a platinum award.After 1990's stop-gap ,,Gapture The Heart" EP,which just crept into the Top 50, Runrig retired to Castlesound to record ,,The Big Wheel", a ,concept album' of sorts, designed to put the whole Gaelic experience into perspective. With songs ranging from the plaintive, moody ,,Headlights" to the snaking, surging title-track, with stops in between for several moments of pure, beautiful sadness (,,Abhainn An t-Sluaigh" and ,,I'll Keep Coming Home"), ,,The Big Wheel" exceeded their own, and everybody else's expectations, usurping ,,Recovery" as Runrig's finest album to date. To coincide with its release, in June 1991, the group headlined the Loch Lomond Mid-summer concert. This event attracted a 40,000-strong crowd,eager to see Scotland's biggest live attraction for years, playing along-side capable support acts the Hothouse Flowers, the Fat Lady Sings and the Big Dish.For Runrig, this mammoth outdoor gathering confirmed their status as Scottish superstars, even though most Englishmen had yet to hear of them. Incidentally, two songs from their performance,,,Pride Of The Summer" and ,,Loch Lomond", turned up on their robust ,,Hearthammer" EP, issued two months later, while their live video, ,,Wheel In Motion", released in August 1991, includes some live Loch Lomond footage.Following the release of the ,,Flower Of The West" 45 in November 1991, Runrig returned to the studio to work on their most recent album, the finely-crafted ,Amazing things", which surfaced in April 1993. Boasting powerful, folky anthems like the singles ,,Wonderful" and ,,The Greatest Flame", the LP shows that,while Runrig have become slower, more rounded, more thoughtful, they've yet to forsake their penchant for a moving lyric or their ear for a beautiful melody. And with Runrig touring England as I write, it shouldn't be too long before they're a house-hold name in tbis country. ,,Actually, I don't think we'll ever break through in the U.K singles market," admits Calum. "I dont think we're that sort of band. We're a band who sell albums on the strength of our live performances.But we're quite happy with that." ,,A lot of people have latched onto Gaelic because of Runrig," he continues, ,,which is nice, and we're all very happy about it and dead proud of it. But we don't want to be politicians in any way, because I think that would detract from what we're doing with the music." And if that's not a subtle victory for Gaeldom, then what is?

Taken from The Record Collector,December 1993

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