There are your bog standard record and DVD releases and there are special events that are accompanied by the release of CD’s and DVD’s (not forgetting Blue Ray format, digipak and coffee table book - all that’s missing is a limited edition Sporran) and which are trumpeted in this case by a cinema release of the film made of the final two end of an era shows by the Scottish group and Highland treasure, Runrig. I always think it’s tempting fate to announce retirement concerts; rather like the final days of a sale, they can come around again…and again (hello Status Quo!) as performers realise that reading the Sunday paper doesn’t have the same allure as standing on stage in front of adoring fans.
However, in this case, after 45 years together and 14 albums under their belt the original members have earned the right to stand down, although if the excellently edited (no less than 30 cameras were used to capture the special event) concert footage is anything to go by there is plenty of life left in the old dogs yet. The concerts, played out picturesquely in the shadow of Stirling Castle in front of a total of 52,000 hardcore fans and featuring a total of 31 career spanning songs were clearly emotional occasions. The music Runrig played (that sounds horribly final) was a kind of full on unique mixture of Gaelic Folk and stadium Rock. The Folk influence meant that the subject matter of their songs had an emotional depth and range that made them stand out from the average bunch of Rockers and their Rock influences provided the power to wow large audiences around the world.
While founding members Rory and Calum McDonald provide the heart of the band (not to mention the songs) the excellent guitar work of long time member Malcom Jones shines across these tracks (particularly during ‘On the Edge’ which is a beautiful instrumental that sounds like a subdued Jeff Beck covering the Theme From ‘Local Hero’), most of which have an anthemic, rousing quality which is displayed from opening track ‘The Years We Shared’ with its thumping drums, ringing guitar and synth lines, onwards. The following track ‘Protect & Survive’ epitomising their sound, Big Country style guitar lines and a big sing-a-long chorus that the audience joined in with gusto.
Sitting on the top of the music are the powerful, excellent vocals of Bruce Guthro, the Nova Scotian singer (whose transatlantic twang is a little disconcerting at first) who joined the band in 1999 following the departure of original vocalist Donnie Munro, who makes an emotional re-appearance on these two nights accompanied by the Glasgow Islay Choir on a lovely rendition of ‘Cearcal A’ Chuain’. Various guest musicians appear throughout these tracks, the addition of sax on ‘Onar’ giving the band an oddly Gaelic E Street band vibe. The duet with Julie Fowlis on ‘Somewhere’ is another highlight. There isn’t a duff track across the entire 3 CD collection (or two CD’s if you are a lightweight fan!) and by the time the collection finishes with fans’ favourite finisher ‘Loch Lomond’ followed by a rousing version of ‘Hearts of Olden Glory’ you’ll wish you had been there, unsuccessfully holding back the tears. A classic live album and film that for many will be an essential purchase.