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ORAN: A CELEBRATION OF THE SONGS OF RUNRIG - Blas Festival, Inverness - 12 September 2015

The Blas Festival, held every September at various locations throughout the Highlands, regularly culminates in a grand finale concert at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. This year’s concert was extra special, being a Gaelic star-studded show paying homage to the music of Runrig and sold out faster than the proverbial hot cakes. The singers and musicians ranging through generations and performing to a packed audience, equally wide-ranging age-wise, featured Cathy-Ann McPhee, Julie Fowlis and Mànran. A lengthy programme covered both the earlier and later stages of Runrig's long recording career including interpretations of some English as well as Gaelic songs from the Macdonald brothers' vast repertoire.

Standing out in an event of many memorable moments were the performances of earlier songs from Runrig's first album, Play Gaelic. Cathy Ann McPhee, who was one of the first singers to record Runrig's songs, and who was making a rare and welcome visit home from her current residence in Canada, was joined by Julie Fowlis on Cum'ur n'aire, a call to keep hold of one's roots, and was accompanied by Mànran on Chi mi'n Geamhradh, a tune which has been covered instrumentally by Duncan Chisholm. She also gave a stirring solo rendition of Cearcal a' Chuain, a song which originated on The Highland Connection album and which has found its way into the repertoire of many a Gaelic choir.

It was unusual but pleasing to hear Julie singing in English on the poignant Old Boys and, with her usual accompanying musicians, Eamonn Doorley and Tony Byrne, replacing the electric guitar solos with a tin whistle on the more upbeat songs such as Hearts Of Olden Glory. Julie expressed her gratitude to Runrig for help and encouragement on her journey to the position she has reached in representing Gaelic music in the mainstream.

Mànran, whom younger Gaels have taken to their hearts, also paid tribute to the influence of Runrig, particularly lead singer Norrie Maciver and accordionist Gary Innes, who appeared on stage with Runrig during one of their tours. As expected, their brand of fiery Gaelic folk-rock got everybody on their feet during the likes of Protect And Survive, finishing their set with the audience singing along to Every River, before an ensemble rendition of Alba received a final standing ovation.

This was a fitting conclusion to a show brought together to illustrate the contribution of the songwriting of Calum and Rory Macdonald to Gaelic music. Indeed the significance of their songs in the continuation of the Gaelic music tradition was emphasised by an opening set at the beginning of the evening by a group of young musicians from the Feisean movement, who had been coached by Dàimh's singer, Ellen Macdonald, and Ewen Henderson from Mànran. Their interpretation of Tir a' Mhuirinn provided an enchanting start to an extraordinary night, which amply showed the continued relevance of Runrig's music to today's young Gaelic musicians.

Neil Hedgeland