Oidhche mhath, Runrig. WHFP Editorial. 24.8.18

Runrig in the 1970s. Donnie Munro, Calum MacDonald, Malcolm Jones and Rory MacDonald

The tears of Malcolm Jones at the close of Runrig’s Last Dance on Saturday night spoke for the Highlands.

The unassuming Malcolm has often been a coolly detached figure on stage, concentrating solely on his guitar.

But he has been playing with the Run Rig Dance and Ceilidh Band since he was 17 years old and he is now in his 60th year. The emotion of the Last Dance caught up.

In the dark, under the ramparts of Stirling Castle, over two long nights it caught up with 50,000 people.

The concert itself was, as you might have hoped, more of a celebration than a wake.

It was the biggest outdoor Highland wedding reception you’ve ever known, with the best ceilidh band in the world playing. It aired the soundtrack of the last 45 years, from Balivanich Hall and the Skye Gathering Hall to the Albert Hall.

Even in the Highlands and Islands, not everybody is a devoted fan of Runrig’s music.

But nobody can deny their cultural significance. Seumas Heaney said of Sorley Maclean that he saved Gaelic poetry in the 20th century and so saved it for all time.

Runrig helped to revive the pride in Gaelic of a couple of key generations, and so ensured that the language was saved forever. They harnessed Gaelic to the modern age and made it international.

On just one relatively mundane level, literally thousands of learners of the language have come from all corners of the world to Gaelic through Runrig. At the same time, literally thousands of young Gaels have heard the irresistible rhythms of folk-rock in their native tongue and sung along with joy.

Whatever your views on their music, the earliest band members’ personal appeal is and always has been irresistible.

The wry Highland modesty of Malcolm Jones, Donnie Munro and the heart and soul of the band, Calum and Rory MacDonald, is part of their great charm and an unacknowledged secret of their success. They still look like the boys from the dance hall, even though the boys are now virtuosos.

Gaelic was woven into every moment of Friday and Saturday nights, from the Glasgow Islay choir singing with Donnie Munro to Malcolm Jones being projected onto the walls of Stirling Castle riffing MacCrimmon’s Lament.

Most people might not have been there for that. Runrig and the legacy of fresh Gaelic musical talent that came in their wake are now bigger than their Highland infancy.

But whenever you listen to a Runrig song, there will always be an echo of that dance hall accordion, of Robert MacDonald, of Blair Douglas, of the island fan base that sent them on their way.

In the words of the title of their first, vinyl, album, they will always Play Gaelic.