Calum Macdonald’s favourite memory of the Hebridean Celtic Festival does not feature him playing on stage, but drifting on the Minch between Stornoway and Ullapool.
The Scottish rock legends will mark HebCelt’s 21st birthday next week by making their fourth headline appearance at the Stornoway event where they are regarded as royalty.
Calum, one of the band’s founder members, recalls a memorable visit in 2000 which ended with him joining drummer Iain Bayne on a fast RIB - owned by David Wood of Woody's Express Parcels – over to Ullapool as his wife was about to give birth.
“There are so many musical memories at HebCelt over the years, but my stand-out memory is non-music related. Iain’s first child Erin was imminent and his wife was heading towards the labour suite, so a speedy solution was arranged to get him back home.
“It was too good an opportunity to miss, so I just had to hitch a ride as well. It was a beautiful Hebridean night with a full moon and the Minch was flat calm. Half way across, rib owner Woody cut the engine and we just sat there for a moment in the stillness. Unforgettable.” David Wood also recalls the journey well and finally sold his RIB earlier this year.
Runrig, who are in the HebCelt Hall of Fame for their outstanding contribution to Celtic music, regard HebCelt as a ‘homecoming’ gig in the heartland of Gaeldom. They will close the four-day event on Saturday, 16 July during a nationwide tour in support of their 14th - and last - studio album, ‘The Story’, which was released in January.
“HebCelt is very close to our hearts and each time we return is always special”, said Calum. “We have such an obvious affinity with the music and the place - the Hebrides being the source and inspiration of so much of our material over the years.
“For us, it is quite simply the chance to perform a homecoming gig. When the festival first started we were very excited, because we immediately saw an opportunity to be able to bring the band back to the Western Isles. That’s now happened three times, and each time the experience has been very special for us all.
“We’ve watched the festival grow over the years to a point where it is firmly established and a massive contribution to Scottish and Gaelic cultural life.”
His brother and fellow founding member, Rory, added: “Of all the festivals we have played there is no doubt that HebCelt stands alone in the band’s experience. It is the festival that is closest to the music and the people that inspired us. It is very much home ground.”
News that Runrig were to headline the ‘coming of age’ festival quickly led to a scramble for tickets among their faithful following. Saturday night and the festival weekend sold out in record time and the momentum continued as other acts were announced and the festival is now heading for a sell out across all four days.
“We value that audience so much and it’s something we can never take for granted”, said Calum on the band’s continuing popularity. “It’s a relationship that is so important to the band and to the music, and this year’s performance will be a very special celebration.
“As we are still touring our final studio album, ‘The Story’, it will be heavily featured in the set, along with some of the older, better known songs. So the night, will I’m sure, have an added poignancy.”
After HebCelt, Runrig will be playing another hugely popular gig at another familiar venue for them - Edinburgh Castle – as part of the tour which will also take them to Denmark and Germany.
Calum added: “Edinburgh Castle is a bit similar to HebCelt for us, in that it’s a unique event that we have played many times over the years and we have great memories of our nights on the Esplanade.
“It’s just such a privilege to present your music in such an iconic situation and there’s no doubt that the music takes on a particular resonance in that environment.”
Although there will be no more studio albums for Runrig, Calum said he will continue to write new songs which may find a different outlet in future: “Yes, I’m sure. That’s just something that usually happens irrespective of anything else.
“There are no set plans, but I’m sure other projects and ideas will evolve in time.”
The 21st HebCelt will be held from 13-16 July in Stornoway. Runrig will head a line-up of nearly 70 acts over the four days, including the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Hayseed Dixie, Julie Fowlis, Astrid, John McCusker and Breabach.