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Hoolie in the Hydro 2023: Celebrating 50 Years of Runrig’s Legendary Music

As we promised in our earlier post about Runrig, we now invite you to join us virtually to travel back to December 9th, 2023, for the world’s largest cèilidh – Hoolie in the Hydro. So, get comfortable, and put on your best dancing shoes…here we go!

Right away you might have a couple of questions, so we’ll address those first. That way we can get our toes tapping and hands clapping to the beat of traditional Scottish music. Okay, so what is a hoolie? Well, simply put, it’s a raucous party! The term can be traced back to Orkney, where the term became used in reference to a strong wind or gale. That term has formed the common idiom here in Scotland- 'blowing a hooley'. And, if you have spent time in Scotland this winter, well, it has been blowing many a hooley lately! But, for this post, we’ll just have a raucous party without the stormy winds.

Next question- what is the Hydro? The OVO Hydro is the largest entertainment venue in Scotland. It’s located in Glasgow and is ranked globally as one of the best arenas in the world. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that it has hosted megastars such as Elton John, Taylor Swift, Metallica, Harry Styles, Diana Ross, Dua Lipa, and so many more. They host more than 140 events a year, and we recommend you check and see if your favourite artist will be performing at the Hydro.

You may also be wondering what is a cèilidh? Well, in case you missed it in our Runrig post, a cèilidh is a traditional Scottish social gathering, that usually includes dancing and playing traditional folk music – in Scottish Gaelic, and/or often in English too. And that is exactly what the Hoolie in the Hydro was. However, it just happened to be the largest cèilidh in history, with music by some of the biggest names in traditional Scottish and Celtic music today. As for the dancing – well, all ten thousand of us in the audience had that covered!

Alright the wait is over, and it’s time to head into the Hydro. Fitting to the occasion we were ushered in by the rhythmic bellows and beats of bagpipes and drums, provided by the current World Pipe Band Championship winners: Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band!

As we settled into our seats (there was plenty of room to stand closer to the stage, but we’ll leave those areas for the younger crowds with better knees😂), we were welcomed to the event by its hosts: Julie Fowlis and the Hebridean Baker – Coinneach MacLeod.

Julie Fowlis was a perfect host for the event because she performed with Runrig on stage numerous times, and she also recorded songs with them- most notably the song ‘Somewhere’ from Runrig’s last studio album ‘The Story’ in 2016. She also sang backing vocals on their 2007 ‘Everything You See’ album. However, her history with Runrig goes back much further; not only as a fan, but she also featured in the music video for the Runrig song ‘Sìol Ghoraidh’ from their 1989 album ‘Searchlight’. She was just a primary school student on the island of North Uist, when Runrig recorded their video for the song. Therefore, there could not have been any other person more fitting a host for the Hoolie and celebration of Runrig’s music than Julie Fowlis.

Aside from the hosts, I also want to acknowledge the brains behind and the organiser of the Hoolie in the Hydro - Gary Innes. He’s one of the most accomplished accordion players globally. He most notably plays the accordion for Mànran, a band we’ll see in a bit. He has also played and recorded with Runrig in the past. The first time was in 2007 at the ‘Beat the Drum’ concert in Drumnadrochit by Loch Ness. It was an enormous concert in the Highlands, and even the massive rainfall couldn’t dampen the joy of the crowd (although the concert became commonly referred to as ‘Year of the Flood’- also a title of a Runrig song and the title of the concert DVD for ‘Beat the Drum’).

On the concert video, there’s a funny comment from Gary, because he says that if it wasn’t for Runrig, he wouldn’t be able to make a living playing the accordion, and that instead he would most likely be working on a fish farm! Well, thank you to Runrig, but also thank you to Gary for dreaming big, and having it come true for us all in the form of the Hoolie!

The concert also featured some of the other stars of the Hoolie, including the host, Julie Fowlis, as well as perhaps one of the most notable fiddlers – Duncan Chisholm of Wolfstone. Duncan also tours with Julie Fowlis’ band, and he often played and recorded with Runrig as well.

It’s time to kick off the show, and who better to get it all started than social media singing sensation – NATI! She got the crowd on their feet from the word go as she treated us with her hit songs like- ‘Heard it all Before’, and ‘Golden’. Her enthusiasm was as infectious as her songs, and it’s not a surprise that she referred to the Hoolie as “a love letter to Scotland”! I can wholeheartedly agree with that description, so please enjoy her music below, but also be sure to look up ‘Nati Dreddd’ on her various social media accounts.

Before we welcome the next band, a quick shout-out to DJ Paddy Callaghan, who entertained the crowds in between the different acts, making sure that there were no dull moments during the whole Hoolie!

Next up, put your hand together for everyone’s favourite live band - Trail West. Now, if Nati raised the roof in the Hydro, I am pretty sure that Trail West blew it right off! They entertained the crowds with instrumental (‘Bernie’s Second Debut’), Scots Gaelic (‘Air An Traigh’), and English (‘Countless Isles and Endless Miles’ & ‘Take Her In Your Arms’) songs. However, it then became evident why they’re so popular at different festivals because they got the 10,000 plus people in the audience to erupt in singing a couple of classics- ‘MacPherson’s Rant’ and ‘The Rammy/Local Hero’.

Before you could catch your breath after belting out those classics, it was time to welcome the legends of Celtic rock – Wolfstone. They have entertained audiences around the globe since 1989, and have even toured with Runrig – perhaps most notably opening for them in the previously mentioned 2007 ‘Beat the Drum’ concert on the banks of Loch Ness. Their line-up has seen many changes over the years, but the two main founders of the group continue to rock to this day – Duncan Chisholm, and the lead vocalist and guitarist – Stuart Eaglesham. On this night, Wolfstone entertained the crowds with a couple of instrumental classics- ‘Balivanich’ and ‘Cleveland Park’- before breaking out some of their big hits like ‘Crowfeathers’, ‘Time for Walking’, and ‘These Are the Days’.

But there’s no rest for the wicked as it was then time to get our toes tapping along with Mànran! I promise that you’ll tap your toes if you listen to their music, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll get your tongue twisted if you try to keep up with the lyrics to the song ‘Òran na Cloiche’ (Song of the Stone). If you’re curious to learn what the song is about, well, just book a walking tour with us in Edinburgh and I’ll gladly tell you all about it!

Mànran also treated us all with their beautiful instrumental song ‘Parallels’, but I would have to say that the star of many of their songs, is the hauntingly beautiful vocals of their singer Kim Carnie. Just take a listen to songs like ‘See What You Hear’ and ‘Crow Flies’, and I’m certain that you would agree. Speaking of something hauntingly beautiful, Mànran also performed- or should I say all ten thousand of us performed- one of the most beautiful songs ever – ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.

After all these incredible opening acts, it was finally time to start the celebrations of 50 years of Runrig! To get it all started we were treated with a haunting rendition of ‘An Ubhal as Àirde’ by the trio of some of the most notable Scottish Gaelic singers of today- Julie Fowlis, Kim Carnie and Karen Nicmhathain (Karen Matheson). And, even more importantly, they were accompanied by two legendary members of Runrig- drummer, Iain Bayne, and keyboardist, Brian Hurren. It was the first time that they’ve been on a stage to play Runrig songs since their farewell concert, ‘The Last Dance’, in Stirling back in 2018.

Now, before we get further into the Runrig celebrations, I do want to commend the organizer of the event, Gary Innes, because he did an absolutely fabulous job in picking the Runrig songs for the Hoolie. In an interview for the event, he claimed that he very carefully thought through which songs would work out best for each singer. And I think that he absolutely nailed it! For example, the next couple of songs were belted out in style by Alec Dalglish, lead singer of Skerryvore. He sang the rocking songs- ‘Rocket to the Moon’ and then the brilliant ‘Clash of the Ash’, a song about the sport of shinty, which has become an anthem for the sport. We won’t get into shinty in this article, but who knows what the future articles on our fun Scotland travel blog will cover😉.

Now, if you’ve already read our earlier post about Runrig, you know how much their music has meant to us over the years, and perhaps never as much as it did last year when we dealt with the losses of our three beloved dogs- Stirling, Finn and Sawyer. So, fair warning, this is now the point when our tearful floodgates opened on the night of the Hoolie. First, we were blessed by the legendary founding members of Capercaillie: Karen Nicmathain (Karen Matheson) & Domhnall Seathach (Donald Shaw) with their stunning rendition of ‘Going Home’.

That was then followed by the Britain’s Got Talent sensation…Cammy Barnes. His soulful and husky country voice – straight out of Methil, a small town from the Kingdom of Fife – lent itself perfectly to the gorgeous song, ‘Every River’. However, I was sobbing by the end of it.

But you know what? I wasn’t alone in my crying, because Iain Bayne next gave a heartfelt dedication to Bruce Guthro, the singer of Runrig, who passed away last Autumn. But if that wasn’t enough, they next played a video of Bruce singing the song ‘The Cutter’ on the big screen. I promise that there wasn’t a single dry eye in the Hydro. But wait- only if your heart can handle it- because his video blended into Julie Fowlis & Brian Hurren performing ‘In Search of Angels’.

I do have to thank Eòghann MacEunraig (Ewen Henderson), because he took the stage next and brought the party back to joyfulness with his perfect delivery of the Runrig hit, ‘Alba’. He was gradually joined by all the artists from the evening on the stage, as well as every soul in attendance in belting out the choruses to ‘Alba’. It was an incredible spine-tingling experience that I will never forget, and I can also say that never before has this ‘New-Scot’ felt as Scottish as I did at that moment!

But don’t put away your tissues yet, because it was then time to cap this incredible cèilidh with one of the biggest tearjerkers- Julie Fowlis, plus all the artists, and every single person in the audience sang ‘Hearts of Olden Glory’.

As I finish this post with tears in my eyes, I hope that you have enjoyed our virtual visit to the Hoolie in the Hydro. If you did, why don’t you go ahead and share and subscribe to our fun and free Scotland travel blog, because it’s our ‘Love Letter to Scotland’!

Until next time- Explore & Discover! And may the colours of Scotland leave you young inside…


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