FOR nearly half a ­century Runrig has been one of the ­biggest draws on the music scene.

This weekend the band will play to thousands of people in the Highlands as they celebrate 40 years as a band.

It's all a far cry from their beginnings - playing a dinner dance at the Kelvin Hall.

"It was in an upper room at the Kelvin Hall, back when we were called the Runrig Dance band and we were all students," recalls drummer Calum MacDonald, one of the group's founders.

"This first gig was a dinner dance for the Highlands and Islands association.

"Our accordionist's mum was involved in arranging it and knew he played and so did Rory Macdonald, our bassist and she said why don't you guys get a band together for this gig?

"I'd never played drums before but said I'd do it, and thankfully this was before YouTube as I'm sure the footage from it would be ghastly."

It was a humble start, but one that tied the Isle of Skye band to Glasgow for years to come.

They've stopped off at many of the city's venues and clubs over the years, the buildings getting bigger as the band's fame grew, peaking in the late 1980s and early 90s.

They've tasted international success too, playing the likes of Germany and Denmark, while large scale gigs like this Saturday's Party On The Moor showpiece and a recent performance at Edinburgh Castle.

Yet it's Glasgow's most famous venue that stands out the most in Calum's memories.

"Every single Barrowland appearance always stands out, it's a classic venue without question," he enthuses.

"We've done so many gigs in Glasgow over the years, from doing Celtic rock nights and getting two or three Scottish dance acts, and then building it up from the small venues up to the Barrowland and the Concert Hall.

"But the Barrowland is the one as it's unique, like a place out of its time.

"It's big, but there is so much character, so much history there. The audience feel that and we feed off it, you really feel it there. Long may it stay there."

Many of those gigs will have featured rousing sing-a-longs to Loch Lomond, the song that defines the band most of all.

Yet for all that Runrig have come to be linked with a form of Scottish nationalism and Calum is a committed Yes voter, the drummer admits there's been some negatives as they've been stereotyped.

"After we recorded Loch Lomond and it was hugely successful, we ended up becoming more polarised because of that," he says.

"The fanbase grew and tapped into that Tartan Army thing but what happened is that our albums were ending up mixed in with all the pipe bands and Jimmy Shand.

"There's nothing wrong with these guys, but we wanted Runrig to be a mainstream rock band.

"As we sing some songs in Gaelic, that helped us nudge us into a certain area we didn't want to be in, and it's been impossible to get out of that."

The group has always been linked to politics more than your average band, given that keyboardist Pete Wishart departed the group to become an SNP MP and former singer Donnie Munro unsuccessfully stood as a candidate for the Labour party.

Calum fully supports the Yes cause in next year's independence referendum, but admits he's uncertain if it will succeed.

"If you were a betting man you'd have to say it'll be no, given that the opinion polls are saying no and time is getting on," he adds.

"Personally I support it though, and will be voting yes, no doubt about that."

Back on musical ground the sticksman promises that Saturday's show, which will see the group supported by Sharon Corr, should feature a selection of songs they've not played in some time.

"We'll be playing some things we haven't played in a few years, a lot of fan favourites and some of the more obscure songs," he says.

"We actually had far too long a set, but it's down to two and a half hours now - not quite Bruce Springsteen length but not too far off it."

After four decades the group might be slowing down, but they're not ready to take the high road for a final time yet.

Calum points to the group never thinking about the future as the key to their success, and isn't ready to stop.

"We never planned too far ahead, even at the beginning," he explains.

"People ask us what's next, and the answer is the same as it was 25 years ago - we don't know.

"We're happy doing what we're doing, and we're too old to do anything else.

"I guess as long as we've got our health and we enjoy doing what we do, then we'll continue."

l Runrig, Black Isle Showground, Muir of Ord, Saturday, 3pm. Travel tickets from Glasgow to the gig are £93.50 and can be bought them from Tickets Scotland, Argyle Street, SECC Box Office and online at