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Past Times

7 iconic gigs held at Stirling Castle – including Britpop stars’ defining concert

We look back over the unbeatable bill and some of the biggest acts which have performed at Stirling's 12th Century landmark.
Graeme Strachan
Ocean Colour Scene star Simon Fowler at Stirling Castle.
Ocean Colour Scene star Simon Fowler at Stirling Castle. Image: Supplied.

Stirling Castle has overlooked many a bloody battle over the centuries but it’s been guitars, not gunfire, echoing around the ramparts in recent years.

The castle, home to kings and queens alike, survived centuries of warfare before evolving in the 1990s and playing host to some of the most iconic acts in music.

In doing so they made their own piece of history.

Here we look back over the unbeatable bill and some of the biggest acts which have performed at the 12th Century landmark over the past three decades.

1 – Ocean Colour Scene

Ocean Colour Scene played three triumphant concerts in August 1998 at the Stirling Festival which marked the 701st anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

The band formed in Birmingham in 1989 just when the British music industry was on the verge of one of the biggest explosions of homegrown talent in decades.

Moseley Shoals in 1996 connected with the public and rocketed the band’s status.

The band never had the same success since the release of Marchin’ Already, however their public following never waned in Scotland where they toured extensively.

Kicking the evening off with Hundred Mile High, Better Day and Travellers Tune, song after song followed in rapid succession with barely a chance to pause for breath.

The trademark riff at the start of The Riverboat Song really got the crowd going and lead singer Simon Fowler was in great voice throughout the 90-minute set.

Massive hit The Day We Caught The Train prompted a mass singalong every night during three gigs which have since gone down in storied legend amongst OCS fans.

2 – REM

Michael Stipe and REM in concert at Stirling Castle. Image: Shutterstock.

Stirling Castle was thronging with shiny happy people when REM arrived on their world tour and performed to 24,000 fans over three nights in the summer of 1999.

The sound of classic REM songs spilled from pub jukeboxes into the streets as the American band’s fans made the steep climb to the castle for the first show on July 19.

REM arrived with little fanfare and Lotus was the overture to a show which reminded everyone why the Georgians have a near-universal appeal since forming in 1980.

Daysleeper, Sweetness Follows, The One I Love, The Great Beyond, Losing My Religion and Man On The Moon were among the highlights from the opening 18 songs.

Michael Stipe’s customary warmth made everyone forget about the heavy rain.

As clouds swallowed the castle’s view, the band performed a six-song encore which finished with It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).

REM’s three-night stand in Stirling on the Up Tour has since become the stuff of legend and was chronicled in a documentary which was released on their YouTube channel.

3 – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s songs were as famous as those of The Beatles in the 1960s and his legacy has been every bit as influential on future generations.

So there was considerable excitement when it was announced that Dylan, the composer of such timeless masterpieces as Like a Rolling Stone, Mr Tambourine Man, Lay Lady Lay, Maggie’s Farm and Hurricane, would be performing at Stirling Castle.

The July 13 2001 concert, which sold out within a few days of tickets going on sale, was billed as “Scotland’s most eagerly anticipated music event in years”.

Famously, Dylan’s live shows have the potential to be a bit hit-and-miss but he delivered a masterclass with a 22-song set of all-time classics.

He greeted some of his fans in the queue ahead of his soundcheck before appearing on stage with his band at 8.15pm and kicking off with Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie.

Set highlights included Mr Tambourine Man, Maggie’s Farm, Just Like A Woman, Gotta Serve Somebody and I Shall Be Released before a stunning encore.

Things Have Changed, Like a Rolling Stone, Girl From the North Country and All Along the Watchtower were delivered before he performed Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.

A poignant song in these parts given the parents of victims of the Dunblane tragedy reached Number 1 in 1997 with a version of the song to promote an anti-gun campaign.

4 – James Blunt

James Blunt on stage in Stirling in 2006. Image: Shutterstock.

“Here’s your chance – can you sing better than the English?”

An audience of 8,000 Scots provided the answer as they joined in to sing along as James Blunt performed hits from his best-selling album Back to Bedlam.

The June 2006 gig took place when Blunt was at the peak of his powers following the immense success of his chart-topping ballad, You’re Beautiful, released in 2005.

As he began with Billy, a sea of hands filled the air in awe of his husky vocals.

Among the highlights was No Bravery, Blunt’s confessional about his past experience as a reconnaissance officer in the British Army, having written the song in Kosovo.

The heart-on-your-sleeve school of balladeering reached a high on Goodbye My Lover while Wiseman and Jimmy showed off Blunt’s hugely impressive falsetto range.

You’re Beautiful, predictably perhaps, was the last of the encores.

It was the perfect ending to an evening of big emotions.

5 – Chris de Burgh

Singer Chris de Burgh on the esplanade at Stirling Castle. Image: PA.

Chris De Burgh played a special concert at Stirling Castle on July 20 1996 with all proceeds going to help families of the bereaved following the Dunblane tragedy.

Over 3,000 fans paid £15 to stand on the esplanade.

The singer had originally intended singing exclusively for the parents soon after the tragedy on March 13 1996 but it was felt too sensitive to stage anything at that point.

The idea then developed into a fundraising concert on the castle esplanade.

De Burgh and his wife Diane spent 15 minutes speaking to families backstage before the concert which began with a minute of silence for the 16 pupils and their teacher.

He said the night was “all about children” but he asked the audience to “celebrate this concert with joy and happiness” and “release your spirits and dance and sing”.

De Burgh performed songs including Spanish Train, Lady in Red and A Spaceman Came Travelling but the serious purpose behind the concert was never forgotten.

6 – Rod Stewart

Sir Rod was on top form with Kylie Minogue. Image: Shutterstock.

Sir Rod Stewart was joined by celebrity guests Kylie Minogue, Michael Bublé and Nicola Benedetti at Stirling Castle’s great hall in November 2012 for a TV special.

Tickets for the exclusive evening were distributed via an online lottery and the dress code was “dinner jackets, kilts and cocktail dresses”.

Sir Rod and Kylie duetted on a big band version of Let It Snow while Sir Rod performed a rendition of Auld Lang Syne with Edinburgh’s Loud and Proud choir.

Kylie performed with a children’s troupe on Silent Night, while Michael Bublé sang White Christmas for the show which was broadcast on ITV in December.

The 10-song set was filled with Christmas songs although Sir Rod thrilled fans with a brilliant version of 1972 classic You Wear It Well in amongst the mistletoe and wine.

The memories from the evening would be cherished for years to come.

7 – Runrig

Runrig, formed in 1973 in Skye, enjoyed a successful career spanning 45 years.

The group recorded their final studio album, The Story, in 2015 and held a series of farewell concerts, entitled The Final Mile, in 2018.

This culminated in The Last Dance where the picturesque Stirling Castle backdrop allowed the Celtic band’s aficionados to enjoy one last hurrah from the iconic collective.

A total crowd of 47,000 watched two farewell concerts in August 2018.

Runrig played a selection of their hits including Protect and Survive, Rocket to the Moon, The Greatest Flame, Alba, Skye, Going Home and Hearts Of Olden Glory.

Former lead singer Donnie Munro joined the band on stage for a few of the songs and the set finished with Hearts of Olden Glory with the crowd taking the lead vocals.

It was a joyous occasion but many shed a tear when the curtain came down.