RISING rockers Hunter and the Bear can pinpoint the moment they knew they were on the right path – when guitar great Eric Clapton gave them his backing.

The band were more used to pubs in lead singer Will Irvine’s native Ullapool when they were asked to support Clapton on an arena tour, including a show at the SSE Hydro.

It helped springboard the band to where they are now, with debut album Paper Heart released earlier this year and a sold out show at Oran Mor tomorrow.

“It was like a stamp of approval,” recalls Will.

“We were still learning how things worked and trying to get better by watching people around us, and there’s no-one better for that than Clapton. We had about six months from the time we were told we’d got the gig to when it happened, so at that time it was like ‘right, we need to get good if we’re going to be onstage at the Hydro’.

“We didn’t want to look back on it and think we could have done better, it had to be the best gig we’d ever played. The first night flew by, in a weird blur, but as it was going well we thought ‘we can do this’. We stepped out on the second night and felt comfortable. That size of arena is something we had never experienced before, and trying to control a crowd that size is an artform. We were more used to pubs before it!”

The band are part of an emerging new generation of rock bands that pack a punch, and tomorrow at Oran Mor should be a special one. Not only can the group toast the success of Paper Heart, but Glasgow will also serve as the closest gig to a homecoming the foursome will have.

Will grew up in Achiltibuie, near Wester Ross, and when he moved to Newcastle for university he met guitarist Jimmy Hunter, who’s from Prestwick. They started out playing as a covers band, before heading back to the Highlands after university to try and write their own songs.

“We went up there for three weeks to see if we were any good at writing,” says Will.

“At that point we weren’t, really, but we played a couple of pubs and decided that we’d move to London to try and get some shows going. We were crashing on our mates sofas while playing six or seven nights a week, trying to get good.

“We went back to the Highlands so many times, just playing all these little gigs and festivals, because we had that connection there and it was easier to get shows booked.”

Along the way they added bassist Chris Clark and drummer Gareth Thompson, honing their sound and becoming a louder, rawer and more ferocious outfit, supporting the likes of Simple Minds and Van Morrison. Now they have captured that energy on record, having released Paper Heart independently without record company support.

“It would have been impossible for us to release an album when we started, but we went down the route of ploughing any money we made from gigs back into the pot for recording and for music videos,” says Will.

“Record companies are starting to become less essential in getting your music out there and we are trying to prove that.”

And the band were never tempted to sign to a label.

“We’ve got a few pals who were really messed around by record labels, so we were very wary of what can happen there,” explains Will.

“At the same time, if you get it right then the exposure they can give you is amazing. But the nibbles and little conversations we’ve had so far were shut down by us reasonably fast. I guess with the level we’re at, we can’t command a massively favourable deal in our favour so if we signed a development deal we’d lose all of our creative control. We’re slightly control freaks and we don’t want to give that up for a small cash injection – it doesn’t seem worth it.”

All their hard work will be worth it tomorrow, though, with the band keen to get back to Scotland.

“It’s almost like the flagship show for us, because we do consider ourselves a Scottish band and this is the biggest headline date we’ve done. We can’t wait to get up onstage and do our thing.”

Hunter and the Bear, Oran Mor, tomorrow, sold out, 7pm