Usually (if I get around to it at all), I write and share pictures about places, people and travels; however today, just for a change, I thought I would put a post about Runrig, a celtic rock band from Scotland that I’ve followed for many years. After 45 years on the road, the Band have finally decided to throw in the towel and retire gracefully – but not without first going out with a bang ! I was fortunate enough to get along to their “Final Mile” concert in the Lanxess Arena, Cologne and what a party it was too !! The band performed some of there best known tracks in front of a huge, enthusiastic crowd of nearly 20,000 in the vast arena.
This was certainly a far cry from the first time I saw Runrig in the early 80s in the Pathfoot building at Stirling Uni in front of a bunch of 200 spotty students on a cold, damp winter evening. Quite an amazing achievement really considering that they never had a single international hit, lost their first lead singer to a career in politics at the height of their popularity (though he never actually did get elected) and that they chose to sing many of their songs in Scottish Gaelic – altogether not the greatest recipe for commercial success. Many fans in Scotland also completely wrote off the band after the departure of their first singer, Donnie Munro; being completely unaware that they had gone on to produce some of their best and most atmospheric material, whilst consolidating their international reputation with Canadian singer Bruce Guthro at the helm. Certainly, I think it’s fair to say that their later stuff (along with their very earliest) is altogether more “earthy” in character and certainly more folk-rock orientated than the more commercial pop sounds of the 1990s.
As Guthro observes, Runrig, however, have always confounded their critics, many of whom have, over the years, simply misunderstood and pigeon-holed the Band as being little more than a glorified ceilidh outfit: it was also perhaps a double edged sword that Runrig became best known for their rock anthem version of “Loch Lomand” – which further fuelled the view of the sceptics that the band was somehow a new take on the “White Heather Club”. After all, aren’t rock bands normally expected to emerge from gritty, urban hellholes and to centre their lives around the excesses of sex, drugs and a general culture of self annihilation ?
So, if you don’t know the band then please have a listen – the Scottish landscape, history, a sense of place, gaelic culture and well – just the trials of our everyday lives have formed the basis of their rich musical repertoire. This is combined with great musicianship, particularly from Malcolm Jones (the band’s very own reincarnation of Hendrix meets Mark Knopfler) and robust song writing from the brothers Callum and Rory MacDonald; however, it would be fair to say that all six members are excellent musicians and performers in their own right – the success of Runrig over the years being largely down to the close synergy between the band members.
And so an emotional evening drew to a close – amid a barrage of searing electric guitar and drums and an aerial bombardment of dry ice and confetti raining down from the skies like a snowstorm for several minutes over an ecstatic crowd. So the boys from Skye (and Fife and Falkirk and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and wherever else) “done good” in the end; for themselves, for music and for revitalising a whole language and cultural heritage – for following their own path in an increasingly conformist world.
Many are somewhat overdramatically lamenting the passing of the Band with pretentious sounding comments like “they provided the soundtrack to my life” and such like – however, from my perspective they certainly have had an impact. So perhaps we’ll see you again “somewhere out there”; Rory, Callum, Iain, Brian, Malcolm and Bruce – though sadly it won’t be at the final concert below the Castle, in my home town of Stirling.
Finally, whether you like or loath Runrig – the most important musical legacy of the band has been to inspire and embolden a whole new generation of Celtic musicians and performers to follow in their footsteps; combining elements of Scottish traditional music with modern instrumentation and influences from other musical genres: Julie Fowlis, Skippinish, The Peat Bog Faeries, Skerryvore, Manran, Tidelines, Salsa Celtica and Afro Celt Sound System, to name but a few (some of these being obviously more traditional than others). This current generation of performers is actively reaching out to new and younger audiences; rest assured, the musical traditions of the Highlands and Islands are safe for the foreseeable future at least – albeit, perhaps not quite as your granny might have remembered…