It’s impossible to overestimate Runrig’s role in taking Gaelic and Scottish culture to an international audience and impossible to imagine the Gaelic music scene today without the existence of a band that has acquired legendary status. The same band that has rocked concert halls across Europe and North America has been an inspiration to a generation of singers and musicians growing up in the Gaidhealtachd and has achieved the ultimate tribute of having its songs pass into the tradition.
Formed in 1973 by brothers Calum and Rory MacDonald and accordionist and keyboards player Blair Douglas, Runrig began life with the sole and very pragmatic intention of getting people on Skye to dance. This was the only way to get work then and before the band developed their own sound, Chuck Berry, Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan numbers shared their set-list with more traditional ceilidh fare.
It was with the release in 1978 of their first album, Play Gaelic, by which time Douglas had left and rejoined, Donnie Munro had become established as singer and frontman and Malcolm Jones had added his distinctive guitar style, that Runrig really began to make an impression. Calum and Rory were writing songs that young Gaels could relate to and the band’s ability to make an audience bounce around with giddy abandon was growing.
Forming their own label, Ridge Records, and releasing the Highland Connection and Recovery albums, the band began to gain momentum, building their audience far beyond the Highlands, showing the political awareness that would see two members move into political careers, and honing Loch Lomond into a rocking anthem that would be taken up by 45,000 voices in a concert by the loch itself in 1991.
By now Runrig were internationally recognised. They had signed to a major record label, Chrysalis, and supported U2 at their massive Murrayfield gig in 1987. They’d enjoyed chart successes, including a number four placing with The Big Wheel album, and as well as playing major venues in Germany and Canada, they were capable of selling out no fewer than five nights at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
Even the loss, in 1997, of talismanic singer Donnie Munro hasn’t dimmed Runrig’s flame. With Cape Breton-born Bruce Guthro replacing Munro, the band has gone on to conquer new territories and achieve spectacular record sales. They played their first American gig, a benefit concert for Glasgow the Caring City in New York, in 2006; reached number one in Denmark with their 2007 album, Everything You See; and returned to the UK top ten with Loch Lomond (The Hampden Remix), which they recorded with Rod Stewart and the Tartan Army for the BBC’s Children in Need appeal 2007.
One of the the greatest recognition of Runrig’s contribution, however, came in May 2005, when Glasgow’s Gaelic arts association, An Lochran, staged the Flower of the West concert, named after Rory and Calum MacDonald’s songbook. There, a host of Gaelic singers, including Karen Matheson, Kenna Campbell, Cathy-Ann MacPhee, Arthur Cormack and Julie Fowlis and massed Gaelic choirs celebrated a body of work that truly is a flower of the west.
Health problems for guitarist Malcolm Jones saw the band cancel several tours in 2009 and 2010. And with members involved in various individual projects it was decided to take a year off between 2011 and 2012.
In 2013, Runrig celebrated their 40th anniversary with a series of special concerts. Among them was ‘Party On The Moor’ on 13th April when former members Donnie Munro and Pete Wishart performed onstage alongside the current lineup and Blair Douglas made an appearance via a short video highlighting the changes in the band’s lineup since 1973. The gig was hailed as a success by fans and critics many calling it one of the best concerts Runrig have ever staged. Bassist, Rory Macdonald said that “in many ways, it was the perfect Runrig gig” whilst drummer, Iain Bayne called it “the culmination of a lifetime’s work”
Runrig released their 14th and final studio recording on January 29th, 2016.
Entitled The Story, the 11 track album brings the curtain down on a remarkable and unique recording career.
On 26 September 2017 Runrig announced that after 45 years they would be calling time on their music careers with one final tour named ‘The Final Mile’ taking place in Germany, Denmark and the UK.
The band bade an emotional farewell to their fans in two sell-out shows in Stirling’s City Park. Appropriately the final show was called ‘The Last Dance’.
For more inforation visit Runrig’s website.