THIS TIME, NO MORE JOCK ROCK
Thursday, 29th November 2001
Edinburgh Evening News
AT some point in a band's career there comes a time when
hard decisions have to be made.
These moments are crucial, they can make or break a band,
mean long-term success or almost instant failure.
Runrig, who play their only Scottish concert at the Usher Hall
next Tuesday, has had to face two such critical moments in the
last few years alone and they've lived to tell the tale. In the
mid-Nineties, they were Scotland's biggest band - no question.
They were the first band to play Loch Lomond in 1992, blazing
a trail that Oasis would follow and they were one of the first
bands to play Edinburgh and Stirling Castles.
They had paid their stadium rock dues by supporting bands
such as U2 at Murrayfield and The Rolling Stones in Germany.
The next step was logical - America. Runrig could, maybe,
have gone on to become one of the biggest bands in the world
had they conquered the notoriously hard-to-crack US market,
but according to founder member Rory Mcdonald they made a
conscious decision not to.
"There were moves afoot to get us to tour the States, but also
Germany was taking off for us as well. Now, Germany is a huge
market and to do it properly takes a lot of time and a hell of a
lot of effort," says Mcdonald. "The States is always a bit of a
lottery. A lot of bands have tried and failed to crack that
Even so, the band considered upping sticks and moving their
families to America so they could "do it properly" but they
elected to remain at home and concentrate on Europe. "But
there will always be part of us that will wonder what it would be
like if we had moved?" muses Mcdonald.
"We've never been too keen on the stadium rock tag," adds the
guitarist and vocalist. "It conjures up images of flag-waving,
anthemic rock and that's the stereotype with which the band's
been lumbered." Unsurprising really. Playing historic castles and
huge open-air gigs meant the music had to be larger than life,
the gestures theatrical.
"True, true," mutters Mcdonald. "I think we made a target of
ourselves at that point." And they did. As many people loved
the pomp and ceremony of Runrig's jock rock, many more were
rankled by their perceived "flag waving" and the dour,
self-important proclamations of their frontman, Donnie Munro.
Then came the second crossroads - Munro announced his
intention to quit for a career in politics. What did Mcdonald and
the band think of that?
"We all thought he'd taken leave of his senses," says Mcdonald
laughing, "but you can't deny people what they want to do. I
really hope he gets there in the end - he's still trying." Munro
stood as a Labour MP against Charles Kennedy (a big Runrig
fan, ironically) in the constituency of the Western Isles. He lost.
Their former keyboard player Peter Wishart also itched to get
into politics and fared rather better - he's now an SNP MP in
"It's a disease!" says Mcdonald cracking up. "When Donnie
left there was a period of reappraisal, and we took a decision to
step way from that sort of showbizzy celeb profile. Donnie was
good at that - he even had his own show on Scot FM!"
New goals in sight, the search was on for a new frontman. "Oh,
it was terrible," recalls Mcdonald. "We thought in our naiveté it
would be easy to find someone in Scotland and it wasn't
through lack of applicants. We were deluged with tapes but
no-one seemed to click. As time drew on it didn't seem like a
good idea to carry on if we couldn't get anyone suitable."
It wasn't until the 11th hour that a candidate emerged. The
band were sent a tape of a concert, Celtic Electric, held in Nova
Scotia and performing was a powerful singer from the Canadian
Island of Cape Breton, Bruce Guthro.
The band called Guthro and asked him to fly over to work with
them in the studio. "It all clicked," says Mcdonald happily. "So
many Scottish immigrants went over to the Cape Breton area -
they still speak Gaelic. It's like they're more Scottish than some
parts of Scotland. Bruce has got a strong Scottish influence in
However, with Guthro in Canada and the rest of the band
dotted all over Scotland their touring and recording schedule is
hard to manage.
"Our tour manger nearly has a heart attack trying to put our
tickets and passports together," says Mcdonald. "When Bruce
joined the band it was on the understanding he had his own solo
career and he's had a busy year. Still, it's amazing what you can
do now. We can be sitting in a studio in Glasgow and Bruce can
be in Canada singing down an ISDN line."
So far, the long-distance relationship seems to have worked.
Their new album, The Stamping Ground was recorded on a
break from festivals in Denmark and it shows the band
eschewing the anthemic bombast - most of the time - for a
more "rootsy" and experimental feel. One track, Running Into
The Light even sees the band dabbling with dance grooves!
"I think we're finally getting away from the stadium rock
perception of us, at least in Scotland," says Mcdonald. "And
that's great. We were never really about that, we were just
about the music."
Runrig, The Usher Hall, Tuesday, 7.30pm,
£18.50, 0131-228 1155