y M ' ‘1. ' \‘
Runrig have progressed from their origins as a showband in the Highlands and Islands to become Scotland’s hottest live attraction.
Alastair Mabbott finds singer DON NIE MUNRO unexcited by rock-star status.
n the modest rectorial office of
Edinburgh University, the latest
incumbent, a level-headed, Skye-born
rock singer, leans across an orderly desk
to refute an allegation that his band,
Runrig, perpetuate the romantic heather-and-haggis image of Bonnie Scotland they claim to oppose. He makes his point very patiently, but his visitor's references to the communal sing-song that ends their live shows seems to have brushed very lightly against a tender spot.
‘ “Loch Lomond" is the one song that most people seem to want to judge Runrig on,’ he grumbles. ‘It came from a point early in the band‘s history, when we were a student band playing around the Highlands and Islands in holiday times — basically a band playing cover versions of songs that were in the charts at the time, popular songs. And “Loch Lomond“ has always been a popular song which was dragged through Scottish music hall, and is still, in the main, presented in that sort of format. When we looked at it, it had a very solid background — it was written at the time of the Jacobite Rising — and we fancied trying a live version of it. It‘s the kind ofsong that allows people access into performance, and for that reason it‘s popular.
‘But, as for the question of whether there‘s a difference between Peter Morrison singing it on The Songs OfScotland and us singing it, I would hope there was — in the way that it‘s treated, in the way that we view the song.‘
He looks smaller in real life. which is what you’re supposed to say about everybody, but when you meet Donnie Munro, it registers that he is actually less than eight feet tall, and the impression that his face is hewn out of solid granite is entirely an effect contrived by clever photographers. Nevertheless, you feel the presence of a kind of confident
2 authority and respectability that would be j indispensable for a doctor or. as Munro was.
a teacher. Not once, despite the wearying
heat pumped out by the gas fire, does he ' make any move to shed his leather biker
jacket. There’s a definite pragmatism to the man
that no doubt appealed to the student voters; in a recent letter to The Scotsman. he defended the possible sale of Audubon‘s Birds OfAmerica and whatever other assets it might take to keep the University going. warning of “circumstances potentially far more damaging in the long-term than the loss ofthese books.‘
It's likely that the other two (pardon the expression) trendy rectors recently elected by Scottish universities would sympathise with that. Like Munro, Muriel Gray. his predecessor, and Patrick Kane are young, vocal, plugged into the media. demonstratively Scottish and keen to make a hands-on job oftheir tenures. Munro, for his part. is determined to be more than just a distant figure who makes token appearances at official dinners.
‘lt‘s hard to divorce the situation here from my work with the band.’ he says. ‘I know there maybe isn't an instant link. but it‘s because of my work with Runrig that l was asked in the first instance, because presumably people had a certain idea of value attached to the ideas we put forward musically.‘
What Munro is talking about is the band‘s role as cultural ambassadors — a term he is quite happy to use himself— not as a six-man pressure group for an independent Scotland. But many read a political dimension into Runrig that all but overshadows the music.
'I know that many people perceive us that way, and it would be the easiest thing in the world for the band to cement its relations. if you like. with the Scottish audience by becoming overtly nationalistic. It‘s not something we‘ve ever set out to do. and
But, as torthe question of whether there’s a difference between Peter Morrison singing Loch Lomond and us singing it, I would hope there was
we‘ve never set out any corporate political 1 identity for the band. ' ‘lt would be silly anyway.‘ he continues. l Runrig have a ‘broadly socialist viewpoint‘. i but too diffuse to build a manifesto from, even ifthey wanted to. Earlier. he‘d pointed ! out a framed letter from Trotsky. in which F the organiser ofthe November Revolution explained why he had to decline the offer to stand for rector himself. ‘I le had good French.‘ Munro comments. but he is, it would appear, less eager to endorse Trotsky's politics than his linguistic skills. ‘lt‘s too easy to be labelled. It happened to ' us when we went to play in East Berlin. We were invited by a youth organisation, and presumably they thought at that time. before unification. that there was a political ideology that made us sound: because all the other bands that were on were Cuban or East German bands. We did an interview with various people in the press. and they were desperate for us to say that we agreed with their system, and. when we weren‘t able to say that. they wanted to know that we were nationalists— anything that distanced us from Westminster. But. again. that was too easy to say. ‘I think there‘s no doubt that what Runrig has done in its music is celebratory in terms of Scottish culture. language. landscape, everything. There‘s a strong feeling ofpride. , of love for our country. All these things could fit very neatly in a nationalist package. if that's what we set out to do, but it‘s not. What we set out to do was to respond to our environment and our culture, to express , these ideas through songs. So, in a way, that ; is our manifesto: the value that we attach to 3 our roots in Scotland.‘ ' As he speaks, Munro picks up a Biro and doodles two sloping squares side by side on the pad in front of him. These completed, he
14 The List 14— 27Junc 1991