Gael force ambition
There’s more to Runrig’s Donnie Munro than a woolly jumper and some toe-tapping good tunes. The singer who has become a spokesman for contemporary Highland culture could be harbouring political
ambitions. He speaks to Eddie Gibb.
he essential conundrum of Runrig, which has applied since the band’s 1978 debut Play Gaelic, is whether to describe them as Highland folk who play rock, or rockers with a folk twist. Either description will do but the fact they continue to have a brogue planted ﬁrmly in each camp has assured their outsider status in the music industry; too ampliﬁed for the Celtic folkie circuit, and, let’s face it, just not cool enough to be leather-trousered rock ’n’ roll.
Though considerably more popular in England and Europe than is often imagined, it’s in Scotland that they have a signiﬁcance extending far beyond their music. Like ’em or loathe ’em, just about everyone has an opinion on Runrig — a sure sign that you’re getting under people’s skin. This is certainly something that Donnie Munro, the band’s articulate, 43- year—old singer and spokesman, is aware of.
‘l can’t remember a good or a bad review that’s actually dealt with the music — they have all passed comment on whether Runrig deserve this position in the Scottish psyche,’ he says. ‘That can protect you from analytical criticism, but on the other hand it can ignore the qualities that do exist there. To some extent Runrig became a media icon, a symbol rather than musicians working together, and if you stick a symbol on stage people will react to that positively or negatively depending on how they relate to it.’
The lighter-wavin’, foot-stompin’, chorus- hollerin’ audience participation, a crucial part of the live Runrig experience, suggests the fans are reacting to more than a symbol, but it’s possible that the communion spirit and the symbol are closely linked. The band appeals to
all sorts of pe0ple, but if there’s something they all have in common it is perhaps that they appreciate shared spirit which may not be cool, but is undeniably authentic.
This effect is particularly powerful in Scotland, which so often looks to America for its musical inﬂuences. It’s hard to think of another band that has managed to combine a
resolutely Scottish identity with the internationalism of popular culture.
‘What we have is a marriage of inﬂuences, having grown up in the west of Scotland and then getting sucked into, like everyone else, the excitement of rock and pop music,’ says Munro. ‘The predominant influence we would say was strongly rooted in our own cultural background, without any claim to be traditional.’
Munro refers to culture continuously; despite his hankering for Runrig to be considered as musicians, he knows they mean far more than that in their own land. His own iconic status has grown steadily, with a spell as elected rector of Edinburgh University and an established voice as a political activist speaking for a Scottish parliament and against the Skye road bridge. He is a Gael with the ear of a much wider constituency.
ironically, the bridge has made it that little bit easier for him to move back to the island of his birth. The return to Skye is, he says, for family reasons — he has three children, aged between six and sixteen — but already he has become a high-proﬁle islander, publicly supporting
‘I can’t remember a good or a bad review that’s actually dealt with the music - they have all
passed comment on whether Runrig deserve this position in the Scottish psyche.’
attempts to regenerate the West Highlands and reverse the ﬂow of young people to the mainland. Although it‘s not his primary intention, Munro is demonstrating by example that it is possible to be successful on an international stage and live on Skye. He is an advocate of the ‘electronic croft’ to overcome geographical disadvantages.
‘The Highlands and islands region is at an important point in its evolution,’ he says. ‘lt has traditionally been a degenerative circumstance through its social history going back to the early 18005, but for the ﬁrst time now we’re starting to see that turn around and technology will play a large part of that.’
Recently it emerged that he was being wooed by Labour as a prospective parliamentary candidate for Skye and Lochalsh. Will he stand?
‘All i can say about it now is that the local constituency Labour Party have approached me and asked me to consider it and no candidate has as yet been selected — that is the situation which remains at the moment. I have simply left it open-ended at the moment and have not hidden my interest in working for the Labour Party in some capacity. l have been asked to give it my consideration and i will give it my consideration. l certainly haven’t ruled out the possibility.’
We’ll take that as a maybe, then, but he will need to make up his mind before Christmas. Compared to the last parliamentary intake of ‘novelty’ candidate's including Gyles Brandreth and Sebastian Coe, Munro’s credentials look considerably more impressive. He is strongly connected to the constituency he would represent, and could be expected to mobilise the youth vote without necessarily alienating the older electorate. Munro even manages to offer a positive take on Tony Blair’s summer fudge over a devolution referendum.
‘The technical apparatus of getting an act of parliament through would have been far more difﬁcult to achieve simply on the basis of a manifesto commitment and a subsequent bill than it will be to have it achieved on the basis of the popular consent of the Scottish people,’ he says.
Munro has already mastered the art of the politician’s answer; perhaps the sitting MP, Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy, should think of practising his guitar riffs.
Runrig play Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Fri 6/Sat 7 Dec; Glasgow Barrowland on Wed 11 Dec and Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Mon 1 6/1’ uel 7 Dec. The Best of Runrig is out now on
Political allot: Doodle ltd-to (second Iott) could have comer mutton beyond Runrig Chrysalis.
to The List 29 Nov-12 Dec 19963