Being a band that is not only well known in the folk circuit, but also in the rock/pop scene, there it might be dangerous replacing their front singer. And it might be even more dangerous if the band is an institution of its own in their native Scotland, and they are taking a Canadian as front singer. The roots rock band Runrig, one of Scotland's most popular bands ever, have managed this change brilliantly. In their 25th year of band history, they were joined by a new singer, after their old singer Donnie Munro, having been with the band for 23 year, has left the band a year ago to go into Scottish politics. Their first two concerts with the new singer, Bruce Guthro from Canada, at the Danish Tønder Festival were celebrated by their many fans from all over Europe, most of them testifying their favourite band a new and even fresher approach to their music.
So why does this very Scottish Band take a Canadian as a new singer? Peter Wishart explains, "that is a bit of a long story really. We listened to 300 or 400 tapes where people would have applied for the job as the singer. And we were beginning to get a bit desperate, thinking that possibly we won't find a new good singer." It was finally their manager's son who had the idea of Bruce Guthro, having been in Canada he had come across a video tape where Bruce would perform a song in a programme called Celtic Collection. He thought this sounds really good. Suddenly Runrig had found their new singer; it was just a coincidence that the singer was found in Canada. Did they have worries, being a Scottish institution, to take a Canadian? "It has been something we have thought about, but -- Bruce is Nova Scotian, you know from New Scotland. It's Scottish descendants who live there, there's a big Gaelic community in Nova Scotia. And in that aspect it wasn't a real problem for us at all, because Bruce has been brought up in this culture, he understands it." Though it might definitely be a bit confusing for the Scottish fans to have suddenly a singer with their Scottish band speaking in a broad American way.
Another problem some fans might have with Bruce is that he is not a Gaelic speaker, while Gaelic is a very important element in Runrig's music. Peter thinks that this won't be a problem: "He is not a Gaelic speaker, but coming from Cape Breton, he understands Gaelic, he knows about it, he knows the culture, and he was very keen to learning Gaelic songs at that time."
Runrig has been a pioneer of the Gaelic language in Scotland, having kept traditions alive but at the same time pushed barriers. Gaelic was in Scotland definitely on the decline, especially amongst young people. What Runrig did was giving the Gaelic a new outlook, a new impression to a new generation. "People started to think again that Gaelic is not just a dying language, that it was vibrant. I mean - Gaelic is a language that was defined to shape Scotland. Three quarters of the Gaelic nation were Gaelic speakers only 300 years ago, and people were now beginning to discover that vibrancy of the Gaelic again, they were beginning to acknowledge its value to Scotland again. It is very pleasing that we have achieved that.”
Since Runrig's start 25 years ago, Peter thinks that Runrig has achieved its organic development from what has been a small ceilidh dance band, to people describing them as a Gaelic Rock act. "It has just been a stature progression. I think in the mid Eighties, it was that we realised we had it in us to go on stage and be a rock band. And that took quite a confidence to do that. So at that point it changed from being an interest, a hobby to a profession, an ambition.”
Now playing at the Tønder Folk Festival, are Runrig still a folk band? "These definitions are always difficult. But if you ask 'Are you a folk act?' I would say 'Yes we are'. We are from that folk tradition; we are fortunate to have toured in the folk camp, but we are also fortunate that we have built up a rock audience, especially in Germany.” Runrig will continue to play folk festivals; they even want to try to go back a bit more into the folk circuit. "We want to start playing at other folk festivals, we want to bring ourselves back there. Because the way that Runrig was set up, the way that we are called and tour, we have had very few opportunities in the last ten years to go on the folk circuit and play the folk festivals.”
Now that Donnie Munro went into politics, I wonder if Runrig stays a political band. Says Peter, "I think by nature Runrig is political; when you are asking about Gaelic, we are particularly involved in issues like that. Donnie was very aware of what we did, and I think that definitely won't be the case any longer. But we have always been very interested in the band in political issues. And we have always had a special role in the cultural life in Scotland; it's not the music papers who write about Runrig, it's the newspapers who report about what we do. It always will be like this for Runrig in Scotland.”
Their new singer has brought Runrig new opportunities to evolve again, though Runrig will not do any of Bruce's songs. Bruce is a reputed singer/songwriter of its own, having had quite a success in Canada during the last few months. Peter thinks that it would make no sense to anybody to mix the two careers up. Still Bruce does bring in some songs, but not his own ones.
Runrig and most of their fans enjoyed the first concerts with the new singer, thinking that Bruce has brought new energy into the unique sound of Runrig. Their music can be explored during a short tour in England and Germany in October. For December, another test awaits the now Scottish/Canadian band: Playing in their home country, in Scotland. I am sure that they will also stand this test.
Photo Credit: (1) Bruce Guthro; (2) Runrig in Tønder 1998
Photos by The Mollis.
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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 10/98
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