Never-before-seen footage and audio recordings of the legendary Scottish group Runrig playing two Rockpalast concerts in Germany are set to be released in a limited box set. Both concerts capture the band on the cusp of major change, with 1996’s Düsseldorf gig showcasing the end of the band’s run with iconic front man Donnie Munro. While the 2001 Cologne concert sees the newly welcomed Bruce Guthro settling into his role as lead vocalist.
The 1996 Düsseldorf performance perfectly captures Donnie Munro’s inimitable vocals and the soaring, anthemic power of Runrig’s signature sound. The first half of the boxset celebrates the wonderfully melodic and harmonious sound of a band who have played together for decades and the personal friendships within the band forged over years of performing and touring together. From their early years in the dancehalls of the Highlands of Scotland in the 1970s, to their first European tour as fresh faced youngsters, Runrig set out with a dream to show off the unique music, culture and language of Scotland to the world and have become renowned the world over for doing just that.
Düsseldorf marks not only the end of the band’s run with Donnie Munro, who left the band for a career in politics, but the end of Runrig’s record deal with the London-based label Chrysalis and the beginning of what has been described as ‘the new Runrig’.
By the time of the 2001 Cologne concert, the band had embarked on a new era with the addition of front man and lead vocalist Bruce Guthro, who had settled into the new role and truly made it his own. Runrig had also recently said goodbye to their keyboard player Peter Wishart, who had also left to pursue a career in politics and in his place was the young, fresh faced talent of Brian Hurren.
As champions of the Gaelic language with an esteemed reputation as pioneers of Scottish culture, an extensive amount of the band’s set list showcases music in their native language. Although from the Gaelic speaking island of Cape Breton in Canada, Bruce did not speak Gaelic so original founder and bassist Rory MacDonald took up vocals on all of the band’s Gaelic material.
Bruce and Brian were welcomed by Runrig’s international and loyal fanbase – and their German following was no different. Runrig’s German fans have always welcomed their brand of powerhouse Celtic rock with open arms, and the winter tour in 2001, supporting the “Stamping Ground” album, was a triumph. Bruce was fully integrated into the band and the ‘new Runrig’ received unequivocal support from their European cousins.
Runrig founder and percussionist, Calum Macdonald, said on their relationship with Germany and their German fans: “The road was long, our steps were new. Winter, 1986, Wendlingen, and a first tentative tour of small venues around the Stuttgart area of Southern Germany. It was the start of a career long relationship with our wonderful German audience.”
“Fast forward ten years and we rock up at the Dusseldorf Philipshalle. We’d all heard of Rockpalast, an icon of European music culture and performing on the show meant we were now out of the small time and playing in the Bundesliga. Everybody who was anybody performed Rockpalast. It was the Mara tour towards the end of our time with Donnie - the mighty Atlantic came to the dancing floor … and then we came back again in 2001 with Bruce and the second incarnation of Runrig, to the Köln Palladium and an amazing evening of big songs of hope and cheer.”
Runrig drummer, Iain Bayne, said: “Our experiences on Rockpalast helped forge an unbreakable bond with our audiences in Germany. It was an honour to be part of the family of great artists who shared the same stages under the iconic banner of Rockpalast.”
Former front man and lead vocalist, Donnie Munro, said: “The importance of our German audiences and their great support for Runrig over many years cannot be over emphasised. “For the band to have been so enthusiastically accepted by an audience out with our own home country and for that relationship to have been nurtured in such a special and lasting way, was vitally important and deeply appreciated by us all.”
“From the time of the earliest tentative tours of small German clubs and venues, it became clear that there was a very special bond growing between band and audience and perhaps a concert that encapsulated that feeling was the Phillipshalle, Dusseldorf in 1996, where we played our largest show in Germany, up to that point. For me, the Phillipshalle was a very important show and undoubtedly a springboard for the international success that was to follow and will, for that reason, forever remain a real milestone on the Runrig journey.”
Box Set Liner Notes by Tom Morton
3 February 1996, Philipshalle, Dusseldorf. We are seeing and hearing Runrig at the end of their most successful period, touring their last album for Chrysalis, Mara, and with Donnie in particularly fine voice. The band, particularly Malcolm Jones on guitar, feel expansive and plangent, digging deep into the influences that marked them over the years, with perhaps a greater willingness to stretch out and explore their progressive influences.
Nevertheless, the soaring, anthemic power and soulful insight of the Macdonald brothers’ songwriting partnership is at the base of everything. The love of landscape, of the sea, and that precise geographical location at The Edge of the World or on the fringes of the The Mighty Atlantic brings Scotland and indeed the Hebridean isles to winter Germany. Yet there is also a poignant sense of an ending, of farewell. Although Donnie continues to play solo and reunited with the band for their farewell concerts at Stirling in 2018, we are, in Dusseldorf in 1996, witnessing the end of an era. Change is on the way.
15 December, Palladium, Cologne. There's something about the way Bruce Guthro and Rory MacDonald bounce up and down during this concert which expresses a real joy and energy it is impossible to resist. Perhaps the pre-Christmas occasion helps - the performance of the classic carol Jingle Bells lends a glorious sense of daftness to proceedings.
Rory comes to the fore here both as vocalist on the Gaelic language songs and his bass playing revelatory. The advent of Brian Hurren adds a funky snap and crackle to the sound of the band which, with Bruce’s confident rhythm guitar reinforcing Malcolm’s scintillating guitar, Calum’s percussion and Iain’s always wonderful drumming, adds to the sense of rejuvenation. Perhaps the highlight of the set is not the ‘old’, classic Runrig tunes but the outpouring of confidence, joy and hope in May Morning, written to celebrate the devolution vote and the first fully-ripe fruit of the Guthro-era Runrig.
Runrig ended their career in style at the Last Dance concerts beneath the battlements of Stirling Castle in 2018. After 45 years, it was all over, at least in terms of live performance. The band have made a massive contribution to Scottish and European culture, and on the way have provided concertgoers with many joyous, moving experiences, two of which are captured here. Dusseldorf in 1996 and Cologne in 2001 saw two Runrigs, both performing brilliantly, and it is both instructive and moving watch these two bands which, are in the end, one.
Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Runrig, (3) Donnie Munro, (4) Bruce Guthro (unknown/website).