The news was announced today that Runrig, without doubt my favourite band, are hanging up their instruments for the last time next August, 2018. They have been performing for 45 years and it is perhaps not a surprise to many that the announcement has been made. Included in the news was the announcement of a tour of the many European countries such as Denmark and Germany where they are massive as well as England where they have a healthy following. Their last concert is 18th August, 2018 in the shadow of Stirling Castle and I have no doubt it will be a wonderful and emotional night. As I live in Stirling this is great news for me and of course really positive for the City which itself has played a big part in Runrig’s history.
To mark this news I thought I would put a link to one of my favourite Runrig songs – Dance Called America. Runrig were open about their desire to keep the Gaelic language alive and history will show that culturally they played a big part in that. Many of us today watch BBC Alba and while we may not speak or understand the language, for the more enlightened it has become part of our life and society. The announcement that Police Scotland were including a Gaelic version of their badge and motto last week was met by the typical response from the merry bands of critics. There is a long way to go but Gaelic is still alive and a big thanks for that goes to Runrig and how they helped make the language part of the culture of people like myself who may had no other reason to sing or speak in the language. Brought up for 6 years in Killin I remember singing Gaelic in the School Choir and receiving lessons on Gaelic pronunciation from one old lady who was one of the last native speakers in the village at the time.
Like most genealogists or historians, you only appreciate the significance of any event or experience years later when you are older and wiser by your own life experiences and changing values. Maybe in the future more of us will endeavor to learn the language itself.
For me I became aware of Runrig in my late teens and early twenties (thanks to Gordy & Gail at Aberdeen University). The bands approach to the Gaelic language, including it in their songs, kept that spark of interest and appreciation for Gaelic alive and helped sustain it today. Runrig helped sustain that appreciation for the Gaelic language that my childhood experience in Killin had started.
Runrig also had a huge influence in our awareness of our country’s history and in particular the history of the West Highlands and emigration from Scotland. Often in their songs they reflected the feelings and emotions of people who emigrated from our shores to places like Canada, USA or further afield to Australia and New Zealand. It should shame us that during my High School years there was little or no presentation or debate on the extent and nature of forced emigration from Scotland. Runrig were amongst the earliest, alongside historians such as native Highlander James Hunter, to have shed a light on what took place in our country. For people such as myself who had been brought up on the conventional history lessons taught in school, it sparked an interest in Scottish History which today has led me to the stage of being a professional genealogist.
It led to a greater understanding of the injustice that went on in the country and which to a large extent goes on today. Forced emigration was caused by the unscrupulous and personal agenda of many of those who owned large tracts of land across Scotland. Is land ownership any less based on selfishness today? Whether the emigration was physically or emotionally forced or due to economic necessity due to the absence of real opportunity in Scotland, the emigration of so many people, profoundly changed the nature of Scotland and in particular areas such as the West Highlands.
Scotland’s loss was the gain of country’s across the globe who received our people with open arms. Scots had an incredible influence in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as other parts of the globe and continue to do today. As a professional genealogist I have had the honour of working with some of their descendants doing work for them as they prepared to return “home”. The story of their ancestors amaze me and how the little quirks of fate changed their life path for ever and subsequent generations. Runrig, remind us that this was often not voluntary and give us a taste of the emotion and impact of the decisions taken.
One of the greatest Runrig songs is Dance Called America which reflects that emigration from Scotland to America in this case. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, during their famous tour of West Highlands in the 1700s, witnessed the actual dance being performed. He stated “We performed, with much activity, a dance which, I suppose, the emigration from Skye has occasioned. They call it America. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolution, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to show how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat.”
Runrig, through its songs highlighted the impact of emigration and helped promote this positively with the appointment of Bruce Guthro from Nova Scotia, Canada, as lead singer in place of the Donnie Munro. I remember being at Donnie’s last concert in 1997 at Stirling and wondering if Runrig would come back. The appointment of Bruce caught many by surprise because he was so unknown by many. However he has put his own stamp on Runrig and launched the band into its second phase. He is still place his own interpretation on many of the older Runrig ones, not least Heart of Olden Glory or The Old Boys. It is good that Donnie still has a relationship with the band, not least with his appearance at Muir of Ord a number of years back. It is to be hoped that the concert next August will include Donnie and other ex-members and be a true celebration of the band’s legacy and history.
The good news is, like any band, Runrig may no longer be together after August 2018 but their music will live long. Already there are so many different versions of their songs being performed by exciting young bands such as Skerryvore and Manran and their influence on these performers is clear.
So when we gather next August in the shadow of Scotland’s greatest castle (I know I am bias!!) we will send a fond farewell to a band that was not just about its music. It helped sustain the Gaelic language and its words and songs told the true tale of Scotland’s people, the Highlands, social justice and its role across the world. It will undoubtedly be a sad and emotional day but the good thing about music is that it remains well after the life of the performer. So we will still be able to hear the wonderful tunes of Runrig and their emotive meanings and poetic lyrics. Songs such as Loch Lomond will still be belted out at weddings whilst some songs will bring a lump to people’s throats, for me Heart of Olden Glory, Life Is and Going Home (each for different reasons). Alba, the Greatest Flame and many more will continue to ring out as will Clash of the Ash. This was the first Runrig song my then very young daughter Emma loved for its upbeat beat and story. Go to a Runrig concert and you appreciate their appeal. Whilst the average age has gone up and their core fans are a little slower and greyer than in the past, there remains an incredible cross section of fans, including many young people. So their music will continue for many years to come.
So come Friday and the release of the tickets I will be online to get my tickets. We can but hope for a great day, as we had in August 1997 with Donnie’s last concert. Whatever I will not miss the chance to say farewell to a band which has done so much for Scottish culture, history and heritage. Enjoy Dance Called America