R E V I E W - C E L T I C   C O N N E C T I O N


You're wrong! Runrig rocks!

Runrig article 18 Feb. Ross-shire Journal.

by Angus MacPhail

HAVING enjoyed immensely Runrig's recent sell-out Celtic Connections appearance at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (Jan 18th), I was motivated to respond to the inaccurate, ill-informed and offensive reviews that appeared in the press over the following days.

Lucy Sweet, Norman Chalmers, Aideen MacLaughlin and Jay Richardson all added their names to the disappointing number of music journalists who, due mainly to bias and ignorance, have given Runrig - and their fans - not just criticism, but a "slagging".

*Lucy Sweet - The Sunday Times
"The band make much of their roots, singing pompous songs in Gaelic about sea shores and disputed lands, but it's often hard to understand what everybody is so puffed up about. On closer inspection, Runrig's music, a mixture of 1980s soft rock and fiddly-diddley folk, is about as Scottish as a deep fried Mars Bar."*

In their lyrics Calum and Rory MacDonald don't "make much of their roots". Their lyrics and their identity are a direct product of their roots - there is certainly nothing contrived. The same is true of the other band members. Those who are not Highland don't make any attempt at contrived Highland identities. What sets Runrig apart from many other bands that mix Celtic music with other genres is the hugely important fact that the Celtic ingredient to the fusion is 100% genuine. Calum and Rory's songs display clearly the depth to which they are rooted in their Gaelic heritage.

Malcolm Jones's knowledge and understanding of Highland music is immense. He plays all his instruments in a style that could only belong to someone whose musical roots are strong and genuine.

I am no expert on "1980s soft rock", and am unsure of what "fiddly-diddly folk" is. I do however know what authentic Highland music is and Runrig are brimming with it. Any attempt to argue that Runrig's music isn't at all Scottish is ridiculous.

The "pompous" songs written about "disputed lands" include some very powerful political songs that deal with the injustices of the Highland Clearances. And if Lucy Sweet wonders "what everybody is so puffed up about", she should read some history books and learn of period of cultural genocide which Sorley MacLean described as, "one of the saddest tragedies that has ever come on a people, and one of the most astounding of all the successes of landlord capitalism of Western Europe" ('Ris a' Bhruthach' 1985)

*Norman Chalmers - Scotland on Sunday
"....But as the lights went up on the stage and the opening chords fill the concert hall - who's that baldy man on the piano?(referring to Paul Mounsey) Well, he's the latest episode in the hoary Highland rockers makeover.

A few years back they lost vocalist Donnie Munro (a blessing), then reinvented themselves as pan-Atlantic Celts by bringing on board Cape Breton singer Bruce Guthro (even if he doesn't have the Gaelic)."*

"Latest episode"? "Make over"?? Not so. It is par for the course for any band to bring in guest musicians and producers to work with at any given time. In Runrig's case, bringing in Paul Mounsey certainly doesn't warrant accusations of a makeover.

"Reinventing themselves"? Nonsense. Runrig needed a new singer - so they found one, and one of excellence. No, Bruce Guthro doesn't have "the" Gaelic, but is Chalmers going to take pot shots at every individual who sings Gaelic songs and isn't fluent in the language? If he is, he's going to be firing a lot of ammunition at many excellent Gaelic singers.

Aideen MacLaughlan - The Herald
*"And toes were a-tapping, hands were a-clapping and heads were a-nodding, even before the band came anywhere near the stage. There was no doubt that the crowd adored them."*

My issue with this excerpt is the offensive implication that people who like Runrig are in some way musically retarded. The arrogance of this attitude is only matched by its ignorance. Runrig have a particularly wide cross-section of fans. Yes, many Runrig fans wouldn't know the scale of Bb minor from the panegyric code - they just like Runrig, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, Aideen MacLaughlin and the other reviewers are suspiciously ignorant of the many Runrig fans who possess a high degree of musical and literary awareness. Some notable examples will be mentioned in my closing paragraphs.

Jay Richardson - The Scotsman
*"Runrig's earnest Celt-rock won't fire the passions of everyone, but live, they possess a vibrant swagger. Even those who soon tire at such po-faced lyrics, forever evoking some utopian Celtic twilight, must concede that they do deliver a spectacle."*

Patronising - what! I agree. Runrig won't fire the passions of everyone - but is there a band on the planet that does? Granted, this is a figure of speech, but the negativity conveyed by it is contrary to the fact that Runrig do "fire the passions" of more people than any other act at Celtic Connections. Their "sell out" speed is proof of this.

Many of their songs evoke passion for an area, nostalgia, and anger at historical tyrannies that oppressed the Highlands, but there is a lot of blunt realism in these songs and they certainly don't romanticise any "utopian Celtic twilight." It is widely recognised that Calum and Rory MacDonald have penned some of the best Gaelic songs to appear in the last three decades. But because the reviewers are apparently incapable of understanding the songs' words, the subtleties and the sentiments behind them they are summarily dismissed.

These excerpts are amongst many that could have been chosen to display the array of blatant inadequacies, and un-qualified negativity contained throughout all of these reviews. Reviews like these hold many ironies. The most hard-hitting is seen in the band's history.

When Runrig began, there was none of the support for traditional music that thankfully now exists. However, through their talents and determination they managed, against the odds, to pioneer with huge success the existence of genuine Celtic-fusion in Scotland .

Appearing to a full Murrayfield Stadium as guests of U2 in 1987, bringing over 50 000 people to a concert on Loch Lomond-side in 1991, reaching No. 1 in the UK video charts in 1992, taking a Gaelic song into the Top 20 in the UK music charts in 1997, winning the "Best foreign roots album' award in Denmark in 2003, receiving the 2003 Nordoff Robins "Life Time Achievement" award, reaching No 1 in Denmark's DVD charts in 2004 - a few examples among previous and on-going achievements.

No other band has come close in attracting people in such numbers to Celtic music. Yes, there have been many excellent bands since - Capercaillie, Shooglenifty, The Peatbog Faeries - but Runrig led the way, did it on a far bigger scale and they did before it was fashionable.

The irony is this: now that Celtic music has become fashionable and widely popular in Scotland , Runrig, - the biggest single driving force behind this sea change of attitude - are being viciously sneered at both by the industry's press, and the many fashion conscious Celtic music "band-wagoners" who pervade the scene.

Before making snide, ignorant and cutting remarks, these people should remember that without Runrig there is every chance that the vibrant Scottish Celtic music scene of today would not exist.

Fortunately, despite the many negativities aimed at them, Runrig are going strong. They are still the most successful Celtic band in Scotland , many of their songs have become embedded in the Gaelic singing tradition, they still have a large following at home and abroad and, importantly, they are still held in high regard by most in the Celtic music industry.

This was accentuated by the timely meeting at the BBC, Queen Margaret Drive on Friday 21st January. This was the first gathering of those taking part in a concert on the 6th of May in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of an Arts Project called 'Flower of the West'. The inspiration for this entire project and the material for the concert have been taken from the recently published Runrig song book 'Flower of the West'

Contributing to the concert are some names that the reviewers may recognise: Donald Shaw, Phil Cunningham, Dick Gaughan, Mary Ann Kennedy, Karen Matheson, Catherine-Ann MacPhee, Kathleen MacInnes, Ingrid Henderson, Mairi MacInnes, Arthur Cormack, Maggie Macdonald, Hector Henderson, Iain MacFarlane, Kenna Campbell, Rona Lightfoot, Rachel Walker, Allan Henderson, Jenna Cumming, Iain MacDonald, John Carmichael, James Graham, Duncan Chisholm, Blair Douglas, Charlie McKerron, Chaz Stewart and many more.

These singers and musicians all have respect for Runrig and their material. If ever a musical quality assurance for Runrig existed, there you have it. Add to this list bards such as Aonghas MacNeacail, Angus Peter Campbell, Norman MacLean and the late great Sorley MacLean and you have an immensely powerful endorsement for Runrig, their music and their songs. It is a great pity that some critics feel the need to turn to the kind of self-aware and derogatory pot-shotting that ultimately demeans no-one but themselves