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Runrig: The Music Lives On!

This week our travel blog doesn’t travel far physically, but in spirit we are travelling around Scotland and far beyond, because we welcome you to join us on a trip to the soundtrack of our lives...welcome to the music of Runrig!

To start, we must first go back to 1973, and to the Isle of Skye. That is where brothers, Rory and Calum MacDonald joined together with their friend Blair Douglas to form a three-piece cèilidh band called – The Run Rig Dance Band. After about a year of playing small local events, they were joined by Donnie Munro as their new lead singer. Soon after that they found themselves playing in concerts beyond the Isle of Skye, including their first concert in a cèilidh at Kelvin Hall in Glasgow (at this point you might be wondering what a cèilidh (pronounced: KAY-lee) is – no worries – it is a traditional Scottish social gathering involving dancing and playing Scottish Gaelic folk music. In fact, a little later we will bring you with us to the largest ever cèilidh held. Stay tuned for that.).

After a few years of playing gigs, Runrig recorded their first of fourteen albums in 1978, ‘Play Gaelic’. As the name of the album suggests, Runrig recorded numerous songs in Scottish Gaelic. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with Scottish Gaelic, they recorded even more songs with lyrics in English. In any case, we are certain that you will enjoy their music in both languages.


The next thing that you might be wondering at this point is what type of music did Runrig produce? Well, to be honest, I don’t really care for titles and genres because they can be limiting. To me Runrig’s music is simply about life, with connections to the lands, islands and waters around Scotland; their music is about love and loss, life and death, work and nature, politics and religion. But, if forced to label them, I guess you could make a case for folk, rock, folk-rock, Celtic rock, traditional, country, and maybe even other genres. Essentially, the best thing is for you to just listen and enjoy regardless of titles and genres. However, don’t go and do that right now…wait until the end of this post, and then please go discover or re-discover Runrig.


Now, I could go on forever telling you all about the history of Runrig, but then this post would turn into a multi-volume book. So, I will spare you from that and just briefly mention a few more key historical points of interest. First, in terms of the band line-up, it’s not surprising that there would be some changes along the way considering they performed for 45 years. For example, they grew from a three-piece to a six-member band, and they were often accompanied by guest artists, either in the studio or on the stage.


Donnie Munro

 As the band expanded, their members came from beyond the Isle of Skye- places all around Scotland such as Dunfermline, St Andrews, Inverness, and Falkirk. However, perhaps the most notable change within the band came in 1997 when their lead singer, Donnie Munro, left to pursue a career in politics. Then, the following year, he was replaced with Bruce Guthro from Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. More about Bruce a bit later. If you are interested in learning more about the history of Runrig, there is a wealth of information on and offline (e.g. books and documentaries) for you to choose from.

Speaking of choosing, I know what you are thinking – who sang it better Donnie or Bruce? Nice try! I’m not going to get into the middle of that debate and potentially offend any die-hard Runrig fans. Sure, we might have our favourite, but for the purposes of honouring Runrig, I am going to remain neutral and simply say that both singers sounded incredible together when Donnie Munro joined them on stage in 2013 at the ‘Party on the Moor’ near Inverness.


Regarding concerts that you’ll need to check after reading this post, include the afore mentioned ‘Party on the Moor’, their concerts from Edinburgh Castle- especially ‘Celebration in the City’ (from 2013) and ‘The Story’ (from 2016), the 1991 concert from Balloch Country Park, and ‘Beat the Drum’ at Loch Ness in 2007. Last, but certainly not least, be sure to check out their epic concerts from Stirling Castle- the 30th Anniversary concert from 2003, and the incredibly memorable ‘The Last Dance’ in 2018 which was the band's farewell concert.


'The Last Dance' Farewell Concert, Stirling, 2018 | Photo Credit: Hic et nunc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally in terms of their history, I want to mention a few of their albums. Just like any other band in history, their albums have received varying success, and that can be attributed to many factors. First of all, some of their records were released on their own small label, without any large record company promotion and production. Also, during their career-spanning 45 years, there were changes in the global music tastes which inevitably brought some experimentation with their music, and with varying results.

However, through it all, the true core of what made Runrig, Runrig, remained - Scotland! For proof, watch the music video for the song, ‘The Story’ (once a ceilidh band, always a ceilidh band’).

In fact, Runrig is so important to Scottish culture that they were featured in the 2023 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo as part of the 50th celebration of the band (as an aside we went to and wrote about the 2019 Tattoo). Various Tattoo performers sang, 'The Story', including Master Sgt. Stacey Holliday from the United States Air Force Band who was the lead singer for the song. She did an incredible job and even sang in Scots Gaelic!

What I would like to point out is that whether you listen to some earlier albums like ‘Highland Connections’(1979) or ‘Recovery’(1981), or popular albums from the 80’s and the 90’s – such as ‘Heartland’(1985), one my favourite albums- ‘The Cutter and the Clan’(1987), or ‘Mara’(1995), or the later albums with Bruce Guthro like one of my other favourite albums- ‘The Stamping Ground’(2001) or ‘Everything You See’(2007), one thing is certain – you will be transported to Scotland. You’ll discover new things from their vast song catalogue every time you listen to them. That, to me, is the magic of Runrig; their music is timeless like the beauty of Scotland, and you’ll never grow tired of it!


Now that I’ve covered a brief introduction to Runrig, I want to share a bit of how their music has become such an integral part of the soundtrack of our lives. It is impossible to state the importance that all the different forms of art have in depicting the cultural fabric of any given place or people, so naturally due to our love of Scotland, we have long been drawn to Scottish artists. I almost consider it to be a willing form of acculturation for us since we are ‘new Scots’. In a nutshell, when it comes to the music of Runrig, what makes it so much easier for us is very simple – their music is incredible, and it will outlive us all.


Like many other great Scottish musicians and artists, Runrig always succeeded in escapism to the landscapes of Scotland – consider it musical virtual travel. Putting on their albums, you can feel yourself being transported around the Scottish isles, the Highlands, and sometimes even beyond the Scottish shores. Regardless of the destination, their music will move you as you feel yourself being woven into the fabric of Scotland. However, before I get to telling you about some of the specific songs and their meanings to us, we want to share with you some of the other ways that Runrig’s music lives on, and how you can still even experience it in person.


First, let me introduce you to an incredible cover/tribute band – ‘Beat The Drum’! ‘Beat The Drum, The Runrig Experience’ are bringing back the music of Runrig the way it was meant to be heard – live and in person. So, make sure to check their Facebook page for tour dates and more information, because it is time to dance again! Beat The Drum consists of talented musicians and fans of Runrig, such as their Edinburgh native singer and guitarist, Richie Muir, who brings their songs back to life almost on par with Donnie and Bruce. As a meaningful sidenote, Richie now plays the old guitar (pictured below) previously used and played by Bruce Guthro! So, I feel that to some extent, the torch has been passed and it is now proudly carried into the future by Beat The Drum. If you ever get a chance to catch their show live as they tour around the UK and Europe – do it! We did exactly that on November 28th, 2023, when they played here in Edinburgh at the Liquid Room. Below are some photos and a video from that show.


Yet another incredible experience with Runrig’s music was the last year’s (2023) Hoolie in the Hydro. It was the largest cèilidh ever held, with over ten thousand people in attendance! Hoolie 2023, was a celebration of 50 years of Runrig’s legendary music. Below, are some photos and a wee video clip from the event. However, be sure to check out our full blog post on it after you finish with this post. For now, enjoy a wee sample of it below, and then, later, we recommend that you go and get your tickets for Hoolie 2024.

Beyond the significance of Runrig’s entire catalogue of music spanning decades, there are a few songs that have become even more important to us personally. The reason for this is our beloved Sawyer – our incredible Golden Retriever- used to love Runrig! You’re probably wondering how a dog can relate to music?! Well, it’s really quite simple, just like Bruce Guthro, our Sawyer was a Canadian with Scottish ancestry who through some twists of fate, made his way back to Scotland! But Sawyer loved Runrig because we love Runrig. I would spend countless hours singing and dancing to Runrig songs with Sawyer. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you from my singing and dancing but, Sawyer loved the energy that filled the room whenever Runrig played. So, as I danced, he danced and swayed with that incredible fluffy golden tail swooshing through the air, and as I sang…well he howled too. 😂


Bruce Guthro |Photo Credit Erlmort (talk) (Uploads), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Our lives were filled with many joyous and lively renditions of songs like ‘Loch Lomond’ (in 2008 it was chosen as the greatest Scottish song in history. I would have to agree with that selection.), ‘Protect and Serve’, ‘Running to the Light’, ‘Alba’, ‘Pride of the Summer’ and many others. But, as you know, life is not always so joyous and lively, and sometimes we all go through periods of sadness, sorrow, and even death.


That certainly, has been a case for our family in the past year. However, like in good times – music can also be important in the bad times. It can bring you comfort and peace even during the darkest moments. And that is exactly what Runrig and some of their songs have provided us. Our lives were first shaken in the spring of 2023 with the passing of our wee Stirling, Sawyer’s little brother. But,we were often comforted with songs like ‘Somewhere’, and especially the ‘Book of Golden Stories’. There were many tear-filled renditions of the latter, while Sawyer lied on my chest and stared into my eyes with his big empathetic eyes, as he too mourned the passing of his brother.


Then later in the year, on September 5th, the world lost one of its most beautiful voices! Bruce Guthro, passed away at the age of just 62 from cancer.


At his memorial service (in his beloved Nova Scotia, Canada), Rory and Calum MacDonald sang an absolutely gut-wrenching version of ‘Hearts of Olden Glory’ – perhaps one of the best songs ever written. But, just as Rory and Calum, and all the people in the service, we here in Scotland also sang along with tears streaming down our faces. Unknowingly at the time, that song would soon provide further solace for us because cancer hit home.


This time it struck Sawyer’s big brother, Finn. To cope with that struggle, we would often sing ‘Hearts of Olden Glory’, in hopes of bringing some joy and comfort to both Finn and Sawyer. We would also sing ‘Going Home’ to Finn as we realised that his days were becoming numbered. Finn passed away and crossed the rainbow bridge in October of 2023.


As we watched Sawyer stoically comfort our family through the loss of his brothers, the worst was yet to come…our beloved Sawyer was riddled with the evil of cancer himself. It had ravaged his bones, but by some miracle he had stayed strong for us to mourn the passing of his brothers, but then in November – he finally showed signs of pain for the first time ever. And, as we rushed him to a vet, thinking he had sprained his front leg, we, and our vets, were shocked to find that Sawyer was dying from bone cancer, and that there was no hope and nothing left we could do.


So, we sang…oh how we sang…


The last thing that Sawyer heard on this mortal plain before closing his big, beautiful eyes for the last time and crossing the rainbow bridge, was ‘Hearts of Olden Glory’.


So, I hope that you now understand what Runrig, and their music has meant to us and continues to mean to us. And we sincerely hope that you have enjoyed this virtual musically-inspired travel through Scotland, and that you will perhaps enjoy Runrig’s music like so many before. Finally, don’t forget to explore & discover! And, may the colours of Scotland leave you young inside...

Finn, Stirling, and Sawyer at Culzean Castle.


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