Please Sign In | Register
Google pluspinterestShare on Stumble UponShare on RedditFacebookShare on Tumblr
TITLE
Interview with Runrig's Calum Macdonald, 2009
EXTERNAL ID
AB_RUNRIG_01
PLACENAME
N/A
DATE OF IMAGE
2009
PERIOD
2000s
SOURCE
Calum Macdonald
ASSET ID
499
KEYWORDS
runrig
Interview with Runrig's Calum Macdonald, 2009

Q: How would you describe Runrig's music to someone who had never heard of the band?

A: That's something that I would find quite difficult to do as you are so close to it all, but I would like to think that it was a music that was primarily about 'song', and although contemporary in nature and 'rock' based, strongly influenced by Celtic and Gaelic music tradition.


Q: Why do you think Runrig are so popular in places like Denmark and Germany?

A: Quite simply the success of record companies in getting us played on the radio. (Something that we were never able to achieve in the UK). In Germany, the boss of the main rock/pop radio station was a huge fan and he got us a lot of serious radio play leading to hit singles etc. You then have instant access to a mass audience and if they like what they hear - they come along to the shows - if they enjoy that experience, they will come back.
Denmark has a huge 'live' scene and we have been playing there since the mid- 80s, building up an audience, but it is only in recent times that Runrig have become a top mainstream act. (Our last album Everything You See was No.1 on their national chart for 5 weeks). Again this is due to radio play, and a great relationship with our Danish record company who really believe in the band and get right behind us.


Q: Given the huge numbers of people who claim Scots ancestry in North America it's curious the band didn't play their first gig there until 2006. Was there a particular reason for this?

A: For a band like Runrig touring is very expensive. We did play Canada quite a few times over the years and that worked out well, but the USA was a very different situation. For a band like ourselves with a particular size of production that we did not want to compromise on, it was going to be very expensive to tour and it would be a case of investing in many years of playing the circuit before breaking even and making the whole operation viable.
We looked at this seriously at the beginning of the 90s when we were at the start of a contract with a major record company and a major music agency. We discussed the prospect of moving across there for a couple of years and operating from a North American base. But some of us had young families etc and so we eventually took the decision to not get involved in the American market - unless it was for one-off festivals or the type of show we did in New York a couple of years back which was for a charity.


Q: The Runrig line-up has seen several changes over the years. How do you deal with members moving on and others coming in and is there anyone who is irreplaceable?

A: No, no-body is irreplaceable and changing members can be both difficult and exciting. In many ways it is essential and healthy to change - it offers new challenges. The biggest difficulty was replacing Donnie in 1997. The singer is so much the face of the band and the music, and it took us a long time to eventually find the right person to replace Donnie. If we had not found someone, not just special, but 'right', we would not have carried on.
But throughout our 36 years there have not been too many personnel changes.


Q: Were you taught Highland history at school? How does it compare with your children's experience of the subject?

A: Yes, I was, and it has always been with a sense of deep seated grievance that I have looked back at my school history experience. A starting point for anyone should be to know about the people and events that have defined them and have brought them to where they are today. We were never taught any Highland history whatsoever, and I never learnt about the defining moments in my own history until I left school. Thankfully things have now changed and I have been delighted to see my own children's very different experience unfold throughout both their primary and secondary education.


Q: Which single event do you feel has changed the course of Highland history the most (for better or worse)?

A: I suppose it has to be Culloden, but after that, the moment when the first woman threw the first stone or clump of earth at what became known as the Battle of the Braes - that was the start of the cultural fight back.


Q: It often seems to be the case that when young people in the Highlands leave school they are also desperate to leave the area but many return when they have families of their own. Do you think that in order to fully appreciate your own culture you have to distance yourself from it for a while?

A: I was certainly of that view and that was my own experience, but I don't know if that is the case now or not. The world is now a much smaller place - we share so many universal ideas and life options, and youngsters today are much more aware of their own sense of identity as Highlanders. I see that particularly with children that have gone through the Feisean - it has given them a sense of pride and confidence in the culture and they can just as easily be the people they are by staying in the area or leaving for wider horizons.


Q: If the band hadn't been so successful and you'd had to get a 'normal' job what would you have chosen and would you have wanted or been able to stay in the Highlands?

A: Yes, I was a teacher and taught for 3 years full time, and many years as a temp. teacher while we were trying to get Runrig established. After leaving school, I opted for a possible future career in teaching, precisely for the reasons stated in the question - of being able to return to work in the Highlands.


Q: Nearly 30 years after the release of Recovery, where do you see Scotland's Gaelic Community now and in the future?

A: I think that we have certainly 'recovered'. We have not been 'saved from extinction' by any manner of means, and the future is always going to be a struggle, but the Gaelic community is now much more confident and high profile than it was 30 years ago. Initiatives such as Gaelic Medium Education, an expanding Broadcasting service and the rise of the Feisean Movement have been particularly important for the success of the language and the culture as a whole


Q: How often do you use Gaelic in everyday life?

A: Not a lot to be honest. At home, my wife is not a Gaelic speaker so that limits things, but my 3 children have all taken Gaelic to Higher level. That has given me a great reason to talk in Gaelic to them as often as possible.


Q: A Runrig gig seems to include fewer Gaelic songs than in the past. Is that because of line-up changes or is it more a case of so many songs and so little time?

A: A bit of both. The one down side of Bruce as a singer is of course, not being able to sing much in Gaelic. But there will never be a Runrig show or CD where Gaelic does not feature.


Q: A lot of the English songs seem to work just as easily in Gaelic - is that something you're aware of as you write or is it a subconscious thing that comes with being bilingual?

A: We never try to analyse it - I suppose that during the writing process, there just happens to a time when you are in Gaelic mode and another time when you are in English. But most of the time you are not really aware of a difference - it's just like another musical colour or a different musical instrument all contributing to a whole entity.


Q: Is it a conscious decision to record your more overtly political songs in Gaelic? I'm thinking of songs like Fichead Bliadhna and Ard.

A: Again, no - it's just the way it happened naturally. There are other songs which you might determine as 'political' like Recovery for instance, that are in English.


Q: Can you describe the process of songwriting with your brother? Is there a clear division of labour?

A: There is no set recipe or formula. We both work on our own and together - since I can remember we have been trading lyric lines and lines of melody and sharing ideas. We wrote some of the earlier albums from scratch, locking ourselves away together in Uist for a couple of weeks at a time and it is always interesting to start with a blank canvas. But I find that the best songs don't come from a music situation at all - they can come from any life situation at any time.


Q: What inspires you most in your writing?

A: I suppose everything that surrounds you, and that you live with day to day - everything that you feel strongly about - your own life journey - Gaelic culture - the landscape - family - a sense of the spiritual.


Q: Can you describe the influence the Highland landscape has had on your song writing?

A: A huge influence - for anyone born in the Highlands it plays such a significant part in our lives. Not just in terms of physical beauty and colour and mood, but it is the scale of the landscape that constantly determines the size and sense of mortality of man within it


Q: Which song would you most like to be remembered for writing?

A: Probably An Ubhal As Airde since it became the first Gaelic song to get into the Top 20. Performing it on Top of the Pops was a real highlight.


Q: What do you do to relax?

A: Having been a PE teacher, sport was always my passion and I watch football and shinty as often as I can - but now that a knee injury has stopped my own sporting activities I have taken up angling. Apart from that any activity in my boiler suit does me fine.


Q: Who is on your iPod/mp3 player at the moment?

A: I'm afraid I am the consummate luddite. I did get an iPod as a Christmas present a couple of years back, but the kids are off with it. If I was to take it with me anywhere I'd only lose it. But if you were to ask me who I am listening to in the car at the moment, a quick check would reveal - Blair Douglas and Elbow.


Q: Do you have a favourite landscape or place?

A: North Uist and in particular Clachan Sands.


Q: What has been your most memorable gig as performer?

A: Far too many to count or even remember now, but I do have particularly fond memories of the 'Big Top' night in Benbecula, 1991. Being able to take the same show that we would put on in any major city concert venue and take it to our own home patch was a real thrill.


Q: Is there any chance of another tour of the H&I, reminiscent of 1991's 'Big Top' tour?

A: There's always a chance of that, and finding ways of playing in the islands has always been high on the wish list. I suppose that the Heb Celt Festival has now been able to fulfil that objective to a degree.


Q: Emigration from the Highlands has been a recurring theme in your songs. Do you have any plans for the Year of Homecoming?

A: We are putting on a big outdoor concert at Scone Palace in August and although we will not be involved in the official Homecoming programme, homecoming will be very much the theme to the show. We hope its going to be a special occasion.


Q: What next for Runrig? Do you still have ambitions to fulfil?

A: Just the next song. That's always been enough to be getting on with.

For guidance on the use of images and other content, please see the Terms and Conditions page.
High Life Highland is a company limited by guarantee registered in Scotland No. SC407011 and is a registered Scottish charity No. SC042593
Powered by Capture

Interview with Runrig's Calum Macdonald, 2009

2000s

runrig

Calum Macdonald

Q: How would you describe Runrig's music to someone who had never heard of the band?<br /> <br /> A: That's something that I would find quite difficult to do as you are so close to it all, but I would like to think that it was a music that was primarily about 'song', and although contemporary in nature and 'rock' based, strongly influenced by Celtic and Gaelic music tradition.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Why do you think Runrig are so popular in places like Denmark and Germany?<br /> <br /> A: Quite simply the success of record companies in getting us played on the radio. (Something that we were never able to achieve in the UK). In Germany, the boss of the main rock/pop radio station was a huge fan and he got us a lot of serious radio play leading to hit singles etc. You then have instant access to a mass audience and if they like what they hear - they come along to the shows - if they enjoy that experience, they will come back.<br /> Denmark has a huge 'live' scene and we have been playing there since the mid- 80s, building up an audience, but it is only in recent times that Runrig have become a top mainstream act. (Our last album Everything You See was No.1 on their national chart for 5 weeks). Again this is due to radio play, and a great relationship with our Danish record company who really believe in the band and get right behind us.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Given the huge numbers of people who claim Scots ancestry in North America it's curious the band didn't play their first gig there until 2006. Was there a particular reason for this?<br /> <br /> A: For a band like Runrig touring is very expensive. We did play Canada quite a few times over the years and that worked out well, but the USA was a very different situation. For a band like ourselves with a particular size of production that we did not want to compromise on, it was going to be very expensive to tour and it would be a case of investing in many years of playing the circuit before breaking even and making the whole operation viable. <br /> We looked at this seriously at the beginning of the 90s when we were at the start of a contract with a major record company and a major music agency. We discussed the prospect of moving across there for a couple of years and operating from a North American base. But some of us had young families etc and so we eventually took the decision to not get involved in the American market - unless it was for one-off festivals or the type of show we did in New York a couple of years back which was for a charity.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: The Runrig line-up has seen several changes over the years. How do you deal with members moving on and others coming in and is there anyone who is irreplaceable?<br /> <br /> A: No, no-body is irreplaceable and changing members can be both difficult and exciting. In many ways it is essential and healthy to change - it offers new challenges. The biggest difficulty was replacing Donnie in 1997. The singer is so much the face of the band and the music, and it took us a long time to eventually find the right person to replace Donnie. If we had not found someone, not just special, but 'right', we would not have carried on.<br /> But throughout our 36 years there have not been too many personnel changes.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Were you taught Highland history at school? How does it compare with your children's experience of the subject?<br /> <br /> A: Yes, I was, and it has always been with a sense of deep seated grievance that I have looked back at my school history experience. A starting point for anyone should be to know about the people and events that have defined them and have brought them to where they are today. We were never taught any Highland history whatsoever, and I never learnt about the defining moments in my own history until I left school. Thankfully things have now changed and I have been delighted to see my own children's very different experience unfold throughout both their primary and secondary education. <br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Which single event do you feel has changed the course of Highland history the most (for better or worse)?<br /> <br /> A: I suppose it has to be Culloden, but after that, the moment when the first woman threw the first stone or clump of earth at what became known as the Battle of the Braes - that was the start of the cultural fight back.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: It often seems to be the case that when young people in the Highlands leave school they are also desperate to leave the area but many return when they have families of their own. Do you think that in order to fully appreciate your own culture you have to distance yourself from it for a while?<br /> <br /> A: I was certainly of that view and that was my own experience, but I don't know if that is the case now or not. The world is now a much smaller place - we share so many universal ideas and life options, and youngsters today are much more aware of their own sense of identity as Highlanders. I see that particularly with children that have gone through the Feisean - it has given them a sense of pride and confidence in the culture and they can just as easily be the people they are by staying in the area or leaving for wider horizons.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: If the band hadn't been so successful and you'd had to get a 'normal' job what would you have chosen and would you have wanted or been able to stay in the Highlands?<br /> <br /> A: Yes, I was a teacher and taught for 3 years full time, and many years as a temp. teacher while we were trying to get Runrig established. After leaving school, I opted for a possible future career in teaching, precisely for the reasons stated in the question - of being able to return to work in the Highlands.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Nearly 30 years after the release of Recovery, where do you see Scotland's Gaelic Community now and in the future?<br /> <br /> A: I think that we have certainly 'recovered'. We have not been 'saved from extinction' by any manner of means, and the future is always going to be a struggle, but the Gaelic community is now much more confident and high profile than it was 30 years ago. Initiatives such as Gaelic Medium Education, an expanding Broadcasting service and the rise of the Feisean Movement have been particularly important for the success of the language and the culture as a whole<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: How often do you use Gaelic in everyday life?<br /> <br /> A: Not a lot to be honest. At home, my wife is not a Gaelic speaker so that limits things, but my 3 children have all taken Gaelic to Higher level. That has given me a great reason to talk in Gaelic to them as often as possible.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: A Runrig gig seems to include fewer Gaelic songs than in the past. Is that because of line-up changes or is it more a case of so many songs and so little time?<br /> <br /> A: A bit of both. The one down side of Bruce as a singer is of course, not being able to sing much in Gaelic. But there will never be a Runrig show or CD where Gaelic does not feature.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: A lot of the English songs seem to work just as easily in Gaelic - is that something you're aware of as you write or is it a subconscious thing that comes with being bilingual?<br /> <br /> A: We never try to analyse it - I suppose that during the writing process, there just happens to a time when you are in Gaelic mode and another time when you are in English. But most of the time you are not really aware of a difference - it's just like another musical colour or a different musical instrument all contributing to a whole entity.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Is it a conscious decision to record your more overtly political songs in Gaelic? I'm thinking of songs like Fichead Bliadhna and Ard.<br /> <br /> A: Again, no - it's just the way it happened naturally. There are other songs which you might determine as 'political' like Recovery for instance, that are in English. <br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Can you describe the process of songwriting with your brother? Is there a clear division of labour?<br /> <br /> A: There is no set recipe or formula. We both work on our own and together - since I can remember we have been trading lyric lines and lines of melody and sharing ideas. We wrote some of the earlier albums from scratch, locking ourselves away together in Uist for a couple of weeks at a time and it is always interesting to start with a blank canvas. But I find that the best songs don't come from a music situation at all - they can come from any life situation at any time.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: What inspires you most in your writing?<br /> <br /> A: I suppose everything that surrounds you, and that you live with day to day - everything that you feel strongly about - your own life journey - Gaelic culture - the landscape - family - a sense of the spiritual.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Can you describe the influence the Highland landscape has had on your song writing?<br /> <br /> A: A huge influence - for anyone born in the Highlands it plays such a significant part in our lives. Not just in terms of physical beauty and colour and mood, but it is the scale of the landscape that constantly determines the size and sense of mortality of man within it<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Which song would you most like to be remembered for writing?<br /> <br /> A: Probably An Ubhal As Airde since it became the first Gaelic song to get into the Top 20. Performing it on Top of the Pops was a real highlight.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: What do you do to relax?<br /> <br /> A: Having been a PE teacher, sport was always my passion and I watch football and shinty as often as I can - but now that a knee injury has stopped my own sporting activities I have taken up angling. Apart from that any activity in my boiler suit does me fine.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Who is on your iPod/mp3 player at the moment?<br /> <br /> A: I'm afraid I am the consummate luddite. I did get an iPod as a Christmas present a couple of years back, but the kids are off with it. If I was to take it with me anywhere I'd only lose it. But if you were to ask me who I am listening to in the car at the moment, a quick check would reveal - Blair Douglas and Elbow.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Do you have a favourite landscape or place?<br /> <br /> A: North Uist and in particular Clachan Sands.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: What has been your most memorable gig as performer?<br /> <br /> A: Far too many to count or even remember now, but I do have particularly fond memories of the 'Big Top' night in Benbecula, 1991. Being able to take the same show that we would put on in any major city concert venue and take it to our own home patch was a real thrill.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Is there any chance of another tour of the H&I, reminiscent of 1991's 'Big Top' tour?<br /> <br /> A: There's always a chance of that, and finding ways of playing in the islands has always been high on the wish list. I suppose that the Heb Celt Festival has now been able to fulfil that objective to a degree.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: Emigration from the Highlands has been a recurring theme in your songs. Do you have any plans for the Year of Homecoming?<br /> <br /> A: We are putting on a big outdoor concert at Scone Palace in August and although we will not be involved in the official Homecoming programme, homecoming will be very much the theme to the show. We hope its going to be a special occasion.<br /> <br /> <br /> Q: What next for Runrig? Do you still have ambitions to fulfil?<br /> <br /> A: Just the next song. That's always been enough to be getting on with.