On 29th January 2016, Scotland’s premier folk rock band Runrig released their 14th and final studio album “The Story“. It’s a very reflective album, and the songs featured on it look back over their incredible 40+ year career with a sweet nostalgia that will be shared with by any Runrig fan.
What does “The Story” have to do with me? Well as a Runrig fan, the album certainly has got me thinking about my own story, which Runrig has played an important part in over the past 12 years.
My story begins in the summer of 2002. I had just left school and started at Falkirk College studying Hospitality Management (I know, right?) and on days off I enjoyed going to Europa Music, a popular record store in Stirling, and browsing through the folk CDs. I had heard Runrig’s version of “Loch Lomond” at the end of parties as far back as I can remember, and was looking for an album with it on it. I found their live album “Once In A Lifetime” in amongst the hundreds of CDs at Europa and decided to buy it, the album of course featuring the live version of Loch Lomond.” I took it home, listened to it, and ultimately wasn’t too keen on it. The album went to the bottom of my collection to gather dust.
Fast forward to Christmas of that year. I’m opening my presents and open one from my parents – it’s Runrig’s album “In Search Of Angels”. I remembered the first Runrig album I had bought and was a bit sceptical, but I stuck it in my CD player and gave it a listen. Wow! This wasn’t the same band I had listened to a few months earlier, this was fantastic!
Over the months that followed, this album was listened to constantly, to the point that I knew most of the lyrics, and found myself at college, dreaming of the Hebrides and covering my notepad in lyrics from the album when I should have been paying attention to my lecturers. I had always enjoyed writing stories and poetry, and found fresh inspiration in my new-found favourite band.
I had listened again to “Once In A Lifetime” and now loved it. I also then learned that Runrig themselves had went through a major transformation, following the departure of former frontman Donnie Munro 1997, they had a new lead singer, Cape Breton’s own Bruce Guthro, and Runrig’s music suddenly sounded fresh and revived.
The summer of 2003 came along and Runrig were due to play Stirling Castle in celebration of their 30th anniversary and also the release of their new album “Proterra”. I had a choice of 3 things to do on that night: get a ticket and go the 30th anniversary concert, go to my friend’s 21st, or go to a ceilidh in Aberdeenshire. For some bizarre reason, I went to the ceilidh!
December 2003 came along and Runrig were on tour, so I decided to go to see them for the very first time in Perth. I remember getting to Perth and had to get a taxi out to my accommodation, which was a very basic “hotel” out by the airport (which I never even knew existed). My single room was absolutely tiny, I don’t think it even had an en-suite. I didn’t care, I was only going to be sleeping in it later that night then up early the next morning and, ultimately, it was cheap.
I got another taxi back into Perth and made my way to the concert hall. I remember getting there and being fairly close to the front and got chatting to some fellow fans. The lights went down and the support act came on. Scott MacDonald, I believe it was, although I may be wrong. After his set, there was short break before the light’s went down again and an old recording of Gaelic song came hauntingly from the speakers. Then the midi bagpipes started up, with the keyboards and cymbals quickly following. They opened with “From The North” and from that moment I was hooked. I can’t remember much else from that night, but I can remember feeling like a different person when I left.
The next morning, I gathered my things and headed home. At this time, there was no train station in Alloa, so I had to get a bus from Stirling to get home, but when I get to Stirling I found myself walking up the town. I got to the Old Arcade and entered the Andy Simpson Music Centre and bought my very first guitar: a Stagg acoustic guitar. It cost me about £80 and came with a gig bag and pitch-pipe. I went home and tried to play this thing, but couldn’t so I went online and ordered Runrig’s “Flower Of The West” songbook. Whilst I patiently waited on it arriving, I consulted the internet for the basic guitar chords and started to tinker around.
The Runrig songbook arrived, and I started to learn their songs. I was amazed with this book. It was beautifully put together with sheet music, guitar chords, stories about the songs and fantastic pictures from the Outer Hebrides. I wanted to go there. I began to get more familiar with the guitar and the basic chords and found I could sing along to some of the songs. One day I got brave and went busking at the bottom of King Street in Stirling, I think I made Enough for a burger and my bus home…
Throughout 2004, My Runrig album collection began to expand, as did my repertoire, confidence and ability on the guitar. In amongst all that, I started to feel a longing to visit the Outer Hebrides. Next thing I knew, I had booked tickets for the Hebridean Celtic Festival in the summer. Runrig were also playing a large outdoor concert at Crathes Castle a few weeks after HebCelt, so I booked tickets for that too. What a summer! I made some great friends between HebCelt and the Runrig gig at Crathes Castle.
Over the years that followed, I grew in confidence and began to play at open mic nights. These were essential experiences which eventually led to gigs all over Scotland, England…even two gigs in Denmark! My repertoire began to expand, not just with Runrig’s songs, but with traditional songs, folk covers and, eventually, my own songs. Every year since then I have returned to the Outer Hebrides, exploring more and more amazing places, including Barra, the Uists, Eigg, Mull and Islay. I also returned to the Hebridean Celtic Festival year after year.
In 2012, I gathered all the songs I had written and began to put together my album “Travels“, using the skills, knowledge and passion for music I had developed. Three and a bit years later, whilst I am very self-critical of “Travels” as I am with all of my music, every time I hear my album I feel a sense of pride, and remember all of the fantastic people, places and music that drove me to create it. Of course, I also remember where my story started: with Runrig and a cheap guitar.
Runrig’s music has indeed been the catalyst for my own music, as well as my adventures around Scotland. Whilst I will never achieve anywhere near the success that Runrig have had, the inspiration they have given me, as well as many others, will last a lifetime.
Runrig’s story may be drawing to a close, but I believe their legacy will turn to legend…and we all know that legends never die.