Runrig brothers accomplish 40 year dream

Rory and Calum McDonald, the songwriting siblings from Runrig are set to release their first ever solo album, finally seeing a dream accomplished that they have been nurturing for over 40 years. The album was released on 30th April and is entitled ‘The Band from Rockall’ and draws inspiration from the effect the rock and pop culture of the 50’s and 60’s had on the Outer Hebrides’ Gaelic culture.

The result is a heady fusion of traditional, lifting Gaelic songs and the energetic twanging of American rock and the beat synonymous with Merseyside. Add into the mix a sound landscape that nods its head towards an era of vintage keyboards and classic retro guitars and you end up with a fresh, contemporary and compelling atmosphere.

The album features 12 new songs – including four in Gaelic. The title comes from the rock outcrop lying in the Atlantic Ocean, 300 miles west of the Scottish mainland and 200 miles beyond St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides. It is the most westerly part of Europe – the next stop, America.

The writers say that while the concept originated prior to 1973 when Runrig was formed, the band’s subsequent career meant there never seemed to be a suitable time to develop it further. However, over the past two years, and especially the last 12 months when the band took a break from touring, it seemed that the time was right.

Rory said: “Recording this album took us on a musical adventure that drew on the influences and musical triggers that have long been the soundtrack to our lives.

“I think that generally, music was better in the 50s/60s – that’s not saying that there’s not great stuff around now – it’s just that a unique, wellspring of creativity was bursting forth at that time, the like that had never been heard before. We loved the songs, the way records sounded, the way they were recorded. There was an innocence and a naivety in all this discovery, resulting in a music that was fresh, raw and largely uncontrived.

“In a strange way we felt like we were starting out all over again, back to the beginning, as we approached the writing and recording of the record and we hope that we also came to it with that degree of naivety that leaves one open to the unexpected.”

According to Calum, the album was a real labour of love: “So often within the music business you have to work with many different people and opinions in order to take a song from the initial raw material to the finished recorded article, – you have to hand over emotional ownership.

“But with this we were able to retain control, stay with the songs throughout the whole process and it gets you completely to the heart of the song. It’s been a real cathartic experience.”

It was agreed that for the project to have any meaning, it had to be completely separate from Runrig in terms of presentation and musical approach.

Rory plays all guitars and most of the keyboards and Calum plays drums on the album. They are joined by Michael Bannister and Ross Hamilton, the owners and engineer /musician/producers from Rocket Science studio in Glasgow; Andy Thorburn (piano): Euan Burton (double bass): Ryan Quigley (trumpet): Paul Towndrow (saxophone): Fiona Johnston (strings) and B. J. Cole (pedal steel guitar).

Singers included the acclaimed Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, Danish/ Icelandic folk cross-over singer, Sine Lahm Lauritsen and The Craigie Choir.

“We started the process by going through loads of old tapes of song demos on various formats from old cassette recordings, reel to reel tapes, working through the tape sizes over the years, to DAT and digital recordings of more recent times”, said Rory.

“It was a fascinating process and in many cases we came across songs we had completely forgotten about. Choosing the material was the first task and there was so much to choose from. There were older songs that had always meant a lot to us, and we also wanted to write some new songs as well.”

Calum added: “For the recording, we wanted to initially avoid going into big studios. It was all done in the self-op home demo situation. Drums were recorded to try to capture a retro 60s sound.

“Rory recorded guitars and keyboards on classic vintage instruments with complimentary sounds and all recorded on analogue tape. We then took the raw material to mother studios in Denmark and in Glasgow to pull it all together.”

In general, the song themes are to do with the personal – a sense of family and spirituality in all its various forms. The Band From Rockall, the mainly instrumental opening track, sets the scene with imagery and lyrics capturing the freshness of the impact of early pop and rock music within a particular geographical and cultural context.

Of the Gaelic songs, three – Mairi Bhan (Fair- haired Mary): Luaidh (Love) and Nighean Og Nan Suilean Ciuin (Young Girl With The Gentle Eyes) – are love songs. The fourth, Am Bard Deirannach (The Last Bard) is a eulogy about the last-of-a-generation family relative, sea-farer, whale fisher and village poet.

The album will be available from and normal retail outlets. In keeping with the ethos of the project, the recording will be released on vinyl as well as CD.