DONNIE Munro has proved that there is life after Runrig, even if his aim to sit in Parliament failed. The band’s former lead singer has continued his career as a solo artist, and is also an indefatigable worker for Gaelic language and culture.
Runrig is a uniquely Scottish phenomenon. A Celtic rock band with roots in Skye and a huge following across Scotland, the group’s palpable sense of communion with their audience and the immediacy and passion of their music survived the journey from local dance band in the Western Isles to national institution.
Munro fronted Runrig through their glory years, and his final gigs with the band at Stirling Castle in 1997 were highly emotional affairs for all concerned.
"Leaving Runrig was always going to be painful," he admits. "We grew up as a band, and there was a very close personal connection. It was a painful break to make, but I think there are times in life that you know you have to make certain decisions, even if it might be easier not to."
One of the primary reasons for leaving was his ambition to be elected to Parliament. He stood for Labour in his home constituency of Ross, Skye and Inverness West, but lost out to Charles Kennedy, now the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who also happens to be a big Runrig fan. (Munro’s colleague from Runrig, keyboard player Peter Wishart, fared better, and is now the Scottish National Party’s chief whip and spokesperson for Transport, Rural Affairs, Culture, Media and Sport).
Munro has not run for office since, but it is a door that he chooses to leave open.
"I remain open-minded about standing for election again," he says. "I would certainly not rule anything out. It's a question I’m often asked, and I've said all along that I continue with political activity in a wider sense anyway in my various involvements."
Those include his solo career as a singer and songwriter. Munro has issued several albums, including a project entirely devoted to traditional Gaelic songs. He writes most of his material, but still returns to songs from the Runrig era as well.
"It was strange at first," he admits, "and I definitely felt a bit out on a limb. With Runrig we created an entity together, but now it's very much me and my songs, and I think that maybe creates a more relaxed, more intimate relationship with the audience and the music.
"I do go back to the Runrig songs as well," says Munro. "It's all about the song for me, and as far as I'm concerned, those songs by Calum and Rory MacDonald are some of the best things to have come out of Scotland."
Munro also has served as rector of both Edinburgh University and the University of the Highlands and Islands, and is involved in awareness-raising with Sabhal Mr Ostaig, the Gaelic College at Sleat on his native Skye.
"I'm very proud to be involved with Sabhal Mr Ostaig, which to my knowledge is the only institution in the world dealing with higher education solely through Gaelic language," explains Munro. "I've always seen the development work as an extension of what I was doing in Runrig," he says.
"I grew up in a house where Gaelic was spoken, but it was very much discouraged in school, and the pervasive influence of television added to that," Munro says. "I came to it again through music, and this work (with Sabhal Mr Ostaig) is a wonderful opportunity for me to be involved with projects which recognise the value of regenerating Gaelic language and the economic, social and cultural health of the Gaidhealtachd."
In 2003, Munro completed a 20-day trek in Nepal to within sight of Everest, following the original supply route taken by the 1953 British expedition. The walk was done on behalf of the Highland Society for the Blind – of which he is president - and was partly inspired by a family photograph of a two-year-old Munro perched on the shoulders of Edmund Hillary when the great mountaineer visited Skye in 1955.
"Apparently he broke his ankle climbing in the Cuillins!" Munro claims. "The trek was a very special undertaking for me. It was an absolutely wonderful experience made all the more significant by walking and living with my friend Sherpa Nema Tend and his family.
"In many ways their lives are probably close to what life was like in the Highlands and Islands a century or more ago."
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