Runrig and Bruce Guthro: Who was the Scottish rock band’s singer? How did he die? History and memoirs

Canadian-born singer-songwriter Bruce Guthro has died aged 62 following an epic music career that took him to stardom along with Scots celtic rock band Runrig; this is their story.

Famous for making waves on both sides of the pond, Guthro is one of the most well-known musicians from Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia) both for his solo career and his later years fronting for Runrig; a band considered ‘quintessentially Scottish’ by so many. Unfortunately, after a years-long battle against cancer, he passed away on Tuesday, September 5, only five days after celebrating his 62nd birthday on August 31.

Friends, family and colleagues alike have all been devastated by the loss. In a statement, Runrig said: “It is with the heaviest of hearts and with profound sadness that we inform you of the news that Bruce passed away last night, having finally lost a long battle with cancer that has stretched back many years.

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“Everyone associated with Runrig is heartbroken at the loss of a dear friend and such a special musical colleague.

“Our immediate thoughts and prayers at this time are with Kim [his wife], Dylan and Jodie [his children].”

The Canadian-born musician boasts a 40-year career that includes seven albums “with one going gold” and he “won nine east coast music awards”, according to City News Everywhere. The latter half of his career saw him become the lead vocalist of the massively popular Scots band Runrig for 20 years as he took over for Donnie Munro.

For their ‘Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame’ the Hands Up for Trad Music project writes: “It’s impossible to overestimate Runrig’s role in taking Gaelic and Scottish culture to an international audience and impossible to imagine the Gaelic music scene today without the existence of a band that has acquired legendary status.”

Guthro himself was not personally raised with Scotland’s endangered heritage language, yet condolences and support from famous Gaelic speakers around the nation have poured out in the wake of his death. This includes Jowlie Fowlis, the ‘singing voice’ for Merida in Disney’s ‘Brave’, who wrote: “He was such a gifted singer and a powerful presence onstage.

“It was one of the greatest privileges for me to sing with him in the studio, onstage and backstage over the years.”

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In celebration of Guthro and his legacy with Runrig, here is an overview of the life and times of this beloved musician and the history of Runrig both in the pre and post Guthro era.

Born in Nova Scotia (Canada), Bruce Guthro has achieved a legendary music career that spans success both in a solo career and his decades spent with Runrig. Born in Nova Scotia (Canada), Bruce Guthro has achieved a legendary music career that spans success both in a solo career and his decades spent with Runrig.
Born in Nova Scotia (Canada), Bruce Guthro has achieved a legendary music career that spans success both in a solo career and his decades spent with Runrig. | Submitted via News Letter

Who is Bruce Guthro?

Guthro is a singer-songwriter born in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, on August 31, 1961. On top of a successful solo career he also rose to stardom as the lead singer of Scottish folk rock band Runrig. CBC reports that he “started his career leading a band at local clubs and legions — what his longtime friend and colleague J.P. Cormier described as his ‘first career’...”

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They continue: “He would later move to the Halifax area and go on to have a successful solo career before fronting the hugely popular Scottish band Runrig for 20 years.”

Guthro gained great prestige over the years, he won multiple East Coast Music Awards with his first solo album “Sails to the Wind” in 1994 - his last album was “Bound for Bethlehem” in 2012.

Last FM reports that he “was also host of Canadian TV show ‘Songwriters Circle’, on which guests included musical talents including the likes of Alan Doyle, from Canadian Band Great Big Sea.”

How did Bruce Guthro die?

As written by the Daily Record: “Runrig lead singer Bruce Guthro has died at the age of 62 after announcing two months ago that he was battling a serious illness.”

Runrig confirmed that this ‘serious illness’ was cancer in a statement issued following his death.

“An early line-up - Rory, Calum, Malcolm and Donnie.” “An early line-up - Rory, Calum, Malcolm and Donnie.”
“An early line-up - Rory, Calum, Malcolm and Donnie.” | Submitted

Runrig and Bruce Guthro History

Runrig was founded by brothers Calum and Rory Macdonald and their friend Blair Douglas in Portree, Isle of Skye (Inner Hebrides of Scotland) in 1973. The following year, Donnie Munro joined the group as their lead singer and Douglas left it - he was replaced by Robert Macdonald. Despite a successful run, Munro left the band in 1997 and for over a year afterwards the band were desperately seeking a new singer to take over for him.

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During that search, the band listened to hundreds of demo CDs and auditioned huge swaths of hopefuls for the role. Regardless, no one felt right and it seemed the celtic folk rock band were close to calling it quits even after an iconic 24 years together. Fortunately, the son of Runrig’s manager (Marlene Ross) was on holiday in Canada at the time where he saw a video of Guthro.

Reportedly, he was immediately taken with his ‘Canadian style Celtic music’ and distinctive voice. After returning to Scotland, he passed it over to his mother who shared the sentiment. Shortly after, Ross contacted Bruce and invited him to Scotland so he could meet the band. Pete Wishart, a member of Runrig for 15 years, said they had almost given up on their search until they met Guthro.

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He said: “Bruce came in that day when Scotland were playing Brazil in the 1998 World Cup and we had half an eye on the football and half an eye on Bruce.

“When Bruce sang we turned around almost with our jaws hitting the ground with the quality of Bruce’s voice.”

The rest is history, Ross announced the good news with the following statement: “I know I speak for all the band when I say how delighted and excited I am to have Bruce on board. 

“I had been looking for someone very special, with a magical voice and charisma, and it was all there, albeit on the other side of the Atlantic.

“The searching process took longer than we had hoped, but we knew we had to find the best for our fans.

“I truly believe we have.”

Although Runrig almost gave up on searching for a replacement for Donnie Munro back in 1997, when they met the talented Bruce Guthro everything suddenly changed.  Although Runrig almost gave up on searching for a replacement for Donnie Munro back in 1997, when they met the talented Bruce Guthro everything suddenly changed.
Although Runrig almost gave up on searching for a replacement for Donnie Munro back in 1997, when they met the talented Bruce Guthro everything suddenly changed. | Andrew Milligan (PA) and WikiCommons

Why did Donnie Munro leave (and what is he doing now)?

In short, Munro left Runrig to pursue a political career and stand as a Labour Party candidate for the Scottish Parliament. He left in 1997 and his farewell concert took place at Stirling Castle on the 29th of August. Fittingly, the final performance of Runrig with Guthro as a lead singer also took place in Stirling during the August of 2018 at Falleninch Field which is overlooked by the castle.

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Although Munro was not successfully elected in politics, he continued to enjoy a solo career and released “On the West Side” in 1999. He also went on to serve as Rector at both the University of Edinburgh and the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Nowadays, he works as the Development Director for Sabhal Mòr Ostaig; a Gaelic-learning college on the Isle of Skye.

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Responses to Bruce Guthro’s passing

Tributes have poured in far and wide following the announcement of Guthro’s death. This includes the Mayor of Halifax (where Guthro enjoyed a solo career) “who expressed his sadness at the news and described Guthro as a musical legend who cared deeply about people” according to UK Snack Attack.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Wishart who was in Runrig until 2001 but now acts as an SNP MP For Perth and North Perthshire, wrote: “So, so sad to hear of the untimely death of my friend and former band mate Bruce Guthro.

“He was just the nicest person you could ever hope to meet and a joy to perform with.

“An exceptional singer, musician and songwriter taken far too soon. We are going to miss him. RIP.”

MSP Kate Forbes wrote: “Incredibly sad to hear this news and my deepest sympathies go to Bruce Guthro’s family, friends and band members.

“His powerful voice lives on, as generations continue to listen to his beautiful music.

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