Runrig at The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 29th March 2014

Posted by Zyllah Moranne-Brown on Saturday Mar 29, 2014 Under Celtic, Folk, Prog Rock

Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

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Spring is nearly here and it’s finally warming up – so tonight to the delectable Symphony Hall and to see a band who, to be honest, I don’t know too much about. Off the back of several large open-air, events held across Europe during 2013 at venues such as Edinburgh Castle, and culminating last August at Party On The Moor, Runrig come to Birmingham to celebrate their 40th anniversary with us.

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So to a quick potted history. Formed in ’73 as the Run-Rig Dance Band they mooted their wears around the clubs and societies playing Gaelic folk. This early incarnation played fundraisers for various things like the “….shoot fish sheep shearers association…” and as a trade for playing, from the local ladies backstage, came piles of sandwiches and cakes. Up ‘til ’78 is was very much a part time / student venture before they took the plunge and issued their music through their own independent label. With line-up changes it was ’87 before they gained their breakthrough ‘moment’: tours of Canada, a festival behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin and support to the newly crowned heroes of rock – U2. The same year they finally signed to a major label. ‘The Big Wheel’ charted reached number 4 in the UK Charts, ‘Amazing Things’ did even better reaching number 2 – and open air concerts such as the one at Loch Lomond beckoned; such gigs have since become annual outing of the band.  In 1997, original lead singer Donnie Munro departed for politics and was replaced with Canadian Bruce Guthro.  After successfully continuing and gaining more success across Europe and the US and Canada, they took a hiatus, before in 2013 they performed at several large open-air, anniversary events held across Europe, culminating at ‘Party on the Moor’  – tonight’s gig is inspired by this event to celebrate their 40 years in the music business.

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One poignant fact about Runrig.  Their song, ‘Running to the Light ‘was chosen as the wake up call on the final morning of the ill-fated Columbia Space Mission by astronaut fan, Laurel Clark. Very little survived the tragedy but amongst the wreckage, scattered across Southern America was Laurel Clark’s Runrig CD. It was recovered intact from a field in Texas, and presented to the band by Laurel’s husband and son at a memorable night in Glasgow City Chambers later the same year.

Runrig of 2014 are brothers and founding members Rory and Calum Macdonald, Malcolm Jones (34 years Runrig service), Iain Bayne (31), vocalist Brian Guthro (who joined in ’97) and Brian Hurren on keyboards who came to play and stayed in 2001.

Tonight’s gig at Symphony Hall is pretty much sold out. The instrument covered stage is being covered by a carpet of dry ice . We are promised that tonight’s set is in two halves – an hour then 20 minute break and then around an hour an a half. Runrig are due on stage at 7.45pm. The crowd is a real mix tonight; including some little people have been brought along by parents. As the lights go down, people cheer. An old fashioned radio appears on the screen, broadcasting the shipping forecast; then differing tracks and the clapping starts as people recognise the tunes and melodies being issued.  Runrig take to stage and bow to a huge cheer – people clapping in time to musical intro. The band haven’t even haven’t even started yet and they are getting a huge response!

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Jones starts up the tune on his guitar and first track ‘Road Trip’; folk with a guitar twist as the lyrics float across the screen to the chorus. ‘Everything you need, is everything you see.’

Guthro wishes us hello and asks if we’re up for a good night tonight. The answer is already yes – the audience are here to enjoy and party – as we’re taken into  ‘City of Lights.’  Guthro is chatty and funny as he explains it’s Runrig’s 40th anniversary and that he doesn’t reckon there’s any one here from ’73 – they’ll be way too long in the tooth… (although a few cheers do indeed go up). ‘Big Sky’ is more whimsical as it starts before rising into a Pink Floyd inspired prog-rock Gaelic epic that rolls on for at least 10 minutes – while ‘Maymorning’ is rock meets ‘Tubular Bells’ with folk vibes. And as the drumbeat rises the audience are on their feet and clapping away.

Guthro: “So here we are in Birmingham on Saturday night. You’re famous for Black Sabbath….Duran Duran…..not because of your football team! You are a Birmingham Runrig whiskey drinking crowd…” We cheer and sing along as the band go into ‘The Locomotion’. “Enjoying your spring weather – feels like the beginning of summer to me…” (Guthro is from Nova Scotia, Canada) “…30 cm of show on east coast – thank god I brought the wife a shovel before I left…” before we’re back into the rock Gaelic vibes with ‘Dance Called America.’

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‘Siol Ghoraidh’ is a flag-bearing Gaelic anthem, with a core rhythm that beats out. ‘The Engine Room’ sees guitarist Jones playing what appears to be electronic bag-pipes ( a stick like instrument with no bag!) before drums and percussion come in: Runrig take traditional folk and crank up the volume.

“So 40 years – happy birthday to us!” A comment that the founding brothers only look 35 – “Memories are good ones – the songs are for you…” as ‘Book of Golden Stories’ features historic pictures, tickets and reviews from their career on the screen behind the band. Before the last song of their first set, clearly something they’re not used to, this split set –  “…. Two sets and a break …. no idea what we’ll do back stage, maybe hook up to oxygen masks or adjust makeup…” before they embark on ‘Every River’ and the crowd sing back, the band quiet so they can hear us – with a kinda U2 ‘With or Without you’ vibe.

What a great first set, we’re buzzing as we pop out for a quick beverage.

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And so for Set 2, onto a darkened stage, Guthro appears with acoustic guitar to play us ‘In Search of Angels’ before being joined partway through by guitarist brother MacDonald and Hurren on keyboards.

MacDonald explains, tongue in cheek, that the first half took so much out of them they’re going to sit for the second set – as 5 of the 6 piece take to their seats, percussionist MacDonald and drummer Bayne sitting on boxes, which become beat boxes as Runrig take us into the Gaelic ‘Tir a Mhurain’ ; the other members joining in on zither, accordion and acoustic guitar. Guthro rejoins his band’s little Kayleigh quipping about the Scottish referendum “… whole border lined up with tanks – guys with face half painted in blue…” and him, being Canadian, will play the U.N (United Nations) role. Runrig are, apparently, one big happy family, sound guy is from Denmark, the light man is English (as said light man promptly switches all the lights off!)

‘Dust’ is a traditional Gaelic jig, followed by the rhythm section of the band gaining individual drums of varying sizes and lining up at the front to beat their hearts out. A drum solo (quartet) with a difference – Runrig drummer Bayne get’s a swig of beer, personally brought onto the stage courtesy of Guthro, during the middle of this drumming escapade, as they continue to drum out with rhythms of varying beats and power.

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And then to another historic video. “In the beginning… 1973…” and we’re on their journey once again, before “2001- “. The band are back in their places we’re back to the full on Gaelic rock with ‘Rocket to the Moon’ – before the haunting romp that is ‘Alba.’‘Pride of the Summer’ gives us full Gaelic pride – quite literally; ‘ Skye’ with Big Country vibes, lilts out into a prog-rock epic – guitarist Jones goes Floyd before cranking it up – I almost feel I’m at a Who gig. ‘Going Home’ is the culmination for the second set; a ballad crossed between country and folk.

But it’s not over – encore now as Guthro, solo, takes us into ‘Hearts of Olden Glory’ – his powerful Canadian voice ranging throughout the auditorium.  The words are on the screen and he encourages us to sing. Quite beautiful as the Hall carries our 3,000 voices and, as Guthro sings over our words to accompany us, is one of those moments when the hackles go up on the back of your neck…

‘On the Edge’ takes us back to Gaelic prog-rock as we go all Pink Floyd and The Who, before a-stomping country, folk mix that is ‘Clash of The Ash’ – as we dance and sing to the words on the screen ‘ Come On…Allright…” (two ‘L’s I know!)

‘Loch Lomond’ Runrig style, their charity single from 2007 for Children In Need – the drumbeat dictates we should clap – so we all do. Clap clap. Clap. Clap clap. Clap. This version is beefed up and powerful – wave your arms in the air and sway them from side to side before back to … Clap. Clap clap. Before the audience sing ‘solo’. I’ve never seen so much Scottish patriotism in Birmingham…

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And to complete the night – ‘And We’ll Sing’ is a new track and completes the set; the band members at the front of the stage akin with drums and accordions and acoustic guitars – right back to Runrig’s basics…

Wow. I’d heard of Runrig but they hadn’t quite ever hit my musical radar. And so an opportunity to see them was indeed something to take opportunity of. But even in the early part of the first set I wondered, how the hell did I miss these guys? Did they appear over the years in a different universe? Because Runrig are talented. Runrig live – I have to say, are pretty epic. Heavy at times, prog-rock, pure folk and more and yet beautifully celtic, clearly over the past 40 years they have taken a truly alternative musical journey. A total of two and a half hour set – we danced, we clapped, we sang our little hearts out. And we left with huge grins on our faces.

If you get they opportunity – Runrig are not to be missed. Tonight’s 2 and a half hour epic was just £27.50 a ticket. If you get a chance – go literally party with Runrig.  Their ‘Party on The Moor’ gig was defined as one of the best Runrig gigs ever. Thank you for bringing it to Birmingham tonight. What an epic blast.

First Set:
Road Trip
City of Lights
Big Sky
Maymorning
Dance Called America
Siol Ghoraidh
The Engine Room
Book of Golden Stories
Every River

Second Set:
In Search of Angels
Tir a Mhurain
Dust
An Sabhal Aig Neill
[Drums]
Rocket to the Moon
Alba
Pride of the Summer
Skye
Going Home

Encore:
Hearts of Olden Glory
On the Edge
Clash of the Ash
Loch Lomond
And We’ll Sing

4 Responses to “Runrig at The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 29th March 2014”

  1. Helen Adams Says:

    This review is right on the money! Thank you! – Not just because it’s
    a positive review but it is also detailed, accurate and great photos too… Cheers!

  2. Frank Dowie Says:

    Excellent review. I’m glad you finally got to experience Runrig. See what you’ve missed all these years :-)

    Slainte.

  3. Kathleen Says:

    What a great review – makes us really wish they’d come to the USA. Thanks.

  4. Runrig @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 28 March 14 » Musings of a Creative Mind Says:

    […] for Gig Junkies; Pictures by Ken […]

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