FolkWorld Live Review 12/2002 by Michael Moll
This issue, I have not a real "Suffolk & beyond" column, instead
a live review of Runrig in Ipswich. There is also a live review of the Bollywood
Brass Band's concert in Ipswich in the pipeline - watch out in the next issue!
The last time I saw Runrig was in Tønder 1998 when their new singer, Bruce Guthro, had just joined the band. That concert in 1998 was enjoyable enough, however I was not completely convinced. Curiosity brought me back to see how Runrig are doing now, 4 years down the road. I must say, I was rather impressed by what I saw.
First thing that was different of this concert to what I expected was the average age of the audience coming to the Ipswich Regent that night in December. While in Germany the Runrig audience is more a rock audience, with an average age of under 30, here we had a mix of all ages, including older people and whole families. Maybe the high average age has to do with the fact that the average age of Suffolk residents is 54? Whatever, even the older folks ended up rocking!
To my pleasure, the concert started off with a top class support act: Duncan Chisholm, one of the best fiddlers from Scotland, with Blazin' Fiddles guitarist Marc Clement. They played a wonderful mixture of fast and wild and beautiful quiet tunes. To balance the set, Marc sang a couple of songs which was a bit of a shame, as these two are best as instrumentalists. Anyway, I could not imagine that after this top duo the evening could still improve. But I suppose I was wrong...
Runrig have been together for nearly 30 years. They have become icons for the Gaelic movement in Scotland, as the first well known band trying to combine Gaelic music and songs with modern sounds. Having started as a local Ceilidh Band, they made their way to the top league of Scottish bands, and built up a fan circuit across Europe, most notably in Germany, where they have become a well known cult band. The biggest recent change in the Runrig history was in 1998, when Donnie Munro left the band, after 23 years as the lead singer. There was a lot of scepticism among fans when they appointed a Canadian singer from Nova Scotia, Bruce Guthro, to replace Donnie. But apparently all worked out well... that well that Runrig has reached another heigth of their carreer, with their new album, "Stamping Gounds", having reached No. 20 in the German album charts - a better album chart position than they ever had.
This night, they proved to be in perfect shape. Instrumentally, they directly convinced - especially due to the band's instrumental master mind, Malcolm Jones. Malcolm is without doubt one of the most distinctive and melodic electric guitar players in the world, his playing creates a unique atmosphere. At the same time he is also skilled in playing faster traditional melodies on his electric guitar. But his talent does not stop there - he is also a great accordion player, and he plays the pipes (unfortunately with Runrig only the horrible electric version of the pipes, sounding very artificial and looking, when played, somewhat indecent). At times you think that it is a shame that Runrig cannot have two Malcolm Jones - one playing the accordion, the other electric guitar...
On the song front, it took a bit longer to convince me, especially as the first part of the concert included many of the more recent songs, that somehow mostly do not reach the quality of the good old times. It is not that I don't like Bruce's voice, it is more that the songs lack the melodic element; the Scottishness that the songs from the all time classic album "Heartland" had. However, I have to admit that some of the songs from their most recent album "Stomping Ground", including the title track of the album, have some of the magic in them as the "Heartland" songs had. I personally prefer Runrig's Gaelic songs to their English ones - however, these are much less prominent in the concert.
Highlights of the evening were those songs from "Heartland" - still in the centre of Runrig's live repertoire - as well as several quiet songs in a pop ballad style, sung by Bruce with minimalist instrumentation. The most special moment of the evening was when Duncan Chisholm joined Runrig to play some traditional tunes, in particular when he played a duo with Malcolm Jones - fiddle and electric guitar playing traditional Scottish music, magnificent.
The audience got a lot of music for their money - all in all, Runrig plyed two hours without break, and gave two encores. Runrig have proven this night that they are defenitely still one of the most special rock bands in the world, playing melodic rock music full of Scottish roots. A perfect evening.
Artist's homepage: www.runrig.co.uk
Photo Credit: Photos by The Mollis. Taken at the Tonder Festival 1998.
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