Let’s start at the beginning. Donnie Munro was born on the 2nd August 1953 in Uig on the Isle of Skye. He was brought up with his parents in Portree as well as spending time on his grandparents’ croft. During his days at primary school he came into contact with a wee boy called Calum Macdonald. Although it was not known at the time, their paths would cross later in life in a major way.
Donnie went to Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, before moving on to Moray House in Edinburgh, where he attended a post-graduate teaching course. Donnie would return home to the Isle of Skye during the holidays and it was on one such occasion that he went along to see a local band called Run-Rig. The band included his old pal from primary school, Calum Macdonald. Their friendship grew and, about a year after this meeting, Calum and his brother Rory asked Donnie if he would like to become the singer for Run-Rig. That was the start of a long and successful career with the Band for Donnie. He taught art at Inverness Academy, Leith Academy and Tynecastle High School (Edinburgh) before Runrig became a full-time occupation in the early 1980s.
Early Runrig daysIn 1982 Runrig, as they were now known, turned professional. Donnie and the Band became one of Scotland’s most popular acts. During the height of their success Runrig albums would outsell all other artists in Scotland – yes they were, in Scotland, bigger than anyone else. He was elected as Rector of Edinburgh University in 1991, where he was very much respected by all and took his duties as rector very seriously. 1991 also saw the band perform to an audience of around 50,000 on the banks of Loch Lomond at Balloch Castle. It seemed castles and Runrig just went together. The band also undertook a mammoth tour of both Europe and Scotland, including taking the full live performance to the Western Isles. As they said in the video “Wheel in Motion” – “We did not want people in Lewis or similar to see a cut-down version of the show.” That summed up Runrig – always putting their fans first whenever they could.
Donnie had always been a supporter of the Labour Party in Scotland and, after the untimely death of Labour Party Leader John Smith, he decided to stand for the UK Parliament. During 1995 speculation was rife about Donnie leaving Runrig to pursue his political career, but it took until May 1997 for any official word. His last CD recording with Runrig was the Mara album. So in 1997, with the UK general Election looming, Donnie made one of the hardest decisions of his life and left Runrig to stand for the Parliamentary seat of Ross, Skye and Inverness West. But the fans were not prepared to let Donnie slip quietly away and the highlights of his final year with the Band were 3 concerts at Stirling Castle. Anyone who was there or has watched the video will know that for everyone those concerts were very emotional. Unfortunately the Parliamentary seat Donnie pursued went in the end to the former Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy, but not without Donnie running him very close to the end. Donnie has presented many radio shows over the years including a spell at Scot FM as well as in more recent years spells at the BBC’s Radio Scotland.
Donnie MunroLuckily for all us fans, in 1999 Donnie couldn’t keep away from the recording studio and, with help from Chris Harley, recorded what turned out to be his first solo album, „On the West Side“, which was released in 2000. Donnie and Chris gathered a band together and went off and played live again to the fans long starved of that unique voice. The band recorded two live performances at Portree and Ayr, and used the material to release the second album from Donnie Munro – simply called „Donnie Munro“. More tours in Scotland and Europe followed over the years, as did a further batch of CDs. In „Gaelic Heart“ he created an album he had long wanted to do. It was the chance for Donnie to perform some of his favourite Gaelic songs. Another studio album called „Across the City and the World“ was recorded at the start of 2003. Donnie released a single to back up the Scottish Rugby Team’s World Cup hopes in 2003 which was entitled „Down Under“. Also in 2003 Donnie undertook a charity walk in the Himalayas for the Highland Society for Blind People, for whom Donnie is the President. Donnie also presented an evening radio show on Radio Scotland for a few weeks while the regular presenter was on holiday. In 2004 Donnie’s first DVD, „Fields of the Young“ was released, along with another album bearing the same name. (Full reviews of Donnie’s solo work can be found elsewhere on this Website.) Also in 2004 Donnie performed the old Scottish favourite „Flower of Scotland“ in front of the football Fans at the Scotland v Norway World Cup match in October. This led to Donnie appearing many more times at Hampden in 2005 where he would lead the Tartan Army in singing “Flower of Scotland”. The song was released as a single as part of a promotion involving the Daily Record and Morrisons on the Saturday of the crucial Scotland v Italy World Cup qualifier at Hampden.
During 2005 we saw Donnie go on a mini tour of Scotland playing at several venues around the country in May through to July. Donnie also made a number of personal appearances during 2005. In October 2005 we had the release of some of Donnie’s favourite songs on a CD entitled “Best Of”. This was a look back over Donnie’s career and contained some of the songs he has performed over the years. This was to be his final work with the German record label, Hypertension, as in January 2006 Donnie announced that he had signed a new deal with the prestigious Scottish record label, Greentrax. Fans were treated to bringing in the New Year of 2006 when Donnie appeared on BBC TV’s Hogmanay programme, where he led the 300,000 strong crowd in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh in singing Auld Lang Syne – again this was a first for television. This was followed up some weeks later with two appearances at the 2006 Celtic Connections. The first was “Scottish Men” and the second, on January 20th, was a full Donnie Munro concert, which was recorded by BBC Radio Scotland and transmitted a week later. Donnie also returned in 2006 to his old secondary school, Portree High, where he performed on stage with former pupils in a special show to celebrate 100 years of Portree High School.
The “Donnie Munro and Friends” DVD was released in April 2006. This was a television show that Donnie had recorded back in 2000 and has become a must for every Donnie Munro fan. Dec 2006 saw Donnie’s album, “Heart of America”, win the Scottish Trad Music CD of the Year Award at the national awards ceremony in Fort William. Speaking of the award, Donnie said, “Receiving this award has been an absolutely brilliant bonus for me as a musician and writer and reflects so much on the fantastic work of the guys in the band and the input of my producer Chris Harley. After such a long association with Runrig , suddenly being out there on your own as a writer is a slightly scary place to be and to be recognised in this way by the fans and the industry is a tremendous honour.”
Donnie Munro at Bootstock 2007Early in 2008 Donnie embarked on a series of thematic shows looking at some of the powerful issues affecting different ethnic communities throughout the world but particularly with reference to his own historical background in the Highlands and Islands. Donnie said, “Through these songs I wanted to explore some of the great themes which have formed a part of our history and in particular are reflected in issues of migration, emigration and various forms of displacement. Heart of America was very much the catalyst for this project and it was fantastic to be able to present the show with such a wonderful array of musical talent at my disposal. Having the talents of Allan Henderson on fiddle, Sandy Brechin on accordion, Fraser Fifield on saxophone, The Glasgow Islay Choir, The Inverness Gaelic Choir and the Strings from the RSAMD all added to the sound of the Band was a fantastically exciting and rewarding project. I felt that, as the show was thematic and brought so many great players together, it really should be recorded and released as a live album under the title of “An Turas – The Journey”. I am delighted that Ian Green at Greentrax Records agreed to back the project. The resulting album is, I think, a very good record of that event and for me a great opportunity to listen to the wonderful contribution of all these great players. The songs for the show were chosen on the basis of contributing to the broad narrative and, as such, it gave me the opportunity to work through a range of material from my own writing, some from the Runrig days and some traditional pieces also. I am delighted to say that both the show and the subsequent album were received very well by both audience and critics alike. I am hopeful that the thematic approach may well be something to be explored further in the context of 2009 Year of Homecoming.” Following on from these shows An Turas was taken out on the road to various venues in Scotland and Denmark. It was recently announced that “An Turas” was the top-selling Greentrax CD of 2008.
Early April also saw one of Donnie’s major projects at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig come to fruition, with the opening of “Fàs” the new £8m Centre for Creative and Cultural Industries at the national centre. This is the latest phase in the development of Sabhal Mòr and a hugely important development in the cultural industries in Scotland. The centre is home to a number of important national initiatives including, Tobar an Dualchais/Kist O Riches (national language archiving and digitisation project in both Scots and Gaelic) of which Donnie is Chair, the new TV Production Studios which are poised to play a critical role in the development of the new Digital Channel, a visual arts studio (something very close to Donnie’s heart) and an artists in residence programme for a musician, writer and visual artist. For Donnie, all of these initiatives are crucial in supporting the wider educational life of the college and the cultural and economic development of the Gaelic language. Donnie said of his role at Sabhal Mòr, “The work of Sabhal Mòr has had such a massive impact over these last 15 years and being involved in its on-going development and future plans has been an enormously positive experience.” Donnie is hoping to take the An Turas show to other venues and would particularly like to present a London show along with taking the show to Germany, the US and Canada perhaps as part of Year of Homecoming 2009 – watch this space!