Acoustic route to the heart of the matter
A LEADING figure in Gaelic music both as a solo artist and back in the days when he fronted Runrig, Donnie Munro now combines music with an academic career at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on his native island of Skye.
That makes a Donnie Munro tour a little bit special these days, but the singer’s current tour has an added attraction for his fans, a chance to see him in an intimate and acoustic session with minimal backing rather than a full band.
Munro tells us a little more about the current tour and what the future might hold for his music.
Your "An Turas" project and album saw you leading a 40 strong ensemble at Celtic Connections and on tour. The current tour is stripped back and acoustic. Is this where you are happiest or is there a lot of fun to be had in having a big musical palette to play with?
All approaches are exciting fun and all have different qualities. I really enjoyed the big ensemble work with string section, choir and full band, but equally I love the intimacy which acoustic performances allows for and also the fact that it is all about the songs — the bigger the performance settings the greater the level of production required and, whilst it hopefully always produces powerful presentation and a sense of theatre around the music, there is undoubtedly an attraction to presenting the songs in a very minimal and exposed sort of a way. Sometimes I feel it just gets to the heart of the matter, which is the songs.
I have been working with guitarist Eric Cloughley and the stunning young Shetland Fiddle player Maggie Adamson and they both bring great musicality to the presentation of the material and hopefully good songs kind of "sing themselves" — so long as you don’t get in their way!
The acoustic shows allow for more interaction with the audience and more of a context to be given to the songs — so it has been a very enjoyable experience and has been working very well. We have just finished a series of Danish shows and the response there was fantastic as has been the response to the first of the Scottish Shows, so I have been very lucky to get such warm support.
I am really looking forward to Strathpeffer Pavilion — it is a fantastic venue and has such a special place historically in the Highland music scene.
It seems a long time since you released "An Turas" and even longer since the award-winning "Heart of America". Is there an itch to get back into the studio?
I have been in discussion with the two record labels about a possible project and it is likely that I would like to explore the acoustic approach in a little more depth, so that is the most likely direction.
With the Independence referendum getting closer, do you think that the Scottish arts community (on both sides of the debate) has really yet begun to look at the issue?
I think the Scottish Arts Community has always been very aware of the political context within which it exists and a lot of excellent work has been directly produced as a consequence, whether in literature, political theatre or across the range of the arts.
What most artists wish to do is to communicate ideas and these, of course, are not defined by geographical boundaries. The arts so often acts as a bridge between very different international communities in a world which is now, more than any time in the past, less about borders and an internal "art scene", but one where technology has enabled artists to operate in a much more expansive and inclusive manner through digital media.
The challenge for all artists is to develop that which is unique to them, whether informed specifically by aspects of their own cultural experiences, their social history, their languages and musical inheritance, their environment, and to internationalise that experience. People have too often in the past mistaken the "particular" for the "parochial" and what the digital age has informed us of is that nothing is now only of parochial interest but is part of the great rich fabric of international human experience.
A certain band you may know are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year. Would you like to get involved or are you holding out for the 50th?
Clearly there is a great deal of speculation surrounding this significant anniversary for the band and I have become very aware of this during all my recent shows — however, at this point I am not in any position to add to the discussion, one way or another!
• See Donnie Munro in concert at the Universal Hall, Findhorn, on Thursday 11th April and at the Strathpeffer Pavilion on Friday 12th April.