Tony Cummings interviews Calum MacDonald (The Band from Rockall)


Transcribed by Jennifer Valentine-Miller

Cross Rhythms is impacting youth and the wider community for good through FM radio, training, contemporary Christian music and a globally influential website. Tony Cummings is the music editor of the magazine Cross Rhythms  via Cross Rhythms Radio, Stoke (101.8 FM)

I:             Calum,  I am sure you have been asked this question  before. Why have an  iProject, why do it?

Calum:   “This is something we wanted to do for many years; to do a solo.  Because of our work and run rate we’ve never got the time to do it.  So we took two years off last year. This was an ideal time.  Everyone was doing projects and things they wanted to do.   This was a good diversion from the band and to recharge batteries, and to fulfil and ambition for us.”

I:            There were things that The Band From Rockall was doing that would have been completely different with Runrig.

Calum:   “It is completely different.  For us it was a case because we are songwriters.  We always wanted to do a solo which reflected songs from early contents.  We didn’t want the album to be polished or even over produced or to give a massive sound.  We wanted it to be just about the songs.  We recorded this album more or less in home studios.  This was done to give it that home demo feel to retain the heart of the song.”

I:             You say it took a long time to put together, was that through the song writing process?

Calum:   “No, not really it was because we had the time off from the band and we were doing other things.  But we just took our time to do it over that duration.  We didn’t rush it.  It was a real labour of love. We really enjoyed it.”

I:              Can you tell me one or two inspirations behind the songs?

Calum:    “Well, the inspiration for the whole album musically and a lot of the songs too was to go back to a time when the Rockall idea came in.  Rockall is a rock in the Atlantic half way between Scotland and America.  America and the Western Isles is where we grew up.  It became a symbolism for us because growing up in the late ’50s and ‘60s in the Western Isles was a fantastic place to be because musically we grew up with a strong Gaelic language.  Rock n Roll was coming through the on the radio and the pop revolution was static.  Growing up with those things was really exciting, pop and rock was something we never heard before. So we wanted to retain on our album something of that freshness we heard for the first time.”

I:             I  was talking to a musician from the band Iona, they are a British band.  They were hugely inspired by a visit to Iona.  Most of the members of the band are Christians.  When they visited the place it really fed on their spirituality.

Calum:   “I have never actually visited Iona, to my shame. But I have heard many people say that about it.  But I get that feeling from many Islands and places.”

I:             Theologians say that natural theology is when you get close to beautiful places it does inspire you spiritually.

Calum:   “Absolutely, there is a song from album When I Walk Among The Hills that it is indeed all about that.”

I:               You have had years and years of touring with Runrig and that has effectively taken you around the world, has it not?

Calum:    “Yes, in recent years we have tended to stay in Europe and the UK.”

I:               It seems to me that your natural feelings are a long way from staying in Holiday Inns and living a Rock-n-Roll lifestyle?

Calum:   “Believe me when I say there is not much of a Rock-n-Roll lifestyle, and is Holiday Inn, well, that is just a by product of a necessary evil. Touring can be tedious and boring and really you could do without it at this stage. But the important thing is when you arrive somewhere for at least two hours every night it really is worth it and that is a fresher thought than it has always been.  Holiday Inn is not the natural habitat.”

I:             A professional musician once told me that there are only a small percentage of all the hundreds of concerts that he genuinely said he enjoyed.  The difficulty is after a while it becomes a job.  Is that a feeling you have been able to always resist?

Calum:   “It is a feeling that I have always enjoyed.  I think that the fact is it is our job. We never had the mentality that you arrived in the rock music business thinking we were there for our two albums and 5 minutes of fame. This was something we wanted to do with our lives. You cast it and work at it and like any other worker you go through phases. We are very grateful it is our job and it is a wonderful way to spend your working life.”

I:               It is pretty impressive for the band to keep going as you have. Has the success and popularity of the band sustained you some difficult time?

Calum:    “Yes, absolutely. It has been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs.  There have been times when it has been more of a struggle and you have to see these things through. Last year has been fantastic.  We’re not with a record label or with agents, we can relax more.  We are very much our own bosses.”

I:               That’s how you first started.

Calum:   “Yes, until things got a bit bigger and there was the desire to step up a gear and to step in the music industry in a bigger sense. We did that and experienced that for better and for worse.  Now we are back to some aspects of decision making, I don’t think we’ll give that up now.”

I:              You are perceived, rightly or wrongly, here in England as being a mouth piece for Scottish Nationalism. Is that a fair observation?

Calum:   “No, it is not a fair observation. There was a political tag to the band.  Donny Munroe our singer left the band 15 years ago to stand as a Labour representative.  He stood for Election twice and was unsuccessful. Peter was a member of the SNP and still is an MP. So that is where our aspect of politics came but not from a Party Political sense.”

I:              Your music has always found resonance with Christians because a spirituality comes through in some of your songs.  Some of your band members are Christians.

Calum:   “Yeah, the common denominator is in our content it is a sense of a spiritual one, I would definitely endorse that.”

I:                Presumably you go to church, what kind of church do you go to?

Calum:   “I live in an old barn and the church is right beside me, I have no option but to attend.  I have never been one to bother about denomination so this is my local church in a tiny village on the Island.”

I:             Presumably because of the community you live in you have people who have done little or no travelling outside their immediate environment. How do you perceive being a one time Rock n Roll musician in their midst?

Calum:    “I do not perceive myself in that way.  You just do a job and that’s it.  Unfortunately the area in which God has led you down has hundreds of musicians with egos as big as houses.”

I:              I am sure you have met quite a few of them?”

Calum:   Yes, you see human nature in its worse excessive.

I:              Presumably it is our faith in the Lord which has curbed the tendency in us?

Calum:   Yes.  I think in life when you confront stuff like that you see the imperfections of what human nature is and I suppose it stems from your desire to seek spiritual answers and to see another way.

I:              Getting back to the Band of Rockall, you have got some interesting on the project.  Can you tell me a bit about those?

Calum:   “To be honest most of the music was done with Ronnie who did all the guitars and keyboards. I did the vocals and drums.  Backing vocals was Sheila Laurenson from Denmark we made minimal use of our guest session singer.  We used a couple of jazz brass players in a saxophonist and trumpet player. “

I:             One of the themes coming from the album is a deep perfection for family.  You haven’t told me yet about your family.

Calum:   “The most difficult thing about this project was finding songs.  We wanted to write new songs but we had decades of stuff sitting on the shelves, which was difficult to tie to a CD of 10 to 12 songs.  Certain songs had personal attachments and influences from the wider family as well.  Yes, a lot of the songs have a sense of family.”

I:               What does the immediate family think of the album?

Calum:   “Oh, they love it.  We have filmed the process and it will be shown on the BBC in November.  It will be called ‘The Band From Rockall’. The film allowed us to broaden the perspective.”

I:              There are also instrumentals on the project?

Calum:    “Yes, the opening track is mainly instrumental influenced by the elevators of the electric guitar, Hank Marvin and Duane Eddy. It most definitely has that flava to it.”

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