Tony Bennadrove – an Appreciation

16 03 2014

As if the sudden demise of Uigunderground train drivers’ leader BobCrowlista wasn’t bad enough, committed socialists in SY (or at least in Garrabost) are today mourning one of the giants of Lewis’s 20th Century Labour movement.

Born in 1925 into a wealthy Marybank family whose fortune had been made in the Barvas-ware craggan industry, Angustony Wedgewood Bennadrove’searly years were characterised by wealth and privilege. Due to his old man being on Stornoway Town Council and his mother being a noted hardline cuireamach suffrachette, Bennadrove encountered radical thinking and challenging debate very early in his life. As a child he met many of the leading world politicians of the pre-war years, including Rams A. Macdonald (the first sheep to become Prime Minister of Branahuie), and Mahatma Garyvard, (the leading figure in the movement for independence for South Lochs).

Bennadrove’s early life followed the expected trajectory of the upper classes – exclusive private education at the elite Westsideminister boarding school in Ballanthrusal, followed by a degree in philosophy, politics and earmark recognition from Horgabost University. But it was the early exposure to politics in his home life, combined with the shock of encountering the lower orders when serving as an officer in the RAF (Rubach Air Force) at the end of WWII, that drove him to seek office.

Bennadrove was initially elected to Stornoway Town Council in 1950, but in 1960 he found himself no longer eligible to sit when he inherited his father’s nickname. His old man had held a vital part time job at Stornoway airport, stopping people from coming in at the wrong entrance and crossing the runway when arriving for their BEA flights to Glasgow. As a consequence, he had acquired the title of “Viscount Steinishgate”. On inheriting his father’s nickname, Bennadrove was legally obliged to leave the Council, get the cuiream and take a seat in the House of The Lord on Kenneth Street. Bennadrove fought for several years to get the law changed before being permitted to renounce his title and return to the Council as plain “Tony Bennadrove” in 1963.

In 1964 Bennadrove joined the government of Hearach Woolson, a charismatic leader famous for his trademark pipe and Gannet raincoat. Serving first as Stornoway’s Postmaster General, Bennadrobh was responsible for the construction of the Post Office Telephone Exchange on Keith St, then Stornoway’s highest building. (Unfortunately, due to the building having been constructed on the site of an old manure depository it became known as The Post Office Todhar). As Post Master General Bennadrobh also campaigned fiercely against the pirate radio stations of the 60s such as Radio Calumina, which sat offshore in Broad Bay transmitting the latest Calum Kennedy, Alasdair Gilles and Tommy Darkie hits to the groovy kids of swinging Stornoway – even on Sundays.

In the late 1960′s Bennadrove became the townie Councilor for Technology and presided over a number of innovative technological advances including a new really powerful Rayburn stove which gave rise to the phrase ‘the White Peat of Technology’. Bennadrove also gave the green light for the development of the first bus to permit passengers to take food on board, the Chicken-Suppersonic Mitchell’s Bus commonly known as ComhannCord.

Bennadrove continued to serve in public life throughout the 70′s (in both Woolson’s and Seamus Calanbow’s administrations) and into the 80′s when he increasingly became seen as a more  radical left wing politician, even more lefty than most Rubhachs. This gave rise to the phrase ‘a Bennadrovite’.

In the later days of his political career, Bennadrove became something of a thorn in the side of the increasingly right wing Labour and Co-op Drapery Party. Bennadrove became a figurehead for workers rights during the 1980′s Peatcutters Strike and often shared a platform with Peatcutters Union leader Amadan Sgarbh.

Bennadrove strongly opposed the construction of Stornoway’s No. 3 Pier as he felt this would have an adverse effect on the town by attracting even more Herring Gulls. He campaigned to stop the Gull Wharf and was the Chair of Stop The Wharf, and remained sceptical about the existence of Weapons of Maws Destruction.

Bennadrove was also a prolific herder of milk cows and was well known for his many Dairies.

Bennadrove is survived by his son Ivorhillary Bennadrove who served in Tony Blarbuidhe’s Cabinet. 

The Laxdale (Bridge) Saga

21 02 2014

For those of you who don’t know, the Laxdale Bridge is a narrow bottleneck, just to the north of Stornoway. It’s the main route to get those who live in the northernmost parts of Lewis home after a hards days work in the town. It’s an old bridge and a Listed one so it can’t be dynamited in the name of progress. The on-going saga of replacing, sorting out or just ignoring the Laxdale Bridge has filled many columns in the Gazette over the decades.

It would appear that this is a recent problem that has only come to prominence since it was found that two buses won’t fit on the Bridge at the same time. But it’s a saga stretching back many centuries and one that has been raised in story and song through the aeons.

In the Neolithic era, the Laxdale Bridge crossing was an important node on the trade routes between Stornoway (or Stornowaaaaaaargh! as it was known in Caveman) and the rest of the island. Even back then it affected the flow of commerce, not least in relation to an ancient delicacy.

The last surviving colony of woolly mammoth was found on Sulasgeir. Salted Mammoth was a great delicacy with the Neolithic Niseachs. Each year the Niseachs would row out to the island in their dugout canoes and catch 2000 mammoth (a quota carefully monitored by Friends of the Rock and Greenpieces of Ollac) . The hardy proto-Nessmen bravely scrambled up and down the rocks of Sulasgeir to catch the Woolly Mammoth in their nests. Once caught, they would skin and salt the animals and after a fortnight return to Ness with their haul.

From Ness, the salted mammoth would be transported southwards to the markets of Stornowaaaaaaaargh! However, the Laxdale crossing in these days consisted only of a number of stepping stones, which permitted just a single file crossing. Many mammoths were lost to the river as the Nessmen heading south collided with Neolithic townies heading north with sacks full of Harris Screed. Angry letters were carved on stone, but to no avail.

Even during the brief Roman occupation of Lewis the Bridge caused all sorts of traffic chaos. Despite an elaborate stone archway spanning the river, the growth in demand for Classical Niseach delicacies such as guga tounges in aspic and Chariot Wheels (the mythical giant biscuits of Habostinium, fired in the ovens of Pistrino Roigeanii) led to huge tailbacks to get over the narrow bridge.

In the Viking age, the Laxdale Bridge consisted of a wooden crossing, constructed from leftover masts and longships. The Vikings used the crossing to take their farmed salmon from the fish cages on the lochs of the Barvas Moor to the waiting longships in Stornoway Harbour.

As was the custom in Viking times, a resident Laxdale troll called Bjoki lurked under the bridge with the express task of terrifying anyone who attempted to cross it. Bjoki was extremely diligent and insisted that no traveller should pass without being subjected to his blood-curdling warcry of “Bjalach nokk” and paying a toll in the form of “Vootbeins”, “Hen Sjuppurs” and “4 Krone” (a beverage beloved of trolls but lethal to humans). This led to immensely long queues on the approaches to the bridge at peak times, especially on Friday afternoons when the hordes of office Vikings from the local authority, Thing Nan Eilean, all fleeked off home early at the same time.

All this carry-on inspired local bard Snooli Stjornovagrsson to write “Laxdaela Saga”, an extremely long and boring epic about the bridge, its history and the generations of characters who had to wait to cross it. Fortunately Stjornovagrsson’s tome is lost to history, having been pulped after a copyright dispute with some Icelander who had already written a better known saga with a similar name.

The Laxdale (Bridge) Saga

Laxdale Bridge
Full of heritage
Is very very narrow
You’d struggle to cross in line abreast
Unless you were pushing a barrow

But the problems old
Or so we’re told
It’s perplexed many a scholar,
Architect and engineer
And even those with a dog-collar

Coves and blones
placed stepping stones
In Neolithic years
Not wide enough for two to pass
When hunting mammoth with their spears

Druids in fog
used wooden logs
In the days of Celtic tribes
But for shortage of tree
It was onlyhalfaswideasitwassupposedto be
According to the scribes

A Legionaire
used stone dressed square
Back In the Roman age
Barely wide enough for one chariot
Led to the creation of road rage

And surplus masts,
with rope well lashed
Were used in Viking time
The narrow bottleneck to cross
Reinforced the paradigm

The greatest minds
Through the mists of time
Had everything to consider
But they missed perhaps the easiest thing
Just fill in the fleekin’ river.

Lost Underwater Cities of Lewis

7 01 2014

The high tides and flooding in downtown Stornoway this New Year will bring back happy memories for those old SYs who can remember some of the island’s other Lost Underwater Cities. A mere 10000 years ago, the vast city of Backlantis stretched from Tiumpan Head to Vatisker Point and from Stenish to Garrabost, filling an island that covered most of what is now Broad Bay with gold-domed temples, vast amphitheatres, majestic pyramids and good corrugated iron sheds. The Backlanteans were adherents of the powerful sea god Posiedon-nie, (famed for his three pronged tairsgear) who blessed them with great prosperity and learning.

Consequently they lorded it over both the populace of neighbouring Stornoway and the primitive barbarian tribes of the surrounding countryside, extracting vast annual tributes of gold, jewels, precious spices, sgadan, peats and duff.

As with all great empires, however, the Backlanteans’ easy lifestyle led them into decadence and in-fighting. The elders in the Temple of Posiedonnie at the heart of the city fell out over the best way to gut a sgadan in order to read its entrails and split into numerous factions – the Temple of Posiedonnie (Continuing), the Associated Posiedonnie Church, the Free Posiedontyrians and so on.

Meanwhile Caledonian Backbrayne, the city’s ferry operator, decided to start Sunday sailings to the ‘mainland’ of Lewis, despite objections from the Emperor and the Backlantis Pier and Harbour Commission, and dire predictions of doom from various local oracles and wise women.

Needless to say Posiedonnie himself got completely fleeked off with all this – especially the Sunday sailings – and pulled the big plug that he’d installed in case of such an eventuality. The city filled with water and sank to the bottom of Broad Bay in a night, enabling but a few bedraggled survivors to reach the Eastern shore and establish the village now known as Back.

Sadly with Global Warming and all that, Back itself might soon suffer a similar fate, and today’s descendants of the Backlanteans may soon find themselves having to move to the top of Muirneag.

Not so the citizens of Achmore. Their ancestors in the ancient city of Achlantis (located at the mouth of today’s Loch Erisort) managed to get on the wrong side of Posiedonnie as well – something to do with nicking the High Priest’s turnips, according to the ancient Egyptian scrolls – and Achlantis, like Backlantis, was quickly submerged beneath the waters.

The surviving Achlanteans decided to avoid such punishments in future by moving as far away from the sea as possible, which is why Achmore is where it is today.

Older readers may also remember the short lived late 1970′s BBC Alba tv series, The Man From Achlantis. This stared Patrick Duff, later to star in Dellas, as a water-breathing resident of the sunken city who got up to all sorts of aquatic scrapes. The series was filmed entirely in Stornoway Swimming Pool (on a Thursday night just before the Canoe Club session).

Watch With Màthair (Part 1):Sanderwick Green.

7 11 2013

Plenty in the news just now about the new children’s programme ‘Katy Morag’, recently filmed on the Isle of Lewis. But it’s not the first popular and iconic children’s show to have been produced on the island. Readers of a certain vintage will no doubt fondly remember the children’s programme Camberwick Green, and its spin offs Trumpton and Chigley.

Created in the mid 1960′s by Gordon Murray and narrated by Brian Cant, the programme entertained generations of children with its catchy songs, clever animation and hard hitting story lines about crime, drugs and teenage pregnancy (oh, hang on, that was Grange Hill).

However, many people will be unaware that the series was originally shown on BBC Alba in the 1960′s. It was only after the success of the show in the Gaidhealtachd that the BBC commissioned it for wider broadcast. The original BBC Alba show portrayed everyday life in the village of Sanderwick Green, through the medium of puppets filmed in stop-motion. Sanderwick Green was losely based on the gentile rustic charms of Sandwick, a village near Stornoway.

The BBC Alba show was narrated by Brian Fank, who replaced Brian Ceard, who had replaced Brian Wont. Brain Fank also sang all of the songs.

Each programme would start with a shot of an upturned fishbox on the Stornoway pier. As the music played, the featured character of that particular episode would rise up, spinning out of the fishbox to a voice-over of;

‘Here is a fishbox, a musical fishbox, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a bleigard inside. Can you guess who’s in it today?’

The characters of Sandwick Green included;

Windy Miller- an eco-warrior who lived in a windturbine
Dr Mawp -the village Doctor who drove about in a vintage tractor
Roger Barley- the chimney sweep/butcher
Mrs Bun-yman- the FP village gossip
Mr Carloway -the paranoid Fishmonger who sold his wares from inside an ancient stone fortress
Willie Johnathan Bell-owner of a ‘modren mechanical farm’ just outside the town, who had a barn full of shiny IDP machinery but drove around on a rusty old traction engine. PC MacGarry-Beach- the village Bobby constantly on the search for sheep rustlers and underage drinkers.

Each character had their own wee song, such as PC McGarrybeach’s

‘Here comes the policeman, the big friendly policeman
Pc MacGarry-Beach number 452
Under-agers, druggie-takers, if you don’t know what to do Just call the policeman, the big friendly policeman
Pc MacGarry-Beach no 452′

Sanderwick Green is probably best known for the Army Cadets at Bobban Fort, under the command of Captain Snortofwhisky. Ably assisted by Sergeant Major Crowdie, the Cadets could be expected to roll into action in every episode to help out with a problem.

As they assembled in their army truck, they would be accompanied by the ‘Driving Along….’ song, which could be adapted for almost any vehicle required to meet the needs of that episodes storyline.

Hence you had;

‘Driving Along in an army truck, in a humpity, bumpity army truck’ for the soldiers,

and for the episode about the Free Church Sunday School picnic descending into anarchy when the rival FP Church Sunday school were spotted arriving on a Mitchell’s bus at the other end of Coll Beach ‘Driving Along in a Mitchell’s Bus, in a humpity, bumpity Mitchell’s Bus’

or indeed, the famous episode where Dr Mawp had to find the serum to stop the Zombie plague by borrowing the only working vehicle; ‘Driving Along in Al Craes hearse, in a humpity, bumpity Al Craes hearse’ only to be cruelly killed by a zombie who’d been hiding in the coffin behind him.

Close to Sanderwick Green was the town of Donaldtrumpton. But this is for another day.

The Poster

2 11 2013


The Trans-Island Pop Festival: The Counter Culture Comes To Lewis.

2 11 2013

Read the rest of this entry »

Leodhasach Reed – an AGOFR Obituary (Part 1)

29 10 2013

Newvalley Musical Express, 27 October 2013

Leodhasach Reed – an AGOFR Obituary (Part 1)

Black-clad bohemians across the globe yesterday were to be found rummaging through their wardrobes to see if they had anything even more black to wear, their misery plumbing even deeper depths than usual following the demise of pioneering singer, guitarist and songwriter Leodhasach Reed.

Born in 1942 above his parents’ Stornoway sweetie shop, Leodhasach Balallan Reed grew up listening to danns a’ rathaid and Gaelic psalms, but he was especially fascinated by Marag Dubh-wop, the popular 50s acapella harmony style invented by the butchers in the Bragaidh’s shop down the road.

Reed’s doting parents had planned that he would work in family sweet shop, but he expressed little interest in the business and soon began to show evidence of an attraction towards goats instead of sheep. This horrified his conventional parents, who consulted a psychiatrist and subjected Reeded to a course of Electro Convulsive Therapy in order to ‘cure’ him of his desires. The treatment was ineffective (probably because Stornoway didn’t have electricity yet),

Reed left home and moved to Ness to attend Skigersta University. There, he was taught and deeply influenced by the poet Dell Moor Schwarz, for whom he wrote “Eoropiean Son”.

After dropping out of university, Reed got a job as an in-house writer on the staff of Sandwick Records, writing ruppish songs to put on crap compilation records for sale in Maciver & Dart’s. In 1964 he scored a minor hit with “The Guga”, a hastily-assembled single designed to cash in on an obscure dance craze sweeping Sula Sgeir at the time. The record company decided to put a band together around Reed and send them on a tour of offshore gannetries to promote the record.

This pick-up band included early Avante-Gaelic composer and local seaweed factory owner John Kale, who also provided the tour boat. Kale was captivated by Reed’s technique of not tuning any of his guitar strings at all, and after the tour was over they decided to form The Bobban Underground – a group of their own to pursue their shared interest in experimental (ie ruppish) music.

Working his maritime connections, Kale poached a talented but rather uptight and conventional guitarist, Stirling ‘Square’ Morrison, from his day job as second mate on the Loch Seaforth. Reed recruited crazed beatnik percussionist Angus Mac a’ Ghobhainn, but Mac a’Ghobhainn left in 1965 to concentrate on protesting against Sunday ferries to Kyleakin. Luckily Morrison knew a cove whose sister couldn’t play the drums at all, and before long he’d persuaded Maw-reen Tractor to leave her steady job as an iteagan filler and join the band instead.

The group soon caught the attention of Andy Warholidayhome, an artist who’d made his fortune by repeatedly selling the same derelict croft house in Grimshader to loads of different white settlers. (Each time he did so, he’d just paint the house a different colour so that nobody would notice). Warholidayhome needed a band for his latest project; to create and control an environment where film, painting, multimedia happenings and fish offal processing could all be profitably combined.

So it was that in January 1966 The Bobban Underground began their residency at The Gut Factory, hanging out with Andy Warholidayhome’s coterie of sycophants, superstars, doomed seceders, poor little rich ceards, peat hustlers and herring addicts.

Much against their will, Warholidayhome foisted one of his proteges – teutonic Adabroc ice maiden Niseach – on the band. Despite their mutual contempt, Niseach’s atonal wailing fitted well with the band’s musical incompetence and in 1966 they released “The Bobban Underground and Niseach Produced by Andy Warholidayhome”. With its distinctive cover of a marag with a zip, “The Bobban Underground…” has been judged by nobody at all to be the most influential album of all time.

The Bobban Underground’s subsequent career was characterised by mismanagement, failure, drug abuse, splits and financial disaster; and yet it resulted in several more studio albums and live performances which became lechendary, such as “White Light/White Peat” and “Live at Mac’s Imperial Kansas City”. But by 1970, Reed had had enough of life with the Bobban Underground and, quit the band in order to carve out a solo career.

After a brief period working back in the family sweetie shop, Reed was swept off to Tong Studios by D*vid B*wie. B*wie, a massive fan who had stopped off to buy a Curly Wurly on his way to the peats, was deeply concerned to hear of Reed’s treatment by the music business. Bowie funded studio time and hired a roomful of top session musicians to back Reed. The result did not disappoint.

(Continues in Part 2)


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