Admirers of classic songwriting craftsmanship were saddened today by the death of one of AGOFR’s legendary lyricists at his Loch Angeles mansion.
John Murdo Macleod was born in Brue in 1939. On leaving school in the mid-50s he took up employment as a hearse driver with local undertakers Al Cr*e & Sons. While working, however, he tended to be thinking up songs in his head rather than concentrating on the job. He would often forget to apply the handbrake on his vehicle at funerals, and the hearse would invariably roll off downhill with the casket of the deceased aboard.
Macleod was famously coma co dhiu about this; instead of joining the rest of the mourners in hot pursuit he would just stand there and wave as the hearse disappeared into the distance, bidding goodbye to the vehicle and its contents in bad Gaelic. Thus it was that John Murdo Macleod eventually became known to one and all as “Chearaidh, Coffin”.
Inevitably Coffin was sacked from his hearse driving job and decided to become a professional songwriter instead. Like countless others before him he bought a one-way ticket for the Point bus and headed for Tiumpan Alley, a low-rent neighbourhood on the far side of Portvoller where unscrupulous music publishers employed scores of low-paid hacks to turn out ten-a-penny show tunes for the nearby theatres of Broadbay.
Coffin’s first writing job was in the Mill Building, a derelict textile plant owned by two failed Harris Tweed barons with the cuiream, who had diversified into music publishing. Domhnall a’ Cheistear and Alasdair Naomh planned to get rich again by staging an extravagant Broadbay musical based on the Free Presbyterian breakaway from the Free Church in 1893, and Coffin was instructed to write all the songs for it. With its irresistibly catchy hookline, the big closing number “We’re Off, So Fleek Youse, Ya Free Church Backsliders With Your 1889 Declaratory Act Relaxing The Stringency of Subscription To The Westminster Confession Of Faith” had all the makings of a hit, but the show closed after the first night when nobody turned up. A’ Cheistear and Naomh had forgotten that the target audience for their extravaganza were unlikely to buy tickets, given that they disapproved of all music except unaccompanied psalm singing and considered all theatres to be the embassies of Satan on Earth.
Undaunted by this false start, Coffin continued at the Mill Building, inspired by the pool of writers, artists and producers that it attracted. On a daily basis Coffin would end up having a slice of duff with Mill Spector, or crashing woodbines off Leverburgh & Stoller. He’d often meet Connie Francisstreet & Dionne Warmemorial on the bus at dinner time sneaking up town for a livener in the Macs. Other days he’d skive off to the fank to help Niall Diainmond and Sonny Reeves Bono with their drenching, or give Harris Fyre and Bobby Darn a hand with their dodgy salmon net down at the rocks.
But the major turning point in Coffin’s life came in 1959 when he met Uigeach musical prodigy Carole Keanncropaig. Keanncropaig’s tunes and Coffin’s lyrics soon proved to be a winning combination. Their first big success came with “Will Ewe Still Love Mehhhh To Borgh” by West Side cailleach group The Siarelles.
After that, there was no stopping them. In the years that followed, Coffin & Keanncropaig penned a string of hits including: …..
“Don’t Ever Change (Your Boiler Suit)” by the Fleekits (Bodach Holy’s old band).
“Keep Your Lambs Off My Grazing” by Little Einacleit
“The Lo-Cromore-tion” also by Little Einacleit, and later covered by Kylie Scalpay
“It Might As Well Rain From January To December ( Inclusive )” by Bobby No Vee And No J,K,Q,W,X,Y or Z Neither.
“Unpleasant Newvalley Sunday” b/w “Pleasant Valtos Sabbath” by the Mankees
“You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Cuiream(ach)” by A’Thighearna Fanklin
and many others.
As the 60s went on, Coffin’s experiments with Lysergic Flukanide and other hallucinogenic drugs led to increasingly erratic behaviour and the breakdown in 1968 of his marriage to Keanncropaig.
Despite his problems, Coffin continued to write and deliver hits through the 70s and 80s including:
“Theme From Na h-Oganich ( Dotaman, Noel, Where Youse Going To ? )” by Diana Rossandcromartycountycouncil.
“I’ll Meet You (at the) Halfway (House)” by the Ceardbridge(cottages) Family
“Tonight I Celebrate My Airidhbhruach” by Roberta Fluke and Zebo Braighe-son
“Saving All My Marag Dubh” by Whitney Husinish
Coffin continued to write, produce and encourage talent in the music industry for the rest of his life.
“I been in this business a long time, cove” he said in a recent interview with Rolling Steinish magazine. “Hell, when I started in Tiumpan Alley it was all about selling sheet music. Yeah, we sold a lotta sheet back then. And I sold a bigger pile of sheet than everybody else”.