The Sked Barrows

21 06 2015

The visit to Stornoway of the RAF’s Red Arrows Display Team has reminded us of the long forgotten Sked Barrows Display Team which used to grace manys a Carnival and County Show in the 1920’s.

A ‘sked’ of course, is Stornowegian for ‘herring’. The herring industry in Stornoway was hard work. Although it made a name for the town, the work involved was difficult, labour intensive, back breaking, prone to accidents involving sharp gutting knives and very very smelly.

The working day was long and conditions were poor and so the workforce had to turn to various means of passing the time and taking their minds off the daily drudgery (except Sundays). Some of the Herring Gyurls would pass the time in song, the carters would recite scripture and the skiving bleigards would play cards under the pier.

One way of passing the time and making a long day more bearable was devised by the enterprising youths of Stornoway who were tasked to transport the fish guts in large wooden barrows from the pier to Tigh na Guts.

The young boys would shovel up fish heads and fish guts from the pier into large wooden barrows. They would then skilfully negotiate the rows of barrels and weave in and out of carts and wagons, and make their way to the Gut Factory.

To pass the time the boys would show off their skills with their barrows, dodging through tight spaces, running up and down ramps and criss-crossing each other as they did so. The blood from the various fish parts soon stained the barrows red and the sight of bright red barrows zooming around the pier soon became a common sight.

So much so, that at the 1910 Stornoway Carnival Procession, the boys were asked to join the parade as a mark of how appreciated their work was. The boys bedecked their barrows with bunting and decorative fish heads and dressed up in their finest bobban chumpers. They decided to call themselves The Sked Barrows for the Parade.

They formed up behind the Stornoway Guild of Fishbox Artificers (with their float ‘Kaiser Bill’s A Big Bleigard’) and just in front of the Honourable Association of Dawn Squaders (with their float ‘Pile of Empties’). Just before they set off, the Parade Marshall went round and told all the floats that smoking was strictly forbidden. The Sked Barrows hastily removed their Woodbines from their mouths and cunningly attached them, still lit, to the handles of their barrows.

And so the Carnival Parade set off along South Beach and towards Castle Street. Just past No2 Pier, a sudden gust of wind from the harbour flared up the smouldering fags and set fire to the trailing bunting on each of the barrows. The bunting, seeped in herring blood and guts, gave off a variety of colourful (and pungent) smoke.

Instead of causing alarm and consternation, the brightly coloured smoke added to the occasion and the appreciative applause and shouts of the crowd urged the Sked Barrows to start doing all sorts of twists, turns, leaps and lurches. This proved so popular that the Sked Barrows were asked to do an impromptu display of their dexterity on Cromwell St.

The Gazette featured them on the front page the following Thursday and this helped cement their place in Stornoway legend. The Sked Barrows appeared on many occasions over the next four years; at Carnivals, Village Fetes, Highland Games, Funerals and Orduighean. They came up with ever more exciting routines and were able to the best barrows money could buy.

But the shadow of war was lurking behind the fame and fortune they had found. Shortly after War was declared, a visiting Colonel spotted the boys doing a display outside the Clachan and immediately thought of a way they could help the British war effort. As well as helping shift dirt from the trenches at the Front Line, the Sked Barrows could also help boost the troops’ morale. The boys were of course full of patriotic enthusiasm and signed up right away. They were formed up in a special unit called The Ross Mountain Barrowy and were given armour plated khaki barrows.

Soon the gallant bravery of the Sked Barrows was known along the whole of the Western Front. Between them, the 20 coves from Stornoway and their barrows had dug out most of the trenches in France. Their fascinating displays had entertained thousands of troops and all the boys had their chests bedecked with medals.

However, the Germans had noticed them too. A fierce rivalry arose between the Germans’ crack Barrow Squad led by the infamous Red Barrow, Manfred Von Richthovansnahovano. His barrow of choice was a red Fleekker Triwheel and he had the reputation of having the most ‘digs’ of any German barrow operative.

The Sked Barrows’ ongoing struggle with the Red Barrow caught the imaginations of the troops and the British public. Many of the boys acquired nicknames reflecting their fishing backgrounds, including Big Gills, Algae and carrot-topped barrow-fixing expert The Bodach Ruadh. Local Stornoway butcher Willie E. Johns also wrote several books based around the exploits of the Sked Barrows, including:

Big Gills and the loose handle Big Gills at the Front (of the barrow) Big Gills Spills His guts Big Gills Cacs His Drarsh

The demise of the Herring fishery ended the Sked Barrows’ domination of the world of fish barrowbatics, and it was left to other nations to take up the baton. America’s Blue (Sea)Anglers team remain a force to be reckoned with today, as do Italy’s dashing Pesce Tricolori.

Sadly the once-mighty Russians have dropped off a bit since the days of the Cold War, when the crews of visiting Soviet klondykers would astound the crowds at Number 2 pier by performing 90-second vertical handle stands while barrowing 5 cran of mackerel at a time in their top secret MoG-29s.

A Return To Canals, Waterways and Uisgeducts

5 06 2015

Regular readers may recall our earlier article from March 2009 on the Stornoway Ship Canal. Shortly after it was published, we received a number of complaints pointing out that the piece contained a number of minor factual accuracies, so we’ve binned it and had another go….
Stornoway has traditionally lagged a bit behind other major European cities when it comes to promoting the magic and romance of its picturesque waterways, but for those in the know, the canals of Old SY are a hidden gem.

The earliest and perhaps the most ambitious canal in Stornoway was dug in around 2560 BC, during the ancient Egyptian occupation of Lewis, when construction of the Great Pyramid of Gisla was underway over in Uig. (See “The 7 Wonders of the Anchent Lewis World, Feb 2010). The thousands of slave labourers toiling on the pyramid’s construction required high-calorie sustenance, and their overseers soon discovered that the best diet for a day’s slave labouring was duff. A canal was therefore built linking Stornoway’s massive Ptolemy Terrace Duff Works to Little Loch Roag via Loch Langabhat and a chain of smaller lochs crossing the island. This massive waterway was known as the Suet Canal.

The Roman Period

The brief Stornowegian ‘Roman Period’ also saw the development of a spectacular array of waterways across the island. 

Under Emperor Calumigula, a network of Uisgeducts were built around Stordinium. These were used to transport the sparkling waters of Loch Mor An Stairr to the various bath houses dotted about the town. The Romans had hoped that the many bath houses would encourage the indigenous population to wash themselves more frequently, but as it turned out the main use of the Roman baths became the washing of sheeps fleeces, rinsing of wellies and the boiling of spuds (on Sunday’s). 

Thomas Telford in Stornoway

In 1820 the great civil engineer Thomas Telford came across the Minch for a wee break one weekend while working on the Caledonian Canal. The directors in the Canal consortium were in the middle of a major feud over the naming of a spectacular new series of locks being constructed near Fort William; each of the partners wanted to call it after themselves, their grannies or their dogs, and the arguments were getting increasingly heated. 

With all this pressure at work, Telford was determined to let off steam on his Stornoway break, and so he embarked on a tour of the town’s hostelries. In the course of his pub crawl, he is said to have over-imbibed and got involved in a scrap about sheep’s earmarks in an upper room of the building occupied today by Macneill’s bar.

Telford came off worst in the rammy and was hurled head first downstairs, rolling out into the street and colliding with “Confessions of a Justified Sinner” author James Hogg, who was staggering past with concussion after being caught in an unrelated stramash in the Star Inn. Lying among the discarded chip wrappers and Bacardi Breezer bottles in the Narrows, Telford was suddenly struck with an inspired solution to his problem back in Fort William. Which is why the Caledonian Canal’s most famous sequence of locks is known to this day as “The Neptune Staircase” (nearly).

20th Century – The Steinish Sheep Canal

Passing along the road between Plasterfield and Sandwick, one crosses a rush-clogged ditch stretching off down into the common grazings towards Broad Bay. This, sadly, is all that remains of one of the island’s more recent waterways, a monumental project which was to become a white elephant almost as soon as it was completed. 

In the immediate post-war years, with a newly-built aerodrome on their doorstep and old USAF surplus Dakota aircraft going cheap, the North Street Grazings Committee started a highly successful transglobal live sheep  export business, shipping fresh Sandwick mehhags by air to all corners of a hungry world. The envious neighbouring powers soon noticed, however, and armed forces from East Street, Parkend, Plasterfield and the Teedees’ farm blocked off the roads to the airport, each one demanding a sluyce of the action.

North Street told them all to fleek off, and sent G**rdie G*lidy down to the grazings with a spade one Saturday afternoon in 1956. Fired by the promise of a plate of chops for his tea, 10 Woodbines and a free nyoggan up the town afterwards, G*lidy dug a canal 20 feet deep and 30 feet wide all the way to Steinish dump, completing the project by 4pm. The canal gave North street a route to the airport that bypassed the territory of its enemies, and first thing the following Monday morning, enormous barges were transporting hundreds of North Street sheep direct to the airport to rendezvous with their flights. The Steinish Sheep Canal was open for business.   

Unfortunately nobody had consulted the Steinish Grazings Committee beforehand, and the canal had been dug right through the middle of their fank. On the Tuesday morning, enraged Steinish Committee Clerk Calum Abdul droch-Nadar nationalised the canal and blocked it with an old tractor and several rolls of  rusty Rylock. Droch-Nadar demanded that North Street pay a levy of 300 white marags per barge; North Street refused and invaded the Steinish fank instead, leading to a major diplomatic incident known as the Suet Crisis (yus, Suet again). All the surrounding Grazings committees sided with Steinish, and North Street was forced to withdraw ignominiously, ending its short-lived domination of the international sheep air freight business. Without the steady flow of sheep between North Street and the airport there was no economic justification for the Steinish Sheep Canal’s existence, and it was soon abandoned.

Sadly we must leave Canals for now, but readers will no doubt be aware of the famous ‘Panama Canal Palindrome’ , where the phrase ‘A man, a plan, a canal, Panama’ is the same backwards as well as forwards.   

Sadly Stornoway’s Panamandersonroad Canal didn’t quite work out as well in terms of palindromes (or indeed in terms of navigable waterways). 

‘A maw, a plank, a cart, ahh fleek it to all this digging’

Cac Neillidh RIP –  “Lewis Lewis” Singer Passes Away

3 05 2015
The recent passing of Jack Ely, lead vocalist of The Kings Men, was a great blow to fans of 60s garage rock. The Portland, Oregon band’s 1963 version of “Louie Louie” may have started as a minor hit in the Pacific Northwest, but it became the definitive benchmark for simplistic 3-chord garage punk, and has inspired countless cover versions to this day.

Jack Ely’s connections to the Isle of Lewis are little known, but in fact his musical career was inspired by the example of his cousin, Neil Mackay from Fivepenny Borve, who passed away the same day.  Mackay worked as a manure salesman by day, and never usually bothered to have a wash or get changed before going out to play gigs with his groovy beat combo at night. His look (and smell) soon became a trademark, and he became known to all and sundry as Cac Neillidh.

In the late 50s and early 60s Cac’s band The Kinlochsmen played hops and shindigs all over the Northwest, from Barvas as far up as Eoropie. 

 Cac wanted to increase his bands profile by making a hit record. One day whilst checking out the latest 45’s in Maciver and Dart’s bit of the shop set aside for records,  he heard “Lewis Lewis” by Niseach singer Rockin’ Rubha Robhanais and the Whalers. This catchy tune had been  originally been recorded in 1956 by Richard Berisay and the Faroesetrawlers on their “Exceedin’ the Sand Eel Quota” LP and had all the hallmarks of a big hit record. Cac immediately decided to record a cover version of the song..

The original song was about a pub crawl round Stornoway which ending up in the public bar of the Lewis Hotel.  It told the story of normal Stornoway Saturday night and the panic stricken rush to get home before midnight and the Sabbath. 

‘Oh Lewis, oh Lewis, ohh thighearna
We’ve got to go right nuw.

Cac was permanently strapped for cash, so he chose the cheapest possible recording studio to record the song, (and also utilised a collection of half broken accordions, ex primary school chanters and guitars with wool instead of proper guitar strings). The studio normally only recorded FP lay preachers’ sermons, so the microphones had been ruined with all the fire, brimstone and spittle they encountered during their normal course of life. This meant that Cac’s vocals ended up being distorted and indistinct and inadvertently led to a mini scandal. 

The songs first play on Isles AM was well received and MacIver and Darts, Woolies and DD Morrisons record shelves were soon emptied of all 10 copies as Stornoway’s trendy youths snapped it up. 

However, a Free Church Minister overheard the song on Isles AM and felt that Cac was singing about all sorts of naughty things which could corrupt the youth of Stornoway. This led to a report to the Church Session and ultimately all the way to the top. The Freechurch Bureau of Investigation, led by Chay Edgar Thighearna, lauched a probe to determine whether the lyrics were obscene. The probe was inconclusive but led indirectly to a schism 30 years later within the Free Church (some Ministers wanted to end the probe, but some wanted to Continue it). 

After a brief whirlwind with fame and fortune, the hits dried up and Neillidh fell out with the band and fleeked off to become a barman in the Lewis, and then a steward on the Isle of Lewis ferry. 

(Cac Neillidh should not be confused with his distant cousin Cailean. Cailean Neillidh and his band The Lingsmen had the unrelated hit “Liubh-y Liubh-y”)

Cac’s famous song will long live on. It was proposed as the national anthem of Stornoway but was narrowly beaten by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird. It is a constant staple in every Stornoway pub-bands sets, features as a prescribed song in the National Mod and is the ringtone for Lewis Builders.
Local cover versions down the years:
– Paul Reveerend and the Secaiders
– Otis Readingroominthelibrarynexttocoinneachgobh
– The Beach Bouys
– Iggy & the Spooges
– Mawtorhead 
– The Caise
– Innes the Postman
– The Dun Ringles (in 5/7 time with 3 symphonic movements and a 40-minute mellotron 

Lionel Nimoy: A Moving Tribute

8 03 2015

Fans of the cult BBC Alba sci-fi show Staran Trek were saddened to hear of the death of respected actor Lionel Nimoy, who played the role of Mr Spag in the long running series.

Nimoy rose to fame in the late 1960’s when BBC Alba agreed to commission a sci-fi series written by Gene Rodelbury about the five year voyages of a Mitchell’s bus, going ‘where no maw has gone before’ to ‘seek out new bus routes’.

The star of the show was Uileam Shader, who played Captain Seamus ‘Free’ Kirk, the gallant bus driver and part time lay preacher. Nimoy played the supporting role of Mr Spag, the bus’s Science Officer, who came from the strange alien world of Ulpan. Also in the cast were the well loved characters Dr ‘Bones’ MacKay, the cantankerous medical advisor, Chief Mechanic Scottroad and Lt Uthighearna (who went on to share the first interdenominational screen kiss on BBC Alba with Capt Free-Kirk).

Although Shader was ostensibly the star of the show, Nimoy’s performance as Mr Spag quickly became a favourite with fans. His portrayal of the Ulpan was seen as one of the highlights of the show and he very soon had cult following. 

In the show, Spag was the offspring of a human mother and a Balallan father, and popularised sayings such as ‘Live in Lochs and Prosper’

Every week the crew and their trusty bus, called the Staranship Western Isles Enterprise, encountered a new adventure on a distant Lewis village. The bus travelled along at a good pace thanks to the discovery of the Warp Drive in Sticky’s Mill. 

Alien villages included;

Ulpans: a village seeped in logic, grammar, correct pronunciation and speaking Gaelic in everyday situations.

The Kling-Tongs, a barbarous and warlike empire with a guttural language and few civilising graces, as likely to fall upon each other over the spoils of war as they are to attack others. 

The Rubhamulans: cousins of the Ulpans 

The Arnol-dorians: Aggressive azure humanoids with antennae stinking out of their heads…although they might actually have been rams with too much blue paint on them. 

As Captain Kirk said ‘These are the voyages of the Staranship Western Isles Enterprise, on its five year mission to Highlands and Islands Development Boardly go where no maw has gone before.’

After Staran Trek, Lionel  went on to star in a number of other BBC Alba productions. These included ‘Mission House Impossible’ as The Great Harris, an ex-magician, master of disguise and Free Presbyterian elder. In this spy series, the Mission House Impossible team would lure an unsuspecting person to the Communions, pretending they were being taken to a particular denominations Church, only for it to be later revealed that it was a totally different denomination! 

Nimoy also appeared in and directed several big budget Staran Trek movies – ‘The Wrath of Khalan-Neillidh’ and ‘The Search for Spag’. He also directed big hits like ‘3 Maws and a Baby Lamb’.

He also did a number of memorable voiceovers for films such as Transfarmers. Nimoy also loved the theatre (or Town Hall) and played Randal Macmhurachaidh in the Stornoway Thespians ‘One Flew Over Craig Dunain’ – the part later played by Jack Nicolsoninstitute in the big budget BBC Alba film.

Fade To Griais: Steve Stienish RIP

15 02 2015

Countless Old SYs who spent 1980 going around town in white make-up, frilly blouses and Austro-Hungarian cavalry hats are today mourning the passing of New Romantic icon Steve Steinish.

But while Steinish’s impact on the London music, fashion and nightclub scenes is well documented, few are aware that he did it all in Stornoway first.

Steinish was born Steve Neonach in Bridge Cottages in 1959, and drifted into illicit fuidheag dealing at an early age. Inspired by punk after seeing Noise Annoys at Laxdale Hall, he moved to Stornoway where he worked briefly in Malcolm Burns and Bhibhian Westside’s boot repair shop, Seggs, and roadied for Billy Lionel of Generation Ness.

His own first punk band, The Muirt Murdos, was highly unsuccessful despite featuring early punk luminaries such as Soo Cacwoman, Chrissie Faing and Tiumpan Headon.

Steinish soon became disillusioned with punk and its lack of sophistication and gloss. Inspired by the electronic music pioneered by Kroftwerk, he formed Fish-age as a studio project with Midge Repellent and Rusty Dìogan from the Rubhach Kids. In 1979 Fishage hit the Radio Ranol top 10 with “Fade To Griais” (b/w “Faad to Grey”) a hit not only on Stornoway hospital radio but also all over Eoropie.

His explosion onto the scene caught the attention of Barvas street evangelist and noted precentor Savéd Bowie. Steinish appeared in the video for “Ashes to Ashes”, a song detailing the perils of debauchery following the Sandwick gelly.

As well as performing music, Steinish was famed for setting up several nightclubs around the Stornoway harbour area. One in particular, the Blitz(er) Club, was instrumental in the formation of the fashions and musical tastes of the Newvalley Romantic era. One young fisherman who manned the cloakroom at the club at the weekends later went on to great things under the moniker of Buoy George.

After an evening in Blitz(er) the crew of another local fishing vessel were inspired to make straight for Murdo Maclean’s, kit themselves out with designer suits, and take their scallop dredger to sea to film a top-end promo video. The newly formed (Portna)Guran Guran’s plans for stardom soon came to grief, however; Skipper Sgadan Le Bontata was too busy posing for the camera to bother steering, and the boat hit Sober Island and sank.

In later years, Steinish became known to a new generation of Stornowegians after taking part in BBC Alba’s charity reality show “Celebrity Siosarhands”. Set in K*nny the B*rber’s, the show raised several pounds for 2006’s “Children in Kneep” appeal and Steinish himself quickly became a viewer favourite when he demonstrated complete ineptitude in attempting a “Clup Bobhla” on a bodach from Skigersta.

More recently, he detailed plans for a return to music during an appearance on daytime TV staple “Lewis Women”. Alas, he never managed to recapture the magic of his glory days and suffered a range of physical and mental ailments as a result of his addiction to organophosphate sheep dip. Steinish had struggled with the drug intermittently since 1985, when he was introduced to it while modelling for top fashion designer Jean-Paul Goathillier at a prestigious fank in Harris.

His tragic death in the Shawbost holiday resort of Sharm el-Siarach was marked by having a concert dedicated to him that night by fellow New Romantic legends Spandau Ballantrushal.

Norman Z Mcleod – Hollywood Legend (and his Stornoway cousin)

16 01 2015

If you’re an old SY who frequented the picture house in the early 30s, you’ll have fond memories of the Marx Brothers and their great early comedies such as “Monkey Business” and “Horse Feathers”, directed by Hollywood legend Norman Zenos McLeod.

You may have less fond memories of sitting through the films made by Tormod Zebos Macleod, Norman’s less successful cousin from Stornoway. Inspired by the success of his American relative, Tormod set up a studio in 1928 on Seaforth Road, roughly where Stornoway’s thriving Gaelic media village is located today.

Tormod’s modus operandi was usually to find out what his cousin Norman in Hollywood was working on, steal the whole idea then try and rush a cheap locally made ripoff out to the picture house before the proper movie was released.

So it was that the Macs Brothers “Monkfish Business” graced the screens of Stornoway’s picture house a full two weeks before the Marx Brothers released “Monkey Business” in the US.

Set aboard the “Loch Ness” en route from Stornoway to Kyle of Lochalsh, the Macs brothers play 5 Stornoway stowaways desperate to get to the mainland, pressed into service as reluctant hard coves for 2 rival kipper barons, and going to great lengths to avoid being caught by the crew.

The film made stars out of the four Macs brothers from Benside called Bogio, Snoolio, Zeebbo, Chico and Deetan. The five brothers instantly acquired a reputation for being sophisticated and elegantly dressed bodachs, often winning the ‘Best Dressed Man’ awards at the Tong Show.

Although Tormod stopped working with the Macs Brothers, due to a dispute over who got the monktails at the wrapping of the film, they managed to make several other films including A Night At the Ocrach, Guga Soup (which featured the imaginary village of Freechurchia) and A Day At the Razorfish.

These were all directed by Tormod’s fierce rival, top-hatted dipsomaniac comedian WC Plasterfields. The later films did not feature Chico, who had bought a pub with his earnings. Chico soon fell out with WC Plasterfields due to Plasterfield’s incessant demands for free drams and refusal to leave the bar at chucking out time.

Incensed by the defection of his proteges, Tormod decided to form another troupe along similar lines to steal back the Macs’ Brothers share of the market. After a quick tour round the town’s butcher shops he’d soon recruited Charlo, Barlo, Williejohn-o, Hecto and Mombasso – The Marags Brothers. The Marags Brothers set out to sabotage their rivals’ careers by making even worse rip-offs of the Macs Brothers’ dreadful Marx Brothers rip-offs, including “A Night at the Opera House”, “(Coinneach) Go West(side)”, “The Board Store” and “A Day at the Orduighean”. These were dire efforts, marred by poor plotting and non-stop plugs to camera by the “actors” extolling their black pudding, mince and chops.

Tormod also had ‘success’ producing a cheap ‘knock off’ of Road to Rio called ‘Road to Rudhacho’ staring Bing Crossbost, Bob Hovansnahovanohh and Dorothy Laxdalemoor.

Tormod ended his career producing Machair, and was laid to rest in Sandwick cemetery in 1995.

Rumours that he has recently come out of retirement to produce “Fonn Fonn Fonn” have just been made up the now.

Jack Brue RIP

31 10 2014

Fans of heavy 60s power trios, extended improvisational jazz rock and other self-indulgent hippy ruppish will have been dismayed to hear of the recent death of West Side virtuoso bass player Jack Brue (73)

Brue’s death has been little reported due to the fact that it occurred, coincidentally, on the same day as that of Jack Bruce, his slightly more successful cousin from Bishopbriggs.

Born near Barvas in 1941, Jack Brue exhibited extraordinary musical talent from a very early age, playing professionally with T*mmy D*rkie’s Gunsgotsville Chazz Band and other stalwarts of the late 50s Leodhasach scene in order to fund his studies at the Royal (Stornoway Academy of Music and Dram).

By 1962 he was a respected live and session player on the local jazz and P ‘n’ B (Port n Beul) scene, and was invited to join Alexis Knagganskorner’s Brues Incorporated. It was in Knagganskorner’s band that Brue first met melodeon player and Lochie secret agent Grimshader Bond, chanter player and white settler Fleekeen Hengstall-Smith and mental drummer Chinger Stagbakery. In 1963 they all fleeked off on Alexis Knagganskorner and formed the Grimshader Bond Organisation. The GBO were a hip, eclectic and critically acclaimed group playing a groundbreaking mix of port ‘n’ beul and modren chazz, but the relationship between Brue and Stagbakery was famously antagonistic. Concerts would often end with the pair knocking the fleek out of each other backstage and destroying chairs, tables, glassware and other fixtures and fittings.
One night in 1964 they had a particularly savage scrap after a gig in in the Macs, inflicting destruction on the bar’s sparkling state-of-the-art washrooms as they swung double basses and flung hi-hats at each other. Nobody could agree afterwards who should clean up and pay for the damage, so the toilets remained in a state of insanitary devastation until the Clachan finally closed its doors in 2013.

Leaving the Grimshader Bond Organisation. Brue moved on swiftly to play with some of the top island beat groups of the mid-60s, including Manfred Mangersta (“Pretty Flaminguga”), the Scalpachs (“Lily the Fank”) and – crucially – John Mayburygarden & The Blarbuidhebreakers, where he first met ex-Garryvardbirds guitar ace and trainee elder Eric “God” Clachan.

Clachan and Brue decided to form a supergroup to break out of the strictures of classic P ‘n’ B. For that they needed a s**t-hot drummer with years of session experience and plenty jazz chops. Their first choice was the cove from Sandwick/Parkend rockers Oasis, but he was only 3 at the time and wasn’t allowed to go on tour, so they had to go back and hire Brue’s old enemy Chinger Stagbakery instead.

The name they chose for their new power trio was Crowdie. Crowdie hit the ground running and had soon established themselves as the premier rock band of the late Sixties. A series of acclaimed albums were recorded, including “Feis Cream” in 1966, “Disraeli Gne-ach” in 1967 and “Wee-Frees of Fire” in 1968. A number of classic songs were also included on these albums including “I feel Freechurch”, “Sunshine of Your Cove”, “I’m So Glic”, “Baaaaahdge”, “Strange Bru” and “Sh*te Room” (which, depending who you ask, was either a critique of US policy in Vietnam or a tribute to the Stornoway Opera House).

This short period of incredible creativity couldn’t last and Crowdie imploded amidst a whirlwind of fights, fallouts and fanks. The three members went their separate ways, but not before a career defining farewell gig at the RAH -the Ropoch Arnish Hall. On hearing that the band had split, Jimi Hendrix famously interrupted his live appearance on “Se Ur Beatha” to pay tribute to them with a spontaneous rendition of “Sunshine of Your Cove”.

In his post-Crowdie career Brue became more involved in Chazz/World/Fusion influences and played with some of Lewis’s finest musicians. His notable actives included;

Westside, Brue and Laing – a blues power rock trio with a fat cove from Bragar and Jon Dun Ringle
Touring with members of the Mochreachsathanaigavishnu Orchestra and D*r*k McLaughlin
Working with latin/world producer Kipper Hanrasgada
Singing on the Golden Pabailinos’ acclaimed “Visions of Ex Gress” album with Seonaidh Radan and thon cove from R.A.M. that sings through his nose.
Playing with Ginger Stagbakery again, joined by Garrabost Moore on guitar, until they all fell out.
A regular spot in B*ngo Starr’s All Starr-Inn Band.

Brue could have been much bigger if only he’d kept in with his wee cousin, but the pair fell out in August 1983 when confusion over theirnames resulted in both of them being booked to play the Caberfeidh the same night. To settle the dispute, the bass maestros and their respective bands challenged each other to a fight in the car park, and passers-by were treated to the sight of Jack Bruce, Clem Clemson and their posse of elite session musos from away, slugging it out with Jack Brue and his local virtuoso supergroup (K*nny F*gs and G*ry H*wth*rn).

Just when the battle seemed to be going in the home team’s favour, the management appeared and told them to fleek off – Jack Bruce was getting the gig because he’d pull in a lot more punters.

An enraged Brue resolved to do his best to disrupt Jack Bruce’s performance that night. Disguising himself as a well-known Parkend biker, Brue ensconced himself down the front and spent the evening loudly demanding “Where’s Eric?”, “Sunshine of Your Love!” and “Stop playing that chazz sh*te!”, while engaging in fisticuffs with anyone who didn’t express sufficient appreciation for the post-Cream work of Bruce’s former bandmate.

Jack Bruce never played the Caber again.

Jack Brue will be sadly missed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers