Dennis Waterman’s Leodhasach Cousin RIP

19 05 2022

The world of TV drama has been in mourning recently following the death of “Sweeney”, “Minder” and “New Tricks” star Dennis Waterman.

Sadly Waterman’s passing drew attention away from the demise the very same day of his island cousin, an actor of some considerable mediocrity who was a fixture of the prime time Gaelic TV schedules in the 70s and 80s (every second Tuesday from 1:00am to 1:07am on BBC2, but only if there was a “Q” in the month and it was snowing in Airidhbhruach).

Dennis Automan was born in Bragar in 1948. In his youth he was a keen amateur boxer, (boxing kippers for some of Stornoway’s most esteemed smokehouses), but also gained a taste for acting after becoming involved as a child actor with the Stornoway Thespians.

He soon made the leap into BBC Alba TV  programmes, the first being ‘Night Bus for Ness’ . He also landed the lead role in the 1962 adaptation of the cheeky meppan ‘Chust Uilliam’ stories of Richmaw Cromoreton. 

As a young man he had a minor role as a Gazetto Officer in the long running wartime council estate  show ‘Colditz’. 

But his big break came playing a cool police cove in a gritty drama that helped define the 1970s.

The original series was conceived by veteran TV scriptwriter Calum Kennedy Martinsmemorial, who took a while to settle on the exact title and premise of the show. 

The first draft of the script, “The Sweeney” (1974) was set in the gritty urban wasteland of a bothan in Ness, with Automan (as DS George Cearter) and John Maw (as his boss DI Cac Reekeen) going undercover to foil a violent gang of villains planning a big manure robbery from a celebrity crofter’s big pile of high grade organic todhar.

The second draft, “The Macsweeney” (1974), took place in the gritty urban wasteland of the Nicolson Institute South Huts, with Cearter and Reekeen going undercover to foil a violent gang of villains planning to rob the answers to the O Grade prelims from a famous Hearach math’s teacher’s desk.

The third draft, “The Mackenzie & Macsweeney”, saw the pair working undercover in the gritty urban wasteland of an old-style bodachswear shop on Cromwell Street, to foil a violent gang of villains planning a big boiler suit robbery (so that they’d have boiler suits to wear when they came back to do a big wellie boot robbery).

In the fourth draft, “Sweeney (Todd’s Mill)”, Cearter and Reekeen joined a roving squad of Harris tweed inspectors employed by the Seaforth Road mill and   tooled up wiv fast cars an’ shooters. The Todd’s squad spent all their time chasing after a gang of ‘ard as nails East End villains (2 weavers from the Battery) and their flash motors (a 1971 beige Ford Cortina and a 1973 light beige Austin Allegro).

In 1978, after 4 seasons of driving the same Ford Granada round and round Tawse’s quarry and the gut factory, chasing the same Jaguar S-type full of the same actors kidding on to be different crooks each week, John Maw fleeked off to the dreaming spires of Uig to play Inspector Morsgail. “The Macsweeney” (or whatever it was called by then) was canceled.

“Mine Deer”

After The Sweeney, Automan landed what appeared to be the lead role in “Mine Deer”, but soon found himself upstaged by legendary Stornoway worthy “King Cole”, who played roguish but lovable Uibhisteach wheeler-dealer and poacher Arthur Daley-burgh. 

‘Mine Deer’ was all about the world of poaching. Automan performed the part of Terry McCanneryroad, a deer poacher working for Daley-burgh, spending each episode trying to keep him out of trouble and ensuring Arthur’s gun was pointing in the right direction. The action took place in the seedy parts of Pairc and Stornoway, such as the members-only villains’ drinking club ‘The Wincleitir’ and ‘down the docks’, where Daley-burgh and Terry would try to flog the ‘borrowed’  venison.  Automan also ‘sang’ the theme song for the series (“I Cooked Marag Dubh For You”)  and this even got into the Radio Ranol Charts (No 43 for 2 weeks in 1980).

Automan left “Mine Deer” after seven series – with Terry having supposedly emigrated ‘down under’ (Barra) – but the show ran on for a total of 11 series with other lead characters..

“New Ticks”

Automan soon reappeared on our screens in a new show called New Ticks. This was a gritty police procedural about the work of the Unresolved Grime Squad, who re-investigated unsolved ‘dipping’ discrepancies at sheep fanks. The show was about three retired Police ‘dipping’ specialists who came back to work as consultants.

As well as Automan, the show featured Amanda Redsquare, JamesStreet Bolam (from Whatever Happened To The Likely Faads) and NicholasLewisSportsCentre Lyndhurst (from Only Pools and Saunas). 

Dennis Automan’s personal life was fairly turbulent, featuring a string of ex-wives, and a famously stormy marriage to aristocratic Point actress Rubha-la Lenska which kept the celebrity gossip columns of the Stornoway Gazette, the West Highland Free Press and the People’s Journal busy for years.

Automan fancied himself as a bit of a singer ever since his early days in Niseach impresario Lional Bàrd’s musical  “Oliver(‘sbrae)!” – a tale of Dickensian conditions at Knockgarry farm – and despite being ruppish, insisted on doing the theme tunes for all his telly programmes. Indeed, a talent for making dreadful music  ran in the family – Automan’s cousin teamed up with partners Livestock and Aitken to produce some of the cheesiest assembly line pop of the 80s (Kylie Lochalsh, Fleek Astley and  Bunnabhainnaramma)

Outside of his working life, Dennis Automan’s main hobbies were getting divorced and fighting anyone who mistook “Dennis Automan ” for “Donnie Dòtaman”, which was chust about everyone.

Barry Croir – Comedy Lechend

5 02 2022

Tributes have been pouring in to recently departed comedian and writer Barry Cryer, who wrote all sorts of stuff for everybody and was famous for his appearances on Radio 4’s long running “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue”.

Sadly Cryer’s passing eclipsed the demise the same day of his third cousin from Bernera, almost as successful in his own way on the island comedy scene. 

Barry Croir was born in er…  Croir, in 1936, and began his career as an actor with the Predestination Prayers, Bernera’s  first Orthodox Seceder theatre company. Unfortunately for Barry, the troupe   disbanded soon after he’d joined, in a schism over the permissible height of the leading lady’s bun in a production of ‘My Fair Lady (of the Manse)’

After appearing in smash 50s musical “Gazetto Bongo”, Barry recorded a version of “Purple Paraffin Heater” which became a huge hit in Finsbay but nowhere else. 

Realising he was fleekeen ruppish at acting and singing, Croir decided to turn his hand to writing instead. 

Some of his early efforts included scripts for BBC Bernera’s satirical news review “The (Kirki)Bost Report”, co-written with Grazings Chapman and John Cleesham (future members of Maw T Peatiron’s Flying Cearc-house). 

Barry’s early work with  David (Kirki)Bost and the future Peatirons made his name, and soon his material was in big demand. By the early 60s he found himself supplying material for just about all the comedy greats of BBC Alba and Grampian, including: 

Donnie Corbett

Donnie La Rubhach

Donnie Ma Root

Donnie Dòtaman

The Two Donnies

Tommy Crùbag

Stanley Back-ster

Dick Lemreway

Jimmy Loganair

Bobban Hope

Mike Yarwoodiesexpressparcels

Dave Balallan

Fankie Cowherd

Kenny Everett

Kenny Erisort

Morsgail and No-wise

Spike StickysMilligan

…and many more.

As well as his writing, Barry was a regular fixture on Isles FM’s long running panel show “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Guth”, having appeared every week since the first episode was broadcast in 1872. 

Barry was the show’s top exponent of “Goathill Crescent”, a complex game of logic and strategy based on the stations in the Stornoway Underground (see our very first article from 2008).

We won’t go into the rules of “Goathill Crescent” here, but regular listeners will know that each week the show’s chairman, deceased trad jazz chanterist the late Humphfree Churchcontinuing (RIP) presides over a fractious group playing for high stakes and furiously debating the legalities of the various moves and stratagems.

In an episode the other week, (the last to feature Barry) regular panellists Mac an t-Shrònaich, D*gg*m Da and T*m Br**ke T*ylor (RIP) almost came to blows over a move direct to Goathill Crescent from Newton, which missed out Mailboat despite the fact that it was a Thursday and they were playing in accordance with Oss*an’s 89th sheriff court diagonal bypass rule. Imagine.

But co dhiù, we’ll leave you with one of Barry’s musings on old age….

“I’m so old I don’t buy green buntàta any more”

Peat Loaf RIP

22 01 2022

Tributes have been pouring in to recently departed rock legend Marvin Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf, famed for his ‘Bat Out of Hell’ album and partnership with over-the-top producer Jim Steinman.

We’re also sad to report that Meat Loaf’s  Leodhasach second cousin on his mother’s side,  Marvig Lee Adabroc –  the legendary big fat shouty cove more famously known as ‘Peat Loaf’ – has also passed away. 

Born in Dell-as, (not) Texas in 1947, Peat Loaf discovered a talent for music while attending Leòbag Cuireamach College and formed his first band “Peat Loaf Soval” in 1967 as a cover for his salmon poaching trips to Lochs.

Surprisingly the band had some success, supporting the likes of grumpy Niseach Dan Morrison’s band ‘Themcoves’, rhythm ‘n’ brues legend ‘Howlin’ Woolagie’, and acid rock freak crofters The Graipful Dead. Off the back of that, Peat Loaf was recruited to appear in famous hippy musical ‘Wool’. 

After the massive success of ‘Wool’, Peat Loaf and a fellow performer from the show, Shorn Stoneyfield, signed to top De-chroit soul label Tormod Murdotown records. During their time at Murdotown, Stoneyfield and Peatloaf were plagued by interference from label executives, and Peat Loaf left after Murdotown replaced his vocals on their hit single “Who Is The Leader of the Paible” with an alternate take by soul giant Edwin StarrInn, (who of course is better known for his own 1970 hit “Todhar (What is It Good For?)”). 

Peat Loaf sprang to island-wide fame in 1977 with the release of his “Bat Out of Dell” album, co-written with bombastic rock producer Jim Steinishman (see last year’s obituary),

Peat Loaf’s thunderous bovine bellow and Steinishman’s operatic pretensions went together like sgadan and buntata.  “Bat Out of Dell” became one of Stornoway’s biggest selling albums of all time (8 copies), and has been in the Maciver and Dart’s album chart continuously since 1977.

The enigmatic cover artwork (a painting of a crofter bursting out of a grave at Habost Cemetery, whilst driving a Massey Ferguson tractor and towing a trailer full of peats) caused some controversy at first, but has gone on to be recognised as a great work of art and is now used by the Dail bho Dheas Tourist Board.

‘Bat Out of Dell’ was filled with epic hits, most noticeably the title track,  but also ‘You Hooked The Fish Right Out at the (Creed) Mouth’ and ‘Paradise By The Arnish Light’, a duet with Eilean Foley. The album also had ‘All Reverend Up and No Parish to go’ (about a church schism where a Minister missed out on getting a church once the dust settled).  Many folk became fans after watching his groundbreaking live performance on BBC Alba’s ‘Old Folks’ Coulregrein Whistle Test’.

Peat Loaf followed up BOOD with “Deaf Singer” in 1981. This album featured a duet with Sher on the title track. A couple of years later he returned with “Midnight at the Lochs Sheep Pound” and in 1984 “Bahhd Attitude”.

Steinishman and Peat Loaf continued to collaborate intermittently over the subsequent years, but they were cursed by bad timing. When Steinishman had songs handy, Peat Loaf would have lost his voice, or got the cuiream and be refusing to sing anything but psalms; When Peat Loaf was ready to work, Steinishman would be short of material because he’d just flogged his least ruppish  songs to one of his other artists. While several very successful albums emerged from this period, none of them attained the dizzy heights of the original.  

But this changed in 1993 when “Bat Out of Dell 2: Back Into Dell” appeared. This revisited the themes of BOOD 1 and was a big hit all across most of the West Side largely on the strength of hit single “I Would Do Anything for Lochs (But I won’t do Pairc)”. 

Peat Loaf continued to release albums and tour round Lewis, but also made a living as a showbiz celebrity on the telly (Grampian) and in the media (Fios).

Peat Loaf also had a twin career as an actor. He started off playing a tree in the 1955 Stornoway Thespians Xmas Panto, but soon graduated on to playing trees in various BBC Alba productions in the 1960’s. His first acting brush with fame came just before he made it really big as a rock star, when he played the part of the biker Eddie in “The Lochie Ho-Ro Picture Show” in 1975. 

Peat Loaf also had memorable parts in the following movies:

  • ‘(John)Waynes(MotherCameFromNess) World’ with comedians Mike Byres and Dena ElevenCarvery, 
  • ‘Lice World’’ – a cameo appearance as a driver in the film from girly pop stars ‘The Lice Girls’. (a manufactured band sponsored by the Salmon Parasite Eradication Board).
  • ‘Shite Club’ – a film about a secret manure sharing club, where Crofters could spread todhar on a secret feannag without having to worry about the Environmental Health coves chasing them. Remember, as the famous line in the film goes, ‘You do not talk about Shite Club (if you’ve any self respect)’

A larger than life character, Peat Loaf will be sadly missed.

Ronnie Spealtrag RIP

15 01 2022

Fans of legendary 60s girl group the Ronettes were in mourning yesterday following the passing of singer and beehive hairstyle pioneer Ronnie Spector. 

The Ronettes’ big hits such as ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Walking in the Rain’, with Ronnie’s voice up front and mad ex-husband Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’ production, are fondly remembered by those who were young in the early 60s.

Closer to home, surviving fans of Point’s thriving 1960s blone band (and fishing) scene were also saddened by the death  the same day of Ronnie Spector’s slightly less well known cousin from Garrabost – Ronnie Spealtrag, frontwoman of the Eye Peninsula’s most popular girl group/fishing boat crew of 1963, the Rubha-nets.

Born Veronica Beannag in 1943, Spealtrag formed the Rubha-nets in 1957 with her sister Estebellag and cousin Mehhhrag from Sealladh na Mara.

Originally calling themselves The (Silver)Darling Sisters, The Rubha-nets started out singing sea shanties to pass the time as they rowed over to the Broadbay fishing grounds. Their close-ish harmony singing, interspersed with swear words, became very popular with the other fishermen. Very soon they were encouraged to go professional and began to give impromptu performances on various slipways and piers around Broadbay.

They also began to write their own songs, mainly ones in honour of their Rubhach heritage.  These soon brought the girls to the attention of record producer Phil(let) Spealtrag, and before they knew it they were regularly hitting the Point Top Forty. 

Their  hits included:

Be My Bayble

Baby EyePeninsula Love You

Waulking in the Portnagu-rain

(The Best Part of) Brocair Up

… and Iasgair The Snowman

Ronnie also invented the beehive-hut hairstyle after a poaching trip to Kinlochresort. Whilst trying to get away with two salmon up the Morsgail track, she was spotted by two burly Water Bailiffs who promptly gave chase. Luckily Ronnie had several hairpins in her fishing tackle bag, along with a tin of hairspray. She nipped behind one of the many beehive dwellings in the area and cunningly fashioned a gravity defying hairstyle more than capable of secreting away the two salmon. 

Ronnie just had to pretend she was a passing archaeologist and the Water Bailiffs left her alone. In honour of her close shave she named her ‘do’ the Beehive and soon after this every blone in Lewis (except Ministers wives) was sporting one on Cromwell St. 

(It should be noted that FP Ministers wives were eventually allowed to have a Beeehive in the 1980’s after the Synod agreed the Beehive could be officially classed as an impressive ‘bun’). 

From 1968 to1972, Ronnie was married to mental record producer and Inaclete Road fish-curer Phil(let) Spealtrag, known for his “wall of fleekeen sound, cove” productions.

The blone group scene in the mid 60s was huge, and the Rubha-nets had to fight their corner against rival acts like the Sùgh-premes, Ma-tha & the Fishvandellas, the Sandwick-La’s, the Marviglettes, the  Sheepffons and the Ciorstags.

Despite early successes, the Rubha-nets’ career was fleeked up by Phil(let) Spector refusing to release some of their best recordings and giving songs away to rival blone bands. After supporting the Peatles on their 1966 Tour of Point and Sandwick, the band broke up in 1967. 

From then until her death, Spealtrag kept busy with a variety of projects and collaborations with other artistes, from ex-Peatle George Harrishouse, to punk  poet Patti Smithavenue, Keithstreet Richards and Joey Ram-mùn.

Ronnie also did some work with Laxdale guitar hero Jimi  Hens-lick,who had backed the Rubha-nets in their early days  She sang backing vox on Hens-lick’s “Raining On Bernera Bridge” album.

In the 70s she sang with Brue Springfield’s E. Street (Sandwick) band, and toured with Southbeach Seonaidh and the Arnishbury Flukes.

When Ronnie Spector’s autobiography “Be My Baby: How I survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness” was published in 1990 to great acclaim, Spealtrag got Acair to put out her own life story.

Spealtrag’s book “Be My Bayble: How I survived Marags, Ministers and Mawness”, was also a big hit, selling nearly 4 copies in the Loch Erisort bookshop.

Ronnie Spealtrag was a big influence on many later artists, including tragic modren singer Amy Winehouse. After Winehouse’s demise, Spealtrag went into the studio to record a tribute version of ‘Back to Black’ but got mixed up and did AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ instead. Which always went down well whenever she played the Sea Angling.

Be My Bayble

The night mending nets I knew I needed your sgoth

And if I had the charts, I’d never let you row

So won’t you sail to Tiumpan

I’ll make you a pound a cran 

We’ll make ’em burn their fish heads, every plaice we throw (away)

So won’t you, please, be my, be my Bayble

Be my little Bayble, my one and only Bayble Pier

Sail you’ll be a darning’, better than fleeking farmin’

Be my Paible now, my one and only Paible Iarach

Wha oh ohhh, ohhhh fleek a rock.

RIP Mike Nessmithavenue from The Mankees

18 12 2021

Only a week late, we’re sad to report that another member of legendary local 60s band ‘The Mankees’ has passed on to the great gig in the sky (bizarrely, dying within minutes of his more famous cousin from The Monkees).

Mike Nessmithavenue was born in the posh part of Stornoway and grew up as an independently wealthy Townie dilettante. He didn’t have to work because his mother was the inventor of Dipp-Ex – the world’s top sheep whitening fluid.

After an unsuccessful early career as a folk musician (he kept getting thrown out of Stornoway Folk Club for not being from Away), Mike was recruited to be one of the famous Mankees, a group of trendy youngsters set up by local Stornoway businessmen to try and emulate the success of The Monkees. Although of course, any resemblance to The Monkees was purely coincidental.

Up the town in their 60s headquarters where the Golden Ocean is now, local TV tycoons M*civer and D*rt were developing a new show for their short-lived cable channel NBC(C) (Narrows Broadcasting Corporation (Continuing)). “The Mankees” was to be a sitcom centred around the life of a fab groovy beat combo who lived in a shed in Marybank and collected fuidheags in their spare time. Nessmithavenue got the job because he could provide a free supply of Dipp-Ex for correcting the band’s press releases.

The other Mankees were Mickey Domhlann’s, a former shoe salesman, Davey Blones, a former child actor and sheep jockey, and former Rubhach journalist Peter Torquilterrace (see our moving tribute from March 2019) 

The Mankees all lived together in a big house, drove about the town in The Mankee-mobile (an old Town Council ‘ash-cart’) and had wacky adventures every week. In between all those wacky goings on, each episode of the show would feature The Mankees performing catchy pop songs that you could soon hear Johnny Tee-Dee whistling as he did his milk rounds. 

Initial criticism of the band for being “manufactured” worked in their favour; when the Stornoway Gazette accused them of being the “Prefab Four”, their record sales in Plasterfield rocketed.

Massive success across the islands ensued, with top viewing figures for the TV series, several shillings’ worth of merchandising and a string of hit singles written (and allegedly played) by hard-bitten music industry veterans of the day such as C*l*m K*nn*dy, Al*sd*r G*ll*s and the M*cd*n*ld S*sters.

The hits kept coming and the TV show kept bringing in advertising revenue. Songs included:

  • Last Train to Cladh Shanndabhaig, 
  • Day Dream Tweed Weaver
  • I’m a Seceder
  • (I’m Not Your) Steading Blone
  • Unpleasant Newvalley Sunday
  • A Little Bit Mehh, A Little Bit Brue

It was only when the band started thinking they were capable of writing and playing their own material that it all went wrong. Maciver & Dart cancelled the TV series and the band went off and made “(Tiumpan) Head” a very strange film in which a porpoise was played by Stornoway Harbour’s Sammy the Seal and Jack Nicholson was played by somebody who had been to the Nicolson. Or maybe it was the Castle. Anyway, it was widely derided as “fleekeen ruppish” and soon afterwards the Mankees split up.

Nessmithavenue’s post-Mankees career as a songwriter and performer wasn’t quite as successful, but he did get around to writing “Different DruimLeathann” which became a hit for Linda Tolstatd. He also formed successful country rock/Gaelic poetry crossover group the First National Bard, and when the members of that combo fell out, he formed the equally successful but more hardline First National Bard (Continuing).

Nessmithavenue also founded audiovisual production company Pacific Cearcs in 1974 to cash in on the emerging Gaelic media bonanza, and pioneered the rock video format on shows like “Se Ur Beatha” and later “Brag”. 

In the 80s he directed the video for smoothie Niseach soul crooner Lional Macritchie’s big hit about salmon poaching “All Night Langabhat”, and was an executive producer on 1984 classic cult movie “Sheepo Man”.

He was invited to join the board of MTV (Maw Television) in 1980 but told them to fleek off because he was a Townie.

Nessmithavenue wasn’t dependent on his solo musical or business ventures anyway; Since it was first broadcast in 1966, “The Mankees” has never been off the telly, so he could quite happily have sat back and lived off the repeat fees (especially since BBC Alba started).

Nessmithavenue also maintained a keen interest in the dramatic and journalistic arts, and was never happier than when indulging in his favourite hobby of fomenting schisms in his local church congregation then writing to the Gazette to complain about them.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Mankees fans. If there is one upside to Mike Nessmithavenue’s demise, it’s that we were able to knock up his obituary quite quickly by re-using the one we did for Peter Torquilterrace back in 2019. 

Co dhiù, Let’s leave you with one of the Mankees’ greatest hits, a fine piece of work that Nessmithavenue often mimed to despite having had fleek all to do with writing or recording it (it was actually written by popular Leurbost singer N**l Di*mond, who is said to have used the earnings from it to build the Caberfeidh):

I’m a Seceder

“I thought church was only good for scary tales 

Meant for someone else in the F.P.

Cuiream wasn’t out to get me

That’s the way it seemed

Predestination haunted all my dreams

I watched Songs of Praise, now I’m a Seceder

No more Feis, I doubt I’m allowed

I’m in church – oohhhh  (but I didn’t get the bus)  

cos I’m a Seceder

I couldn’t leave even if I died(*)

(*)Unless there was an ecclesiastical schism.

Musical Theatre Legend Steven Strond-heim RIP

11 12 2021

Across the globe, devotees of musical theatre are in mourning following the death of Steven Sondheim, the composer and librettist behind countless Broadway smashes from “West Side Story” to “Sweeney Todd” to  “Into the Woods”

Meanwhile closer to home, several members of the Stornoway Thespians, a cailleach from Rodel and one flamboyant lifelong bachelor from Ardhasaig (the chair of the North Harris Barbara Streisand Appreciation Society), were saddened by  the demise the same day of Sondheim’s nearly-as-successful Hearach cousin.

Steven Strond-heim was a colossus of late 20th century Broadbay musicals, bridging the gap between earlier giants such as his mentor Oscar Haboststein, and young whippersnappers such as Andrew Leòid Weaver and Linishader Manual Mooranda.

Strond-heim was born at an early age in 1930 in South Harris. His piping tutor noticed Strond-heim’s natural gift for a tune and encouraged him to take up the melodian as well, in order to broaden his musical horizons. It wasn’t long until he was adding elaborate arrangements to traditional ceilidh tunes and confusing the flick out of musicians during a stramash, who didn’t see the point in having to use more than 4 notes. 

But as well as composition, Strond-heim was fascinated by lyrics and their construction. Cole Portnaguran, Noel Cow Aird and Oscar Habotstein’s work all made a deep impression on the young Strond-heim and he got his first big break writing the lyrics to Leonard Bernerastein’s music on  ‘West Side Story’.

Loosely based around Uilleam Shakes-number1Pier’s “Rubha-meo and Juliateallthegugas”, “West Side Story”  features two gangs busy collecting tyres for the Gelly on Bonfire Night.  One of the gangs, The Siarachs, come from Arnol, and the other, the Chets, from Puerto Ness, and they’re forever meeting up in Ballantrushal for meticulously choreographed scraps. 

More on ‘West Side Story’ later in this article, but following on from it, Strond-heim went on to develop a string of smash hit musicals over the subsequent 60 years, including:

“Into the Wools”

“Sweeney’s Todhar – the Demon Barber of Point Street” 

(Strond-heim’s love for BBC Alba’s ‘Air an Lot’ was matched only by the post-traumatic stress he suffered following the many terrible haircuts inflicted at Johnny Geeper’s in his younger days; ingeniously, he managed to combined both themes into this one show).

“Sunday in Parkend with Geordie Golidy”

“A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Cuiream.”

“A Little Sh*te Music”

…and many more.

A host of great names of stage and screen have appeared in Strond-heim’s shows and film adaptations over the years, including:

Barbara Steinishquicksand

Johnny Dip

Helena Bothan Cearc-er

Huge Cacman

Zebo Mostel

Angela Langabhatsbury

Meryl Sheep

Along with all these big names we could also mention Niseach terpsichorean and gravedigger Lionel Lair. Lair (98) also passed away recently, after tap-dancing backwards into an open grave while ‘treating’ the mourners at a funeral in Habost to a demonstration of the routine he once performed with Psalmmy Davis Jr at the Royal Variety Performance – or was it the Royal public bar? – in 1948). 

We could, but we can’t, because despite his numerous claims to have done so, Lair in fact never appeared in any of Strond-heim’s musicals. This was due in part  to his long term commitments to recording popular BBC Alba panel show ‘Give Us A Brue’, but mostly to his being fleekeen ruppish.

Co dhiù, let us finish with a snippet of Strond-heim’s work – perhaps the most well known song from his breakthrough show “West Side Story” – none other than the legendary  “A Marag? Tha”:

“I like for my tea, a mara…ag. Tha

Okay by me, a Tha

Ingredients free in a Tha

From a small sheep, in a marag tha”

A marag on credit is so nice

One look at us and there’s a less slice

I have my own pail to collect blood

What will you use to pick the spuds”

Quo Legend Balallan Làn-cac-ster RIP

23 10 2021

Fans of rock legends Status Quo were saddened recently by the passing in Australia of original bass player Alan Lancaster, who propelled the band from their 60s psychedelic years into their “heads-down-no-nonsense-mindless boogie” 70s heyday before falling out with bandmates Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt in the mid 80s.

Sadly Lancaster’s demise eclipsed the passing the same day of his lesser-known Leodhasach cousin. Had it not been for this unfortunate coincidence, there would probably have been a lot more in the music press that day about Balallan Làn-cac-ster, bass player with popular island “heads-down-no-nonsense-mindless-Bogie” merchants Steinish Quo.

Làn-cac-ster was born Murdo Macleod in 1949 in Bennadrove, to parents who were exiles from the Kinloch area and filled his head with fanciful notions about the imagined perfection of their homeland – the majestic palaces of Laxay, the golden temples of Balallan and the dreaming spires of Airidhbhruach. They could neffer be bothered taking him over there for a look though, so he came to believe their tales wholeheartedly and parroted them relentlessly to his sceptical pals in Laxdale school. 

This soon earned him the nickname “Balallan Làn-cac-ster”, and when he became a professional musician he was obliged to stick with it, in order to avoid getting mixed up with all the other Murdo Macleods in the world of showbiz.

Làn-cac-ster first met Francis Rossiesshop in 1962 whilst both were still in the Niccy. They formed a band called ‘The Sgorp Iains’ and played a couple of times in the YM. They soon found like-minded drummer/knitting enthusiast John Cnocan (famed for using his needles as drumsticks) and changed the band name to ‘The Hectares’. Several other name changes swiftly followed including ‘Traffic Cham’ and ‘The Steinish Quo’ (their late 60’s ‘psychedelic’ phase), until they finally settled on ‘Steinish Quo’.

Along with the name changes, several other musicians came and went, but the classic “Fanktic Four” line-up of  Làn-cac-ster, Francis Rossiesshop, Rick Paircfitt and John Cnocan soon hit the right note (B very flat) and before they knew it they were filling venues (on occasion playing to up to 4 people in Mac’s Imperial Bar who were waiting for the Plasterfield bus) and selling loads of records (sometimes up to 3 copies in DD Morrison’s).

In their 60s psychedelic incarnation as “The Steinish Quo” the band were often seen, resplendent in “mòd” fashions from the hip boutiques of Ceann-a-Bhaigh Street, scouring the golf course for mushrooms to inspire their work.

Inspired by the prevailing groovy climate, “The Steinish Quo” enjoyed a number of far-out hits including ‘Pictures of Marvig Men’ and ‘Back Veils of Melbost-collie’

But as the 60s came to an end the band ditched their psychedelic sound in favour of a more basic 3-chord ‘Bogie’ style (with occasional 2-chord Deetan and 1-chord Snooley variations) that went back to their rock ‘n’ roll beginnings. At the same time, they discarded their fab 60s threads and  kitted themselves out in more workaday attire – Wrangler chackets and flares from Nazir’s and Smith’s, and boiler suits from Mackenzie & Macsween.

Quo’s classic  “Bogie” albums from this period included:

Maw Cailleach’s Greasy Spoon 

Dog of Toe Head


Brue For You

And their decades-long run of hit singles included: 

Rodelhouse Blues

Down The Dustcart

(Sunday) Paper Plane


Down Town (a moving tribute to Bogie’s attempts to buy a ‘hen supper’ from the Church St Chippie)

Whatever Ewes Want

Living on an Island

Somethin’ Bout Ewes Baby I Like

Marag-uerita Time

You’re in the Army (Cadets) Nuw

(b/w “You’re in the Gu-sealladh-nì-màth-orm-y Now”)

But by the end of the 70s cracks were appearing in the band, and in 1982 John Cnocan surprised everyone by fleeking off just after their 20th anniversary, in a huff because Francis Rossiesshop wouldn’t wear the pink bobban waistcoat Cnocan had knitted for him specially.  

A new drummer and melodeon player were added and the Quo continued through the 1980’s. 

Highlights of the 80’s for the band must surely include being the opening act at Livener Aid in Goathill Stadium, kicking the whole show off with ‘Crofting All Over The World’

Shortly after Livener Aid however, Làn-cac-ster announced he was leaving and fleeked off ‘down under’ to Harris. He continued in the music business, playing in several ceilidh bands including a supergroup with former Rosestreet Tattoo frontman Angry Andersonroad.

In 2013 the classic ‘Fanktic Four’ Quo line up resolved their differences and reunited for a lucrative tour of Sunday School picnics, which was well received by the fans. 

In appreciation of Lan-cac-ster’s contribution to Stornoway culture let’s all sing along to one of their greatest hits…..1, 2, 3, 4……….

Down Town

Get down, Deetan, down town

Down town, Deetan down town

Down town, Deetan down town

Get down Deetan down town

I want all the hens you see

Cooked in batter in the Church St chippie

I can get a supper for you

A hen, a hen, a hen, a hen

A hen, a hen, a hen, a hen supper downtown

Get down, Deetan, down town

Down town, Deetan, down town

Down town, Deetan, down town

Get down Deetan down town

I want all the hens you see

At the chippie for my brother Bogie

I can get a supper for you

A hen, a hen, a hen, a hen

A hen, a hen, a hen, a hen supper downtown

Sir Glaoic Zinclayer RIP

25 09 2021

The recent demise of famous inventor Sir Clive Sinclair (The pocket calculator, ZX80 and Spectrum computers, C5 electric vehicle, and miniature TV)  left middle-aged nerds across the globe in mourning. 

Less well known was the innovator’s island cousin, who came up with a few pretty smart ideas of his own and sadly passed away the same day.

Sir Glaoic Zinclayer was best known for claiming to have invented corrugated iron, and made his original fortune in the early 1960s selling 2-room àiridh kits to readers of Practical Tairsgear magazine for 10 shillings and sixpence a shot.

As peatcutting declined in the early 1970s, Zinclayer sensed that the bottom was rusting out of the àiridh market and decided to diversify into consumer electronics. In 1973, spotting the success of his cousin Clive’s “pocket calculator” on the mainland, Zinclayer began developing several similar devices that were aimed more specifically at the Hebridean market. 

First came the Pocket Cac-u-lator, a device for determining how many trailerloads of todhar were required to fertilise a feannag.

Then the Pocket Cala-culator, for working out how many fishing boats could fit in alongside the pier.

The Pocket Coll-culator could instantly compute how many Stornoway Sunday School outings could be accommodated on the beach at a time, based on tidal conditions.

And finally the Pocket Cull-culator, used every year to count the number of Guga clubbed on Sulasgeir. Unfortunately the Pocket Cull-culator could only count to 2000 (according to the Niseachs) and became the first ever computer to fall victim to the Maw-llenium bug.

In the late 70s, anticipating the emerging trend towards personal computers, Zinclayer designed some of the earliest and cheapest machines on the market –  the iconic ‘ZXochdad’, and the snappily named ‘ZXCeithir fichead sa h-aon’ and finally the legendary ‘ZX Bogha-froise’, which came with colour graphics and a state-of-the-art 16K of Rams.

While Zinclayer’s machines were innovative and cheap, competition in the emerging home computer field was intense, with big international players like Comhairle-dore, Abair and Tawse-tarry muscling in. But trouble came too from within Zinclayer’s organisation, when treacherous employee Chris Cuiream broke away and designed the BBC Alba Pinecone microcomputer. The BBC Alba became the standard in island schools, doing Zinclayer out of the lucrative council contracts he’d hoped for.

To make matters worse, Zinclayer had no sooner finished building a hi-tech factory at Parkend Industrial Estate to produce the ZX series, when the HIDB realized that there was no “Z” or “X” in the Gaelic alphabet and demanded their grant money back.

Despite Zinclayer’s woes, computer gamers of a certain age remember the ZX series fondly, especially for its classic games such as: 

Maw-nic miner

3D Minister Maze

3D Minister (Continuing) Maze


Tha-Tic Attack

Chet Set Uilly

Chuckie Eigg

Jet Pairc

As his fortunes in the computer business faded, Zinclayer took a bold, and ultimately disastrous, step into the world of electric vehicles. Spotting a gap in the commuting market, he came up with the idea of a sleek, low cost vehicle designed to nip in between all the fleekeen school buses clogging up the Manor roundabout and the Matheson Rd crossroads. 

Named the “Zinclayer CFifeAdventurers” in an attempt to get on the good side of the Stornoway Historical Society, this innovative vehicle came to naught as it didn’t have a roof, couldn’t get up Anderson Road, tended to come off worst in encounters with sheep, and got stuck whenever it came to a cattle grid.

Sir Clive also tried out a number of other models of his vehicle including:

The Zinclayer C5Pennyborve electric tractor, targeted at the rural market. The C5Pennyborve failed simply because it was so far ahead of its time (the maws didn’t have electricity).

The Zinclayer APC5 electric church bus – the promising APC5 ultimately proved unsuccessful because, in a misguided  attempt to capture the Free Presbyterian market, it was programmed not to work on Sundays.

In his spare time – despite his nerdy appearance – Sir Glaoic was a bit of a playboy, and was frequently spotted in top-end nightclubs like the Galaxy Disco, or wuining and duining blones at his usual table in the Coffee Pot. 

An accomplished high-stakes gambler, he was often seen in the Turf Accountant’s, placing bets of 50p or more, and was the winner of Grampian TV’s “Celebrity 2s and 8s Challenge” in the early 2000s.

Famed for having an impressive IQ of over 59, Zinclayer also served for many years as chairman of the Airidhbhruach branch of Mehhh-nsa.

On the news of Zinclayer’s death the Made Up History spoke to some of his fellow tech tycoons and asked them for their thoughts:

“A cove ahead of his time” – Nessla’s Elon Morsgail, ” 

“A true inspiration” – Amadan’s Jeff Broadbayzos.

“Oh yus, thon cove. I nicked all my ideas off him” – Microcroft founder Bill ‘Galvanised’ Gates.

“We need to get out of Eoropie! Make Breasclete Great Again! Sir Glaoic who?” – Offshore Hoover magnate Sir Jameson Dryveson, speaking from somewhere abroad.

“What the fleek are you asking me for? I’m dead” – Abair boss Steve JobsblowforArnishworkers (deceased)

Charlie SirEScotts RIP

27 08 2021

The music world has lost another of its all-time greats with the recent passing of the lechendary (and very spaideil) Rolling Stones tub-thumper Charlie Watts. Closer to home, another lesser known but no less-respected drummer also shuffled off (get it?) this mortal coil; Charlie SirEScotts, who for nearly sixty years occupied the drum stool of the Rodel Stones, foremost band in the Harris R&B scene (Roghadal and Borrisdale). 

The Rodel Stones’ origin story takes us back to 1950 where Charlie’s future bandmate Keithstreet Richards was attending Bragar School with his pal Mick MacAskill. Mick (short for Murchadh) was a very common name in 1950s Lewis, and so MacAskill was always known as Mick Bragar in order to differentiate himself from all the other Micks, which became very confusing when his family then upped and moved to Brue. Separated by insurmountable distance, the boys lost touch, but years later Keithstreet met Mick waiting for the 6 o’ clock bus back home and noticed that he was carrying a Flair LP. They bonded over this and quickly began making their very own ruppish music under the name “Brue’s Boys”.

Meanwhile, Charlie had started playing drums with Alex Dan LazyKorner in his band ‘Brues Incorporated’ alongside melodeon player Ian Stewartscreamofthebarley and slide guitarist (and early Trans pioneer) Brian Blones. Brues-style music became very popular around Roghadal and Borrisdale and it was in 1962, whilst playing around the South Harris R&B scene, that Charlie first met Mick Bragar and Keithstreet Richards and soon formed a new band with them.  Brian Blones phoned up “Events” to have their first gig advertised and was asked what the band’s name was. He glanced out of the phonebox, saw the wall around St Clements’ Church and replied that they were called “the Rodel Stones”.

The line-up of the Rodel Stones changed several times. Stewartscreamofthebarley was kicked out for being too ugly, but became their road manager instead and Bill Aidhaidhman soon joined the line-up on bass. In later years (After the sad demise of Brian Blones), a young trendy FP melodeon player called Mick Secaaay-der  joined the band but he only stayed for five years as he got a better job as a piping instructor in Mangersta School. He in turn was replaced by the lead accordionist in ‘The Fèises’, Ronnie WoodlandsCentre, who along with Keithstreet Richards, formed what is probably the best known accordion partnership ever seen in R&B and Ceilidh circles.

The band quickly gained popularity, but true success didn’t come their way until their manager Giorgio Gormeliasky was replaced by former Peatles manager and respected deacon Andrew Loog Orduighean. 

Orduighean (a staunch FP) was responsible for the band’s look and initially tried to get them wearing good serge suits and homburg hats, but, realising that a raunchier, more dangerous image would make the band more desirable to the cailleachs, he allowed them to take off the homburgs. 

They soon secured themselves a three album deal with Ness-based label DeccaStation Records and released their first single; a cover of a Church Berry song. However, Orduighean wanted them to get their own songwriting royalties instead of giving them up to “middle aged Bacachs”, hence the title of what became their first self-penned hit “(I Can’t Get No) Sustentation”.

Their next single “Get off, MacLeod” also went to number one in DD Morrison’s chart and they soon released their first album of very good originals “Aftermathdharìreabh” which featured the hit song “Paint it Back”.

“Between the ButtonKeyAccordions” came out in 1967, tackling diverse subjects such as the difficulty of finding romance while still needing to finish essential tasks on the croft (“Let’s Spend The Night Togatherthepeats”) and the shortage of buses to Point (“Rubha by Tuesday”).

Their material took on a darker tone after Orduighean left to go in for the ministry. Particularly controversial were the album “Their Satanic Marvigs Request” and subsequent single “Sympathy for the Deamhais”. Even their album covers caused a stir. “Bleigeard’s Banquet” was criticised for its photograph of a seagull eating chips outside Perceval Square public toilets but this paled in comparison to the fuss made about the sleeve of “KennyStickysMill Fingers” which depicted a weaver struggling to operate a hattersley loom while wearing trousers that were too tight.

The band played some of the biggest and best known concerts in island history, although these appearances often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. While on tour on the West Side in 1969, Mick Bragar blurted out to a Gazette reporter their plan to hold a free concert in the yard at Denis Autos. Fearing that Bragar would be inundated, the organisers were forced to move the show to Arnol. However, “Arnoltamont” was to become infamous after the Barvas Grazings Committee were hired to do security and the Stones’ set was cut short when an audience member was clubbed with a marag.

Their free concert at Haoidh Park in 1969 didn’t fare much better. As a tribute to Brian Blones, who died just a couple of days before, the Stones planned to release 100,000,000,000 midges which would form a sombre black cloud. After a lengthy prayer and a eulogy where Blones was never once mentioned by name, the midges were set loose and the entire audience of between 25 and 27 people fled home flailing their arms.

Success brought with it romance, and the other members of the band were often seen in the narrows after closing time with beautiful and glamorous women holding them upright. Both Brian Blones and Keithstreet Richards were involved with Lochie actress Anita Balallanberg, while Bragar was paired with Mairi-Anna Faithful (who had the cùram), married to Niseachcaraguan heiress Bianca Perez-Morag Maragas, and later partnered with Texel supermaw-del Jerry Laxdalehall (who allegedly cheated on him and ended up marrying wealthy newspaper mogul Rubha-poirt Murdoch). 

There was none of that carry-on for Charlie, though, who remained happily married until his death to the blone he met at the 1964 Carloway Show – Siabost Siarach Shearing champion Shearly-Annag Sheepherd. Charlie’s exemplary behaviour compared to the rest of the band, and the fact that Shearly-Annag was a world-renowned expert with the deamhais, were entirely coincidental, propaply.

Over their lengthy career, the Rodel Stones released a seemingly endless string of records including “Exile on Mainland”, “Sheep’s Head Soup”, “Tattoo Ewe”, “Let It Bleat”, “Bridges to Bayble” and “Soum Girls” –  and a raft of classic singles such as “Jumpin’ Cac Flush”,

“Honky Tong Woman”, “It’s Only Deoch an Dole”, “Angie”, “Gimmer Shelter” and “Start Me Tup”.

Despite his success in the world of rock and blues, Charlie was at heart a chazz fan, his early taste in music having been formed by the likes of Jelly Roll Maw-ton and Charlie Parkend. When he wasn’t playing with the Stones he could often be found jamming away with one of his side-projects at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz and Fish Club.

But we’ll leave you here with fond memories of Charlie SirEScotts and the words of one of the Rodel Stones’ best known songs, that well known warning against sheep rustling “Get Off, MacLeod”:

I live in an apartment on the ninety-ninth croft in Garyvard

And I sit at home looking out the window waiting just to catch thon ceard

Then in flies the guy next door all dressed up in a peephole boiler suit

He jumps the fence and sets about molesting my prize mehags at their food

I said Hey! Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!

Hey Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!   

Hey Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!  

Don’t hang around or I’ll have the law on you

On Macleod, baby 

The telephone is ringing 

I say, “Hi, it’s me. Who is it there – on the phone?” 

A voice says, “Oh a’thighearna flossie tha gaol mor agam ort – you fleecy blone”

He says “it’s three am so I’ll come over and I’ll meet you at the fank”

I don’t care about the cove that owns you – 

he can go and jump into his septic tank 

I said Hey! Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!

Hey Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!   

Hey Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!  

Don’t hang around or I’ll have the law on you

On Macleod, baby

I was sick and tired fed up with this

And decided I was gonna call the law

No dice the cops was all off at a riot in a mission house in Keose

But then I saw the vet returning from a prayer meeting in Cromore

He’ll git the guy next door fixed like a molt so he won’t bother me no more 

And I said  Hey Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!   

Hey Macleod! Get offa my Ewe!  

Don’t hang around or I’ll have the law on you

On Macleod, baby

Ewe-na Stubbs RIP

21 08 2021

Ewe-na Stubbs RIP. 

The recent passing of TV institution Una Stubbs marked the end of an era for entertainment across the nation. The versatile but sometimes underrated actress was a fixture of our big and small screens, having appeared in everything from ‘Summer Holiday’ to ‘Til Death Us Do Part’ to ‘Sherlock’.

But island audiences are also in mourning for the legendary actress’s Leodhasach cousin who passed away the same day, herself a mainstay of the BBC Alba TV  schedules since before anybody had a telly or electricity.

Local star of stage and screen, (and seasonal sheep shearer) Ewe-na Stubbs hit the boards at a young age and trained as a dancer, graduating on to parts in TV commercials on Grampian – most noticeably as the face of TeeDeesDairy Milk Chocolate.

Ewe-na’s first big break came in the hit Clibhe RichAird film ‘Summer Holydays’, where Clibhe, Ewe-na and the gang all went off to the Orduighean in Uig on a church bus, and to do a bit of Missionary work for the heathen parts of the district (mostly in Carishader). Readers will recall the catchy theme song, with memorable lines such as “We’re going where the sins shine brightly”.

Ewe-na became a household name after she starred in popular BBC Alba sit-com  ‘Till Death Us Do Pairc’, with Dandy Nicolsonroad, Tony Bùthsheumais, and of course Warren Mitchellsbus as her bigoted Eastender (from the Battery) dad Alf Garenin.

Alf Garenin’s racist diatribes against Hearachs, Rubhachs, Siarachs, Niseachs, Sgiathanachs, Lochies, Uibhisteachs, Barrachs, Uigeachs, Townies (except those from the Battery), Townies (from the Battery but not from Bulnacraig Street) and Townies (from Bulnacraig Street but not from Garenin’s house) were intended by scriptwriter Seonaidh Splaoid to be ironic, but this subtlety was lost on many viewers who thought the character of Garenin was talking a lot of sense and – despite his being fictional – tried to get him voted in as MP for the Western Isles in 1966, 1970 and 1974. The show also coined a popular phrase ‘You Silly Maw’. In today’s more sensitive times, ‘Till Death Us Do Pairc; is rarely repeated (Unlike nearly everything else on BBC Alba)..

In the Garenin household, Stubb’s character Rita (short for Rhoda Ishbal Tormodina Ann-Christina) was usually the voice of reason while all the other characters shouted at each other like deaf Siarachs at the Arnol fank in a force 10.

Ewe-na was also a regular on the original series of “Give us a Brue” with herself and Lionel Blarbuidhe leading the opposing teams. This popular show was based around the party game ‘CharAiridhs’ where contestants had to mime the name of a summer pasture. Who can forget the time Ewe-na was doubled up with laughter while, with the clock ticking, an over-excited Christopher Biggins repeatedly failed to grasp Lionel’s ‘Airidh Dhomhaill Chaim’? 

Stubbs was much loved by young viewers in the late 70s and 80s because of her role as Aunt Salainn in that program about the scarecrow built from wood they found in a cave; “Worzel Geò-Maide”… or was it as Aunt Salach in thon programme about the cove who looked like a scarecrow and was forever being thrown out of the Clachan – “Worzel Go-Mach”?  Co dhiù, whichever one it was, the scarecrow was played by Jon Piort-wee, or Jon Puirt-a-beul, or Jon Peat-wee, or somebody.

In parallel with her film and TV appearances Stubbs enjoyed a successful theatrical career. She was forever onstage with the Stornoway Thespians or with the Royal (Hotel) Shakes Pier Company. Notable appearances over the years included a critically acclaimed two-hander with Penelope Keithstreet in Noël Eadie’s “Star (Inn) Quality”, a show-stealing Nurse in the Point-based tragedy “Rubha-meo and Shulishader”, “Don Carlosway” with Derek Bac-obi and of course the role of Mrs Alexandersgarage in “The Curious Incident of the Dogfish on the Handline”.

Ewe-na kept working well into her 80’s, and in ‘Siarach’ she played the role of Mrs Hiortson, housekeeper to the great detective Siarach Holm at his famous residence, 221b Bakers Road. Holm and Watson were, of course, played by Bennadrove Cumberbatch and Martin WeeFreeman.