Glenn Leodhas Freychurch RIPWhen the Outer Hebrides Licensing Board met in 1975 to make up their infamous List of Songs That All Bands Playing In Stornoway Pubs Have To Play All The Time For The Next 100 Years At Least, Glenn Freychurch’s “Take It Easy” was beaten to the top only by “Freebird”. (And maybe “Whisky In The Char”).
Indeed, “Take It Easy” was the only song that many Stornoway covers bands bothered to learn, and a fair few of them made a good living out of playing it over and over and over again all night, every fleekeem fleekeen night.
That’s one of several reasons why the demise of the Seagles’ guitarist is such a bitter blow to his fellow Hebridean musicians, following so swiftly on from the departures of Lemmy, David Bowie and thon cove in the Specials.
Freychurch and the Seagles popularised their smooth, mellow brand of West Side sounds in the early 70s. These were cold, grim times in Stornoway – plagued as they were by peatcutters’ strikes, herring shortages, brown flared boiler suits and Austin Allegros. Freychurch’s songs transported the listener to a different world, where they could cruise down the sunny boulevards of Santa Bragar in a convertible, sip cocktails in a beachside bar under the palms in Malibu ( or Melbost Borve, at least), and strut about Los Arnol-es wearing a daft big medallion and a chest wig.
Freychurch’s songs captured the contradictions of 70s West Side life – a laid-back freewheelin’ lifestyle of empty hedonism on the surface, with an undercurrent of melancholy, desperation and impending cuiream beneath.
Glenn Leodhasach Freychurch was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1948, to parents who’d emigrated to Canada on the Metagama then sneaked over the border to get jobs in the city’s automobile industry. Glenn was a mere 6 months old when the family returned to their home village of Grimshader in 1949. His old man had been deported for receiving contraband marags, duff and craggan’s biscuits from dubious West Side associates in the post and peddling them among Detroit’s large exile community. (This experience was the basis for his solo hit “Smuggler’s Brues” in the 1980s).
Growing up in the beat boom of the early 60s, Freychurch developed an early interest in music, His first band in the mid-60s was The Subterraneans, not to be confused with the 1980s Sandwick band of the same name. Unfortunately Freychurch often did get the 2 bands mixed up, and for most of 1964 was in the habit of turning up for practices at Deadollac’s shed on North Street, only to find that it hadn’t been built yet, and the rest of “his” band were either in nappies or hadn’t been born. Many years later, in his drug-addled 80s period, Freychurch once again took to appearing at Subterraneans rehearsals until AJK told him to fleek off.
In the late 60s Freychurch got tired of Grimshader and decided to make for the West Side, where he cruised the freeway between Ness and Carloway, networking with various hippy musos such as JD Southdell and Jackson Breasclete, and spending a lot of time smoking kippers with the self-absorbed community of singer-songwriters up in Lionel Canyon.
The Seagles first came together in the early 70’s to back well known country singer Linda StRonanstadt. The original four musicians immediately gelled and decided to develop the country rock sound by forming a band. Joining Freychurch in this line up were Domhnall Henhouse, Berniera Leadon (previously with the Frying Buntata Brothers) and Randy Minister.
Their first album, simple called Seagles, became a overnight sensation with local music fans and sold over 5 copies in DD Morrisons. It contained such tunes as “Peaceful Easy Sheiling” and “Witchy (Tolsta) Cailleach”, which set the template for their musical direction.
Leadon decided to leave the band in 1975, unhappy that they were moving away from the chanter and melodeon tunes he loved and becoming more rocky to appeal to the crowd in the Lewis Public. This rocky element was beefed up even further when Don Elder joined the band as lead guitarist.
In 1977 Joe Lochalsh joined the band. A native of Wester Ross, he’d made his home in Stornoway after being chucked off the Loch Seaforth in 1968, and had made a name for himself with the Jamieson Drive Gang, scoring big hits with “Fank#49” and “Waulk Away”.
Lochalsh’s first album with the Seagles was the legendary “Hotel Callanish”, and his epic solo on the title track was to become a timeless classic. Indeed it won “worst lead break of all time” in a 1998 “Tolsta Guitar” magazine poll.
The band had always been a fractious bunch of bleigards, continually fighting over what chords to play and who got to sit in the wee seat next to the driver whilst on tour on a Mitchell’s bus. Arguments were ten a penny and threats of bodily harm flew thick and fast across the stage. Eventually it all came to a head and the Seagles announced that they were splitting up at the end of a massive tour of the Scout Hall, the YM and Sandwick Hall.
Famously, Domhnall Hensupper was asked if they would ever reform, to which he replied ‘When Wee Free’s Is Over’, making reference to the small chance of the Free Church rejoining the Church of Scotland.
Freychurch had a successful solo career following the Seagles’ breakup, and he always remained on good terms with Henshed. He had a big hit with ‘The Peat Is On’ from the soundtrack to ‘Barabhas Hills Cop’.
Eventually the lure of a lucrative residency in the Golf Club (every second Saturday throughout April and May depending on competitions and weddings) brought the five band members back together. They toured extensively round the whole of Lewis and recorded several live albums and one studio album.
But let us close our appreciation of Glenn Leodhas Freychurch with his own words, the original lyrics of “Take It Easy”- about a tractor driver providing his services to folk taking their peats home – (before the band persuaded him to change them because it was “too fleekeen maw-ish”):
Take It Peaty
Well I’m driving down the road
Trying to hang on to my load
I’ve got seven peatstacks on my mind
Four wanna go to Bayhead
Two wanna go into a Cearns shed
And one load’s for a friend of mine
Take it peaty, take it peaty
Don’t let the sound of your own Massey
Drive you crazy
Load up while you still can
Don’t even try to use a van
Just find a place to dump your load
And take it peaty.
Well, I’m dumping at the corner
In Willowglen so warn her
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a blone, my lord, in a 52 Ford(son Dexta)
Slowing down to give an order to me
Come on baby, don’t say Tuesday
I got to know when your Peatstack
Is going to be ready.
We may lose some peats and smuir
But it’s better than carting manure
So fill the trailer and climb in
And take it peaty.