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.

Interconnectors through the Ages

24 08 2014

There has been great rejoicing on the island of late relating to the news that the high speed fibre super optic Broadbayband ‘broader than broadband’ cable is in the process of being laid.
A large crowd gathered at the Braighe recently to watch the cable-laying ship Rene De’cearc start reeling out cable to the Mainland. There was much cheering as the cable was plugged in from the crowd of spectators who had gathered, no doubt eager to upload a clip of wee Shonnie singing at the local Mod to EweChube. However, this was swiftly followed by much booing as it was revealed that the high speed broadband wouldn’t actually be in operation for quite some time and that Auntie Seonag in Paisley would have to wait until 2016 to see Shonnie blasting out a verse of Calum Sgaire.

Some of the locals in that crowd would be aware that there was a touching piece of historical symmetry taking place, as that very part of the Braighe was where the old Telegraph Cable used to come ashore. There had been similar scenes of rejoicing when the first telegram arrived at the Braighe in 1872 and the islanders caught up with world events (such as hearing that the Jacobites had lost at Culloden and that America was no longer a British Colony)

But the telegraph was not the first time technology had been used to connect the Isle of Lewis to the mainland.

The first recorded attempt at connecting with the Mainland took place in the Neolithic Period when a group of cavemen, stranded on the Isle of Lewis following a sudden Ice Age and the subsequent rise in sea level, tried to wave to their companions who had made it safely back to the Mainland. Or at least this is what the Stone Age cave drawings found in Mac an t’ Shronaich’s Cave are thought to depict, or it might just have been some of the graffiti produced by the Manor Gang with some spray paint they nicked from Woolies.
The Outer Hebrides prospered during the Stone Age, due to the islands’ plentiful supply of olacs and the world’s seemingly inexhaustible demand for them. But the advent of the Bronze Age in 2900BC was accompanied by a steep slump in the global rock price, and the islands’ economy nosedived. To attract inward investment, the HIDB (Highlands and Islands Druid Board) decided to invest in the hi-tech communications infrastructure of the day by constructing a high-capacity multi-channel ley line from Stonehenge to the Callanish Stones. The high-speed connector and big tax breaks on offer soon attracted a number of multinational druid firms. Within months they’d set up a large scale human sacrificing plant where the Callanish visitor centre stands today, a curse factory at Breasclete, and a mistletoe packing facility near Garynahine (despite the fact that there was fleek all mistletoe on the island). Naturally all 3 schemes went bust within a year, the foreign druids fleeked off without paying back their HIDB grants and the Callanish Stones fell into disrepair for the next 4000 years or so.

Next, during the brief Roman occupation of Stornoway (see previous MUHOS entries), plans had been put in place to build a connection to Ullapooldinium to transport the high quality spa waters of Loch Mor a’ Stairr to the posh villas of Invernessium. Roman engineers came up with the idea of building a subaquaduct under the Minch over which the pure fresh Lewisian waters would flow gently towards civilisation.

A conventional aqueduct was built from Loch Mor a’ Stairr which carried the waters down to the Briagh. A huge holding pond was dug out in the middle of the Braighe where the spa waters were to be stored prior to making their journey across the Minch. This holding pond is still in existence but of course goes by the name of Loch Branahuie nowadays. To this day, the crystal clear waters of Loch Branahuie are testament to how pure the local Lewisian waters were.
A Roman galley called the Renus Decartus was commissioned to lay the stonework of the subaquaduct. It was loaded up with huge ollacs from the Marybankus Quarry and set sail for Caledonia. Ever few feet, a slave was chucked over the side clutching the ollac, with instructions on where to place the stone. After five years (and several thousand slaves) the subaquaduct was ready. A grand opening ceremony took place on the west side of the Minch featuring the finest of Roman Britain’s nobility. The personal representative of Emperor Calumigula declared the scheme complete and opened the sluice gates. Several hundred gallons of Lewis water flowed out of Loch Branahuie and disappeared down the subaquaduct and into the Minch.

The obvious flaw in the plan was only discovered when the spa waters flowing out at the Ullapoolindium end were found to have a distinctive salty taste.

The next attempt at connecting the islands took place in 550AD and was instigated by St Columba and his monks. Shortly after arriving on Iona and establishing his religious community there, St Columba decided that he needed to spread his message to the rest of the Inner Hebrides and in particular the barbaric and heathen Outer Hebrides. 

He tried sending out monks in wee coracles, but they were all beaten up by rogue Vikings. Instead, St Columba came up with the idea of Cuireamlink. The plan was to build a network of wee chapels on each and every island throughout the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Each island would have its own monk on duty in the chapel. On Sundays, St Columba would stand in the pulpit in Iona and would blast out his sermon.  A monk standing on the beach at Iona would then shout each line of the sermon to another monk on a neighbouring islet.

That monk would in turn shout across to the next island and on to the next eager monk. In this way the Gospel was sent up through the Hebrides until it eventually reached Stornoway. Unfortunately the Sunday sermon didn’t reach Stornoway until the Monday, a fine tradition still kept to this day with the Sunday papers not reaching until Monday. 

After a few weeks of sending the sermon up through the islands, the various Monks began to predict St Columbas sermons and were able to shout the next part of his message across the sea before it had actually reached their wee island. This technique was known as ‘Pre-Sending’ and eventually evolved into present day precenting. 

Next, in the tempestuous years of the early 17th Century, the Fife Adventurers attempted to dispossess the Macleods of Lewis, colonise the island and seize control of its lucrative fisheries. Niall Odhar Macleod and his clansmen retaliated by sinking the ships transporting the colonists’ catches back to the East Coast markets, and flogging their cargoes to the Dutch.  The Fifers decided that the only answer was to “conftruct ane muckle braw pypelyne aneath ye Mynche fur fafe conveyance o’ wur Herrynges awa frae the Teuchters”. The “pypelyne” ran out of their permanently besieged stockade near Zebo’s, past Chicken Head, turned left up the Minch, right at Cape Wrath, right again at Wick and down the East coast to Methil. Once ashore, it continued overland to a massive fish processing plant constructed near Dumfermline, roughly where thon big Amazon warehouse off the M90 is today.  Sgadan were gutted and salted in Stornoway and pumped down the Herrynge Pypelyne. Customers would send their orders by pigeon to Dunfermline where they’d be packed and dispatched by high speed oxcart,with a guaranteed standard delivery time of no more than 24 months, to any destination in the land (Highlands and Islands excepted).  The Fifers’ scheme ran successfully for a year or two until King James VI realised the bleigeards weren’t paying him any tax, and cancelled their royal charter. 

In  1874, local inventor Alexander Graham (from Dell) thought it would be handy to invent some way of communicating with his cousin Alexander Graham Bell. Dell envisioned a device where upon a person could talk in one end, and then through a cunning array of wires, make oneself heard to another person with a similar talking device some distance away. Dell was perhaps somewhat lacking in the scientific skills of his cousin, as was borne out by the failure of his device. Dell had tired out his device over short distances with some success, but felt that he should try it out over the more impressive distance covering the Minch. However, the main flaw seemed to be that the string between the two tin cans got wet, thus rendering Dells instructions to his Ullapool based assistant totally inaudible.

In the 1930’s a few enterprising entrepreneurs tried to establish an electricity connection between the island and the west coast of Scotland. The plan was basically to run an electric cable across the Minch and plug it in to a socket in a house near the coast. The plan would also be more economically feasible if they could find an empty summer house where the owners wouldn’t notice their electricity bills being slightly higher then usual. The shareholders also managed to get a bargain deal on 50,000 Woolies extension leads. A fishing boat was chartered to take the leads over the Minch and once all the cables were connected up, the plug at the mainland end was attached to the wall socket of the house and the switch was pressed. The poor cove who turned on the electric switch was thrown across the living room and out the window, shouting ‘Fleek sakes!’ as he flew past his bemused colleagues. It is now widely accepted that this is where the phrase ‘A flick of the switch’ first originated.

As well as giving the poor cove a good deal of burns, the electrical discharge into the Minch killed most of the fish in the vicinity. The dead fish floating to the surface did help regenerate the Stornoway fishing industry for decades after, as the hundreds of thousands of herring electrocuted in the disaster were able to be shipped off around the world as fried herring

Uisdean, we have a problem. The Stornoway Space Race.

26 07 2014

Stornoway’s selection as one of 8 possible locations for a Spaceport will have caused old SYs to chuckle to themselves recently, for it’s not as if the space race is a new phenomenon in these parts. Older readers will remember well the heady days of the 50s, 60s and 70s when the different parts of the Western Isles expended vast amounts of money and peats in the race to conquer the great beyond. But the Outer Hebridean quest to explore the even outer-er reaches of the cosmos goes back much further than that. It’s also widely acknowledged that Outer Space was named after the Outer Hebrides.

Even in ancient Pictish times, feusagach weirdo druidy types regularly made use of rockets for ceremonial purposes and the celebration of special occasions such as the summer solstice and the Barvas communions. Remnants of their circular stone launchpads remain to this day and prove a popular draw for equally feusagach weirdo druidy types.
The possibility of using similar means to actually send man into space was explored by the French writer Jules Verne in his 1865 novel “De la Tern á la Lune” (From a Tern to the Moon). Written while boarding in the Haldane Hostel during his time studying at the Nicolson Institute and inspired by the local bird-life, the novel’s protagonists were fired to the moon via an enormous gun strapped to the back of a freakishly oversized Arctic Tern flying at high altitude to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. His French publishers refused to let the book see the light of day until he removed the bit about the Arctic Tern and retitled the story. Still, his years at the Nicolson were productive as it was during this time he wrote another Science Fiction novel about cloning one of his teachers in an underwater laboratory: “20 Dina Leagues Under the Sea”.
It was in the post-war years that the Space Race truly took hold. In 1945 the victorious allied powers were scrambling over each other to grab Nazi rocket scientists for their nascent space programmes. Stornoway Town Council were no exception, although given their meagre resources they were unable to capture any of the big names. After the Russians and Americans had taken their pick, Stornoway could only get Bhehrner Bhon Branahuie, an enthusiastic Gaelic scholar who had banned the use of the letter “V” while heading up Germany’s unsuccessful Bh2 programme in the dying days of the Third Reich. 
The fleekeen Uibhisteachs got a head start with their rocket range in Benbecula, but due to their exposure to prevailing westerly winds and proximity to the Dark Island Public Bar, they could only get their rockets to go sideways.
Meanwhile, the Rubhachs were desperately trying to beat the townies into space. Unable to procure liquid hydrogen for rocket fuel they improvised with methane derivatives from runny slurry and launched Spoot-nik in 1957. Later that same year, in order to reinstate their cosmological dominance, they launched a second Spoot-nik. However, this time, the chief engineer’s collie Dìleas had snuck inside the satellite prior to launch and inadvertantly became the first living creature to orbit the earth, much to the Rubhachs’ delight.
The Rubhach domination of the Space Race came to a head in 1961 when Yuri Gagarrabost became the first Leòdhasach in space aboard Portvoller 1. The Townies weren’t going to take this lying down, though, and in 1963 the Leader of Stornoway Town Council, John F. Kennedy (whose path to office was cleared when his brother Calum won the Mod Gold Medal in 1955) promised that a Townie-led Space Mission would put a man on the moon by 1970. His claim became a stunning reality when Apoileagan 11 was fired from the launchpad at New Street, Back, in 1969.
Hundreds of islanders huddled around their television sets with bated breath as they watched the events unfold live on BBC Alba. Two crew members climbed out of the Command Service Module, the Calumthelady, and entered the landing module, which broke off from the larger craft like a Presbyterian schism, and soon afterwards settled on the lunar surface.
The lunar module had been nicknamed in such a way as to rub the Rubhachs’ noses in the fact that the Townies had got to the moon first, so imagine the delight at mission control when they heard the words, “The Eagleton has landed!”
The first man to have the honour of setting foot on the moon was Commander Neil Arm-Strond (whose parents came from Leverburgh), although his crew-mate Buzz Aldredsroad had a better claim to Towniehood having been born under a tree out the back of the Castle Grounds.
Despite all the jubilation, space travel came at a cost. Many tragedies occurred along the way, and some were narrowly avoided, such as the ill-fated Apoileagan 13 mission, when a bottle of 4-Crown (which had been brought on board to celebrate the mission’s success) exploded half way to the moon, prompting the Commander to radio back to base, “Uisdean, we have a problem”. Incredibly, the crew managed to improvise a repair to their craft using only fuidheags, old copies of the Scottish Farmer and 5 feet of rusty rylock fence wire.

To this day, some conspiracy theorists refuse to believe that Stornoway really landed a man on the moon, claiming that the grainy footage seen on BBC Alba was all faked up at a secret site on the East side of Harris and pointing out the similarity of the Lunar and Hearach landscapes. However, the majority of experts dismiss the theory, pointing out quite rightly that in 1969 it would have been a lot harder to mount an expedition to Harris than it would have been to reach the moon.

Although the Townies and Rubhachs dominated the space race, other parts of the islands tried to get in on the act. The West Side in particular was keen to get some glory, going so far as to hold a competition to pick who would be their first astronaut. The competition was won in 1989 by Tolsta Chaolais resident and former employee of the Shawbost Mill, Helen Siarman. Siarman’s first mission was conducting experiments on Gaelic Radio presenters aboard the MIRERIMÒR space station.
Barra fish-factory billionaire and part-time Catholic Priest Richard Brahanseer announced in 2004 that he was intending to enter the private space-travel market. Brahanseer was convinced that Barra was the most suitable of all the islands for a space base because it was so near to the equator, and because the local clergy would have no objections to Sunday launching. He went so far as to build a base on the Tangasdale machair in 2006 and began test flights with a heavily modified Twin-Otter. Sadly, the venture was doomed to failure when the grazings committee evicted him for causing too much erosion, and Virginmary Galactic went out of business.
Only time will tell if the Outer Hebrides will ever revisit its glory days of travelling into the vast, empty unknown and to go where no man has gone before, but signs are encouraging, especially after former Comhairle leader George W Bùthsheumais in 2004 gave his blessing to resuming manned missions to the moon and eventually, Maaruig.


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