Stan Leverburgh RIP Considering this is supposed to be the Made Up History of Stornoway we seem to be doing obituaries for a lot of famous Hearachs these days. Not so long ago the great Burt Rhenigadale went to meet his maker, and now the legendary Stan Leverburgh has recently gone to the great comic convention in Skye. Sorry, “the sky”. Leverburgh created some of the great superhero characters of the last 70 years and oversaw their transition from the pulp comics of the 1940s to television (in the classic ruppish BBC Alba cartoons of the 60s and 70s) and onwards to the blockbuster movie incarnations who dominate the Lanntair and the Screen Machine today. Stan Leverburgh was born Stanley Martin Ladyleverpark in 1922, and in 1939 went to work as a pencil sharpener in the busy Stornoway offices of “Airidh-an-tuimely Comics”, a front company for the propaganda department of the Free Associated Continuing Church. The church was worried about the island’s wee coves and blones getting drawn in by worldly and sinful publications such as the Beano and the Free Church Monthly Record, so they’d established their pulp magazine business to promote their message of cuireamachness to the youth without them knowing. There was a lot of this sort of thing going on in the 30s and 40s; Most of the Outer Hebrides’ comic publishers were secretly or not-so-secretly run by the islands’ various religious denominations. FP Comics, Hell Comics and All-Amarybank Publications among them. But the biggest outfit in town was APC Comics – home of Backman, FishSupperman (from the planet KrypTong), Wonder Woolman etc. With his Bernera-based collaborator Jack Kirkibost, Leverburgh soon worked his way to the top of “Airidh-an-Tuimely Comics”. Deciding that the holy comic market in Stornoway itself was saturated, Leverburgh rebranded the company to focus on sales to the rural peasantry outside the cattle grid. Maw-vel Comics hit the streets (or at least the single track roads with passing places) in 1961, and soon began to chalk up impressive sales (5 copies a month in Tommy Nicholson’s). Amongst the many characters Leverburgh created were; Captain Amarybank, with his Cortina hub cap nicked from Marybank garage as a shield The Mighty Todhar (from A-sgàrd)-was originally the god of thunderous diahhoreah (and instead of a hammer wielded a mighty toilet brush), but he had to change it due to complaints from his readers. The Inedible Dulse – mild-mannered scientist Brues Beannag worked in the Keose alginate factory by day, but when angry turned into a monster made out of allegedly nutritious seaweed that tastes horrible really. Back Panther Peat-Iron Man (billionaire playboy blacksmith Tony Steallag) -Steallag Industries making Hi tec military equip (well, for the Army Cadets at least) Guardians of the Galaxy Disco- the Seaforth bouncers led by Stair-rod, The Fantastic Four Crown- a particular success in Maw-vel’s early years was this team of superheroes who had gained their powers after exposure to a combination of cosmic rays and fortified South African wine, during a scientific mission to Cathy Dhall’s The Punishader Plocrapool Snaredevil – whose superpower was catching rabbits down at the Braighe for selling to the local butchers. Doctor Coulegrange Supervillan Doctor Mitchellspus Woolverine (played in the films by Huge Cacman) The Tha Vengers The Eggs Men- a team of superheroes with mutant hens producing double yolks Splaoid-erman (alias Peater Parkend – a mild mannered weaver from Garyvard who transforms into a binge-drinking superhero when he comes to town and gets paid for a tweed). Leverburgh also managed to convince BBC Alba to start making films of many of his creations. These summer blockbusters provided to be extremely successful and raked in loads of spondoolacs. Leverburgh also managed to snag himself a wee cameo appearances in nearly all of the BBC Alba Maw-vel movies, and also starred as himself in a famous episode of Beag Bang A’ Shiorraidh in which he’s stalked by arch-nerd Shellfish Crùbag. He’ll be much missed. (as will his cousin Stan Lee).

8 12 2018

Burt Rhenigadale RIP

22 09 2018

Fleek sakes! Yet another icon of the big screen (and wee screen too) has passed away. Yus indeed, Holywood cove Burt Reynolds has gone to the big Cannonball Run in the sky.

Burt was a regular visitor to the Outer Hebrides as he had cousins on his mother’s side living in Harris, and he used to enjoy coming home to help with the peats and the shearing. It is rumoured that he sought inspiration for many of his films from his cousin (also called Burt) who was a pretty big star himself on BBC Alba. And in a bizarre coincidence, both cousins passed away on the same day.

Reynold’s cousin Burt MacSween was born in a remote Hearach village accessible only by a winding footpath over the hills from Tarbert. Fiercely proud of his birthplace, he chose it for his stagename when he took up acting at an early age – thus was born Burt Rhenigadale.

In his early career Rhenigadale was an active member of the Stornoway Thespians and took lead roles in many Christmas Pantomimes and regional drama festivals, as well as featuring in many Grampian TV adverts from around that time.

But the lure of BBC Alba in the 1950’s was too tempting. Burt was able to get guest roles in many tv shows, impressing viewers with his exotic Harris Gaelic. His first big break came in the late 1950’s in the “Westren” series ‘LaxdaleRiverboat’. He continued to have tv roles throughout the 60’s including “Ferry Mason”, “The Twilight Disco” and “Route A859”.

His big BBC Alba break came with the hugely popular ‘Peatsmoke’, another “Westren”, where he replaced Denis Weavingshed. Playing the half breed (half Hearach, half Leodhasach, half sheep) blacksmith Squint Tairsgeir, the show was your standard Westren of the day, featuring miners looking to strike black gold (peat), sheep rustlers, bandidos from South of the Border (Ardhasaig), no-good railroad barons and marauding tribes of APC-che and Comhairlemanche braves.

After his taste of BBC Alba stardom, Burt turned his attentions to the big screen. Very soon he was picking up major parts in popular movies and soon began to make a name for himself (‘Thon hearrach cove who’s no bad at acting’).

But it was one particular film that shot Burt to superstardom – “Delivervans”, which was a huge commercial and critical success on BBC Alba in 1972. Set in the deep south (of Lochs), the film centred on a mobile shop’s ill-fated journey to Calbost where a horde of hillbilly cailleachs seek vengeance on the driver and crew because they have run out of Craggan’s biscuits. As well as Rhenigadale, the film also starred Jon Poit(mhùin) and Shed Peatty.

“Delivervans” was famous for its soundtrack, including of course the legendary “Dueling Beannags.“

Burt also turned down a role in the film version of M.A.W.S, the Korean War comedy about the Lewis ‘Mobile Airidh Whiskey Still’ platoon sent to keep the troops happy by supplying them with drams. Famous for its theme song ‘Westy-side is Painless’.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the blockbusters kept coming. Burt starred in;

The Best Little Meeting House In Tolsta (with Dolly Partronadrive)

Bogie Nights- a docudrama depicting day in the life of a well known Stornoway character

The Dukes of Habost – a film remake of the popular late 70’s Grampian TV series, in which Burt’s portrayal of the evil Bosta Hogg will be long remembered

Everything You Wanted to Know About Seggs (But were afraid to ask)

Smokehouse and the Bànag

The Longest Ceard

The Cànannangaidheal Run. A no-holds barred outlaw tractor race from An Comunn Gaidhealach HQ in Perceval Square, cross-country to Melbost, where the first competitor to reach the gate of the Bard’s old house wins a years subscription to the Free Church Monthly Record. Featuring a cast of thousands (just about every BBC Alba actor on the go at the time), Burt played the lead character JJ Manure. The film had a memorable soundtrack by Na h-Òganaich.

After a bit of a slump in the 80s, a battle with prescription Flukanide addiction, rumours that he was suffering from a variety of exotic diseases (including orfe, swayback and hydatid), and a famously troubled marriage to actress Bloni Andersonroad, Rhenigadale made a comeback in the critically acclaimed TV series Evening Shader.

At the time of his death, Rhenigadale had returned to his Hearach roots, and was about to start filming “Once Upon a Time in Horgabost” with cult director Quentin Tarbertino.

Athighearna Fanklin RIP

25 08 2018

In yet another one of them bizarre coincidences, news of the passing of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin had barely reached the Outer Hebrides, when the Stornoway media outlets announced the demise of her distant cousin, Queen of Shoals Athighearna Fanklin.

(Many Stornoway folk with famous relations must be getting a wee bitty worried by now).

Aretha herself, despite being brought up in America, was known to visit her relations in the Tolsta area on a regular basis…. And her name was actually Aretha Lewis Franklin – not “Louise” as most folk thought. The misunderstanding was due to the fact that Americans couldn’t understand the Leodhasach accent that she had picked up while home on her holidays as a child, and never lost.

However, with all due “Respect” to Aretha, it’s high time the world heard the untold tale of her (almost) equally influential Leodhasach cousin….

Athighearna Fanklin was born in 1942 in Dee-Chroit, a busy industrial city on the moor between Tolsta and Ness. While it’s mostly returned to desolate moorland these days, following the riots of the 1960s and the inexorable decline of its factories, Dee-chroit was once proudly known as the “Murdo City”, and was home to a thriving automotive industry. Giants such as General Murdos, Christler, Brue-ick, Studebakersroad, Ceardillac and, of course, Fordterrace employed tens of people and turned out up to a dozen tractors a year.

Athighearna’s old man Calum Leodie (CL) Fanklin was a minister to trade and was the Dean of Dee-chroit’s popular Ewe Bethel Baaa-aptist Church, the remains of which can still be seen on the top of the cliffs at Filiscleitir. He was fondly known as the “Dean of Souls”.

Athighearna demonstrated great musical talent at an early age and was appointed the church’s first female precentor. She sang in the church between the age of 12 and 20 and soon earned the title “The Teen of Souls”.

Singing gospel psalmody was artistically and spiritually rewarding, but it didn’t pay very well. Athighearna had to rely on state benefits for a while (and soon earned the title “Queen of Dole”). Eventually, however, the young Athighearna had to go away and work as a herring girl. She was extremely dexterous with the gutting knife and the number of sgadan she could get through on a shift became something of a legend on quaysides from Weeheek to Yarmouth – so much so that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals”.

Much to her cuireamach fans’ consternation, Athighearna went secular in 1960, signing to pop label Columbiaplace Records. Sadly Athighearna’s recordings on the label met with limited success because every time Columbiaplace pressed some records, one of the rival labels in the area (usually Springfield Records, Plasterfield Records or Battery Records) would nick them and make them into a huge bonfire. Especially around Guy Fawkes’ time; tyres were in short supply in these days, but shellac was highly inflammable and made a great gelly.

Athighearna was courted by other labels including Dee-Chroit soul giants Tormod Murdotown, but in 1966 she signed to Barratlantic Records, where she would make many of her greatest recordings. Barratlantic boss Eachainn Ertegundòchas was a huge fan and used the earnings from his lucrative fish factory to subsidise his loss-making record label. Ertegundòchas gave Athighearna complete artistic freedom and the pick of the Outer Hebrides’ top session musicians, just as long as she promised to sneak a plug for his seafood products into as many songs as possible.

With Barratlantic’s sponsorship and a plethora of fish references in her songs, it was little wonder that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Athighearna’s hits on Barratlantic were often recorded at Uig’s legendary Morsgail Shoals studios. From 1966 into the early 70s, working with with c(r)ack session band “The Chumpers”, and producer Areef Mangersta, Athighearna recorded a string of hit singles and albums including:

Say a Big Huge Long Prayer

You Make My Creels (Like a Natural Woman)

Chain of Fuels (in praise of C*mpb*ll’s filling stations)

Tong, Gifted and Back

I Never Loved A Ram The Way That I Loved Ewes

The House That J*mmy B*ller Built

Amazing Gress

Sponish Harlem

In 1979, after a period of declining record sales, Athighearna left Barratlantic and signed to Hearach label ScArista Records. Athighearna’s sales soon began to improve and she scored hits with “United (Free Church) Together” and a Grimshader-award-nominated cover of Otis Reseeding’s “I Can’t Turn You Lewis”.

Athighearna’s career got a cinematic boost in 1980 when she appeared in “The Brues Brothers” (alongside Dan Backroyd and John Bellsroadushi), dispensing advice on crofting grant-compliant corrugated roofing materials to her fleekeen useless husband Murphy Dunberisay. Filmed in the Coffee Pot, Athighearna’s performance of “Zinc” set her up nicely for rejuvenated record sales and a series of classic collaborations in the 80s and 90s.

These included “Seceders are Doin’ It For Themselves (But Not on Sundays)”, with Annie Leantainneach from the Freechurchcontinurhythmics. And of course, “Knew Ewe Were Waiting For Mehhhh”, with the late lamented George Mitchellsbus from Ram!

Fanklin was famed as a lifelong campaigner for sheep’s rights, and in order to look after the many distressed mehhhags that came into her care, she built a gi-normous barn in Dee-chroit. Athighearna’s barn was so monumentally huge that it wasn’t long before she earned the title “Queen of Sabhal”. Indeed, it was a simmering feud with her local grazings committee about the number of sheep Athighearna was entitled to put out on the common pasture that inspired her platinum-selling 1985 album “Who’s Souming Who?”.

Despite her advocacy for sheep rights, Athighearna was a keen fisherwoman throughout her life. A winner of numerous trophies in the ladies’ section of the Stornoway Sea Angling Club during the 50s, 60s and 70s, Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Her skills with the rod were matched by her prowess with the net, and her fondness for a bit of poaching on the Laxay River, together with frequent appearances in the Stornoway Gazette’s sheriff court column, soon earned Athighearna the title “Queen of Soval”.

Later in her career, Athighearna was called upon to sing at many great public events. At the Gravir Awards in 1998 she had to fill in for corpulent Rubhach tenor Luciano Paibleotti at the last minute, after he got stuck in a cubicle door at Stornoway Opera house and couldn’t get to the ceremony. Athighearna delivered a bravura unrehearsed performance of Paibleotti’s trademark “Niseach Dormer” that’s still talked about to this day.

In 2009 Athighearna also sang at the historic inauguration of Marag Obama as President of the USA (Union of Stornoway Artisanblackpuddingmakers)..

But above all else, Athighearna will be most remembered for her signature song – the song that became an anthem for cuireamach rights and for the cailleachs’ lib movement of the 60s. Although it was originally a hit for Otis Reseeding, Athighearna’s version turned the tables completely on the bodachs. That song went something like this:

(Obh) What you want – is deoch and accordions

(Obh) What you need – is to get yourself to the fleekeen orduighean

(Obh) All I’m askin’ – is that you repent, get the cuiream, read your buible, put on a suit and give me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

(Cove) Don’t go messin’ with none of them other denominations, or…

(Cove) I’ll be giving you quite a nasty operation

(Cove) It’ll be the deamhais for you unless you start turning up twice on a Sunday and midweek an’ all, and giving me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

Oh hee – I’m about to give the sustentation fund all your money

Oh hee – Yus, and maybe then I’ll end up in the land of milk and honey

Oh hee – Got me a new hat from Murdo Maclean’s agus abair g’eil e spaideal so I deserve me some….

WeeFree-Spect – when I go to the coinneamh. Oh yus, ya bleigeard.


Don’t go near the APC


And stay away from the Continuit-y

Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free-spect (etc)

Peater Firchlis

4 07 2018

Peater Firchlis RIP

Last week’s passing of renowned animator Peter Firmin – the cove that did Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, Pogles’ Wood etc etc – has sadly overshadowed the demise the same day of his distant Leodhasach cousin, the slightly less successful Peater Firchlis.

Firchlis and his fellow animator, the late Oliversbrae Rustgate, were so skint when they started off in 1958 that they couldn’t even afford a shed to work in. Their company, Smủirfilms, was so named because it was based in a sheltered spot round the back of Firchlis’s peatstack. But from small beginnings, Firchlis and Rustgate went on to disappoint generations of Outer Hebridean children with their famously ruppish puppets and badly animated cardboard cartoons.

Smuirfilm’s first big break came in 1959 when Maciver & Dart TV commissioned them to produce “Neogan the Knock”, a magical series about a drunken Rubhach Viking and his adventures – which usually started with him staggering out of the Crit, missing the Point Bus, trying to find his way home and getting lost. Married to Queen Gooka of the Nishooks (an Eskimo Princess from the Frozen North), Neogan was always getting in scraps with his wicked and equally drunken Townie uncle Nobad the Barred, who was determined to get Neogan’s croft off him so he could sell it and spend the proceeds in Cathy Ghall’s.

Another big hit for Smủirfilms was an enchanting tale of a group of forest-dwellers, entitled “Bogie’s Wood”. Filmed in the Castle Grounds (usually in the mornings), each episode would typically involve the charming cast of woodland creatures stumbling across a mysterious object and then telling a story about what it was and how it came to be there. Invariably the object in question would be empty when found, and each character’s story would be about how it definitely wasn’t them that had drunk it to the dregs and chucked it in the rhododendrons when the rest weren’t looking. Bogie’s adopted ‘children’ in the show were Meppan – a wee free elf with pointy ears, and Tog – a stripy creature somewhere between a rabbit and a squirrel, who Bogie would often summon with the famous catchphrase: “Balach Tog!”

A masterpiece of dodgy accents and racial stereotyping, “Ivorhill The Engine” was set among the picturesque peatmines, valleys and slagheaps of Bayview. Ivorhill was a plucky little steam locomotive who worked for the “Mossend and Llanplasterfield Railway Traction Company”, with his pioneering transgender role model driver Blones the Steam, and their friends Dai RadarStation and Aonghas the Dragon. Ivorhill’s dearest wish was to sing at the Local Mod with the Blar Buidhe and District Male Voice Choir. Eventually he succeeded, when in one episode his whistle was temporarily replaced with an old chanter, and the choir won the gold medal in the Seann Nòs.

The ever popular Clachangers were a staple of tea-time kids’ telly on BBC Alba in the 1970s. The show featured the adventures of a family of alien beings (or they could have been beings from Aline) living on a barren and atmosphere-less Moor (most likely the Barvas one). The iconic puppets themselves were made by Firchlis’s wife out of leftover wool from TB MacAulay’s shop. The distinctive Clachanger nose was made from knocked off bobban reels from the Kennedy Terrace Weavers’ Colony.

The Clachangers famously communicated with each other by chanter noises, prompting many’s a Chanter Class to descend into chaos as the kids pretended to be Clachangers. It was later revealed by Firchlis that the Clachangers were actually swearing away at each other, rather than having polite musical conversations – much like pipe music.

There were several Clachangers in the family: Major Clachanger- (always teaching them music); Small Clachanger- always trying to buy an underage carryout ; Tiny Clachanger – managing to buy an underage carry out. There were also a few supporting characters including the Spủt Dragon (who would cook a pan of hangover reducing green broth for Tiny and Small Clachanger on a regular basis) and the Iron Guga. (Several incidental cast members on the Clachangers also appeared in “Bogie’s Wood”)

A Saturday late afternoon favourite was The Barvas Brush Show. Brush was a wily weaving fox who used the electric to power his loom, for which he was always after Highlands and Islands Enterprise grants. Brush is best remembered for his catchphrase ‘HIE HIE HIE Loom! Loom!’

Perhaps the most loved of Firchlis and Rustgate’s creations was Bacpuss – a mangy old cat from Vatisker, made out of fuidheags, who sat on a shelf in the shop at G*rd*n D**sel’s, waking up occasionally to bore everybody to fleek with some ruppish yarn he’d told them hundreds of times before. Bacpuss’s pals in the shop included Professor Bachle, a seagull and erudite theological scholar made out of an old tackety boot from Domhlann’s, Lochmaddylene, a rag doll “on holiday” from Uist assembled from 2 old iteachans and a bobban sock, Gabrevig the melodeon-playing toad constructed from an old communion hat, and of course, the lovable singing Church mice and their mouse organ.

Famously, all but 2 of the mice disapproved of the mouse organ and after a big argument at the end of episode one, the majority broke away and established another shop next door, where they sang only unaccompanied Gaelic psalms.

Let us leave you with the rhyme, fondly remembered by children of all ages, that brought the saggy old bobban cat to life each week:

‘Bacpuss, gneach Bacpuss

Old Vatisker Cac puss

Wake up and look at this crap that I bring

Wake up and be bright, be glic and light(hill)

And tell us something right, instead of making up sh**e

From Gress down to Coll, your breugan appal

And even in Brevig, nobody believ-igs

A word of the sgeul that comes out of your beul

It’s enough to give the cuiream to oneofthembleigeardsfrom Gearraidh Ghuirm

Bacpuss oh hear what I sing’

Forgotten Leodhasach Explorers -Part 1 of Some

28 04 2018

The town of Stornoway has produced more than its share of people who went away to discover stuff, but not all of them have received the recognition they deserve. While we all know about Alexander Mackenzie’s travels in Canada, and Colin Mackenzie’s great works in India, it’s about time we looked at some of the Island’s lesser known but equally significant explorers.

Here’s the first of several..

Christopher Columbiaplace

The career of Stornoway’s Christopher Columbiaplace was uncannily close to that of his more successful cousin from Genoa. They were born but a year apart, and their birthplaces were uncannily similar; Genoa was a thriving cosmopolitan seaport with a pleasant climate, trade links to all corners of the known world and a vibrant renaissance culture, and Stornoway was beside the sea as well.

At that time Stornoway was experiencing great difficulties in its trade with the East, due to rampant piracy, the capture of Constantinullapool by the Dòtaman Empire under Sultan Donnie II, and the Caliphate-Mac ferries being full of camper oxcarts all summer.

In 1487, after hearing some amadan in the Star Inn claiming the world was round, Christopher Columbiaplace approached the Stornoway Trust and proposed an expedition to find a Westerly passage to Kyle of Lochalsh (and maybe Mallaig), by sailing across the Atlantic.

The Trust turned down Columbiaplace’s proposal, as they’d already sold Kyle of Lochalsh, Mallaig (and the Atlantic) to some cove who said he was the King of Nigeria, for 10 Woodbines and a hen supper.

Frustrated, Columbiaplace took his idea to the rulers of the emerging Catholic superpower in the region – King Ferdinand of Castilebay and Queen Ishabellag of Ardnamoine. Having just expelled the Moors from Barra (and consequently being short of peats) Ferdinand and Ishabellag were keen to expand their territories and get a few trailerloads home so they could get a good gelly going in time for the Inquisition.

The King and Queen had a whip round and bought Columbiaplace three ships: a second hand sgoth from Ness called the Pintaheavy, an ex-Fishery Cruiser called the NormaNina and the pride (and flagship) of the fleet – the Sandwick Mawria, an ex Caliphate-Mac ferry.

A crew consisting of press-ganged hard coves from the Columbia, Manor and Springfield gangs was assembled on No 1 pier and told that ‘there’s going to be fleeking loads of cartwheels for the gelly to be found in the West’. They were swiftly allocated to one of Columbiaplace’s fleet and, fortified with a cargo of salt sgadan, set sail on the morning tide.

Columbiaplace and his fleet sailed straight into trouble, mistaking Arnish for the Flannan Isles light and unknowingly returning to Stornoway. It was only when they reached the Porter’s Lodge that Columbiaplace realised he was navigating up the Glen River.

Undeterred, he continued up the Glen to Loch Airidh Na Lice where they dropped anchor. Here, Columbiaplace declared he had discovered the New (Valley) World.

This of course caused some controversy in more recent times, as it is now widely accepted that Stornowegian Viking Leac Erikson was first to discover the New Valley (hence the name of the Loch).

Fortunately for Columbiaplace, his navigational error worked out well, as the area turned out to be full of peats. Columbiaplace and his crew went ashore and traded some worthless trinkets with the natives – some glass beads, a half bottle of trawler rum, a quarter ounce of black twist, a couple of crates of gold bars, 3 or 4 chests of dubloons and all their credit card details – for as much in the way of fàds, caorans and smùir as the three ships could carry back to Ferdinand and Ishabellag’s court. The King and Queen were most pleased when Columbiaplace returned, as by this time they had a queue of heretics round the block complaining about how long they had to wait to get burned.

After his adventures in the New (Valley) World, Columbiaplace retired to relative obscurity as the caretaker of a swingpark.

But his story lives on. Generations of townie school kids will remember the poem celebrating Columbiaplace’s epic voyage of discovery….

“In fourteen hundred and ninety two

Columbiaplace sailed with a half-canned crew

He had three ships (one ex MacBrayne)

He sailed through the Glen, passed Coulregrein

He sailed by night, he sailed by day

He used the lighthouses to find his way

A compass alas he didn’t pick

That’s why he ended up in Airidh Na Lice

Ninety sailors were onboard

And they discovered peats in a huge big hoard

They brought them back to Ferdinand and Ishabellag

Who burnt the heretics and sent them to Hellag”


24 03 2018


So, farewell New Musical Express, or as it was more commonly known, the NME.

After nearly 66 years of keeping music fans informed about the latest fads, fashions and falls from fame, the once esteemed music weekly has pulled the lead out of the amplifier and staggered off to a final backstage party.

In a bizarre coincidence, our very own, homegrown, weekly music magazine, The Newvalley Musical Express has also just announced that it will no longer be appearing on the shelves of Tommy Nicolson’s or Roddy Smith”s.

The paper began in 1952 as the “Newvalley Musical Express incorporating Orduighean Times” and very quickly became the paper you had to be seen with to enhance your musical ‘coolness’. If you read the Newvalley Musical Express, you were the first to know when the hippest bands were playing, what the latest chart hit was going to be, and when the Barvas communions were going to be taking place.

The NME appeared just as rock and roll hit Lewis, and swiftly ignored it. Instead, the NME directed its energy mainly towards accordion and fiddle music and half drunk coves singing Gaelic songs in Stornoway pubs. In its early days it also reported on really good church precenting as well – for example, if everyone who claimed to have been present in the High Church at the February 1959 Stornoway Communions (from the NME article ‘I’ve seen the future of Precenting and his name is Donald MacLeod) had really been there, you would have needed almost the full use of the Church Hall as well.

The paper also carried regular ‘gig’ reports from impromptu musical sessions in various secret Ness Bothans. Very often these reports included details of police raids and the number of half bottles confiscated.

The NME was also the first local paper to publish a singles chart, based on the returns from Maciver and Dart’s shop. The charts were hugely important to local music fans who would queue up outside the papershops every Friday to see who had reached Number 1 that week. Who can forget the media hype behind the mid 90’s Oasis vs Uncle Ethan race to the Number 1 spot with their songs, respectively, ‘(Do You Want a) Roll(mop herring) With It?’ and ‘Council House’.

In the early 1970’s the ‘real’ NME gained a reputation for ‘Gonzo’ journalism. This was largely believed to have been heavily influenced by the Lewis NME’s ‘GalsonShow’ journalism, where the paper carried reviews of live ‘gigs’ held at the various summer Cattle Shows (which was always three coves with melodians sitting in the back of a trailer and playing “Haoidh-o Haoidh-ram, Chunna Mis’ a’ Raoir Thu” on repeat).

The paper also dabbled in the glittery realms of Glamb Rock in the early to mid 70’s and regularly carried features on artists such as Marag Bolan & T-Rubhachs, The Suet (famous for Flockbuster, Balallan Blitz and Teenage Ram-graze), Gearraidh Gritterlorry and Skye band Sleit, featuring Roddy Holder, who had massive success with ‘Coz I Luv Ewes’, ‘Ferry Christmas Everyboaty’ and ‘Curam Feel The Noize’.

But by the mid 70’s, the NME was starting to get stale. Rival publications such as the ‘Free Church Monthly Record Mirror’, ‘The Melodian Maker’ and the ‘Fleekin’ Sound’ were catching a bigger share of the market whilst NME sales were plummeting.

The editor decided to take a risk and employ a couple of young, unknown writers, who were tasked with making the paper relevant again. These two were Julie Birchilldrive and Tony Parishioner, who became known as the Hip Young Psalmsingers. They originally championed genres such as Fank Rock (The Seggs Pistols, The Darned and Shader 69) and later Post Fank (such as Mark E Smithshoeshop and The Offall)

Another writer who made his name at that time was Poll Maw-erly, who went on to act as publicist for ruppish Hearach pop sensations Fankie Goes To Horgabost.

Charles Shaader Murray also gained a sizeable reputation, particularly for his moving obituaries to dead rock stars, many of which have been reposted on The (Made Up) History Of Stornoway page.

The life of a rock journalist could be hazardous, with a bad review or an impertinent question leading to fisticuffs with irate musicians. Famous run ins between journalists and rock stars included the battering dished out to J*hnny S**sage by punk rock karate enthusiast Jean-Jacques Shoeburnel for an insufficiently enthusiastic review of The Strondglers’ “No More Hearachs” in 1977. In 1983, Danny Bakersroad was hung by his feet over the railing of the Suilven in mid-Minch by notorious rock ‘n roll hardman Prof, after criticising Swedish TV’s “Nous Sommes Merde”. And of course there was also the mysterious demise of NME journalist Barrach Miles after he’d published his scathing “This is what your fathers fought to save you from…” piece on Kroftwerk’s “Dautomahn” album in 1975. Kroftwerk’s former chief robot, Rött “Der Aktorrr” Mörison, remains famously reticent on that subject to this day.

Co dhiù, music fans of all ages (except the under 50s) will no doubt miss the Newvalley Musical Express print experience. On the plus side, it leaves readers no worse off on the emergency bog roll front, as its famously smudgy black newsprint rendered it unsuitable for that purpose except under the most desperate of circumstances.

The Silent Film Industry of Old SY

20 01 2018

The Silent Film Industry In Old SY

In an earlier article we looked at Stornoway’s thriving B-movie industry of the 1950s, but now let’s look a bit further back, to the golden era of silent cinema. Few nowadays are aware that there was a time when Stornoway and Hollywood were running neck and neck to become the film capital of the world, but old SYs will tell you that back in the 1920s it was a close run thing. If it hadn’t been for our ruppish weather, Stornoway would have got Sunset Boulevard, the Oscars, and thon place with the stars in the pavement, and Los Angeles would have got the sheep subsidy and the Gut Factory.

It was Lord Leverhulme himself who inadvertently started the golden age of black and white silent film (known as “suylant filllim” to the urban sophisticates inside the cattle grid, and “obair an t-Shàtain” to those outside). When his dreams to turn Stornoway into the fishing capital of the Western Hemisphere came to naught, his various factories, kipper sheds and assorted paraphernalia were put to good use as ready made film studios. Canning Factories became Soundstages (and this is actually where the phrase ‘It’s in the can!’ came from), the yard behind a textile mill became a backlot that could be transformed into almost any outdoor location (so long as it required scenes featuring rain or midges) and the swanky houses at Oliver’s Brae became the luxury mansions of the celluloid heroes.

(It’s interesting to not that the present day Media Village on Seaforth Rd is precisely on the very spot where the movies were once produced).

Almost overnight a host of film companies came into existence. Amongst the most well known studios were Uniperceval, Maragmount, Essan-Y Films, Mawtro Goldenroad AlecMairsShop (or MGM as it was known), its bitter rival Mehhhtrough Goathill Mayerybank (aka MGM (Continuing)) and, of course, 20th Century Lochs.

Among the earliest pioneers of comedy in the silent era was conflicted church elder/drouth Macs Synod, who founded Keose-stone Studios in 1912. Keose-stone began life in a close between Point Street and North Beach that was equally handy for access to Synod’s favourite watering hole and the open-air gospel meetings that took place in Perceval Square in these days.

Keose-stone Studios served as the early springboard for many of the greats of silent cinema. Stars such as Gloria Swainbost (the screen siren who went on to star in countless films including “Sunset Banacheard” and “Beyond The Rubhachs”, with Rudolf Balallantino). Or Harold Leòid (famous for his spectacular stunt hanging off the Nicolson clock tower in the 1923 classic “C*l*msafety Last”). Keose-stone also employed the young Bing Crossbost (some say his singing was at its best in these early silent works), and made some of the earliest films featuring the great Barley Chaplin.

Many of the studio’s films featured perennial favourites the “Keose-stone Kops”, a shower of useless Lochie wegs who raced around Stornoway at high speed, falling off their tractor and truncheoning themselves over the head instead of the bad coves. So successful were they that rival studios began to churn out poor quality imitations, featuring the likes of the Kliasgro Kops, the Kallanishstones Kops, the Kearnphabaidh Kops (who were always very busy) and the Kuiream Kops (who wouldn’t chase anybody on Sundays).

But it wasn’t all comedy – oh no. Many great dramatic epics were made in the silent era too, by giants of cinema such as Cecil B De Stickysmill and DW Gravir. Indeed, one of the first feature-length silent films made in Stornoway was DW Gravir’s controversial ‘Birth of a (Denomi)nation’, which was about the civil war that led to the formation of the Free Church as it broke with the Church of Scotland. It was based around a screenplay called ‘MV Clansman’ and focused on two families, on each side of the divide. It caused a bit of a furore as many of the maw characters were played by townie actors putting on really bad country accents – which was very confusing for audiences seeing as how it was a silent film.

“Birth of a (Denomi)nation” featured Lillian Guershader, who became the leading actress of the era until she fell out with MGM studios in the mid 1920s The reason was never entirely clear, but it was reputed to involve a bitter dispute between MGM’s 2 top female stars over the peat-cutting rights on the studio back lot. Whatever happened, Lillian Guershader left the movie business and returned to theatre, appearing in countless Stornoway Thespians productions over the ensuing 80 years. A week later, her great rival, the enigmatic Greta Garrabost, (her most famous movie line being ‘I vant to be a blone’) turned up at MGM with a tairsgear and cut 4 tractorloads herself in a Saturday afternoon.

With free peats, 4-crown, Woodbines, salt herring and sheep’s heads on tap courtesy of the studios, the screen stars of the day must have felt invincible, as if their pampered lives of untold luxury would go on forever.

But the days of the Suylent movies were numbered….

The writing was on the wall (of the toilets in the Clachan) for the silent era when the first musical appeared. Well known Mod Gold Medalist Al Galson hit superstardom when he appeared as the lead character in The Chazz Singer. This film was about a Townie who went about dressed up as a Maw whilst singing Gaelic songs badly. Memorable songs in the film included ‘Suet Suet Tootsie, Good Pie’ and ‘Mo Mhathair’ (later covered by Calum Kennedy).

The talkies killed off the career of many a silent star who failed to sound as good as they looked. Among these were Lewise Brùgs (whose glittering silent career in films such as “A Girl In Every Portnaguran” came to a sudden end when the advent of sound revealed her uncontrollable belching), Bosta Keaton, Fatty Arnishbuckle and of course, the great Mary Pickfordterrace (“Aird Tong’s Sweetheart”), who famously ridiculed the idea of sound in the movies as being like “Putting lipstick on Lady Matheson’s monument”.

On the other hand, several actors who’d never really made it big in the silent era suddenly became megastars due to their hitherto undiscovered ability to speak. Among these were the Macs Brothers (see our article from a while back), their rivals the Marags Brothers, and drunken town council toilet repairman WC Plasterfields.

Perhaps the most successful stars to cross over to the talkies were the legendary comedy duo Liobag & Fleekeenhardy… But more about Stan and Oliversbrae in a forthcoming article.