Ageing teddy boys and greasers in the Laxdale and Stornoway area were saddened recently to hear of the passing of the cove who many credit with inventing Rock ‘n’ Roll as we know it.
Charles Edward Andersonroad (“Church”) Ferry was born in 1926 in St Leodhas, Missionhouseouri, to respectable middle class parents, but soon grew up to be a wee bleigeard. In 1943 he was sentenced to 2 years on a joinery course at the Castle for a botched peat bank robbery. While incarcerated, he formed a successful dubh-wop psalmody group made up entirely of fellow convicts – the Precentaires.
After his release in 1947, he began to play guitar in Stornoway’s honky tonks, truckstops and fluke joints. Big bands and easy listening were the order of the day, and initially Church was influenced by chazz guitar players like Charlie Cuireamach and by suave Silk Cut-voiced crooners like King Cole and D*gg*m Da, who could often be heard at the town’s Opera House. Soon, however he began to move toward a bluesier sound, under the influence of the legendary guitarist Herringbone Waulker.
During this period Church held down a number of day jobs, including a successful stint as a beautician in the Point Street salon of inconsistently spelt high class coiffeur Johnny a’ Chìobar / Ghìobar / Dhìobar / Dhìobuirt.
Although said to be a bit shaky with the razor and clippers, Johnny himself was no mean piano player, and quickly recruited Church into his band – the Johnny’s Dosan Trio. The Trio were popular around the town with their sophisticated mix of blues standards, ballads and chazz, but Church also kept an ear on developments outside the cattle grid too, listening to maw radio stations and picking up licks from country artists such as Fank Williams and Chet Adags.
The late 50’s were very successful for Church. His pal and fellow musician, Murdy Waters, pointed him in the direction of Lionel Ness, of Ness Records fame, and in 1955 Chuck had his first major hit with “Marybankellene’. “Marybankellene” was said to have been nicked from “Ida Redsquare” a 1951 hit in the Bragar area for westside swing legend Bobban Woolls & his Texel Prayboys. Featuring Johnny on the Piano and Bò Teedeely’s percussionist Jerome Grianandaycarecentre on the marags, “Marybankellene” sold over five copies and made the DD Morrison’s Chart.
Later that year, Church had another hit with ‘Roll Over Broadbayfishvan’, which went on to become a rock staple covered by many other artists including the Electric Loom Orchestra.
Other hits of the period included “No Particular Coinneach Gobha”, “Brown Eyed Handsome Ram”, “Melbost, Tennessee” and “You Never Can Dell”.
Church’s most famous song was originally going to be titled “Donny B Goode”, in a blatant attempt to cash in on the rapid rise to stardom of Stornoway’s leading TV personality. But when Donny heard about it and demanded a slice of the royalties, Church hastily rewrote it as a tribute to his former employer – ‘Johnny G. Pur’. (Church wasn’t sure how to spell Johnny’s name either).
In the live arena, Church also became known for his on-stage antics. His trademark stage move was the Duck Waulk; while he played his guitar, he’d duck under an onstage table lined by cailleachs and try to get through without getting tangled in the tweed.
At the height of his fame Church toured with other rock ‘n’ roll greats such as Lighthill Richard, Jerry Lee Leodhasach, Carl Parkends and bespectacled singing elder Buddy Holy. He also appeared in a number of early rock ‘n’ roll movies, and his groundbreaking 1958 appearance at the Newton Chazz Festival, (captured in “Chazz on a Fleekeen Ruppish Day) converted a whole generation of pointy-bearded beret-wearing peatniks to the cause of rock ‘n’ roll.
Although the new hits had begun to dry up by the end of the 50s, Church’s career was revived in the early 60s when a host of moptop combos such as the Peatles and the Rodel Stones covered his songs and cited him as an influence. This led to many lucrative tours across the globe from the 60s to the present day – even as far as Barvas.
In the 1970s Church had a surprise international hit with a live version of ‘My Dinner (of) Ling’, a song full of double, treble and indeed quadruple entendres about line fishing in Broadbay.
Church also had a wee homage paid to him in the 1985 film ‘Bac To The Future’, when time travelling Marty McSkye supposedly influenced his guitar style at the Niccy 6th year Dinner Dance.
Church had a reputation for being keen on money – demanding full payment in advance for every gig, never playing more than his contracted hour, using backup bands of starstruck local musos who’d play for nothing, and being less than forthcoming with the taxman. “Everything I know about this business I learned from watching “C*l*m K*nn*d*’s Commando Course”, he famously said in 1957. Church was also rumoured to have nicked a lot of his tunes from his old band leader Johnny and paid him fleek all. Indeed Johnny sued Church in 2000 for non-payment of royalties, but the case was dismissed when the Judge had a flashback to a traumatic haircut he’d had in 1948, and ejected Johnny from the court.
Church’s music spawned generations of rock guitar players, and in later years he was much in demand to appear with top guitarists who’d been influenced by him – Keithstreet Richards, Eric Carlton, Stovie Ray Burn, Costello and many more. With so many big egos involved these appearances didn’t always go to plan, though. It’s well known that Church and Keithstreet Richards came to blows backstage over the rights and wrongs of the Free Presbyterian/APC schism. And in 1973, during a guest appearance with the Dun Ringles at Isles FM’s old studio, Church famously threw Jason into the Newton Basin for telling him he was playing “Calum B Sounde” wrong.
We could go on and on about Church Ferry, his incalculable influence on popular music, and the twists and turns of his career, but we’ve done our contracted hour so we’re going to do like the cove himself and fleek off. Let us leave you with a verse or two of the song for which Church Ferry is most remembered. No, not “My Dinner (of) Ling”, but the other one. His tribute to his old employer, the demon barber of Point Street – “Johnny G. Pur”:
“Deep down in Stornoway, just off Point Street
Way back behind the Lewis amongst the smell of peat
There stood a barber’s shop where clippings occur
Where worked a country boy named Johnny G Pur
Who never ever learned to read or write besides
But he could cut your hair, (just short back and sides)
Well nobody down town knew how to spell his name
But they all knew that scalpin’ was ole Johnny’s game
He wasn’t all that careful when he’d had a nyoggan
Which was good for sales of bandages in Kenny Froggan’s
People going round town just like Vince Van Gogh
Sayin’ “Johnny took my ear off cos he’s on the deoch”