Niseach-elle Nicolsonroad RIP

7 08 2022

Across the globe, and propaply elsewhere in the universe as well, Star Trek fans are in mourning following the passing of actress Nichelle Nichols, who played the USS Enterprise’s communications officer Lieutenant Uhura.

Meanwhile fans of the cult BBC Alba sci-fi show Staran Trek were saddened to hear of the death of Nichols’ island cousin, Niseach-elle Nicolsonroad, who played the role of communications officer Lieutenant Uheorna in the long running series.

Niseach-elle Nicolsonroad was born Niseachina Dell Morrison in Skigersta in 1932. Soon after her birth, the family changed their surname to Nicolsonroad  because they were angling for one of the new council houses in town.

A talented singer as well as an actress, Nicolsonroad got her early break in the Stornoway Thespians’ musical “Ticks & Co” (1961), a thinly veiled satire of “Prayboy” magazine (a popular publication to which many a sophisticated minister-about-town subscribed for the articles on scripture – see our January 2018 obituary for its proprietor Uisdean “Pew” Heifer). She also toured the village halls and danns a’ rathaids as a singer with the Duke Wellington and Lional Hamnaway melodeon big bands, and gained high praise for her performance in Jamesstreet Baldwin’s acclaimed play  “Brues for Mister CharlieBarley”.

But Nicolsonroad rose to island-wide 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 ostensible star of the show was Uilleam Shader, who played Captain Seamus ‘Free’ Kirk, the gallant bus driver and part time lay preacher. However several of the other characters caught the public imagination and soon became very popular in their own right, including Nicolsonroad’s glamorous Lt Uheorna, Dr ‘Bones’ MacKay, the cantankerous medical advisor, Mr Spàg the relentlessly logical science officer from planet Ulpan, Mr Sulusgeir the helmsman, and Chief Mechanic Scottroad.

In the show, Uheorna was the glamorous, no nonsense ‘clippie’, collecting the fares and chucking drunk passengers off the bus and into passing ditches. Uheorna was also responsible for ensuring the bus could pick up Isles FM on the radio at all times. Uheorna was also a firm favourite with male viewers for her scandalously short tweed dress, with the hem barely covering her ankles.

In one episode, “Pluto’s Stepwegailyonwego”, Uheorna and Kirk shared the first ever interdenominational screen kiss on BBC Alba (Kirk was Free Church and Uheorna was FP). This would have been a red rag to many hard line viewers in both Free and Free Presbyterian churches, but the episode was screened on a Sunday so none of them saw it and complaints were therefore few and far between.

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, Niseach-elle went on to work as a consultant  for NASA, the Ness Automotive and Spares Administration, to try and encourage more maws to become bus drivers. 

Editor’s Note: Any resemblance between this article and our tribute to Lional Nimoy from March 2015 is entirely coincidental, and not due to us having chust copied it and changed the name at the top at all at all, oh no.





Peat Home Alabama – A Wreck at Arnish and A Lynyrd Skynyrd Obsession.

23 07 2022

For many years, visitors to Stornoway have remarked upon the unnatural obsession with Southern boogie legends Lynyrd Skynyrd that seems to grip both the town itself, and the rural districts beyond the cattle grid.

From the giant “Skynyrd Rule” graffiti that graced the harbour for many years, to the 1974 licencing law that compels every musical artiste appearing at island venues  to play “Freebird” at least twice during their set, the Hebrides’ fascination with one particular rock band from the faraway Southern states of the good ole US of A has long been a puzzle to many.

But recent discoveries at the bottom of Glumaig Bay during work on the new Arnish deep water port have shed light on this mystery.

Divers surveying the wreck of the steamer SS Alabama, which sank at Arnish in 1904, have discovered that the ship was carrying a secret cargo of 120,000 newly cut wax cylinders of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album “Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd” from a factory in Copenhagen. The ship’s stated destination of “Baltimore” was, it now seems, a cover. The vessel was really bound for the band’s home port of Jacksonville, Florida, from where the cylinders were to be distributed to wind-up gramophone shops across the Southern states in a carefully planned  launch campaign. 

The vessel had stopped over in Stornoway to pick up an additional cargo of top quality peats at the behest of the band’s manager Balallan Walden (a homesick Lochie suffering from the lack of damp fàds and smùir in the Deep South). Walden had belatedly realised that the ship’s route would take it near his native island, and had hastily telegraphed the skipper with the succinct message “Peat! Home, Alabama”. 

The Captain of the Alabama enquired in Stornoway about getting a couple of cart loads of peats but wasn’t impressed with the prices he was quoted. Mishearing the heartfelt advice from Side 1 Track 4 of Skynyrd’s album, he decided instead to be a “Sinful Kind of Man”, and formed a plan to sneak ashore to Glumaig Harbour by night and raid the peatbanks of the Arnish Moor. No-one would miss a few bags taken here and there, surely… 

Once the Alabama crew discovered how easy the pickings were on the moor, though, a few bags weren’t enough. Greed took over and the sailors couldn’t stop themselves. Soon they had just about cleaned out every peatbank North of the  Grimshader road and were working their way towards Ranish.

But despite the addictive thrill of their peat-thieving excursions, life at their remote anchorage left the crew impatient for the comforts of civilization – decent food, drink and female company. They could see the bruight luights of South Beach twinkle tantalisingly across the bay every night, but were forbidden shore leave in Town in case somebody had a few too many deochs in the Star and blabbed about the skipper’s peat-thieving scheme. 

Every night while they were anchored in Glumaig, on the captain’s shouted signal, the lonely crew would drop to their knees in prayer asking the good Lord to cause young ladies who were at the prayer meeting on Kenneth Street to get lost on their way home and stumble upon the anchored ship instead (while maybe accidentally picking up a carry-out from Henderson’s on the way). This tradition lives on with every live band that play in Stornoway, when an audience member at some point in the set will yell out the captain’s cry, “Pray Free Birds!”

Eventually the volatile combination of crew frustration and compulsive greed was to be the Alabama’s undoing. The ship became so overloaded with stolen peats that she sat perilously low in the water. Furthermore, the crew were in so much of a rush to get back home across the Atlantic, that they did not wait long enough for the peats to dry properly on the moor. Even worse, since the crew were all from Away, none of them knew how build a decent cruach, so the peats were stacked aboard in an unstable and haphazard fashion.

Under these conditions it was inevitable that the Alabama’s cargo would become unbalanced. One evening, she slowly but inexorably began listing to starboard while the crew were at their prayers. And to make matters worse, a strong wind blew up from the Minch, causing the anchor chain to snap and leaving the Alabama grounded on a hitherto unknown sgeir. 

Seeing that she was unsavable, Captain and crew took to the boats, rowed across to Stornoway and headed straight for Mac’s Imperial to console themselves. But rather than foundering right away, the deserted vessel defied expectations and continued to sit precariously on the rock where she’d grounded. 

Consequently it wasn’t long before a fleet of bodachs from the Battery spotted the opportunity for plunder, and rowed across under cover of darkness to check out the abandoned vessel. By the time the Alabama finally slipped off the sgeir and into the murky depths of Glumaig bay, the peats and almost all the wax cylinders had been ‘salvaged’ by the Battery bodachs, in a daring operation later immortalised in the classic 1949 film from Sheiling Studios –  “Poison Whiskey Gu Leòr”. 

The peats were returned to their rightful owners in North Lochs, but the rescued wax cylinders were quietly distributed all over the islands, and soon there wasn’t a house between the Butt and Barra that didn’t have half a dozen copies of “Pronounced” secreted up in the thatch or hidden under a gog-gàc in the henshed. 

Melodeon players across the islands could be found adding “Gimme Three Steps” and “I Ain’t the One” into their danns a’ rathaid sets, and Coisir Bhan na Hearadh swept the boards at the 1905 National Mod in Dingwall with an innovative Costello arrangement of “Dh’fhalbh Di-màirt Leis a’ Ghaoith”.

Meanwhile, way on down in Dixie, Lynyrd Skynyrd and their management were entirely unaware of all the success their debut album was having in the distant North Atlantic archipelago. The loss of the SS Alabama proved a great setback to their career, and it took the band another 69 years to save up enough money to get “Pronounced” pressed up and released again, in 1973. By that time, of course, it had already been a fixture of Outer Hebridean culture for several generations.





Vangelis’s Leodhasach Cousin RIP

4 06 2022

Sad times for devotees of the synthesizer recently, what with the demise not only of of Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher, but also his island cousin Angaidh Flesherin, MIDI accordion maestro from Eye Peninsula synthpop megastars Depeche Mòd.

Fletcher’s passing (though possibly not Flesherin’s) came as  a great blow to fans of electronic music across the globe, who were already in mourning following the passing of the great composer and synth pioneer Vangelis. Born Evangelos Odyssyas Papathanassiou in Greece in 1943, Vangelis was responsible for the music on “Chariots of Fire” and “Blade Runner”, had numerous chart hits with Jon Anderson from Yes, and earlier in his career played in successful Greek prog rock band Aphrodite’s Child with Demis Roussos.

Sadly, in the rush to pay tribute to Vangelis, the passing the same day of his lesser known Outer Hebridean cousin went largely unremarked.

Born Fishvangelos Orinsaydysseas Paiblethamicomacodhioù in Gress in 1943, Vangelis’s cousin took up the melodeon as a small child. Since his early gigs were all at sheep gathering events and Guy Fawkes bonfires in his native village, he soon adopted the stage name “Fank-Gellies”.(*)

It was at a round-up in Gress in 1966, while playing “Haoidh o Haoidh Ram” to keep the mehhhags moving through the pens, that Fankgellies heard corpulent Tong Highland Games 1963 sheep shearing champion Deamhais Rùsg-os warbling along in his inimitable high-pitched tones (and frightening the dogs) as he worked. 

Fankgellies and Rùsg-os formed progressive rock combo Achmoreditie’s Child. The band left for Harris in 1967, forced to flee Gress after the democratically elected  common grazings committee was toppled by a military cow.

From their Harris base on the bohemian Left Bank of East Loch Tarbert, Achmoreditie’s Child scored a number of hits, inspired as they were by the ideas circulating among the radical academics at La SirEScottbonne, and by the 1968 student riots on the Champs E-leverburgh. 

Achmoreditie’s Child broke up in 1971, when Fankgellies got the cuiream, turned his back on singles chart success and insisted on recording “66”, a concept album about his favourite back issue of the Free Church Monthly Record.

In the 70s, after going solo, the real Vangelis got a lot of TV theme work. For example, if you were a wee blone who liked ponies you’ll no doubt have fond memories of his galloping tune “Pulstar”, which was used as the theme for popular BBC1 kids’ TV show “Horses Galore”.  

Meanwhile Fankgellies was commissioned to record the more sedately paced  “(No)Pulsecar”, the signature  tune for a BBC Alba schools programme aimed at children studying to join Al Cr*e’s popular Junior Funeral Director apprenticeship scheme – “Hearses Gu Leòr”.

Even though he had a sizable cult following, it wasn’t until 1981 that  Fankgellies became a household name and that was all thanks to his moving soundtrack to the film ‘Carryouts Of Fire’.

Who could forget the moving tale of two Niccy pupils who decided to take a wee detour from the cross country race that K*nny N*rd had sent them on, and nipping into Hendy’s Off-License to buy a bottle of unexpectedly-hot Jamaican Spiced Rum. 

The famous scene of them running in slow motion along the Braighe, in their white Nazir vests and Winfield shorts, whilst swigging from the bottle, with a gang of cops in hot pursuit, was made even more memorable by Fankgellies’ inspiring melodeon and chanter playing.     

Fankgellies also received critical acclaim for the dark and atmospheric soundtrack he composed for ‘Prayed Runner’, Ridley Scottsroad’s dystopian sci-fi movie about android Ministers (based on Phillip K. Diggumda’s novel “Do Sheep Dream of Electric Arnoldroids”). The premise of the movie is that in the (not too distant) future, there are so many presbyterian Church schisms, that android, replicant, Ministers had to be introduced to keep up with demand for Communions and Sunday School Picnics. The android Ministers all had a limited shelf life and would expire after a few years after they were all ‘prayed out’. Occasionally, an Android Minister would go rogue, and so agents known as Prayed Runners would be dispatched to remove their dog collars and switch them off.

In the film a group of advanced replicant Ministers escaped from the Barvas Òrduighean and made their way to Stornoway, in an effort to escape to Ullapool on the ferry and become Episcopalian vicars on the Mainland  instead. 

Top BBC Alba actor Harrison Fordterrace played Deckhand, a disillusioned Prayed Runner, who is tasked with stopping the rogue Ministers. Rutger Hauergabost played the role of Roy Battery, the leader of the breakaway android Ministers, who delivered the memorable lines:

“I’ve seen things about you believers from your steeple. Calmac ships on time off the shoulder of Orinsay. I watched Communion Tokens glitter in the dark near the Townhall Gate. All these moments will be lost in tiuyim… like tears in rain… Time to dye that wool”. 

The film went on to become a sci-fi cult, leaving fans wondering if Deckhand was actually a Minister himself! Fankgellies’ soundtrack perfectly captured the dystopian nature of a church schism in rainy Stornoway and he even got nominated for a BAFTA (Broadbay Academy of Fillum and Television Amadans).   

In 1979, Fankgellies started a long and lucrative partnership with Chon Andersonroad, the lead singer of progceilidh band ‘Tha’.  Their first album ‘Shorn Stories’ was a concept album about fanks. The follow up album ‘Friends of Mr Caiora’ resulted in the massive selling (6 copies in Woolies ‘10 for 50p’ Boxing Day Sale box) ‘I’ll Find My Way, Blone’.

Fankgellies also recorded a classical music album about renowned house painter El Gresscove.

(*) Thanks to Roddy Maclean for his meticulously researched contributions to this article.





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 mar..ag. Tha

Ingredients free in a mara..ag. 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

Peel’sdriver

Brue For You

And their decades-long run of hit singles included: 

Rodelhouse Blues

Down The Dustcart

(Sunday) Paper Plane

Calum-ine-a

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