The world of Gaelic light entertainment has suffered a major blow in the last few weeks with the passing of two BBC Alba stalwarts, first Val(tos) Donnicanneryroad and Cilla Back.
Both stars had long running Saturday night entertainment shows on BBC Alba during the 60’s and 70’s. Theses types of show were very popular throughout the Gaeltacht and as well as showcasing Val and Cilla singing talents, also had a range of popular light entertainers on as guests. On a typical Saturday night on BBC Alba you could expect to see an accordion player, a Gaelic choir singing (miming) on a Lewis beach, a comedian telling jokes about whatever church denomination he wasn’t in, another accordion player and of course the trendy young dance act, The Young Congregation.
Holding these shows together were Val and Cilla. Both had a powerful TV presence, coupled with a cove/blone next door vibe, and each show brought viewers in the droves. Both became big stars and couldn’t even walk along Cromwell St without fans asking them to come and help take their peats home.
Val(tos) came from Harris, so many people mistook his Hearroch lilt as been an Irish accent. He was famed for wearing bobban chumpers that his grannie knitted for him, and normally sat crooning on a rocking chair.
His hits included Waulk Tall, Paddy McReids Shop, The Special Years (all about a massive carry out of Tennants Special which Val and his classmates scoffed whilst on a Gallows Hill bushwalk),
Cilla rose to fame after been discovered singing in the Caverstadh Club (a seedy dive in Stornoways Docklands). She was discovered by Brian Epsteinish, who also manger The Peatles.
Cilla also wrote the fashion column for “Mushy Peat” magazine and hung out with all the hip and happening beat combos on the scene: Gerryvard and the Prayermakers, The Swinging Blue Boilersuits, The Big Free, The Wee Free, The Wee Free (Continuing), The Fourmaw-st and Farron’s Flafaoileags.
Cilla also chalked up a range of hits in the Maciver and Darts Top 10, including ‘Anyone Who Had A Cearc’, ‘Step Outside Cove’, and ‘Heb Alfie’
Cilla also hit the big time during the 80’s with a number of very popular BBC Alba show. These included;
“Blind Skate” – Cilla’s guests were presented with 3 fishboxes behind a screen at Cailean Neillie’s. Based on a few cheeky scripted questions and answers, they had to decide which one they’d take home and boil for the dinner. “Blind Skate” was immensely successful, with prime time Saturday night ratings in double figures, and spawned a number of lesser imitators on rival TV channels, such as “Deaf Sked” on Grampian.
“Blight Date” – A less successful spinoff from “Blind Skate”, in which the guests had to choose which bucket of potatoes they’d take home to have with their fish.
Surpraise Surpraise -Cilla takes a blindfolded guest to an Church and then surprises them when they realise they’ve been tricked into going to a denomination they left the previous year following a painful and antagonistic schism.
Both Val(tos) and Cilla will be sadly missed.