Leodhasach Reed – an AGOFR Obituary (Part 1)

29 10 2013

Newvalley Musical Express, 27 October 2013

Leodhasach Reed – an AGOFR Obituary (Part 1)

Black-clad bohemians across the globe yesterday were to be found rummaging through their wardrobes to see if they had anything even more black to wear, their misery plumbing even deeper depths than usual following the demise of pioneering singer, guitarist and songwriter Leodhasach Reed.

Born in 1942 above his parents’ Stornoway sweetie shop, Leodhasach Balallan Reed grew up listening to danns a’ rathaid and Gaelic psalms, but he was especially fascinated by Marag Dubh-wop, the popular 50s acapella harmony style invented by the butchers in the Bragaidh’s shop down the road.

Reed’s doting parents had planned that he would work in family sweet shop, but he expressed little interest in the business and soon began to show evidence of an attraction towards goats instead of sheep. This horrified his conventional parents, who consulted a psychiatrist and subjected Reeded to a course of Electro Convulsive Therapy in order to ‘cure’ him of his desires. The treatment was ineffective (probably because Stornoway didn’t have electricity yet),

Reed left home and moved to Ness to attend Skigersta University. There, he was taught and deeply influenced by the poet Dell Moor Schwarz, for whom he wrote “Eoropiean Son”.

After dropping out of university, Reed got a job as an in-house writer on the staff of Sandwick Records, writing ruppish songs to put on crap compilation records for sale in Maciver & Dart’s. In 1964 he scored a minor hit with “The Guga”, a hastily-assembled single designed to cash in on an obscure dance craze sweeping Sula Sgeir at the time. The record company decided to put a band together around Reed and send them on a tour of offshore gannetries to promote the record.

This pick-up band included early Avante-Gaelic composer and local seaweed factory owner John Kale, who also provided the tour boat. Kale was captivated by Reed’s technique of not tuning any of his guitar strings at all, and after the tour was over they decided to form The Bobban Underground – a group of their own to pursue their shared interest in experimental (ie ruppish) music.

Working his maritime connections, Kale poached a talented but rather uptight and conventional guitarist, Stirling ‘Square’ Morrison, from his day job as second mate on the Loch Seaforth. Reed recruited crazed beatnik percussionist Angus Mac a’ Ghobhainn, but Mac a’Ghobhainn left in 1965 to concentrate on protesting against Sunday ferries to Kyleakin. Luckily Morrison knew a cove whose sister couldn’t play the drums at all, and before long he’d persuaded Maw-reen Tractor to leave her steady job as an iteagan filler and join the band instead.

The group soon caught the attention of Andy Warholidayhome, an artist who’d made his fortune by repeatedly selling the same derelict croft house in Grimshader to loads of different white settlers. (Each time he did so, he’d just paint the house a different colour so that nobody would notice). Warholidayhome needed a band for his latest project; to create and control an environment where film, painting, multimedia happenings and fish offal processing could all be profitably combined.

So it was that in January 1966 The Bobban Underground began their residency at The Gut Factory, hanging out with Andy Warholidayhome’s coterie of sycophants, superstars, doomed seceders, poor little rich ceards, peat hustlers and herring addicts.

Much against their will, Warholidayhome foisted one of his proteges – teutonic Adabroc ice maiden Niseach – on the band. Despite their mutual contempt, Niseach’s atonal wailing fitted well with the band’s musical incompetence and in 1966 they released “The Bobban Underground and Niseach Produced by Andy Warholidayhome”. With its distinctive cover of a marag with a zip, “The Bobban Underground…” has been judged by nobody at all to be the most influential album of all time.

The Bobban Underground’s subsequent career was characterised by mismanagement, failure, drug abuse, splits and financial disaster; and yet it resulted in several more studio albums and live performances which became lechendary, such as “White Light/White Peat” and “Live at Mac’s Imperial Kansas City”. But by 1970, Reed had had enough of life with the Bobban Underground and, quit the band in order to carve out a solo career.

After a brief period working back in the family sweetie shop, Reed was swept off to Tong Studios by D*vid B*wie. B*wie, a massive fan who had stopped off to buy a Curly Wurly on his way to the peats, was deeply concerned to hear of Reed’s treatment by the music business. Bowie funded studio time and hired a roomful of top session musicians to back Reed. The result did not disappoint.

(Continues in Part 2)