The Trans-Island Pop Festival: The Counter Culture Comes To Lewis.

2 11 2013

The 1970 Trans-Island Pop Festival was one of the more spectacular failures in Leodhasach Rock history, doomed almost from its inception by the combination of mismanagement, corruption and general idiocy that became the template for the island’s Avante Gaelic Obscurist Folk Rock (AGOFR) movement -and some allegedly ‘proper’ bands – as the 70s rolled on.

The idea was to gather a selection of the “best” “artists” from Lewis’s late 60s counterculture and send them on a two-day tour across the island to delight the masses and rake in barrels of cash.

However, rather than taking Mitchell’s bus or hiring one of Donnie Shoval’s lorries, cheapskate rock impresario Todhar Eaststreet, decided to transport the artists to successive venues via the light railway that ran across the moor to cart fish from the West Side of the island to Stornoway and back again. This meant that the proposed tour itinerary was somewhat less than salubrious and ran as follows:

Friday 4/10/70 7pm: No. 1 Pier, Stornoway Friday 4/10/70 10pm: Caberfeidh Public Bar Saturday 5/10/70 8pm: An Abandoned Àiridh out the Pentland Road Saturday 5/10/70 11pm: Carloway Community Centre

There was some legitimately good sense behind herding the bands into empty fish carriages. It would keep all the artists together in one confined space during transportation, ensuring nobody got lost thus endangering the next gig. This was vital as the whole enterprise was being filmed as a documentary for BBC Alba in hopes that the fee would offset the cost of Eaststreet’s box-office flop “Les Bicyclettes de Benside” the previous year. Further cash would be saved by simply sneaking onto the empty railway carriages after the train had offloaded at the pier in Stornoway and jumping out before they were reloaded with sgadan again on the West Side.

An impressive host of ‘like, heavy’ acts were assembled for the first night of the tour. Buddy Cove and his Blues Band, Jan “Aost” Joplin (Janis’ elderly mother who lived in Cromòr), The Grateful Dead (who were coerced into joining as they needed a lift to Breasclete to visit relatives of lead guitarist Jerry Gar-Siar and drummer Mickey Ceàrd) and potato-wielding beatnik freaks The Flying Buntata Brothers. Other acts included little known duo ‘Delaney & Bogie’.

The first gig was almost a success. A crowd of seagulls running to the dozens arrived at the pier when the first act began performing. Underwhelming ticket sales led Eaststreet to fling the gates open to drum up publicity, but after C*inneach G*bha turned up, even the seagulls left. It was time to move on to the second venue. Unfortunately nobody had informed Eaststreet of the fact that there were, in fact, no trains (largely because the railway had never actually been constructed and even Lord Leverhulme had bailed out before the trains had seen the light of day), leaving underground rock’s finest having to walk up to the Cabar in the rain. This led to one of the more memorable scenes in the film, where Joplin, Gar-Siar, Buddy Cove and Rick Fanko of The Band had a sheepdip-fuelled jam session behind the Manor Dairy.

The tour came to a premature end after the concert venues pulled out one by one. For years the film languished in the archives until 2004 when island rock historians rediscovered it, restored the sound, and unrestored it back again when they heard how bad it was.

“The Trans-Island Pop Festival” has been largely forgotten as the lengthy name didn’t stick, but it lives on in the local consciousness as its nickname (and the title of the film) was adopted by an up and coming Lewis band set to revolutionise the 80s music scene; “Island Express”.


The original poster for the show. (Printed by the Gazette, probably)



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