Cac Neillidh RIP –  “Lewis Lewis” Singer Passes Away

3 05 2015
The recent passing of Jack Ely, lead vocalist of The Kings Men, was a great blow to fans of 60s garage rock. The Portland, Oregon band’s 1963 version of “Louie Louie” may have started as a minor hit in the Pacific Northwest, but it became the definitive benchmark for simplistic 3-chord garage punk, and has inspired countless cover versions to this day.


Jack Ely’s connections to the Isle of Lewis are little known, but in fact his musical career was inspired by the example of his cousin, Neil Mackay from Fivepenny Borve, who passed away the same day.  Mackay worked as a manure salesman by day, and never usually bothered to have a wash or get changed before going out to play gigs with his groovy beat combo at night. His look (and smell) soon became a trademark, and he became known to all and sundry as Cac Neillidh.

In the late 50s and early 60s Cac’s band The Kinlochsmen played hops and shindigs all over the Northwest, from Barvas as far up as Eoropie. 

 Cac wanted to increase his bands profile by making a hit record. One day whilst checking out the latest 45’s in Maciver and Dart’s bit of the shop set aside for records,  he heard “Lewis Lewis” by Niseach singer Rockin’ Rubha Robhanais and the Whalers. This catchy tune had been  originally been recorded in 1956 by Richard Berisay and the Faroesetrawlers on their “Exceedin’ the Sand Eel Quota” LP and had all the hallmarks of a big hit record. Cac immediately decided to record a cover version of the song..

The original song was about a pub crawl round Stornoway which ending up in the public bar of the Lewis Hotel.  It told the story of normal Stornoway Saturday night and the panic stricken rush to get home before midnight and the Sabbath. 

‘Oh Lewis, oh Lewis, ohh thighearna
We’ve got to go right nuw.
Obh,obh,obh,obh,obh’

Cac was permanently strapped for cash, so he chose the cheapest possible recording studio to record the song, (and also utilised a collection of half broken accordions, ex primary school chanters and guitars with wool instead of proper guitar strings). The studio normally only recorded FP lay preachers’ sermons, so the microphones had been ruined with all the fire, brimstone and spittle they encountered during their normal course of life. This meant that Cac’s vocals ended up being distorted and indistinct and inadvertently led to a mini scandal. 

The songs first play on Isles AM was well received and MacIver and Darts, Woolies and DD Morrisons record shelves were soon emptied of all 10 copies as Stornoway’s trendy youths snapped it up. 

However, a Free Church Minister overheard the song on Isles AM and felt that Cac was singing about all sorts of naughty things which could corrupt the youth of Stornoway. This led to a report to the Church Session and ultimately all the way to the top. The Freechurch Bureau of Investigation, led by Chay Edgar Thighearna, lauched a probe to determine whether the lyrics were obscene. The probe was inconclusive but led indirectly to a schism 30 years later within the Free Church (some Ministers wanted to end the probe, but some wanted to Continue it). 

After a brief whirlwind with fame and fortune, the hits dried up and Neillidh fell out with the band and fleeked off to become a barman in the Lewis, and then a steward on the Isle of Lewis ferry. 

(Cac Neillidh should not be confused with his distant cousin Cailean. Cailean Neillidh and his band The Lingsmen had the unrelated hit “Liubh-y Liubh-y”)

Cac’s famous song will long live on. It was proposed as the national anthem of Stornoway but was narrowly beaten by Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird. It is a constant staple in every Stornoway pub-bands sets, features as a prescribed song in the National Mod and is the ringtone for Lewis Builders.
 
Local cover versions down the years:
– Paul Reveerend and the Secaiders
– Otis Readingroominthelibrarynexttocoinneachgobh
– The Beach Bouys
– Iggy & the Spooges
– Mawtorhead 
– The Caise
– Innes the Postman
– The Dun Ringles (in 5/7 time with 3 symphonic movements and a 40-minute mellotron 
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