Athighearna Fanklin RIP

25 08 2018

In yet another one of them bizarre coincidences, news of the passing of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin had barely reached the Outer Hebrides, when the Stornoway media outlets announced the demise of her distant cousin, Queen of Shoals Athighearna Fanklin.

(Many Stornoway folk with famous relations must be getting a wee bitty worried by now).

Aretha herself, despite being brought up in America, was known to visit her relations in the Tolsta area on a regular basis…. And her name was actually Aretha Lewis Franklin – not “Louise” as most folk thought. The misunderstanding was due to the fact that Americans couldn’t understand the Leodhasach accent that she had picked up while home on her holidays as a child, and never lost.

However, with all due “Respect” to Aretha, it’s high time the world heard the untold tale of her (almost) equally influential Leodhasach cousin….

Athighearna Fanklin was born in 1942 in Dee-Chroit, a busy industrial city on the moor between Tolsta and Ness. While it’s mostly returned to desolate moorland these days, following the riots of the 1960s and the inexorable decline of its factories, Dee-chroit was once proudly known as the “Murdo City”, and was home to a thriving automotive industry. Giants such as General Murdos, Christler, Brue-ick, Studebakersroad, Ceardillac and, of course, Fordterrace employed tens of people and turned out up to a dozen tractors a year.

Athighearna’s old man Calum Leodie (CL) Fanklin was a minister to trade and was the Dean of Dee-chroit’s popular Ewe Bethel Baaa-aptist Church, the remains of which can still be seen on the top of the cliffs at Filiscleitir. He was fondly known as the “Dean of Souls”.

Athighearna demonstrated great musical talent at an early age and was appointed the church’s first female precentor. She sang in the church between the age of 12 and 20 and soon earned the title “The Teen of Souls”.

Singing gospel psalmody was artistically and spiritually rewarding, but it didn’t pay very well. Athighearna had to rely on state benefits for a while (and soon earned the title “Queen of Dole”). Eventually, however, the young Athighearna had to go away and work as a herring girl. She was extremely dexterous with the gutting knife and the number of sgadan she could get through on a shift became something of a legend on quaysides from Weeheek to Yarmouth – so much so that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals”.

Much to her cuireamach fans’ consternation, Athighearna went secular in 1960, signing to pop label Columbiaplace Records. Sadly Athighearna’s recordings on the label met with limited success because every time Columbiaplace pressed some records, one of the rival labels in the area (usually Springfield Records, Plasterfield Records or Battery Records) would nick them and make them into a huge bonfire. Especially around Guy Fawkes’ time; tyres were in short supply in these days, but shellac was highly inflammable and made a great gelly.

Athighearna was courted by other labels including Dee-Chroit soul giants Tormod Murdotown, but in 1966 she signed to Barratlantic Records, where she would make many of her greatest recordings. Barratlantic boss Eachainn Ertegundòchas was a huge fan and used the earnings from his lucrative fish factory to subsidise his loss-making record label. Ertegundòchas gave Athighearna complete artistic freedom and the pick of the Outer Hebrides’ top session musicians, just as long as she promised to sneak a plug for his seafood products into as many songs as possible.

With Barratlantic’s sponsorship and a plethora of fish references in her songs, it was little wonder that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Athighearna’s hits on Barratlantic were often recorded at Uig’s legendary Morsgail Shoals studios. From 1966 into the early 70s, working with with c(r)ack session band “The Chumpers”, and producer Areef Mangersta, Athighearna recorded a string of hit singles and albums including:

Say a Big Huge Long Prayer

You Make My Creels (Like a Natural Woman)

Chain of Fuels (in praise of C*mpb*ll’s filling stations)

Tong, Gifted and Back

I Never Loved A Ram The Way That I Loved Ewes

The House That J*mmy B*ller Built

Amazing Gress

Sponish Harlem

In 1979, after a period of declining record sales, Athighearna left Barratlantic and signed to Hearach label ScArista Records. Athighearna’s sales soon began to improve and she scored hits with “United (Free Church) Together” and a Grimshader-award-nominated cover of Otis Reseeding’s “I Can’t Turn You Lewis”.

Athighearna’s career got a cinematic boost in 1980 when she appeared in “The Brues Brothers” (alongside Dan Backroyd and John Bellsroadushi), dispensing advice on crofting grant-compliant corrugated roofing materials to her fleekeen useless husband Murphy Dunberisay. Filmed in the Coffee Pot, Athighearna’s performance of “Zinc” set her up nicely for rejuvenated record sales and a series of classic collaborations in the 80s and 90s.

These included “Seceders are Doin’ It For Themselves (But Not on Sundays)”, with Annie Leantainneach from the Freechurchcontinurhythmics. And of course, “Knew Ewe Were Waiting For Mehhhh”, with the late lamented George Mitchellsbus from Ram!

Fanklin was famed as a lifelong campaigner for sheep’s rights, and in order to look after the many distressed mehhhags that came into her care, she built a gi-normous barn in Dee-chroit. Athighearna’s barn was so monumentally huge that it wasn’t long before she earned the title “Queen of Sabhal”. Indeed, it was a simmering feud with her local grazings committee about the number of sheep Athighearna was entitled to put out on the common pasture that inspired her platinum-selling 1985 album “Who’s Souming Who?”.

Despite her advocacy for sheep rights, Athighearna was a keen fisherwoman throughout her life. A winner of numerous trophies in the ladies’ section of the Stornoway Sea Angling Club during the 50s, 60s and 70s, Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Her skills with the rod were matched by her prowess with the net, and her fondness for a bit of poaching on the Laxay River, together with frequent appearances in the Stornoway Gazette’s sheriff court column, soon earned Athighearna the title “Queen of Soval”.

Later in her career, Athighearna was called upon to sing at many great public events. At the Gravir Awards in 1998 she had to fill in for corpulent Rubhach tenor Luciano Paibleotti at the last minute, after he got stuck in a cubicle door at Stornoway Opera house and couldn’t get to the ceremony. Athighearna delivered a bravura unrehearsed performance of Paibleotti’s trademark “Niseach Dormer” that’s still talked about to this day.

In 2009 Athighearna also sang at the historic inauguration of Marag Obama as President of the USA (Union of Stornoway Artisanblackpuddingmakers)..

But above all else, Athighearna will be most remembered for her signature song – the song that became an anthem for cuireamach rights and for the cailleachs’ lib movement of the 60s. Although it was originally a hit for Otis Reseeding, Athighearna’s version turned the tables completely on the bodachs. That song went something like this:

(Obh) What you want – is deoch and accordions

(Obh) What you need – is to get yourself to the fleekeen orduighean

(Obh) All I’m askin’ – is that you repent, get the cuiream, read your buible, put on a suit and give me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

(Cove) Don’t go messin’ with none of them other denominations, or…

(Cove) I’ll be giving you quite a nasty operation

(Cove) It’ll be the deamhais for you unless you start turning up twice on a Sunday and midweek an’ all, and giving me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

Oh hee – I’m about to give the sustentation fund all your money

Oh hee – Yus, and maybe then I’ll end up in the land of milk and honey

Oh hee – Got me a new hat from Murdo Maclean’s agus abair g’eil e spaideal so I deserve me some….

WeeFree-Spect – when I go to the coinneamh. Oh yus, ya bleigeard.


Don’t go near the APC


And stay away from the Continuit-y

Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free-spect (etc)