Lighthill Richard RIP

16 05 2020

Hot on the leopardskin cuban heels of Little Richard’s sad demise in America, we regret to report the passing of his not-quite-as-successful cousin from Back.

Flamboyant rock ‘n’ roll wildman Lighthill Richard had a career almost as long as that of his American relative, with an uncannily similar set of twists and turns.

And while his more famous cousin was often called the Architect of Rock and Roll, Lighthill Richard was surely the YTS labourer of it.

Born Richard Wayne Fivepenniman (his old man was from Borve) in 1932, Richard took up the piano accordion at an early age and soon found himself playing in dives, fluke joints and honky-fanks up and down Interstate B895. 

Fivepenniman’s parents were very holy and belonged to one of the island’s smaller Presbtyerian splinter groups, the Free Associated Continuity Pentecostacoffeefromengiesbutnotonasunday Church of Scotland, which differed from other denominations in 2 key respects. 1. The brims of elder’s hats were ¼ inch wider, and 2. Cailleachs did the precenting instead of bodachs.

His main musical influences growing up were therefore precenting legends such as  Machreachsathanaiga Jackson and Sister Rosetta Scarp. 

Indeed, his big break came on a visit to Harris in 1947 when Sister Rosetta Scarp had a few too many in the public bar at the Rodel Hotel, and asked him to fill in for her on the Friday of the Leverburgh òrduighean. Due to the church’s strict rules against coves precenting, Richard had to dress up as a blone in order to get the gig, and having done so he discovered a lifelong predilection for colourful overalls, flowery beannags and massively ostentatious church hats.

In 1955 Richard befriended Isles AM  deechay and rock impresario Alan Freepresbyterian, and appeared in several of his locally-produced rock ‘n’ roll movies such as “The Girl Can’t Shelve It” (about a poor blone in the Co-op mobile shop trying to keep all the produce on the shelves as the driver scoffed a quarter bottle whilst negotiating the single track roads) and “Don’t Rock the Knock”. 

These classic films also featured many of the other early rock ‘n’ roll greats, including Chuck Ferry, Fats Dòmhnallach, Eddie Caoran, Bill TweedBaley & the Comhairles (“Gonna Rock Around The Croft Tonight”), Fankie Lymon, Gene Vimscent & the Bruecaps and many more.

Between 1955 and 1957 Richard had a phenomenal run of hit singles, some of them selling over 10 copies in Woolie’s and a couple more in MacIver & Dart’s. These included:

Tutti Freechurch (“Tutti Freechurch/ o hee church… a wop bop a leòbag, a wop baa moo” “Gotta girl called Sùgh, she’s making marag dubh” etc).

Tong Toll Salach – being a Bacach, Richard was never very complimentary about the nearby township of Tong, and wrote this scathing attack on his neighbouring village after a particularly badly received gig in the Recreation Centre.

Leodhas-ille – a much covered accordion standard

Good Collie Miss Maw-ly- a song he wrote for a shepherdess from beyond the town cattle grids, because he was so impressed at how quickly her dog rounded up his sheep. 

Ready Sked-dy

Rip it Tup

Slippin’ an’ a (Back)slidin’

A Sheep in Knock(in)

… and some others.

Richard’s golden era of chart success came to an abrupt end when he got the Cùiream on tour in Melbost in 1957. His conversion occurred when he saw a bright red light flashing across the sky above Broad Bay. Although it turned out to be the communist Rubhach satellite Spùt-nik 1 being launched from Bayblegrad, Richard was convinced it was a sign from above, and went in for the ministry.

In the late 50s Richard enjoyed a lower-key but successful career in the church, recording a number of well-received albums of Gaelic psalms. But he was lured back to secular music in 1962 by the prospect of a big money tour of Eòropie, (accompanied by the Peatles and their manager Brian Epsteinish). Richard and the Peatles also regularly shared a bill in the legendary Star(Inn) Club, just off Stornoway’s notorious Johnnygeeperbahn.

Richard’s early/mid 60s touring band the Upsettlers – Tarquin Ponsonby-Smythe on bodhran, Jeremy fFleekeen-fFiasag on digeridoo and Tamsin  Grant-Crahhftshoppe on Mongolian nose-flute and interpretive dance – was considered legendary (by 2 beardie coves from Away at the Stornoway Folk Club, but fleekeen terrible by everybody else). 

At one stage the line-up briefly included future guitar legend Jimi Henshed, but he was fired by Richard in 1964 for being good.

In later years, Lighthill continued to perform sporadically at òrduigheans, did a bit of relief preaching in Uist, and provided songs and soundtracks to various BBC Alba programmes and Holywood movies. He also acted, perhaps most famously as “Borve-is Guganight” in Paul Mangurstasky’s 1986 classic “Down and Out In Bennadrove Hills”.