Bunabhainneader ‘Bunny’ Whaler

6 03 2021

While reggae fans across the globe mourn the passing of the legendary Bunny Wailer, we’re sad to report the recent demise of his Hearach cousin Bunabhainneadar ‘Bunny’ Whaler, a leading light in the Hebridean music and whaling scenes, and the last surviving member of Bob Marvig and the Whalers. 

Bunny Whaler was one of the first people to bring reggae music to the Outer Hebrides, and along with Bob Marvig and Peter Tawsesquarry, brought it to the attention of a wider audience (four people in the Neptune Public).

Bunny was first and foremost a whaler, sailing out of his native Bunabhainneadar to hunt for the great sea beasts in the waters off South Georgia, and to bring them back to the Whaling Station at the bottom of his croft in Harris.

It was a hard life shooting defenceless whales with a giant harpoon, and an equally hard journey getting to and from South Georgia. The successful Whalers used to look forward to stopping off in Jamaica on the way home in order to stock up on the different varieties of rum the island had to offer. It had come to a shock to these hardy seamen that there were more brands of rum than the Watson’s Trawler variety out there, and so on each trip they partook in lengthy pub crawls round Kingston to taste and try the different blends.

It was in these pubs that Bunny first discovered reggae music. The laid back beats and rhythmic pulse of the songs reminded him of a very slow Hattersley Loom, but also of psalms sung by a really bad precentor at an FP wake. He was immediately smitten and started writing reggae music. He cancelled his subscription with John the Barber and started to grow his hair long, into what became known as ‘dreadlochs’.

As well as reggae, several other local variants of Jamaican music took off in the Outer Hebrides in the 60s and 70s, including Rubhachsteady, Dannsarathaidhall, Dannsalaxdalehall and (Marag) Dub. 

There was also Organophosphate Dup, and numerous very local flavours of Ska: Ska(rista), Ska(liscro), Ska(lpay), Ska(ladale) and Ska(dan). (We’ll be covering the island’s late 70’s/early 80’s Ska and 2-Tòin revival in a future paper).

Along with Bunny and the legendary Bob Marvig, the other founder member of the Whalers was Peter Tawsesquarry.  Tawsesquarry sometimes went by the handle “Peat R Tosh”, in the hope that people might confuse him with a certain  more successful local musician and give him a solo gig in the Carlton.

In the late 60s Whaler and the rest of the band became devout followers of a local church that had been established in 1937, when the exiled Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia visited Lewis for the carnival (and to see his auntie on Seaforth Road). 

While the Emperor was on the island, he was also invited by Stornoway Town Council to turn the first turf on the construction of their new housing scheme at Plasterfield, and the spot where the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah  performed the ceremony (just next to the bins at the side of the Blackhouse Bakery) soon became the holy centre of the new religion of Plastafarianism.

Whaler, Marvig and Tawsesquarry became Plastas in the hope of bringing love, peace and unity to the world, but sadly Peter Tawsesquarry broke away and joined the Free Plastafarians (Continuing) after an argument about the right length of funny cigarette that elders had to smoke on the Friday of the Tolsta òrduighean.

Bunny also eventually left Bob in the early 70’s (although his name lived on in the band name), but not before building the foundations of a successful genre of music. Bob Marvig capitalised on this and had huge success (6 copies sold in DD Morrison’s) with hits such as:

  • Stir It Tup
  • Three Little Bàrds
  • No Woman, No Bràighe
  • I Shot The Siarach
  • Duffalo Soldier
  • (No) Redemption Song
  • We’re Lambing (Hope you like lambing too)
  • Churchy Reggae Party
  • Could Ewe be Loved?

… and a string of international smash albums (3 copies sold in MacIver & Dart and 1 in Woolie’s) including:

  • Bayble By Bus
  • Exoduff
  • Catch a Byre 
  • Tattie Dread

Although he missed out on some of the Whalers’ later success, Bunny made up for it in his solo career, releasing critically acclaimed solo debut “Bleigeard Man” in 1976, and recording loads of lucrative Bob Marvig tribute albums after his former bandmate had died. 

Bunny also made a show-stealing appearance in the film “Bayble On Fire”, a documentary about the world-beating Point peat cutting team of the 1970s. 

In a long and varied musical career Bunny worked with most of the big names on the Outer Hebridean reggae scene, including Maroots & the Maw-tals, Uisteach-Roy, Lee ‘Sgrathail’ Ferry and the great Sly Dunberisay and Robbie Sulasgeir.