Minister Men

29 05 2021

We’re sure there are many readers out there who will have fond memories of the Mr Men series of children’s books, written (and drawn) by Roger Hargreaves. The Mr Men have just reached their 50th anniversary and have come a long way since Mr Tickle first appeared in print in 1971.

Mr Grumpy, Mr Happy and all the other colourful characters, brought hours of entertainment to generations of kids, so it is very pleasing to see all this anniversary praise being directed towards Mr Hargreaves. 

But in all the fuss of the Mr Men celebrations, it’s been easy to overlook another slightly less high profile  50th anniversary – that of the locally produced ‘Minister Men’ books, written by Roger Harristweed. 

Harristweed was a third cousin of Roger Hargreaves on his great granny’s Cromore side. Amateur genealogists from Comunn Eachdraidh Phàircend have also worked out that both men were the maternal grandmother of the other famous Mr H*rgre*ves – thon R*ver*nd from L*nd*n who produced all them gay disco records and tried to be our MP a few years back – but they propaply weren’t.

Roger Harristweed first got the idea for his Minister Men books when his young son asked him to tell him who all the local Ministers were. Harristweed Jr, like many other folk in Lewis, had a hard time distinguishing the different men of the cloth, as they all looked and dressed the same. 

Grey hair, (fashioned by Johnny Geeper), Sunday hat from Mackenzie and MacSween’s and a black suit from Murdo MacLean’s was the in-look amongst the island’s fashionable Ministers, but if you saw one proceeding along Cromwell St on a Thursday morning, you’d be hard pushed to put a name to him, let alone a Denomination.  

Harristweed took the same approach to writing all his books. He would draw one of his, now iconic, Minister Men figures and come up with a short story telling a humorous aspect of a Minister’s day. The figures were colourfully illustrated using a wide pallet of greys and blacks.

The first Minister Men book, Minister Gloomy, was published in 1971 by the Gaelic publishing company Machair. 

Some of the most well known books in the series are:

Minister Trendy: A young, newly ordained Minister tries out mainland approaches to religion. He nips downtown to get new strings for his guitar from Fonn, but he goes out without his dog collar. He tries to get back into his Church for the Praise Band rehearsal but the Elder on the door doesn’t recognise him without the dog collar and won’t let him in. The praise band start playing AC/DC songs instead. 

Minister Gloomy: He inadvertently laughs at a joke from a Xmas Cracker and so has to leave the Church in disgrace.

Minister Strict: So strict he doesn’t approve of walking up stairs on a Sunday, so can’t get into his pulpit.

Minister Schism: Has to barricade himself into the Manse to stop the ‘stay behinds’ from reclaiming it, following the latest church fall out over a spelling mistake found in the 1751 Parish Records. 

Minister Longprayer: Goes for the World Record for Praying on a whim, but has to contend with the congregation trying to sneak out after an hour so they don’t miss ‘Call The Midwife’.

Minister Òrduigheantourist: Invites himself to guest preach at all the other ministers’ communions so that he can score a slap-up dinner at their manses afterwards, but lays on stale scones, cold tea and out-of-date sgadan when it’s his turn. Spontaneously combusts in an act of divine retribution after a surfeit of guga in Cross.

Harristweed had huge problems keeping up with demand for new Minister Men books every time there was a church schism and breakaway. In all he produced 2,598 Minister Men books. 

The author expired from exhaustion in 1988 when his publisher faxed him to demand another 300 new titles, because they’d heard that the FP/APC split was brewing. 

Plans for a series of ‘Little Ms Minister’ books (to reflect the success of the Little Miss books) did not make it through the planning stage due to the amount of tutting that took place in pulpits across the islands.





Les McKeowncropaig RIP

15 05 2021

While Bay City Rollers fans across the globe mourn the passing of tartan-flared pop icon Les McKeown, Stornoway’s ageing 70s teenyboppers were saddened to hear of the death the same day of his Leodhasach cousin. 

Like his better known mainland relation, Les McKeowncropaig was a man who experienced a rollercoaster 70s teen pop career of dizzying highs and crashing lows, except for the high bits.

Born in a Vatisker black house in 1955, McKeowncropaig displayed a singular lack of musical talent from an early age. This made him an ideal candidate to be in a boy band, and in 1973 he was recruited into Outend Coll no-hopers the Broadbay City Rollers, replacing founding singer Gordon “Commongrazings” Clerk.

The other band members were Stuart “Woody” Expressparcels, Balallan Lochsmoor and Eric Waulkner. After Ballalan Lochsmoor left, he was replaced briefly by Ian Mitchellsgarage

The band were managed by dodgy Airidhbhruach businessman and frequently convicted  sheep-molester Tormod “Tam” Pay-tòin.

Among his many business interests, Pay-tòin ran a textile recycling company that collected tweed scraps from local mills and weavers, and so he decided to use the band to promote his company by sticking bits of fuidheags onto their flared boiler suits and platform wellies.

The band’s initial brown drab herringbone look failed to capture the public imagination. It was only after Pay-tòin scavenged a reject batch of radioactive glow-in-the-dark Macleod Dress Modren from the bins round the back of Kenny Sticky’s that the Rollers’ outfits really caught on.

As Rollermania gripped Stornoway (and surrounding area), a string of chart-topping hits followed, including:

Shang-A-Langabhat

Byre Byre, Baby

Summerlove Sustentation

Bennadrove Sensation

Gisla Little Love

Remember (Sha-la-Laxdale)

All of Mehhh Loves All of Ewes

Not content with local success, the band went on to break America with help from part time lobster fisherman (and head of A-Rizla Records) Cliabh Davis

However, the pressures of non-stop touring, the screaming fans and the 24/6 hounding by relentless paparazzi (the Gazette AND the Oban Times) eventually became too much for McKeowncropaig. After a particularly arduous tour of North Uist in 1978, he left the band and went into a spiral of drink and herring addiction.

When the money earned in the Rollers’ good years ran out, McKeowncropaig took to the road again to fund his lifestyle, playing under a series of names designed to cash in on the Rollers’ name while avoiding lawsuits from Tam Pay-tòin. These included:

 “Les McKeowncropaig’s Original Broadbay City Rollers”, 

“Les McKeowncropaig’s Genuine Bayhead City Rollers – Honest, Cove”

and 

“Les Mckeowncropaig’s Reformed Bayview City Rollers (Continuing)”.

Most of McKeowncropaig’s old bandmates were up to similar dodges; it is said that there are as many Broadbay City Rollers splinter groups out there as there are grains of sand on the Bràighe.

As well as the many factions featuring one or two members of the 70s lineups, there have been quite a few Rollers offshoots over the years with no original members at all. This is particularly prevalent in parts of the world where the band’s popularity has lasted well beyond their heyday, notably in the Far East (of Harris) where well known fakes include:

The Finsbay City Rollers

The Grosebay City Rollers 

The Flodabay City Rollers

And the Lingerabay City Rodels.

McKeowncropaig got back together with the original band in 2015 for a series of reunion shows, and famously sold out Barrowlands nearly as fast as Peat and Diesel.





Jim Steinishman: Rock Producer

8 05 2021

Fans of bombastic power ballads and ridiculously over-produced pomp rock epics are in mourning, following the recent passing of larger-than-life songwriter, record producer and pop impresario Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf, Celine Dion, Bonnie Tyler, Isl*nd Expr*ss and many more)

Sadly Steinman’s death overshadowed the demise the very same day of his slightly less successful island cousin, local operatic rock mogul Jim Steinishman.

Like his American relative, Jim Steinishman was stagestruck from an early age, taking a degree in avante garde theatre studies (with weaving and navigation) at Lews Castle College in the late 60s. During this time he produced several stage shows including Bertolt Breasclete’s “A Maw’s A Maw” and went on to write for a number of unsuccessful Broadbay musicals in the early 1970s. 

It was while working on one of these flops (“More than Ewe Deserve”, set on a front line fank in the Viet-Ram war) that Steinishman met legendary big fat shouty cove Marvig Lee Adabroc –  aka Peat Loaf. 

Steinishman’s operatic pretensions and Peat Loaf’s thunderous bovine bellow went together like sgadan and buntata, and the pair soon went on to develop the massively successful  “Bat Out of Dell” which became one of Stornoway’s biggest selling albums of all time (8 copies), and has been in the Maciver and Darts’ album chart continuously since 1977. The enigmatic cover artwork (a painting of a crofter bursting out of a grave at Habost Cemetery, whilst driving a Massey Ferguson tractor and towing a trailer full of peats) caused some controversy at first, but has gone on to be recognised as a great work of art and is now used by the Dail bho Dheas Tourist Board.

.

‘Bat Out of Dell’ was filled with epic hits including the title track, ‘You Hooked The Fish Right Out at the Creed Mouth’ and ‘Paradise By The Arnish Light’,  a duet with Eilean Foley. 

Steinishman and Peat Loaf continued to collaborate intermittently over the subsequent years, but they were cursed by bad timing. When Steinishman had songs handy, Peat Loaf would have lost his voice, or got the cuiream and be refusing to sing anything but psalms; When Peat Loaf was ready to work, Steinishman would be short of material because he’d just flogged his least ruppish  songs to one of his other artists. While several very successful albums emerged, including “Deaf Singer”, and of course “Bat Out of Dell 2 : Back Into Dell”, none of them attained the dizzy heights of the original.  Although come to think of it,  BOOD2:BID did have one outstanding track… ‘I Would Do Anything for Lochs (But I won’t do Pairc)’

As well as Peat Loaf, Steinishman wrote and produced for a wide range of other artistes over the years, with varying degrees of success. These included:  

Celine Geehonk: Steinishman gave Geehonk an island-wide hit with a song complaining about the noise all the animals on her croft were constantly making: ‘It’s All Coming Baahh To Meow’ 

Donnie Tyler – Steinishman worked with gravel-voiced Skigersta power ballad diva (and bathroom renovation specialist) Tyler in the early 80s, producing Tyler’s platinum-selling 1983 album ‘Plaster(field) than the Speed of Night’ in exchange for getting his downstairs toilet done in classy Pilkington Pink Watersplash. This partnership is best remembered for a  mega power ballad about trying to beat the record for attending every church in South Lochs over a Communion weekend: ‘Total Eaglais of the Pairc’.

The Dun Ringles (all their albums)

Aird Supply: The Rubach soft rockers had a hit with the knitwear themed  ‘Making Gloves Out of Nothing At All, At All, At All’

Def Leóbag : Steinishman was hired briefly to work on Leóbag’s 1985 ‘Hiort-steria’ album, but got the bròg for doing fleek all except ordering the entire menu in the Island Star for his tea every night and charging it to the band. He was replaced by the band’s preferred producer, Mutt Langabhat.

Barry Manorpark: Reached high in the charts with a cover of ‘Feed ‘Em and Sheep’ from the Deaf Singer album.

Despite the time he spent in the studio, Steinishman’s true passions were opera and musical theatre rather than rock ‘n’ roll, and he continued to write and produce musicals and stage shows throughout his career.

At one point West Side musical lechend  Arnol Leòid Weaver approached Steinishman to write the lyrics for ‘Phantom of the Opera House’ (which became a smash hit for the Stornoway Thespians – starring Michael Crawford as Bogie, Sarah Brightman as Ch*rsty Al*ne and a young John Barrowman as 3rd Urinal On The Left). Sadly Steinishman had to decline – he was busy producing “Holding Out For A Hearach” for Donnie Tyler, in exchange for getting his kitchen splashbacks done as a homer.

However Steinishman and Leòid Weaver did subsequently collaborate on “Gristle Down The Bone” which became a hit on Broadbay. The show provided a hit single for ageing teen popsters Bodachzone, who topped the local Seceder charts in 1998 with ‘No Matter What I Do (I’m Predestined for Eternal Damnation Anyway)’

Steinishman will be sadly missed, but let’s finish by all singing along to ‘Total Eaglais of the Pairc’. All together now!!!!

‘Once upon a time I was going to Kinloch

But now I’m only communing in Pairc

There’s none that I can’t do

The total eaglais of the Pairc

Once upon a time there was Laxay in my life

But now there’s only Cromore in the dark

Now that I can pray

At the total eaglais of the Pairc’