Cheff Back RIP

21 01 2023

Fans of six-string virtuosity across the globe were saddened the other day to hear of the death of Jeff Beck, the “guitarist’s guitarist” famed for his post-Clapton time in the Yardbirds, his innovative work with the Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice, and his collaborations with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Mick Jagger to Johnny Depp…

…And also for his 1967 hit “Hi, Ho, Silver Lining” which he always thought was fleekeen ruppish.

Sadly the media coverage of Beck’s passing meant that the demise the same day of his slightly less famous Leodhasach cousin went largely unreported. Which was a shame because Beck’s island relative  was a bit of an axe hero as well.

Murdo Arnol Back was born in 1944 to Siarach parents living in wartime exile in Vatisker. As his mother was out working in the munitions plants of Outend Coll, he learnt to rattle up a pan of sgadan sailte at a surprisingly early age and soon acquired the nickname “Chef”. When the family returned from Vatisker to the West Side in 1946 he became known as “Cheff Back”. (The Siaraich weren’t very good at spelling).

Taking up the guitar at an almost equally early age, Back played with a variety of bands in the 50s and early 60s and had his first hit (“Dracula’s Dòtaman”) with Screaming Lord Sdayobservancesociety  and the Sabbathges in 1962.

Back was keenly interested in the island’s booming early 60s R&B (Rhythm & Brues) scene, where one of the top acts of the day was Eric Clinton’s Yardbàrds, who would famously attract hordes of screaming fans at Mòd poetry competitions.

When Clinton left the Yardbàrds,  Back replaced him, and (guided by their manager Giorgio Gomelbost who wanted to increase their profile in South Lochs) the band changed their name to “The Garryvardbirds”

With Back on lead guitar, the Garryvardbirds enjoyed a string of hits, including:

Heartfull of Soval

Evil Hearted Ewe

Sheeps of Things

Obh obh Under Sheildinish Down

The Hothouse of Omagandersonroadnurseries.

…and many more.

For a while the Garryvardbirds lineup featured Back and fellow top session man  Jimmy Pray-ge on guitars. But then Back fell out with the band and fleeked off to do his own thing because of a dispute over how much peat each member had to bring along to recording sessions to keep the band’s Rayburn stove burning.  This was later immortalised in the song ‘Still I’m Fàd’.  Back went solo and Pray-ge went off to form Led Zheeplin, but both musicians stayed good pals.

In 1967, fresh out of the Garryvardbirds, Back was persuaded by Svengali producer Micky Melbost to record and release “Haoidh Cove, Silver Darlings” under his own name.

Back was uneasy about the project, as he regarded himself as a serious musician and “Haoidh Cove, Silver Darlings ” was an unashamedly “pop” single (sponsored by Herring By-products to promote the Gut Factory). Due to its subsequent massive global sales (over 3 copies in MacIver & Darts) and relentless airplay (mostly at the Seaforth disco in the 80s) it’s the only Cheff Back song a lot of people know, and this always annoyed the fleek out of him.

In the late 60’s Back formed the eponymous Cheff Back Group, featuring pre-fame Rod Stewartscreamofthebarley, and Shonnie Wood, (later to find fame with the Feis’s and the Rolling Blones). This group released a number of well received albums including: 

Drouth (1968)

Cream-ola (1968) 

Rubhach and Ready (1971)

After falling out with the rest of the Cheff Back group in the early 70s over church schisms, sheep or a fence or something, Back formed a supergroup with a couple of coves he met drinking screwtops under Number 1 Pier.  “Back, Bogie and Arnish” (featuring Bogie on bass and Carmine Arnish, from Vanilla Fuidheag, on drums) managed to record one self-titled album before they had a fight over a bottle of 4 Crown outside the Opera House and split up.

During this time Back also worked with Stevie OverYonder on his groundbreaking album “Waulking Book”

Back embarked on a long solo career characterised by experimentation with styles from chazz-rock fusion to T*mmy D*rkie danns a’rathaid/Gaelic psalmody crossover. Landmark solo albums included: 

Blone by Blone (1975)

MarybankTyred (1976)

There & Back (1980)

Emotion and Communions (2010)

Cheff Back’s Guitar Shop (Closed on Sundays) (1989)

(Mac)leod Hailer (2016)

He also played on many other artists’ records over the years. It was Back  who played the solo on Jon Bon Gòbhaig’s “(Doune) Braes of Glory” from the film Tong Guns 2. And contributed significantly to Kate Bushwalk’s 1993 concept album about communism in Point, “The Red Shulishader”.

In the 1990s Back teamed up with rockabilly revivalists the Big Town Prayboys to record an entire album of Neen Vincent and the Bruecaps songs, in tribute to Vincent’s legendary Uigeach guitar player Cliff Gallanhead.

Back will be greatly missed. It is rumored that as a tribute, his fan club are going to bring back the Galaxy Disco in the Seaforth Hotel, and play ‘Haiodh Cove….’ on repeat for the whole night. 

All together now!!

Haoidh Cove Siver Darlings

Your everywhere and Broadbay baby

That’s where your caught

Going down a salty fishbox 

Too good for chippie fat

Sent across the country

Making us all fat

Saying oatmeal is groovy 

When eaten with buntat(a)

And it’s Haoidh cove, silver darlings

And away you go now baby

I see your scales are shining

But I won’t eat another fish

Though it’s fleekin’ obvioush.




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