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.

Mairi Woolson & Goathilton Valtostine RIP

20 02 2021

Fans of 60s soul and beat music across the world mourned the passing recently of Supremes vocalist Mary Wilson (the blone who didn’t have quite as many fights with Diana Ross as the other one) and Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine – whose much-copied intro to  “House of The Rising Sun” is said to have inspired Bob Dylan to go electric. 

By a strange coincidence both Wilson and Valentine had Stornoway cousins who passed away at around the same time, and who were also involved in the music industry (albeit on a slightly more local level). To ensure they’re not forgotten in the rush to pay tribute to their relatives from Away, we have prepared this small celebration of their lives and careers.

Màiri Woolson

Màiri Woolson was one of the founding members of The Sùgh-premes along with Diana RossandCromartyCountyCouncil and Florence Balallan. The trio originally came together to take part in the 1962 National Mod in Kinlochbervie, as the ‘Nicolson Institute Girls’ Choir (Continuing)’ after having been thrown out of the Nicolson Institutes Girls’ Choir for ‘inappropriate and suggestive harmonies, not becoming of a young lady’. 

Their Gaelic cover version of Bludy Holy’s ‘Peigi Sùgh’’ created a stir with the judges,  but they were sadly disqualified due to wearing provocative tartan miniskirts (only 4 inches below the knee). Incidentally, their choice of song at the Mod also gave them the idea for their name.

Normally, disqualification from the National Mod meant you had to emigrate to Glasgow and change your name. But for the three blones all was not lost. Their performance had been noted by Berisay Gordy, the owner of ‘Tormod Mawtown Records’, and he was quick to sign the girls up to a multi song deal. 

Backed by Mawtown’s regular c(r)ack session musicians The Fank Brothers, the girls recorded hit after hit and eventually became the most successful blone group of all time until Bunavonanarama.

There was always tension within the group and a big rivalry with all the other 60s blone groups like Martha and the Fishvandellas, the Velvetcrabettes, The Rubha-nets, the Siarachelles, The Marviglettes, The WeeFree Degrees…. But the Sùgh-premes beat them all with a string of hits like:

  • You Sheep Mehhh Hanging On
  • You Can’t Hearach Leodhas
  • Where Did Our Cove Go
  • Stop! In the Name of Liòbags
  • Stoneyfield Love

Despite their success, life in the band was difficult, with constant feuding between demanding diva RossandCromartyCountyCouncil and inveterate poacher Ballallan, and Woolson was usually caught in the middle. Balallan would often miss a gig if the moon wasn’t out and she’d got word that the watchers were in town on a bender, while RossAndCromaryCountyCouncil insisted on top billing, the biggest dressing room and first swig of the band bottle of 4 Crown every night. 

Luckily Diana RossandCromartyCountyCouncil left the band in the early 1970s due to local government reorganisation, so things calmed down a bit after that.

After leaving the Sùgh-premes herself in the late 70s, Woolson maintained a successful solo career, with numerous residencies in the swish casinos and resorts of Lax Vegas, and on the luxury cruise liner circuit (she was often found singing in the bar on the Suilven). When not working, Woolson indulged in her favourite hobby of suing her former management, record company and bandmates. 

You Sheep Mehhh Hanging On

‘Shear my fleece why don’t you babe

Get out your deamhais why don’t you babe

Cos you don’t really shear me

You just keep some hanging on

Why are your sheep a-running round

Praying at the Auction Mart

Why don’t you get me out and save my life

And let my wool knit a brand new sgiort

Let me get udder ewe

The way you’ve gotten over mehhh’ 

Goathilton Valtostine

Goathilton Valtostine was the lead guitarist in the Arnolmals, a popular West Side peat combo who formed in the early 60s, and made their name as the house band at legendary  Skigersta nightspot the Club A Guga. 

Valtostine was joined in the band by Eric Brudonniemurdo (on precenting), Ballan “Truiseal” Price (on Tha Mòd Accordion), notoriously incontinent drummer John Steall, and the great Chas “Morrison&sons” Chandler (on bass). 

Chandler, of course, went on to manage Jimi Hendrix, Slade and the ironmongery department on Bank Street.

The Arnolmals had gained a loyal fanbase on the Taobh Siar, but leapt to island-wide fame (and the top of the charts) with their soulful version of an old D**gl*s Leadbelly song, ‘MissionHouse of the Rising Sun(day)’. The famously egotistical Price later claimed that the group’s unique arrangement of the song was all his work, but the rest of the band have always been unanimous in maintaining that: 

  1. Price was a geehonk that they only ever let into the band because he had his own accordion.
  2. He was talking fleekeen ruppish, and 
  3. It was Valtostine’s much-imitated guitar intro that really made the song.

The band allegedly got their name because they were a bunch of ugly bleigeards, so it came as a shock to Eric Brudonniemurdo when – one night during a tour of Point in 1963 – it was announced that he had won first prize in a local beauty contest because nobody else had  had turned up. A mortified Brudonniemurdo told the organising committee to fleek off, the band fled the venue and, on the way back across the Barvas Moor, Burdonniemurdo and Valtostine wrote their next hit: “Dont Let Me Be Miss Ionad Stoodie”.

Another big success was ‘We Gotta Get Outta Assaye Place’ (about Stornoway’s first cul-de-sac confusing lost maws). This song’s popularity was boosted when it became an unofficial anthem for conscripts drafted to fight in the Viet Ram war between North and South Lochs. 

One day in July 1964, famous Hearach folk singer Robert Zimmermanish (aka Bob Dòmhnallan) was listening to Isles AM and was awestruck by Valtostine’s guitar on “MissionHouse of the Rising Sun(day)’. It is said that Bob vowed there and then to go electric. But unfortunately there was no electricity for him to go electric with, and he had to wait another year or two before the Hydro poles reached his house. Luckily he was able to pass the time by writing ‘Blowing On The Wind Turbine’.

Suilven Suilven RIP

24 01 2021

Only a week after the 5th anniversary of David Bowie’s demise, fans of 70s glam rock were saddened by the passing of Sylvain Sylvain, guitarist in the massively influential New York Dolls, the band who scandalised the Big Apple in the early 1970s and bridged the gap between glam and punk.

More locally, island glamb rock fans were also in mourning, following the death the same day of Sylvain’s cousin from Tong… 

Suilven Suilven made his name in the early 70s as rhythm guitarist with the New York Dollags, a band of notorious rock ‘n’ roll degenerates who regularly played the Drill Hall and the YM dressed unapologetically in ladies’ clothes – beannags, flowery aprons and glittery nylon overalls. 

The band were originally called the “New York Dòmhnalls” and were secretly sponsored by Tong property developer Donald Chon Trump, who wanted to make sure nobody back home forgot about him. 

Donald Chon promised the band he’d broker a promotional deal with exclusive Stornoway gentlemen’s outfitters Mackenzie & Macsween, so that they could kit themselves out for free with cool stage threads from proprietor Ailig Mhurchadh Nèill’s cutting edge collection. Due to an administrative error at Trump Tower, however, the deal was struck with the Cailleachswear Department at Nazir Bros’ Church Street boutique instead. 

Determined to make the most of any  freebie that came their way, the band ran riot in Nazir’s, loading up on communion hats, support tights, goot solid tweed skyurts of a modest length and plenty of these wee boots with the zip up the front and the fake fur round the top. Next, they went round to Kenny Froggan’s to get lipstick, but got told to fleek off because they were coves. Undeterred, their next stop was the Crofters’, where they got round the lipstick embargo by purchasing a reasonably priced tin of red sheep marker. From that day on, the “Dòmhnalls” were the “Dollags” and there was no going back.

In the late 60s, before forming the band, Suilven himself had been in the fashion business, running a clothing business with former school pals Billy Ma-shiar and Shonny Thundertakers. Their company made tweed chackets specially tailored for fashion conscious drinkers and poachers in the Keose, Laxay and Balallan area. With extra big pockets for concealing bottles of Cream o’ the Barley or a Salmon or two, “Drouth & Soval’s” fab gear was hugely popular with the stylish 60s mod-about-the-moor. 

But music won out over fashion and the three friends formed the Dollags in 1971. With Suilven on guitar and attitude, Thundertakers on lead guitar and spaced out wistfulness and the exotic “Colombian”(*) Ma-shiar on drums and loom pedal, they were soon joined by David JoeBlacksen on vocals and Arthur ‘Killer’ Kraigdunane on the bass. Jerry Dolansshop later replaced original drummer Billy Ma-shiar, who sadly died of a herring overdose in 1972.

(*) “Born and bred in ‘Colombia’ Place, cove”

The Dollags didn’t get on the telly much due to their being highly controversial (and ruppish), but there was one legendary appearance on BBC Alba’s flagship “serious” rock programme “‘Se Ur Beatha” in 1972. After the Dollags blow everyone away with a scorching performance of “Chet Cove”, uncomprehending soft rock hippie presenter Whispering Bobban Harristweed, turns to camera and from behind his dodgy 70s biology teacher beard, sneers: “Maw-k rock”.

The Dollag’s 1st album ‘New York Dollags’ was produced by Toddsmill Rundgren and packed with classics such as:

  • Percevalsquaretoilet Crisis
  • Freepresbyterianese Baby
  • Fankensteinish
  • Lookin’ For a Keose
  • Lonely Planasker Boy

Despite critical acclaim (someone in the queue for the Ness bus said it was ‘No bad’), it hardly dented the Isles FM album charts.

Their second album, ‘Too Mulch Too Soon’ came out in 1974 and was produced by Shadow Northton. It fared marginally better in the charts, but went on to become a cult classic, beloved by hardcore SY punk bands like The Rong, The Subjects, BWB and Addo.

However, by the mid 70s the Dollags were being overtaken by the aforementioned SY Punk scene which was centred on low-life nightclub APCBFPGB’s, and went into a downward spiral due to their enormous drink and drug intake. In a last-ditch attempt to revive their career, they let themselves be managed by Malcolm Mawclaren. As he would later do with the Seggs Pistols, Mawclaren  sought to boost the band’s profile by stirring up as much controversy as possible, dressing them up in red boiler suits, holding press conferences where they swore allegiance to the communist regime of Point, and having them play before a giant red hammer and tairsgear flag. (While it may have been mere posturing, it was allegedly all done with their sponsor Domhall-Iain’s blessing, so it might have been for real…)

Despite never hitting the big time themselves, the Dollags influenced countless rock groups that followed, such as Alice Crùbag, the Seggs Pistols, Ciste, the Rawblones, Guns ‘N’ Keoses, Hanoi Rubhachs, Motley Crüach, The Damped, and especially 80’s indie legends The RoddySmiths, whose frontman Mawrissey was boss of their fanclub before becoming a world famous geehonk. Indeed it was Mawrissey who organized a reunion show for the band’s’ surviving members in 2004.

This prompted a comeback album in 2005 called ‘One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even The Lewis (Public)’ and a number of appearances at festivals (Sandwick Fank, Carloway Communions and one night down at the pier waiting for the ferry to come in).

Suilven and his bandmates might not have been commercially successful, but they undoubtedly help shaped popular Leodhasach culture (even it was inadvertently just cailleachs’ fashions).

Sean CanneryRoad and Des O’Canneryroad

5 12 2020

Coves and blones from the Battery area of Stornoway have been in mourning recently following the deaths of two of their favourite sons. The film world lost Sir Sean Canneryroad, one of the icons of modren day Gaelic cinema. And the world of light entertainment (or at least sh*te entertainment) lost the great Des O’Canneryroad, veteran BBC Alba presenter and ruppish singer. 


Sean had a rag to riches story, starting out as a humble milkman for the Teedees, delivering milk, cream and crowdie around the streets of Newton. He gained a love of acting whilst playing third tree from the left in the Stornoway Thespians’ 1949 Christmas Pantomime (“Put’s In Boots” – sponsored by Sm*th’s Shoe Shop). This led to a number of minor and supporting roles in the Gaelic film world until he had his big break in the role of a suave special agent of the Harris Tweed Authority – Seumas Bonnaid – code name Obhobh7 .   

Bond Films

Dr Obh:  The first appearance of Canneryroad on screen as Seumas Bonnaid was him sitting in a bothan playing five hand brag, whilst smoking a roll-up. A glamorous blone loses all her money, but, gallantly, Bonnaid offers to cover her loss. She asks who he is, and he says one of the most memorable lines in film history ‘Is mise Bonnaid, Seumas Bonnaid’.

Dr Obh set the template for all Bonnaid films. Basically they all consisted of Bonnaid trying to foil a dodgy super-villain in a variety of exotic locations, whilst getting lots of snogs with blones (which was considered a bit racy in the early 1960’s Gaelic TV world)

From Russia With Liù:  Bonnaid foils a Russian plot for a fleet of klondykers to take over the Minch fisheries.

Goldfanker: In the third film of the series, Bonnaid foils Auric Goldfanker. This super-villain particularly loves the gold hues seen in Harris Tweed outfits, and tries to contaminate all the gold dye in the Harris Tweed Authority’s yard at Fort Knocks by exploding an atom bomb.  Goldfanker, so that the HTA has to use his dye instead.  Goldfanker also featured the iconic Aston-Massey tractor with the ejector seat. Honor Backman played Bonnaid’s memorable leading lady Piseag Gu Leòr, who saw the error of her ways and helped Bonnaid put an end to Goldfanker’s nefarious plans.


Kinloch-based international crime syndicate SPECTRE (Salmon Poaching in Erisort, Creed, Tolsta, Ranish and Everywhere Else) steal 2 atom bombs from a visiting RAF Vulcan at Stornoway airport and plan to detonate them in the Laxay river at the height of the bradan season to get a fleekeen massive haul of fish. Seumas Bonnaid has to go undercover to the glamorous tropical paradise of the Balallanahamas to foil their evil scheme.

You Only Loom Twice: The mysterious disappearance of an American loom is closely followed by a Russian Hatersleyski going missing. Could this lead to all out war? Only Bonnaid is man enough to foil the evil Ernst Stavros Blonefelt (?) by blowing up his secret lair in a handy volcanic island in the Sound of Harris.

Diamonds are For Heather: This was meant to be Canneryroad’s last Bonnaid film. He foils Blonefeld yet again by blowing up his Drillmaster oil rig at Arnish.

Never Say Nabher Again: Years later, Canneryroad was lured back to do one last Bonnaid film. This was basically a rerun of Thunderballallan, featuring a slightly older and fatter Bonnaid.  

Other Memorable Films

The Unchurchables: Academy Award for worst fake Irish accent

Haoidhlander: Canneryroad played an immortal Spanish Man with a Stornowegian accent. ‘There can be only aon’

The Longest Dé: The BBC Alba version of the famous war film. Due to the limitations of budget it was filmed at the Braighe.

Zardars: Bizarre sci-fi about a future dystopia largely set in a Cromwell St shop.

Murder on the Orinsay Express: 

The Man Who Would be King Cole:

A Bridge Cottages Too Far:

Tigh Bandits:

The Name of the RossTerrace:

Ina Jones and the last Crew Change:

The Hunt for Rubhach October:


Light Entertainment on BBC Alba was big business from the 1950’s to the mid 80’s. The tv schedule was full of entertainers who could do a few Gaelic songs, dance a few reels around the studio and tell a handful of mildly smutty jokes (usually dressed in full Highland rig out). 

Most of these showbiz types had worked their way up, either from the village hall circuit, or doing a stint as a ‘Redcoat’ at one of the many post war Holiday Camps. 

Des O’Canneryroad got his first big break as a Redcoat in Butt(ofNess)lin’s Holiday Camp on Sulasgeir. Despite only having guests staying at the camp for two weeks each year, Des made a big impression and was soon performing across Lewis. His family friendly persona endeared him to tens of people and he was soon approached by BBC Alba to host his own show.  

Des had several song and dance shows over the years, and when light entertainment started to lose its appeal, he turned to being a chat show host. ‘Des O’Canneryroad Tonight’ ran for 40 years and he managed to have everyone from Lewis on as a guest at one time or another. The episode with Bogey and his Hen Supper was particularly memorable. 

Des is also well remembered for his appearances on the ‘Achmorecamb and Nowuise Show’ where he was the butt of comedians Eric and Ernie’s many jokes. Despite the on-screen tensions, in reality they hated each other’s guts even more, due to a dispute over a boundary fence.. 

Des was also briefly a host on he popular afternoon ‘anagram and sums’ tv show ‘CountyPublicdown’. Contestants had to watch a Kenneth Street CCTV recording from the previous Sunday Night and see how many church elders they could spot ducking in the slightly ajar side door of the County Hotel for a wee post-sermon nyoggan. Bonus points were awarded for being able to work out the elders’ nicknames from the anagrams supplied by Des and his lovely co-host Carol Vòrduighean.

Skeddie Van Eilean

11 10 2020

Fans of classic rawk and good quality fresh herring are in mourning today, with the passing of Tong’s well known door-to-door fish salesman and occasional legendary rock guitar god Skeddie Van Eilean. Named after the Stornowegian slang for a herring, Skeddie was a musical prodigy who realised at an early age that he wanted to be in a rock band. 

Thus the legendary Van Eilean began. 

Bursting on to the local music scene in 1978 with the release of their first tape (simply called ‘Van Eilean’),  Skeddie and his band mates made an instant impression, partly for his groundbreaking  musical skills (he knew nearly 4 chords) and partly for the free herring that were thrown to the audience at every gig.   

Van Eilean consisted of Skeddie on lead guitar and fillet knife, Dave Rubha Rothairnis on vocals and posing about,  Alec Dan Van Eilean on drums and herring barrels and Michael An-Tòin-y on bass guitar. 

Their eponymous first tape released in 1978 was full of songs that became rock classics including:

Ain‘t Waulking Without Gloves: In the last 1970’s the Health and Safety Executive said heavy duty rubber gloves should be worn when waulking the cloth to prevent injury. 

Disruption: an instrumental showing off Skeddie’s prowess with the guitar, heavily influenced by the Church Of Scotland schism of 1843 and the formation of the Free Church. Still performed in Free Churches to this day. (Without instruments obviously)

You Really Cod Me: a rocked up cover of the famous Minks song about the Icelandic Cod Wars. 

A string of successful albums followed, featuring classic songs such as ‘Hot For Preacher’ and ‘Dannsa The Night Away’.

Skeddie also strayed into dance and dees-co territory when he was asked to lay down some searing lead banjo on Michael Cacson’s ‘Peat It’, from the mega selling ‘Trawler’ album.

But it was in 1984 that Van Eilean reached their peak with the release of the single ’Dump’, a moving tribute to the Bennadrove Tip.  Famous (and instantly recognisable) for Skeddies piano accordion intro, the song conquered the charts of nearly all three record shops in Stornoway.  

‘Can’t you see me standing here

I got my back against an old washing machine

Ain’t the mankiest bins you’ve seen

Ah fleek they could do with a clean

Ah, might as well go to the Dump (Dump), 

Bennadrove Dump.’

Unfortunately the rock and roll lifestyle took its toll and In the mid 1980’s Rothairnis left acrimoniously to go solo. He was replaced by Sammy Hay-Geàrr (who also drove the band’s tractor and did their silage bales). Hay-Geàrr had been in the rock band ‘Fortrose(Lodge)’ with guitarist Ronnie Fortrose(Lodge) and also had a successful solo career. 

This line up of the band hit gold with ’Y(M Bridge) Can’t This be Love‘ and added to the band’s longevity. 

Skeddie’s son Woolgang Van Eilean left a promising career as CEO of a successful fuidheag recycling business to join the band on bass in 2006.

During their long career Van Eilean had a string of hit albums including:

Van Eilean Aon

Van Eilean Dha

Blones and Meppans First

19.84 Bus To Lemreway

LeverhulmeDrive Her Down

For Unlawful Carloway Knowledge -a concept album about Skeddie breaking the ‘Fish Van Code’ and venturing into another fish van’s territory. 

Skeddie will be greatly missed.

Lax Vegas: Gambling Capital of the Outer Hebrides

26 09 2020

In a change from our recent run of celebrity obituaries, here’s a bit of proper (made up) history.

In the 1930s, when the Stornoway Waterworks were being constructed and the town itself was in the grip of prohibition, unscrupulous Laxdale  ‘businessmen’ Alasdair Capon, Bugsy Seagull and Meyerybank Lansky decided to cash in on the workers’ appetite for drink, gambling and other vices.

Fortunately for the conniving maw-bsters, everything West of Bridge Cottages and East of Barvas lay in the desert state of Nev-àiridh, outside the jurisdiction of Stornoway Town Council. Nev-àiridh had very lax licensing laws and civic leaders were not opposed to the odd backhander (often in the form of a snèap or two, since the Governor and many members of the State Senate were sheep).

And so, shortly after a large brown envelope stuffed with pound notes mysteriously appeared in the inside pocket of a certain village elder’s church suit, a small casino appeared just past the track to the Waterworks. This first casino was called the ‘El Crofto Vegas’ and within days of opening had attracted clientele from as far away as the Tong junction.  

Very soon, the maw-bsters had taken a stretch of the main Sy-Barvas road (at this time a twisty single track with passing places) and turned it into a Leodhasach version of Nevada’s ‘Las Vegas Strip’, known locally as the Lax Vegas Staran. Dress code was strictly black bow ties and evening boiler suits.

Inspired by the huge ‘Welcome To Las Vegas’ neon sign over in the States, an equally impressive ‘Welcome to Lax Vegas’ sign was erected on a fence just past the Waterboard Houses. This sign was paraffin powered and only worked if it wasn’t raining. And unfortunately the letters kept falling off and being rearranged ‘Fawlty Towers’ style by wee bleigards. The sign said ‘All Ex Maw Goes, Cove’ for many years and ironically it was mostly ex country folk, now living in suburbia who frequented the casinos.

Over the years many Casinos appeared on the Strip, all making a lucrative return on the pack of playing cards purchased from Paddy Reid’s. The Casinos included: 

  • D*nnie Caesar’s Palace
  • The Lochmóranstàirr-dust
  • The Desert Sin
  • El Crofto Vegas
  • The Moorage
  • ExCalanBow
  • The Dounes
  • The TongSands
  • Planet Holy-Mood

The Casinos were run along similar lines to the nearby fanks on the Barvas moor. According to Bugsy Seagull this made a great deal of sense because “Them  suckers dat comes in here is just like a flock of mehhhags, see? They likes ‘gambolling’ and we likes to fleece ’em”.

To this end the Casinos of Lax Vegas  provided a variety of games designed to part the punters from their hard earned cash:

  • Rubha-lette – The big prize in this game was a fortnight’s holiday in Portnaguran (nobody ever admitted to winning this)
  • Stud Broker – Another game where all you could win was a trip to Point
  • 5 Cearc Brag (see how many hens you could explode in 5 minutes)
  • Backjack and Blackhousejack
  • The Gu-Sealladh-Ni-Math-Orm Bandits (Holy slot machines, where 3 pictures of a minister of the same denomination resulted in a cash prize big enough to form a splinter group and build your own church). 
  • A Craps Table was also provided but this was removed very swiftly when it became apparent that patrons didn’t fully understand its purpose

To keep the punters coming, the maw-bsters laid on cheap food, drink and spectacular entertainment. Many great showbiz figures who had grown tired of life on the road (the endless 3am drives from the YM to Shawbost hall to Ness and back, the cramped confines of the tour tractor) were tempted to play long-term  residencies in Lax Vegas so that their public could come to them. And those who displayed reluctance when asked were usually ‘persuaded’ by the mysterious appearance of a sheep’s head under their pillow (and a nice plate of brot ceann caorach for breakfast to help them get over the shock).

These showbiz legends included:

  • Fank Sinatra
  • Tomair Jones, (the boy from the Balallan Valleys)
  • Barbara Steinishquicksand
  • Leóbag-Archie (the flamboyant Tong fish salesman and piano accordionist, who always played with an elaborate silver cruisgean on top of his box)
  • Psalmmy Davis Jr
  • Dean MartinsMemorial
  • Elvis Presbyterian (following on from the success of his legendary ‘Communion Back Special’, Elvis became a regular performer on ‘the Strip’) 
  • Celine Geehonk (Famed for her hit ‘My Cearc Will Go On’)
  • Calum Kennedy
  • Costello

For reasons we can’t be bothered making up, Lax Vegas was also popular with several recently deceased celebrities who we haven’t got round to writing obituaries for. These included reggae pioneer Toots Habost from Toots and the Maw-tals, and multi-instrumental genius Ronald Bellsroad from chazz fank megastars Kool and the Grein. And of course the late Dame Diana Rigsroad, whose theatre work in the West Side meant she was often on the Barvas road, never went past the Lax Vegas road end without nipping into the Moor-age casino for a quick game of 2s and 8s.

Lax Vegas’s fortunes began to wane when the Turf Accountant’s premises opened in downtown Stornoway, and the city fell into disuse entirely in the early 1980s when the wagon wheel that had been the centrepiece of the roulette table in The Dounes was requisitioned for the Church Bus. 

But not to worry, ‘having a flutter’ was still catered for by the other well known, albeit slightly posher, home of casinos, Monty Carloway/Mawnaco. But that’s for another story. 

Today, nothing remains of Lax Vegas but a bit of old railway out on the moor. This is mistakenly thought to have been something or other to do with the Waterworks, or even Lord Leverhulme, but actually it’s all that’s left of one of Lax Vegas’s premier thrill rides. With steep drops, loop-the-loops and a double corkscrew, the world-famous death-defying Caoran Blaster was in its day, one of the most exciting combined roller coaster and peat transport systems on the planet.

Peater Grianan RIP

11 08 2020

Fans of classic rock and the British blues boom of the 60s are in mourning (again), this time following the death of guitar legend Peter Green, founder of Fleetwood Mac. 

Sadly the passing of his only slightly less famous Stornoway cousin the same day went largely unremarked by the world’s music press, and we feel it is our duty to set the record straight.

Peat-er Grianan was born Peat-er Arnol Grianandaycarecentre in 1946 in one of the last blackhouses in Manor Park, next to the old Poor House.

Grianan’s first bands in the early 60s were inspired by his West Side instrumental heroes The Shaders, fronted by bespectacled Stratocaster twang merchant (and plumbing contractor) Fank Marvin.  

Like so many would-be guitarists in the early 1960’s, Grianan saw the Shaders performing (with or without Clibhe Richards) many times at village dances, orduigheans and wakes, and he wanted to get a taste of this fame and fortune. But although he was originally tempted by the pop tunes such as “Apartshareinthegrazings”, “Wonderfuel Lamp”, and “Orduigh-On” (and with “Livin’ Dolina”, and “Souming Holiday” with Clibhe), he was soon smitten by the sound of Rhythm and Brues.

Brues artists such as Howlin’ Wool, John Lee Guga, Dalmore James and Murdy Waters were never off his turntable, and B.B. KingCole became his major guitar  influence.

Despite his talents, Grianan had little success as he worked his way through a series of mid 60s peat groups (The Mawrats, The Tridenseasfleeks,  Peter Squeek’s Looners,  Shotgun Kitchenpress). This was all to change in 1966, when he was approached by John Mayallabost’s Bruesbreakers. The Bruesbreakers were looking for a replacement for Eric “God” Clachan, who’d got the cuiream and left to go in for the ministry.

The Bruesbreakers provided an excellent showcase for Grianan’s talents, and in 1967 he got big-headed and fleeked off to form his own band, poaching Bruesbreakers drummer Mick Fleekwood. Fleekwood and Grianan were joined by a new island resident, recently arrived from England, whose Highland Board-funded vegan alpaca-dung pottery in Breasclete had gone bust the day after it opened – slide guitarist Jeremy Settler.

It wasn’t long before “Peter Griannan’s Fleetwood Bac featuring Jeremy Settler” decided their name was a bit of a mouthful and they’d better shorten it. This began a series of name changes that continues to the present day, including:

Fleetwood Cac

Fleetwood MacsImperialbar

Fleetwood Bac

Fleetwood Cal-Mac

Fleetwood Trawlerpoachinginbroadbaythatranagroundin Back

Whatever their name was on a given day, the band enjoyed great success between 1967 and 1970 with Grianan’s songwriting and guitar playing to the fore. Grianan’s period with the band resulted in several critically acclaimed albums including “Minister Wonderfulpreacher” and “Then Pray On”, and a host of classic songs including:

(BBC) Alba-tross

Back Magic Woman

Oh Dell

I Coinneach Gobha Blind

The Green Maraglishi (With the two Four Crowns)

Maw of the World

In 1970, after several years of heavy LDOS ingestion and increasingly holy behaviour, Grianan visited a communion service in Guershader, got the cuiream and left the band to form the Peter Grianan Splinter Group (Continuing).

He was just in time to miss out on the massive run of success that Fleekwood Cac experienced in the 70s and 80s, when they moved to the palm-fringed boulevards of the West Side and reinvented themselves as soft rock superstars in Callanishfornia. Members of the later lineups such as Stevie Nickolsonroad,  John McFree, Lindsay Buckiefishvanne and Christine McFree (formerly Christine Presbyterian) made vast amounts of money with albums such as “Rubha-mursht”, “Trosg” and “Tong-go In The Night” selling up to teens and even twenties of copies. 

The post-Grianan band also made loads of money when their songs were used as the theme music for BBC Alba’s long running tractor-racing show “Grand Peats” (“The ChainedupswingsonSunday”, usually half drowned out by the sound of Murdy Waulker shouting and hundreds of  Fordsons and Masseys revving up at the Grimshader road end) and in Angus Clinton’s 1992 Presidential Campaign (“Don’t An T’Ob Thinking About Taobh Tuath”).

But on the upside, Grianan didn’t have to put up with the constant breakups, line-up changes, power struggles, divorces, court cases and arguments about croft boundaries that characterised Fleekwood Cac in these later years.

When he wasn’t hiding in his àiridh out the Pentland Road or relief preaching in Raasay, Grianan kept busy with various musical projects up to the end. Cameo appearances on later Fleekwood Cac albums, the occasional gig with the Splinter Group, trips to Craig Dunain and guest appearances on Caithris na h-Oidche, Brag and Rapal meant he was never at a loose end.

Engie-o Morrisone RIP (and the 35th Anniversary of Back To The Future).

25 07 2020

We’re sad to report the recent passing of the well regarded local composer (and Mòd Conductor) Engie-o Morrisone. News of his demise came just moments after we heard that his slightly more famous distant cousin Ennio Morricione had also died. 

Engie-o Morrisone,was of Ness-Italian descent and spent much of his early life working in the local Italian Cafe, ‘The Coffee Butt’,  where he used to sing as he washed the dishes and served guga lasagna . He was a naturally gifted musician and could knock up a good tune on the box in a couple of minutes. He first came to fame when his old school friend, the Niseach auteur Sergio Liònal, asked him to do the soundtrack for a few films he’d been commissioned to make.  

These films became hugely popular and defined a whole genre, called:  Sgadanghetti Westrens:

They all stared Clint Eaststreet, (who’d learned to play a cowboy as Raodan-y Gates in BBC Alba’s long-running TV Westren  “Mawhide”). And they were all supposedly set in the desert badlands of the Mexican/American border, which meant that filming them on the moor between Skigersta and Tolsta was ideal.

As well as Eaststreet’s iconic lead character, the thing that made the movies stand out was Morrisone’s haunting score. Who can forget the chanter and accordion call and response of ‘The Guga, The Baaah and the Eaglais’?

This film was followed up by ‘A Ciste Full of Dollags’ and ‘For a Few Dollags More’. Hot on the heels of Liònal’s success, a plethora of other Leodhasach directors started cashing in by making a whole pile of hastily assembled rip-offs. The trademark violence, unconvincing cowboy props, and the shoddy overdubbing of the original Gaelic dialogue into Stoarnowegian for the Townies, all led critics of the day to dismiss this genre as  ‘Sgadanghetti Westrens.’ 

But by this time Morrisone had moved on to non Westrens, including: 

  • Cinema Para(galaxy)disco
  • The Unchurchables
  • The Mission(house)
  • Mission to Marabhaig
  • In the Lithe of Fire
  • Once Upon A Time On The West Side
  • Thon Thing

Morrisone won an Ossian in 2015 for the soundtrack of Quentin Todharantino’s “Hateful Eightsomereel”.

Morrisone also collaborated with the Peat Shop Boys on 1987’s “It Couldn’t Habba Here”.

Baah to the Fuidheags:

It’s an unbelievable 35 years since the groundbreaking time travel romp ‘Back to the Future’ hit cinemas. The film has gone on to be hailed as one of the classic films of the 1980’s, and has brought a collection of quotes, memes and fond reminiscence into popular culture. 

However, it is a little known fact that the original film was actually made in Gaelic by BBC Alba.

The BBC Alba version of the film, ‘Baah to the Fuidheags’, directed by Robert ShellMekis, starred Michael J Flocks as teenager Auctionmarty MacSteinish, a typical Stornoway teen (and part time crofter/weaver) living in 1985 Lewis. 

Auctionmarty inadvertently finds himself transported from his mid-eighties life, back 30 years to 1955, where in a bizarre coincidence he meets his future ma and da (Seoras and CoulregLorraine) and has to ensure that they fall in love or he won’t exist in the future. Or something like that.

Auctionmarty has to find a way ‘Back To the Fuidheags’ so he doesn’t miss the next pick up from Sticky’s Mill. And he can’t do anything that might alter the stream of time.

So how the fleek did he get transported back in time? Well, Christopher Leodhas plays the part of Doc-an Brown, a lecturer/mad scientist at Lews Castle College, and friend of Auctionmarty’s, who invents a time traveling ‘Dé làraidh a th’ann’ (with gull winged tipper) powered by Peatonium he stole from Luerbostyan terrorists. 

Doc-an was planning on doing all the timetravelling, but instead Auctionmarty finds himself getting a first hand taste of Stornoway in 1955 (which was basically exactly the same as Stornoway in 1985 apart from Woolies having a different sign).

He searches out the 1955 Doc-an Brown and together they concoct a complicated and convoluted plan to get Auctionmarty back home, involving a bolt of lightning, the Town Hall clock, speeding along South Beach, getting his parents to fall in love and saving 1985 Doc-an’s life. Pretty much your average episode of Machair. 

Auctionmarty still has time to deal with the school bully, do a bit of plasterboarding (which was replaced by skateboarding in the English-language version) and play lead accordion at the Niccy School dance (stunning the audience by introducing them to what will become ‘deoch n roll’). 

The Gaelic original version featured a memorable theme song (whose name we forget) played by ‘Holy Leodhas and the Pews’.

Dame Vera Linshader & Sir Iain Holm RIP

27 06 2020

The recent passing of national treasures Dame Vera Lynn and Sir Ian Holm has sadly overshadowed the demise of their island cousins, 2 figures who were as famous in this far flung corner of the Empire as their mainland relatives were in the rest of it.

Dame Vera Linshader is fondly remembered by old SYs (and maws), particularly for her contribution to keeping up island morale during World War II.

Dame Vera was born in the Battery in 1917 and took up singing at an early age. By the mid 30s she was enjoying great success singing at the Okey-dokey Club with top bandleader Joe Lochs and His Orchestra. 

By day she worked on the cold meats in Hugh Matheson’s and, when the war came, she’d alway sneak an extra off-ration slice of spam under the counter if a soldier, sailor or airman came in. So it was that Dame Vera became known as the Forsyth’s Sweetheart.

Her mainland cousin Vera Lynn’s big hit “We’ll Meet Again” was a smash down South, but didn’t do that well on this side of the Minch. Knowing how vital the Outer Hebrides were to the war effort, the Ministry of Information hired the Leodhasach Dame Vera to re-record a version that would appeal more directly to islanders, whether they were away fighting Adolf or serving on the home front. 

In the end – to cater for the different tastes of Maws, sgorps and townies – Dame Vera recorded several versions, including:

‘Creel Peats Again’ (encouraging islanders to take their winter fuel home by traditional  methods instead of wasting vital wartime kerosene getting the tractor)

‘Weave Miteagan’ (persuading cailleachs on the home front to make gloves for the troops during the cold phoney war winter of 1939/40)

‘Fill Iteag-ans’ (exhorting children to increase tweed productivity)

‘Eel Meat Again’ (promoting the benefits of readily available local fish)

‘We’ll Eat A Hen (But not until the war has en…ded)’ which was a song of yearning for the post war years and the lifting of rationing.

She was also all set to record “Whale Meat Again” but was beaten to it by ex-TrafficWarden drummer and local priest Father Capaldi, who recorded a version with an all star cast of his top musician pals including Steve Winwool and Sheepbop Kwaku Baah 

Of course, Dame Vera’s repertoire wasn’t completely limited to versions of “We’ll Meet Again”.  There were numerous other wartime hits – often reminding homesick  SYs abroad about the great landmarks of home – including:

‘There’ll Always Be An Engie’s’

‘A Nightingale Sang In Barony Square’

And sometimes chust complaining about how small and ruppish said landmarks were…

‘The Sh*te Cliffs of Sober (Island)’

Within a few days of Dame Vera’s demise there also came the news that the great Stornoway thespian Sir Iain Holm had trodden his last board.

Often confused with his successful mainland relation, the actorrrr Sir Ian Holm (pronounced ‘Home’, for some reason), the Leodhasach Sir Iain Holm (pronounced Holl-imm) was actually from Holm, and knew how to say his own fleekeen name. 

Indeed, that was the only way most showbiz insiders could tell them apart. Well, that and the fact that the mainland Sir Ian had loads more money and a proper career.

Originally an acclaimed theatrical actor and a favourite of Rubhach playwright Harold Pointer, Holm switched to film and TV after suffering a major attack of stagefright during a prestigious production of ‘The Uicemetery-man Cometh’  in Knock school canteen.

Sir Iain endeared himself to Sci-Fi fans for ever, when he played the part of AshCart in Ridley Scottroad’s blockbuster ‘Aline’. At first, a helpful Science officer, AshCart was  then revealed to be an android, hidden in the crew of the Galacdonian Macbrayne space ferry ‘Loch Nesstromo’  by the dodgy Stornoweyland Corporation. 

He was also good as Parkend’s head gelly-building coach in Chariots of Tyres, which won him a BAFTA (Battery-Gang Academy For Tyre Arson).

For most modern audiences, however, he was best known as the well-shod Hearach halfling Bilbo Bachalls who receives one of the Pennies of Power in Peter Cacson’s Lord of the Wings trilogy (from the books by JRR Tolsta). Holm’s portrayal of the diminutive Obbe-it was one of many fine performances in the trilogy, which also featured veteran actor Christopher Leac-a-Lì as the evil wizard Sarumanky and Iain MawKellan as the good Niseach wizard Gannetdalf.

Glamb Rocker Steve Presbyterian RIP

13 06 2020

Fans of bacofoil flares, giant glittery platform boots and 70s glam rock in general are mourning the recent passing of Steve Priest, flamboyant bass guitarist of The Sweet.

Sadly the demise the same day of his Leodhasach cousin Steve Presbyterian went largely unreported, despite the latter’s major contribution to Stornoway’s own “Glamb Rock” scene in the early 70s.

Steve Presbyterian was a member of The Suet, who were one of the leading lights of Glamb Rock in the town. Along with his bandmates Braighe-Iain Connelly – vocals and precenting, Tick Mucker – drums and Antaidh Sgòthach – lead accordion, they were perhaps the very epitome of Stornowegian Glamb and had legions of fans (5 blones from Manor Park). 

Incidentally, Braighe-Iain Connelly  was the brother of well known actor Marag McManse, who was most famed for playing gritty Stornoway cop Blaggart, (“Thurrsh being a Murrr-do”).

After playing in all the village halls round Lewis in the late 60’s, The Suet took their first steps to megastardom when they met two local aspiring songwritrers, called Niccy Gym and Mike Crapman, in the Neptune Bar in 1971. The two songwriters told them that they had written loads of catchy tunes and just needed a band who could play their instruments to record them. Originally the idea was that all the songs would be about different cuts of lamb, as Gym and CrapMan were hoping to get sponsorship from local butchers.

Glamb Rock took over the Isle of Lewis. Everyone wanted to be part of it, and it was not uncommon to see local worthies staggering out of the Star Inn and the Opera House with glitter in their hair and star shaped tarasgiers under their arms. Even the local Ministers wanted in on the act and many a Church Service was taken by an androgynous figure in 2 foot platform Arnish Boots and flared dog collars.  

Local mainstream acts like The Lochies and Calum Kennedy also went through a Glamb phase –  The Lochies with spangly capes on their boilersuits and Calum with his flared kilt. 

The Suet had hit after hit during that period (3 copies sold in DD Morrisons).  The first songs to make an impression (in keeping with the lamb theme) were ‘Poppa Ewe’, ‘Little WillieJohnTheButcher’ and ‘Wig Wam Ram’. These were soon followed by their first Number One chart topper, ‘Flock Rustler’.

‘Hell Saver’ (an attempt to get sponsorship from the FP’s), ‘Co?Co?’ ‘Balallan Loom Blitz’ and ‘Teenage Ram Page’ continued their run of massive hits. 

Sadly, in-fighting and addiction issues began to appear amongst the band and the quality of the songs started to decline. They still had some chart success with ‘Cnocs on the Run’ and ‘Love is Like Naughty Sin’ (another ill fated attempt to get sponsorship from a local church, this time ‘the Continuing’) but they soon no longer had legions of fans (5 blones from Manor Park) chasing them round Bayhead Swing Park.

Despite their pop chart success and their teeny-bop fan base, Presbyterian and the rest of The Suet were talented musicians who could outplay “serious” bands like Sheep Purple.  They eventually got tired of being a singles act and went off to make a critically acclaimed album of proper hard rock – ‘Suet Fanky Amadans’. Nobody bought it at the time but it was highly influential on later bands such as Guns n Keoses and Maw-tallica.

Soon after their decline, the Suet split and went their separate ways, with all four members having their own version of the band at different times. 

Other Glamb Bands

  • Spade- ‘Curam Feel The Noise’, ‘Coz I Luv Ewez’, 
  • Murd – Also from the Niccy Gym/Mike Crapman stable, Murd had a string of hits including  ‘Tigh-fhaire Feet’, ‘ChirstyAlonelythisXmas, ‘Murdyna-mite’, ‘(Al) Crae-zy’ and  ‘The Cearc Crept In’
  • Alvdust StarInn- ‘My Cù ca Choo’
  • Cockle Ebb-ney Rebel – ‘Come Up and Shear Me (Make Me Textile)’
  • PilotWhale – ‘Oh oh oh it’s Marag’
  • Shawbostwaddywaddy – ‘Under the Moor Of Love’
  • Calan Bowie- ‘Aladdin Coulregrein’ 
  • Laxay Music – Fronted by suave lounge lizard MacBryayne Ferry (“more grease than the galley of the Suilven”), Laxay Music had big hits with ‘Levacur Is The Drug’ and ‘Vir-J&E’s Plain (Loaf)’ 
  • Molt the Strupag- ‘Roll Away Thon Ollac’
  • Kenny (Fags) with his big hits ‘The Dump’ and ‘Heart of Stoneyfield’
  • Spaircs – ‘This Town Ain’t Small Enough For A Bothan Nis’ / ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for an M&S’, ‘Amadan Hour’.
  • Sailor(sLoft) -’Glass of Coulregrein’
  • Suzi Quatrionnach – ’48 Crans’, ‘Devil Skate (Portrona)drive’
  • Wizzaird -’Seceders My Baby Chive’  ‘I Wish It Could be Communions Everyday’
  • Marag Bolallan & T. Rubhax : ‘Telegram Psalm’ ‘Sheepster’, ‘Get it Tong’, ‘We Love To Bogie’

Of course, Glamb Rock didn’t have a complete monopoly of Stornoway’s pop charts at the time. Then as now, there were plenty manufactured teen idols peddling middle-of-the road ruppish, such as:

  • The Rubha Bets – ‘Shulishader Baby Love’
  • David Castlebay-’Flock Me Baby’
  • The Bayhead City Rollers – ‘Shank-a-Lamb’
  • The CailleochBossmonds – a clean-cut Seceder family from South Lochs, including Donny & Màiri (‘Pabbay Love’) and the dreaded Little Chimmy (‘Long Haired Lover from Ullapool’).