Dick Laxdale-King of the Turf Guitar

5 04 2019

Dick Laxdale – King of the Turf Guitar RIP

Fans of surf music are mourning the passing of Dick Dale, the influential “King of the Surf Guitar” whose career was revived in recent years when his early 60s hits were used in the films of Quentin Tarantino.

But old SYs of a certain age – especially those who lived their misspent youth in the post-Elvis but pre-moptop era of the late 50s/early 60s – were much sadder to hear of the demise the same day of Dale’s less successful Leodhasach cousin, Dick Laxdale.

Dick Laxdale was born Richard Mùnsewer in Guershader in 1937, to Labostese parents. When he was still very young the family moved West to Bridge Cottages, and the young Dick grew up on the edge of the Barvas moor, surrounded by peat banks, midgies, caorans and so on. A fan of Country ‘n’ Westren music (the Leodhasach version of Country ‘n’ Western), his early musical career consisted mostly of playing “Wuyld Suyde of Luyfe” over and over at dances in the Laxdale Hall, as 3rd guitarist in the mid-50s line-up of K*ntrast.

At the same time, Dick was influenced by the exotic Eastern music that his parents had taken from their homeland, and began to experiment with playing precenting scales, waulking songs and D*ncan ‘M*jor’ M*rrison piano riffs on his guitar.

The turning point in Laxdale’s career came one day 1959, when the coal boat that used to deliver to Stornoway broke down. Duncan Maciver’s and all the other coal merchants in town immediately put their prices up, which sparked a revival of peat-cutting among the Townies of Stornoway. It wasn’t chust midgies that the moor was swarming with that year, as hordes of Townies poured forth across the cattle grids, brandishing their spades and tairsgears.

In order to get the youth of the town to help out instead of indulging in the standard teen pastimes of the 50s (smoking in the Luydo, greasing their DAs with ola nan ucais, slashing the seats in the Playhouse, running high-speed “dragtor” races on the Braighe Road, staging huge and violent gang “rumbles” round the back of the Gut Factory – and that was chust the blones), Stornoway Town Council’s psychological warfare department initiated a secret campaign to make the kids think that going to the peats was “cool”.

Before long a whole “Turfing” subculture had sprung up among the teens, with its own turf slang (‘wipe out’- cleaning the tarasgeir; ‘Hang Hen’- getting dinner ready out on the moor; ‘Charlie-gnarly’; ‘Shooting the curls’- getting a quick haircut from Johnny Geeper using his shotgun method) and so on.

The turfing scene also had its own distinctive fashions (Hawaiian boiler suits, bobban bikinis) and, of course, its unforgettable turf music.

Oh yus – Stornoway’s “musicians” of the day were keen to jump on any bandwagon that was going. Many groups appeared out of the woodwork to cash in on the turf music craze – most of whom had never been over the cattle grid or near a peat bank in their lives. These included instrumental groups such as the Chant-ers (“Pipe-cleaner”), The Trash(geir)men (Turfin’ Bàrd) and of course the Turf-àiridhs, whose big hit “Wipe Out”, with its blood-curdling shriek at the start, was inspired by the limited sanitary facilities available at their sheiling on the Pentland Road (in particular, it is said, the heather “toilet paper”).

Vocal groups included Chan and Christine (“Turf City”) and, most famously, the SouthBeach Boys, featuring troubled musical genius Brian Wilson (until he dropped out of the band after recording “Peat Sounds”” and went off to Skye to start the Free Press).

Dick Laxdale was as quick to cash in on the turf music trend as everyone else, dropping his Country ‘n’ Westren sound like a hot caoran and forming a new band. It wasn’t long before “Dick Laxdale And His Dell-tones” secured a residency at Stornoway’s popular Rendezvous Cafe, and became hugely popular with the turf-obsessed youth of the town.

At a gig in the Rendezvous, a chance meeting with Liòbag Fender, chief guitar designer and head of ship’s chandlery at Charles Morrison & Sons, saw Laxdale go into partnership with the firm to help develop their technology. The result was the Fender Siomanthearlaich, a famously robust amplifier made out of rope and old tyres. The Fender Siomanthearlaich made Laxdale’s Rendezvous shows much louder than those of his rivals, enabling him to drown out the roar of passing Mitchell’s buses and the wheeze  of Tommy Darkie’s accordion from the nearby Royal. Even better, when not in use for musical purposes, the Fender Siomanthearlaich could be hung over the side of a boat to protect against collisions with the pier. Co dhiù, Laxdale’s high volume concerts in the Rendezvous became legendary, and his first album “Turfer’s Choice” was recorded live there in 1962.

“Turfer’s Choice” and its follow-up “King of the Turf Guitar” were big hits, yielding singles such as “Turf Peat”, “Miserylewis” and Let’s Go Lifting” which topped the Radio Ranol charts regularly.

Laxdale was soon in big demand, appearing on the Ed Suilven show and in a variety of hastily cobbled together turf exploitation flicks like “Cruach Building Party”, “Getting Eaten By the Midgies While Waiting for the Tractor Party” and “Doing Your Back in Throwing Fleekeen Big Wet Fàds Out of the Bank Party” (all starring turf movie stalwarts Fankie Ath-rùdhan and Caorannette Fàdicello)

But success for Laxdale was short lived, as the turf craze was soon to be eclipsed by the next big thing – the wave of mawptop beat combos from the West Side that soon became known as the Brue-tish Invasion. First it was the Peatles, then (from Callanish) the Standing Stones, then a horde of other bands – the Arnolmals, the Ceardbirds, the Dave Clachantruiseal 5, the Holies, Herman’s Herring, the Minks (You Really Caught Me), The Co? (My Sustentation, I Can Sheep For Miles) etc etc.     

 It was only in the 1990s that Laxdale’s career was revived, when cult Hearach director Quentin Taransaytino used “Miserylewis” for the opening of his violent movie about gangsters fighting over the rights to a highly prized peat bank on the Grimshader road –  “Poll Friction”.

Dick Laxdale’s massive influence on popular music is evident from the tributes that have poured in since his death, from fellow guitarists of all genres – from Hank Marvig, the late Jimi Henshed and Stevie Rayburnstove, to Peat Township, Ritchie Backmoor, Jeff Beag (Frogaidh Beag’s great uncle), Brian Mayburygardens, Ry Cuiream and Johnny Marrag.

The Gaelic psalms at Dick Laxdale’s funeral were going to be precented by his pal, enigmatic Hearach singer/songwriter Sir E Scott Waulker from the Waulker Brothers (“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine in Cromore” and “Make it seasick on yourself”). But unfortunately Waulker  went and popped his clogs the other day as well.

RIP Peter Torquilterrace from The Mankees

2 03 2019

RIP Peter Torcuilterrace from The Mankees

Sad to report that another one of the legendary local band ‘The Mankees’ has passed on to the great gig in the sky (and bizarrely, dying within minutes of his more famous cousin Peter Tork from The Monkees).  

Peter, (a former journalist from Point), was one of the famous Mankees, a group of trendy youngsters set up by local Stornoway businessmen to try and emulate the success of The Monkees. Although of course, any resemblance to The Monkees was purely coincidental.

Up the town in their 60s headquarters where the Golden Ocean is now, local TV tycoons M*civer and D*rt were developing a new show for their short-lived cable channel NBC(C) (Narrows Broadcasting Corporation (Continuing)). “The Mankees” was to be a sitcom centred around the life of a fab groovy beat combo who lived in a shed in Marybank and collected fuidheags in their spare time. Peter got the job because he could write all the press releases and knew someone who worked in the Gazette print room.

The other Mankees were Mickey Domhlann’s, a former shoe salesman, Davey Blones, a former child actor and sheep jockey, and independently wealthy Townie dilettante Mike Nesssmithavenue, who didn’t have to work because his mother was the inventor of Dipp-Ex – the world’s top sheep whitening fluid.

The Mankees all lived together in a big house, drove about the town in The Mankee-mobile (an old Town Council ‘ash-cart’) and had wacky adventures every week. Each episode would have several catchy songs.

Initial criticism of the band for being “manufactured” worked in their favour; when the Stornoway Gazette accused them of being the “Prefab Four”, their record sales in Plasterfield rocketed.

Massive success across the islands ensued, with top viewing figures for the TV series, several shillings’ worth of merchandising and a string of hit singles written (and allegedly played) by hard-bitten music industry veterans of the day such as C*l*m K*nn*dy and the M*cd*n*ld S*sters.

The hits kept coming and the tv show kept bringing in advertising revenue. Songs included;

  • Last Train to Cladh Shanndabhaig,

  • Day Dream Tweed Weaver

  • I’m a Seceder

  • (I’m Not Your) Steading Blone

  • Peasant Newvalley Sunday

  • A Little Bit Mehh, A Little Bit Brue

It was only when the band started thinking they were capable of writing and playing their own material that it all went wrong. Maciver & Dart cancelled the TV series and the band went off and made “(Tiumpan) Head” a very strange film in which a porpoise was played by Stornoway Harbour’s Sammy the Seal and Jack Nicholson was played by somebody who had been to the Nicolson. Or maybe it was the Castle. Anyway, it was widely derided as “fleekeen ruppish” and soon afterwards the Mankees split up.

Aside from the occasional reunion tour, Torcuilterrace’s post-Mankees career was sporadic and lacklustre, but the TV show has been so widely repeated since the 60s (especially since BBC Alba started) that he was able to live comfortably off repeat fees. Nevertheless, he continued to play for enjoyment with his danns ‘a rathaid combo Sủgh Suet Brues. He also maintained a keen interest in the dramatic and journalistic arts, and was never happier than when indulging in his favourite hobby of fomenting schisms in his local church congregation then writing to the Gazette to complain about them.

Jeff Stornowayne’s War of the Wools

1 02 2019

‘The chances of any sheep coming from Maws are a million to one they said’.

Many townies of a certain age will be delighted to know that a stage production of “War of the Worlds” is due to take place in An Lanntair in March this year. This musical interpretation of HG Wells’ famous book about a Martian invasion was originally created as a concept album  in the late 70’s by composer Jeff Wayne, and sold in its millions.

In more recent years Wayne transformed his album into a big-budget epic musical, and the Stornoway stage show will feature a host of local musicians, singers and actorrrs, who will recreate Wayne’s original 2006 theatrical spectacular.

But few folk today remember that Jeff Wayne was heavily influenced by his cousin Jeff Stornowayne, who had written a popular album (4 copies sold in Maciver and Darts) based on a similar book – “War of the Wools” by renowned Victorian SY-fi (Stornoway Fiction) writer HG Ironwells.

Ironwells was a big pal of Lord Leverhulme, and used to come up for his holidays every summer to lurk among the rhododendrons in the Castle Grounds. Inspired by his surroundings, he wrote several successful Stornoway-based novels including “The Invisible Ram”, “The Tuyme Machinn” (in which a steam-motorised Hattersley loom connected to Stornoway’’s famous ‘Suyme’s Clock’ enabled the protagonist to travel to the future), and of course, “The Island of Doctor Murdeau”.

But Ironwells’ best selling book by a long chalk (7 copies sold in Loch Erisort Bookshoppe) was “The War of the Wools” – a chilling tale about the maws eyeing up the fertile gardens of Stornoway and thinking that their sheep could benefit from a diet change of marigolds and petunias, instead of raw heather.

However, the cunning townies had built an almost impenetrable barrier of cattle grids around the town, preventing such wooly incursions. So, how could the maws get their sheep into Stornoway? By using fleekeen big spaceships and death rays, that’s how!

After much blood, gore, destruction and general excitement, the maws are eventually defeated, not by the townies’ efforts, but when they succumb to the fumes from the Gut Factory.

The book caught the attention of the masses (the aforementioned 7 people who could read in Stornoway at that time) and firmly established the SY-fi genre.

In the 1930’s, “The War of the Wools” became infamous following a live radio adaptation on Isles FM by Orduighean Wellies. The good people of Stornoway thought the Maws were actually invading the town and had crossed the cattle grids with their sheeps. This resulted in mass panic leading to rioting and looting in the streets. The rioting has continued to this day in some parts of the town.  

In the 1970s, Stornowayne had been looking for an opportunity to bring a local book to life as a musical concept.  He took “War of the Wools” and turned it into an epic, double concept album musical extravaganza featuring the very finest Leodhsach musicians and thespians of the period. Many of the leading parts were voiced by top celebrities of the day.

“The Parson” was played by Phil Lional from hard rockers Thin Leodhasach (who had a string of hits including ‘The Boys From Back Are In Town’, ‘Dancing in The Moor Light’ and ‘Bard Reputation’.

Meanwhile “The Artilleryman”  was voiced by David Nessex (the 70s chart hearthrob behind such hits as “Rubhach On, “Amaraga”, “Gonna Make You A Star (Inn)”, and “Silver D.R.’s Machine”).  

And “Obh-ita” star Julie Covingtownie contributed her dulcet tones as “The voice of Bethesda”.

But the one voice everyone remembers from “War of the Wools” is that of “The Narrator” – legendary Stornoway Thespian Richard Burnt-toine, the star of such classic films as ‘Where Eagleton Dares’, ‘An Townie and Cleobattery’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virgin Wool?’  

Who could forget Burnt-toine’s momentous delivery of the album’s opening words….

‘In the late 19th century, few townies had even considered the possible existence of extra-town-estial life, and yet Stornoway had in fact long been enviously observed by advanced beings’

….as he ominously set the scene for Mawsian Invaders, sci-fi sheep and deathrays, all delivered over a bombastic soundtrack of monstrously overproduced orchestral prog rock,  puirt-a-beul and dodgy disco.

Top musicians on the album included Jeff Stornowayne himself, guitarist Chris Spreadingmanure, Ken Freepresbyteriman on melodeon, and ace session bassist B*lly Flower, who’d famously played with classical rock maestros Skye, and done the slidy double bass on former Bobban Underground singer P*ddy Reed’s solo hit “Walk on the West Side”.

As well as the massive success of the album itself, Stornowayne and his band scored a huge hit single (3 plays on “Caithris na h-Oidche”) with Side B Track 2 – Chustin Heycove from the Moody Brues singing ‘Forever (D)autumn(an)’.

Several stage productions of “War of the Wools” have gone on tour over the years, with the original parts being played by new actors. Burnt-toin’s Narrator role has often been reprised by Liam Niseach (“Schuilven’s List”, “Rob Robhanais”, “The Communions”, “Siar Wars I – The Phantom Mehhh-Ness” and “II – Attack of the Blones”).

Niseach was hired to after the failure of several costly attempts by the production team to replicate the deceased Burnt-toine onstage using complex special effects and animatronics. These involved a copy of the original album on cassette from Woolies, a photo of Burnt-toine’s face cut out of the Gazette, some sellotape and (variously) the statue nicked from Lady Matheson’s monument, a tailor’s dummy stolen from Murdo Maclean’s, and a scarecrow obtained under cover of darkness from Goathill farm.

It’s not often we stray into topical topics, but recent events in the world of politics have led us to pass on some useful and informative background reading to help you make more sense of Brexit. As we’re currently hearing in the news, there’s great confusion about arrangements on the Northern Irish border if Brexit takes effect as planned in March 2019. But for some reason we hear a lot less about the difficulties that could ensue on the many internal borders within the Outer Hebrides. When the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, for example, Scalpay will stay in Europe because it’s actually in Spain (and has been since 1588, as any amadan familiar with the Dun Ringles’ poorly spelt prog rock epic “Scalpoch Armada” will tell you). To maintain frictionless trade across the Scalpay bridge, the natural solution would be for the rest of Harris to follow EU regulations, but hardline Hearach seceders in the Democratic Urgha Party (under the leadership of Aline Foster) refuse to countenance such an arrangement. For similar reasons, again based on Spanish territorial claims, border controls are likely to spring up the Goat Island causeway, and on all roads leading in and out of Tolsta Chaolais. Tong, naturally, has used its Washington connections to secure a unilateral trade deal with the USA, but this does not extend to the neighbouring townships. So there’ll have to be a wall at Coll, and another one on the Newmarket road to prevent cheap steel imports from the scrapyard at the Blackwater. North Tolsta has negotiated a peats-for-kimchi deal with North Korea, which will require a DMZ to be created between the Glen and Gress, which is joining Greece. Meanwhile the Niseachs, as part of Norway, are insisting on remaining in EFTA, so strict customs controls will be put in place on the A857 North of Fivepenny Borve. Trade between Point and the rest of the Island is already difficult due to its worsening diplomatic relations with everybody. Sanctions are likely to intensify following Point’s interference in the Tong Presidential elections, and the Rubhach Secret Service’s attempts to assassinate defector Sergei Suardal in the Crit by secretly lacing his Stewart’s Cream of the Barley with water. Rubhach leader Vladimir Sput-in’s claims that his agents were mere tourists, visiting the town to see the world famous spire of Martin’s Memorial, are generally not believed. And that takes us to the Back Bus Stop that we’re hearing so much about. This is the great unanswered Brexit question – why the fleek would anyone want to get off the bus in Back?!? It’s not all bad news, though. According to some writing in the dirt on the side of the Plasterfield bus, Brexit will leave the Health Board with an extra £350 million a day to spend on closing things down.

13 12 2018

Stan Leverburgh RIP Considering this is supposed to be the Made Up History of Stornoway we seem to be doing obituaries for a lot of famous Hearachs these days. Not so long ago the great Burt Rhenigadale went to meet his maker, and now the legendary Stan Leverburgh has recently gone to the great comic convention in Skye. Sorry, “the sky”. Leverburgh created some of the great superhero characters of the last 70 years and oversaw their transition from the pulp comics of the 1940s to television (in the classic ruppish BBC Alba cartoons of the 60s and 70s) and onwards to the blockbuster movie incarnations who dominate the Lanntair and the Screen Machine today. Stan Leverburgh was born Stanley Martin Ladyleverpark in 1922, and in 1939 went to work as a pencil sharpener in the busy Stornoway offices of “Airidh-an-tuimely Comics”, a front company for the propaganda department of the Free Associated Continuing Church. The church was worried about the island’s wee coves and blones getting drawn in by worldly and sinful publications such as the Beano and the Free Church Monthly Record, so they’d established their pulp magazine business to promote their message of cuireamachness to the youth without them knowing. There was a lot of this sort of thing going on in the 30s and 40s; Most of the Outer Hebrides’ comic publishers were secretly or not-so-secretly run by the islands’ various religious denominations. FP Comics, Hell Comics and All-Amarybank Publications among them. But the biggest outfit in town was APC Comics – home of Backman, FishSupperman (from the planet KrypTong), Wonder Woolman etc. With his Bernera-based collaborator Jack Kirkibost, Leverburgh soon worked his way to the top of “Airidh-an-Tuimely Comics”. Deciding that the holy comic market in Stornoway itself was saturated, Leverburgh rebranded the company to focus on sales to the rural peasantry outside the cattle grid. Maw-vel Comics hit the streets (or at least the single track roads with passing places) in 1961, and soon began to chalk up impressive sales (5 copies a month in Tommy Nicholson’s). Amongst the many characters Leverburgh created were; Captain Amarybank, with his Cortina hub cap nicked from Marybank garage as a shield The Mighty Todhar (from A-sgàrd)-was originally the god of thunderous diahhoreah (and instead of a hammer wielded a mighty toilet brush), but he had to change it due to complaints from his readers. The Inedible Dulse – mild-mannered scientist Brues Beannag worked in the Keose alginate factory by day, but when angry turned into a monster made out of allegedly nutritious seaweed that tastes horrible really. Back Panther Peat-Iron Man (billionaire playboy blacksmith Tony Steallag) -Steallag Industries making Hi tec military equip (well, for the Army Cadets at least) Guardians of the Galaxy Disco- the Seaforth bouncers led by Stair-rod, The Fantastic Four Crown- a particular success in Maw-vel’s early years was this team of superheroes who had gained their powers after exposure to a combination of cosmic rays and fortified South African wine, during a scientific mission to Cathy Dhall’s The Punishader Plocrapool Snaredevil – whose superpower was catching rabbits down at the Braighe for selling to the local butchers. Doctor Coulegrange Supervillan Doctor Mitchellspus Woolverine (played in the films by Huge Cacman) The Tha Vengers The Eggs Men- a team of superheroes with mutant hens producing double yolks Splaoid-erman (alias Peater Parkend – a mild mannered weaver from Garyvard who transforms into a binge-drinking superhero when he comes to town and gets paid for a tweed). Leverburgh also managed to convince BBC Alba to start making films of many of his creations. These summer blockbusters provided to be extremely successful and raked in loads of spondoolacs. Leverburgh also managed to snag himself a wee cameo appearances in nearly all of the BBC Alba Maw-vel movies, and also starred as himself in a famous episode of Beag Bang A’ Shiorraidh in which he’s stalked by arch-nerd Shellfish Crùbag. He’ll be much missed. (as will his cousin Stan Lee).

8 12 2018

Burt Rhenigadale RIP

22 09 2018

Fleek sakes! Yet another icon of the big screen (and wee screen too) has passed away. Yus indeed, Holywood cove Burt Reynolds has gone to the big Cannonball Run in the sky.

Burt was a regular visitor to the Outer Hebrides as he had cousins on his mother’s side living in Harris, and he used to enjoy coming home to help with the peats and the shearing. It is rumoured that he sought inspiration for many of his films from his cousin (also called Burt) who was a pretty big star himself on BBC Alba. And in a bizarre coincidence, both cousins passed away on the same day.

Reynold’s cousin Burt MacSween was born in a remote Hearach village accessible only by a winding footpath over the hills from Tarbert. Fiercely proud of his birthplace, he chose it for his stagename when he took up acting at an early age – thus was born Burt Rhenigadale.

In his early career Rhenigadale was an active member of the Stornoway Thespians and took lead roles in many Christmas Pantomimes and regional drama festivals, as well as featuring in many Grampian TV adverts from around that time.

But the lure of BBC Alba in the 1950’s was too tempting. Burt was able to get guest roles in many tv shows, impressing viewers with his exotic Harris Gaelic. His first big break came in the late 1950’s in the “Westren” series ‘LaxdaleRiverboat’. He continued to have tv roles throughout the 60’s including “Ferry Mason”, “The Twilight Disco” and “Route A859”.

His big BBC Alba break came with the hugely popular ‘Peatsmoke’, another “Westren”, where he replaced Denis Weavingshed. Playing the half breed (half Hearach, half Leodhasach, half sheep) blacksmith Squint Tairsgeir, the show was your standard Westren of the day, featuring miners looking to strike black gold (peat), sheep rustlers, bandidos from South of the Border (Ardhasaig), no-good railroad barons and marauding tribes of APC-che and Comhairlemanche braves.

After his taste of BBC Alba stardom, Burt turned his attentions to the big screen. Very soon he was picking up major parts in popular movies and soon began to make a name for himself (‘Thon hearrach cove who’s no bad at acting’).

But it was one particular film that shot Burt to superstardom – “Delivervans”, which was a huge commercial and critical success on BBC Alba in 1972. Set in the deep south (of Lochs), the film centred on a mobile shop’s ill-fated journey to Calbost where a horde of hillbilly cailleachs seek vengeance on the driver and crew because they have run out of Craggan’s biscuits. As well as Rhenigadale, the film also starred Jon Poit(mhùin) and Shed Peatty.

“Delivervans” was famous for its soundtrack, including of course the legendary “Dueling Beannags.“

Burt also turned down a role in the film version of M.A.W.S, the Korean War comedy about the Lewis ‘Mobile Airidh Whiskey Still’ platoon sent to keep the troops happy by supplying them with drams. Famous for its theme song ‘Westy-side is Painless’.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the blockbusters kept coming. Burt starred in;

The Best Little Meeting House In Tolsta (with Dolly Partronadrive)

Bogie Nights- a docudrama depicting day in the life of a well known Stornoway character

The Dukes of Habost – a film remake of the popular late 70’s Grampian TV series, in which Burt’s portrayal of the evil Bosta Hogg will be long remembered

Everything You Wanted to Know About Seggs (But were afraid to ask)

Smokehouse and the Bànag

The Longest Ceard

The Cànannangaidheal Run. A no-holds barred outlaw tractor race from An Comunn Gaidhealach HQ in Perceval Square, cross-country to Melbost, where the first competitor to reach the gate of the Bard’s old house wins a years subscription to the Free Church Monthly Record. Featuring a cast of thousands (just about every BBC Alba actor on the go at the time), Burt played the lead character JJ Manure. The film had a memorable soundtrack by Na h-Òganaich.

After a bit of a slump in the 80s, a battle with prescription Flukanide addiction, rumours that he was suffering from a variety of exotic diseases (including orfe, swayback and hydatid), and a famously troubled marriage to actress Bloni Andersonroad, Rhenigadale made a comeback in the critically acclaimed TV series Evening Shader.

At the time of his death, Rhenigadale had returned to his Hearach roots, and was about to start filming “Once Upon a Time in Horgabost” with cult director Quentin Tarbertino.

Athighearna Fanklin RIP

25 08 2018

In yet another one of them bizarre coincidences, news of the passing of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin had barely reached the Outer Hebrides, when the Stornoway media outlets announced the demise of her distant cousin, Queen of Shoals Athighearna Fanklin.

(Many Stornoway folk with famous relations must be getting a wee bitty worried by now).

Aretha herself, despite being brought up in America, was known to visit her relations in the Tolsta area on a regular basis…. And her name was actually Aretha Lewis Franklin – not “Louise” as most folk thought. The misunderstanding was due to the fact that Americans couldn’t understand the Leodhasach accent that she had picked up while home on her holidays as a child, and never lost.

However, with all due “Respect” to Aretha, it’s high time the world heard the untold tale of her (almost) equally influential Leodhasach cousin….

Athighearna Fanklin was born in 1942 in Dee-Chroit, a busy industrial city on the moor between Tolsta and Ness. While it’s mostly returned to desolate moorland these days, following the riots of the 1960s and the inexorable decline of its factories, Dee-chroit was once proudly known as the “Murdo City”, and was home to a thriving automotive industry. Giants such as General Murdos, Christler, Brue-ick, Studebakersroad, Ceardillac and, of course, Fordterrace employed tens of people and turned out up to a dozen tractors a year.

Athighearna’s old man Calum Leodie (CL) Fanklin was a minister to trade and was the Dean of Dee-chroit’s popular Ewe Bethel Baaa-aptist Church, the remains of which can still be seen on the top of the cliffs at Filiscleitir. He was fondly known as the “Dean of Souls”.

Athighearna demonstrated great musical talent at an early age and was appointed the church’s first female precentor. She sang in the church between the age of 12 and 20 and soon earned the title “The Teen of Souls”.

Singing gospel psalmody was artistically and spiritually rewarding, but it didn’t pay very well. Athighearna had to rely on state benefits for a while (and soon earned the title “Queen of Dole”). Eventually, however, the young Athighearna had to go away and work as a herring girl. She was extremely dexterous with the gutting knife and the number of sgadan she could get through on a shift became something of a legend on quaysides from Weeheek to Yarmouth – so much so that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals”.

Much to her cuireamach fans’ consternation, Athighearna went secular in 1960, signing to pop label Columbiaplace Records. Sadly Athighearna’s recordings on the label met with limited success because every time Columbiaplace pressed some records, one of the rival labels in the area (usually Springfield Records, Plasterfield Records or Battery Records) would nick them and make them into a huge bonfire. Especially around Guy Fawkes’ time; tyres were in short supply in these days, but shellac was highly inflammable and made a great gelly.

Athighearna was courted by other labels including Dee-Chroit soul giants Tormod Murdotown, but in 1966 she signed to Barratlantic Records, where she would make many of her greatest recordings. Barratlantic boss Eachainn Ertegundòchas was a huge fan and used the earnings from his lucrative fish factory to subsidise his loss-making record label. Ertegundòchas gave Athighearna complete artistic freedom and the pick of the Outer Hebrides’ top session musicians, just as long as she promised to sneak a plug for his seafood products into as many songs as possible.

With Barratlantic’s sponsorship and a plethora of fish references in her songs, it was little wonder that Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Athighearna’s hits on Barratlantic were often recorded at Uig’s legendary Morsgail Shoals studios. From 1966 into the early 70s, working with with c(r)ack session band “The Chumpers”, and producer Areef Mangersta, Athighearna recorded a string of hit singles and albums including:

Say a Big Huge Long Prayer

You Make My Creels (Like a Natural Woman)

Chain of Fuels (in praise of C*mpb*ll’s filling stations)

Tong, Gifted and Back

I Never Loved A Ram The Way That I Loved Ewes

The House That J*mmy B*ller Built

Amazing Gress

Sponish Harlem

In 1979, after a period of declining record sales, Athighearna left Barratlantic and signed to Hearach label ScArista Records. Athighearna’s sales soon began to improve and she scored hits with “United (Free Church) Together” and a Grimshader-award-nominated cover of Otis Reseeding’s “I Can’t Turn You Lewis”.

Athighearna’s career got a cinematic boost in 1980 when she appeared in “The Brues Brothers” (alongside Dan Backroyd and John Bellsroadushi), dispensing advice on crofting grant-compliant corrugated roofing materials to her fleekeen useless husband Murphy Dunberisay. Filmed in the Coffee Pot, Athighearna’s performance of “Zinc” set her up nicely for rejuvenated record sales and a series of classic collaborations in the 80s and 90s.

These included “Seceders are Doin’ It For Themselves (But Not on Sundays)”, with Annie Leantainneach from the Freechurchcontinurhythmics. And of course, “Knew Ewe Were Waiting For Mehhhh”, with the late lamented George Mitchellsbus from Ram!

Fanklin was famed as a lifelong campaigner for sheep’s rights, and in order to look after the many distressed mehhhags that came into her care, she built a gi-normous barn in Dee-chroit. Athighearna’s barn was so monumentally huge that it wasn’t long before she earned the title “Queen of Sabhal”. Indeed, it was a simmering feud with her local grazings committee about the number of sheep Athighearna was entitled to put out on the common pasture that inspired her platinum-selling 1985 album “Who’s Souming Who?”.

Despite her advocacy for sheep rights, Athighearna was a keen fisherwoman throughout her life. A winner of numerous trophies in the ladies’ section of the Stornoway Sea Angling Club during the 50s, 60s and 70s, Athighearna soon earned the title “Queen of Shoals” (again).

Her skills with the rod were matched by her prowess with the net, and her fondness for a bit of poaching on the Laxay River, together with frequent appearances in the Stornoway Gazette’s sheriff court column, soon earned Athighearna the title “Queen of Soval”.

Later in her career, Athighearna was called upon to sing at many great public events. At the Gravir Awards in 1998 she had to fill in for corpulent Rubhach tenor Luciano Paibleotti at the last minute, after he got stuck in a cubicle door at Stornoway Opera house and couldn’t get to the ceremony. Athighearna delivered a bravura unrehearsed performance of Paibleotti’s trademark “Niseach Dormer” that’s still talked about to this day.

In 2009 Athighearna also sang at the historic inauguration of Marag Obama as President of the USA (Union of Stornoway Artisanblackpuddingmakers)..

But above all else, Athighearna will be most remembered for her signature song – the song that became an anthem for cuireamach rights and for the cailleachs’ lib movement of the 60s. Although it was originally a hit for Otis Reseeding, Athighearna’s version turned the tables completely on the bodachs. That song went something like this:

(Obh) What you want – is deoch and accordions

(Obh) What you need – is to get yourself to the fleekeen orduighean

(Obh) All I’m askin’ – is that you repent, get the cuiream, read your buible, put on a suit and give me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

(Cove) Don’t go messin’ with none of them other denominations, or…

(Cove) I’ll be giving you quite a nasty operation

(Cove) It’ll be the deamhais for you unless you start turning up twice on a Sunday and midweek an’ all, and giving me some…

WeeFree-Spect when I come home

Oh hee – I’m about to give the sustentation fund all your money

Oh hee – Yus, and maybe then I’ll end up in the land of milk and honey

Oh hee – Got me a new hat from Murdo Maclean’s agus abair g’eil e spaideal so I deserve me some….

WeeFree-Spect – when I go to the coinneamh. Oh yus, ya bleigeard.


Don’t go near the APC


And stay away from the Continuit-y

Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free Wee Free-spect (etc)