Buy Lonely Road
aiming to blow up a storm
6th March 1991 "Caithness Courier"
down the hatches Thurso-based blues-rock band Howlin
Gaels are about to sweep across the Highlands. The four-piece
outfit singer Donnie Williamson, bassist Billy Wares,
guitarist Alex McIntosh and drummer Marty Sutherland-
were due to start blowing up a storm recently in Features but
bad luck, in the shape of burnt gear, put paid to that.
"There was a fire in my house," explains Billy. "Luckily
no-one was hurt but the bands equipment suffered badly.
The drums were slightly damaged, but the worst hit were the
speaker cabinets. Were pretty sickened by it."
says: "Were not going to be held back by a problem
like this. Weve been approached by an agent about doing
gigs down South and were determined to get there."
boys have been playing in various local bands for years but
only got together in February 1990. Marty joined in the summer,
and Howlin Gaels was born. A few gigs last year, with
a Hogmanay bash at the Forss base, was enough to convince them
that the blend was right, and theyve been practising hard
mix of upbeat blues music by the likes of B.B King, Johnny Winter,
Hendrix and Blues n Trouble, along with our own
numbers, seem to go down well," says Alex, who adds: "Wed
have been playing a lot before now but for the lack of venues
for our style of stuff around the North."
caught up with the Gaels at the Newmarkets Blue Monday
jam and they really are great. Kilted wildman Donnies
raunchy voice and demonic harmonica, Alexs solid rhythm
and blinding solos and Billy and Marty banging away like a barn
door in a hurricane combine to make one of the tightest and
bounciest bands Ive ever seen in a long time. They really
deserve to get out and play more often without the hassle of
Both Donnie and Billy are freelance musicians as well "If
anyone needs a bass-player or a harmonica-playing singer for
a while get in touch," says Billy.
Yeah, we need the cash to replace all the burnt bits,"
if you want a visual and musical feast that the Howlin
Gaels have to offer, along with that atmospheric scorched smell,
watch out for them in your neighbourhood soon. Theyre
well worth watching.
Howlin Gaels come stormin back!
6th December 1991 - John OGroat
few short months after being blown off course by a road accident,
a talented Thurso rock band are picking up where they left off.
Colin Punler Reports.
Newmarket Bar in Thurso was the venue last Sunday for the awaited
comeback of the Howlin Gaels, the local blues/rock band
regarded by many as perhaps the towns brightest new musical
Sunday afternoons session had been billed as Johnny Fats
but a last minute switch saw the Gaels back in action together
in public for the first time since their musical aspirations
nosedived along with a van carrying their equipment, bass player
Billy Wares and drummer Martin Sutherland. The accident at Berriedale
11 weeks earlier following a gig at the Aultnamain Inn could
easily have ruined the band. Billy landed in hospital with a
broken shoulder and three cracked ribs, while, for the second
time in a year, the band were assessing the extent of the damage
to their equipment.
Fortunately, a mattress in the back of the van limited it to
a few smashed valves in Billys amp. The inquest, however,
caused a few ructions.
did fight to begin with" admitted Billy (29), of The Bungalow,
Scrabster Farm. "But the whole thing has actually brought
us closer together."
the turmoil followed the bands best run since getting
together in February 1990.
The present line-up dates from a few months later when Martin
(25), of Holburn Avenue, replaced Henry Mackinnon on drums.
Lou Martin, ex-Spiggy Topes, Rory Gallagher and now Blues n
Trouble, guested with the Gaels during their supporting act
at Thursos Scapa House in the summer, the bands
popularity soared. "Playing with him made us get the finger
out," said Billy, nephew of Johnny "Fats" Sutherland.
"We tried really hard after that and went into a really
bookings outwith Caithness soon followed, and the night after
their last slot at the Aultnamain Inn, on the Struie road, the
Gaels had been due in Fort William the furthest they
would have travelled together as a band. Inverness the following
week was to have been their next outing.
we know we can handle a gig again, were hoping to get
back in touch with that circuit," said Donnie Williamson
(24), the kilted, harmonic-playing vocalist and frontman
the Howlin Gaels.
band did not expect to be back playing live until the week before
Christmas. Billy, however, despite recently undergoing an operation
to his shoulder, wanted back as soon as possible.
saw him nursing a few aches and pains but no worries. "It
was a bit stiff afterwards," admitted Billy. "But
Im really delighted."
band are determined to make up for lost time, hopeful that the
misfortune which has dogged them this year is a thing of the
past. In February, a fire at Billys house damaged the
drums and burned the speaker cabinets.
like to thank everyone for their concern and help to get us
back on the road," said Donnie.
working towards going full-time," added Billy, who, like
Donnie, is a self-employed freelance musician. "we need
to build up a fair bit of work before then, though."
bands own creative talents are filtering through into their
own material, such as Two-timing Theresa, written by Donnie
and set to the music by the band. "We just jam until we
find something we like," explained Billy. Plans are also
in hand to release a cassette.
band, the fourth member of which is lead guitarist Alex Macintosh
(32), of Claredon Place are next due on stage at a charity gig
at the Weigh Inn on December 20. Theyre back in the Newmarket
two days later and return to the Weigh Inn on December 27.
a short space of time theyve worked hard to recapture
the exhilarating form interrupted abruptly back in September.
Their first public outing last Sunday suggested it wont
be long before their climbing the ladder to success once more.
after being blown off course in the recent months, the very
least the Howlin Gaels deserve is a few decent breaks,
and a change of luck would certainly help. Roll on 1992
are back in action
Friday July 2, 1999 - John OGroat
Caithness band has reformed after a seven-year absence and played
its first local gig at Skinandis in Thurso last
Howlin Gaels have already played in Ullapool and Skye
and are looking at the possibility of a mini-tour in Denmark
as well as a trip to Colorado in the USA, although nothing has
been confirmed at this stage.
The band features two original members Donnie Williamson,
the vocalist and harmonica player, and guitarist Alex Mcintosh.
They are joined by the former New Experience and Jump the Queue
drummer, Ewan Barker, and David Tashnizi on Bass. He previously
played with bands in Orkney.
have been getting quite a few offers and have bookings already
for July and August in Caithness and through out the North,"
Donnie said this week.
will be performing some of our own material but also covers
by Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Peter Green, Howlin Wolf and
the band hopes to be busy, Donnie intends to continue appearing
with After Hours the local jazz combo which plays on
an occasional basis in North venues, including Ebenezers
at Mackays Hotel, Wick.
take recording studio by storm
Friday, January 21, 2000 - John OGroat
Cashmore is pleased to find that the Howlin Gaels have
lost none of their live magic in the transition from stage to
at Howlin Gaels gigs have often wondered whether the spontaneous
excitement generated by the bands live performances is
transferable to a hi-fi in the living-room setting.
Take away the influence of a room filled with adrenalised bodies
and all the trappings of a licensed dance hall, and what would
be left? Would it be a case of home alone is no place for the
Well, now we know.
Rock the Millennium is eight prime sides, recorded by the Gaels
in Phil Andersons Kirkwall studio. Those with long teeth
may remember Phil as a member of the seventies hit band Middle
of the Road. Never mind, Phil still keeps his musical hand in.
On Rock the Millennium he fills in with keyboards, rhythm guitar
and backing vocals where necessary.
first album by the Gaels was committed to tape in two-and-a-bit
days an astonishing achievement given that the songs
on it are all their own compositions and, with one or two exceptions,
will be fresh to most ears. Rehearsal time was, by all accounts,
at a premium, but this turns out to have been no bad thing
what rough edges there are on Rock the Millennium merely pepper
up an already tasty musical stew.
those who dont know, the Howlin Gaels are four young
Caithness musicians, fully committed to the cause of blues-rooted
rock n roll. Singer and leather-lunged harmonica
man Donnie Williamson fronts the line-up of Alex Mcintosh (lead
guitar), David Tashinizi (bass) and drummer Ewan Barker. Versatility
is a key note of the band and it is not unknown for Alex to
play rhythm guitar, Taz to take a leading hand and sing the
odd song, and Ewan, too, has a voice of his own.
Hot Too Soon", a beefy pounder in the best Gales manner,
kick-starts the album. Over an up-tempo blues beat, Donnie Williamson
unfolds a story of fractious passion, underlined by a wailing
harmonica and keyboard chords. The song ends with Alecs
nimble fingers storming up and down the guitar scales, while
Ewan demonstrates just how good a drummer he is.
up is a slow, moody blues number, "Baby B Troo",
on which Phil Andersons keyboard evokes a late-hours nightscape
"Play me the blues," demands Donnie halfway through
the song, and Alec does just that in spades. Old-timers
may find this reminiscent of the Animals , in their slower
moments, which is not such a bad thing.
on a blues track is the third offering, "12 Bars Too Late".
Forty year of rockin blues tradition is encapsulated in
these four minutes. Its a familiar tale of what happens
when the lure of drink delays a man. He gets home at some timeless
hour, murders his old lady and lands in the clink. Out on parole,
he takes another fill, wraps his car round a telegraph pole
and ends up back inside. The whole escapade is driven along
by a pumping beat.
comes a change: "Blue Ocean" is untypical of the Gaels
we know. Nevertheless, it is perhaps the most commercial offering
on the CD. Wistful and evocative, with an infectious busy rhythm
and a masterly tempo change, "blue Ocean" paints a
picture equivalent, in some ways, to walking out in autumn under
a windswept northern sky. This is a pop song in the best possible
of you familiar with the Trudge Euphoria CD Festering days will
detect the mutual influence of David Tashinizi on "Can
Anybody Tell Me?"
Taz was one of the mainsprings of Trudge Euphoria, and on this
track his experience with that band is pressed into service
with the Gales. He takes the song himself, an intense performance,
backed by aching guitar lines that go on forever.
next one emerges like an uncoiled snake. "Where is the
Feelin?" has been a feature number at Gaels gigs
for almost a year now. Chopped guitar chords in the classic
rock style introduce this saga romance gone cold, with Donnie
agonising over the dregs of loves bitter aftertaste. This
number continues the tradition started by Led Zeppelin long
before some of the Gaels were born, a tradition in which skilled
musicianship translates primal emotions. Gut-wrenching.
to You (and your rock n roll)" is another instant-access
tune with a memorable faster-tempo chorus and space-ranging
guitar. Again this has commercial potential in a market beyond
a feeling of being short-changed followed a first listen to
the final track of Rock the Millennium. Somehow less than two
minutes for "The Gaels Anthem" just didnt feel
But a few helpings of this trot-along ditty, on which Stewart
Shearer plays a lively banjo, explained everything.
For many, this is just how a Howlin Gaels session really
does end calling for a taxi and rolling home intoxicated
even those of us who are teetotal.
pay tribute to live blues tradition
Wednesday, July 28, 1999 - Caithness
influences on the blues go back a long way.
In the mid-fifties America, blues shouter Tiny Grimes appeared
on stage with his Rockin Highlanders resplendent in tuxedo
jackets, silk socks, wrap-around shades and kilts. A bunch of
very sharp dudes indeed, typical of those faraway days before
young European palefaces tuned in to the raw, black sounds that
blared out of numberless juke joints, record shacks and seedy
clubs from Texas to Chicago. This potent musical seed found
a vacant womb, ripe for filling. The results is best traced
in the careers of the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, Eric Clapton,
all those millionaire rockers whose early days were spent solitary
in a cold bedroom, struggling to master the chords of the latest
Bo Diddley record.
Age has diminished neither the potency of the blues music nor
its ability to adrenalise even the most lethargic natures
a power most ably demonstrated by Howlin Gaels at their
recent gig in Thursos British Legion Club. Loud, high-octave
sounds, raucous and exciting, driven by a controlled virility
that always hits the spot just right, blues played this way
is musics equivalent to the Kama Sutra.
a wailing harmonica intro to the old Peter Green classic "Goin
Down", kilted singer Donnie Williamson set out the evenings
stall, while his three Gael confederates slipped into the classic
attitudes of a bona fide blues band. Casual and unanimated,
the lead guitarist threw off a string of effortless solos,
as though it was the most natural thing in the world to do.
The bass player, an intense, determined young man, swooped his
fingers up and down the four thick strings, the plunging notes
like the pulse of a super charged engine driving the music forward,
while behind him, the drummer showed that he had mastered the
unwritten secret that baffles so many. It is this: at no one
time should the beat sound as though it is produced merely by
the action of wooden sticks bashing stretched skins. Simple,
isnt it? Believe me, it isnt.
Down" was followed by a slew of blues-based familiars spanning
the past three decades. There was Barrett Strongs "Money",
covered by just about every British R&B band in the sixties,
and the Wilson Picketts classic twosome "The Midnight
Hour" and "Mustang Sally", the latter a trademark
number for the Gaels and well known by their regular following.
This was soul in a blues suit; so too was "Knock on Wood",
that all-time favourite memory with Viewfirth dancers of 30
years ago. Dues were paid to another legend of that era when
the Gales blasted out tight, controlled versions of Jimi Hendrixs
"Stone Free" and "Fire", resisting temptation
to indulge in long-winded and unnecessary solos.
number the band did extend by skilfully medleyising into it
Creams "Sunshine of Your Love" was Reefs
1998 anthem "Place Your Hands", a combination that
had everybody up and dancing.
the Gaels dont just put on other folks clothes
they write their own numbers, too. Highlight of the evening
was their airing of "Where is the Felling", an intense,
emotion-twisting number taken from their forthcoming album Twelve
Bars Too Late, due on the record shelves in October.
blues echoes and the dark, wet streets resurrected memories
of a winters morning years ago, in south-side Chicago,
the only white face on the block, and one of lifes great
shocks: to hear from the mouth of a black youth that Elton John
meant more to him that Chuck Berry. While daundering home pondering
all this, a bumped-into acquaintance, out on the tiles, asked
if Id been to see one of the "tribute bands".
In a way, yes. The Howlin Gaels are a tribute- a tribute
to the enduring tradition of live blues in the Far North. It
is a tradition loyally supported sign on to it next time
these modern Rockin Highlanders are in town.
the wait til the Midnight Hour
Thursday, 20th July 2000 - The Orcadian
dance the night away!
really was the case of having to wait til the Midnight
Hour for the 1,200-strong crowd who filled the Pickaquoy Arena
for an evening of live entertainment headlined by The Commitments
on Friday but they produced a highly professional performance
once they did appear.>
They certainly thrilled the Picky audience, which, on a quick
scan of the audience, seemed to range in age from somewhere
in the late 50s.
the personnel was not the same and the lead vocalist
did not quite have the personality of the on-screen original
the by then well-entertained crowd were treated to polished
versions of all the favourite numbers from the film, which had
them dancing all the way through until the set ended just over
an hour later.
this late-night set from The Commitments was only part of the
story of what was a great evening of live music, starting with
an un-publicised appearance from Hadhirgaan. Fresh back from
Canada, these talented youngsters were well received by earlier
arrivals at Pickaquoy, who had filled most of the seats in the
Arena by about 9pm.
the Silver Penguins, including an apparently recently shorn
Brian Cromarty and Douglas "Buffalo Bill" Montgomery,
soon had those on the floor jumping with their infectious blend
of rock and no-holds barred fiddle beaks. Awesome stuff, yet
Mother slowed things down a bit, but upped the tempo towards
the end of their set, and it looked like on-form lead vocalist
Leah Johnston in cowboy hat and ankle-length coat
might just have been the one who skinned Mr Montgomerys
on were the Howlin Gaels, hailing from across the Firth.
With their usual no-nonsense approach they progressed the evenings
entertainment nicely up to the appearance of the main act.
in all, a fine night of live music. The only criticism might
be that we could have done with one less support act
but who would you leave out?
mention to the Pickaquoy Centre, and the chaps from the Orkney
Rugby Club well-run show in a top venue, and I never
had to wait more than two minutes for a drink!
rockin blues from the Deep North
John OGroat Journal
cashmore discovers the trials and tribulations of life on the
road with the Howlin Gaels and finds that, 15 years
on from their humble beginnings, the groups no-nonsense
brand of blues rock is blowing stronger than ever.
We are back in the winter of 89. The gloom snuffs out
a rain lashed Far North day. Late afternoon has been and nearly
gone and theres still no sign of the Transit. What now?
Somebody knows a body with a car; someone else can get a loan
of a trailer. Soon theyre all on the road to Tain, four
musicians sharing a beat-up Austin Maxi with a full-size drum
kit, a tiny trailer loaded with amps and PA gear bouncing along
behind. Dangerous, man but this is only the beginning.
to Tain and the drum kit decides that it no longer desires the
company of the two dudes crammed into the back seat with it,
Bang! It breaks out through the back windscreen, which
promptly disintegrates in a shower of glass onto the hapless
back-seat passengers. And still it rains. And its black
dark too. But baby, this is rock n roll!
at last. Through the narrow streets of the ancient burgh whose
every stone wheezes history, a place of pilgrimage for saints,
thanes, kings and Caithness music-makers come to educate the
ears of Ross-shire loons. Already the hall is open for business,
a no-nonsense wifie on the door.
money, please, boys."
okay, were the band."
band? The band? There must be some mistake the bands already
here on the stage warming up
double booking! Whod believe it? Still, theres a
hotel around the corner and theyd appreciate the offer
of some free Saturday night Fever. And sure enough, the proprietress
strikes a deal. Bed, breakfast and free drink in exchange for
a helping of your best rock n roll.
turns out to be a great night. Plenty of punters fill the dance
floor, money flows across the bar, drink ebbs the other way.
Everyone is well pleased. Forget the B&B the rains
stopped and the boys will see dawn break over the Ord.
up the A9 charges the rattletrap Maxi with all lights blazing.
And thats the problem. Once on, the headlights stubbornly
refuse to go off. Stuck on full beam with a hundred miles before
them, the lights guide the Maxi on its merry journey north,
passing three police cars on the way. Fortunately, the Northern
Constabulary appear to have declared a one-night amnesty on
bad-mannered motorists, and our men arrive home safe, sound
and free from criminal conviction.
above escapade was but one mile on a long hard road that began
15 years ago when four young Thurso boys decided to form a band
1983 Donnie Williamson was a Thurso loon playing the drums in
a group called Home and Beyond. Like many outfits in those days,
Home and Beyond ladled out a wholesome stew of pop rock. But
the blues was in Donnies blood, a common complaint among
males in the Far North, which has supported a health blues scene
ever since Mad Alex Harvey and his Insane Six adrenalised audiences
at Thurso Town Hall. Donnie wasnt even a gleam in his
old mans eye when Mad Alex was in his pomp and glory,
but he grew up with a taste for the great ones brand of
hard-edged, bawling blues rock.
years later Donnie had teamed up with another Thurso blues freak,
Alex Macintosh. Alex picked a mean guitar. Together with drummer
Henry Mackinnon and bass player Billy Wares, Donnie and Alex
made up the first version of the Howlin Gaels. Donnie
himself no longer played drums he was now lead singer
with a blues band. And he blow a loud harmonica, too.
Gaels practised hard, and long at Billy Wares home at Scrabster.
Their first public airing was in 1985 in Thursos Newmarket
Bar, a place with a strong musical tradition, a place tailor-made
for rockin the blues, and the nearest thing we have to
a Deep South juke joint. They played numbers by Alex Harvey,
Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and others of that breed. It
hit the spot just right and they began to build up a loyal local
year or so after the Gaels got going, Henry Mackinnon left the
group. Another local boy, Marty Sutherland, took Henrys
place behind the drum kit. This happened in early 87,
the year when the Gaels started blowing beyond the County March
to Brora, Golspie, Dingwall, Inverness; then it was Aberdeen,
Dundee and Glasgow. Touring costs money, so by now the band
were in it for the cash as well as the fun. They also made a
start at writing their own material, drawing on their varied
influences and blending in a bit of Deep North soul.
well as playing away from home, the Gaels kept immaculate company,
too. Local music fans may remember them supporting the great
Blues n Trouble when those pedigree wailers rocked
a tentful on Thursos Millbank field. Dr Feelgood and the
Sensational Alex Harvey Band also had their stage shoes pre-warmed
by the Gaels during the bands early years.
strong local support, bookings all over Scotland, billed alongside
the great and good of British blues rock. Just as it seemed
things were on the up and up, a series of mishaps knocked the
wind out of the Howlin Gaels.
a fire wrecked the bands practise room at Billy Wares
place. At Dornoch equipment went missing. Marty Sutherland parted
company with them and was replaced by Slim, an English chiel.
What was the mysterious sothrons real name? To this day
no-one knows, nor can anyone remember. Then there was the trek
West Coast is Gods own country, but man-eating midges
temper its breathtaking beauty and sudden squalls spring up
unheralded from the wild Atlantic. And when rain falls it comes
down by the bucketful. When the Gaels blew into Oban sometime
in the late 80s they had found that the storms, which
had accompanied them all the way from Caithness, had left the
venue ankle-deep in water. The gig was cancelled. With a heavy
heart, they turned round and prepared to take their sodden equipment
back to Thurso. It was not so simple. The bands van was
stuck fast in the mud of the same rain-drenched field that the
Gaels had hoped would be a scene of musical triumph. Forlorn
and alone, the band waited for someone to come and tow them
away from this desolate spot, sick to the back teeth and cursing
their luck. Perhaps, like many blues singers before them, the
Howlin Gaels had indeed been born under a bad sign. Slim
the drummer certainly thought so. He quit in 1992.
Billy Wares was injured in a bad road accident, leaving the
band minus a bass player and an experienced drummer, it looked
like roads end for the Howlin Gaels.
the next six years the Gaels were nothing but a hot memory in
the minds of those Far North folk who know that raucous rockin
blues, played loud, is something more than just a string of
notes. Its a musical equivalent of Tina Turners
onstage gyrations, and anyone who just wants to listen to words
had best stay home along with a song-sheet.
by the blues, Donnie and Alex kept right on wishing and hoping.
If only they could get the right rhythm section
its not just sympathetic musicianship. Four young guys
living on one anothers nerves for long periods have to
get on personality-wise. Having no luck locally, they advertised
in the national music papers. "Wanted. Drummer and bass
player to join established blues band" (or something along
came from all over. "Yeah, Im interested. Scotland,
you say. Whereabouts? Near John OGroats? *!*! Sorry
English dude clearly lacking geographical savvy
offered to come up to Thurso. Phoning from Edinburgh, he asked
was he nearly there? Was it much further? He promptly boarded
the next train south.
1998 Donnie Williamson was teaching music at Thurso College
when two young musicians signed on to the course. Ewan Barker
was a Thurso loon whod had a bit of previous behind the
drums with a local group called New Experience. Orkney-born
David Tashinizi played guitar any variety, rhythm, lead
and bass. Ewan and Taz were also members of Trudge Euphoria,
who recorded that memorable CD Festering Days at Murkle Sound
Studios. Would they be interested in playing a little blues
now and again?
pair of old hands and two young bucks- the Howlin Gaels
returned to find that not only were not only were they not forgotten
but they still boasted a loyal following. Thursos Newmarket
and Coral lounges were among the first to roll out the "welcome
series of local gigs and it was business as usual. Practising,
playing, penning new tunes, off over the Ord, new audiences
to conquer, new venues to storm, a real travelling band again.
The six wilderness years soon became a historical footnote.
year the Gaels played across the Firth in Orkney, where the
islanders response was overwhelming that the band decided to
record their long-planned first album at Phil Andersons
Kirkwall studio. To mesh in with a tight touring schedule, the
album was slapped down in a hurry but its all the
better for a few unpressed seams.
titled Rock the Millennium. The Gaels CD hit the shelves in
time to coincide with that great milestone in time. Eight tracks,
all the bands own work, a tour de force of tradition shin-kickin
blues rock with some more melodic ingredients mixed in. Its
showcase for the Gaels collective and individual talents, and
if you didnt buy a copy well youre the loser.
the future? The Howlin Gaels are presently hard at work
on material for their next album, which is currently being laid
down at Stainland under the guiding hand of Mark Wright, himself
no mean musician. They recently played support to the Commitments
at their Kirkwall date where, by all accounts, the Gales were
just as exciting as the main act.
promote their forthcoming album, the band plan to tour England
and maybe venture further afield to Europe.
this costs money and the appearance of a sympathetic local sponsor
would help matters along.
has a recent history of neglecting its own in favour of half-baked
acts from the south. Thats alright if you want to wallow
in nostalgia, but if you prefer to leave the dead where they
belong sign on to the Howlin Gaels and support real live
music. Its the right thing to do.