Stornoway trio Peat & Diesel enjoyed a rapid rise to stardom, but just as they were about to embark on a sell-out tour Covid-19 struck. SARA BAIN caught up with them to find out their hopes and fears for the future…
JUST OVER TWO years ago, an electrician, a van driver and a fisherman from the Isle of Lewis spent their Saturday evenings in a front room in Stornoway playing music together “for a laugh”.
The fisherman had a dream of being a successful singer-songwriter but his quirky, tongue-in-cheek lyrics of the everyday life of ordinary people from the Hebrides meant no one took him too seriously.
When the fisherman put one of his songs up on social media one evening, the lives of these three ordinary men spiralled out of control and heralded their meteoric rise to unprecedented fame as national folk heroes – an accolade they still find difficulty in embracing.
Innes Scott, Calum (Boydie) Macleod and Uilly MacLeod are Peat & Diesel: a band so popular that their concerts sell out within minutes of box offices opening.
They have been exposed on every television and radio network across the country; played in some of the UK’s most prestigious venues; been hounded by reporters; inundated with offers of work; mobbed at festivals; won a few prestigious music awards; and have seen fans travel hundreds of miles just to experience one of their lively gigs.
The band were truly surprised to receive the award for best live band at the 2019 BBC Alba Scottish Traditional Music Awards and were equally astounded by their 2020 award for best video and a nomination for best album.
British comedian Romesh Ranganathan spent a “chaotic” afternoon with Innes, Boydie and Uilly in a Christmas edition of his BBC series
‘The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan’ which was aired recently. By the end of the meeting, Romesh confessed to being a Peat & Diesel fan and said: “They are proper stars. They are megastars.” And he described Boydie as “an unbelievable frontman. He is a frontman in the classic sense in terms of he is artistically gifted and professionally completely uncontrollable”.
It is this seemingly chaotic lack of control that has caused Peatlemania to spread so rapidly across the nation. As ordinary folk, none of these three ‘coves’ come with the egotism associated with this level of stardom. Their down-to-earth attitude, gentle humility and self-confessed naivety of the wider music industry is part of their unique charm and connects them to their fans across the generations who reward them with unwavering loyalty.
“Boydie has always been a songwriter but had not been successful at it,” said Innes, the band’s accordion player. “Maybe it was the wrong time, with the wrong people listening to him or maybe he still had to discover his own voice. We knew Boydie had something but no one took him seriously.
“One night he threw together a song and put it up on social media. Within the space of a weekend, that song had 30,000 views, which was incredible. People began to notice him. He put another song up within the week and it went through the roof.
“It was then we thought about doing a gig for a laugh. We knew Heb Celt was on at the time and that we could possibly get a decent crowd. We didn’t think it mattered how bad we were going to sound, we thought we would have a bit of fun.”
The gig was a massive success and, when a video of the performance went viral, the trio received hundreds of work offers.
Innes said: “It was beginning to become a full-time job just answering people’s queries. In the end, it was too much for us and we had to block messaging. There were people from the TV and newspapers after us but we hadn’t actually done anything. People were imagining the band to be a hundred times the size it was and making something of us that we felt we couldn’t deliver.”
As Peat & Diesel, the band made their first album, ‘Uptown Fank’, cut in Keith Morrison’s Wee Studio in Stornoway. Robert Hicks of Ullapool’s Loopallu festival helped them put a tour together.
Innes explained: “Robert got us dates for small venues including Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow and tickets began to fly. The Glasgow event sold out in two minutes and so they had to find a bigger venue.
“The Barrowlands was booked but that sold out just as quickly. Suddenly all the venues sold out, including gigs in London and Manchester. It was unbelievable.”
With such a fast rise to fame, the trio have struggled to get to grips with the demands of fame and the music industry, and Innes confesses their lack of experience often leads to chaos.
He said: “We have had to learn about public liability insurance, tech specs, hospitality riders and dressing rooms – what do you need a dressing room for? We’re not royalty! Up until last year, I wondered why people needed an accountant.
“We always seem to be running behind on everything and can’t catch up. Everything seems so above us and we don’t feel in control. We never seem to be organised enough for the next step and have to use Google to help us.”
Innes is an electrician working at Stornoway airport, looking after the runway’s lighting and power and says he does not want to quit his day job.
“It’s getting harder to be musicians and do regular work,” he said. “But we’re coping. Opportunities like this for musicians are very rare, so we are stretching the bosses’ goodwill for as long as we can.
“After the release of our new album, Light my Byre, in January, we started the Giving it Laldy tour. Everything happened so fast. We hadn’t even learned the songs on the album.
“We were gigging during the week and then travelling back home on the Sunday to start work for the week on a Monday. We would travel through the night and have to meet everyone’s demands, perform, meet and deal with hundreds of people, fulfil publicity obligations and fit into schedules.
“Our lives were turned upside down. The plan was to go home and learn the songs but I was honestly thinking this was really hard and then lockdown happened and everything stopped.”
The tour was cancelled days before the boys were due to tour across Ireland and, since then, they have been lying low.
LIVE MUSIC ON HOLD
“We are not the type of band that can sit down and invent new materials,” said Innes.
“Everything comes out of Boydie’s head and, until it’s ready to be released, it’s not coming. You don’t ask him to do anything. He has a heart of gold and means well to everyone but, if you ask him to do something, and he’s not ready for, it will not get done. We are waiting to see what happens with live gigs next year.”
Innes confesses to feeling nervous about the uncertainty of the future of live performances. He said: “Over the summer, a lot of people believed the situation with the pandemic would be better but I realised things were getting worse for live music. I really wondered whether Peat & Diesel would ever play live again.
“I am, however, a positive person who always sees good things in bad situations. Watching pre-Covid TV programmes where people are sitting closely together does put fear through us though. Until maybe everyone takes this vaccine and Covid goes away, I think live music is really going to struggle.
“When we are playing, the crowd sucks up the atmosphere we have created.
“If that atmosphere is not there, I don’t think people will enjoy it. For the 2021 tour, I am not sure whether people will be ready to gather or whether they would rather wait that extra while to attend a gig. We will have to wait and see how it goes.”
The 2020 tour has been rescheduled for next year, with a gig booked for Skye in the autumn.
Innes says he is looking forward to coming back to Skye: “We have played on Skye before and were not sure how they would get us. It was an amazing experience for us, though, as people sang along to the words and really enjoyed the performance.
“Despite the sea between us, Skye people are very like us and understand our music.
“We decided the tour had to include a venue on Skye as we feel they are our friends and family and a place where we feel at home to be ourselves and enjoy our time there.”
With current Covid-19 restrictions in mind, Peat & Diesel are due to play at Kyleakin Hall on 14th October 2021 and information on the progress of the tour will be updated regularly. The gig, which has been organised by Seall, sold out in under five minutes.