“It didn’t matter where we went around the world”, says Gordon Menzies of Scottish folk duo Gaberlunzie, “somebody always shouted: ‘Sing us the Kishorn Commandos’”.
The song, which became an anthem for workers constructing Scottish oil rigs, has hundreds of thousands of video views online via numerous band covers, and can still be heard in pubs and venues along the west coast.
Mr Menzies penned the tune in the mid-70s in the back of an unreliable van on the way from Lochcarron to Kishorn, where 3,000 men were building the mammoth Ninian Central oil platform.
“We were one of the few bands that dared to travel to Kishorn,” he said, “It was a wild place.”
The “toughest gang of workers”, as the song attests, carried out shifts from nine in the morning till nine at night, with another running in the inverse, which meant Gaberlunzie had a lot of work on their hands.
“So we did the Friday night, the Saturday morning, the Saturday night and the Sunday morning and then we were released!”
Gaberlunzie (the name refers to a professional beggar, but the duo are in fact ex Glasgow policemen) took the “wildness” in their stride and used it in the lyrics.
The number of workers arriving from far and wide (“We’ve Geordies here from Africa and Paddies from New York”) and the so-called 60-yard long “Wellie Bar” are referred to in the tune (“And what do we get for breakfast? Seven pints of stout”).
Even the “navvies dressed in drag” line has some bearing in fact after an unfortunate and unannounced camp inspection brought some surprises.
At that time no women were allowed in the camp, so many workers spent their lucrative pay to keep themselves entertained.
Mr Menzies recalls one wager between two workers that they couldn’t “drink the gantry”, with £150 against the other man’s motorcycle.
“In the 1970s that was quite a bit of money” he said.
“That was the first time we had actually seen guys throwing £20 notes about. In a normal year it was a fiver anywhere else, but up there £20 notes were nothing.
“There was a guy up there bet another one: ‘I bet you a tenner you won’t eat that £20 note’. The guy ate it!
“His mate said: ‘You’re stupid, now you’ve only got a tenner’.
“He replied: ‘No, I’ll get it back in the morning’.”
Another case which helped form the tune was when the band’s busted van was repaired by “Charlie’s Angels”, referring to the “tough” workers for one of the site’s main contractors, Charlie Fergus.
“That’s the kind of place it was. I wrote the song once we had gotten a feel for the place.
“Then we recorded it and it was a big 12-inch vinyl. The first time we headed up with it we sold about 350 albums in one night. It’s all we had with us, we could have sold more!”
Mr Menzies, with his bandmate Robin Watson, decided to retire Gaberlunzie in 2018 having spent 50 years on the road and becoming one of the best loved folk acts in Scotland.
However, having written a new verse for his 1970s “Hooligans at Hampden” song for Euro 2020, Mr Menzies is not opposed to perhaps giving the same treatment to the “Commandos”.
Kishorn itself went into decline in the late 80s but has since had a resurgence with new investment from Kishorn Port Limited, with ambitions for offshore wind, decommissioning, aquaculture and other sectors at the loch.
Mr Menzies said: “I was thinking about the other night actually, maybe do a rehash of it to include the wind farms, etc.
“They were all working men and they liked singalong songs. They came out at night like any other audience to be entertained so we entertained them the best we could.”