Although unaware of the fact until last year, it turns out that LES OMAN is what is now known as a Glasgow Gael. Having lived in the city for his first 22 years, but with a close attachment to his roots in Kintyre, Wester Ross and Skye, he wonders why he never figured it out before.
As a boy, he was entranced by the sounds permeating through his bedroom wall, as his father’s folk group, The Colin Oman Trio, practiced in the front room. Vocal harmonies, mandolin, whistle,
melodica and, most of all, the bewitching sound of the 12-string guitar.
His parents Colin and Margaret sang with The Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association for many years and one night, out of a sense of duty, he watched them performing with the choir on Se Ur Beatha, a Gaelic music show on BBC Scotland. (Les was no stranger to the show having performed on it, as a seven-year old, in a children’s chorus, distinguishing himself by diving into a big plate of old pennies at the end of the song!). During the course of the programme, he discovered the JSD Band and, in subsequent weeks, The Bothy Band and Alan Stivell. Mind blown!
Gradually moving away from the rock scene of his peers, he gravitated towards playing music whilst absorbing The Incredible String Band, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Richard & Linda Thompson, Horslips and on the more traditional scene, the mighty Silly Wizard, Ossian and Dick Gaughan.
At 19 he discovered various open tunings on his guitar and for a while got quite experimental, eventually settling on Open D as his weapon of choice. Along the way, he picked up and discarded the mandolin and whistle (always in awe of better players) and in the last 15 years has adopted the bouzouki, inspired by the sounds created by Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine of Planxty (whilst still in awe of them).
Over the years, he has played regularly with his good pal Gordon Hanning, latterly as a duo, but originally in the student band, Nannie Slagg. Having moved to Argyll in the 1980s, he played with Rod Buchanan and singer Ian Douglas in the Reel Propellors, and when the latter moved away, following a brief spell as a duo with Rod, they were joined by multi-instrumentalist Micheal McQuilkan in Gun Ainm. During this time, the band played on 3 albums by Les’ brother-in-law Norman MacKinnon, a well-known Gaelic singer and also collaborated with Anne Leith for the first time on “The Jewels of Kintyre” CD.
Following a spell in Ceann Tir with Ross Kennedy and piper Lorne MacDougall, Anne and Les met Alex and Kirsty Johnson in 2004. After a short time as part of an expanded Ceann Tir, by 2006 the quartet had become The Wild Sarachs, recording the EP, Campbeltown Loch Blues, which became a radio favourite on Kintyre’s local station Argyll FM. Significantly, this included a first collaboration with local poet Angus Martin, after he had given Les a lyric, Laggan’s Braes, which was lacking a tune. The resulting song has subsequently become a stone-cold, bucket-list classic, with several people wishing to use it at their respective funerals when their time eventually comes round.
As the self-proclaimed originators of the “droll folk” and “turbo-dreich” musical genres, The Sarachs were a popular act on the local scene and in 2009, reached the dizzy heights of the Danny Kyle Stage at Celtic Connections. Their repertoire was an unabashedly self-indulgent mixture of traditional and contemporary covers, as well as original material – particularly some golden nuggets from Les' archive of his own compositions. Some say it's a drawer. Others say it's an entire cupboard, bursting with 30 years of loose-leaf scribblings. Perhaps one day it'll be a dongle in a dookit?
During the band’s extended hiatus, Anne and Les started working as a duo, developing a suitably eclectic repertoire for an acoustic duo, but that’s another story. Collaborating once again with local poet Angus Martin in 2015, Anne & Les hosted a humble gathering in Les' daughter Rosslyn Oman's studio in Campbeltown to mark the centenary of the birth of Tarbert poet, George Campbell Hay. This and subsequent publication of Angus's poetry anthology, A Night of Islands, sowed the seeds for the project which has emerged as the “Poets” Extended EP. (Artwork courtesy of Rosslyn).