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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

January 29, 2014


Yeah yeah yeah, our concert reviewer and photographer are back, with this great...


Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Great British Rock and Blues Festival, Butlins, Skegness, 24th-26th January, 2014

While most of the world’s leading movers and shakers spent the weekend at Davos, your Whiskyfun reviewers decided to spend le week-end with the G5, in the unlikely location of Butlins holiday camp at Skegness.

It’s certainly high-security: difficult to get in, harder to get out. For those of you who aren’t aware it’s a holiday camp (er.. actually it’s now called a ‘resort’), built by entrepreneur Billy Butlin in 1935; the start of a huge popular entertainment empire that still bears his name. The G5? Oh yes, it’s a giant geriatric gourmand and (mostly) Geordie Glastonbury: the Great British Rock and Blues Festival.   And Skegness,  if you don’t know,  is ‘bracing’; especially in January.  But Butlins make a fortune selling off-season music weekends these days and clearly have a well-established audience,  if this one is anything to go by.  It’s an ‘adult’ weekend, so with no kids to skew the demographic, the average age has to be sixty significantly plus,  almost exclusively white and from the West and East Midlands, Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear.  They are all large and getting larger.  Couples, families,  groups of friends (I hear tell there’s a whole street from Bradford here) and, of course, numerous portly Peter Pans with their Lost Boys: Tootles, Nibs, Curly, Slightly and The Twins, all rarely to be seen without a plastic pint tumbler in hand.  Skegness
Your reviewers have gone undercover in typical style, with an Executive Premium Upgrade to a beachside container, which even has a specially-heated cupboard for the whippets. 

We engage fully with Butlins’ all-in dining package, a very North of England version of La Grande Bouffe, and even sprinkle salt liberally on our bacon, comme on fait a la maison.  And in between the numerous musical reminiscence therapy sessions, we generously give our time to overweight pony-tailed veterans of the never-quite-famous musicians brigade, spinning yarns about  the time they nearly played with the Moody Blues, or once met Keith Emerson in the bar of the Strawberry near Newcastle’s St James’s Park.  Ever game for a laugh we also sat in on a ‘how to pogo in a mobility scooter’ session which turned out to be not too different from playing a game of Rollerball.


What about the music?  There are four performance spaces: The Blues Stage, the Rock Stage, the Blues Matters stage and the Breaking Act Stage, with band playing Friday evening, and afternoons and evenings on Saturday and Sunday.  Frankly the programming between the two main stages is somewhat random, but newcomers will learn that the real skill is not choosing who to go and see, but rather developing strategies to ensure that you can secure seating and tables for your party, in one or other (or both!) for the whole session. 

Paul Kane and Steve Walwyn (Dr Feelgood)

Naively, we went for the surprisingly frisky mosh for Dr Feelgood on Friday evening, which was largely inhabited by a party celebrating the fact that this was their one-thousandth Feelgood gig, either a stunning show of loyalty or a real lack of imagination.  Of course there are no real Feelgoods left in the band, even though drummer Kevin Morris has been with the band for thirty-one years, and bass player (and Ian McShane lookalike) Phil Mitchell, for not too much less.  In a sense, the Feelgoods are a brand, and they certainly delivered their trademark high-energy rhythm and blues, much of it originating from the pen of former guitarist Wilko Johnson, whose unique guitar style defined the band’s original sound.  The muscular Steve Walwyn on guitar plays it his own way, very effectively, and singer Paul Kane manages to generate no small part of the on-stage menace of his illustrious predecessor Lee Brilleaux.  A class act. 

Carl Palmer
Carl Palmer and Paul Bielatowicz (Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy)

Like the blues, you can hardly call the Feelgoods sophisticated. Their genre is one of immediacy, simplicity, repetition and energy, and this lack of sophistication was probably a feature of most of the weekend’s performers, with the very notable exception of the Carl Palmer Band, who probably turned in the best set we witnessed.  You remember Carl Palmer of course?  Drummer extraordinaire with Atomic Rooster, Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP), and Asia. Well, when he’s not touring the globe with Asia he’s playing with his own three-piece outfit, with Paul Bielatowicz on guitars and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass, playing mostly the great tunes from the ELP (and The Nice) days. Now I know we all ritually burned our ELP albums years ago, and I would rarely contemplate listening to any of their recordings today.  But with Keith Emerson’s keyboard parts transcribed for the guitar by Bielatowicz, and played by him with an astonishing virtuosity, Palmer’s band turn in a captivating performance, of a class apart from anything else we saw.  We were in the mosh for that one too; Palmer’s drumming was a masterclass, and frankly it was one of those occasions when it was foolish not to have worn earplugs, as heads were still ringing the next day.  And it would be wrong of me not to mention Simon Fitzpatrick’s old-folk’s pleasing party-piece, a solo version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Wilko Johnson
Wilko Johnson

I’m not sure that Wilko Johnson would claim to be sophisticated, although in what is apparently and very sadly the twilight of his career he’s taken an odd turn by recording a new album of mostly old material with The Who’s Roger Daltrey and his touring band, featuring the great Norman Watt-Roy on bass and Dylan Howe on drums.  He’s got two sets with the band (but no Daltrey – they play together shortly at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire) on Sunday afternoon.  It’s strange watching him in a large venue where some of the threat that he naturally carries with him is dissipated; face to face at the Half Moon or 100 Club is best!  But for all that it’s a great gig, with his current circumstances giving some of the lyrics to his classic songs an added poignancy.  Apparently Daltrey and Wilko got together because Roger is a great admirer of the Pirates, and of course Wilko’s bewilderingly simple ‘choppy’ way of playing was based on Pirate’s guitarist the late Mick Green. I’m glad to report it’s all still there, just as ‘choppy’ and piratical as ever. 

Chantel McGregor
Chantel McGregor

By way of a big contrast from many of the other bands on the main stages Sunday also saw Chantel McGregor take to the stage with her power-trio.  For the past few years she has been sweeping the boards at the British Blues Awards, and her live performances have garnered much acclaim.  With a degree from the University of Rock she certainly has huge technical ability; it takes a lot of chutzpah to put Voodoo Chile as the third song in your set, and execute with a degree of engaging originality, but that’s what she did.  Perhaps a tangible weakness, as many other artistes have discovered to their own cost, is in the strength of her original material: it was a bit patchy, but the guitar playing was rather exceptional, and the singing pretty good too.

Tony McPhee
Kate with Tony TS McPhee (Groundhogs), Zoot Money, Chas Hodges

And just for the record, before we set our faces into a howling wind and bade farewell to the relentlessly helpful and friendly Butlins staff, we also saw (among the many bands playing) Slack Alice, the Quireboys, Chas Hodges, Zoot Money, The Yardbirds, and the Groundhogs, but sadly not Stan Webb (of Chicken Shack fame) who failed to show up. Perhaps he’d gone to Davos for a few pints instead.

- Nick Morgan, concert photographs by Kate Kavanagh


Two natural Arran

I found all recent natural Arrans (that is to say not filled or finished in unlikely wine casks) much to my liking, with their very pleasant style that combines both liqueury and ‘nervous’ sides. No, that’s not always contradictory.

Arran 'Batch 2' (49.4%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 459 bottles)

Arran 'Batch 2' (49.4%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 459 bottles) Three stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: a clean, malty and fruity style that rather hints at many ‘natural’ Speysiders. I find apples, plums, then more oranges and ‘sweet’ lemons, lemon grass, touches of ginger and then a wee earthiness combined with a little sea air, which isn’t exactly ‘Speyside’, I agree. A nice, easy, clean nose. Mouth: big fruits, bubblegum, more bubblegum and then even more bubblegum. Maybe a few marshmallows as well, before many oranges start to appear, although we’re rather around squash and Fanta. Spectacularly orangey/bubblegumy, I’d say. Jelly beans and bears, Haribo-style. Finish: long, with a little more sugar cane syrup and barley sugar. A little lemonade too, the finish’s a little fizzy. Comments: a spectacular sweetness. As they say, ‘It's fruitier than Glen MacFruit, the winner of last year's Fruitbomb competition’. Ha! SGP:741 - 83 points.

Arran 16 yo 1996/2013 (53%, A.D. Rattray for Brachadair, hogshead, cask #231, 329 bottles)

Arran 16 yo 1996/2013 (53%, A.D. Rattray for Brachadair, hogshead, cask #231, 329 bottles) Three stars and a half Colour: pale straw. Nose: this one’s very different from the Boutique-y, with much more barley, porridge, mashed potatoes, milk and custard, then a fruitier side. The whole remains very, very barley-y. With water: more custard, mashed celeriac, cooked turnips… In all cleanliness. Sounds funny but I really like this. Mouth (neat): phew! I wasn’t too fond of the nose but the palate’s easier, sweeter, fruitier and zestier. The same kind of fizziness as in its bro, as well as these jellybeans, liqueurs and marshmallows. Very sweet but remains fresh. With water: very good now, on orange liqueur, a little pepper, a little ginger and touches of coconut. Finish: quite long, with more spices, esp. pepper and ginger. Comments: it’s fun to see water at work. It improves the fruitiness and tames the porridge in the nose, in a way. SGP:551 - 84 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Arran I've tasted so far







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