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Copyright Nick Morgan, Kate Kavannagh and Serge Valentin

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Some people say there are too many Awards; others decry the pecuniary influence that competitors seem to wield to their own advantage; occasionally, judging panels are criticised for their lack of impartiality, or even qualifications. Have no fear with this year’s Whiskyfun Music Awards. No money has changed hands, no expertise has been exercised and instead, what follows is the result of moderately ill-informed personal predilection, preference and prejudice exercised by the distinguished judging panel of three.  Read on …


Matthew Fisher

Fractious Family Feuding Lifetime Achievement Award
We’ve followed this one for years, but could it be that Matthew Fisher has finally ended his long-standing feud and legal battle with former Procul Harum colleague (and hunting, shooting and fishing supporter) Gary Brooker MBE over authorship (and royalty) rights to ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’?  Following last year’s triumphant appeal by Fisher against a High Court ruling overturning his original successful claim, he now seems to have a signed a deal securing his share of future royalties.  The cheque, as they say, is in the post.  And all this for writing something that sounded remarkably like the work of that old German bloke, whose ghostly face, were he to be here today, would no doubt turn a whiter shade of pale. 


Danny Thompson

Bass Player of the Year
I had a few candidates lined up for this: Denis Bovell, who was so imposing with the Upsetters as they backed Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.  Another was James Genus, who was fantastic with Herbie Hancock, and I also considered Segs Jennings, now back with the Alabama 3 as bass player, musical director, and ‘label coordinator’ (sic).  However although it’s a bit of a cheat I’ve gone for Danny Thompson, who played in Kate St John’s  house-band at the ‘Songs of Nick Drake’  concert at the Barbican in January and featured on Drake’s albums.  And naturally Thompson played at, and was celebrated in, Richard Thompson’s ‘Cabaret of Souls’, written to celebrate Danny’s seventieth birthday.  He also played with John Martyn for many years, and survived to tell the tale. Few bass players can have given so much pleasure to so many people over such a lengthy period of time.  Thanks, Danny.


Lee Perry

Best Dressed Performer of the Year
I had thought there was only one winner here: Johnny Dowd, for his razor-sharp mohair suit, only matched by his razor-sharp guitar playing at the Borderline in May.  The suit was a gift from fan and London tailor Simon Smith.  But it’s a tie [Editor’s note: what an awful pun].  Who could have imagined Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s wonderfully preposterous and bonkers home-made outfit at the Barbican, which must have been dreamt up in a hazy ganja cloud?  What the picture sadly doesn’t show are his boots, an eccentric painted patchwork which included “my computer”: a glued on calculator.  Just first class. So two very different but equally worthy winners.


Oil City

The Luc Besson Cinematographer’s Award for Music DVD of the Year
There have been a number of compelling releases this year. ‘No Distance Left to Run’  is the warts and all story of Blur from their early days at art college through to their reunion tour last year, including full-length footage of their marvellous gig at Hyde Park.  Bruce Springsteen also released his hugely energetic 2009 Hyde Park performance n DVD.  But the music  DVD of the year has to be Julian Temple’s Oil City Confidential, the a story of Dr Feelgood, set firmly in their unlovely but somehow other-worldly home of Canvey Island.  There is original concert footage and interviews with band members and their families (Lee Brilleaux’s old mum is quite captivating), managers and friends.  However, the star of the show is a strangely maudlin, almost lachrymose at times, Wilko Johnson.   It’s a great rock and roll film, but surprisingly moving.

Randy Newman

Best Bang for your Bucks Special Category Award
Randy Newman. I was away on business but the Photographer enjoyed thirty-odd songs in a stellar performance spanning his career of 50 years plus. The artist put the audience through an emotional mangle dispensing relentless sardonic wit. He poked gentle fun at ageing rock  musicians “I’m dead (but I don’t know it)” and expressed acute sadness “Losing you”, a fine song which made up for the absence of  “Louisiana 1927”.  Both now stand as wry anthems to New Orleans’ suffering, exacerbated by woeful government response to Hurricane Katrina.  

Paloma Faith

The Amy Winehouse Award
I wouldn’t like to put a hex on her, but I think this should go to Paloma Faith for her tuneful and very ballsy performance with Guy Barker’s fantastic Orchestra at the Barbican.  It might have been a tougher battle had we got to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the Roundhouse, but Ms Faith (with joyful Hackney hangers-on) is a worthy winner.

Serge’s Nostalgic Band of the Year

London’s The Limelight Bandits, or when the same story creates the same results all over again (and again), just as it has been for fifty years or more. London, a cramped low-ceilinged cellar, a couple of beers or more, a few instruments, a dodgy sound system and a bunch of chaps (and chapesse) beating the hell out of some great old tunes with a lot of love. Timeless.


The errr… what was that all about? Award
A puzzling category, but no more puzzling than the quite disappointing Songs in the Key of London gig ‘curated’ by Chris Difford at the Barbican.  A huge assembly of talent (Glenn Tilbrook, Suggs, Chas Smash, Chas Jankel, James Hunter, Elvis Costello, Robyn Hitchcock, Blaine Harrison – need I go on?) and surely a city on whose canvas music has been painted more strongly and more diversely than any other? [Editor’s note: you’re only allowed to get away with that ridiculous claim, Nick, because you live in London and it’s Christmas].  Well maybe, but somehow the evening failed to live up to expectations: the songs strangely myopic and one dimensional in the picture they painted. A huge opportunity somehow wasted.  Anyway Mr Difford recovered himself perfectly in a polished performance with Squeeze at one of the three nights they played in London before Christmas.


Bobby Irwin

Drummer of the Year
Sometimes it’s about more than just ‘bish bash bosh’ isn’t it?  I mean heaven knows there are more than enough drummers around who think that their sole purpose is to deafen their band mates and the audience as they attempt to pulverise their kits into splinters.  If that were the criteria for this year’s awards then Stooges sticks-man Scott Asheton would win hands down.  And if we were looking for epic jazz-funk rolls and riffs then it would have gone to Trevor Lawrence Jr, who was an unstoppable force behind Herbie Hancock in November.  But this year we’re looking for some more: something deft, delicate, perfectly timed and not deafening.  So the surprising winner, for his impeccable drumming (and delicate backing vocals) is Bobby Irwin (aka ‘Robert Traherne’), long-time collaborator with Brentford’s song writing genius Nick Lowe. Performing with Lowe at a charity gig earlier this year he produced an hour or so of laid-back pop-perfection drumming which scooped the award at a stroke.
- - - Album of the Year - - -
Album of the year

Kate’s Album of the Year
Mavis Staples You Are Not Alone. Mavis, produced by Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco fame) may not have produced THE album but this is a captivating and heartwarming cross-genre offering.  The great lady, just in her eighth decade, is blessed with a splendid band that she (quite rightly) “loves madly”.  We can testify since they rocked the Legendary Blues Cruise boat in 2009.  Mavis is inspired by her own Pops, Rev. Gary Davis, John Fogerty, Allen Toussaint and Randy Newman to bring us the Good News.  And it sounds great, y’all.
Nick’s Album of the Year
Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, a stunning follow-up to Raising Sand, and a guitar players’ delight thanks to the work of Nashville stalwart Buddy Miller, who also co-produced with Plant and co-wrote some of the songs and arrangements.  Miller toured with the Raising Sand band (taking the place of Marc Ribot).
Serge’s Album of the Year
Vertical Voices by Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh, because we were waiting for more truly great vocal jazz after Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (or Bavan), after the Swingle Singers and the Double Six de Paris (sure, there’s The Manhattan Transfer!).  And because of Maria Schneider’s stunning compositions.

Mike Hibbert

Performer You Would Most Like Your Daughter to Bring Home
This one is easy. Mike Hibbert, lead guitarist with Chapel Club and sometime model for Converse shoes, who after a very successful year is waiting for the launch of their first album, Palace, in February.

Alan Vega

Performer You Would Never Want Your Daughter to be Seen Out With
It’s not often that this award can be won twice, but if anyone can pull it off then it’s that “arm-waving crazed old man at a wind-swept bus stop on a deserted South Shields sea-shore”, in other words Suicide’s Alan Vega, who bludgeoned his audience into beer-seeking indifference as Suicide reprised their first album as support to Iggy and the Stooges at Hammersmith.  People really do love Vega; read this for example, “you have to begin with the understanding that Suicide are one of the most important bands EVER and that they suffered -- words, barbs, fists, axes, riots … for their art … Alan Vega and Martin Rev evoked a guitarless world of urban noir and electronic drone and they were hated for it.”  I think we all suffered for their art, and the Millwall of rock and roll they may be, but at 71 Vega is far too old to be seen with any progeny of mine, and I wouldn’t let him near my old Mum for that matter either.


Guitar of the Year
I’ve always fancied the look of Robyn Hitchcock’s Buddy Guy Stratocaster, the black one with the white spots.  And Johnny Dowd’s Stratocaster was razor-sharp too.  Another one I covet is Martin Carthy’s eponymous acoustic guitar; it has become so iconic for guitarists that Martin now even make a Signature Edition of the famous 18MC.  But the guitarist’s guitars to admire this year were Richard Hawley’s lovingly cared-for collection on stage at Jazz Café.  And of all of them I would always make room in my house for the gorgeous Gretsch Country Gentleman, which is simply a thing of beauty.


Venue of the Year
London gigs seem to be increasingly pointed toward the huge venues, like the O2 and Wembley Arena, followed by the next tier of Hammersmith, Brixton and I suppose the ghastly Alexandra Palace.  Following the closure of the Astoria last year (it’s now a hole in the ground, but there are rumours of a ‘replacement’) it’s the smaller venues that have been under threat this year: the 100 Club very nearly closed (future still a tad unclear) as did the Half Moon until Young’s Brewery cobbled together a rescue package. .  But apparently prospering, and still providing one of the best live music experiences in London is the good old Shepherd’s Bush Empire.  It’s now owned by Academy Music Group, a conglomerate of promoters (including Live Nation), and ‘partners’ with O2, but all that seems to mean is that the place has been cleaned up a bit and the upstairs bar has had a facelift (but still never enough staff).  The sound in our recent visits has been first class, and the staff are always friendly and helpful.  And it’s a short bus ride down the road.  And there are a couple of nice restaurants just round the corner. A winner by a length.


The Whiskyfun Long Service Award
Captain Beefheart had already outlived his relatively short career by about thirty years before he died in December.  I couldn’t really understand the ‘he’ll really be missed’ chat of radio DJ’s, given he’d already been gone for so long, yet was still such a tangible presence in the world of rock and roll.  So I imagine his worthy long service stretching far beyond his active career will rightly continue beyond the bounds of mortality. 


Nick and Kate’s Gig of the Year
Iggy and the Stooges playing Raw Power at the Hammersmith Apollo.  I still have to rub my eyes and ears and pinch myself after this one.  Could we really have seen such an unbridled and unhinged demonstration of raw power from Iggy Pop and his ageing sidekicks.  The answer is ‘yes’. Just stupendous.  Five stars.  Ninety-nine points.

Eddy Louiss

Serge’s Gig of the Year
Eddy Louiss’ “50 years of music” gig at the Olympia in Paris in November, because of the sheer brilliance of the man and because of the 50–strong brass and reeds that were blowing in unison behind his Hammond organ that night.


Worst Gig of the Year?
Donovan’s simply appalling set at the Rhythm Festival which brought Saturday night to a premature end.  Sometimes you just have to tell it like it is, but on this occasion don’t just believe me, let the people speak (quotes taken from various Forums)
“unfortunately Saturday's headline act, Donovan, seemed to be a disappointment to some of the crowd”
“Donovan, the miserable old git. Completely killed the mood”
“Donovan ... sorry like … he was shite. How he gets his head so far up his own arse (esp. with those hair extensions) is a mystery”
“There is not much to say to be honest, an old fella with hair extensions ... The wife and I listened for a while then decided the tent blowing in the wind was a better option, so off we went…”

Chris Wood

Single Most Outstanding Song of the Year
This must be the most absurd category, even by the standards of whisky-related awards, but it would be wrong not to rise to the challenge.  So, and perhaps surprisingly, I’m going to pick out the Imagined Village’s performance ofThe hand weaver and the factory girl, sung by Chris Wood, at their gig in January.  It is a wonderful song, which I was partly reminded of listening to Bellowhead’s version on Hedonism, but the Imagined Village’s arrangement, and Wood’s wonderful singing, won the day.  And if I were to be allowed a Gold Best in Class it would go to Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby and ‘Whole wide world’, simply because it is one of the best rock and roll songs.

***** The Fookin’ Non-plus Ultra Award *****

Not for the first time the award belongs to Richard Hawley: for his wonderful performance at the Jazz Café; his under-appreciated mastery of the electric guitar, for his dizzying collection of beautiful and carefully-named guitars; for his profitable engagement with the world of Scotch and American whiskey over the past twelve months, and for being such a down-to-earth bloke.  Non-plus Ultra indeed.



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