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Editor’s Note - No responsibility can be taken for the content of the following post, The Whiskyfun Music Awards 2014.  What follows is a purely subjective, ill-judged, prejudiced and occasionally pernicious imagination.  It bears no (nor should be taken to bear) resemblance to facts, truthful or otherwise.  The words ‘Awards’, ‘good’, ‘best’ ‘brilliant’, ‘outstanding’, ‘stunning’, ‘wonderful’, ‘inspirational’ and any others found here that might suggest a noteworthy artiste or performance should not be considered to imply any form of praise or recommendation whatsoever.  In several instances it is possible that bribes, payments, or inducements of other forms may well have been exchanged with the author in order to influence, shape or modify his opinions.  The opinions of the author are thus only occasionally his own.

Quote of the Year

“Put that fucking mobile ‘phone down and pay attention”

Nick Cave, Mahalia Jackson Theatre,
New Orleans, 21st July 2014


Single of the Year

In any other year this would have gone to Mark Ronson’s ‘Uptown Funk ‘.  But award-winning indie band alt-J win this year’s Blue Bottle Trophy for their single Left Hand Free, from their chart-topping This is all Yours.  Driven by a continuous riff (so distinctive you could patent it) Left Hand Free is very different from the band’s usual  “mid-paced folktronica”, which has won them fervent admirers (including Ms Miley Cyrus apparently) and detractors alike; in fact you need to forget everything you thought you knew about alt-J when you listen to this one.  It’s simply a delicious blues-rock groove that goes wonderfully with the grain.

Alt J


Novelty song of the Year

They just don’t make novelty records like they used to.  I was brought up on the Barron Knights’ Christmas singles, gently lampooning the year’s hit artistes and their records, something they managed to do from the mid 1960s though to the 1980s (indeed, perhaps in a parody of a parody, a version of the band still tours today).  And there were always comedic chart toppers, sometimes parodies, sometimes not: Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins, Charlie Drake, Benny Hill, Arthur Mullard and Hilda Baker, Jasper Carrot and Billy Connolly all had hits.

Punk had Jilted John (the hugely talented Graham Fellows), and of course the still wonderfully eccentric John Otway. In the US, Ray Stevens and Weird Al Jankovic have been stalwart practitioners of the genre.  But does the novelty record still have a place I hear you ask? Well, according to the Guardian it does.  And certainly I was delighted when this year’s Novelty Song of the Year prizewinner appeared: British comedy duo The Chuckle Brothers dueting with Tinchy Stryder, in aid of  African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust.  The song, based on the Chuckle Brothers’ famous ladder routine, ‘To me, to you (Bruv)’. It’s an inspired classic.



Musical Moment of the Year

Has to be from Scottish saxophonist, and sometime director  of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Tommy Smith playing at the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival, with pianist Brian Kellock.  The venue was the old Malt Mill building at Lagavulin Distillery, famed not only for the collector’s ‘holy grail’ of single malt Scotch whisky produced there between 1908 and 1962,  but also for its remarkable acoustic properties.  It has become the must-go-to venue of the Festival.  Smith of course knows something about acoustic properties, having recorded a “audacious and profound” live solo album in the Hamilton Mausoleum, which has the longest natural echo in Europe (15 seconds), “which at times can add an orchestral-like background to the music“.

In the Malt Mill Tommy Smith did something equally special, described brilliantly by Dave Broom in the most recent Whisky Advocate Magazine: “It was at this point that Tommy Smith picked up his tenor sax and blew a note inside the lid of the piano. The strings resonated, sending up a chord whose overtones hung in the air.  As it faded he did it again, and again, until the Malt Mill was filled with this delicate sound”.  A magical, and unforgettable multi-layered complex of sound that hung in the air like the smoke sometimes does on a damp evening outside the maltings at Port Ellen just down the road.  The musical moment of the Festival, and the musical moment of the year. 



Song of the Year

No one said this had to be a new song, right?  So this year’s most worthy winner, recorded in 2012, comes from the pen of Robert Burns, the organ playing of Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, and the voice of Danish soprano Else Torp.  And I confess, only came to my attention on a compilation CD, ‘curated’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds,  that popped through my letterbox along with my Old Man’s Music Magazine.  This version of ‘My Heart is in the Highlands’ is simply stunning. I’m not going to bother with a list of superlatives. It’s better than that. Just listen

Else Torp

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of the Year

Give Norman Watt-Roy a Knighthood now!
“Norman has been pleasuring us all with his bottom end for many, many years now. It's about time he got the recognition he deserves.”  Join now!


of the Year

I’m not quite sure what  the feisty Carl Palmer was doing at  the Great British Rock and Blues Festival at Butlins, in Skegness  in January.   I don’t think he quite knew either. You remember Carl Palmer of course?  Drummer extraordinaire with Atomic Rooster, Emerson Lake and Palmer (ELP), and Asia. Who, when he’s not touring the globe with Asia, tours with his own three-piece outfit: Paul Bielatowicz on guitars and Simon Fitzpatrick on bass, playing mostly the great tunes from the ELP (and The Nice) days, with Emerson’s keyboard pats meticulously transcribed for guitar by Bielatowicz. 

Carl Palmer

To be frank, in a weekend of mostly tired and superannuated British rock and blues, the Carl Palmer Band’s performance stood out as a beacon of sophistication and musicianship: Palmer’s drumming was a master class of technique and controlled aggression. To be honest I think he beat the shit out of his kit rather than out of the largely indifferent audience (many of whom, like the artistes, were a tad tired and superannuated).  But it was a sight to behold and I can still feel his drumming reverberating in the back of my head.


Film of the Year

Nick Cave

20,000 Days on Earth, by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, featuring Nick Cave.


The Roger Chapman Award
for Retired Musicians

Could it be that age has impaired Roger Chapman’s memory to the extent that he really has forgotten that he’s retired?  Following the triumph that was Family’s 2013 reunion gigs in London and Leicester,  Family trod the boards once more in 2014, again at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and again in great style, demonstrating once more what a huge and diverse cache of material they created in their day.  And Family will return again in 2015, as will Chapman’s band the Shortlist, who were reformed in 2013.  So it really is time that someone reminded Roger that he’s retired, and that he’s supposed to be spending his autumn days enjoying the odd pint at the Barnes Bowling Club. After all, he retired in 2009.  We went to his farewell gig.  Followed by several more …


Worst performance of the Year

Actually I can’t quite bring myself to do this.  But needless to say it was a stinker.  Actually it was much worse than that.  Some people really should know when to quit.


Those we have lost

Something is happening with the space-time continuum, and I’m not sure I like it.  This list gets longer each year, and increasingly features people we’ve grown up with, like brothers, like sisters, like our very best friends. Bobby Womack, Joe Cocker, Lou Reed, Ian McLagan, Jack Bruce, Pete Seeger, Jimmy Ruffin, Bobby Keys, Johnny Winter, Phil Everley, Tommy Ramone …


Gig of the Year

A hot steamy night in New Orleans with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds storming their way through Push the Sky Away and some carefully selected songs from their extensive back catalogue. Cave began the gig like a man possessed and was in amongst the audience with the first bars of ‘We real cool’.  In an interview before the show with a local paper he said “ I like an attentive audience that isn’t looking through an iPhone. ... I like a playful audience. I get a lot from… especially the front row. I’m a kind of front row performer. It’s about the tension I can see, the first few rows, that kind of empower me on stage, rather than looking out at the mass. ... I get a lot of power and energy from the almost 1-to-1 performances of people …” 

Nick Cave

Well there was certainly no lack of energy on the stage from Cave who delivered a performance crackling with the electrical energy of  a New Orleans thunderstorm, nor from the Bad Seeds, for whom Jim Sclavunos was exceptional on drums.  And it goes without saying that there seemed to be something very special about hearing ‘The Higgs Boson Blues’ being played in such a very special city.  And as I recall the martini in the French 75 afterwards was pretty good too.


Album of the Year

At the end of the day the winner came in by at least a length, but nonetheless honourable mention needs to be made of some of the runners-up.  It would, for example easy to dismiss Paulo Nutini’s Caustic as a cynical exercise in repackaging classic American soul of the sixties and seventies for a new audience, so cleverly is every song written, each one picking up a particular and distinctive sound or performer’s style from Allen Tousssaint through to the Four Tops and the Temptations. But the fact of the matter is that the songs are for the most part great, the band excellent, and Nutini’s vocal performances revelatory, as he underpinned in a series of high-profile gigs throughout the year. Honourable mention should also go to Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey for their hastily recorded (for obvious reasons) collaboration, the almost chart topping Going Back Home. A joyful experience from start to finish.


Equally pleasurable listening was Richard Thompson’s Acoustic Classics, acoustic reworks of a selection from his back catalogue. In his own words, “these are acoustic versions of songs that were originally recorded electric, and there have never been acoustic studio versions, just some live recordings, where I wasn't always satisfied with the sound or the performance. Also, some of these songs are 45 years old. I sing them and feel about them differently, and it's nice to capture the evolution.’.  Highly recommended.  As is Robert Plant’s Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, performed with the Sensational Space Shifters. Fate, I should add, played a cruel hand in preventing a visit to Llandudno to see the last night of their tour, but the album is a nice second best, with great vocal performances from Plant, and outstanding guitar work from Liam Tyson and Justin Adams. They also turned in a pretty special Glastonbury performance

As did our champagne-swigging winner Jack White, whose 2014 album Lazaretto even managed to surpass the brilliance of his previous release Blunderbuss.  White seems to be the man with the musical Midas touch.  Three or more of the songs on Lazaretto could be Album Track of the Year; Three Women, a lascivious  and wry reworking of a Willie McTell tune, probably just pips the others at the post.  But the whole album works brilliantly in pulling together a wide variety of  musical influences and using them in sometimes highly theatrical, sometimes very funny, ways to tell a series of closely observed stories


The Whiskyfun Non Plus Ultra 2014 Award

There could only be one winner for this coveted award.  Wilko Johnson, who was supposed to be dead, and who isn’t.  Having been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, a chance intervention from an oncologist fan led to a second opinion, and extensive surgery. ““It is no exaggeration to say Wilko has been taken to the limits of what a human being can take” said surgeon Emmanuel Huguet, also, as it happens, a Wilko fan.  But just listen to Wilko telling his own story ; it is truly inspirational, if I may use a very overused word.



Bonus (so to speak)...


Serge’s Gig of the Year

Donny McCaslin at the Islay Jazz Festival 2014. Already in the 1970s, some were claiming that jazz was dead. Frank Zappa retorted that it was “just smelling funny”. Well it could have died indeed, either from excessive elitism or from too much commercialism,  a la Diana Krall. Thank God, hundreds of very talented new cats jumped onto the stage in the 1980s and 1990s, and beyond the new Charlie Parker or Bill Evans sound-alikes, many granted us with some contemporary jazz that was both interesting to the jazzistas, and kind of listenable to the masses. In other words, modern jazz that does not make headphones mandatory. So,  the opposite of divorce jazz.


Tenor Donny McCaslin was one of those new cats, and I’ve was utterly happy, while attending the lovely Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival this year, to find out that he was playing in the Malt Mill!   A great gig, a pirouetting saxophone, some intriguing modern compositions and an all-round good humour that perfectly complemented my glass(es) of Lagavulin. Hurray for Jazz-a-vulin! Recommended record: Casting for Gravity, Donny McCaslin, Greenleaf Music.


Serge’s Album of the Year

Guillaume Perret & The Electric Epic, Open Me, Kakoum Records. Guillaume Perret plays the electronic saxophone just like Ponty plays the electronic violin, you see, and breaks just any borders with his infinite loops, his sometimes very ‘hard’ jazz (as in hard rock), his sense of funk, his not-too-discreets tributes to both Magma and Weather Report, and simply the way he sculpts jazz rather than just plays it. And his sound is simply massive, a good occasion to dust your old 2x120 watt stereo that’s in the basement and dump that crappy mp3 set that you only bought because it was small and very smartly designed somewhere in California.