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Hi, you're in the Archives, October 2009 - Part 2

October 2009 - part 1 <--- October 2009 - part 2 ---> November 2009 - part 1


October 31, 2009

Rochard Hawley

by Nick Morgan
Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, October 8th 2009


Richard Hawley apparently thinks that his new album, Truelove’s Gutter, is probably the best he’s made, albeit one not likely to garner great commercial success, with less catchy tunes than his previous two offerings, and no obvious single material. UK chart performance to date would tend to suggest he’s right.

Truelove’s Gutter entered the top twenty album chart on release but has subsequently slumped in position. But as Hawley has learned through a long and not always easy career, chart success is not everything, and the satisfaction he takes from the new work is very evident from the live performances he has been delivering around the UK to promote its release. Not only is this the best live performance we’ve seen from Hawley, it’s also the most uncompromising. It started with Hawley, back to the audience, silhouetted in a spot light, as he teased the opening sounds and notes from his guitar for ‘As the dawn breaks’ (his playing, like his song writing, is all about creating layers and textures) before turning in the first of an evening’s worth of almost perfect vocals. What followed were all eight songs from Truelove’s Gutter, six from Cole’s Corner, Lady’s Bridge, and 2001’s Late Night Final. A surprise mid-encore performance came from Lisa Marie Presley, a current collaborator of Hawley’s, who sang ‘Weary’, their joint composition, with him.
Richard Hawley

Read the reviews of Hawley’s new album, and the tour dates for that matter, and it’s hard to get past the label ‘crooner’ which has attached itself so firmly to his vocal style. And though it’s a fair enough term to use, it has the effect of pulling a veil over his huge accomplishments as a composer, and his very twenty-first century style of guitar playing. This is displayed to the full throughout his new album, and this gig. Hawley’s guitar work benefits from the complimentary presence of Shez Sheridan, who jointly weaves delicate, albeit largely subdued, patterns of increasing complexity tonight, ending with a climactic version of ‘Ocean’ which saw Hawley break loose in spectacular style. Not that he hadn’t already displayed some considerable fret board flourishes, notably with astonishing solos on ‘Hotel Room’ and the new ‘Remorse code’. It’s not only Sheridan that’s helping, it’s a consummate band performance, which includes wandering troubadour David Coulter on various guitars and of course musical saw (an instrument first played to Hawley by his grandfather) on ‘As the dawn breaks’ and ‘Don’t you cry’.

The reception from the audience was remarkable, rapt, almost reverential (so I feel even more angry, Serge, about the loud-mouthed arseholes who tried to ruin the Astoria gig that you came over for last year) and at times you could almost hear a pin drop. After ‘Tonight’ there’s a huge round of applause, and then after a pause another spontaneous ovation that took even Hawley by surprise: “Steady on, we’re not in America you know’, he chided the crowd, and when that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm ‘Look, it’ll just go the band’s head, they’re not used to this’. Note the language: Hawley is far less talkative than normal, with a very low score on the fookometer. His main digressions are a pre-emptive strike against the cloying romanticism of ‘For your lover, give some time’, and a reminiscence about his grandfather’s saw playing.
Shez Sheridan
David Coulter on musical saw
Maybe it’s the presence of Ms Presley that subdues his normal foul-mouthed garrulousness, or maybe he’s just decided to focus on the music. But either way, it’s not a disappointment, such is the triumph of the latter.

Listening to Truelove’s Gutter makes you wonder if Hawley can manage to pull off another album in a similar style; surely he’s mined this rather nostalgic vein to exhaustion? Listening to a live performance like this however gives you no doubts whatsoever that there is more to come. And you won’t be surprised if I commend Mr Hawley to you as a very suitable companion for a late night glass of Scotland’s midnight wine, with no reservation whatsoever. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen: Richard Hawley on MySpace

Isle of Jura 18 yo 1990/2009 (52.4%, Duncan Taylor, rare Auld, cask #6401, 312 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: very nice! Starts very flinty and slightly smoky (one of these ex-Islay casks that they sometimes reuse at Jura?), getting then very pleasantly ‘green’ on apple peelings, garden bonfire, walnut burs and high-end porridge. Very nice grassy and mineral profile without any esthery notes. A little more vanilla after a while. With water: smoked apple peeling? Gets a little grainier and maltier. Muesli. Mouth (neat): rather creamy, fruitier (pears), youthful. Ripe gooseberries and just a little white pepper. Very clean and fresh middle-aged Jura without any ‘stylistic device’. With water: gets slightly phenolic (the cask again?) but other than that we’re still on naked fruity and grainy notes, but all this is perfectly balanced. Finish: medium long, back on apple peelings. Comments: proof that Jura’s distillate can stand on its two feet without the addition of any make-up (read odd wine treatment). SGP:532 - 85 points.
Jura 15 yo 'Paps - Mountain of Gold' (46%, OB, Pinot Noir Finish, 1366 bottles) Colour: apricot/copper. Nose: quite some rubber and struck matches at first nosing, plus notes of hard-boiled eggs. Gets really vegetal after a moment, with notes of vegetables (asparagus, French beans) and blackcurrant leaves. Very little fruitiness, which is unexpected. The sulphury notes never totally disappear. Mouth: strange combo! Sour cream with green apples and toffee, lassi, strong tea, lemon squash and cherry stem tea. Fanta. Finish: medium long, a little nicer now. Orangeade and strawberry drops. Comments: bizarre concept, bizarre ‘whisky’. I don’t like these kinds of premixes too much. SGP:361 - 73 points.
Jura 15 yo 'Paps - Mountain of the Sound' (46%, OB, Cabernet Sauvignon Finish, 1366 bottles) Colour: apricot/copper. Nose: similar to the Pinot Noir but even drier. Whiffs of wet cardboard, ink (newspaper of the day) and ham. Apple peelings. Rather weird in my opinion. Old walnut liqueur, hints of Madeira. Mouth: a little better integrated than the Pinot Noir but the flavours aren’t less bizarre. Grated ginger on fresh strawberries? Wasabi on liquorice allsorts? (I’m sorry!) Finish: rather long, getting greener and bitterer. Over-infused rosehip tea? Comments: we’re still in the fourth dimension of Scotch. How many litres of red wine are there in this? Now, it’s pretty drinkable ‘malt whisky’ but the problem is that there are so many excellent ‘natural’ ones, including some very nice authentic Juras… SGP:452 - 74 points.
Jura 15 yo 'Paps - The Sacred Moutain' (46%, OB, Barolo Finish, 1366 bottles) Whilst the two other ones bear the names of grape varieties, this one bears the name of a wine region. Colour: apricot/copper. Nose: rather nicer than the two other ones, fuller, rounder and fruitier. A little strange because nebbiolo can be quite austere, more austere than pinot noir in any case. Sweet spices, hawthorns, apple peelings, whiffs of shoe polish. The nicest nose so far (right, the 1990 was much nicer). Mouth: fairly good attack, much spicier than the others. Quite some pepper. ‘Acceptable vinosity’. Blackcurrant jam and green tea. Enough said. Finish: the longest and the spiciest. Quite some pepper again. Comments: this one works in my opinion. Well, more or less. Well, not at 115 € a bottle. SGP:551 – 78 points.


Jura 'Superstition' (43%, OB, +/- 2009) Last time I seriously tried the Superstition it was in 2003 and I didn’t quite like it (WF76). Let’s see if newer batches are more to my liking. Colour: full gold. Nose: starts on a combination of tar, wood smoke, brown ale and mashed potatoes, the whole being rather pleasant I must say. There are nice notes of ripe apricots and peaches and also these hints of linseed oil and even olive oil that are sometimes to be found in Jura. The smokiness remains big, even after fifteen minutes. Some porridge too, even tiny hints of baby puke. Very nice nose nevertheless. Mouth: easier, rounder, mildly peaty and a tad sugary/caramelly. Liquorice allsorts and cane sugar, walnuts, cough drops, cornflakes and gingerbread. Keeps hesitating between a sugary maltiness and a straight smokiness but the whole is good. Finish: rather long, maybe a tad thick and slightly cloying (too much caramel?) but globally very pleasant. Comments: maybe a tad too ‘dual’ but much better (and bigger) than I remembered. SGP:534 - 81 points.
Jura 'Prophecy' (46%, OB, 'profoundly peated', 2009) A ‘limited annual release – year 1’, which may mean that there will be more in the foreseeable future. Colour: gold. Nose: I don’t know what ‘profoundly’ means but rather less peaty than the Superstition it is – at first nosing that is. We’re rather more on sour cream, porridge, old walnuts, leaves, shoe polish and ink, with a lot of coal smoke after that, diesel oil, tarry rope… Very unusual whisky. Whiffs of antiseptic, bandages, tarmac… Much drier than the Superstition, getting smokier by the minute, now smokier than the Superstition in any case. Mouth: very good attack, very peaty, not unlike all the great young single casks that were issued a few years ago. Some fruits (white peaches, apples) and a very enjoyable greenness (green apples, rhubarb), then quite some pepper and a little mustard. Gets grassier and grassier, very nicely so. Notes of lime and grapefruit playing with your tongue. The middle is a little thinner. Finish: a tad narrow but long, on something such as ‘peated green apples and limes’. Comments: very unusual and very good peated Jura, with a dry ‘fino’ character. Highly drinkable – we want more of these batches even if being into peat seems to become less fashionable these days among whisky freaks. Swing of the pendulum? SGP:357 - 86 points.

October 30, 2009



Bruichladdich 3 yo ‘X4 + 3’ (63.5%, OB, 2009) Aged in a 50/50 mix of new oak and bourbon barrels. This has been distilled four times and it’s now officially whisky (I guess). Colour: white wine. Nose: very powerful, spirity (of course), lightly flowery and fruity. Some vanilla too, but it’s hard to get much out of such a powerhouse. Quick, water. With water: hey hey, this is nice! Marshmallows, dried coconut, vanilla and soft liquorice. We aren’t very far from some grain whiskies, only much older ones. No heady notes of bubblegum or strawberry sweets. Mouth (neat): creamy, very sweet and vanilled, recalls the Taiwanese Kavalan that I had a few days ago. Pear drops, pineapple drops and apple liqueur. Very strong! With water: kilos of nougat and litres of fruit liqueurs, some coconut again, Werther’s Originals, café latte and a lot of sweet vanilla. Finish: rather long, ultra-clean, sweet, rounded and vanilled. Comments: again, it’s not unlike some grain whiskies but without their frequent dullness. The new oak doesn’t overwhelm the whole with its usual uber-gingered and mega-vanilled profile, which is great news. Kind of a fruit and vanilla liqueur, mucho recommended if you have sweet tooth. SGP:730 - 83 points.
Octomore 5 yo ‘Edition 02.1’ (62.5%, OB, 2009) New world record: 140ppm! Colour: white wine. Nose: plain peat smoke, full peak smoke and only peat smoke – and wet dogs (did I ever tell you how sorry I was, dogs?) And a mix of cigar ashes and apple peelings. With water: it seems that it’s cleaner than the 01.1 from last year, also rounder and kind of softer, with a smokiness that’s a tad more… round. Soot, ashes, hay, tar, liquorice, then a little mint, Vicks, camphor… Just like last year’s version, it reminds me a bit of the older Ardbegs that were distilled in the 1960s. Great nose. Mouth (neat): quite biting but the mouth feel is very pleasant, all on ashes and marzipan. Strong coffee. With water: very excellent I must say. Hugely smoky of course, liquoricy, sweet, very phenolic, ashy, caramelly (fudge), extremely well balanced. Does smoked salmiak liquorice exist? Finish: very, very long, ashy and tarry as well as fudgy, less brutal than expected (feared?) Comments: I know that the Octomore concept looks like a gimmick to some aficionados but I sincerely think that the end results are of very high quality, provided you aren’t against a little peat in you whisky ;-). One point above the 01.1 as far as I’m concerned, which makes this youngster break the 90-barrier. Of course, if you hate peat, it’ll be more like 50 ;-). SGP:349 – 90 points.
PS: there will be a 02.2 'Orpheus' later in November, no doubt it'll be even more infernal.
With thanks to Angus

MUSIC - Recommended listening: WF favourite Azeri princess Aziza Mustafà Zadeh does her beautiful version of Lover man (on her CD 'Jazziza'). You should really buy Aziza Mustafà Zadeh's music!


October 29, 2009



Lochside 28 yo 1981/2009 (56%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, Cask #617, 202 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: as fresh, clean and fruity as these Lochsides can be, although I wouldn’t say this one is as much a fruitbomb as some other versions. It’s still a tad mashy despite its 28 years of age but the rest is superb, with quite some tangerines, apples, hints of Muscat grapes and quite some vanilla. It might need water to unfold more than that. With water: ah yes, that worked. Litres of lemon and lime juice, grapefruit and something a little metallic that adds an extra-dimension. ‘Aluminium pan’. Quite some menthol too. Mouth (neat): very punchy and much fruitier than on the nose. Grapefruit juice at cask strength, now typically Lochside. Passion fruits, lemon... With water: more of the same plus a little grass, chlorophyll gum, spearmint… Finish: long but more on grass and chlorophyll and less on lemon and other citrus fruits. Comments: an excellent, rather grassy Lochside, not as magnificent as the 1965s or 1966s of course but well worth trying. Old skool malt whisky at its best. SGP:561 - 88 points.
Lochside 1981/2009 (56.1%, Gordon & MacPhail for LMdW, refill sherry hogshead, cask #803, 199 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: this one is a little rawer, maybe a tad farmier which isn’t very ‘Lochside’ but the whole is superb, with notes of Riesling, tangerines again, grapefruits, liquorice, beeswax and cane sugar. Delicate spiciness (gingerbread, nutmeg). With water: even more menthol than in the Blackadder, and once again something farmy. Clean cow stable and apple peelings, then hints of wet papers. Mouth (neat): lemon and grapefruit galore once again but with an added grassiness. White tequila? White rhum agricole? The whole is very explosive. With water: gains complexity, with more herbs and spices. Just a little cardboard and ‘green’ oak. Finish: long, lemony and a little mentholated. Some pepper and liquorice in the aftertaste. Comments: I do not know how many of these 1981 Lochsides are still to be bottled but I would take this opportunity to stock up a bit, before it’s too late, coz no modern malt whisky tastes like them. SGP:661 - 89 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: jazz drumming at its best with Jack DeJohnette's Fantastic (that was on his 1976 LP 'Untitled' - yup, that's the title). John Abercrombie is on guitars, Alex Foster on sax. Please buy Jack DeJohnette's lmusic.

Jack Dejohnette

October 28, 2009



Glenlivet 14 yo 1995/2009 (46%, Signatory, UCF, 1st fill sherry butt, cask #144355, 787 bottles) There are sometimes some true gems within this fairly priced series by Signatory Vintage. Colour: dark gold. Nose: very interesting start on successive aspects of sherry maturing, that is to say toffee first, then gunpowder, then meat (beef jerky, Grisons meat), then big notes of peonies (even a tad heady), then roasted chestnuts, then leather and espresso coffee, then Seville oranges, then were back on gunpowder and flints (and a little chalk)… All that is very pleasantly dry. Keeps developing on mint and a little rubber (or cassis buds) and then roses and even a little incense and Port wine. Restless! Mouth: good attack, sweeter, fruitier and maybe also a little simpler than on the nose. Some orange liqueur, prunes, liqueur-filled chocolate, strawberry jam, sweet liquorice, then a little mint again just like on the nose and just hints of violet sweets. Very good. Finish: long, fruity, rather nervous, maltier as well. Comments: not the kind of smooth sherried Glenlivet! A very good bottling at a fair price, recommended. SGP:541 - 87 points.
Glenlivet 1982/2009 (52.2%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #4340) Colour: amber. Nose: more a classic than the 1995, with more fruits and more ‘roundness’ (blackcurrants, raspberry spirit, praline) at first nosing. Gets then superbly spicy, with a little curry mix, bitter oranges, a lot of cherry liqueur (guignolet, Cherry Heering), prunes and various herbal teas. Mildly chocolaty. More oak after a while. With water: more dry oak, more menthol and more beefiness, and much less fruits and sweetness. Not that water killed it, it just changed it mucho. Mouth (neat): rich, creamy, now drier than on the nose when neat (just the opposite of what happened with the 1995). The oak is big, with obvious tannins and loads of cinnamon. Bitter chocolate galore! With water: this is really funny, now it got much fruitier and much more coherent with the ‘naked’ nose. Oranges, marzipan, dried figs and bergamot. Very good. Finish: long, just a tad flintier, with also a little cough syrup and stewed fruits. Pine resin sweets. Comments: a beautiful Glenlivet, multifaceted and very entertaining (who said for once?) Highly recommended, especially if you like to play with a little water ;-). SGP:551 - 90 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: some (creative) bluegrass for a change, with Martha's Vineyard's Nina Violet doing The dog tomorrow. Please buy Nina Violet's music.

Nina Violet

October 27, 2009

by Nick Morgan
Hammersmith Apollo, London, October 1st 2009

They said it would never happen, but in a year of the most unlikely rock reunions, many prompted I’m sure, by the devastating impact the credit crunch and the fall in share prices has had on many a rock-star’s personal fortune, it has.

Mott the Hoople
Mott the Hoople, whose star as the improbable doyens of glam-rock (as we liked to call it in the UK) shone brightly, albeit briefly, in the early 1970s, leaving behind them some simply timeless recordings, are back. Originally for one night only, they have a week at the Hammersmith Apollo, and on tonight’s opener, fathers have brought sons, mothers have brought daughters, proud grandparents have brought grandchildren, and I’ve brought the Photographer, to witness a moment of rock and roll history. Half of the Welsh Marches seem to be here, pugnacious prop-forwards over-spilling from the confines of their seats, to celebrate the return of Ross on Wye’s most famous sons. They’ve been rehearsing down there for weeks, playing one warm-up gig in Monmouth prior to tonight. And although frontman Ian Hunter has rarely stopped performing and recording since he departed the band in 1974, even he seemed a little overawed by the moment when the original members of the band (minus an unwell drummer Dale Griffin, replaced for the main set by Pretenders sticksman Martin Chambers) took to the stage to a tumultuous welcome.
Ian Hunter I’m not sure that I’m allowed to say how old Hunter is but I can confide that although they’ve dramatically changed colour, he still has the trademark curls sweeping down over his face, and the ever-present sunglasses. His nasal voice, sometimes close to a very poor anglicised version of Bob Dylan, hasn’t changed a bit. Guitarist Mick Ralphs (you may recall that he went on to form Bad Company with Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirk) is chunking out riffs on his Les Paul, whilst bassist Pete Watts is displaying a selection of no doubt ‘original’ seventies vintage clothing, including a very natty pair of white slip-on shoes “from Marks and Spencer in Ross”.
There’s an unconvincing and rather uncoordinated air to things as the band play through songs like ‘Sweet Jane’, ‘One of the boys’; and sadly ‘Born in 1958’ is probably the low point of the set. But after that things picked up magically, with even the hopelessly self-pitying and clichéd ‘Ballad of Mott’ sounding good; the band just clicked into place as they rolled away the years with Hunter in particular showing he’d lost none of his rock and roll moves.
Mott the Hoople
Ian Hunter and Pete Watts
The end of the main set and encore (when Griffin joined on drums alongside Chambers) was reserved for a triumphant rendition of those great songs ‘Honaloochie boogie’, ‘All the young dudes’, ‘Roll away the stone’, and ‘All the way from Memphis’. A potent chorus was provided by a powerful backing vocal group (“Sha la la la, push push”) comprising original singer Stan Tippens and various members of Hunter’s family. The crowd went predictably wild (well, as wild as age permitted) and queues formed in the foyer to buy the exclusive recording that was being made of the show. In the end, after a few sticky moments, it was all quite uplifting. But I was left with one irksome question in my mind, a long unsolved puzzle from the past uncomfortably reawakened. “Where”, I had to ask myself, “where is Honaloochie, and could it be anywhere near Puff the Magic Dragon’s Honalee?”. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Ian Hunter on MySpace
Karuizawa 1972/2008 (65%, The Number One Drinks Company, Sherry cask #7290, 528 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: sure it’s extremely punchy at such high strength but quite unexpectedly, the high alcohol does not block it and lets some rather beautiful notes of figs, dates and ripe bananas go through. Quite some heather honey too, old Sauternes, apricot and mirabelle jams, pinewood smoke… Fantastic. With water: a little more oak, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon but all that goes marvellously well with the ripe fruitiness. Even more dried figs, roasted macadamia nuts, mapple syrup and orange blossom water. Extremely elegant. Mouth (neat): ouch! This is extremely hot, of course but sort of drinkable provided you take only half drops. Once again, figs and dates do dominate the whole, as well as raisins and vanilla. The sherry is rather discreet. Quick, water: exceptional development on all dried fruits and all honeys. Balance is perfect. Enough said. Finish: very long, with a faint smokiness, loads of very soft spices and hundreds of dried fruits. Okay, dozens. Comments: extremely high quality, perfect balance and not the tiniest flaw. It’s got something of some of the best old Springbanks. SGP:652 - 93 points.
Karuizawa 1967/2009 (58.4%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, cask #6426, 229 bottles) and Karuizawa 1967/2009 (58.4%, OB for The Whisky Exchange 10th anniversary, cask #6426) A cask that’s been shared between these two famous high-end whisky retailers that are Paris’ LMdW and London’s TWE. Colour: dark amber. Nose: this oldie is much more ‘tertiary’ than the 1972 when neat, much more on old leather, precious wood, dry sherry, pipe tobacco, Cuban cigars (in truth, a whole humidor), cedar wood, cough syrup, plum jam, very old Armagnac, a little tar, even whiffs of engine oil… What an amazing complexity! With water: it’s got everything an old sherried wonder can have. Spectacular whiffs of aniseed and dill, a little more beefy notes, absolutely no sulphur whatsoever. Enough said. Mouth (neat): unexpectedly nervous, with a big but beautiful oakiness (typical notes of pine resin than one can find in very, very old whiskies), a lot of walnut liqueur, bitter chocolate, cherry stem tea, chewing tobacco, heavy liquorice, prunes, green tea from the oak, blackcurrant leaves tea… With water: I’m speechless. One of these very old pu-erh teas (yes, I know pu-erh is Chinese, not Japanese). Finish: very long, superbly dry (coffee) and spicy (cloves) as well as beautifully raisiny. Some menthol. Comments: once again, this baby reminds me of some old Springbanks. Say of the best sherried ‘Local Barleys’, if that rings a bell to you. A Japanese masterpiece but the 1972 was close! SGP:473 - 95 points.

October 26, 2009



Amrut 'Two Continents' (46%, OB, matured in India then Europe, 786 bottles, 2009) A strange gimmick but why not? It’s true that the angels are very greedy under hot climates such as Bangalore’s so it may be a good idea to slow down things after a few years. Colour: gold. Nose: wow! Earlier Amruts were great but this one starts even nicer on the nose, with a superb flintiness and some smoke on top of the very pleasant maltiness. Also quite some yellow flowers and a little honey, cooked butter, mashed potatoes, a little caramel… The smokiness never vanishes. Top notch. Mouth: sweeter and fruitier, pretty much like a fresh fruit salad with a little ginger and just touches of coriander. Also something mildly resinous (cough sweets), some liquorice, vanilla, then more spices (cardamom first, then cloves and white pepper) and finally hints of plum spirit. Very good. Finish: rather long, lively, with the fruitiness still there alongside the oak’s spiciness (black pepper). Comments: simply flawless, and classy at that. Amrut isn’t quite a surprise anymore but this is excellent for sure. SGP:541 - 86 points.
Kavalan 'Solist' (58.8%, OB, Taiwan, bourbon, cask #B070604026, 196 bottles, 2009) Kavalan is a new distillery in Taiwan. Doesn’t its name sound a bit like… Glenfiddich? ;-) Yet, I like the fact that they call a single cask a ‘solist’. Curious about future big bands or philarmonics. Colour: pale gold. Nose: much less expressive than the Amrut but that may come from the high abv. Malt, vanilla, grass and mashed potatoes again as well as a little varnish. Whiffs of new oak (sawdust). With water: more coconut and more eucalyptus. They sure used some high-quality wood. Not excessively vanilled. Mouth (neat): very creamy and oily mouth feel, with typical notes of pear drops and tinned pineapples that are often to be found in youngish malts. Also a little coconut liqueur, vanilla custard and orange syrup. With water: more sweet ginger, vanilla and just a little bubblegum, getting even sweeter after that. Muscat grapes? Finish: long, youthful, very fruity. Haribo confectionary. Comments: right, here’s another new non-Scottish malt distillery that do things well. Granted, this is very young spirit but the oak is of high quality. Curious to taste this one with ten more years. SGP:730 – 83 points. (and thank you, Ho-cheng).
Hanyu 20 yo (57.5%, Ichiro's Malt, Japan, 2009) Colour: pale amber. Nose: big and extremely varnishy! Hot cellulose, nail polish remover, marzipan, thuya wood, new leather and overripe apples. Extremely extreme, so to speak. Let’s see what happens with water. With water: the varnishy notes transform into a big meatiness. Game, ham, then huge notes of sage and even more thuya wood. Soy sauce. What kind of casks did they use for this one? Mouth (neat): sweet yet firm attack, with loads of spices from the cask and a pleasant fruitiness in the background (green apples, kiwis). A lot of ginger, weiss beer, marzipan… The oakiness is huge, you have to like that to enjoy this baby. With water: now it got quite superb, much more drinkable (at +/-45%), beautifully herbal and leathery, smokier. Maybe I’m dreaming but I do get notes of lapsang soochong tea. Finish: long, smoky/herbal, with a return on leather and cardamom. Comments: again, this one is rather extreme but it’ll keep you entertained for a long time – provided you have water at hand. Id does have something of some old bourbons. SGP:372 - 87 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: let's have a standard today, with a subtle version of The good life by the excellent pianist Junior Mance (from his album That Lovin' Feelin'). Please buy Junior Mance's music.

Junior Mance

October 23, 2009

The Cellar Upstairs, Exmouth Arms, Euston, London, September 26th 2009
Michael Marra
We’ve come out to see Michael Marra, which means yet another trip back in time into folk-club land. We’re just to the rear of Euston Station, well fed in one of Drummond Steet’s better eateries, and heading for the florid Exmouth Arms in Starcross Street, home to the Cellar Upstairs folk club. The pub is something of a curiosity; the flowers that swathe the outside walls, gently brushing the heads of the banished smokers (Michael Marra among them) are hiding a distinctly post-war structure.
Yet inside, you are met by a curious assembly of half-timbered ceilings, hanging olde-world pub paraphernalia and I think at least four huge gaming machines, plus the obligatory larger-than-life TV that’s playing football matches that no-one is ever going to want to watch. There are about half a dozen blokes, locals not short of an opinion or two on most things, scattered around the bar. Upstairs the function room (“recently refurbished to a high standard …suitable for all occasions from a darts evening to a wedding celebration”) is packed. We’re charged a derisory six quids each entrance, and find a couple of chairs uncomfortably close to the front, where the committee and resident singers are holding court. There’s no stage. Marra’s ironing board is there supporting his battered keyboard, which along with a couple of microphones is plugged into a sound system with an antediluvian amplifier and mixing desk, that has the techie know-it-alls on the committee scratching their heads and slyly twisting a few knobs when no one’s looking.
The floor singing is frankly pretty desultory, and not a little tuneless, with nowhere to run for cover where the bodhran comes out. The song that most excites the crowd is a jolly tale of a poacher pulling a fast one on a gamekeeper, a flimsy allegory for the timeless struggle of the common man over authority, albeit a little misplaced in twenty-first century Euston Town. How many of these people, I wonder, have ever met a gamekeeper? The best song of the bunch comes from two performers from a rival club, greeted with the sort of hospitality normally reserved for death-ray wielding six-headed monsters from outer space: theirs is a modern murder ballad recounting the recent string of serial killings (prostitute murders) in Ipswich. Do you wonder why we don’t go to more folk clubs?
I’m sure there’s little to be said about the gravel-voiced Michael Marra that you don’t already know, beyond the fact that my admiration for anyone who can work the often stultifying folk-club circuit and still perform so well knows no bounds. One of Scotland’s greatest living troubadours performed two perfect cameo sets of “songs from Dundee and its surrounding planet”, featuring a cast of the most unlikely characters. Dr John visited Blairgowrie, Bob Dylan went to Edinburgh, and General U S Grant famously visited Dundee. Marra’s amorous cat Pius purred like as chainsaw shortly before being neutered, and in ‘He said, she said’, two misfits “hunted for each other in a spirit of ruthless melancholy” in the personal column of the Dundee Courier. His songs are painfully and closely observed, Dundee a microcosm of the outside world, flaws conceits and frailties cruelly exposed, no stones unturned. Michael Marra
“Dinnae tell him” shouted one of Marra’s Aunts at a wedding reception when he enquired about someone called Maggie Shaw, “Dinnae tell him, he’ll only write a song aboot it”. Which he did. But in and about this almost abrasive honesty is a warm sense of surreal, and a celebration of the human spirit, warts and all, probably best summed up in the wonderfully unlikely ‘Frida Khalo’s visit to the Taybridge Bar’.
If you love Scotland then you should also adore Marra’s wry take on a city’s, and nation’s, foibles. And if you can’t, understandably, face the thought of a trip to a ghastly folk club to see him, then at least you could go out and buy a couple of his albums. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Watch Michael Marra doing Posted Sober live in 2006:
TASTING FOUR OLD BEN NEVIS (another retro-verticale)
Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis 16yo 1965/1981 (46%, Cadenhead's Dumpy, Black Label, 75cl) Colour: gold. Nose: very wacky, starting on wet papers, ink, cardboard, flour, motor oil and stale beer. The funny thing is that it’s not unpleasant at all, just very different from any other whisky. Goes on with touches of hawthorn tea, old roses, very old Bourgogne (civet, game, hessian) and plenty of hay and straw. Very, very unusual, the truth will lie on the palate as often… Mouth: starts ultra-dry and very phenolic, starting on something such as putty, bitter almonds, smoked mint (eh?) and ink once again. It is not unpleasant, just very different once again. Also cough drops, salmiak, paper, cod oil (yes)… Bizarre but interesting. Finish: medium long, very resinous. Comments: an odd bottling that has its charms. Old style whisky that modern wood technology may well have eradicated for good. Or worse? SGP:371 - 83 points.
Ben Nevis 35 yo 1967/2002 (50.1%, Hart Bros, Sherry wood) Colour: mahogany. Nose: once again, it’s very unusual whisky but we’re more on precious woods this time, interior of an old Jag, cigar humidor, leather polish and then the same kinds of notes of ink and wet papers as in the Cadenhead. Also quite some menthol and tiger balm, nargile smoke and green tea. Very ancient! Mouth: superb attack on all kinds of dried fruits and mint, with a solid layer of liquorice and pepper. Maybe just a tad astringent. Development more on herbs liqueur (litres of green Chartreuse, Jägermeister and other strange brews). Hints of old walnuts and crystallised lemons and then quite some spices from the wood. Finish: long, resinous and peppery but sweeter than the Cadenhead’s. Comments: another odd bottling but this one is much straighter and more drinkable than the 1965. But once again, these aromas and flavours aren’t to be found in any newer whiskies, I’m afraid. A shame in this case. SGP:562 - 90 points.
Ben Nevis 1970/1988 (46% Moon Import, The Sea, cask #2913, 360 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: most amazingly, this is something very unusual once again. Starts on a combination of orange squash and motor oil (not kidding), shoe polish, grenadine, pomegranates and something like rhubarb juice. Goes on with whiffs of wet rocks and clay/chalk and gets finally very liquoricy and fruity at the same time. Right, a huge pack of liquorice allsorts. Also a lot of ‘resinous’ honey (honeydew) and old wax polish. What a strange, but charming old whisky! Mouth: nah, this doesn’t work as beautifully as on the nose, its inherent wackiness make it a bit hard to enjoy this time. Notes of dirty honey (whatever that means), Campari, stale Guinness and English brown sauce (or sweetened gravy). Wait, even sweet onions! Finish: rather long, on the same kind of honeyed and resinous notes as on the nose but also something metallic and papery. And some coffee and raisins, from the sherry I guess. Comments: once again, a very unusual old whisky. It’s a thrill to taste these kinds of old whiskies but frankly, sipping a full bottle may well take decades. SGP:541 - 81 points.
Ben Nevis 34 yo 1975/2009 (63.0%, The Prestonfield for LMdW, bourbon barrel, cask #7439, 146 bottles) A whopping strength at 35 years of age! Were the angels on strike? Colour: full gold. Nose: after the very unusual oldies, this one is much straighter but also more austere, with distinct flinty and even mustardy notes beside notes of green apples and gooseberries. But it’s very strong so let’s not take chances with our nostrils… With water: really unfolds, getting very complex. Some parts remind me of an old grain whisky (hints of coconut and bubblegum) but the rest is a subtle combination of sultanas, honey, pipe tobacco, dried figs and various soft spices. Maybe a little curcuma. Mouth (neat): it’s one of these high strength whiskies where you can tell that it’s ‘probably’ great, but just cannot down more than one drop because of its power. I do get notes of coconut and vanilla though, which remind me of an old grain whisky once again. With water: ah yes! It does display some of the ‘wacky’ notes that the older bottlings had (herbal and resinous liqueurs – make that old fir liqueur) but also Corinth raisins, ripe plums, aniseed and god knows what else. Maybe limoncello. Finish: long, kind of more compact and ‘focused’ on lemon zests and maraschino. Very high class. Comments: with the ocean of modern whiskies that are made these days (you know, in-your-face peat and/or vanilla and spices), this kind of old wonder is truly refreshing. Highly recommended. SGP:551 - 93 points.
And also Ben Nevis 36 yo 1971/2007 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 212 bottles) Nose on bananas flambéed, plantains, wax and thuja wood. Gets drier over time. Mouth: sweet, with hints of strawberries as often in Ben Nevis. Bubblegum and bananas. A tad cloying I think. SGP:631 - 78 points.
And also Ben Nevis 26 yo 1968/1994 (54.6%, OB, 213 bottles) Nose: all on honey, caramel, nougat and cake. Gets then smoky and nervous, a tad spirity. Water brings out notes of fern. Mouth: powerful, almost brutal. Nice notes of mangos. With water: more elegant, hints of tinned pineapples. Pepper. Long finish, more tannic. A lot of ginger. SGP:631 – 85 points.

October 22, 2009



Ardbeg 'Corryvreckan' (57.1%, OB, general release, 2009) Time to try this baby, I’m almost two months late… Please note that I absolutely adored the committee release of the Corryvreckan (WF92). Colour: white wine (paler than the committee). Nose: it is not the same whisky as the earlier version, but rather beautiful it is. Big smoke and tar, then whiffs of wet wool and fresh walnuts, hints of struck matches and wee notes of cow stable as well as dried seaweed. Not the most complex Ardbeg ever but it’s beautifully austere and the smoke is big. With water: the kind of development that I enjoy a lot in fairly young Ardbegs, both mineral and even metallic and organic. Wet clay, oysters and the same kind of notes of green olives as in the committee release. Mouth (neat): oily mouth feel, the whole starting on a combination of lemon and peaty smokiness, closer to the committee release at this point. Grassy herbal tea. With water: oh this is funny, there are notes that we usually only get in older Ardbegs, such as some camphor and old style cough syrup. Gets sweeter after that, with notes of ripe apples and barley sugar. Finish: long, very ‘Ardbeg’, rather sweet and a little less smoky at this stage. Comments: a slightly milder and rounder version of Corryvreckan, but it’s still high-class Ardbeg. SGP:358 - 90 points.
Ar2 (58.8%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2009, 50cl) Last year’s Ar1 was excellent (WF89) and here’s a new version, possibly a bigger molecule according to its name ;-). Colour: straw. Nose: very different from the Corryvreckan, starting with a little less smoke but more fruits (or rather orange zests and lemon essence). The smoke gets much bigger after a few seconds, and we’re getting much closer to the OB in style. It’s even getting very difficult to spot major differences after five minutes, both being very similar. With water: it’s very different from the OB now, with more chocolate, soot, touches of wet dogs (sorry dogs) and ‘wet’ smoke (campfire under the rain). A little wilder than the OB. Mouth (neat): more nervous, more lemony and more salty than the OB at the attack, more ‘brutal’ in a certain way. Lime, marzipan, green tea and a huge smokiness. The lemon plays with both your tongue and your lips. With water: classic and classy. ‘Smoked lemon’, almonds, kippers. Finish: very long. Comments: definitely wilder than the OB. Actually, I like the Ar2 a little better than the Ar1, it’s probably even closer to the distillery’s markers. Well done – but can we have it in magnums? SGP:368 - 90 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: part of a funky mini-gig by that artiste on French TV Canal+, recorded October 14. Please buy that artiste's music.


October 21, 2009



Mackmyra 'Special 02'' (50.6%, OB, Sweden) Colour: white wine. Nose: very fresh and fruity at first nosing, reminding me of a young Speysider in a certain way. It’s still a bit esthery (pineapple drops, gooseberries, grenadine) but all that is pleasant, very ‘Scottish’ if I may say so. Much less unusual woody/spicy notes than in earlier bottlings by Mackmyra. Goes on with notes of vanilla and just faint whiffs of ginger. With water: more sweet oak. Mouth (neat): very sweet and very ‘young Speysider’ again, with a more distinct oakiness that translates into quite some ginger and apple peelings. Pear sweets. Good quality distillate for sure. With water: not big changes, nice combination of sweet spicy oak and fresh white fruits. Finish: medium long, a tad spicier, with a little white pepper. Comments: very nice self-restraint regarding the use of hyper-active oak. The result is of high quality and the spirit very promising. SGP:531 – 83 points.
Mackmyra 'Special 03' (48.2%, OB, Sweden) Colour: white wine. Nose: this one is a tad grassier then the Special 02, more mineral as well. Whiffs of tarmac and shoe polish, then green apples and a little linseed oil. Very nice profile, elegant and pure. With water: more hay, pu-erh tea and lemongrass. More austere than its sibling, more elegant too. More sweet oak coming through after a while. Big vanilla after fifteen minutes. Mouth (neat): we’re closer to the Special 02 in style, only with more spicy oak and a very faint dustiness. Various spices, first ginger, then dried cardamom and unusual notes of rosemary and sage. Strawberries and pears in the background. With water: more green tea, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. The oak gets louder. Finish: long, peppery and now quite lemony. Faint smokiness. Comments: once again, there’s quite some oak but it’s all under control and the spirit withstands it. Good. SGP:442 – 84 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: some good old love-boatish funk funk funk wih Dennis Coffey's Funk connection (that was on his 1977 LP 'Back home'). Please buy Dennis Coffey's music.

Dennis Coffey

October 20, 2009

Glenglassaugh 'The Spirit Drink that blushes to speak its name' (50%, OB, newmake, 6 months Californian wine maturing) It’s hard not to think of flavoured vodka when having such an unusual dram in front of us… Colour: pale rosé wine. Nose: excuse me but ‘ouch’. It smells more or less like a ‘not too clean’ raspberry eau-de-vie. What’s more, the combination of the wine and the new make make the whole much farmier than straight new make. Notes of cured ham, redcurrant jelly and cow stable. Highly unusual indeed! Mouth: well, we’re even more on eau-de-vie. Say a 50/50 mix of raspberry eau-de-vie and Zubrovska (buffalo grass vodka). It’s not bad, but is it for malt drinkers? Maybe not… Finish: rather long, with a lot of raspberry in the aftertaste. Comments: of course I have nothing against experimentation but just like the helicopter-bicycle, not sure the future is bright for such gimmicky combos. Better buy a good white eau-de-vie, it’ll be cheaper. Now maybe this ought to be drunk chilled? And funny it is. SGP:830 - 55 points.
Glenglassaugh 25 yo 1984/2009 (54.7%, Malts of Scotland, cask #186, 213 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: a rather heavy oakiness strikes first here, with a lot of newly sawn wood, hot sawdust and quite some varnish. Notes of raisins, chocolate, toffee and green tea are having a hard time coming through the wood. With water: really improves, the oak is tamed and a very organic maltiness comes through. Quite some leather polish, Cuban cigars, Indian spice mix, liquorice, balsamic vinegar, even a little soy sauce. Toffee. I like this nose a lot, water worked wonders. Mouth (neat): a very heavy cask influence, with some big red fruits that remind me of the ‘blush ‘glassaugh’ that we just had. Huge concentration and quite some tannins too. Pepper. Once again, this baby’s not easy when undiluted. With water: once again, it’s almost a miracle! Excellent combination of raisins, roasted chestnuts, coffee and bitter chocolate. Finish: long, all on a spicy sherry. Cloves and cinnamon. Comments: an excellent dram but they should deliver it with a bottle of Evian ;-). SGP:452 - 88 points.
Glenglassaugh 40 yo (44.6%, OB, decanter, 2009) Colour: deep amber. Nose: very fragrant, starting on precious wood, raisins and hints of camphor, all that working in sync. Pretty perfect! Goes on with hints of metal polish and damp earth and then many cooked and dried tropical fruits (not fresh). Papayas, pineapples, longans… Gets finally much more leathery and ‘tertiary’, with hints of beef jerky and parsley, even a bit of garlic. Pine resin. A very, very complex old Glenglassaugh! Beautiful. Mouth: a very rich oakiness at first sipping, but an elegant one. A lot of bitter chocolate, various fruit jellies and jams (strawberries first), some vanilla, various herbal teas (rosehip, chamomile, lime tree blossom), and a wide combination of spices including cloves, cardamom, black pepper, carvi and cinnamon (lots). Develops on loads of dark chocolate and coffee beans plus notes of cough syrup. Very ‘torrefied’. Finish: long, spicy, quite tannic but not excessively so. Quite some oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: a 40yo that’s still rather nervous and ‘vibrant’. Excellent and, above all, not too oaky. I like it better than the 30yo – am I normal? SGP:561 - 92 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: Virginia's excellent Tim Barry sings Tacoma (from his 2008 CD 'Manchester'). Please buy Tim Barry's music.

Tim Barry

October 19, 2009

The ICA, London, September 25th 2009
Pere Ubu
'The genuine Père Ubu'
by Alfred Jarry
Merdre! It’s Carry on Pataphysics – again. Pere Ubu have just released Long Live Pere Ubu, the CD of David Thomas’s adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, Bring me the Head of Ubu Roi, which eagle-eyed readers will recall being premiered at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall last year. It was one of the most entertaining nights of 2008. Thomas and his band are on the road to promote the disc. Vocalist Sarah Jane Morris should be with them, but is indisposed, her physical presence as Mere Ubu being taken by a rather unflattering assembly of cardboard boxes on the left of the stage. Her part is sung and spoken by Mr Thomas (“I knew it was a fucking mistake …” he confides in the audience at the end of the show). Projected on the rear of the stage are the animations produced for the film by the Brothers Quay.
Also on stage, “providing gagarin atmospheres and more” is digital sculptor Gagarin (aka Dids); actually he’s mostly responsible for the constant background of flushing toilets, overworked digestive systems, belches and farts, lots of farts (“Where are the farts? Turn up the fucking farts. My people need to hear the farts”).
David Thomas
We’re close up to the stage in the small theatre (I imagine it’s called a performance space) at the hopelessly hip ICA, in the basement of the Eastern section of Carlton House Terrace, facing onto the Mall. Outside it’s all very Regency and John Nash. Inside it’s back to the new Universities of the 1970s, coffee bar cool and heavy-framed late 1990s advertising-agency spectacles.In the performance space there’s a very mixed bunch. Some of the earnest young folk have found their way in, but there’s also a jolly crowd of unreformed Stranglers teeshirt-wearing and beer gut- bearing baldies. It can’t be more than two-thirds full, and we’re dangerously approximate to the stage, and to Mr Thomas. But that gives a far superior view of what’s actually going on than we got at Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Make no mistake: it’s still chaos up there, but a far more organised chaos than one might have imagined. As David Thomas explained, “there is not one moment in its entirety, and various facets, that is not carefully crafted”. But of course that disciplined approach absolutely contradicts what Pere Ubu stand for: “You hire Pere Ubu” according to Thomas, “because you want to be scared out of your professional wits. Because you want to experience something that no one else can deliver, the thrill of the truly dangerous moment and its power to reveal”. And the tensions this provokes are played out very evidently on the stage. Intermission
Thomas is quite splendid as the misanthrope Pere Ubu, and quite accomplished as his wife Mere Ubu too, although occasionally he gets his voices, from southern preacher through a range of Disney characters, a tad confused.
He’s shrink-wrapped into his raincoat, and apparently drinking heavily from a flask – or is it Ubu that’s drinking? He often breaks out of character as he shuffles through his script sheets (“where are the words? I’ve spent two fucking years writing this and now I can’t find the words’) and frequently leaves the stage to refill the flask with something (the Pere Ubu rider demands a bottle of Remy Martin for every show). On one journey he pauses to ask cross-dressing drummer Steve Mehlman, “How am I doing Steve?”. “You’re drunk” comes the resigned reply. Well maybe, but it didn’t diminish Thomas’s performance one bit. His singing was hugely powerful, all the songs benefiting from the less theatrical setting. Because although it’s easy to lose sight of it in the mayhem, the music is really full throttle Pere Ubu rock and roll. In addition to their playing (Robert Wheeler’s theramin was mesmerising) the band also gamely played out parts of the play: Mehlman plays Captain Ordura, who, betrayed by Ubu when he seizes Poland, returns to defeat the usurper with the help of the Czar of Russia. Bassist Michele Temple turned in a very lively Polish Army, a messenger who receives one of the best lines of the show (but only at Thomas’s third attempt), and Prince Buggerlas, who is restored to the throne following Ubu’s defeat. I did explain the plot didn’t I? Pere Ubu
It doesn’t really matter. As Thomas said just before the end of the show, having spent about ten minutes on the floor (post defeat in battle, Ubu is sleeping in a remote cave where he is eventually reunited with Mere Ubu), “nothing that happens up here matters at all”. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth listening to it, nor to the music on the CD, nor to Thomas’s play itself which can be downloaded as Podcast. Better still, if you can, seek out an unforgettable live performance. It will be. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Watch 'Song Of The Grocery Police' by Pere Ubu:
Glen Garioch


Glen Garioch’s range has got a lifting and frankly, we cannot not applaud. There’s been so many stunning ‘Glen Geeries’ in a distant past, everybody knows what the old distillery is made of. Let’s see…

Glen Garioch '1797 Founder's Reserve' (48%, OB, 2009) This is the brand new no-age-statement version. Colour: gold. Nose: rather big at first nosing (is 48% a new trend?) and very sweet and fruity, with bursting notes of malted barley, apples and gooseberries as well as hints of bubblegum. This is obviously rather young. It’s also faintly varnishy and maybe just a little bit soapy (Cadum – don’t ask) but nothing really embarrassing. Other than that, we get notes of pears and a mild ‘new-style’ oakiness (cake and vanilla, just a little ginger). Some honey. The faint soapiness disappears after four or five minutes. Pleasant nose, much nicer that any of the young official ones that were bottled in the 1990s or early 2000s. Mouth: once again, it’s big and sweet malt whisky, with a lot of vanilla and ginger on top of apple compote and juice. Quite some pepper too, notes of café latte, Werther’s and quite some green tea-like oak. Not really tannic but not far. Finish: long, bold, oaky and peppery. Some apples left. Comments: there may have been some wood management done. A whisky that’s maybe a tad ‘technological’ but what’s sure is that it got rid of the flaws that earlier young bottlings had in my opinion. In short, a good one. SGP:441 - 80 points.
Glen Garioch 1990/2009 (54.6%, OB, batch #34) Matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. Colour: gold. Nose: bang-bang! Extremely varnishy and esthery, almost aggressive at cask strength. Careful nosing reveals added notes of green apples and an obvious ‘fresh’ oakiness (vanilla and sawdust) but little sherry so far. With water: woof! More of everything, that is to say more oak and more green apples. Even small bitter apples (or raw cider). Big maltiness and just hints of strawberries and bubblegum in the background. Also a little mint. Mouth (neat): powerful, creamy, rich and full of sweet spices such as cardamom, ginger (lots) and cloves. Heavy sweet oak but also un-sugared tea, both green and black. And vanilla… Gets pretty tannic. With water: same profile, with an added sweetness. Pear drops, tinned pineapples. Finish: long, sweetly oaky and relatively spicy. White pepper, apples. Maybe a little sherry, maybe not. Comments: just like the 1797, it seems that this one has been ‘engineered’ in some way. No make-up though, it works. ‘Modern’ but perfectly palatable. SGP:551 - 83 points.

October 17, 2009

Robyn Hitchcock CONCERT REVIEW
by Nick Morgan
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, September 4th 2009
It’s Pestival time at the Southbank and we’re celebrating “insects in art, and the art of being an insect”. Actually it’s more than that: “Pestival is a mobile arts festival examining insect-human interactivity in bioscience, through paradigms of contemporary art, cinema, music and comedy as well as direct scientific demonstration and educational projects”.
Amidst a variety of installations, films, workshops and lectures is Robyn Hitchcock and an unlikely assembly of fellow bug lovers. “I've always liked the look of insects,” said Hitchcock in a pre-gig interview. “They are echoed in the design of helicopters, planes, small cars, and even sailing boats, so maybe that's why they--and arachnids like the tarantula--appear from time to time in my songs.” And before you tread on that pesky ant, or wash that hairy old spider down the bathroom plug-hole, remember Hitchcock’s prescient observation from the stage (shortly after he had revealed, to much astonishment, that Brian Ferry is an insect – “just look at his forehead”), “One of the things we have in common with insects is that we exist”.
Hitchcock kicked off the evening solo with the bee-filled ‘Agony of pleasure’ notable for his rhyming of ‘digesting’ with ‘intestine’ , followed by ‘Dragonfly’, written especially for the performance, and performed with Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, and Jenny Adejayan on cello. It’s one of those evenings where people come and go from the stage all night; just the right side of shambolic, surprisingly well rehearsed, with a very forgiving audience. In addition to Hitchcock’s UK band (Adejayan, with Paul Noble on bass and Rob Ellis on drums) there’s sound sculptor Max Eastley (who joins for the song ‘Insect Mother) and organist and trumpeter Terry Edwards who joins the whole band for ‘Red Locust frenzy’. Musical polymath and Dorian Gray look-alike Green Gartside along with journalist, blogger and keyboard player Rhodri Marsden (better known perhaps as Scritti Politti), take the stage to perform three songs: ‘The human fly’, ‘Where fat lies ants follow’ and the Scritti top ten UK hit ‘Wood beez’. Robyn
They’re followed by the Incredible String Band’s Mike Heron, who along with his daughter Georgia Seddon, and the assembled multitude, sing the ISB’s ‘Cousin caterpillar’, and ‘A cellular song’ (a tribute to the amoeba); the latter from their masterpiece of 1960s hippy self-indulgence, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter. ‘I used to levitate to these songs back in the 1960s’ said Hitchcock. He probably still does.
Robyn Hitchcock
The second half of the gig began with poet and comedian John Hegley presenting some largely insect-themed verse, before performing another cellular song, ‘Amoeba’ with Hitchcock on guitar. Alessi’s Ark (it’s a person, not an ark) sang a hesitant, and not very creepy-crawly themed ‘Woman’, before the ensemble returned (in various combinations) to bash through Hitchcock’s ‘Snail’s lament’ and ‘Madonna of the wasps’, Coxon’s ‘Dead bees’ (Coxon’s guitar, I should add, was becoming increasingly animated at this stage, ) Hitchcock’s ‘Ant woman’ and the marvellous ‘Ole Tarantula’, before returning to the stage for an unlikely cover of Wire’s ‘I am the fly’. “Happy Christmas” said Hitchcock, true to form, as he led the band from the stage.
It was a thoroughly entertaining and suitably eclectic evening, but not without its serous side. So let me leave you with this thought, from Harvard University’s Edward O Wilson. “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos”. So mind where you put that boot! – Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)
Listen: Dragonfly Me (BBC video)
Gig mp3s


Glenmorangie 'Sonnalta' (46%, OB, PX finish, +/-2009) A version for travel retail. Colour: apricot. Nose: starts rich, fragrant and not excessively winey, with loads of oranges and figs and just touches of gunpowder. Rather clean, it develops more on sultanas and roasted nuts (pecans), with hints of peonies and a faint sourness from the wine. Also hints of bananas flambéed and a wee grassiness in the background (banana skin). Works pretty well but the wine’s influence is obvious. After a few minutes: gets fresher and even a little coastal but there’s also a lot of caramel. Mouth: very heavy now and extremely unusual. A coffee and raspberry liqueur mix? It’s not bad at all but doesn’t quite taste like whisky in my opinion. Goes on with notes of kiwis and tangerines, then more coffee again (or rather coffee liqueur such as Tia Maria or Kalhua). Really unusual. Finish: long, roasted and zesty at the same time. Lemon and coffee flavoured chocolate? More sultanas. Comments: did I already tell you this was unusual? More a cocktail than malt whisky but very good it is. SGP:731 - 82 points.
Glenmorangie 13 yo 1993/2006 (55.9%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #125.4, 319 bottles) Colour: full gold. Nose: punchy and as modern as whisky can be, with oak and vanilla being to the front but in no way in a vulgar manner. ‘A delicate oakbomb’, I’d say. A light and rather complex fruitiness follows, with notes of ripe gooseberries, overripe apples and hints of marshmallows plus a faint smokiness (wood smoke). Balance is pretty perfect here and all this is very elegant. With water: more complexity, with notes of cut flowers, hay and a little patchouli. A little briny. Mouth (neat): once again, the sweet oak plays the first part but it’s of very high quality. Some mint, nutmeg, vanilla, ginger, cardamom, a little honey… Sweet oak galore, really. With water: more of the same, the nutmeg coming to the front together with quite some cinnamon and a little chocolate. Finish: medium long, clean, rather fruitier. It’s funny that there’s rather less oak in the finish than in the attack. Comments: very good stuff despite the obvious, but not heavy new oak treatment. SGP:551 – 87 points.

October 16, 2009

The Royal Festival Hall, London, September 1st 2009 Magazine
Sometimes gigs just don’t work out how you want them to, and to be honest, you can’t always be sure if it’s the fault of the band, the audience, the venue, the sound engineers or, possibly, you.
So I’m not particularly pointing the finger of blame if I say that this gig, or what we saw of it , was a huge disappointment. It was after all a Tuesday night after a day of work and maybe I just don’t have quite the energy I once had. Or maybe the very same could be said of Magazine, that fearsome post-punk creation of former Buzzcocks front man Howard Devoto, who in his heyday managed to combine a distinct intellect with a unique rock aesthetic and a big dose of cadaverous menace, and mix it into some quite stand-out albums. As far as I’m concerned, not being a fan, Devoto has been idling in the wilderness for years, but this year he’s back. And by his side is a pretty good reconstruction of the original band: on drums, John Doyle, who for a while retreated from music into an advertising agency; keyboard player Dave Formula, who has had a spell with Visage and in production, and bass player Barry Adamson, who amongst many accomplishments became a Bad Seed post his time with the original Magazine. Original guitarist John McGeoch, who also played with Siouxsie Sioux and her Banshees, and with John Lydon’s Public Image Limited, sadly died in 2004; he’s replaced by Noko, key collaborator with Howard Devoto in his Luxuria project. And Devoto? Well, like all of us, he’s put on a few pounds but more tellingly, the years appear have robbed him of that sense of threat and disruptiveness that he always seemed to exude. He’s more like a benign uncle than a threatening interloper, looking distinctly like actor Donald Pleasance.
The group reformed for a series of gigs earlier in the year which were met with considerable acclaim, so this should have been a good one. But for some reason, the first half (we didn’t stay for the second) was an uncomfortable and listless affair. The band had chosen to play their 1980 Album, The Correct Use of Soap, in its entirety; a strange choice perhaps as at one time Devoto had almost disowned it as a commercial sell-out (not that it succeeded in terms of sales).It’s a curious collection of songs, including an unlikely Sly and the Family Stone cover (‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’). Some, like the closing ‘A song from under the floorboards’ are pretty powerful, others seem to belong firmly to a former age. Magazine
Between songs Devoto reads from a set of instructions, not about using soap, but rather ‘Enjoying and Caring for your Record Collection’. It’s mildly amusing, but a tad contrived. You could just tell that the band weren’t too happy, constantly gesturing at the on-stage sound-desk, either on their own behalf or that of their colleagues. The sense of unease had been present in the audience from the start, many clearly unused to the formalities of the Royal Festival Hall. You could see people visibly straining to get out of their seats. ‘Turn up the fucking guitar’, shouts an interlocutor from the back of the hall, leading to a series of echoing pleas. A palpable sense of discontent filled the hall.
So at the interval we left for cocoa and A Book at Bedtime. I read that the gig picked up a little, with a ‘greatest hits’ second half, and the almost obligatory invitation for the audience to leave their seats and head for the stage, which like lemmings heading for the cliff-edge, they apparently did. Not the best musical night of the year, and I’m still pondering as to whose fault it was. - Nick Morgan
Listen: Magazine on MySpace


Laphroaig 10 yo 'Cask Strength' (57.8%, OB, batch #001- FEB.09) These new ‘small batch’ editions will replace our beloved ‘10CS’. Hope the quality won’t be replaced! Colour: pale gold. Nose: holy smokes! This one smells just like an ashtray full of lit Habanos at first nosing. It seems that it’s rather more extreme in its smokiness than the earlier batches, less fruity too. Also a lot of leather and notes of ‘new tyres’ that remind me of some PEs. Not really medicinal, that is, even if there are whiffs of antiseptic. Fresh walnuts. Spectacular whisky! With water: smoke, smoke and smoke, of all kinds. And cigars, and leather. Also a little earthy. Mouth (neat): extremely punchy, fruitier than on the nose when neat (ripe apples), very peaty, clean… Once again, the smokiness is quite extreme, a little Supernova-esque. With water: much more on earth and roots, gentian, a little aniseed, salt, badian… Finish: very long, distinctly salty. Quite ashy in the aftertaste. Comments: rather less fruity and balanced/complex than earlier ‘regular’ batches but smokier and ashier. Yes, even more for peat heads. Extreme but very, very good. SGP:258 - 89 points.
Laphroaig 1998/2009 (55.5%, Malts of Scotland, cask #MOS15, 201 bottles) Colour: dark gold. Nose: another one that is quite extreme! Something like… smoked chocolate? There’s also quite some liquorice, straight smoke, strongly infused herbal tea, bandages, then tropical fruits such as passion fruits, then tar, another kind of smoke (bordering on exhaust fumes), raisins… This one goes in all directions, it’s really restless. With water: it’s the sherry that comes out first (and sour apples) but it really converges with the 10CS after that. Bandages, a little manure, even horse dung, that sometimes happens with extreme peat ‘n’ sherry combos. Mouth (neat): big, starting on more straight sherry, rather sweet, some ‘coal-like’ liquorice and something like smoked strawberry jam (I know, that does not exist). Once again, the combo is quite extreme, even if rather sweeter than other sherried ‘phroaigs. With water: gets rather more tannic and dry, with some oak (or pencil shavings) and much less sherry. Bitter herbal liqueur, blackcurrant leaves. Finish: long, more on salted liquorice. Leathery and tarry. Remainder of the fruitiness in the aftertaste (oranges). Comments: a complex yet big young sherried Laphroaig, really multifaceted. With such a concentration, you wouldn’t quaff 10cls just like that but spectacular it is. SGP:457 - 90 points.

October 15, 2009


What, in solo? Not quite, as I’ll secretly oppose it to another 30yo, the Brora 30yo 1972/2003 (49.7%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 222 bottles). Remember, tasting new whiskies alongside both reference whiskies (popular whiskies that you know very well) and whiskies from the same distillery is a way of reducing a bit the amount of subjectivity in one’s assessments. Well, at least it should be.
Brora 30 yo 2009 Edition (53.2%, OB, 2,652 bottles) Colour: pale gold. Nose: there’s much less sherry than in the 1972 but rather more smoke, wax, vanilla and herbal notes, which makes me think of a strongly peated Clynelish if you see what I mean, with also something of the ‘old’, pre-Brora Clynelish. Ooh, this is complicated, isn’t it! It is not as farmy as the first 30yos and rather cleaner, coated with a little more vanilla, notes of fresh walnuts and some medicinal notes ala old Laphroaig (embrocations, gauze). The smokiness fades away a bit after quite some minutes, leaving room for more fresh fruits such s white peaches and gooseberries. With water: becomes a little grassier as often. Rather less smoke, rather more wax, even more ‘Clynelish’. Wet rocks, whiffs of seaweed. Mouth (neat): powerful, the first thing I’m thinking of is some kind of mildly smoked fruits. Gooseberries again, apples, a little lemon… Rather less smoky than on the nose, and less waxy too, that is to say a little less ‘Brora’ globally - so far. A lot of liquorice. With water: superb now, with a perfect coherence and compactness. A little mustard coming through, the obvious waxiness is back, herbal liqueurs, cough sweets, some marzipan, playful notes of juicy apples (granny smith?) and quite some ash. Finish: long, saltier, more on lemon, almonds and a little green tea. The wood is perfect. Comments: there’s much more peat smoke on the nose than on the palate. A very interesting Brora halfway between the early 70s’ austere majesty and the 80s’ waxy fruitiness. In a certain way, it reminds me of the old 20yo 1975 Rare Malts but with more fruits. Excellent once again! SGP:465 - 91 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: the great Don Cherry wandering off the tracks of jazz with this funky Universal Mother (that was on 1976's Hear & Now). Please buy Don Cherry's music.

Don Cherry

October 2009 - part 1 <--- October 2009 - part 2 ---> November 2009 - part 1

heck the index of all entries:
Nick's Concert Reviews



Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only - alphabetical: a heavy month!

Ar2 (58.8%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2009, 50cl)

Ardbeg 'Corryvreckan' (57.1%, OB, general release, 2009)

Ben Nevis 34 yo 1975/2009 (63.0%, The Prestonfield for LMdW, bourbon barrel, cask #7439, 146 bottles)

Ben Nevis 35 yo 1967/2002 (50.1%, Hart Bros, Sherry wood)

Brora 30 yo 2009 Edition (53.2%, OB, 2,652 bottles)

Glenglassaugh 40 yo (44.6%, OB, decanter, 2009)

Glenlivet 1982/2009 (52.2%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #4340)

Karuizawa 1967/2009 (58.4%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, cask #6426, 229 bottles)

Karuizawa 1967/2009 (58.4%, OB for The Whisky Exchange 10th anniversary, cask #6426)

Karuizawa 1972/2008 (65%, The Number One Drinks Company, Sherry cask #7290, 528 bottles)

Laphroaig 1998/2009 (55.5%, Malts of Scotland, cask #MOS15, 201 bottles)

Octomore 5 yo ‘Edition 02.1’ (62.5%, OB, 2009)