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Separated at Birth

rowan williams muppet

I have unashamedly blagged this from my friend Fleet who in turn quotes from a Telegraph blog. “One of them is a muppet. The other appears to be some sort of scary, orange-haired toy”


The Waits Was Worth It!

It is so difficult to know where to begin a review of someone like Tom Waits. ‘Someone like Tom Waits’? it’s a little bit like saying someone like Bob Dylan or Nelson Mandela or the Buddha so individual, so great is his persona and charisma. My friend Smiler and I had decided to go for an early departure to Edinburgh and perhaps take in some of the jazz on offer in Princes St. Gardens as part of the Jazz and Blues Festival currently taking place in the capital. We took a stroll down there and saw the end of a set by a New Orleans style jazz band. To be honest most of them were getting on a bit, including the lady dancers, but they certainly didn’t lack any enthusiasm! One had the feeling that if Tom Waits had some time to kill he’d have loved this.

However it was pretty warm and there weren’t too many shaded areas within earshot of the music so we retired to The Guildford Arms at the end of Princes Street before eventually seeking out a curry house for pre-theatre sustainence.

On arriving at the venue we had to produce the credit card on which the tickets were bought and photo id. This was all part of the security measures aimed at the touts. MInd you with booking fees, the tickets were over £100 each anyway. Perhaps Tom didn’t want people to feel that they were entirely escaping the feeling of being ripped off.

The Edinburgh Playhouse is an old theatre and one imagines it is almost unchanged since new. Its out of style Victorian splendour was the ideal setting for what was to come. Admittedly by 8:30, no-show on stage and the place running a temperature akin to an oven pre-heated for baked potatoes, I was getting a little impatient and tetchy. I have read that TW insists on air conditioning being turned off at venues ‘for his voice’ I presume therefore that if the Playhouse does have such a thing we have him to thank for its non operation. The crowd started to slow handclap but of course all was forgiven when Tom and the band eventually took to the stage, Tom bowler hatted and suited on a set which resembled Steptoe’s yard (about twenty bullhorn style speakers adorning the backdrop, Tom stomping in white dust – talc? flour? who knows).
edinburgh playhouse

There are various places on the net where you will find set lists for the Glitter and Doom tour but I haven’t found one yet which represents what was performed last night. He must have rehearsed more than fifty songs with his band by my reckoning.

tom waits
Picture: Tom Waits in Dallas (speedofdark blog)

Most of the songs were done in a very different style from their original recordings, some, like Rain Dogs in a footstomping bawl whilst others were given a laid back treatment (Hang Down Your Head)
The highlights last night, (for me) in no particular order were Rain Dogs, I’ll Shoot the Moon (hilarious choreography going on here), an intimate piano/bass/vocal Invitation to the Blues, Jesus Gonna be Here, Table Top Joe, Hang Down Your Head, Cold Cold Ground – The magnificent “final” number Make It Rain (complete with glitter cascade at the end) and the encores Going Out West and When All the World Was Green.

Boy! did that band work for their money. They were

• Tom Waits: vocals (also some guitar and piano)
• Omar Torrez: guitar
• Larry Taylor: upright bass
• Casey Waits: drums, percussion (Son)
• Patrick Warren: keyboards, accordion
• Vincent Henry: Saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor), harmonica (and guitar!)
and a couple of appearances by Tom’s younger son (Solomon I think) on percussion and sax.

The upright bass player must have been knackered by the end of it all. At one stage Vincent Henry was playing two saxaphones! (at the same time -I kid you not). For much of the set there was not even an electric guitar being played and the dynamics were stunning.
In his little intimate tete a tete with the audience, during which he played Invitation to the Blues and an audience singalong of Innocent When You Dream, Tom gave us some pearls of Wisdom. Having announced that there were some strange laws coming in around the world someone shouted “Eggs and Sausage!” “That’s one of them” said Waits quick as a flash, “you can’t ask for eggs and sausage”. “You can’t even give a chimp a cigarette in Paris any more – everything’s ruined” followed by “Don’t you hate it when someone shows you their cell phone and says it’s also a camera? I mean I don’t boast about my sunglasses also being a tricycle!”

tom waits
Photo – speedofdark blog.

By the time they had finished the two song encore, Waits and his band had been on stage for two and a half hours. There was an extended plea for another encore but to no avail. Even the absence of numbers like Chocolate Jesus (the megaphone lay unused on the stage), Tom Traubert’s Blues and Misery’s the River of the World he has played on the tour could take away nothing from this performance.
In the car on the way home, Smiler and I tried to categorize Tom Waits.
Is he a vaudeville showman or a narrator and stunt double for Chandler’s Philip Marlowe? is he a lounge jazz pianist and singer who’s had too much bourbon? a gravelly voiced reincarnation of Hoagy Carmichael perhaps? or does he want to be Stan Laurel in Way out West? An extra from Mary Poppins? a Dickensian villain? och! we probably took the whole thing too far but Waits is all of the above and none of the above. He is an entertainer who has one feels stuck to his guns over the years and has reaped the reward of career longevity and critical acclaim.

Last night we witnessed a performer nudging 60 but still at the very top of his game.

This was an utterly fantastic and unique concert which rendered the admission price irrelevant.

The Waitsing is Nearly Over!

This evening Smiler and I will be going to Edinburgh Playhouse to see Tom Waits. As a highly civilized precursor to that we’ll hopefully catch some of the Edinburgh jazz festival at the Ross Theatre (outdoor and free!) in Princes Street. Expect a report tomorrow.

Good Old Saint Drostan

Quotes from http://www.aberlour.com/spiritofaberlour/

‘Unofficial patron saint of Aberlour. Drostan – also known as Drustan or Dunstan – was a protégé of St Columcille (Columba) and accompanied him on his missionary journey to Scotland in the 6th century, bringing Christianity to the Picts. When Columba returned to Iona, he left Drostan behind to continue the good work. Drostan visited Aberlour, where he set up a monastic cell and baptised Christian converts in a spring on the site of what is now the Aberlour Distillery. An engraved weather-beaten stone, which for years marked the exact spot of St Drostan’s Well, has been carefully preserved at the distillery.

saint drostan
Saint Drostan

Drostan stayed in the area for some years, becoming abbot of a monastery near Aberdeen. Later, seeking a life of even greater seclusion, he became a hermit and a spiritual inspiration to the sick and the poor. A number of miracles are attributed to him, including the restoration of sight to a blind monk. Some would say that the pure spring water of St Drostan’s Well, which today is the lifeblood of Aberlour malt whisky, is another of the saint’s miracles’

On holiday as I was, within 30 miles of more than half of the whisky distilleries of Scotland, and most of the best ones at that (IMHO) it was inevitable that I would do a distillery tour. As it was a family holiday however I could hardly spend every day traipsing round various distilleries sampling their product (tempting though the notion was!) so I chose just one and it was a good choice.

The Aberlour Distillery is at the heart of Speyside, the country’s premier whisky-making region. No fewer than half of Scotland’s malt distilleries are located in Speyside, which is renowned for producing whiskies of subtle depth and elegance.

Situated at the junction of the rivers Lour and Spey, the distillery is surrounded by glorious scenery, dominated by the rugged peaks of Ben Rinnes a short distance away. Pure spring water for making the whisky is drawn from the Lour, and the maturing spirit in the warehouse beneficially inhales the moist Speyside air.

Aberlour is an ancient place as well as a beautiful one. For more than 1,400 years there has been a community there and signs of its long heritage are all around, from the age-old oak trees above Linn Falls to the mysterious standing stones on Fairy Hill.

At the distillery, nature, tradition and local craftsmanship combine to create a great malt whisky – the spirit of Aberlour.’

First of all the name of the village which gives the whisky its name is as follows:

This is thanks to one Charles Grant, a wealthy landowner who named it after his son. To all intents and purposes though the village is known simply as Aberlour. The reason I chose the Aberlour distillery to tour was my liking for their A’bunadh (meaning ‘the origin’ in Gaelic) cask strength whisky. That and their publicity which promised five drams included in the tour price of just £10.00. In the end it was six but one was the clear raw spirit (left in the photo) which may have a thousand household uses but drinking it is recommended as a once only experience.

The tour was very interesting indeed but shattered any illusion that there is any black art left in manufacturing whisky. After all like most of the distilleries in the area (though not all) Aberlour is owned by a multi national company (Chivas Brothers Pernod Ricard) whilst others are owned by Diageo
and Campari (!). Everywhere in the distillery are computer screens which monitor volumes, temperatures, timing etc. are in evidence, but there are really only a few people involved in the process. Most of the crucial decisions in whisky manufacturing are taken by the click of a mouse.

Even the interesting cask descriptions (above) have now been phased out having recently been replaced by bar codes. I was however heartened to learn that a’bunadh contains no artificial colouring (I suspected caramel) and that the distillery draws its water from a spring (St Drostan’s Well) for the manufacture and the Lour burn for the cooling process.

Another rather charming notion of whisky manufacture is the ‘angels’ share’ which is the loss incurred in years of maturation of spirit to evaporation.
angels share

The Angels’ Share

However even this old tradition is under threat with Diageo being at the forefront of experiments to wrap casks in clingfilm. If it works it could be worth over £1million to that manufacturer.

The tour of Aberlour Distillery was conducted by Mabel, a most entertaining and pleasant guide, who took us through the manufacturing (distilling) process CLICK HERE and the history of the distillery and distilling in the area. We then retired to the tasting room to sample the fine whisky you see above. A ten year old, a sherry finish, a 12 year old, a (new product) 18 year old, and a’bunadh were the stars of the show. Visitors are also given an opportunity to fill their own bottle straight from the cask with an attractive wooden gift box and signed label for £60.00. I didn’t take them up on this myself but you can see this being done on the video below. Mabel let slip that she featured on Youtube so a cursory search found this:

Below is my photo of a’bunadh Silver Label (the first batch). Yours for £250.00 on Ebay apparently but no longer available from the distillery.

I’ve featured this song by Robin Laing before but it’s an ideal opportunity to do so again. It’s called ‘a’Bunadh’


Who do you think said this? It has relevance on two levels to one of this week’s news stories.

‘The Press will not be free to tell lies. That is not freedom for the people but a tyranny over their minds and souls. Much humbug is talked on this subject. What is Press freedom ? In practice it means the right of a few millionaires to corner newspaper shares on the stock exchange and to voice their own opinions and interests irrespective of the truth or of the national interest.

Newspapers are not made any longer by news or journalism. They are made by sheer weight of money expressed in free gift schemes, etc. They serve not the interests of the many but the vested interests of the few. In that service they will stoop to any lie or any debauch of the public mind.’

The A9

Just back from a truly wonderful holiday on Speyside in the Scottish Highlands. The weather was perfect and the location has to be one of the most picturesque in Europe, encompasing as it does the Cairngorm National Park.
On our arrival last Saturday, we were diverted off the A9 for a detour near Dalwhinnie where a man and his foster daughter were tragically killed in a three vehicle accident. As a further twist they were on the way to the man’s neice’s funeral. She had died in a car accident earlier in the week.
Today we left Aviemore (having stopped on the way south to pick up some bits and pieces) around 2:00pm and rejoined the A9 to Perth. There was a car transporter a few hundred yards ahead of us. Between us and the transporter there were about 15-20 vehicles and each one was bunched up close to the one in front. I kept about 20 yards between us and the Kia in front. He was about three feet from the Honda in front of him which in turn spent most of the time weaving in and out trying to find an opportunity to overtake (eejit!). Of course we eventually did get to overtake the transporter, ironically on the dual carriageway section near Dalwhinnie (see above). The Kia and Honda arrived in Perth about 5 seconds before us.
As we arrived home, I heard on the news that four more people had been killed (and two injured) in an accident on the A9 near Aviemore approximately one hour after we had been on the very stretch of road. Two vehicles had burst into flames after colliding.
The A9 is regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in the UK. I don’t think the behaviour of many of the drivers on the road does much to improve the situation.

One More Day to Waits