By Rob Allanson

A brief encounter

When you are not sure if you missed the punch line or the joke
I am not often star struck. I think years of working on newspapers, interviewing politicians and celebrities sorted me out on that front. However every now and then you are in the presence of a true legend, someone whose career has left an indelible mark on the world.

This happened on a recent trip to Glasgow. It’s always lovely to be back in the city, my alma mater. I was in town for a few things but the highlight was playing at the Old Fruitmarket with the Whisky Band. If you haven’t come across or seen the band it is a collection of people who all work in the industry who come together to play music.

Over the years we have forged quite a bond of camaraderie and support, playing every where from New York to Germany, and of course DogFest at the Speyside Festival. You might recognise them. The two guitarists Dr. Sam Simmons, currently of Atom Brands (That Boutique-y Whisky Company et al), Dr. Nick Morgan, of Diageo fame; my fellow rhythm section member Simon Roser, who heads up Simply Whisky; and finally the honey-voiced Cat Spencer, from William Grant and Sons. A pretty stellar line up to play with, and occasionally we remember all the tunes at the same time.

Any how I digress. The Old Fruitmarket is one of those venues that for a lot of musicians is on the bucket list. I remember as a student seeing many bands play there, it’s home to the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, it has some serious pulling power. Then, one evening there we were…taking to the stage, the vast expanse of the auditorium before us. I will not waffle on, but it was a great gig.

There was one joke however that we all missed the build up to, and I think the punchline as well as it got lost in howls of laughter from his table. It involved banjos and a dumpster. If you know it, drop me a line please.

The morning after had that familiar feeling of coming down, when you have spent so much time in people’s pockets you don’t want it to end. But inevitably we all have to go our separate ways for a but, until the next gig.
However back to where I started, star struck. A couple of us had lunch in Gandolfi’s Café, a Glasgow institution. Walking in there was something electric in the air, a feeling that you just cannot put your finger on. As I sat down, there at the other table, surrounded by camera crew was the comedian and legend Billy Connolly.

Now there was no going up to him to chat, he was clearly working, planning, holding court. But sitting at the table closest we could listen in; and man is he funny. The jokes were coming thick and fast: “How do you make a guitarist play quietly? Put music in from of them…” to select one.

There was one joke however that we all missed the build up to, and I think the punchline as well as it got lost in howls of laughter from his table. It involved banjos and a dumpster. If you know it, drop me a line please.
Before the Glasgow trip it was the Islay festival. I don’t think I will ever tire of visiting here, especially if you are staying pretty much down the road from Lagavulin Distillery.

One thing that has become synonymous with this annual gathering is the Feis bottlings. One from each distillery and people will queue for hours to get them. They become collector’s items almost instantly.
Herein lies one of the issues with this. On my expedition to Islay I took the ferry. There in a big bright advert on the vessel was a company offering to sell your festival bottle right after you had bought it.

Now I don’t have a problem with people investing, collecting etc, but for me this really feels it is going against the spirit of the festival. As one person put it, “This is just ripping the heart out of the festival.” He is right, it just feels so cynical and grubby. Sure there is always going to be a swift trade in these bottles, but for the love of this magnificent place, not immediately after the bottle is bought at the distillery. I personally think it shows a lack of respect for the ethos of the festival and the island. But what can be done? I feel something should.

This takes me back to the beginning of this missive. The festival, and others like it across the globe, are the chance for us whisky fans to be star struck by meeting the people who make this glorious liquid. The majority of whom take home their precious bottles and memories. There are a few answers and I will be eager to see if the distilleries tackle it next year.