Whisky & Culture

Late night tunes and soulful drams

What makes great whisky music? Our newmusic brain Rocky McCabe pondersthe issue and recommends a Mercuryprize nominee
By Rocky McCabe
I used to spend many a happy hour debating with my predecessor, the late Lew Guthrie III, about the link between whisky and music.We were poles apart. He reckoned music was only relevant when it was specifically about whisky. For me, though, there are whisky moments that pass better with music, even when the music’s unrelated to whisky. And there are pieces of music that were clearly created by a whisky lover or someone who understood the drink.I’m as sorry as anyone that Lew’s gone but nobody can say he wasn’t warned: seeking out dangerous snow sports in untrusted corners of the world with our climate under change would always end in tears – or worse.Anyway, Richard Hawley is from Sheffield in England and he sings about love, chasing love and losing love. Not a drink in sight. But find me a better record to put on late at night in semi darkness when the house has fallen silent to enjoy a special malt to, and I’ll show you a sophisticated vodka.Hawley is an oddball of a character, and typical of the city that produced him. He was once the guitarist in Treebound Story, the city’s finest unsigned band at a time when a young Pulp was seeking stardom and the likes of Red Tape Studios, Fon Records and The Leadmill made it the most happening city not just in Britain but the world.Hawley indirectly refers to this era with the name of this, his third solo album, and on its cover. Cole’s Corner refers to the city’s famous department store and the place where couples would meet for the evening. The sleeve is littered with reminiscences from city folk who did just that.How parochial is that? And then again, how atypical is the music contained inside?What we have here is a burning torchsong of an album that at its most whimsical recalls the finest croony Elvis or plaintive Roy Orbison. There are country tinges here, too, but in the main understated ones. If you know the music of the Handsome Family you’ll relate to this.“Maybe there’s someone waiting for me, with a smile and a flower in her hair,” sings Hawley and while it’s possible we’re outside Cole’s in November, that’s not how I remember Sheffield lasses.Encased in rich strings and lush melodic swirls it’s anything but the sort of Arctic Monkeys-like grit you tend to associate with the region.Having said that, though, there’s a Sheffield soul beating going on here.“What are you like, you’ve had a right life,” he observes on Bad Sign in true Yorkshire style.“Taken a long ride, but oh, at what cost?” The album ends in the sort of drifting, open plains sort of way that bands such as Lambchop specialise in. It’s utterly relaxing, and a great way to wind down at the end of a hard day. Last Orders ends a great album but be warned: immerse yourself too deeply and you’ll doze off and spill your drink.The occasion:Tired,late at night when the family or flatmates have gone to bed.Preferably after a satisfying day rather than a depressing one What to drink Entry point: Aberlour a’bunadh: rich,chunky late night after dinner malt Middle range: Balvenie 21 year old Portwood Finish – toffee and vanilla to balance the fruitiness Top drawer: A Duncan Taylor Invergordon grain aged over 35 years old – just as Hawley mixes North(-ish) British with Southern American states,so too this mixes gritty Scotch grain with vanilla and confectionery