It’s not every CD that is accompanied by a special bottling of malt whisky so Up In The Dram Room is almost certainly unique. The whisky in question is Bruichladdich, one of Islay’s less phenolic children and, in my experience, a place where it is possible to get totally spannered in the dram room although they might have tightened up a bit since I was there. Here’s the story: Robin Laing is a musician who likes whisky and Thomas Ewers is a whisky maker in Paderborn, Westphalia (confusingly, the company is called The Westfalian) who likes Robin’s music. They discussed a whisky themed album but it was lockdown – isn’t it always – that gave them the impetus to bring it to fruition.
Up In The Dram Room is as much about Robin and Thomas’ friendship as it is about the whisky but the amber nectar is never too far in the background. The opening track, ‘Building Bridges’, is a sort of mission statement picturing whisky makers as diplomats – “Let’s build something good to last” – and it’s true that when whisky lovers meet the conversation will flow.
‘Uncle Joe’ is a country song inspired by a Westfalian liquor based on their corn whisky which clearly put the idea of mountain dew into Robin’s head and gave him the excuse to add Stuart Nisbet’s Dobro to the musical mash. ‘Angel’s Choice’ is inspired by a range of Westfalian whiskies made from the barrels that evaporate most in store – clearly, the ones that the angels prefer. ‘Magic Ship Of Dreams’ is a whimsical song listing all the malts that Thomas imports into Germany and ‘Masterpiece’ is inspired by a series of single cask bottlings and decorated – if that’s the right word – with some almost excruciating rhymes.
The title track is about the part of the distillery tour that visitors look forward to most. Although this song is specifically about the tasting room at Paderborn there are many fine ones closer to home and even you’re not a whisky connoisseur you can enjoy the ambiance of Glenfarclas and Lagavulin. ‘Miss Sunshine’ is inspired by another Paderborn liquor. When I was but a callow youth I sometimes enjoyed a drop of Drambuie but these days it doesn’t seem to be the right thing to do to whisky – discuss amongst yourselves. ‘The Dark Side Of Islay’ is an evocative poem about Scotland’s finest island. ‘Barley Bree For Charlie-O’ is an entirely imaginary story about a kilted Scot overtaken by the prospect of free whisky set to a tune that could have come from the tradition led by Steven Polwart’s acoustic guitar. Finally, ‘Images Of Scotland’ brings Robin back home with a simple song that suddenly reminded me of Stan Rogers and that’s high praise indeed.
Up In The Dram Room was recorded by Mattie Foulds who also played drums and percussion with Kevin McGuire on bass and Jackie Macdonald providing backing vocals. It’s a charming and entertaining album even if you’re not a whisky drinker.
Artist’s website: www.robinlaing.com
‘Building Bridges’ – live: