Harviestoun with Black Tempest



Autograph Hunter

Harviestoun are well-known as the creators of two of Britain’s most intriguing cask ales: Bitter & Twisted and “That Scottish Lager”, which if you can correctly pronounce ‘loch’ you can call by its other name, Schiehallion. Another of the brewery’s notable favourites is Old Engine Oil, a 6% Porter. It’s Old Engine Oil that is lovingly placed in a multitude of Highland Park whisky casks to produce the Ola Dubh range of beers.

The first time I encounterd the might of Ola Dubh was in May 2011. I’d spent the day drinking in the finest hostelries of Swindon and London and had wound up at the inestimable Dean Swift. After purchasing and consuming some offerings from BrewDog and Odell I got chatting to the bar manager and he suggested that rather than have the Cutthroat Porter I’d requested, I should treat myself to an Ola Dubh… possibly the finest bit of advice I’ve ever been offered by someone standing behind a bar. It was my last drink before I had to head off to Liverpool Street to catch a train to the port of Harwich. The next morning I was awoken at 6.00am as the ferry approached dock in the Netherlands. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a hang-over quite as impressive as the one that assaulted me that morning. A twenty-minute shower and several hundred gallons of water later and I was still a quivering mess but the tannoy was intermittently hurrying us stragglers along and each time thay it did so it was quite obvious that it was getting more and more upset. By the time I finally managed to stagger off-board I was surprisingly cheerfully informed by a steward that I was the last person to disembark – I always aim to please. I still had a train journey to Rotterdam and then another one to Amsterdam stretching out before me but all I  felt like doing was finding a quiet spot to curl up and go to sleep. Thankfully, the sun was shinning and I was being spurred on by the knowledge that when the evening returned I would be in the Paradiso going crazy to the greatest band on the planet… in the space of roughly 24 hours I’d drunk my first bottle of Ola Dubh and experienced my first gig by Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – I think that qualifies as a pretty successful day.

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Live at Club Dune (2009)

Black Tempest is the musical outlet of evil genius and all-round good guy Stephen Bradbury (aka Squid). He’s been on the front-line of the rock n roll wars for many a year and has played in a variety of almost nearly semi-legendary bands. Like a sizeable chunk of my favourite recording artists, I discovered the music of Black Tempest via Julian Cope’s excellent Head Heritage website.

Although recording under the Black Tempest moniker since 2007, it wasn’t until the arrival of Proxima in 2010 (released by the fantastic Apollolaan) that he began to experiment with the styles and sounds that would allow him to create some of the most beautiful and out-there cosmic music of the last few years – music that has garnered the positive attention of such notable underground worthies as Dave W from White Hills and Steve Palmer of Terrascope.

Sadly, his live appearances are few and far between: I think he’s only played three gigs in the last three years – I was at 2 of them. The gigs are all fully improvised so if you are lucky enough to find yourself in a room with Black Tempest and his magical machines you can expect almost anything to happen but whatever does happen you can be assured that it will be beautiful and enthralling.

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There's a moose loose...

Olah Dubh 12 pours a deep impenetrable black. If I was FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper I’d say it was ‘as black as midnight on a moonless night’ but I’ve never worked for the FBI so I’m afraid I’ll have to stick with the more prosaic ‘deep impenetrable black’. The main glug of liquid comes bundled with a rusty white head that quickly dissipates leaving a greyish swirl that looks like a psychotic mermaid (sadly, I can’t guarantee that a psychotic mermaid will be in every bottle).

The nose is an enticing blend of used coffee grounds, cooking chocolate, the first exhale of a Regal King Size and rain-soaked wood as it slowly and contentedly begins to rot on the forest floor… there’s also the vague suggestion of a pan loaf treacle sandwich followed by the subtle whiff of your father’s whisky breath as he berates you for eating the last of the bread.

Taste wise it is a bit of a sensation but I’m sure you already knew that. There’s a pleasant mild coffee buzz reminiscent of a Blue Mountain espresso dusted with cocoa powder and served with a heavily fruited raisin flapjack. The Highland Park funk that has been borrowed from the barrels is quite sensational as you can almost decide how much just how much of a whisky hit you want: drink it as you would most mere mortal liquids and the whisky calmly says hello before gently wandering off but if you are polite enough ask it to hang around for a while or even have a little dance with your tongue the experience is quite sumptuous.

Drinking Ola Dubh 12 fills you with an immense sense of well-being and as each mouthful caresses your senses you know that everything will be alright for ever and ever… or at least until the last drop has gone.

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Ex Proxima

Ex Proxima floats in like it’s always existed… like it’s always been lurking in the undergrowth… the undergrowth that occupies the no-mans land between insanity and civilisation. This isn’t some mindless hard rocking freak-out. This is a meandering journey to the far off places that our humdrum lives can only rarely journey…

It’s Comprised of three long and fundamentally instrumental pieces of music that segue together beautifully to form one solidly compelling 48 minute cosmic excursion. For an album that is created from almost entirely electronic instruments it has a beautifully organic sound and if the conditions are correct it will happily become one with its surroundings rather than merely being a sound the occupies those surroundings.

The opening track, Invisible Moons, sounds like a spiritual awakening at a neolithic space-age church. It brings to mind lustrous underground caverns resplendent with gothic arches 1000 feet high. It’s a musical paen to a lost civilisation… Subtle strings and gentle voices lead us into Wind On Ice. We’ve emerged from the caverns into a world populated by magnificent faceless creatures who soar around their frozen world while creating psychotic spontaneous jazz-attack music with their (out of tune) bassoons and oboes before they vanish into the great nothingness and we’re reminded that life is purely ephemeral. The closing half of Wind On Ice is a truly stunning piece of music that I feel would be best listened to in an old eastern European church with only candlelight for illumination. The final 11 minute slice of well manicured insanity, Biodivinty, builds and enhances on the sounds that have flowed before and merges them together into a truly mindmelting masterpiece – it is the music that Tangerine Dream would’ve created if they hadn’t got increasingly new age and, well, shit. It’s a fanstastic end to a truly epic excursion.

Ever danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight? Nope! But I’ve drunk Ola Dubh while listening to Black Tempest.

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Ex Proxima is available from Noiseweb

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all photograpy by landells except Ex Proxima


~ by landells on March 10, 2012.

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