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A Dram Good Time With...

In our opinion the association between Jack Daniels and rock is old and tired and that’s why Simply Whisky feels compelled to re-introduce whisky into the music scene by profiling contemporary bands talking about their interest, opinion and experience of single malt whisky.

Hollie Cook

Simon of Simply Whisky caught up with Hollie Cook on the eve of her Spring European tour.  An actor, model and singer Hollie has dueted with Jamie T on his ‘Chaka Demus’ EP, and Ian Brown on his ‘The World Is Yours’ album. She was also a featured vocalist on Mike Pellanconi/Prince Fatty’s underground reggae hit ‘Milk and Honey.’  Previously a member of punk rock legends The Slits, and daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, Hollie is now carving a niche with her own music which has been described as 'tropical pop reggae dub'.  I also hear a bit of Dawn Penn crossed with Shaggy, but with more of a sunshine feel.

“I won’t stop drinking whisky until I find the next boom zoom!”— Hollie

It is freezing cold outside but tropically warm inside the Camden Barfly as Hollie leaves the stage and heads backstage having just performed a great gig to an appreciative Monday night audience.  Hollie’s Mum pops over to say hello and takes an interest in the bottle of Japanese whisky I have in my left hand, while Hollie’s Dad suddenly appears with his mouth full of red wine.  That will never do and so he is politely requested to wash his mouth out with water before we share a dram and an introduction to Nikka from the Barrel.  By this point the backstage area is getting rather full and so Hollie and I sojourn to a quieter room to begin the interview.

Hello Hollie! ‘Heeellloooo!’  You've just played a lovely show downstairs, thank you.  You brought a lot of warmth to northwest London. ‘I hope so, that is always my main objective’ she enthuses. I arrived decked out in winter clothing and about two minutes into your show I had my jacket, my jumper and my shirt off. ‘Well, I do like the audience to strip down to the bare minimum, so good.’ Well, it worked, I add. ‘Mission accomplished’ she laughs.

Laying out a few glasses I explain the format of the evening to Hollie to whom it ‘sounds amazing’, and so we begin by passing her the first whisky, a Black Bull from a company called Duncan Taylor. It's 50% malt whisky, 50% grain whisky, 50% alcohol and 12 years old.  Let’s begin.

Black Bull 12 Year Old 50%
Creamy with fruity toffee notes, deliciously easy drinking!

Dae ye ken?
This special blend is a marriage of the finest 12 year old single malt and single grain whiskies distilled in Scotland

A combination of American white oak ex-Bourbon and European oak ex-Sherry casks

Robust, chunky aromas. Chocolate, toffee, sherry, vanilla and lemon sherbet

Smooth, mellow and rounded. Milk chocolate, treacle toffee, pears, green apples and lots of sweet vanilla

Some heavier fruity notes emerge, and lots of creamy notes coming through

Distillery Info
Independent bottler Duncan Taylor selects whiskies from distilleries throughout Scotland, bottling a range of luxury single malt and grain Scotch whiskies as well as its award winning range of blended whiskies from its base in Huntly, Aberdeenshire. Lovely jubbly

When did you come of age musically?

Pausing momentarily Hollie responds ‘That’s very debatable because I started performing and participating in live performance, professionally I suppose, from the age of about 18 or 19 which some people may consider far too young to be really knowing what you are doing, including myself.  Looking back I really didn’t know what I was doing’ she laughs. I point out that she doesn’t look a shade over 18 or 19 now. Magnanimous she thanks me, laughing again.  No seriously this woman is ageless, I comment to her boyfriend Charles, who has now also joined us. ‘That was a while ago’ she jokes.  Getting back on topic Hollie adds ‘I feel I might have come of age musically around…pausing…22.' Any particular reason, I query? ‘I think it is definitely aligned with my personal life and experiences, realising that I had experienced quite a lot, that I might have learned a thing or two in the space of only a few years.’ Was that when you were touring with The Slits? ‘Yes.’ So then I suppose you came of age musically through that experience? ‘Yeh, exactly!’ Do you feel it was necessary before you could do your own music? ‘Definitely!  I would not have learned…I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t have learned anything…but I definitely wouldn’t have learned half of what I learned if I hadn’t been in The Slits for a good four or five years first, and its not the kind of thing you realise you’ve learned until there is a retrospective.'

Whilst in this moment of realization our attention sways to Hollie’s glass of Black Bull whisky, a deluxe blend with a nose of lemony tropical notes, and a splice of vanilla. Reflecting Hollie informs me that

‘I can almost definitely say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the taste of whisky maybe five or six year’s ago, but I appreciate it now.’

Further nosing the whisky Hollie picks up notes of cocoa.  I ask whether she finds it smooth, and how it makes her feel? ‘Yes, it is very smooth and very easy to drink.’  At this point Charles pipes up with ‘I get a bit of apple in there but its more from the nose than from the mouth.’ ‘Totally’ agrees Hollie.  We continue to savour the whisky as we move on to the next question.

What is the best musical moment you have experienced, and how did you celebrate. What did you drink?

‘‘My best musical experience?’ she ponders.  ‘That can vary because it can be defined by the energy between the band and audience, which I know I’ve experienced being in The Slits, or by the fact I can see as a person how much I’ve grown whilst performing as a live artist.’

So having had an enjoyable onstage experience what do you normally drink to celebrate when you come offstage, what is your go-to drink? ‘Brandy…’ she whispers, as if worried she might offend me.  Not offended I delve deeper and ask if there is any particularly type of brandy or brand that she likes? ‘I’m a big fan of Hennessy V.S. Cognac which goes down very easily.’ Keen to understand more about whisky's place in Hollie's life I ask how a whisky such as the Black Bull would compare? ‘It doesn’t compare, I think that they are very different and I think (she pauses to nose the glass again) that there is possibly more to think about when you drink whisky like this, but maybe that’s because I’ve been educated more in the drinking of whisky than the drinking of brandy,

but whisky is not so much a drink for when you come offstage, more a drink for a time when you are feeling more contemplative.'

George Orwell, author of 1984, travelled to the Island of Jura for creative respite, which drink enhances your creativity and is your writing companion?

‘Wine’ she replies without any hesitation.  OK, red or white? ‘Red.’ From any particular…?  I haven't finished my sentence before Hollie jumps in with ‘Spain! I’m a big fan of Rioja wine.’ Why do you think it is good for your creative process? Pausing Hollie remarks ’I wouldn’t exactly link it to a creative process but just as far as drinking at home, and being comfortable is concerned, Rioja is warm….and full….and comforting (drawing out her words), and it's just not hard to drink basically.  Sometimes you have to really…. sometimes certain drinks can be, well, not challenging, but you have to think about them when you are drinking them in order to get into a certain frame of mind, and Rioja in particular is just so…she pauses again…full! It’s just comforting. (Charles agrees adding that it is just how some people are wired).  Hollie continues ‘It's also what I’m used to, I can sit at home and watch TV and drink a couple of glasses of Rioja and feel very relaxed.  Red wine is highly recommended if you want to relax the muscles in your body which is good for me personally.’

Do you need to feel relaxed before you can be creative? ‘Yup, definitely. Erm, sometimes negative or highly tense emotions and situations get you to write a good song, but I also think that personally if I’ve been through the tense situation first and then I have the time to reflect on that situation, then I can really process creatively the most out of it possible, do you know what I mean?’ I do understand, yes. ‘I mean, I don’t consider myself the best at instantly feeling something and then being able to express it, I need a good amount of time to erm… (suddenly changes tack). Very nice…you look like George Michael or Elton John' she grins.  Charles has found a pair of glasses which he is trying on.  Back on point Hollie continues with ‘I feel like I really need an amount of time to process what I feel, and then understand and relax about it.  I couldn’t personally imagine writing a song when I’m in the heat of an angry or upset emotion, or whatever the emotion is (negative or otherwise), I need time to process it fully to be able to reiterate it in a way that is literary. The fact that red wine really does make you quite relaxed is a very helpful thing.’


If you were a drink what would it be, and why?

Hollie laughs, but doesn’t answer. ‘Pina colada?’ offers Charles. ‘I don’t think I’d be a drink, I’d probably be a spliff!’ Hollie states, rattling off into laughter again.  At this juncture Horseman appears in the room and starts fixing his long dreadlocked hair in the mirror (Horseman is Hollie’s lyrical and vocal compadre, but also the drummer on her self titled debut album - which you can buy by clicking the image on the right). Hollie continues, ‘If you wanted me to be a drink…really?’ No, a spliff is fine, that was your answer. ‘Yeh, a spliff is great!’  Any reason why? ‘Just because it eases everything before you have to process it, you inhale (she takes a deep breath in), you exhale (she takes a deep breath out), which I think is necessary whether there is a drink or substance involved or not, just to really centre yourself, you know? A herbal influence speeds along the creative process quite nicely, otherwise piña colada’s are really tropical.’ She’s laughing again. ‘They involve coconuts and rum' she adds excitedly. I point out that I can hear this tropical theme in her music and see it in her tattoo’s. ‘Exactly, tropical is something I will always try and embody as a personality.’ Is that because of your background, being from St Lucia in the Caribbean, I wonder? ‘I assume so, I can’t really explain that, but one can only assume that the tropical thing comes from my heritage and the island lifestyle that I know has been passed on through my ancestors. It makes sense if I really think back back back back.’

At this point it seems appropriate to move on to our second whisky, the Balvenie Golden Cask, which has been finished in a golden Caribbean rum cask. 

Balvenie Golden Cask 14 Year Old 47.5%
The warmth of the Caribbean, but in a glass of whisky

Dae ye ken?
The name ‘Balvenie’ means ‘Village of Monks’ in Scots gaelic

American white oak ex-Bourbon followed by a period of finishing in an ex-golden Caribbean rum cask

Light and fruity with notes of vanilla and honey. Delicate layers of orange and subtle flora add complexity

Sweet and spicy. Chocolate orange and vanilla oak combine with hints of aniseed and liquorice

Long, dry and oaky

Distillery Info
The distillery was built in 1892 around a haunted mansion. Even today Balvenie is an old fashioned and very traditional run distillery which could be run by 4 men but actually employs about 70

What do you think I ask?  ‘It is sharper’ says Hollie. ‘It's full of berries on the nose, and really nice’ adds Charles.  I then explain that while we are in this Caribbean moment drinking a Caribbean influenced whisky, that as fans of Robert Burns we like his poem ‘Scotch Drink’, because we feel it perfectly describes our enjoyment of whisky.

“Food fills the wame, an' keeps us leevin;
Tho' life's a gift no worth receivin,
When heavy-dragg'd wi' pine an' grievin;
But, oil'd by thee,
The wheels o' life gae down-hill, scrievin,
Wi' rattlin glee.”

I then translate the stanza as follows:

Food fills the belly, and keeps us living;
Although life is a gift not worth receiving,
When heavy dragged with pine and grieving;
But oiled by you,
The wheels of life go down hill, careering,
With rattling glee.

Do you have any favourite people that reference the enjoyment of alcohol; authors, poets or people you have met?

Thinking for a while, and then audibly breathing in Hollie replies ‘I don’t think so.’ (Charles starts singing the words 'I’m drinking rum and red bull!’ to jog Hollie’s memory). Responding Hollie sings along to what transpires to be I’m OK/Drinking Rum & Redbull by Beanie Man featuring Fambo.

‘Yeh, yeh!’ adds Horseman who has now joined the whisky tasting and is standing content with a glass of Black Bull in hand slowly catching up.  So would that be your favourite person that references the enjoyment of alcohol then, I surmise? ‘That’s hard to say’ replies Hollie.  ‘That’s one!’ suggests Horseman, in his luxuriously deep voice, adding ‘that’s a perfectly good reference, he (Beanie Man) wants to have a good time, I mean red bull is a powerful drink on its own, so mixed with rum, that’s like…crazy!’  Thinking again about the question posed Hollie offers ‘I really can’t, umph, that’s a hard question because I could maybe reference Billie Holliday or Etta James, even though they weren’t necessarily open in their singing or lyrics about the fact that they drank, although I suppose historically it is well known that they did, the same with maybe Amy Winehouse or whatever.’ Hollie makes a good point.  ‘They don’t necessarily sing about the fact that they drink a lot of alcohol and that it makes them feel good, but it is very publicly aware that that is the case, and…you know…they touch people with their performances. ‘Yeh, yeh, you’re right’ agrees Horseman. Hollie continues: ‘Do you know what I mean?  Lyrically or sonically that is not a reference that they choose to point out, but it is publicly known that they enjoy drinking alcohol and performing.’

When was the last time you had a yearning for a drink, and what was it?

Hollie has a quick answer to this question. ‘Today!’ ‘Yeh, today I had a yearning for a Redbull and a pint of Guinness’, offers Horseman, now fully in the swing of the whisky tasting and interview. ‘Horseman! There you go!’ chides Hollie, with joke shock.  What, really...mixed together? I query with surprise. ‘No, you drink some of the Guinness and then you add some of the Redbull, I don’t know what it is, but you just get that vibe…Or brandy and Redbull.’ And that works? Again, I’m surprised.  ‘I’m very willing to try that’ laughs Hollie.  I think we should all try it! I suggest. 

‘Yeh, it gives you the feeling that your shoes are made of sponge.’

That’s a good reference Horseman, I tell him. ‘Yeh man, that’s what it is!’

Our favourite tracks of yours are Shadow Kissing and Body Beat…what is a shadow kiss, and can you have one while you body beat?

‘Ohhh, good!  Definitely!  I think that a body beat is an all encompassing emotion and feeling that you have when you are at one with music, regardless of what style or kind of music it is, you want to close your eyes and just be taken over by a sound … that’s a body beat!’  She continues: ‘There is no specific reason or no specific style that will make you feel that way, because obviously every one’s tastes are different (much like whisky I add), but if you want to let yourself be taken over by music (or whisky, I add), that’s a body beat in my opinion.’ 

Returning to the whisky we’ve been tasting, the Balvenie 14 Year Old Golden Cask, tell me what you think of it while you are also telling me about a shadow kiss… ‘I love the whisky, that is a very nice whisky, and a shadow kiss is interesting because it can be real, it can be a memory, (pausing for thought) it can be something that’s happening right now…I suppose a shadow kiss is like, its almost the same as a body beat, but it involves another person.  I think that a body beat can be a solo pursuit that is entirely up to you, when and what it is that you feel, and a shadow kiss is something that involves another person, like a memory.' Much like the way the smell of a whisky can unearth previous memories, I add, before silently wondering if it possible to shadow kiss with a dram as we drain our glasses.

Having had a couple of different whiskies this evening, I ask Hollie and Charles what their future whisky journey might be?

Horseman responds first commending the whiskies he has enjoyed tonight ‘Yeh man, these are the boom zoom!’ Slightly taken aback I ask what a boom zoom is?  ‘As a DJ I have certain names for certain tunes, you know, and for certain drinks.’  So a boom zoom is a feeling then?  ‘Yeh, its a good feeling, I don’t mean it as bad feeling, its supposed to be jolly, I’m not really a drinker but when I do drink I go for the full feeling, the enjoyment, to forget about the troubles and my worries and feel uplifted.  I get like lyrics galore!’ Really?, I ask.  ‘Yeh, its something very inspirational, drinking.’

Hollie is next to respond, having again taken the time to ponder my questions. ‘I definitely wish to explore my whisky journey further, I’m looking for the boom zoom, and I won’t stop drinking whisky until I find the next boom zoom!’

Thank you Hollie, thank you Horseman!