Durham heavy infantry…
THE WHISKY PRIESTS rant ‘n’ roll band warm the ears of MIKE HUGHES with tales of English frustration.
Some people seem born with a drive to be an astronaut, Prime Minister or Pope, but Gary and Glenn Miller have always wanted to be in a band. They couldn’t wait to form The Whisky Priests when they left school, and they wouldn’t let the inability of some of their school mates they drafted to play instruments get in the way of their ideas and their passion, “I can remember Glenn standing behind the bass player, showing him where his fingers should go.” (He didn’t say if this was on stage.) Fuelled by the music that stuttered out at the end of punk they played school halls and clubs, learning to play and write as they reeled around the less glamorous North East venues. They are self-taught, “Even at school we taught ourselves from books at home, Glenn taught himself the accordion in the same way.” Glenn’s playing recently earned them an endorsement from Hohner.
You can ask Gary (singer) what led to this craving for music and why he spurned college and career for a life as part of Durham’s most vital contribution to roots music, but the answer comes with such a stream of conscientious force that only the barest details can be scribbled down, “We loved Two Tone, Madness, The Jam, Elvis Costello…with all that ringing in our ears, and all the ideas and belief in music then, we just couldn’t have thought of doing anything else.”
A brief pause for air then he continues, “…music is in our family’s blood, our dad wanted us to play brass instruments and our great uncle was in the Coldstream Guards Band, he played to the troops on the beaches at Dunkirk during the evacuation. We (brother Glenn and himself) passed a test at school for natural aptitude in music (first question; How many roads must a man walk down?) and only one other person in the year did as well, though we don’t see ourselves as necessarily naturally talented, it’s needed hard graft.” It also needed application, and when the urge to succeed gripped at 14, a bright future as the North East’s finest garden hoppers receded.
“We had our own raw idea of how we wanted to sound (We are in 1985, Bob is feeding the world), it’s taken us until now to get it right…we are getting nearer to where we want to be.” This is not where anyone would be by accident.
The Whisky Priests are an English band, they sing honestly about where they are from, about what they feel in an unaffected and cruelly unfashionable way (commercially, not musically) that has left them on the verge of a play off place for the premier league in the last few seasons. However, their frequent sorties into Europe have brought rewards and a devoted following, as last year’s live ‘BLOODY WELL LIVE!’ underlines. “It’s frustrating to pull crowds of a thousand in Germany and not being able to do it as easily in your own country.” I asked Gary if they thought perhaps a move to London would be a smart move. “We have never wanted to live anywhere else. If we moved, the band would lose all meaning.”
There are bands that have roots; they don’t sell their particular heritage for a lick of London or Mid-Atlantic gloss, they work hard, they believe in themselves and they use what they have to hand to write and sing about. These bands perform hundreds of gigs a year. The NME does not like them, Q does not like them, and they are not old, famous or fashionable. Folk magazines write about them when they want a bit of sweat, but they are too loud for many of their purist readers. Blyth Power, The Tansads, Pressgang, could all fit the bill, so do The Priests. If the accent Gary sang in was nearer Shane MacGowan, then drunken students would stumble across the dance floor to tracks from ‘NEE GUD LUCK’ or ‘TIMELESS STREET’. “We get treated like shit in England compared to Europe”, Gary rants, as well he might.
“It makes me angry that bands have to and live in London, we have only played there a few times, but we find the apathy and pose of the place irritating.” Gary and Glenn will not bend in the wind if it means they have to sacrifice what is dear to them. Their dad at least thinks they’re better than anything he’s seen on Top Of The Pops – (They are – Ed.).
A three year hiatus in their recording career caused by, as they see it, a near stupor at their label of the time has left them even more independent, despite a court battle.
The new album ‘THE POWER AND THE GLORY’ is first to have completely original material, with no traditional songs to be heard. Gary is proud. “I feel we have reached the end of our apprenticeship…we have found the sound we have wanted.” He feels the album is more varied and paced from their previous efforts, “It includes a track ‘MANIMAL FARM’, we wrote it six years ago, but we were only technically good enough to play it this year.” Three tracks feature their dad’s beloved colliery band. Alistair Anderson contributes concertina and pipes elsewhere. Gary has one reservation about the new work, “The fans may think it is too varied from what they see as our sound, and the press will say it all sounds the same.”
With a fan magazine called ‘The Whippet’, The Whisky Priests are true to their home to the last, now they are what I call roots music.