The following is a transcription of an interview given by Gary (with Glenn adding a few words) for Radio Scorpio, Belgium in November 1992, during the band’s ‘Timeless Street’ Tour.
So, how did the band come about?
Well, the band was formed quite a long time ago, in 1985 to be exact, and a lot of things have happened in that time. When the band formed, it was my twin brother Glenn, who plays accordion and myself. We’re the only two original members of the band and we formed the band in 1985, just after we’d left school.
it was your first band really, The Whisky Priests? The first serious band?
The first serious band, yeah. We’d messed around with music at school and things like that but nothing had come of it, we hadn’t played any gigs or anything like that. The first band in which we played gigs was The Whisky Priests and that was in 1985 and the original concept behind the band was our idea, Glenn and myself, and we wanted to do a kind of music… we’d always been interested in the history and the songs and the culture of our area and we’d been interested in music for a number of years and we wanted to form a band and at the time, when we started, it was just a bit of fun. We didn’t take it seriously and it seemed a natural thing to base our band on playing the music and singing about the area where we lived, because of our interest in the area. We didn’t write our own songs then, we just used to sing traditional songs from the area, very well known songs, and in the first two years of the band I think we only played about five or six gigs. We had other jobs and we didn’t really take it seriously. It was just an excuse to play down our local pub and have a few drinks and a good laugh, the same way most bands start, probably. It progressed from there and it went on as a bit of fun for several years and then, in 1987 we released our first single, ‘The Colliery’, on our own label. There were only about a thousand copies made and they were just sold at gigs. We had a chance to make a record, so we made it, and it wasn’t anything serious then. Then in 1988 we recorded two 12” EP’s.
they were put together on a CD, ‘The First Few Drops’.
That’s right. There were only 1500 of each of those made initially and they sold out a long time ago, so they’re now quite rare. The line-up that recorded those records had been together for one or two years and things were starting to look good. We were doing concerts all over England and building up a small following. That led on to us signing to record an LP called ‘Nee Gud Luck’, which we recorded in 1989 and that was when Mick, our bass player, joined the band. Things progressed from there to playing concerts in Europe and we went to Germany first and then the Netherlands and since then everything’s sort of been going up and up all the time. It’s only really been since ‘Nee Gud Luck’ that we started taking the band seriously and it became professional and we recorded the album ‘Timeless Street’, which came out last year, and then we recorded the new one in January. It’s only really been in the last two years that things have started building as we’ve built a following and reputation.
is it your full-time job, playing music?
Yeah. It’s taken a long time because we’ve had so many line-up changes. When we started, the other people in the band thought it was just a bit of fun and then they left and other people joined the band who didn’t really understand what we wanted the band to be and what the band was meant to represent. So we’ve had various problems with people coming and going and it’s been difficult for us from that point of view and that’s kind of held our careers back for quite a while.
The musical instruments you play are all from your area. Who taught you those instruments? Was it your parents, grandparents or did you see people playing those instruments in the pubs?
Yeah, well, in a lot of the pubs in the area you get a lot of people playing traditional instruments, playing traditional folk music, that happens quite a lot. The real traditional musical instrument of our area is the Northumbrian smallpipes. We had a Northumbrian piper on the first album we did but he left the band because when we had professional commitments, he was tied down with other things. Traditional folk instruments have always been a part of the North East of England. It’s been a part of the culture for the last few centuries, so it’s a natural thing.
I only know one name of someone who’s playing the instrument, that’s Kathryn Tickell. Have you played with her too; she comes from the same area?
Yeah, she is from the same area. We’ve played festivals where she’s also been playing but we’ve never actually played any concerts together. She knows about The Whisky Priests. We’re aware of what she’s doing and she’s aware of what we’re doing.
She’s more traditional than you are. You are writing also your own songs. Is she a more traditional instrumentalist?
Yeah. She does write a lot of her own tunes as well but I think she is more traditional than we are, yeah.
Yeah, absolutely, because in the beginning the only CD or LP I haven’t got is ‘Nee Gud Luck’. But the other ones I have got on CD. On ‘The First Few Drops’, those two 12” EP’s put together; there is also ‘Shut Doon The Waggon Works’. Was this a demo from somewhere, from a single, or…?
That was recorded at a similar time to those 12” EP’s. We recorded a four-track demo, which featured three tracks that were rerecorded for those 12” EP’s and that one wasn’t used but it later appeared on ‘Nee Gud Luck’. When the record company decided that it would be a good idea to put those two 12” EP’s together as an album, although there are eleven songs, the songs are very short and the total running time came to less than 30 minutes. So we thought that if people are going to but the CD, we want to put as many songs on it as possible but that was the only other song we could find that we could put on. We really wanted to make it a longer LP but we didn’t have any other tracks to put on.
It’s a great CD. Absolutely.
We had a three track single called ‘The Colliery’ but the master tapes have gone missing. They are lost. We don’t know what’s happened to them. It would have been nice to have put them on. It would have meant that everything we’d recorded was released But until those tapes are rediscovered, if they still exist…
Also, on the lyrics on the CD it mentioned there was a cassette only EP, ‘Halcyon Days’. Is this also going to be reused again?
Well, what happened was that when we recorded ‘Nee Gud Luck’, we recorded twenty songs, which was more songs than we needed for an album. So we put fifteen songs on the LP and cassette and the other five songs we used as an EP called ‘Halcyon Days’, which was a six song EP, with ‘Halcyon Days’ from the album. Those other five songs were also available as bonus tracks on the CD version of ‘Nee Gud Luck’. So the LP and cassette have fifteen songs on them but the CD has twenty.
have to look out for it; otherwise you’ll get puzzled!
That’s right, it’s complicated!
But on those 12” EP’s, for example, you have also a lot of songs you wrote yourself, things like ‘No Chance’, ‘The Coal-Digger’s Grave’. Most of the songs are dealing with what’s happening in your neighbourhood, people who are working in the mines and on the shipyards. Are they the main industries over there?
Yes but in the last ten years both of those industries have collapsed and there isn’t really any sort of industry indigenous to the area now. The only industry that’s thriving is Japanese industry in the form of Nissan car factories and things like that.
It’s crazy but that’s the way it is now. So all the people who used to work in the coalmines now work for Nissan and companies like that. But anyway, those songs are quite old songs and a lot of those songs were very much about the industry and now we’re writing songs, which aren’t so much about industry. It’s more about normal people, normal people’s lives. It’s very much a social thing, rather than an industrial thing.
The picture on the front cover of ‘The First Few Drops’, that compilation CD, is that a picture of one of your grandfathers or great-grandfathers? I thought maybe because you’ve got a song called ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’, is it also autobiographical or just made up?
It is a true story but it’s not about my own great-grandfather. The drummer of our band at the time wrote a poem about his great-grandfather and he said: “I think this will make a good song”. So I said: “OK, let me use it”. And I turned it into song but we all had families who worked in the coalmines. It told the story of his experiences but it could have been about anybody, really.
There is also ‘The Row Between The Cages’ from Tommy Armstrong. Is that traditional or is it from a guy who was with you in the band? I don’t know.
No, no. Tommy Armstrong was a famous poet. He was actually known as ‘the Durham Pitman Poet’, that was the title he had. He worked on the Durham coalfields at end of the last century and he was a very interesting person. He had about twenty children and a very big thirst. He was only a small man.
still had time to write poetry though!
Oh yeah, yeah.
Well, because he had such a large family, he didn’t have any money to spend on his favourite pastime, which was drinking. All of his wages had to go on looking after the family, so he used to write poetry and songs for beer money and he wrote a lot of songs about important events of the time; mining disasters and funny stories about the people he knew. He’s a very famous person in the North East of England but he’s totally unknown in the rest of the country. The songs he wrote, in a sense what we’re doing now is the same sort of thing but on a more contemporary basis. He wrote songs about the area a century ago and now we’re writing songs about the area as things are now.
The difference between ‘The First Few Drops’ and ‘Nee Gud Luck’. Was it also on ‘Nee Gud Luck’ that you had mostly songs of your own because that is the only CD I haven’t got? I can’t compare it because I haven’t seen the evolution in your songwriting. Did you start maybe with only traditional and later on with songs of your own?
There were a few traditional songs on ‘Nee Gud Luck’. Most of them, however, were originals. I think there were five traditional songs in total on ‘Nee Gud Luck’ and the reason for us doing those songs was that they’d always been a part of our live set, we’d always played them. We felt it was an important part of the band because the band had always based its music on North East of England traditional music. So, to ignore those songs, we wouldn’t have been able to do that. It’s part of what we’re about, the tradition, etc. So, most of the songs we wrote ourselves but we still made a conscious decision to do some of the traditional songs because they’re good songs and we felt they still said something. There was still an importance to them; it was still relevant to sing them. On the album ‘Timeless Street’, however, there are twelve songs but only two of them are traditional.
Yeah, absolutely, I saw the evolution also.
Yeah, we did traditional songs a few years ago because I think it was important to the band at the time that we had those songs but now I think we’ve made the point that we wanted to make with the traditional songs, so there’s not less need for us to play them all anymore.
expression ‘Nee Gud Luck’, does it mean ‘No Good Luck’ or what?
That’s right, yes.
Because on the first two CD’s I also saw that the lyrics were in your typical accent and it’s difficult even for English people to follow and for us, even more difficult. Luckily, you’ve got the lyrics printed on it but on ‘Timeless Street’ the lyrics are in plain English. Is that done because now the people can more understand what you’re talking about?
When we recorded ‘Nee Gud Luck’, we’d never played outside the UK, so we wanted to make a point of being very much about the North East of England. We wanted to shock people and make them think, “What are they talking about?” You know, we wanted to make people think, “This is different, this is real”. We didn’t want to trivialise the area, however, and at the same time, we didn’t want to over-simplify things. We wanted to be direct and really make a point of what the songs were about and the best way to do that was to sing in dialect. We still sing in the dialect but because we now play a lot of concerts outside the UK, people in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc, come up to us and say, “We like the lyrics, the lyrics are important to us but we don’t always understand them”. So, we realised that it was important when we printed the lyrics on ‘Timeless Street’ that people could understand what the songs were about. We didn’t compromise the vocals, we still sang the songs in dialect but the lyrics were printed in Standard English. The interesting thing is that people can understand what the songs are about and they can also translate the dialect. They can see how the dialect transcribes into Standard English and it’s interesting for them. People can understand the dialect now, so it’s good from that point of view as well.
The label, Whippet Records, is it your own label or is it from someone else who is also doing other bands in your area?
Well, when we recorded the two 12” EP’s, which are now available as ‘The First Few Drops’, we set up our own label, called ‘Whippet Records’. These EP’s were distributed through a group of independent companies in the UK, known collectively as The Cartel. Then we signed a recording and publishing deal with an English label, who themselves distribute a lot of different smaller labels. As we’d set up our own label and created our own label identity with Whippet Records, they thought it would be a good idea to keep that identity, as a sort of subsidiary label and that’s the way it’s worked since.
Was ‘Timeless Street’ recorded with someone outside of the band as producer and also in a different studio then the previous album?
Yeah, it was recorded in a different studio with a different producer.
Yeah, I think it’s important for somebody else but…
Yes, and also a background of the work with folk bands or folk rock bands or whatever you call it?
Well, the person who engineered ‘Timeless Street’ is a good friend of our bass player, Mick. They were in their first band together at school. He’s called Fred Purser and in the late 70’s and early ‘80’s he had success with a punk band called ‘Penetration’.
Yeah, I’ve heard about them.
Yeah, and then he was in a heavy rock band called ‘The Tygers of Pan Tang.
would be heavy!
He engineered a lot of songs for Martin Stephenson’s last LP.
He’s produced and engineered classical orchestras and all sorts of things. We knew Fred before we recorded the album and he seemed the right person. He’d seen us play live beforehand and he’s a really nice person.
Did he come up with the idea to use a special kind of band, apart from you, on the album?
The brass band, the colliery band?
No, that was all our idea. He just really engineered the album and all the ideas that we used were our ideas. He didn’t really produce the album.
The brass sound appeared on the first album.
so they were already playing on previous records?
Yeah, on ‘Nee Gud Luck’, and we used them again on ‘Timeless Street’. That was our idea. It’s another very North Eastern element, the local colliery brass band.
it also a local band of your own environment?
Yes. There are a lot of colliery bands in the area. This is something that’s been around for the last few centuries in North East England, brass bands from all the different collieries in the area. Every colliery in the area had a brass band and the brass musicians we used on the album were members of Bearpark and Esh Colliery Band.
You were also singing about a special kind of village, Easington. Is it also where you’re coming from?
Yes. I live in a village called Sherburn, which is a small village in County Durham. County Durham is made up of lots of very small villages, which are the old pit villages, which were small close-knit communities and that’s another important aspect of the area. Sherburn is about seven or eight kilometres from Easington and Easington is on the coast. It’s also has one of the few surviving collieries left in the area.
is it still going on in industry?
Well, it’s ready to close down, it’s closing down at the moment. When Easington closes, there’ll only be one or two working collieries left in the area.
There are a lot of songs on your records, maybe you have enough inspiration but talking about the shipyards, the mines and even on a song like ‘Susan’s Song’, there is lots of tragedy?
Well, life’s a tragedy, isn’t it, really? You might as well reflect it! No, we sing about things that we understand, you know, there’s a lot of tragedy connected with the North East of England but, at the same time, there’s a lot of regional spirit and pride and there’s a lot of hope as well and that’s a very powerful emotion. People tend to rise above tragedy. I think it’s a strong aspect, to write about that sort of thing in a song. It’s an easy thing to do, you know, it just comes naturally because it is a powerful force, tragedy and emotion. It’s easy to be philosophical and write happy songs but it’s important to be honest.
There is a line in ‘Aal Faal Doon’, which mentions a Mr. Armstrong. Is it the same Armstrong that you talked about earlier?
Yeah, it’s a name-check for Tommy Armstrong but that’s a bit of a comical song, really. It’s quite an angry song on one level and on another it’s quite a funny song. It’s really about the music industry in the UK, especially the music press, and it’s a bit of an in-joke about the way we’ve been treated by them you know. It’s a funny song but there’s a bit more to it, you know. It’s just a song I wrote as a joke. It’s an angry joke, if you like, a bit of a piss-take, you know.
Are you selling more CD’s outside England than in England itself right now do you think?
I think we’re probably selling more CD’s in Germany than anywhere.
Because you use words like ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’, maybe they don’t mind that over here on the continent?
It’s not that, really. When we started playing in Germany, we went in at a higher level than we were playing in England and people took to us immediately and we got a lot of good press. Everything just seemed to work very well. We got bigger crowds in Germany than the average crowd in England. We do have a big sort of underground cult following in England but the problem is that the distribution isn’t very good because of the way the shops in England work. They only really want to stock records that are in the charts and we’re signed to a folk music label and that tends to work against us. Also, we’ve never really had any big breaks with the media, the press, in England. They’ve tended to ignore us because I think they see us as being a bit too different for their tastes.
don’t know which kind of category you can be put in?
Yeah. We’re not something that they can label in a safe kind of way.
Here you are compared to The Pogues and Les Negresses Vertes from France.
That’s right. They haven’t got the imagination to look beyond that. They see the accordions and mandolins and they immediately think of The Pogues or Les Negresses Vertes or something like that, without really looking any deeper than that and without even listening to what we’re trying to say or do, which is a bit of a shame but that’s the way the music industry is in Britain. They don’t really seem to know their arse from their elbow; do you know what I mean?
song ‘Perfect Time’. Is it the kind of title track from the ‘Timeless Street’
Not really. There isn’t a title track on the album. That song wasn’t meant as a title track. All the songs were written for the album but we didn’t have a title. The phrase ‘Timeless Street’ is mentioned in the song ‘Perfect Time’. There’s a very strong element of time in that song and I think something that we’re very conscious of is time itself. It’s another very powerful subject matter. We’re all trapped in this dimension of time, if you like, and time plays an important part in everybody’s lives. It’s something you can’t escape from and the music we’re playing has a lot of subject matter connected with time. It just seemed a good title, you know. ‘Timeless Street’ seemed to sum up a bit of what the album was about, really but, at the same time, it’s not really trying to make any big sort of statement or anything either. It’s no big deal, it just seemed a good title, you know.
Because on the front cover you’ve got a design, I don’t know from who, a real nice design but referring also to the beginning of this century or the end of last century. Was it also a friend of yours who came up with the idea or someone you knew?
Well, the songs were written for the album, and then we thought of the title. The title seemed to work and we thought a great cover for the album would be a street that didn’t really depict any particular period of time and we looked all over for some artwork that would be suitable but we couldn’t find anything. Then we were fortunate enough to see this piece of artwork and we contacted the artist and he gave us permission to use it.
it in a kind of gallery that you saw it?
Well, our local town hall had the painting hanging up, to commemorate the bicentenary of Durham County Council. So it seemed to tie in nicely with that. It was part of a big fresco; it was one subject, which was part of a bigger whole. It was so perfect. A lot of people in the painting are from different periods of local history and it had a whippet, it had a pigeon, it had a coalmine, it had everything to do with the area and this street going backwards, which seemed perfect. We were just very lucky that we found a picture that looked right.
We were just talking about time. One of the songs I played on my show last week was ‘William’s Tale’ and this is also picking up on what has been happening in England from the beginning of the century up until now, because you’re talking about maybe one of your grandfathers, who was born in 1901, then you’ve got World War One, people coming to the continent to fight over here, then you’ve got the General Strike of ’26, then you’ve got ’36, you’ve got the Second World War, until the ’80’s, where you say hopefully the Tories won’t win and now they’ve won again. Are you not a little bit depressed?!
Well, it’s not really me that’s saying that, it’s the character in the song and that’s a typical attitude of a lot of the old people in our area, a lot of the sort of bitterness because a lot of the old people have had a rough deal. A lot of the people who were born earlier this century in our area have had a rough life but I think it’s more on a positive level than on a negative level and the song itself really depicts the story of a character who was born at the turn of the century. A lot of the song is based on the life of my own grandfather, who was actually called William. I based the story itself a lot on his life but I drew on a lot of other elements as well. It’s not really his story, it’s an invented character, drawing on a lot of the experiences of my own grandfather and experiences of other people I’ve known. It was just a general character that seemed to typify life in this century for someone who was born in the North East of England.
Reading the lyrics, I said, well this I’ve got to play because it was talking about Flanders and you were also talking about that on the compilation CD on ‘The Ghost of Geordie Jones’. So, you’re also talking about going to Flanders, fighting over there. Was it also a character you invented or about people who had the same experience?
Well, I didn’t write that song. Glenn wrote the song, so maybe you should ask Glenn.
Oh, excuse me! So, Glenn, explain it to us.
It wasn’t about anyone in particular. It was just a song about the average British soldier who ‘did his bit’ during the War. Geordie Jones was common sort of name where we come from. It was just the ordinary bloke in the street.
We made the song very, very simple. The arrangement was just guitars and singing and that was about it. The whole point of the song was to make it very simplistic, the actual language of the song is very simple. It’s almost like a very, very simple poem, with a very, very simple musical interpretation.
The idea I had when I wrote it was to make it sound as if the person who wrote it and was singing it was somebody who was actually in the War, just an ordinary person. It was deliberately written very simplistically, with a very basic musical pattern, to make it come across like that. Hopefully it work, I don’t know.
I think it sounds like it could have been written by somebody who actually took part in the First World War, in the trenches. It almost sounds like somebody singing it from that era. I think that makes the song quite powerful. It’s a very simple song, probably one of the most simplistic we’ve ever done. It’s simple on a lyrical level and on a musical level but I think that’s the song’s strength.
But are you still familiar with what happened in World War One, with Flanders, because I was amazed that you know so much about what really happened over here?
Well, Glenn and me have always had a strong interest in history in general. Our father is very, very interested in the First World War. He had relations who fought in the First World War. He has always been very interested in it, since he was very young, and he passed that interest down to us. War has been another very powerful element throughout history and you cannot help but be interested in those sort of things and be deeply moved by it. The First World War is possibly the most moving war. We’ve visited the Mennen Gate and all the war cemeteries in Flanders and Hill 16 and everything like that. It really moves you, of course, and you can’t help having a very strong feeling about it. It was a very powerful event, which should never be forgotten. It’s something Glenn and me feel very strongly about. We can’t really know what it was like. ‘The Durham Light Infantry’, a song on ‘Nee Gud Luck’, is also very much about the First World War.
about an infantry that you’ve heard lots of stories about?
The Durham Light Infantry was the local regiment of our area and it was disbanded recently, when a lot of British Army regiments were disbanded and merged with other regiments.
You’ve got some defence budgets in England.
There was a lot of anger and resentment about it because these regiments were very famous throughout history. The Durham Light Infantry were a very important regiment in the First World War. They fought in all the major campaigns on the Western Front and there’s a very strong sense of history to the Durham Light Infantry. There’s a famous museum in Durham called the D.L.I. Museum and there are a lot of interesting things you can learn about the history of the regiment there. So, it’s something that we’ve always been familiar with.
Are your parents still, like your grandparents, involved in the mines or did they get another profession?
We’ve got families that have been involved in the local industries.
Maybe the people are switching to other professions because otherwise they won’t get a job?
That’s what’s happening now. In the song, ‘Easington’, the last verse is quite powerful in the sense that it’s describing a young person having to leave the area to find work because there’s nothing for him in his own particular town where he was born and raised. The communities are dying really and in my own village the community spirit has just died in the last ten years or so, it’s really sad the way it’s declined. We have a new song called ‘Land of the Dinosaur’ which is about the shipyards in Sunderland and the way they’ve died. We know a lot of people who have been affected by that and the pit closures. A friend of mine was working down the mine as soon as he’d left school; he’s still only in his early twenties. The mine he was working at closed down and he had to move to another mine, then that closed down within a year and he had to move to a third mine. Now he’s out of work because all the mines have closed, so it’s really disheartening that industry in our area is dying. It’s a problem with Britain overall. There’s not enough investment in national industry, the thriving industries in Britain now are foreign industries, which is creating work but in the long term, I think the main industrial regions will suffer because none of the profit is going into creating further development. It’s the death-knell of British industry, basically.
And if you want to privatise even more, then you’ve got more job losses maybe too.
That’s right. All the industries are closing down, which means a huge loss of jobs and there are not enough new jobs being created to replace the ones that have been lost because there is not enough new investment in industry. It’s a downward spiral.
your father still a miner or did he change his profession?
Well, my dad became a teacher through luck and hard work. His brothers worked down the mine all their working lives. My father was the youngest and my grandfather managed to save just enough money to send him to college for one year because he didn’t want my father to work in the mine like the rest of the family. My father said he didn’t dare fail because so much depended on it. He worked hard and passed and went on to teach, mainly mathematics. He was the only member of his family who never worked down the mine. It’s a defunct industry now.
You’re also using lots of names in your songs. You’re talking about Jim Jones or you’re talking about Johnny Coal. Do you like to use some names like it’s real, about real persons, then also the feeling behind it?
I like the idea of characters. Characters are the best way of telling a story. The best way to get lyrics across to people is with characters. Characters are the most important element of any story and really our songs are, in a way, telling stories but not preaching or anything like that. We don’t preach anything. We’re not trying to be political. That’s something I’d like to stress. We’re just writing songs about people and things that are going on around us.
happens, the facts?
Yeah. It’s more a social thing. We feel a very strong affinity with the people and it’s songs about people really. That’s what it’s really about and to tell stories about people you need characters and the characters portray those songs. Poor Johnny Coal isn’t a person, it’s more metaphorical. If anything, it’s actually a negative song about the people of our area.
are not saints?
Well, it’s not really that. Although a lot of industries are dying out, for example, people still have false hopes. They seem to think that every cloud has a silver lining and everything’s going to work out fine but they don’t seem to realise that they’re being exploited and they can’t see beyond their own everyday lives and experiences. The chorus says, “We will wait ‘til a new bairn is born and raise our glasses to herald a new dawn, toast a new saviour but at the same time mourn Poor Johnny Coal”, but the new saviour may never come. It’s just trying to say that people can tend to be blindly positive, without really understanding the full situation.
The name ‘The Whisky Priests’? Because in one of your songs you’re talking about, “We don’t like whisky, we like beer or lager more”, or whatever. That’s kind of strange because I thought that whisky was famous.
I think you’re referring to a song called ‘The Hard Men’. That’s a song that has been misinterpreted a lot. It’s not about us at all. It’s an anti gang violence song. There’s a lot of violence in England from gangs getting drunk and then beating people up. They think they’re tough but they’re not really tough at all. It’s a very old song of ours but it still makes a point.
Is it also how you got your name ‘The Whisky Priests’ because it’s a nice combination of two things maybe?
There are quite a few whisky priests in England!
does it mean, in fact, ‘Whisky Priest’?
Well, it doesn’t really mean anything; it just seemed a good name. It doesn’t really mean anything to us at all but people seem to think it’s a good name, so that’s the main thing.
What are your plans now because you’ve always had your own record company and you can do, in fact, what you want? Are you also going to do it on your own label and ask people who you like to be involved in the process of recording?
Well, at the moment we’re not really sure exactly what’s happening. We’ll probably want to use the colliery brass band section again and maybe some Northumbrian pipes and anything else that seems appropriate.
Gary, you write most of the songs. Is it because you have the best feeling to write? You and your brother from time to time also write together or he’s writing something but mostly you’re writing the songs, your songs appear on the albums. Is it because the other guys are not so good at writing, or what?
Mick, our bass player’s written a song.
it will be on your next album?
Maybe, and it will be hailed as the best song we’ve ever done! I don’t know. I was writing songs when I was about fifteen years old and didn’t really give it any thought. It just happened and I suddenly had the responsibility of writing the songs and when we originally formed the band, I had no comprehension that I was going to become the singer. I didn’t want to be the singer when we started but there was no one else to do it. I became the singer and with that; I had the responsibility of writing the songs but I’d already written songs before that. I don’t always find it easy to write songs. I could write loads and loads of songs if I wanted to but I don’t necessarily want to do that. I just want to write really good songs and that’s more difficult, so it tends to take a bit more time. I think if you have a reasonable imagination it helps but I don’t know. It’s something that I just do and I can’t explain it, really.
Is it also an evolution because in the beginning you’ve got ‘The First Few Drops’? You listen to it and it’s all very up-tempo songs but later on you’ve also got slower songs because then you could get the message much clearer than when you’re playing very hard.
When we recorded those songs on ‘The First Few Drops’, we did have the slow songs as well but we weren’t very good musicians and we weren’t good enough to perform the slow songs. We didn’t have the subtlety.
that came later?
Yeah. It’s something we got better at in time. I think now we’ve got a good balance of fast and slow songs. I think we’re writing more and more slower ballads all the time. You don’t sit down and think, “We need a slow song”, or, “We need a fast song”, you just write each song as it comes. I think the slow songs can sometimes be more difficult to write.
you can fall into easy traps of clichés that you are using?
Maybe, but I don’t really think about that. I just write the songs and then we look at a song when it’s finished and think about how we can make the arrangement work.
That we’ve done so far, yes, without a doubt, definitely but hopefully the next one will be a bit more different, you know, and have more variety but we’ll just have to wait and see!
also maybe songs of your own and maybe one or two traditionals?
Yeah. Most of it will be our own. There will be one or two traditionals at most. It’s possible that they may be all our own songs but we’ll have to wait to see what’s available at the time but we’re writing more and more of our own songs now. We still play one or two traditional songs but those are songs that we’ve been playing for a number of years now. There’s no intention to add any more traditional songs to the set at the moment. If we suddenly think, “That would be a great song to play, we have to play that song”, then we’d play it but we’re not going to think, “Let’s find a traditional song to play”. We don’t think of it like that. Now we’ve got more than enough material of our own anyway.
That wasn’t the reason we did the traditional songs in the first place. We did have our own songs at the time but it seemed important at the time…
To carry on the traditionals?
Yeah, but I think we’ve done that now and I don’t think that it’s so important that we need to do that anymore. We’ve built up a reputation where we play the traditional songs and we don’t need to do it anymore unless we particularly want to. It’s no longer necessary now but I think it was important before because that was what the music was about.