The following article first appeared in ‘Rock ‘N’ Reel’ Magazine issue #19 (1994) and also appeared in LE1 Magazine, October 1994.
THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION
THE POWER AND THE GLORY
At the end of October, The Whisky Priests are due to re-release their first three albums, hot on the tail of a single from their latest album, The Power And The Glory. Andrew Shotley talks to founder members, the Miller twins, about self-belief & County Durham, drinking & myths, soldiers and prostitutes…
Everything that we’ve just said is a pack of lies.
I had asked Gary Miller my final question, “Anything else to declare?” The lead singer and songwriter of The Whisky Priests paused thoughtfully for a moment, then came out with the above answer. Not satisfied with shattering my belief that no one from County Durham ever lies, he added, “We’ve declared a lot of things over the years, but I think we’ve always meant what we said… apart from the things we didn’t mean. The rumours are all false… apart from the true ones.”
You see, Glenn and Gary Miller have that cheeky habit of talking seriously about all of the mythology which surrounds the band, then throwing in a comment which could easily perpetuate the myth, as if giving a sly wink and whispering, “Go on, write it down, that’ll get them thinking.”
Like Glenn’s idea of what he’d like to achieve:
“Being able to drink twenty pints a night for a whole month.” When I suggested that this might only serve to further the rumours, I saw a distinct twinkle in his eye as he laughingly replied, “That’s why I said it.”
The stories that follow The Whisky Priests around suggest that they’re a “bunch of mad, drunken, Northern hooligans”. At first encounter, their tough, North East accents, expressions and pit clothes, combined with their presence on stage don’t immediately prompt statements like, “I’d love to meet them in a dark alley”. Quite the opposite in fact. Perhaps it’s because of their natural way of socialising with fans before and after gigs , almost never refusing an invite to a party and never completely denying that “we’ve done some mad things in our time” that the myths just won’t die. They just get exaggerated at the next party. After all, which fan is going to say, “They came to my party and didn’t drink very much”. That would be like admitting you’d had Uri Geller over for dinner and the cutlery didn’t get bent.
Anyway, I won’t waste a whole interview talking about the myths, unlike one unfortunate German journalist whose first question was “So, tell me about your drinking problem”. Not when I want to chat about our mutual birthplace and ask about the band’s newest album, their strong determination to prove themselves, the huge following, the way they work together as twins, and how they’ve managed to run the whole business themselves. That’s the most cleverly worded excuse for a contents list I’ve ever written.
So, Gary, what’s special about County Durham?
“It’s the only place we really know. We’ve always lived there and felt comfortable. I would like to clear up a misconception that we’re always so jingoistic about Durham. We’ve travelled a lot and sometimes we think that the North East is the worst place - but we’re The Whisky Priests, we’ve got a strong North East identity, so that’s what we sing about, ‘cos it’s our roots, it’s what we know. But very few of our songs are about the place. It’s just the tapestry that the songs are woven into”.
Actually, some of those comments were Glenn’s, but these two are forever finishing each other’s sentences or jumping in during a pause for breath. When you’re sitting in-between them, it can be a bit like watching a tennis match. On tape, they can easily merge into one voice if you lose concentration for a split second. And I can’t find any examples of them contradicting each other. When it comes to talking about their music, they are one mind. Spooky, huh? By the way, Gary’s the oldest, by 25 minutes.
“But I’m the biggest” - Glenn, obviously.
“We’ve got loads of universal things to say, and you’ve got to wrap them in some sort of true backdrop. We’ve never tried to be commercially successful and do things any other way. We’ve just stuck to what we believe in”.
It’s that belief which has seen them through all the ‘difficult times’ - over 30 different band members, a court battle with a record company, lack of press, the myths and a period of nearly two years when they didn’t release an album - a belief which translates as ‘determination, vision, commitment’, and comes across live as pride in their roots and a burning, emotive passion for what they do. You come away from a Whisky Priests’ gig knowing in your soul that they MEAN what they say.
I may be accused of bias here, but this quality is a deeply ingrained part of the Durham mentality. I’m not saying it’s unique to that county and that they’re always right, but it’s definitely a common quality, and this band almost personify it. Is sticking to your beliefs and retaining a strong North Eastern identity a recipe for limited popularity?
“It’s held us back a lot. It’s very difficult in the music business to stay true to yourself and be successful, but we’ve always tried to do that. We’ve never really forced it or had to think about it - we’ve just got up and done it”.
The Miller twins are in charge of their own company, Whippet Records, so they have total control over what they record and release. They’ve learnt an awful lot from being mismanaged in the past, and now “the whole thing’s a lot more stabilised, the business side is healthier, the future’s looking rosier”.
As well as the label, they do their own tour and band management and dealing with agents. “It’s like doing the jobs of ten people - you’ve got to sacrifice your personal time and it can stifle the music, but we strike as good a balance as we can. Now that we’re in this position, we’re getting the right people who can do the work for us. The only reason that we’ve survived is that we’re twins”.
So what’s it like working with your brother?
“It has been hell in the past, but we’re pretty close. I think we’ve both got a lot of respect for each other, we share the same ideas and beliefs - we’ve always been in this together and the band has been strengthened by that. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be here now. We used to have marked battles when we were touring and living together - we were so close that we’d take it out on each other - but we’ve settled down a lot recently. Musically we’re in agreement - it goes without saying that it’s the two of us who’ve held the band together. We’ve probably had more shit thrown at us over the years than I care to remember, and it brings you together, makes you more determined.”
Gary and Glenn have gone a long way towards proving that you CAN succeed in this industry without losing your identity and integrity - their record sales in Europe, a mailing list containing nearly 3000 names, the undoubted quality of the latest album and their longest-standing line-up to date all bear witness to their success.
With this in mind, they’re in the perfect position to put their career into perspective whilst steadily moving forward. The plan is to re-release all of their first three albums with new artwork, complete lyrics, previously unseen archive photos and loads of bonus tracks. The new single ‘When The Wind Blows, Billy Boy’ should be out now, complete with previously unreleased live tracks. Also planned is a CD EP containing possibly the band’s most popular live track, ‘Dol-li-a’ (a Newcastle street ballad/nursery rhyme about soldiers and prostitutes!) plus two or three other tracks. Further afield, an album, which will put the poems of Durham’s Keith Armstrong to music. “It’s a challenge doing it, and we might even bring some of the songs into our live set.”
Not much room left. Let’s talk about the fans.
“They’re amazing - they follow us everywhere. We’re very lucky - the best thing about being in a band is travelling all over the place and meeting amazing people. Ninety percent of our best mates are people we met at one of our gigs. Any bands that don’t take on the social aspect of being in a band are really missing out. As you know, people from County Durham tend to enjoy socialising, and we’re good talkers.”
It was half an hour into the interview and I’d only asked them one question.
“You could put that in, it’ll give it character…. How many pages is this going to be?”
Not enough to really express the way the passion attacks you at a Whisky Priests gig.
Not enough to fully describe their song-based, folky, thunderingly danceable music.
And nowhere near enough to even begin to express how their heritage has made them who they are.
So much more to tell. What can I say?…. I felt at home…Ah, got it.
“My life was linked by heart and soul to Brandon, Browney and Boyne” - look it up.
For thine be the kingdom… forever and ever…Amen.