With five albums under their belts, Durham’s own Whisky Priests finally got round to completing a project that began life in discussions that took place with Keith Armstrong, poet and fellow Durham man, way back in Autumn ’89, after the launch night of their debut album ‘Nee Gud Luck’. ‘Bleeding Sketches’, the result of that collaboration recently appeared on the band’s own Whippet label. Glenn, accordion player and one of the brothers Miller (the other being Gary, front-man and chief songwriter) core of The Whisky Priests, took up the story behind the album.
“Keith really liked the band, our music and what we were about and over the years we got really friendly. He was regularly coming to any of our gigs in the Northeast. After a period of meetings we thought we could use Keith’s lyrics and our music to produce, hopefully, a full album’s worth of material and, at some point, release it.”
“Shortly after, we had all these legal problems with our old label and that delayed our second album ‘Timeless Street’ by about three years. Obviously we were building up a backlog of material with constant line-up changes. Although we’d still meet him and talk about it, it just seemed to get put on ice. Even back then though, Gary had actually written the music to some of the poems, and because of all the continuing problems that went on in 1994, myself and Gary discussed doing the album as a separate thing from the band and since, at that time, the rest of the people in the band weren’t as enthusiastic about the project that seemed the best course of action.”
“Early in 1995 a series of events changed our planning. The German record label that put out the ‘Dol-li-a’ single wanted us to record a new album with them so we decided not to tour in January, February and March. The plan was to spend January rehearsing, in February we’d go into the studio in Germany to record this album and then mix it in March. Right up until early January that was what was planned, then the producer’s schedule went haywire and there was a change of plan in that the album was to be recorded at Trinity Heights here in the Northeast. When that all fell apart we had a studio booked and all this spare time and as we had to do an album in ’95 we got our thinking caps on and decided that we might as well do this album with Keith Armstrong’s poems.”
“At that time there were already about six or seven songs written, and Gary wrote all the others in the space of about a week. We even recorded a track that Gary had written only the night before we recorded it! At the time of the recording there was only myself, Gary, Nick Buck and Mick Tyas in the band and as we had a lot of contacts we thought we might as well get some guest musicians. So we rang some mutual friends, Chuck Fleming and Marie Little. Gary had always been a big fan of Jez Lowe and was quite friendly with him, so when we rang him up he was dead keen to come in and play. It was a natural progression of circumstances at the last minute.”
The resulting album, ‘Bleeding Sketches’, has pleased critics and punters alike. The band themselves were equally pleased.
Glenn continued, “Considering our backs were against the wall we’re very pleased with the way it turned out. It showed what The Whisky Priests could do, musically there’s a lot of variety there. Gary, in particular, thought it was about time people stopped considering The Whisky Priests as a one or two-dimensional band and ‘Bleeding Sketches’ shows just what the possibilities are. At present we’re getting really excited about the prospect of the next album. We’ve already been playing four or five new songs on the ‘Bleeding Sketches’ tour.”
Concerning the tour, this was the first occasion that live audiences could sample the new material that made up the album.
“Everywhere we went the hard-core element, if you like, have been 100% behind us, proclaiming the new stuff as the best we’ve ever done. It’s surprising because sometimes all they want to hear is the faster, older numbers, but they’ve really come around to the new album, even singing along already.”
“Sales have been healthy everywhere, even in England. It’s been a unanimous thumbs up. It’s really gratifying that hard-core fans are saying that every song’s different and yet they still like it, because we did it the way we wanted to and when people react in the same way as we did it shows that, hopefully, we’re doing the right thing and we can move on from there to produce an even better album when we do an album of 100% originals.”
As part of the ‘Bleeding Sketches’ tour The Whisky Priests visited Slovenia and Croatia.
“It was actually our third trip out there. It started after a Slovenian promoter got us a gig in Ljubljana and he tied one up with it in Zagreb. The latest dates were so successful that we’re going over in the spring for a week of dates.”
“When we first went over there we didn’t know what to expect, but Zagreb has hardly been touched by the war. My main enduring memory of the first trip out there was staying in this massive 24-storey skyscraper hotel. It was milling with UN troops. And the car park was full of troop carriers and tanks, but other than that you don’t see any of the other side of it.”
“We’re starting to get well known out there where we’ve been on ‘Good Morning Croatia’, a T.V. show, each time we’ve visited. People come up to us out there and they just want to shake your hand and thank you for coming. In fact the reaction we get out there is almost better than everywhere else. They really appreciate it and because of the way things have been for the last few years they really know how to have a good time, they don’t hold back. They’re mad crowds, but really nice. They’re genuine people and they know how to look after you; they give you amazing hospitality. I’d recommend it to other bands.”