Twin brothers, Gary & Glenn Miller (“the Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of Folk Music”), formed The Whisky Priests in August 1985 as teenagers with no previous musical experience but a burning creative vision. With an original line-up made up of old school friends, they played their first gig in their hometown of Durham on 4th October 1985. Within two months, and after only 2 gigs, they had recorded their first original song, 'Danny's Hard Life', written by Gary, for a local compilation album. In...
Twin brothers, Gary & Glenn Miller (“the Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of Folk Music”), formed The Whisky Priests in August 1985 as teenagers with no previous musical experience but a burning creative vision. With an original line-up made up of old school friends, they played their first gig in their hometown of Durham on 4th October 1985. Within two months, and after only 2 gigs, they had recorded their first original song, 'Danny's Hard Life', written by Gary, for a local compilation album.
In January 1987 The Whisky Priests appeared on one of the very last editions of the now legendary music programme 'The Tube'. Later that year their debut single 'The Colliery' was released.
The band's first serious line-up recorded two 12" EP's in 1988 ("Accordions on acid... compulsive dementia", Sounds, U.K.), independently released on Gary & Glenn's own, newly-formed, Whippet Records label, serving a hard-touring apprenticeship which took them all over the UK.
In 1989, the band augmented their ranks, with the addition of a fiddle/northumbrian pipe player, particularly enhancing the traditional North East of England folk music flavour of the band at that time. Signing to a professional recording and publishing company, this line-up recorded The Whisky Priests debut LP 'Nee Gud Luck', for the princely sum of £900 ("The contemporary folk masterpiece", Rock 'N' Reel, UK). Also by this time legendary Whisky Priests bass player and singer Mick Tyas had joined the band becoming a mainstay of the lineup for many years and a popular stage presence.
Coinciding with the release of 'Nee Gud Luck', The Whisky Priests made their first tour outside the UK, with a highly memorable and ground-breaking tour of Germany, leading to a return trip at the beginning of 1990. The band's reputation as an outstanding live act spread like wildfire, leading to further tours in many different countries. After this, The Whisky Priests never looked back. The band's show-stealing performances at Cambridge Folk Festival in 1990, where they were hailed as “the stars of the weekend” by Colin Irwin writing for The Guardian, for example, were an incredible triumph considering they featured an unrehearsed, emergency last-minute line-up.
Immediately following this success, The Whisky Priests soon came to be in great demand on the European festival circuit, going on to perform regularly at numerous festivals, including a headline performance to 20,000 people at the Rockspektakel in Hamburg. Perhaps even more significantly, the band was courted by a number of major UK record companies and management. Their current contract at the time, however, prevented the possibility of accepting any offers, so the band, therefore, turned their attention to mainland Europe, where they toured tirelessly for the next two years.
While the band's live reputation continued to spread, there was a necessary gap of 3 years between The Whisky Priests' debut album and its follow up, 'Timeless Street', in 1992 ("Haunting, insightful songs. Gary Miller's original lyrics are as appealing as the melodies to which they are set.", Dirty Linen, USA), due to a long-term legal dispute with their recording and publishing company although in the interim a compilation album of the by then deleted 12" EP's was released in 1991 under the title 'The First Few Drops'.
Towards the end of 1993, after an out-of-court settlement at the High Court in London, Gary & Glenn Miller, as co-directors of Whippet Records, once again owned recording and publishing rights to their entire back catalogue, giving their career a whole new lease of life though ultimately the damage had already been done and their recording career never fully recovered. Between 1992 and 1996 The Whisky Priests released 5 albums of new material in 5 years and played over 600 concerts in 16 different countries, appearing many times on TV and radio throughout Europe.
By this stage, The Whisky Priests had become universally renowned for their live shows:
"A Whisky Priests show is the sort of stuff to make your hair curl; honest, earthy, loud, raucous and tremendously uplifting." (Folk Roots, U.K.).
"They are as unique as a band who are truly unique can be - you'll never see another live band to touch them." (Manchester Evening News, UK).
"Live the band is in great form: energetic, full of atmosphere and inspired." (Oor Pop Encyclopedia, Holland).
The time seemed ripe for the band to display its unique skill on a live album. Released in 1993, 'Bloody Well Live!' ("A great document of one of the UK's most enjoyable acts at their sweaty best", Outlook, UK) became the band's most successful and widely acclaimed album. The 'Bloody Well Live!' Tour proved to be their most intensive and demanding to date, taking in over 70 concerts across Europe in 3 months. The Whisky Priests were now recognised as one of the hardest working bands anywhere.
1994 proved to be another productive year. They immediately followed the success of 'Bloody Well Live!' with a new studio album, 'The Power And The Glory', ("Masterly and memorable writing...an authority that sets them apart", Rock 'N' Reel, UK) and two EP's, including the German only release, 'Dol-Li-A', in response to huge popular demand for this crowd favourite. In the same year, Whippet Records re-issued The Whisky Priests first three albums in repackaged formats, with bonus tracks and extensive sleeve notes.
In a bold and inspired move, The Whisky Priests broke further new ground in 1995 with 'Bleeding Sketches' ("An absolute must for anyone seeking a bit more than meaningless lyrics and musical nihilism", The Edge, UK), an album featuring the lyrics of acclaimed contemporary poet Keith Armstrong, set to music by Gary & Glenn Miller. It brought further acclaim, displaying the unique depth of their originality and demonstrating their ability to explore and develop their creativity to its full.
By this time Gary Miller was being hailed for his own songwriting talents:
"Gary Miller is a great songsmith, with a remarkable sense for catchy tunes and sharp lyrics. As a song poet, there are few in the world today to match him" (Green Man Review, USA).
"Miller has the glorious knack for penning irresistible choruses & coupled with a lyrical depth beyond the norm & a strong commercial ear, his worth as a composer ought to be worth its weight in gold" (Geoff Wall, Folk on Tap, UK).
"Miller actually writes great songs with words that mean something and are usually substantially rooted. His ability as a songwriter who captures folk sentiment and communal memory must now be unquestioned" (Simon Jones, Folk Roots, UK).
'Life's Tapestry' ("Their finest album to date...ranks alongside anything the whole folk-rock movement has ever produced, Rock 'N' Reel, U.K.; "Highly recommended", Dirty Linen, USA), released in 1996, was hailed by many as their most accomplished album to date.
1997 saw a self-imposed reduction in touring, allowing the development of long-planned additional projects, including an imaginative stage play/musical conceived by Gary, with a number of the project's songs later being recorded for the band's 1998 album, 'Think Positive!'. This period also saw the live debut of a stripped down offshoot of the band for more intimate venues, featuring Gary & Glenn as 'The Whisky Priests Acoustic Duo', touring to great success throughout Europe. The band's accelerating success rate and ever-increasing demands on the brothers' punishing schedule at the time, however, prevented these projects progressing further.
In 1998, The Whisky Priests returned to their usual hard-touring schedule with an all-new successful and settled line-up, reinvigorated with a newfound passion and energy, together with the highly acclaimed 'Think Positive!':-
"Their most assured and confident album to date." (Rock 'N' Reel, UK).
"The most considered Priests album to date." (Folk Roots, UK).
"The band's finest moment to date." (Taplas, UK).
"Heavy doses of wit and a spot of wisdom." (Time Out, UK).
"Powerfully energetic and totally committed - their masterwork." (J'OR, Eire).
In 1999 The Whisky Priests released their second live recording, again from the Markthalle Hamburg, at a concert on 10th October 1998. This time '"Here Come The Ranting Lads" - Live!' was available on both video and CD in a bid to further promote and enhance the band’s incredible live reputation. Unfortunately, however, an equipment malfunction during the recording meant the latter part of the concert failed to record. As a result, not only did the planned double CD release fall through but also the more energetic second half of the performance, showing the band in a more relaxed and representative light as the live force they were rightly acclaimed as, never saw the light of day. Despite this setback, the CD and video were heavily and successfully promoted by two epic tours throughout both halves of 1999.
"If the acid test for a live album is whether or not it makes the listener feel they missed a real event, then this succeeds due to one track alone. 'Mother, Waiting' lasts more than 12 minutes, double the length it should be, with the audience singing the chorus way after the official end and forcing the band to reprise it not once but twice - one of those magic moments that actually does transcend the limits of audio. Well worth checking out." (The Big Issue In The North, UK).
"Close on 70 minutes of wonderfully sodden, ranting in-yer-face folk-punk-rock from arguably its finest practitioners. A glorious celebration of many of the Priests golden anthems...Essential." (David Kidman, Tykes News).
"16 tracks of total commitment...it's wild and great fun...however all this mayhem hides some serious talent. The playing is tight and precise. The whole performance has a refreshing sense of integrity about it. There are no space fillers and make weights here... it's music with guts and conviction." (Folktalk).
The Whisky Priests celebrated their 15th Anniversary in 2000 with the reissue of their landmark 1993 live CD ‘Bloody Well Live!’ as a ‘Special Edition’ double CD featuring the concert in its entirety. Also in 2000, together with the legendary Joseph Porter of the legendary band ‘Blyth Power’, Gary and Glenn Miller formed an acoustic trio ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’, releasing a critically acclaimed CD ‘Going Down With Alice’ and performing around 50 live shows around Europe. It was the beginning of the end for The Whisky Priests, however, and the band’s final studio recording was the track ‘Full Circle’ written specially for a compilation CD in 2000.
Regrettably, The Whisky Priests never performed their warranted ‘Farewell Tour’ and in the end the band "fizzled out" after a final short crawl. Although officially disbanded in 2002, a handful of ‘reunion’ shows happened for a couple of years with the band performing its ultimate show in 2004. Sadly, the band never quite managed to break out of Europe as a live act (for example, a tour of the Far East fell through at the 11th hour and a US tour ‘almost’ happened but not quite!).
Despite a loyal international cult following and critical expectations, The Whisky Priests failed to achieve mainstream success, continually bedeviled by setbacks galore, not least of which was the constant reshuffling of the band line-up as over 50 different musicians went through the band’s ranks and a stable line-up that could last more than 2-3 years at a time seemed like an impossible goal. When the time came to finally ‘call it a day’, Gary and Glenn Miller walked away with a certain amount of resignation tinged with relief and feeling completely physically, emotionally and mentally burnt out from their experience. Despite the many ups throughout, there had been lots of frustrations and in the end they realized that by taking on the whole burden of managing a band in constant flux, their own record label and related business matters at the expense of focusing on their own creativity, The Whisky Priests could never continue indefinitely. They set their sights high but with limited budgets and resources their well eventually ran dry and a change in personal circumstances meant the band’s eventual breakup was almost inevitable.
The Whisky Priests’ legacy remains through their back catalogue and the extreme fondness by which their unique concert performances are remembered by those fortunate to have seen the band at its live peak.
"They deserve to be heard by millions." (B-Side, USA).
In 2010 Gary Miller relaunched his career as a recording and performing artist with his debut solo CD ‘Reflections on War’ (Whippet Records WPTCD22)
The Whisky Priests official 'My Space' link:
Whippet Records official You Tube Channel for Whisky Priests video clips: www.youtube.com/user/WhippetRecords
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