The Whisky Priests fourth studio album.
Original CD liner notes:
In a sense, this album has been five years in the making, from the first meeting between Keith Armstrong and The Whisky Priests, when an initial idea was first formulated, to the actual recording session at Trinity Heights, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. After countless meetings between Keith and myself at the Half Moon public house in Durham City over the years, at each of which I was constantly telling Keith “Yes, this project will see the light of day!”, we have finally got there in the end, thought there were many occasions when I despaired myself of ever bringing our vision to fruition. I first met Keith at a Whisky Priests gig in the band’s hometown of Durham City on 14th August 1989. That night we chatted over a few drinks and he presented me with a signed copy of his book, ‘Dreaming North’. We also discussed the vague possibility at the time of us some day collaborating on a joint venture, involving his work and ours. We parted company in high spirits, promising to keep in touch. I was impressed by Keith’s enthusiasm and undeniable genius as a writer, as well as his honest, down-to-earth personality. I also sensed a kindred spirit and it seemed a natural development for us to be working together in some way.
The band’s heavy schedule over the years never allowed us any real opportunity to get to grips with the material for the album and anything we did get done had to be in any spare moment we could find but I was fiercely determined that our collaboration would one day be completed, so when the opportunity finally arose, I made sure it wasn’t wasted. We had been touring solidly throughout Europe for 18 months and three months had been deliberately set aside, to allow time for a brief rest, and to rehearse and record a new album of Whisky Priests material. Our Mandolin/Harmonica player, Paul Carless, then announced that he would be leaving the band and, because of this, plus a number of other reasons, the proposed album fell through at the last eleventh hour, even though recording dates had already been scheduled. I therefore suggested we try to salvage the situation by putting ‘Plan B’ into operation, i.e., my long-term plan for The Whisky Priests to record an album featuring Keith’s poetry. So, with hardly any time to think about what we were doing, or even if we were making the right decision, two three-hour rehearsals were arranged, in a frantic attempt to piece together and learn a completely new batch of songs to those we had been working on. Before we knew it, we were in the studio recording ‘Bleeding Sketches’ as only a four-piece (instead of our established five-piece line-up), before we had even had a chance to enlist a replacement for Paul. During this time, Keith and myself hurriedly contacted a number of mutual friends, somehow managing to draft them in at the last minute for special guest duties. Suddenly, an album, which had been conceived half a decade earlier, had been completed within a matter of weeks. This is, in fact, the first Whisky Priests album to have been recorded completely fresh, without any of the material being ‘road tested’ in advance on tour. As a result, the recording session had an air of spontaneity and raw excitement. Everything seemed to happen very quickly, as necessitated by our low budget for the album, as well as lack of time, due to our upcoming touring commitments. In addition, everyone involved had very little preparation time, so my humblest appreciation and respect to everyone involved in making this album possible, for their enthusiasm in accepting the challenge, and for having faith in the project from the start. I sincerely hope the musical contribution of The Whisky Priests on this album goes at least some way towards capturing the sheer emotion, spirit and honesty, which is the essence of Keith’s work. I further hope this album increases recognition of his talent, for which I have enormous respect, and successfully demonstrates the natural bond that I feel exists between Keith Armstrong and The Whisky Priests, as well as poetry and music in general. Cheers Keith!
(Gary Miller, March 1995)
I began writing seriously when I was 18. It helped me express my rebelliousness against the authoritarian hierarchies of school, government and big business. It also helped me to shake off the claptrap taught to me in English and History lessons and to believe that people like me could write our own poetry, which related to our own history and sense of community. It was a way of getting back to my roots and to celebrate the richness of the culture of North East England and its landscape, not in a conformist way but in a way which also challenged the ‘Andy Capp’ image; the Heritage Industry, its hangers on in Labour authorities; the ‘professional Geordies’ and the middle-class patronisers in their various guises and various bureaucracies. I could go on! But my words and lyrics featured on this innovative Whisky Priests album should speak for themselves. They take you on a guided tour of the North East I love, warts and all; they talk about the pit disasters, the shipyard closures, the dereliction, but, above all, they talk about love, roots and vitality, expressed through my life and the lives of others.
I have long been inspired by music. My first trip abroad was with the ‘Melody Maker’ to the Berlin Jazz Festival. My tastes vary from Charlie Parker to Stockhausen; The Beach Boys to The Pogues. I have worked with a number of North East of England based musicians in the past, blending my poems and their music, but it was only when I first heard and talked to The Whisky Priests that I saw the opportunity to work with a group rooted in the past but wanting to take our region’s culture forward in a way that avoided the blandness of many Folk Clubs, that spoke from the heart about the real issues facing the region, that wasn’t afraid to mix musical styles from folk to rock, that was vital and fresh. And so, at last, we have this collaboration. I am delighted with what Gary and Glenn and the boys, together with my friends Marie and Chuck and Jez, have brought to my words. I hope our project will enthuse audiences throughout the North East of England, the rest of the country, Europe and beyond, and show the reality of ‘Geordieland’ in a loving and critical way.
(Keith Armstrong, March 1995)
“There are those who tell the terrible truth in all its loveliness. Keith Armstrong is one of them, a fine poet, who refuses to turn his back on the wretched of the Earth. He is committed both to political action and to poetry. Even in his anger he does not lose his craft. I have been reading Keith’s poems for some years now and he is, quite clearly, developing constantly. He is one of the best and I hope his voice will be heard more and more widely”. (Adrian Mitchell)
“I’m told that if the Labour Party is looking for a wandering poet, I must put Keith Armstrong top of the list”. (Tony Blair)
“In the fickle world of folk, some bands just do not get the breaks. On the face of it, the Priests should be enjoying similar levels of success to the Levellers – they share that band’s technicolour widescreen anthemic folk melodies and rugged balladry, with an extra value-added oomph. Though they have the trousers and the accents, Durham’s Whisky Priests were always tapped deeper into the lodestone of classic Geordie folk than their supposed peers in the folk movement.
‘Bleeding Sketches’ sees the band link up with the Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong, and together they have released an album that effortlessly captures the raw power and earnest excitement of their best works. They continue their fusion of rock ‘n’ roll, Geordie roots with an almost punk attack into a form surprisingly coherent and original. Keith’s poetry provides the perfect catalyst for an inspired project, that despite a gestation period of some five years came together when The Priests unexpectedly lost a band member and had to salvage a recording session. The spontaneity of the resulting album is something that all the participants can be justifiably proud of.
The Whisky Priests are currently celebrating 10 years on the road by promoting this release with another UK tour. See you down the front!”
Geoff Wall, ‘Folk On Tap’, UK.
“This album is a result of a meeting in 1989 between The Whisky Priests and poet Keith Armstrong. Keith told Gary that he was looking for a band to perform his poems as songs and it was agreed that when it was possible then they would collaborate. At long last the results can be heard. For the first time The Whisky Priests have performed songs for which they did not write the words, but instead have worked at providing the music, which can make the words come alive.
The words describe the reality of the North East, from pit disasters and dereliction through to love and vitality. The CD booklet is very well put together. There is a forward from both Gary and Keith, and Keith provides an insight into each song as he prefaces each set of lyrics with an explanation.
There is the frenetic pell mell of ‘Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me’ or the powerful ‘Widows of Hartley’ (about the Hartley Mining Disaster of 1862, which claimed 204 lives). The music and words work in perfect harmony to be entertaining and extremely thought provoking at the same time. There is a harnessed passion in the music that really brings the images to life.
The Whisky Priests live and breathe the North East and this album in partnership with one of the North East’s top poets really brings the subject matter home. Superb.”
Kevin Rowland, ‘Feedback’, UK, October 1995.
“Having been a fan since I was sent a copy of ‘Bloody Well Live!’ to review, I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t been to see them live (though that may change on October 17th when they play the Riverside) and have therefore had to satisfy my needs with their subsequent recordings. This album maintains the high standards previously set and should see the lads reaffirming their position at the forefront of the national folk/rock scene. I have to say that if I were them I would rush release ‘Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me’ in time for the Christmas market, saturate radio stations with copies and…” [The subsequent text to this review is missing from our archives therefore we have been unable to reproduce the full review on this web page]
‘The Crack’, UK, October 1995.
“A band much used to long tours and self-induced sweat-boxes, The Whisky Priests team up with poet Keith Armstrong to produce another classic collection of hope, sorrow, hard times and truth. These are considered vignettes, as the poems range through the gamut of North East of England life, form ‘Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me’ to ‘Widows of Hartley’, after the 1862 pit disaster. From ‘Peterlee’, a local town “littered with squalor” to ‘Angels Playing Football’, either thunder or Newcastle United! This will appeal to more than the devoted. Classic lyrics and class music. Lend an ear, singer/songwriters.”
Neil Pedder, ‘Taplas’, UK.
“The Whisky Priests have always been fierce; and fiercely proud of the richness of the culture of NE England, they have blazed a trail with dynamism, raw energy and good humour throughout the UK and Europe.
This album sees a long-cherished project of the Miller Brothers come to fruition at last. It’s an artistic collaboration featuring the lyrics of northeast poet Keith Armstrong and the music of Gary and Glenn Miller. Here you’ll find serious stuff about poetry, exploitation, the violence, which can disrupt ordinary lives, tempered with hopes and dreams – the individuals and the situations rendered with realism and affection. A candidate for the official poet of the Labour Party, Keith writes with anger, pathos and control; combine that with Gary’s vituperative delivery and depth of feeling and you are tasting a potent brew. Once again friends have been drafted in to add texture to the recording, (they’ve had the local brass band, they’ve had Alistair Anderson), this time you’ll find ace fiddler Chuck Fleming, Marie Little’s vocal chords, Jez Lowe’s bouzouki and harmonica, Jane Miller’s recorder and engineer Fred Purser’s guitar and whistling. The result is an arresting testimony to the explosive power of the word when harnessed to the emotive qualities of the music. An original and unique venture destined to create new Whisky Priests fans in unexpected places.”
Jenny Coxon, ‘Folk Buzz’, UK.
“This is an unusual CD from The Whisky Priests in that all the lyrics have been written by North East poet Keith Armstrong, with tunes set by the Miller brothers Gary and Glenn. However, Keith’s writing is in the same tradition of hard-edged realism that we have come to expect from the Priests. There is nothing comfortable about the England of the 1990’s inhabited by these writers, nor is there comfort to be found for the listener.
This is a CD of songs and poems which challenge us, tracks such as ‘Success Road’ where “You can look for a job / In an empty factory” and “There is no choice / But shout ‘Revolution!’ / And you’ll lose your voice”.
Not songs for the faint-hearted or the politically conservative.
One of my favourite tracks has to be ‘‘Spring’: Pit Pony’ sung by Marie Little (one of many guests on this CD who came in to contribute following the departure of Paul Carless, the harmonica and mandolin player from the Priests). Other, grittier tracks include ‘Widows of Hartley’ in the tradition of Joseph Skipsey (cited by Keith Armstrong as an influence) and Tommy Armstrong (lauded by the Priests in ‘Pitman Tom’ on ‘The Power And The Glory’) and ‘Mother, Waiting’ from which the CD derives its title: “She is a scrapbook of ancient cuttings: / The pregnant wishes, the bleeding sketches, / The stretch-marks that etch her path”.
Apart from Marie Little who acquits herself nobly, vocals are mostly provided by Gary Miller, with a couple of less raucous renditions by Mick Tyas.
A Whisky Priests CD with a difference, but similar in so many ways to the Priests we know and love – raucous, committed, with a strong sense of history but also a determined vision of the way forward. As they say in ‘Turn It Upside Down’:
Turn it upside down,
Exchange the stock for wine,
Put the miner on Cloud Nine,
Drown Britannia down the mine,
Turn it upside down.”
Janet Hale, ‘Folk North West’, UK, Winter 1995/6.
“It’s taken five and a half years to get this off the ground but it was certainly well worth the wait. The combination of the Priests and North Eastern poet Keith Armstrong is a match manufactured for mastery. ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is quite simply the sixth and finest Whisky Priests album to date. The richness of the lyrical pictures of poet Keith Armstrong are projected from the hammer and anvil larynx of Gary Miller and the praline postures of big Mick Tyas. This is our region in reality, no heritage industry gloss. Everybody’s Got Love Bites But Me, there is real irony in the false hopes of our forefathers, On Success Road You’re On A Loser, Peterlee, It’s The Place To Be. But it’s not doom and gloom stuff, the story of ‘‘Spring’: Pit Pony’ as sung by Marie Little is human and dreamy, and the ‘Ballad of The Little Count’ is a rakish affair.
Conflicting schedules dictated the album being put together quickly and the music gains a real freshness and excitement as a result. Take a fresh look through the net curtains with ‘Bleeding Sketches’”. ****
Rob Nichols, ‘Paint It Red’, UK, November 1995.
“A coming of age for yob, oi folk. For a long time Gary and Glenn Miller have threatened to do something serious, something they could wave at the sceptics and say here was justification. And what they’ve done is most fitting, most logical. By chumming up with noted Geordie wordsmith Keith Armstrong, a bloke whose musings were always radical, though of their place, then The Whiskies were at once fulfilling their own desires to be confrontational and endemic. That takes some doing, all at the same time – look ma, no hands!
A beast of two faces, ‘Bleeding Sketches’ gives out a torrent of downbeat lyrics, which still manage to retain that Pandoran concept – hope; hope that despite enduring closure, injury, bleakness, forlorn prospects, in hopelessness lies camaraderie and unity, leading to a sense of purpose. The north (east) will rise again is the scream-cum-promise. And on the back of brave forays like this, it may even discover much about itself since forgotten.”
Simon Jones, ‘Folk Roots’, UK, Issue 150, November 1995.
“This album combines the musical talents of The Whisky Priests with the spit and sawdust poetry of Keith Armstrong.
If you’ve never heard The Whisky Priests before, you’re in for a very unique experience. The band knows how to deliver the raw energy and passion of Northern life in suitably gutsy style. ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is an absolute must for anyone seeking a bit more than meaningless lyrics and musical nihilism. The Whisky Priests don’t sugar coat and gift wrap their music, they simply tell it like it is, grit and all!”
Charmaine O’Reilly, ‘The Edge’, UK.
“Long-term readers will know that we rate The Whisky Priests here at BT Towers, and this 14-song collection represents the culmination of a six-year-long dream for Whisky Priests leader Gary Miller, setting the poetry of Keith Armstrong, Newcastle poet, to music.
They first met at a gig in County Durham in 1989, and only now have the fruits of a much-awaited collaboration come about.
This is a folk classic; make no mistake. The Priests are fine songwriters in their own right, but Armstrong’s poetry has given them a fresh dimension.
His work displays wit, warmth, wisdom, the pride and the passion of Tyneside and County Durham; the power, the glory and the sadness of the area – and matching up with the Priests’ power-folk is a marriage made in heaven.
The Priests are amazingly good live and sometimes their power is lost in the recording studio.
Here, whether for reasons of having a tight schedule, or just more experience of studio work, it works really well.
A must for folk fans, and highly recommended to anyone who likes good, well-written songs. Order your copy today.
Finally goodbye to bassist Mick Tyas, who is leaving after nearly seven years in the band after the British leg of their latest tour. A canny lad, he will be sorely missed.”
Richard Lewis, ‘The Bury Times’, UK.
“This is the Priests’ sixth album, but the first on which they collaborate with North-East poet Keith Armstrong.
The marriage is admirable. Both musicians and poet are rooted in the coal-dust of Durham. Both musicians and poet are intensely bitter and angry about what happened to their homeland, and yet both have blinding moments of hope.
Musically, ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is everything you would expect a Whisky Priests album to be: it is fast and frenetic folk, which is strictly kept under control by the Miller brothers’ superb instrumentation.
Lyrically, Armstrong – apparently Tony Blair’s favourite poet – paints on a traditional North-East canvas: a pit disaster, the killing of Swan Hunters and the leather industry of Hexham. But he’s up-to-date as well, noting the modern irony of a Success Road being found in the failed mining community of Philadelphia. He also chronicles the shattered dreams of Peterlee New Town.
All of which sounds politically drab, but is brought to life by the way The Whisky Priests play from the heart. And the album ends with ‘Angels Playing Football’ – the gorgeous way Newcastle footballing hero Jackie Milburn reassured his young granddaughter, who was worried about a thunderstorm.
Some might say that by digging so deeply into Durham’s history, the Priests and Armstrong are not moving forward, that they are the arts equivalent of Beamsih Museum.
But they are far more than another heritage project, and Armstrong’s internationalist motto sums up The Whisky Priests as well as any comment made during their ten years in the business: ‘Our future we build from our past’.”
Chris Lloyd, ‘The Northern Echo’, UK, 3rd November 1995
“Yet another fine platter from those Geordie wonderlads. The lads just seem to release CD after CD of their fine northern folk music and this one is no exception. It even features the lyrics of North East poet Keith Armstrong. The Miller brothers have done their mother proud.”
Andi, ‘Gig Central’, UK.
“Love bites, shipyards, giro-cheques, pit ponies – the only local ingredient missing from the album is the shell suit. ‘Bleeding Sketches’ is a collection of fourteen poems by Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong set to music by folk band The Whisky Priests. Despite his left-wing agenda, Armstrong manages to dilute tales of pit disaster and shipyard closure with more humorous character sketches without overplaying either the quaint or the gritty aspects of life in the North East.
For their part, The Whisky Priests carry off the difficult task of setting poetry that sometimes has no regular metre or rhyme, to folk music, which often demand both. The mood of their music is predominantly celebratory and upbeat. Such rousing backing adds to the power of lines like: “Put the miner on Cloud Nine / Drown Britannia down the mine / Turn it upside down”. When it accompanies Armstrong’s more poignant writing the effect is rather incongruous: the mood of a setting of a poem which incites revolution is less appropriate for lines like: “The tears that stream from an ancient agony / Hiss like rain on the grate”. In fact the most effective musical accompaniment, to a poem about Armstrong’s dead grandfather, is the only one which is not in a major key.
No review of this album would be complete without a mention of its striking cover design, depicting a welder at work, which successfully captures the positive mood of the music inside. Judge this CD by its cover and you won’t go far wrong.”
Adrian Martineau, ‘Northern Review’, UK, Volume 2, Winter 1995.
“Gary Miller, the Priests usual lyricist (and singer) has kind of taken a break on this album with regard to the words. Keith Armstrong is apparently one of Newcastle’s best poets. As if any proof were needed you should read the lyrics, and I mean read, on songs such as ‘Success Road’, ‘Peterlee’, ‘Mother, Waiting’ and ‘Hexham Tans’. With all credit, though, Armstrong’s lyrics run to the same strength as Miller’s, painting grey and gritty, honest and truthful pictures of what life was/is up in the north, and I mean even further up than Huddersfield! Miller’s vocal style is one that can take some getting used to, but ultimately rewarding as it’s like the songs, honest. The musical skills of the band is superb (like the Pogues) with traditional instruments as well as standard. Maybe this could be the first time that the number 13 (the CD number) proves to be lucky.”
‘The Modern Dance’, UK.
“Back in 1989 only a few years out of school a young Durham band recorded a fine album of raw and passionate contemporary roots music based around visions of life in the grey and gold of their native North East. ‘Nee Gud Luck’ was a remarkably mature debut from The Whisky Priests.
Following albums were somewhat disappointing but with ‘Bleeding Sketches’ they’ve bounced back to new peaks. They’ve teamed up with poet Keith Armstrong for a runaway pit carriage roller-coaster fun ride through the Northern lands they love so well with warts and all – the pit disasters, the shipyard closures and the dereliction but these are songs from the heart and of their families, of sons lost in pits or at wars. ‘My Father Worked On Ships’ is Keith Armstrong’s father, 30 years at Swan Hunters. ‘Mother, Waiting’ is the tale of any mother who waits and grieves for her soldier boy.
Gary Miller has a unique pitmatic dialect which for 45 minutes or so on previous albums has been a little difficult to stomach but here there’s enough changes in mood and pace and switching of vocals to hang onto including guest vocals from Marie Little on ‘‘ Spring’: Pit Pony’.
It is of course an acquired taste but these creative forces of The Whisky Priests and Keith Armstrong have joined to tell tales of life and death that are movingly absorbing.”
Gillfish, ‘Rock ‘N’ Reel’, UK.
“This is The Whisky Priests' follow up to 1994’s The Power and The Glory, Bleeding Sketches marked a significant reduction of duties for principle songwriter Gary Miller. Here the Priests enlisted the literary services of poet Keith Armstrong whose works were put to music for the entirety of this album. But as much of a songwriting diversion this album is from previous Whisky Priests releases it differs only slightly from its predecessors, as Armstrong’s lyrics are uncannily similar to Miller’s. Both men write insightfully of their hometowns, regional folklore and profound observations of the seemingly mundane. As always Glenn Miller
provides complimentary accordion accompaniment and is joined by bassist Mick Tyas, drummer Nick Buck aswell as guests Jez Lowe on bouzouki and Chuck Fleming on Fiddle.”
Dave Sleger, USA.
released October 2, 1995
The Whisky Priests line-up on this recording:
Gary Miller – Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Mandola, Mandolin, Banjo, Percussion
Glenn Miller – Accordion, Keyboards, Piano, Backing Vocals
Mick Tyas – Vocals, Bass Guitar
Nick Buck – Drums
Keith Armstrong – Spoken Word
Chuck Fleming – Fiddle
Marie Little – Vocals
Jez Lowe – Bouzouki, Harmonica
Jane Miller – Recorder
Fred Purser – Guitars, Whistling
Original album ℗ & © 1995 Whippet Records
This Compilation ℗ & © 2016 Whippet Records
all rights reserved