The First Few Drops (1985​-​1989) [Revised Edition]

by The Whisky Priests

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Ned Ludd
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Ned Ludd Been a fave of mine for nearly a quarter of a century - a classic Ep from Durham's finest, life in Durham writ large! Favorite track: The Hard Men ['No Chance' 12" EP 1988].
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    Contains bonus (hidden) track 'The Colliery' [1st (Unused) 7" Single Mix 1987]

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Compilation album of all The Whisky Priests early (pre-debut album 'Nee Gud Luck') official releases. This revised edition, in chronological order from 1986-1989, features the band's first ever studio recording 'Danny's Hard Life' (recorded in December 1985, after playing only 2 gigs, for a local various artists compilation album of Durham City bands called 'Twelve Go Mad In Durham'), their 1987 debut 7" single 'The Colliery' (1000 copies on Teesbeat Records), two 1988 12" EP's 'No Chance' & 'Grandfatha's Fatha' (1500 copies each on the band's newly formed Whippet Records), rounded off with an early version of 'Shut Doon The Waggon Works (originally released in 1989 on a various artists double album called 'Volnitza', exclusively featuring bands who had performed at the '1 in 12 Club' in Bradford, England).

From CD liner notes to 1994 Reissue Version:

Together, the two of us formed The Whisky Priests in August 1985, after our final year at Gilesgate Comprehensive School in Durham, playing our first gig on 4th October 1985 at Fowlers Yard, Durham City.

Our mutual interest in music and our native North East England formed the initial basic template for our ideas and, in the years since, we have had to battle against a variety of set-backs just to keep that basic idea alive and kicking. Constant line-up changes have led to over thirty different members along the way, which has made things far from easy for us, plus we make no secret of the endless recording and publishing agreement disputes and the overall music media and industry apathy towards our cause. This has only made us more determined in the pursuance of our vision to its ultimate conclusion, through good times or bad, for better or worse. Perhaps one of the largest obstacles we have had to overcome has been the fact that we have been somehow forced into the position of achieving our goals almost totally unaided. It would have seemed inconceivable at the start that all these years down the line we would be running the band as a self-managed, self-financed, self-motivated and self-contained business, making all our own decisions as well as running our own fan club and mailing list, plus much more. And yet, here we are! And in spite of everything, we firmly believe we have got to this stage with our integrity and self-esteem intact.

Now that our four-year term with Celtic Music is finally at an end and ownership of all our own material has reverted back to us, we are proud to be able to reissue our first three albums on our own Whippet Records label, in special new editions, with repackaged booklets and bonus tracks.
We have always prided ourselves in our independence, as well as the special relationship we seem to share with our following. It is difficult to imagine that we could have reached this far without the enthusiasm and sheer loyalty of those who have stuck with us through it all and helped drive us on through all the difficult times. You have left us with many truly wonderful memories and experiences - long may they continue!
This special reissue is dedicated to you…

Thinking back now to the very early days of the band, recollections are somewhat hazy, although we do carry some fond memories of this time.
Early line-ups of the band consisted almost entirely of old school friends including, from the very beginning, Michael Stephenson and, later, Bill Bulmer, who had initially been the band’s ‘manager, roadie and confidant, before he replaced banjo player Mark Kelly. The four of us had been in the same year at school together and for a long time had been very close friends. Sticks, a few years older than the rest of us, turned up one night at a drummer-less gig at the Queen’s Head, Gilesgate, Durham (Whisky Priests gigs without a drummer had been common in the early days!) and offered his services during the two set interval as, he informed us, his drumkit was stored only a few doors away from the venue at his parents’ house. We tactfully turned down his offer to drum for us that night, with the promise of a full audition at a booked rehearsal a few days later, which he came along to, passed with flying colours, and was welcomed into the fold.

The line-up of the band on these recordings, although not the original line-up, was the first really solid line-up we ever had. These were, in a way, the band’s ‘halcyon days’. Full professionalism was still a few years away and there was a lot of naivety, freshness and youthful energy in our approach as well as a great spirit. Although aspirations tended to be limited to having a good time together, enjoying a basic camaraderie, we felt, even at this early stage, that The Whisky Priests had great potential and underneath this there was always a driving force and a belief in what we were doing.

Although we have to date toured all over Europe, visiting more than a dozen countries over the years, the line-up presented here never played outside the UK.

The band’s first ever recording session took place towards the end of 1985, after only two gigs had been performed, when we recorded our first original Whisky Priests song (written by Gary), the long-forgotten ‘Danny’s Hard Life’, for a compilation album of local Durham bands called ‘Twelve Go Mad In Durham’.

In January 1987, we received what for us in our naivety at the time seemed a major ‘break’, when we appeared on one of the very last editions of the now legendary Channel 4 music-based television programme ‘The Tube’. We opened the show, introduced by Paula Yates, performing what can best be described as a somewhat awkward and amateur, yet spirited, version of the North East of England traditional ‘standard’ ‘The Blaydon Races’, which at the time was an integral part of our live set. This led immediately to a would-be ‘manager’ taking us on and promising us the earth, and initially financing the recording of our debut 7” vinyl single ‘The Colliey’ b/w ‘Keep Your Feet Still Geordie Hinny’/’The Clog Dancer’. The single was recorded and mixed over two days. Approximately 1000 copies (about 930 in fact) were pressed and these were all sold at gigs or given away as promotion.

We can remember the vocal tracks for the song ‘The Colliery’ requiring a seemingly endless amount of retakes because our ‘manager’ at the time and the studio in-house producer/engineer both took a severe dislike to the song being sung in our native dialect, and insisted on the vocals being redone again and again until the dialect had been toned down sufficiently for their wishes. Being naïve and young at the time, we went along with this and, as a result, the vocals on the final mix lack any of the real power, emotion and strength of delivery required to give the song the necessary effect. This was the first and last time we have allowed ourselves to be dictated to in this fashion and have always fiercely stuck to our own beliefs since. In addition, the fiddle and banjo on all three tracks are so obviously out of tune and regularly out of time.

Unfortunately, due to lack of care and foresight at the time, the original master tape of ‘The Colliery’ session was lost and the only source available for re-mastering was a copy of the original 7” vinyl pressing, which was not of particularly impressive quality.

Despite these various technical shortcomings, however, we decided it was important now to include these tracks, warts and all, in order to present a fuller account of our early career, bearing in mind that during this period we made very few studio recordings and, with the benefit of hindsight, we regret somewhat that we lacked the opportunity to have recorded more material at the time.

Shortly after the release of ‘The Colliery’, we parted company with the manager who had not quite given us the earth he had promised and, left completely to our own devices again, 1988 became our most active year up until that point. We played as many gigs in one year as we had played in the previous two years combined, plus we set up our own independent record label, ‘Whippet Records’, and self-financed, released and promoted two 12” EP’s, ‘No Chance’ and ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’, sowing the seeds for the future, when we would eventually become a totally self-contained business enterprise, in the form of a ‘cottage industry’. The EP’s were recorded and mixed less than four months apart, onto 8-track tape, in two days each. The studio costs were £175 for ‘No Chance’ and £145 for ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’. The recordings are therefore no more than basic ‘demo’ quality, but we feel they successfully captured the essence of the band at that time. Approximately 1500 of each were pressed.

When we listened to the playback of ‘Wise Man’ once it had been recorded, we noticed the sound of the crash cymbal was intruding heavily onto the rest of the music. Unfortunately, because the whole drum-kit had by then been mixed down onto only one track, this meant that drummer, Sticks, had to rerecord the drums in their entirety over everything else (in addition, we had not used a ‘click’ track, making this task even harder) and if you listen to the last instrumental section at the end of the song, you can hear the drums going slightly out of time with everything else!

The song ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’ was inspired by a poem written by Sticks about the true-life experiences of his own grandfather, who had witnessed his father killed in a coalmining accident.

‘The Ghost of Geordie Jones’ was recorded and mixed as a last-minute decision in a spare half-hour. The song, by Glenn, was newly written and we had never even rehearsed it together before we recorded it. We gave this song its final title after we had recorded it.

When the ‘No Chance’ EP was released, it was reviewed in ‘Sounds’ magazine as ‘accordions on acid’ and ‘compulsive dementia’, and was also one of the Top 5 Singles of the Week, reaching the ‘Sounds’ Phone-in Play-list.

The initial idea had been to follow ‘No Chance’ with our debut album but we hurriedly decided to hold back recording the album until the New Year, in favour of a second EP, which would follow ‘hot on the heels’ of ‘No Chance’, in order to consolidate the first EP, and hopefully gain us further promotion in advance of the album. So we re-entered the same studio, the Pigpen in Trimdon, County Durham, at the earliest opportunity and recorded the six tracks which would make up the ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’ 12” EP, and then things suddenly began to go wrong. Within a couple of days of the records reaching the shelves of our distributors, Red Rhino, they went bust and into liquidation, without our knowledge, while the records ended up collecting dust for weeks. We were blissfully unaware of the whole situation, until we received a ‘stroppy’ telephone call from someone at the offices of Rough Trade (the head company of the Cartel, of which Red Rhino had been a member) in London, informing us, in no uncertain terms, that if we failed to reclaim our records immediately from the Rough Trade warehouse, they would all be destroyed within two days. We acted quickly and rescued them and then sold them all at gigs and on mail order, but the damage had been done, leaving us without distribution of any kind for our product. To add insult to injury, Michael and Sticks simultaneously quit the band shortly afterwards, cutting us right down to a three-piece by the beginning of 1989.

With the demise of Red Rhino and the break up of our first truly solid line-up, the end of 1988 marked the end of the first major era of The Whisky Priests. What happened next is another story…

(Gary Miller & Glenn Miller, August 1994)

Reviews (1994 Re-Issue Version):

“‘The First Few Drops’ is a collection of EP’s, singles and demos that pre-date the first album. (The) songs on here show a band that although young and inexperienced were still capable of songs of great power and emotion. Some of the songs on here were re-recorded for ‘Nee Gud Luck’, as these were recorded with an earlier line-up. ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’ is a brilliant song, telling at great pace the death of a man down the pit, witnessed by his own son. It is this song that typifies for me what The Whisky Priests are all about. There is loads pf emotion and passion, a real closeness to the subject matter (this is a true story, concerning the drummer Sticks) and energy and vigour.
The Whisky Priests are not laid back folkies with a finger in the ear but rather northerners capturing the power of their heritage and not compromising their ideals. It is either music that you will love or hate, there is no middle ground and there is not meant to be.”
(From joint review of ‘Nee Gud Luck, ‘The First Few Drops’, ‘Timeless Street’, reissue 1994 versions), Kevin Rowland, ‘Feedback’, UK, Issue 29, 8th June 1995.

“‘The First Few Drops’ is perhaps the best CD to see where The Whisky Priests came from as it contains their early EP’s, singles and demos. Many of them are rough and ready and do show an eagerness and ability that anyone with any sense could tell would lead the way to a pretty impressive career. One or two traditional tunes such as ‘Dance To Yer Daddy’, ‘The Clog Dancer’ and ‘The Bonnie Pit Laddie’. If there was any doubt about where the lads came from, then this is the album that has more roots than the New Forest. Their first Instrumental Medley is here splendidly played like their lives depended on it. There are 18 tracks on here with even the demos sounding rather accomplished.”
(From joint review of ‘Bloody Well Live!’, ‘The Power And The Glory’, ‘When The Wind Blows, Billy Boy’, ‘The First Few Drops’, Nee Gud Luck’, ‘Timeless Street’, reissue 1994 versions), Dave W. Hughes, ‘The Modern Dance’, UK.

“Having been brought up on the manic talents of The Pogues and The Saw Doctors I was delighted to discover another group who are able to impart in their music that special thing – the ability to make me feel exhausted when it is over. If you are ever in need of motivation and drive then these North Eastern lads will deliver.
However, if you like your tunes to be vocally perfect and predictable, then the tones of lead singer Gary Miller will upset you greatly. Despite several listenings I am still left thinking that it is ‘Rigsby’ up there belting out the words. But that is the beauty of this CD – its individuality. Who can honestly say that they have ever heard other voices like Shane MacGowan or Davey Carton? Likewise, Gary Miller is now able to join that select band of frontmen who transform average into excellence.
The underlying theme throughout this CD is the misery and hardship that was, and is still suffered down the Geordie-land pits. The way the tracks are presented though, lifts you up and out of any threatening doom and gloom, into great enjoyment.
Following the recession of The Pogues back into mainstream normality, lapsed fans of their culture surely must be taken over by this offering, with tracks such as ‘The Hard Men’, ‘Wise Man’ and the incomparable ‘No Chance’. It could be time to start jumping around again!!
Such obvious talent and enjoyment deserves the success that it will almost certainly achieve.” Martin Holden, ‘Folk North West’, UK, Spring 1995.

“The Whisky Priests now have their entire catalogue under their own control and these re-issues are a confident celebration of 9 years of hard work and determination to keep Gary and Glenn Miller’s basic idea of an English Northeast band on the road. So far there have been over 30 different band members as line-ups have changed and changed again. Gary Miller has written 32 of the recorded tracks, plus 4 further collaborations with Glenn Miller and one with Mick Tyas, and Glenn has written a further two. Also included are well-known ‘Trad’ songs and tunes from the N.E., which have been part of their repertoire from the beginning. They have also written many more songs, which are as yet unrecorded – a prolific outpouring of energy and creativity, which also characterises their live performances. All 3 re-issues include a 16-page insert booklet with words for all the songs, the story of The Whisky Priests so far, in three instalments, and a selection of archive photographs.
The twin ‘likely lads’ from Durham with a schoolboy vision in 1985 are now independent businessmen without losing their integrity and self esteem. An inspiration to all of us who attempt to create our own contribution to the global ceilidh. Enjoy the fruits of their labour at a bargain price!”
(Joint review of ‘The First Few Drops’, ‘Nee Gud Luck’, ‘Timeless Street’, reissue 1994 versions), Jenny Coxon, ‘Folk Buzz’, UK, Spring 1995.

“Reading the sleeve-notes of these reissued early Priests albums, you find a tale of indie tenacity of the first order. To say that that tenacity and clarity of purpose fuels the music puts it mildly. Whether you like them or not, you have to admit that without the likes of this band, music would be a weaker-kneed constituency altogether.”
(Joint review of ‘The First Few Drops’, ‘Nee Gud Luck’, ‘Timeless Street’, reissue 1994 versions), Steve Morris, ‘Brumbeat’, UK, 1995.

“Passionate in your face from the start to the finish, these CD’s show the early development and unique Priest style taking form. All three feature bonus tracks, sleeve notes and lyrics, making each excellent value for money. Hard driven folk rock with rare verve, it’s honest, hard music and ideal for foot to the floor motorway driving.” (Joint review of ‘The First Few Drops’, ‘Nee Gud Luck’, ‘Timeless Street’, reissue 1994 versions), Mark Hughes, ‘First Hearing’, UK, 1995.

Reviews (Original 1991 Version):

“The Whisky Priests are massive party animals, out for a good time any way they can get it. Their beginnings lie in a confused mix of raw punk attitude, hard living industrial reality and folk memory. Documented here largely thanks to demand from a rabid live following who’ve taken rant ‘n’ reel to heart and must own every note produced. This is bloody exciting music regardless whether it moves you or not. At times melodically askew, you could OD on the atmosphere given off. You’re gonna dance ta thee daddy, there isn’t a choice, it’s an order. Priest philosophy is summed up pretty smartly in the sawn off treatment dispensed to ‘The Bonnie Pit Laddie’, its stop-start clattering reverbs around the speakers in a technique which lacks finesse but spits nails as well as much north east verbiage.
Their well known backyard agenda – fair play for Durham – raises a thoughtful eyebrow at management-inspired industrial sabotage of one form or another, following a thread from ‘The Row Between The Cages’ to the Whisky’s own ‘Shut Doon The Waggon Works’ – in a previously unavailable mix. The slices on ‘The First Few Drops’ are rough, ready, big, brawling music. They represent tracks from the folk process and the far side.”

Simon Jones, ‘Folk Roots’, UK, 1992.

“The hard men return! With consideration to all previous label hassles and frequent line-up changes, The Whisky Priests are still as potent as ever. After spending most of their career to date in the shadow of their contemporaries, they now have a solid label and distribution set up behind them.
Essentially a live band – in fact finding a harder working group would be no mean feat – they have often been criticised as being unable to transfer their stage sound onto record. Although I am sure that there are many, self included, would disagree vehemently. ‘The First Few Drops’ is primarily a collection of previous EP’s with an unreleased demo thrown in for good measure.
Anyone who has caught the Priests live will know of the instant image portrayed: cloth caps, pit boots, granddad shirts and braces, the lads could have leapt straight from the stage of a Durham working men’s club of the thirties. The songs deal with social and political issues as relevant today as they were to any other age.
With a penchant for thrash folk, Pogues comparisons are frequently levelled at them by some but, with a hard North Eastern dialect, their accordion-driven sound is, in all honesty, totally unique. The majority of songs are dedicated to everyday life in a pit community, but can readily be used as anthems for the plight of the working classes everywhere. Some of the highlights of the album are the live favourite ‘The Hard Men’, which would leave any sane, wise person scared of sharing a drink with The Whisky Priests. ‘Shut Doon The Waggon Works’, the unreleased demo, is perhaps their best song to date, and with the current state of the mining industry today, probably the most significant. ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’ sees a reminiscence of sitting on Great Grandfather’s knee and hearing yarns of yesteryear. Also included is a five-part instrumental of blinding speed. These medleys play a great part in the live show, as any Whisky Priests follower will testify.
With a new studio album due for release in March and their debut album, ‘Nee Gud Luck’, now at last once again available, the future is looking bright for The Whisky Priests.”

John Sanders, ‘Northern Star’, UK, 5th-12th March 1992.

“Back in Issue #30 we had reviews of all of The Whisky Priests’ recordings. Now two of those EP’s, ‘No Chance’ [WPT 1] and ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’ [WPT 2] have been issued on a CD called ‘The First Few Drops’ along with the obligatory ‘previously unreleased track’ (a demo version of ‘Shut Doon The Waggon Works’). This certainly makes life easier, no more turning over pieces of vinyl, no resetting the turntable to 45 RPM, better sound, etc. For those unfamiliar with The Whisky Priests, they are a straight ahead, no-holds-barred, roots rock band with folk overtones (i.e., accordion, mandolin, etc.) that has been favourably compared to the Pogues. They do like things short and sweet, the 12 tracks clock in at a little over 32 minutes. Thanks to the band for including lyric sheets as you’ll never comprehend singer Gary Miller’s accent. If you like your folk hard and fast, The Whisky Priests are for you.”

Al Reiss, ‘Dirty Linen’, U.S.A., Issue 40, June/July 1992.

Reviews ('Grandfatha's Fatha' 12" EP, 1988):

“They began as a five-piece band led by the Millers and Bulmer. ‘No Chance’, a five-track EP, is their second release and is quite raw, raucous and 100% folk-thrash fun. You can immediately sense the Whisky Priests are a kindred spirit to the Pogues and the unhangable ones. But here and on all the recordings, the Whisky Priests’ music is different. I think they have more traditional leanings than the other two groups; most of the Millers’ original compositions fit into the traditional style, many rooted in, and borrowing from, life in Durham County over the years. And although the following words from Graeme Anderson still ring true on ‘Nee Gud Luck’, they best describe ‘No Chance’ and the follow-up EP: “a brand of music which defies you not to dance… A good Priests song hits you full in the face with the force of a pit yacker’s shovel.” [‘Sunderland Echo’, UK, 22nd July 1989].
‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’ is improved by a crisper and clearer production, but the band has lost none of its rough-edged charm. Gary Miller’s title track of hard-driving, upbeat music is a tale about someone’s grandfather, who watched as his father died in the mines. The Priests zoom through an instrumental medley of traditional tunes (‘Hexhamshire Lass’, etc.) accompanied by that “pit yacker’s shovel”. Glenn’s composition ‘Ghost of Geordie Jones’ is a fine song about a World War 1 soldier, performed with an air of sadness and anger on acoustic instruments.”
(From joint review of ‘No Chance’, ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’, ‘Halcyon Days’, Nee Gud Luck’), Al Reiss, ‘Dirty Linen’, U.S.A., Issue 30,

October/November 1990.

“The Whisky Priests’ third release, and second 12”, sees them going from strength to strength.
‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’, a tale of death down the pit and the effect on a son, is given a real ‘Whisky Priesting’. It’s played at a pretty fast pace and based around a particularly good accordion tune, proving these guys are no songwriting slouches.
‘The Instrumental Medley’ is a wonderful piece of North-Eastern nostalgia. All the traditional tunes here, including ‘Dance To Yer Daddy’ and ‘Keel Row’, are given a new angle, without loss of feeling for the originals.
‘Geordie Black’ is a great sing-along adaptation and sees the lads adopt a moderate speed and it all works real well.
‘The Row Between The Cages’, a manic rocker in a Men They Couldn’t Hang / Pogues vein, rushes along with Gary relating the tale of a pit-head fight.
But for me the standout track on this record is Glenn’s (accordion / bouzouki) first composition on vinyl, the simply classic ‘The Ghost of Geordie Jones’, a particularly sad tale relating to all the Geordies killed in WW1. To me it has the same spine-tingling something special that ‘Green Fields of France’ had when I first heard it. Quite simply, The Whisky Priests have come of age with this 12”. The last track, ‘Byker Hill / Elsie Marley’, reaffirming this totally. The first part a lovely slice of tradition, the second part they handle famously.
As a taster for their debut LP (which is now rescheduled for release in early ’89) it couldn’t be better. I’m now waiting in anticipation, but in the meantime this is one hell of a record to add to your collection, so go ahead and buy it – make their day, these lads deserve it.”

‘Rock ‘N’ Reel’, #2, UK, Winter 1988/9.

“From the mining villages of County Durham comes an unholy folk-thrash – from a gritty five-piece band called The Whisky Priests. They mix traditional North-East songs with their own compositions, rooted in their homeland.
“We try to get a blend between the historical and modern aspects of the North-East”, said accordionist Glenn Miller from Sherburn. Bleak collieries dominate their songs and their record sleeves. “Nobody should forget their roots”, said Glenn. “Your roots are what you are.”
Their new EP, ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’, is due out in three weeks on their own Whippet label. The speed-folk of their previous ‘No Chance’ EP is still very much at the forefront, but the boys seem to be mellowing a little with a couple of less raucous numbers. ‘Geordie Black’ in particular has a gorgeous lilt, a sad but romantic waltz. The title track is about the drummer’s father seeing his father killed in a pit accident. Another new song, ‘The Row Between The Cages’, is a poem by the late County Durham pit-poet Tommy Armstrong set to music.
In many ways the Priests are the North-East’s answer to The Pogues. Both bands recapture the atmosphere of traditional folk songs in their new works, and both bands use traditional instruments. The Pogues had to move to London to find real success, and the Priests feel almost forgotten about by the people of the North-East. In Cardiff they recently played to a crowd of 2,500, and their records are selling well in the South, in Europe and Australia.
The remnants of Hull’s Housemartins, The Gargoyles, asked them to play at their farewell gig last week, and after last Friday’s performance at The Angel, Durham, a film-maker approached them to write some music for him.
So grab a bottle, pull on your clogs and dance with these bonnie pit lads.”

‘Northern Echo’, UK, 11th November 1988.

“With song titles like ‘Weshin’ Day’, ‘Dance te yer Daddy’ and ‘The Row Between The Cages’, it is immediate that County Durham’s Whisky Priests have done little to discard their cloth cap and clogs – and that has to be good news. I call it up-tempo drinking music – not a million chords away from various efforts by The Pogues. Above all though, The Whisky Priests are a tight, professional team and bloody good fun.”

‘Sunderland Echo’, 4th February 1989.

“The Whisky Priests have released their third vinyl tribute to the people of the North East coalfield. Whilst everyone else seems to be masking Durham’s identity behind flowers or mediaeval pageantry, The Whisky Priests speak out for their culture and its more immediate roots, from two hundred years of toil and struggle. They are a folk band that has very firmly wrenched fingers from ears and not a whale in sight. Without any watering down of message or delivery, these Whisky Priests have taken their music out beyond the folk clubs and Arts Centres to a large enthusiastic audience. Make no mistake about it; this is a wonderful band both live and on record.
‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’ is the finest of the Priests’ records to date and bodes well for the forthcoming LP. There is a welcome variance in tempo and humour. Old and new battles against advanced technology, there’s a spot of partying. The human tragedy of ‘Grandfatha’s Fatha’. But the harrowing ‘Ghost of Geordie Jones’ opens up a whole new side to The Whisky Priests. The band’s sound is stripped to the bare bones for a brilliantly sad epitaph to a victim of the terrible Great War. This is so tenderly treated and yet undoubtedly the most powerful The Whisky Priests have ever been.
The Whisky Priests sing about real people, not just silly bland lovey stuff. So you really should go and see them play and hear the records, you might well enjoy yourselves immensely.”

‘Ket’, #5, UK, 1989.

Reviews ('No Chance 12" EP, 1988):

“The natural fad heirs to the jangle bands are the anarcho-folkies – among whose number I guess we can include The Men They Couldn’t Hang.
To say The Whisky Priests resemble The Pogues would be like saying a brick with two corners chipped off resembles a brick with one corner chipped off. Eh?
Truth be told, these accordions-on-acid boys are closer to the madcap mayhem of We Free Kings and, despite the folky pointlessness of it all (and probably because of it), this five-tracker is compulsive dementia.”

Joint ‘single of the week’, ‘Sounds’, UK, 30th June 1988.

“5 tracks in all on this 12” EP, and you know, there’s not a bad track in sight, why aye!
The first three songs are played at a fast ‘n’ furious break-neck speed akin to The Pogues thrashers, but musically they’re as tight as Thatcher and her cronies when someone mentions the N.H.S.!!!
Gary Miller (guitarist, vocalist and bouzouki) who writes their lyrics has managed to produce some excellent images of life in the working-class North-East in the past and the present day, the main theme being the pits, their social history and humour, much in evidence on ‘The Coal-Digger’s Grave’.
Musically their sound is based around some great Accordion work, with Bouzouki, Mandolin and Harmonica thrown in for good measure, with the rhythm battered out by Sticks on drums.
The last track, ‘The Bonnie Pit Laddie’, is a traditional song arranged by The Whisky Priests, which they do handsomely.
One band to watch out for; can’t wait for their LP!!”

Sean McGhee, ‘Rock ‘N’ Reel’, #1, UK, Autumn 1988.

“The Whisky Priests sound as if the Devil himself is after them, as they clatter and rattle through ‘No Chance’ – we’re firmly in new wave folk territory here, 85 m.p.h. and a vocalist who sounds like a Geordie gargling glass. All the Priests apparently love traditional music and let it affect their writing. Five tracks long, this EP proves that quite conclusively, with mandolin alongside standard punk back line. Songs about miners dying, getting beaten up by local hooligans and a roustabout version of ‘Bonnie Pit Laddie’ litter the vinyl. If there’s one fault, it’s that the whirlwind pace of everything does tend to tire you and The Whiskies could do to include a slow number or two on their forthcoming album, which, if it’s half as canny as this, will be worth a shifty.”

Simon Jones, ‘Folk Roots’, UK, 1988.

“The Durham lads take a backhander from The Pogues, and embark upon a crusade to popularise their native north eastern folk tradition, with accordion, mandolin and harmonica, and gritty booming vocals. With the hobnail boots, cloth caps, braces and mufflers, and bottles of Newcy Brown, they look the part too. Aye – but listen to the lyrics, if you can keep your feet still long enough, that is. The Whisky Priests put the boot in where needed, their feet are jigging in the 1980’s, not the thirties. They blast the lager-casual coward gangs that the Sun has just discovered terrorising every town and city in the land, and lament the crushing despair of unemployment, exploitation, and warmongering. But there’s a hell of a lot of humour here too – a drunken burial party begins to bury the coal-digger who jumps up to shout “Give us whisky!”. Well canny.”

‘Ket’, #1, UK, 1988.

“Those preachers of hard drink, hobnail boots, cloth caps and woollen mufflers are gracing vinyl again with their sermons.
The Whisky Priests have released a five-tracker on their own Whippet Records, distributed through the Cartel.
Again, the backdrop for their musical tapestries is the closed and crumbling factories, the lingering smell of a Woodbine, and pictures of the iron men who worked the pits and shipyards of yesteryear.
In true Priests fashion, it’s only a straitjacket or a good keelhauling that will prevent the listener from reaching for a bottle of Newcy Brown and dancing on a window ledge to this infectious sound.
The single, due in the shops in a fortnight, opens with ‘No Chance’, a sad lament of a young man growing old in the desperate search for work, killing time with visits, when he can afford it, to the cinema and watching the war-effort film and singing the final notes of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
Next comes ‘The Coal-Digger’s Grave’, an hilarious account of a coal-digger caught in a cave-in. The burial party reaches Dead Man’s Hill (well after closing time) and begins the burial only for the deceased to jump up and shout, “Give us a whisky!”
The remaining songs, including a traditional arrangement of ‘The Bonnie Pit Laddie’, are in the same vein.
So next time there’s a man on a window-ledge, stay calm: it won’t be a stockbroker ending it all – it’ll be one of the Priests’ fans enjoying himself.”

‘Sunderland Echo’, UK, 2nd July 1988.

“With a whiff of Newcastle Brown, flat caps, ‘dance to thee Daddy’ and Players’ cigs, The Whisky Priests do a marvellous gravel-voiced stomp on Geordie folk songs. With all the delicacy of a sledgehammer, they rattle and roll through Tyneside life with muscley reality.”

‘City Life’, UK, 1988.

“The first song on the album is ‘No Chance’, a rather sad little tale about an unemployed youth, who spends his time hanging around the quayside waiting for his boat to come in and watching films at the local cinema.
‘The Coal-Digger’s Grave’ continues the North-East mining tradition, with a tale of a man caught in a cave-in.
The other side of the album is more traditional and raucous. ‘The Hard Men’ echoes the folky overtones of the record and it’s quite easy to imagine arms flailing and dancers rucking when they play this live.
‘Wise Man’ will get the feet of even the most miserable person dancing.”

‘Side Track’, UK, July 1988.


released January 1, 1991

The Whisky Priests line-up on these recordings:

Gary Miller – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bouzouki, Mandolin
Glenn Miller – Accordion, Backing Vocals, Bouzouki
Michael Stephenson – Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Bill Bulmer – Mandolin, Harmonicas, Bouzouki, Washboard, Backing Vocals
Sticks – Drums (tracks 2-16)

Ian Daly - Electric Guitar (track 1)
Andrew Johnson - Drums (track 1)

Helen Charlton - Banjo (tracks 2-4)
Catherine Topliss - Fiddle (tracks 2-4)

Original album ℗ & © 1991 Whippet Records
This Compilation ℗ & © 2016 Whippet Records



all rights reserved


The Whisky Priests Durham, UK

The Whisky Priests (1985-2002) was founded by twin brothers, Gary & Glenn Miller (“the Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of Folk Music”). The band was internationally renowned for its energetic live shows, released a number of critically acclaimed albums, toured extensively and developed a worldwide cult following. ... more

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Track Name: Danny's Hard Life ['Twelve Go Mad In Durham' 1985]

Oh Danny drank his pints at the old Bridge pub
He loved his beer and whisky
He worked all day then spent his pay
And he wandered the streets in misery

"So take me down to my old town
Where the beer is brown and fine
Then lay me down on the cold hard ground
And leave me there to die"

"What a bloody hard life I've had"
Poor Danny's life was sad
What a bloody hard life he had

The people drank and Danny paid
He gave his money generously
Danny drank and Danny sang
He made the people heppy

"So take me down to my old town
Where the beer is brown and fine
Then lay me down on the cold hard ground
And leave me there to die"

"What a bloody hard life I've had"
Poor Danny's life was sad
What a bloody hard life he had

The nights grew cold as Danny grew old
And the old tree was laid bare
For Danny knew as the cold wind blew
The people didn't care

"So take me down to my old town
Where the beer is brown and fine
Then lay me down on the cold hard ground
And leave me there to die"

"What a bloody hard life I've had"
Poor Danny's life was sad
What a bloody hard life he had

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: The Colliery [Original 7" Single Version 1987]

The pit where I worked was built in Eighteen-Ten
And it's claimed the lives of many good men
Like rats in a hole we crawled underground
Digging for coal at the colliery

I had long shifts to put in every day
And I worked like a slave for a poor man's pay
We hated our boss because he worked us hard
For a pittance to keep our families

And the curse of God was on our lives
Though we prayed to Him for better times
We learned to cry and we learned to die
Down at the colliery

I had a wife and six bairns to feed
We paid the price of a rich man's greed
I sweated and toiled in that unholy black hell
Feeding the fires of Britain's industry

And we found no joy in our toil
As our lungs filled with dust and soot and soil
We laughed and cried we prayed and died
Down at the colliery

Both servants and masters shared the land
They abused our humanity but they used our hands
And they would steal our brains to destroy our souls
But we were put on God's earth to go below it for coal

This land was built by men of steel
But the fires are now dying in its industries
The machines have rusted and the pit stands dead
The men lie idle no more prayers are said

And the curse of God was on our lives
Though we prayed to Him for better times
We learned to cry and we learned to die
Down at the colliery

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Keep Your Feet Still Geordie Hinny ['The Colliery' 7" B-Side 1987]

Wor Geordie and Bob Johnson
Both lay in one bed
In a little lodging house down by the shore
Before he’d been half an hour asleep
A kick from Geordie’s foot
Made him waken up to roar instead of snore

So keep your feet still Geordie Hinny
Let’s be happy through the night
For I may not be so happy through the day
So give me that bit comfort
Keep your feet still Geordie lad
And don’t drive my bonnie dreams away

I dreamt there was a dancing held
And Mary Clark was there
And I thought we tripped it lightly on the floor
And I pressed her heaving breast to mine
Whilst waltzing round the room
That’s more than I’ve dared ever do before

Do you know the lad she gans with
They call him Jimmy Green
And I thought he’d try to spoil our bit of fun
But I dreamt I nailed him heavy
And I blacked the young fool’s eyes
If I’d slept it’s hard to tell what I’d have done

I dreamt Jim Green had left the town
And left his love to me
And I thought the house was furnished with the best
And I dreamt that I’d just left the church
With Mary by my side
When your clumsy feet completely spoiled the rest

(Trad. arr. The Whisky Priests)
Track Name: The Clog Dancer [Original 'The Colliery' 7" B-Side 1987 Version]

Now then marras what fettle
I hope I find you well
If you gather all around me now
My story I will tell
When I was young I used to be
A miner like yourselves
But now because my hair’s turned grey
They’ve put me on the shelf

For fifty years I’ve worked in the pit
And many’s the change I’ve seen
When I was young when a man was done
They’d set him on the screen
But now today when your hair turns grey
Like a squaddie with an old peg leg
They’ll tell you you’re no use anymore
Get out in the road and beg

My age it is just sixty-four
For work I’ve got no chance
They’ve barred me from the championships
My clogs for the belt to dance
They said that I was getting on
For work I was no use
They’ve paid me off and thrown me out
Get into the old workhouse

So listen all my young lads
Take heed of what I say
Get out of the pit if you’re young enough
To make good your own way
Because if you don’t and you stay below
You’ll wake to find one day
You’re all washed up and you get the push
Because your hair’s turned grey

(Trad. arr. The Whisky Priests)
Track Name: No Chance ['No Chance' 12" EP 1988]

Tim Malone took the long road home
As the night was closing in
And the cruel wind struck and wailed in angry moans
With his scarf wrapped tight around his neck
And his cap pulled over his eyes
He fought to keep the cold out of his bones

As he passed by closed down factories
Waste ground and crumbling walls
He recalled the evening's events oh what a story
The cinema's woodbine smells
The patriotic war film as well
And the end to the tune of 'Land of Hope and Glory'

"Cheer up there bonnie lad"
Says the man who knows no cares
"It's no use crying needlessly"
(I'm all right Jack)
"Get up off your backside"
Says the man who knows it all
It’s no use waiting until your boat comes in
(I see no ships round here)
"Because you'll find out son it's never coming in"

At the shipyard on the quayside
He watched the men come out
And the boss said "Are you looking for a job"
He sang "Weel may the keel row"
To the tune of fifty quid
But the boss said "Try some busking with your gob"
(Weel may the keel row that my laddie's in)

He'd sit and curse at four grey walls
And watch his life go slowly by
Waiting for next pay Friday to come
Then he'd sit and sup his beer
Watch people come then disappear
And wonder if their lives were fashioned out of stone

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: The Coal-Digger's Grave [Original 'No Chance' 12" EP 1988 Version]

There had just been a big cave-in in the depths of Belly Row
And Jim Greenwood was stretched out on the ground
And those with no guts were smiling at the back
While the strong men had failed to bring him round

The burial party had just reached the top of Dead Man's Hill
It was well past closing time and all the men had drunk their fill
They were starting to shovel the soil over his head
When he jumped up and yelled, "Give us whisky!"

The top men are calling for enquiries round the town
They've got a lot of face to save
And they've sent out appeals for the men to rally round
"Will someone put a body in the coal-digger's grave?"

Jim Greenwood had survived many pitfalls in his time
And the thinkers couldn't think what else to do
"We cannot starve your family and we cannot steal your home
But somehow we're going to get you"

And they sent him off to fight in the war
And the bullets knocked him to the ground
And they said, "That's the end of you my son"
But the bugger he came back round

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: The Hard Men ['No Chance' 12" EP 1988]

In the wild bad lands of England where the law is our own
We'll cause such a bloody riot you'll be trembling in your homes
We'll lie in wait to ambush you in an alley that's our lair
Whichever town you go to you will always find us there

We've never tasted whisky just lager and red wine
But by Christ we can't half knock 'em back when it comes to judgement time
We'll take you on at drinking and if you lose we'll skin your hide
Then you'll say we're the hardest gang in town and we'll go home drunk with pride

We'll leave our calling card if you're passing by our way
If you're looking for a fight we can lick you any day
We'll take you for a drink just make sure you can pay
We're the hard men

We know you've worked hard all your life but we couldn't give a damn
Because we're all just lazy bastards as I'm sure you'll understand
And don't you be misled by our deceptive words of grace
Because there's nothing we'd like more than to smash a bottle in your face

We'll leave our calling card if you're passing by our way
If you're looking for a fight we can lick you any day
We'll take you for a drink just make sure you can pay
We're the hard men

There's always at least ten of us just for company you see
The sticks and stones we carry are just our imagery
The long knives in our pockets are just for carving meat
But human flesh is favoured if it's helpless in the street

We're meaner than Clint Eastwood and we're tougher than John Wayne
We hate you if you're better than us we're all the fucking same
We're like an evil disease spreading through the land
We have the Devil in us and his will is our command

We'll leave our calling card if you're passing by our way
If you're looking for a fight we can lick you any day
We'll take you for a drink just make sure you can pay
We're the hard men

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Wise Man ['No Chance' 12" EP 1988]

On an empty seashore says the old book of lore
Lives a man as old as the world
He’d traveled around and been up and down
Places of which you’ll never have heard
As wise as an owl he prophesied doom
And things not yet come to pass
In the ways of the world he was very well versed
For he’d seen all these things in his glass

He sailed on a ship on a round the world trip
Skippered by an old Geordie sea dog
The ship capsized and the crew lost their lives
But he made it to shore on a log
He discovered a land that was covered in sand
And the water was dry in the well
And when the folks didn’t blink who refused him a drink
He knew he had landed in Hell

He saw cannons and guns and big heavy bombs
That could blow a whole city in two
He saw idiots debating the world they were wasting
Like monkeys down at the zoo
He saw lions and donkeys obeying the monkeys
The donkeys leading the lions to their death
And the sheep in the field were following the lead
Of one that didn’t know its right from its left

He learnt what it was like to be thin as a spike
When there wasn’t enough food to go round
He saw mothers crying while children were dying
And others lay dead on the ground
It was worse than that hell where the rain never fell
And people prayed for deliverance to come
But their prayers went unheard by that chap with the beard
Who despaired at what his children had done

He saw lights in the sky that slowly passed by
And he knew from whence they had come
He saw night in the sky for the rest of all time
After the death of the sun
He shook hands with the Lord who took him on board
Like he’d done with Ezekiel before
Then he knew in a flash why men fought for cash#
And why they were obsessed with war

He saw towers of fire with smoke rising higher
Which gave off a very bad smell
He saw green become grey and grass become hay
As Eden was turned into Hell
He had a fear in his head that filled him with dread
That tomorrow the sky would fall down
But he knew in his heart that whatever he thought
Tomorrow would never come round

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: The Bonnie Pit Laddie ['No Chance' 12" EP 1988]

The bonnie pit laddie
The canny pit laddie
The bonnie pit laddie for me oh
He sits on his cracket
As black as his jacket
And brings the black siller to me oh

He works hard
And he brings me all his money oh
He takes me in his arms
And calls me his hinny oh

The bonnie pit laddie
The canny pit laddie
The bonnie pit laddie for me oh
He sits on his hunkers
And hacks at the bunkers
And brings the black siller to me oh

He comes home
And he tells me all his troubles oh
He's had a row with the gaffer
About his lazy marrers oh

The bonnie pit laddie
The canny pit laddie
The bonnie pit laddie for me oh
He sits in his hole
As black as the coal
And brings the black siller to me oh

(Trad. arr. The Whisky Priests)
Track Name: Grandfatha's Fatha [Original 'Grandfatha's Fatha' 12" EP 1988 Version]

When I was a young lad and had never known a job
I would visit my grandfather once a week
And I’d listen to his tales whilst sitting on his knee
But of his days at work he’d never speak

I found out that his father had died long ago
When granda was a young lad like mysel’
It was down the pit he died whilst working on the gang
There was a big explosion so they tell

They were cut off from the world
When the big cage doors were closed
They sang and talked to keep their spirits high
Then his father told the tale
Of when he’d met Old Nick Himself
And then he joked he’d see them all in Hell

They’d both left home together
They were both on the same long shift
And with the other men they piled into the cage
But the clanging of machinery as they descended down
Was warning them “you’re going to your graves”

When the cage reached the bottom
All the men clambered out
And like tiny ants they laboured in the gloom
Then an almighty bang rent the air
As the men began to shout
And the roof caved in to seal them in their tomb

No one knew what had happened
Until the dust began to settle
It looked like there’d been a battle
With the Devil down in Hell
My grandfather had been knocked unconscious
By a beam that had grazed his skull
While his father just lay lifeless where he fell

They’d brought him to the surface
By the time that he’d come round
Someone said “Son forget what happened
To you down there in the dark”
But his mind could never escape the horror
Of seeing his poor father die
In that dark hole that was called his place of work

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Geordie Black [Original 'Grandfatha's Fatha' 12" EP 1988 Version]

Oh my name is Geordie Black and I'm getting very old
And I've hewed tons of coal in my time
When I was a lad I could either put or hew
Out of the other ones I would always take the shine
Now I'm going down the bank and I cannot use my pick
And the master has no pity on old bones
Are you new or on the bank in amongst the bits of lads
Up upon the heath a-picking stones

Oh my name is Geordie Black in my time I've been a crack
And I've worked both the Gus and the Betty
And for coals upon the Tyne out of the others I would take the shine
And lick them all for iron down at Hawks's

Now when I was just a lad carried on my father's back
He would take me away to the pit
And getting in the cage and then going down below
Was enough to make a youngster take a fit
To sit and keep the door in the darkness and the gloom
And many a weary hour by myself
And to hear the awful shots as they rumbled around the pit
And the lumps of roondy coal come down pell mell

Oh my name is Geordie Black in my time I've been a crack
And I've worked both the Gus and the Betty
And for coals upon the Tyne out of the others I would take the shine
And lick them all for iron down at Hawks's

Now I'll bid you all goodnight for it's nearly time to lowse
And I hope I've tried to please you everyone
Mind you pray tonight and do all the things that's right
For in this world that's the way to get along
Now here's success to trade for on the Wear and Tyne
I don't like to see the faces slack
For if the pits lie idle then no wages come today
It grieves the heart of poor Geordie Black

Oh my name is Geordie Black in my time I've been a crack
And I've worked both the Gus and the Betty
And for coals upon the Tyne out of the others I would take the shine
And lick them all for iron down at Hawks's

(lyrics: Trad. arr. The Whisky Priests / music: Johnny Handle)
Track Name: The Row Between The Cages ['Grandfatha's Fatha' 12" EP 1988]

One morning when I went to work the sight was most exciting
I heard a noise and looked around and who do you think was fighting
I stood amazed and at them gazed to see them in such rages
I never saw a row like that between the Brockwell cages

The patent to the old cage says although I be a stranger
I can work my work as well as you and free the men from danger
But if the rope should break with me old skinny jaws just watch us
You'll see me clag on to the skeets for I'm full of springs and catches

The old cage to the patent says I warrant you think you're clever
Because they've polished you with paint but you'll not last forever
For when your paint is worn away then you'll have lost your beauty
Now they never painted me at all but still I've done my duty

When going up and down the shaft the patent cage did threaten
For to take the old one's life if they stopped it meeting
The old cage bawled out as it passed you nasty dirty patent
Rub your eyes against the skeets I think you're hardly wakened

The old cage says come over the gates because it's my intention
To let you see whether you or me is the best invention
The new one being raised took off his claes and at it they went dabbing
The blood was running down the skeets and past the weighman's cabin

The brakesman brought them both to bank the mischief for to settle
They fought from five o'clock 'til six and the patent won the battle
It took the brakesman half his shift to clag them up with plasters
The old cage sent his notice in just to vex the masters

(lyrics: Tommy Armstrong / music: Trad. arr. The Whisky Priests)
Track Name: The Ghost of Geordie Jones ['Grandfatha's Fatha' 12" EP 1988]

Where are you going young Geordie Jones
I’m going to Flanders o’er the sea-o
Where the birds do sing
And the valleys ring
I’m going to Flanders-o

Why are you going young Geordie Jones
I’m going to kill some Germans-o
For they’re at war with our king
And it’s time I did my thing
And kill some Germans-o

How was Flanders young Geordie Jones
It was a hell-land of fire and trenches-o
Where the shells do sing
And machines guns ring
In a hell-land of trenches-o

Where did you fall young Geordie Jones
I fell in a field of wire and mud-o
Where the dead do increase
And the shells never cease
In a field of mud-o

What did it feel like young Geordie Jones
It felt like a fire in my stomach-o
But it didn’t last long
For I soon passed on
With a fire in my stomach-o

Where were you buried young Geordie Jones
I was buried in a grave on a hill-o
And many more men
Were buried with me then
In a grave on a hill-o

Who will cry for you young Geordie Jones
A father and a mother and a widow-o
They’ll cry for me and the bairn I’ll never see
My parents and my widow-o

(Glenn Miller)
Track Name: Byker Hill / Elsie Marley ['Grandfatha's Fatha' 12" EP 1988]


If I had another penny
I would have another gill
I would have the fiddler play
The bonnie lads of Byker Hill

Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads forevermore
Byker Hill and Walker Shore
Collier lads forevermore

When I came to Walker work
I had no coat and no pit sack
Now I’m getting two or three
Walker pits done well for me



(Trad. arr. The Whisky Priests)
Track Name: Shut Doon The Waggon Works ['Volnitza: 1 in 12 Club' Version 1989]

The lights are going out on the edge of Ghost Town
As a coldness penetrates through curtained windows
For the colliery streets shed no warmth light or heat
There is no joy or friendship here in winter

As me and my marrers go to get ourselves a pint
All we get are looks which make us shiver
For the people have changed though the place still looks the same
But the waggons don't run here anymore

Times are hard in this world
When you get put out of work
The people up in power
Have shut down the waggon works

There are jobs up for grabs in other parts I hear
While our village has been scrapped through lack of care
They've decided to scrap jobs in the places they matter most
Though the towers still belch their smoke into the air

(Gary Miller)