BIOG – last updated, June 2016
[for a more “in depth” and informal look at Henry’s busy & colourful past, see “timeline” tags at the bottom..and for a pretty extensive discography visit http://www.allmusic.com/artist/henry-priestman-mn0001757267/credits ]
After over 38 years in the music business – and with a credit list longer than both your arms – in 2009 Henry Priestman (having not sung since 1981!!) reinvented himself as a singer-songwriter, and released his debut solo CD “The Chronicles of Modern Life” (on legendary Island Records) to critical acclaim. Never one to rush things, 5 years later, in Feb 2014 Proper Records released the eagerly awaited follow-up entitled “The Last Mad Surge of Youth”, which garnered Henry the best reviews he’s had in his many years of releasing albums.
Both albums are the sound of a man who’s seen the music world explode from punk (his band Yachts supported the Sex Pistols in ’77, and The Who on European Tour in ‘79) via pop (three million albums with The Christians; a top five single for Mark Owen) through to the digital age (soundtracks for James Bond/Xbox, BBC’s Wildlife on One, Natural World), writing/production duties with the likes of singer/songwriters Amy Wadge, Lotte Mullan and 10cc’s Graham Gouldman (3 co-writes with Graham on his latest “Love and Work” album) and still has something worth singing about.
So in this age of genre’s, niches and “tribes”, where does Henry fit in? Amazon.com seem to think he’s folk (“Chronicles…” topped the Amazon “Folk and World” charts on it’s release), Radio 2’s Johnnie Walker described Henry’s new direction as “music for grumpy old men”, The Daily Mail said he is “a master of the rueful observation”, the late Robert Sandall in The Sunday Times called it “rough hewn charm“, and elsewhere the phrase “post-punk-folk-protest” has been bandied about.
Henry Priestman’s “got form,” his “previous” including Yachts (described in Gene Sculatti’s U.S. book The Catalog of Cool as “Cole Porter Punk”!), It’s Immaterial, The Christians (writing all songs on their 1987 triple-platinum debut), sharing a mic and a number one single with Paul McCartney, and composing the title song for London West End musical “Dreamboats and Petticoats”. To say nothing of a roll call of sessions for fellow North West luminaries including Lightning Seeds, Johnny Marr, Ian McCulloch, Pete Wylie, Ian McNabb and Echo & The Bunnymen, plus vocals on Jools Holland/Tom Jones’ 2004 CD.
The single to be taken from “Chronicles..” was “Grey’s The New Blond” which was playlisted at Radio 2 & featured on BBC Breakfast TV and further singles “Don’t You Love Me no More” and “He Ain’t Good Enough for You” also picked up extensive Radio 2 and independent radio airplay.
Two songs off “Surge….” have been already been covered by other artists: Aled Jones has recorded a version of “At The End of the Day” (Surge’s opening track, dedicated to Henry’s late mother) on his new album “The Heart of It All”, and Valentine Song has been used in a Ridley Scott produced short film “Kismet Diner”, which won best film in the 2014 Manhattan Short Film Festival.
Despite all the above typical trumpet-blowing biog bluster & twaddle, it’s actually since going solo that Henry feels he’s really found his feet, albeit in a cottage industry-type setting, existing virtually outside the music biz, happily releasing the odd bit of “merch”, and gigging almost constantly to a small but committed fanbase. He’s discovered a new found love of live work (mostly with his partner-in-crime “Loved- Up Les” Glover, mixing ramshackle chaos & tear-jerking poignancy in equal measures!), performs at housegigs regularly (he has over 30 housegigs booked for 2016 – watch True Believer video below, shot at a genuine housegig in early 2014), and is generally having the time of his life…as the Live DVD “Settle Down” (2015) admirably demonstrates!
Henry Priestman “40 years in pop!”
Trouble is, see….when you’re 25, your biog’s tiny…but when your 55+, it’s huge!
(but stick with it..it might be worth it…or jump straight to 2007, where it gets interesting)
Early Years... (up to 1980)
1955 Born…Hull, East Yorkshire
1975 Moved to Liverpool…enrolled at Liverpool Art College…to quote from “..Punk Wars”: ”cut off hair, took in flares, joined the Art School band”
1976 – 81 Founder member of said art school band, Yachts. An early incarnation of the band supported Sex Pistols at Liverpool “Erics” club in 1976, days after the infamous “Bill Grundy” TV debacle. Clive Langer from cult Liverpool band Deaf School offers support gigs & suggests they should write their own songs: “how do you do that?”, asks Henry….Having crossed that hurdle, Yachts released cult single “Suffice To Say” on Stiff Records on 30 Sept 1977. With Henry as principal song-writer (and occasional lead vocalist) band released further (numerous!) singles and two LPs on Andrew Lauder’s new Radar Records, all sank without trace in UK, though three US tours ensured US Top 100 placing for their first LP (“SOS Yachts” 1979 on Polydor/Radar records). Tours with The Who (Europe), XTC, Boomtown Rats and dates with Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Squeeze, Joe Jackson etc.
Yachts disbanded in 1981…Henry gave up singing!
Joined the future Mrs Suggs’ band “Bette Bright and the Illuminations”, for recordings and tours, with dream line-up including former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, renowned producer Clive Langer, ex Rich Kid/Visager Rusty Egan (and even occasionally joined onstage by the likes of Suggs, and Carlene Carter.)…this was fun!
1981 – 84 Founder member of band “It’s Immaterial”.
Having access to a small 8-track studio, became engineer on all the band’s demos as well as keyboard player on their various releases. This beginner’s studio-engineering knowledge enabled Henry to become in-house studio engineer for Benson Street Studios in Liverpool, owned by Pete Fulwell (of legendary Liverpool Punk/New Wave club “Erics” fame) and Pete Wylie (Wah).
1984 – 87
Having no outlet for composition within the “It’s Immaterial” set-up, Henry continued to work with the band as a session keyboard player (including first TOTP appearance on the band’s “Driving Away From Home” hit) but ceased to be a full-time member, allowing more time for other ventures:
Began a collaboration with then film student (and former school friend of Henry) Mark Herman , who would go on to write and direct 1997′s “Brassed Off“, and direct “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” amongst others. Henry scored the music for many of his films at the National Film and TV School at Beaconsfield (including student Oscar winning “See you at Wembley, Frankie Walsh” N.F.T.S. 1986). In return, Mark co-wrote lyrics for 3 songs on The Christians’ debut album (see below) and this collaboration would continue: Henry was commissioned to write the title song (sung by Roland Gift) with Mark for his 2004 film “Hope Springs” (Minnie Driver, Colin Firth, Heather Graham, 2004), and the pair may well working on future projects together…just don’t ask about the 2 Hull City songs they wrote and released in 1984, and then again in 2008!
Summer 1984 joined Pete Wylie’s group “The Mighty Wah” for and worked with him throughout 1985 as engineer/musician on all the demos for his “Sinful” LP.
In 1985 Henry was introduced by his future manager Pete Fulwell to Garry, Russell and Roger Christian.They would work on a new batch of Henry’s songs and by the end of 1985 “The Christians” began sending out demo tapes. The Christians signed to Island Records in the summer of 1986 and began recording their first LP, during which Roger Christian chose to leave the band. On 31 October 1987 the now 3-piece Christians released their eponymous debut LP (all songs written by Henry). The LP went on to spawn five UK Top Thirty singles and became Island records’ all-time biggest selling debut album (triple platinum) with UK sales alone exceeding 1,000,000 copies.
Further albums by The Christians were released : “Colour” in 1990 (entered the UK charts at No 1), “Happy In Hell” in 1992 (UK top 20 and gold status in France) and “The Best Of The Christians” in 1994 (Gold in UK and France).
The band spent most of 1994 touring in the UK, mainland Europe and Canada promoting the “Best Of” album.
Despite a hectic schedule as a member of The Christians, Henry managed to find time to work on other musical projects including keyboard sessions on releases by The Lightning Seeds, Echo & The Bunnymen, It’s Immaterial, Keziah Jones, and Ian McCulloch.
Other bits of “moonlighting” were as follows:
In 1991 Henry composed the end-title song and some incidental music for the film “Blame It On The Bellboy” (director Mark Herman, starring Dudley Moore and Alison Steadman, Hollywood Pictures 1991).
In 1992 produced and played on two Ian McCulloch singles (“Lover, Lover, Lover” and “Dug For Love”) from his “Mysterio” album.
Also in 1992, composed the soundtrack for a programme in BBC TV’s “The Natural World” series entitled “Echo of The Elephants” which was released on BBC video in 1993. All music for the programme was performed and produced by Henry in his bedroom.
In 1993 Henry spent a month in the studio as session keyboard player on an (unreleased) album collaboration between Ian McCulloch (ex “Echo and the Bunnymen”) and Johnny Marr (ex “The Smiths”)
In 1994 Henry co-wrote two songs for the “Rise & Shine” album by “Aswad” (their biggest selling album in a 20 year career).
1994 found Henry overseeing the building of a brand new home studio in North Wales, making him totally self-sufficient for recording soundtracks, song-writing and demos.
Much of early 1995 was taken up with more touring in Europe with The Christians, as well as writing what would have become the fifth Christians LP. But all this changed when lead singer Garry Christian decided to leave the band and embark on a solo venture. This ended up being a blessing in disguise for Henry, enabling him to diversify .
Since the Christians initial “demise”, Henry co-wrote songs with St. Etienne singer Sarah Cracknell for her debut solo album “Lipslide” (released June ’97, and to be re-released 2012).
Played keyboards on Mercury Awards nominee Ian McNabb’s album “Merseybeast“(released August 1996), and live work for The Mighty Wah, with Smiths drummer Mike Joyce…
Devised, presented and produced “Great Pop Moments”, a “Desert Island Discs“-type radio programme, commissioned by Liverpool independent Crash Radio FM, including interviews with Edwyn Collins, Johnny Marr and writer Jon Savage.
Attended the annual EMI Music song-writers’ week (Henry was, and still is signed to EMI), at Huntsham Court in Devon 6 times from 1996 omwards, where over the course of the six visits wrote with other song-writers and artists from the UK, Eire and the USA, including Lamont Dozier, Cathy Dennis, Suggs, Kirsty MacColl, Graham Gouldman (10cc), Eleanor McEvoy, Peter Cox, Esthero and Desmond Child.
“Dallied” in the Art world. Won a commission, along with his former Art college and “Yachts” partner John Campbell, by the Bluecoat Art Gallery in Liverpool to construct an art installation for the gallery’s “Vinyl Junkyard” exhibition, entitled “Baby ’96“. This installation won the Bluecoat Award, and gained favourable reviews from programmes as diverse as Radio 4‘s “Kaleidoscope” and C4′s “The Big Breakfast“! Later in ’96 the piece moved to a London Gallery, before the gallery was broken into, and the installation nicked….back to music, I suppose…
Due to the success of BBC TV’s 1993 “The Natural World” programme, the award-winning “Echo of the Elephants” (see above) Henry was asked to write and record the music score for the sequel entitled “Echo of the Elephants, The Next Generation“, which was broadcast in February 1996. This in turn lead to him being commisioned to compose more music for TV including BBC Wildlife on One’s “Pygmy Chimpanzees, the Last Great Ape” (1997) and “Crowned Lemurs – Blade Runners” (1998).
2000s - now
2000-2006 Three different approaches to staying [sane?] in the music biz.
2001. Co-wrote “Something So Wonderful” with Eleanor McEvoy for her album “Yola”
Gained first taste of the charts as a producer in 2003 on Mark Owen’s UK #4 hit “4 Minute Warning”…(unfortunately Mark was wooed then to a major label, who scrapped the rest of an already recorded album, re-did it with teams of hot-shot producer/writers….and it peaked at #48!).
2003. Co-Wrote the opening title song “Look For Hope” (sung by Roland Gift) with his old school friend Mark Herman for Mark’s film “Hope Springs”
2003. with writing partner Guy Batson, began writing and producing for singer-songwriter Marli Buck…recorded an album…she signed to Sony, who finally released an EP in 2006, then in 2007 decided to scrap the album!
2004. Co-Produced and recorded album (and co-wrote songs) for UK singer-songwriter Amy Wadge…2005, “No Sudden Moves” album actually gets released!
2004. Wrote, produced and recorded 2 tracks with Canadian artist Esthero in Toronto: one “Nearly Civilised” becomes theme for X-box “James Bond – Night Fire” game, the other “Amber and Tigers Eyes” is released on her “We R in Need of a Musical Revolution” CD
2005. Co-Wrote and produced Melanie C’s “Everything Must Change” for her “Next Best Superstar” CD.
2005/6. Co-Produced and recorded album (and co-wrote songs) for Liverpool singer-guitarist Jade Gallagher… the album “Maybe This” is released in March ‘08
1998-2006. Produced five albums for Skyray (Paul Simpson from Wild Swans): “Tranquiliser”, “Womb”, “Mind Lagoons”, “Liquid Crystal Display”, and the unreleased “Wickedest Man in The World”
Formed Old Rope Productions with engineer/producer Ronnie Stone, and film-maker Mitch Walker, and in last 5 years has provided music for TV and ads : The Manchester Commonwealth Games, Coop Bank(2002), Phillips Expanium CD Players (6 ads) (2002), The Yorkshire Tourist Board (5 ads) (2003 and 2004), Circulon Pans (2005), Carpetworld (2005), Barret Homes (2005), Delta Airways (2006), Diamond Insurance (2006), Ibuyeco.com (2007) and Engage Insurance (2007) Also provided music for X-Box game “James Bond 007 – Night Fire”
3/ Live/session work
Sang backing vocals (along with Garry and Russell Christian) on Tom Jones/Jools Holland’seponymous 2004 album. Played keys on Echo and the Bunnymen’s 2000 “Nothing Lasts Forever” European tour. Since getting back together in 2000, had performed several “un-plugged” tours with the Christians (UK, Spain, France) before finally bowing out from the band in Dubai, March 2006…during this period the band also recorded/released a fourth Christians album in 2004 entitled “Prodigal Sons” released on their own label. Also played keys with acts he’s produced….in Amy Wadge’s band throughout 2005/2006, to promote her album, and has accompanied Jade Gallagher on dates with Sugababes.(2006).
2007-the present day: the (unexpected) solo career!
Henry Goes To Nashville…2007, accompanied by Amy Wadge, in June, travels to Tennessee for live performances at The Bluebird Café and Lyric with Amy, plus a weeks writing with Nashville artist Tia McGraff & her husband producer Tommy Parham…nearly dies as log cabin in which they’re staying catches fire!
Returns home revitalised by the US trip, with a renewed love of song, and lyrics…In September 2007 meets song-writer Tom Gilbert….abiding by the “Nashville rules” of 3 hour writing sessions for each song, the duo come up with “Old” and “Did I Fight in the Punk Wars for This” and Henry is bullied by Tom into singing for the first time since 1981, whence they realise they have (much more by accident than by design) created something a bit special….More writing sessions follow…the songs just flow out…11 songs in 5 sessions, including “Greys the New Blonde”, “No To The Logo” and “r.e.d.u.n.d.a.n.t” (to be later re-titled “Don’t You Love Me No More)….
Produced, recorded and performed almost entirely by Henry in his home studio (with odd guest performances from friends who can really play, sent over the ‘net) the album is quickly recorded with a D.I.Y ethic (1977?!), songs being thrown down with more attention to feel & honesty than technical ability & perfection.
Is offered the chance of his first ever gig as a solo artist, supporting 10cc at London’s 02 Arena (Indigo) in May ’08 which he accepts without hesitation, another ambition fulfilled!
Aug 2008 Stiff Records sign Henry as a solo artist (30 years after he last graced the label with Yachts), and the final piece of the jigsaw is now in place: “It feels like coming home”.
Johnnie Walker takes over from Terry Wogan for a week on BBC Radio’s most listened to programme The Radio 2 Breakfast Show, plays the single “Grey’s The New Blonde” 3 days in a row, and suddenly Henry finds himself at the top of the Amazon Charts! Terry Wogan returns, plays the song and declares “don’t you just love that..fantastic!”…the song is playlisted on Radio 2.
The themes addressed on “Chronicles of Modern Life” (Johnnie Walker describes it as “Music for Grumpy Old Men”) seem to have touched a nerve, and in 2009 the album is picked up by Universal/Island Records (again, a former home of Henry’s from his Christians years), meaning that (apparently!) Henry is the oldest person ever to have his debut album released on a major label. 2 further singles “Don’t You Love Me No More” and “He Ain’t Good enough For You” are released, gains Radio 2 and independent airplay and Henry takes off on a 20 date UK tour.
Since then Henry has continued to write and record: songs for his forthcoming album “The Last Mad Surge of Youth” (to be released in 2013) and also for other people, gaining cuts for various artists: co-wrote “I Cried Today” with Mercury Men, for their 2008 Sony album “Postcards from Valonia”. Got 3 songs on his old friend Marli Harwood’s “Clock & Full Stops” album (including the Radio 2 “Record of the Week” for Marli’s re-worked version of “It’s Called a Heart”) – 2 songs on Lotte Mullan’s debut album “Plain Jane” – a song on each of Tia McGraff’s last 2 albums – a song on classical/crossover artist Sarah Kempe’s2011 EMI album “Let Me Fly” – and the title song for West End Show (and a single for Jason Donovan) “Dreamboats and Petticoats”, now in it’s 3rd year in the West End. He’s also been writing with Graham Gouldman (10cc) and 3 songs from these sessions made it on to Graham’s 2012 solo album, Love and Work.
Not forgetting engineering /keyboard duties on the recently re-formed Wild Swans’ “Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years”, string arrangements on Jackie Leven’s acclaimed “Gothic Roads” album, and keyboards on The Stairs belated release “Who Is This Is” .
Henry has also contributed songs to current compilation albums: together with David Wrench on the Townes Van Zandt tribute album “Riding the Range”, and a track on the benefit album “We’re All In It Together” released by The Morning Star & The Peoples Press, alongside people like Paul Heaton, Robyn Hitchcock, Show of Hands and Thea Gilmore.
But it’s live work that seems to be giving Henry most pleasure these days…he continues to gig all the time, sometimes with guitarist Pete Riley, sometimes with his “Men of a Certain Age” band from Hull (Martin Peirson, Pete Robinson and Gary Hammond), sometimes with pick-up bands/musicians he first meets at the gigs (he says it’s an extreme sport he enjoys!), and sometimes purely solo. There are gigs planned for spring/summer 2013 to tie in with the release of his next album, provisionally entitled “The Last Mad Surge of Youth“…busy boy!
Thanks to Gavin T Williams for writing this extensive (or boring, depending on your outlook) piece with me.