Mad Martins

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FolkWorld, Germany, #65, 03/2018

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The Whisky Priests eventually broke up in 2002. Gary lay low for a while, but came back to Durham recently. He started anew with a recording and book project titled Mad Martins - The Story Of The Martin Brothers, featuring original songs, poetry and spoken word narration about the lives and times of the three notorious Martin Brothers, who were born in the late 18th century in the South Tyne area of Northumberland.

"Gary Miller is a great songsmith, with a remarkable sense for catchy tunes and sharp lyrics. As a song poet, there are few in the world today to match him."
(Green Man Review) 

"Miller has the glorious knack for penning irresistible choruses & coupled with a lyrical depth beyond the norm & a strong commercial ear, his worth as a composer ought to be worth its weight in gold."
(Geoff Wall, Folk on Tap) 

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Gary Miller from Durham in the North East of England first rose to prominence with the folk rock band The Whisky Priests, he founded with his twin brother and accordionist Glenn Miller in 1985.

The band made quite a reputation with their raucous live shows; see their "Bloody Well Live!" album recorded at the Markthalle Hamburg in 1993. They toured nonstop, however, failed to achieve mainstream success for a number of reasons, not least a perpetual changing line-up. It is said that over 50 musicians went through the band's ranks ...


The English are an eccentric people, it is said, and these three brothers were certainly off-beat ... The night before Isabella Martin died, she foretold that her family's name would sound from pole to pole. And, indeed, three of her thirteen children achieved a certain degree of notoriety during their lifetime.

Oh Death, come and claim me, I fear not your grasping hands;
For this wilting once-fair flower of Northumberland,
With her final breath, makes this one decree:
That the glory of my sons will be a lasting legacy.

My family's name will sound from pole to pole, mark my words.
My sons will shake the world up, be it a blessing or a curse.
But tonight, they're sleeping softly, farewell I must away.
Be at peace until the morning, now let the music play.

Here come the Martins, out to conquer all;
My three fine sons will triumph, with their backs against the wall.
Mad and proud and dangerous, out of sight and ou of mind;
Three cheers for three mad Martins, here's eyesight to the blind.


William Martin - The Lion of Wallsend (1772-1851)

William Martin was a self-styled Natural Philosophical Conqueror of All Nations. He grew up in Ayrshire where he often had the pleasure of seeing Robert Burns, but he thought he never saw him sober. He enlisted in the militia and became a noted swordsman.

In 1802 he began a scientific career. His inventions included a Life Preserver, a Mechanical Horse and a Flying Machine. Inspired by the Bible he declared: There are only two causes of all things; God the first, and Air the second; and I will give the British Government leave to burn my Body to Ashes, if they can find a third cause. He opposed Sir Isaac Newton and his followers, the devil's mad crew, and their Principal of Perpetual Motion, and let know that from Northumbria's coast the Christian Philosopher had appeared, steering bravely the helm of the ship of truth.

Thunder and lightning attended your birth,
God's message to you to inherit the earth:
To conquer with genius for all you were worth;
All in your dreams. 

The Martinian system, a new guiding light,
To put all ignorance and false prophets to flight:
If Newton was wrong, then you must be right;
Maybe in another life.


Jonathan Martin - The Incendiary of York Minster (1782-1838)


Jonathan Martin was press-ganged during the Napoleonic Wars. He spent time in the Royal and Merchant Navy, where he was present at the Battle of Copenhagen, and took part in the evacuation of the British Army from Corruna in the Spanish Peninsula.

In 1814 he became a Wesleyan preacher. Fits of rage against the clergy of the Church of England, including a plot to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford, led to his arrest, trial and committal to several lunatic asylums.

Eventually released, he let himself lock up in York Minster in 1829. He lit a bonfire from hymn books, kneeling cushions and textile hangings, and the whole of the eastern aisle was destroyed, including organ, original woodwork and the medieval roof.

"My soul's full of glory, which inspires my tongue,
Could I meet with Angels I'd sing them a song;
I'd sing of my Jesus and tell of his charms,
And beg them to bear me to his loving arms."

With his fiery red whiskers
And eyes burning with rage,
Jonathan Martin broke out of his cage
To set York Minster ablaze.

When half-past two o'clock struck,
He lighted up his fires
And this crazy Incendiary of Unsound Mind
Ignited his wildest desires.

And it's blood, fire and smoke,
Long may you Beef-eaters choke.
You serpents and vipers of Hell,
In flames your Minster I burn.


Jonathan became a Bonnie Bedlam Boy. He was send to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum in St. George's Fields, Lambeth, London, which was the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, popularly known as Bedlam. There he died nine years later.


John Martin - The Most Popular Painter of His Day (1789-1854)

John Martin was the first Martin to attend school and showed an early talent for drawing. He became a successful Romantic painter, celebrated for his epic scenes of Biblical events crowded with tiny figures placed in imposing landscapes.

His most popular and successful painting had been "Belshazzar's Feast" (1821), with its Biblical episode of the divine writing on the wall which doomed the Babylonian king. (By the way, Belshazzar's Feast is also the name of English folk duo Paul Hutchinson and Paul Sartin.)

In my hands, the Israelites'
Vengeance falls on Belshazzar's heights.
And by the writing on the walls,
Darius climbs while Belshazzar falls.

God is in my hands,
His world is at my fingertips
In my dreams, he commands;
His all-consuming hand, It grips and grips and grips.

In 1817 John was appointed Historical Painter to the Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (who later became King of Belgium). He counted as friends Constable, Dickens (who had visited Jonathan several times in the asylum), Faraday, Peel, Shelley, and Turner. Writer and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton said: Martin, the greatest, the most lofty, the most permanent, the most original genius of his age.

How will history paint me, John Martin?
What did I accomplish, what did I achieve?
I did it my way, I broke the rules;
Time will judge my worth an deeds.

I was drawn to art from an early age,
When dark was fear and God was rage:
I drew with whatever came to hand,
On brick, on wood, on dirt, on sand.

New Romantic, Old Testament;
A combination Heaven sent:
Epic grandeur, Bioblical scale,
Nature's vastness, floods and flame.


This thorough compilation has been the brainchild of Tyneside poet Keith Armstrong. It includes fifty tracks on three CDs. The book has all the lyrics, poems and spoken word pieces, plus additional text and many images.

All songs were written by Gary Miller and set to traditional tunes such as "Felton Lonnen", "The Fair Flower Of Northumberland" and "Buy Broom Besoms". The pure instrumental recordings can be found on the companion piece Fair Flowers Among Them All (The 'Mad Martins' Instrumentals).

William Martin, Renaissance Man extreme;
Jonathan Martin, bold incendiary;
John Martin, lord of epic imagery;
Three Mad Martins, with their place in history.

These were the Martins, out to conquer all,
Endeavouring to triumph with their backs against the wall.
Mad and proud and dangerous, out of sight and out of mind; Three cheers for three mad Martins, and all their glorious kind.


P.S. Gary Miller had been commissioned to write a song collection for a travelling exhibition celebrating the music of the Durham Light Infantry. He took the opportunity to relaunch "The Durham Light Infantry," the second song he wrote for The Whisky Priests in 1985 and originally included on their debut album "Nee Gud Luck" in 1989, featuring a full brass band arrangement with the Ferryhill Town Band.

There are plans for a full-blown theatrical performance of Mad Martins. Besides, The Whisky Priests are re-uniting for a small number of shows throughout Europe in late 2018, coinciding with the release of a 12-disc CD Box Set. It includes their entire back catalogue with all studio albums (many with bonus tracks), two live albums, as well as early singles, EPs and demos.

More's in the pipeline, such as a series of EPs featuring songs from his recent songwriting commissions about North East of England historical figures such as railway pioneer George Stephenson and radical and advocate of the common ownership of land, Thomas Spence.

Tom Keller a.k.a. Walkin' T:-)M


For external link to original article: CLICK HERE