Many of todays under thirty-somethings will not have heard of The Christians, a multi-platinum album-selling band who were huge in the 1980’s and 90’s. Their debut album, the eponymously-titled ‘The Christians’ issued in 1987, sold 1.3million copies and was Island Record’s most successful debut album at that time. All the songs on that album were written (or co-written) by one Henry Priestman, a young man who was born in Hull and whose Grandparents lived in Beverley. Five of the songs were released as singles and all became Top 10 hits. The Christians were ‘Top of the Pops’ stalwarts, having appeared at least 8 times on the ‘must-watch’ programme. Yet Henry, who is now in his 60’s, is fast becoming ‘cool’ again. Just Beverley was lucky enough to spend an afternoon in Henry’s company ahead of his sell-out Christmas 2017 gig at The Processed Pea Folk Club at Etton.
Because Henry’s parents ended up living in Leconfield, he’s often seen around Beverley, in his trademark John Lennon-style fisherman’s hat. He’s also to be found regularly at three local schools, running song-writing workshops. His work with Longcroft School led to the Longcroft Gospel Choir being recorded for ‘True Believer’, a track on his ‘The Last Man Surge of Youth’ album and to appearing with him on stage at Beverley Folk Festival and Cornucopia. Working with young people and appearing at small festivals is a long way away from the heady days of pop superstardom - but it’s all part of having a different mind-set, says Henry, and thoroughly enjoying what he’s currently doing! Henry says: “30 years ago (when we, The Christians, were at the height of our fame) kids might’ve been over-awed by having someone like me coming into school, but because these kids have never heard of me, they are just totally natural, and all the better for it! I didn’t write my first song until I was 21, but some of these kids are writing great stuff from the age of 14. Longcroft is the only senior school I currently work with - it really is a joy! I know they have appeared in their own right at Beverley Folk Festival, too.”
Hailing from Hull was a driver for Henry’s 1987 hit song for The Christians ‘Forgotten Town’ being picked up by Hull City of Culture. It was reworked and recorded as “A Place They Called Forgotten Town”, a film to promote seasons two and three of City of Culture year, involving Humber Film, Culture:Music and about 20 different community groups. You can view it here at www.humberfilm.com/forgotten-town-film - see who you can spot!
Henry left The Christians in 2007, but his impact on them as a songwriter has not diminished as they have just released a new album ‘The Christians Sings and Strings - Reimagined Greatest Hits’ with 8 of the tracks penned by Henry. As he says: “If the odd royalty comes in it’s a bonus, as I can then carry on working with schools and doing house-concerts and small gigs like The Processed Pea. I keep song-writing and doing gigs, because I don’t know what else I could do! But my music can’t be pigeon-holed - I’m not rock, I’m not folk, I’m not pop - I’m a category all of my own. Radio 2 DJ Johnny Walker called it ‘music for grumpy old men’! I don’t feel part of the music industry anymore, which gives me the freedom to do my own thing, record my own music in my own studio and even book my own gigs. And now I have my own little fan base, including one here in East Yorkshire, which is great.”
Henry is often to be found performing with the band he dubbed “The Men of a Certain Age”, which is a term picked up by Henry’s current musical performing and writing partner, Les Glover, who wrote a song with the same title. Henry and Les have been working together for the last 4 years but they actually first met 38 years ago when Henry was in a pre-Christians band called Yachts. Les was a big fan of Yachts, who were appearing second-on-the-bill at Manchester Apollo Theatre. He arrived very early for the gig, so went into the pub next door and who were there, but Yachts. So, he went over for a chat and to get their autographs. It was another 35 years or-so before Henry and Les teamed up. Now they have a new album out - ‘Six of One and Half-a-dozen of the Other’- with a dozen songs which are all relatable to men (and women) of a certain age!
Henry’s first gig as a solo performer was at The Processed Pea, which is where he met Martin Peirson, who is now a member of The Men of a Certain Age - he plays mandolin and acoustic guitar and sings backing vocals. Other local musicians - Dez Allenby, Peter Robinson and Will Priestman, Henry’s brother, also get involved in this fluid line-up when Henry is in the locality. But Henry uses different musicians when he and Les are performing elsewhere in the country, which isn’t infrequent as Les is a Lancastrian and Henry now lives in Liverpool. Henry went to Art College in Liverpool in 1975 where he met the future Mrs Priestman, and there he stayed. Les, similarly has roots back in the west; they both say their strong, Lancastrian partners keep them grounded. Les, like Henry, writes lyric-driven songs, often with catchy, sing-along choruses, which deserve to be listened to, which is why they will only play gigs where the audience will sit, enjoy the evening and join in the fun. In fact, the banter between Henry and Les is very funny, so much so that some say their gigs are sometimes repartee interspersed with songs!
A three-hour gig is not unusual! But that is not in any way meant to diminish the artistry and musicality of the songs - which can be a rant (‘Not in my Name’); full of pathos (‘Ghosts of a Thousand Fishermen’); about changing times (‘Old’); possibly autobiographical (‘Tony’) or a love song (‘Grey is the New Blonde’). Some of their current album has been written together, others individually or with other writing partners - but all of them are likely to become friendly ear-worms in the same way as Christians’ songs have become for some of us. ‘Ideal World’ anyone? Yes, that is included in their set, too! ‘Six of One and Half-a-Dozen of the Other’ has already had some very positive reviews. Mark Kermode, who reviews the latest film releases with Simon Mayo on Radio 5-Live, was a massive Yachts fan; Henry invited him to play double bass on ‘Love you, Love you’ and he has given the album a glowing endorsement on the radio and Twitter. It’s also been played on BBC Radios Wales, Merseyside and Humberside and tracks will be making appearances on Max Roberts’ ‘The Folk Hour’ which streams on Beverley FM and several other local radio stations.
Henry said “We are very dependent on social media nowadays to get our music heard and bring in bookings. None of the music press will give us the time of day (we’re too old and un-cool!), so it’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube posts for us. So, if everyone could ‘like’ our Facebook pages - @henrypriestman and @ LeslieGlover7 - and follow us on Twitter @HenryPriestman and @leslieglover17 that would be good. If you would like to book me and Les for a gig or house party, I can be contacted by email at email@example.com. And do have a look at our YouTube posts to get a flavour of what we do, although they can’t really capture the atmosphere - for that, you need to be there!”
Here in the office, we can truly say we haven’t stopped smiling yet after Henry’s visit, especially as he brought Les with him! Do have a look at Henry’s website to find out when he is playing his next local gig and to order your copy of Henry’s solo albums and ‘Six of One and Half a Dozen of the other’. It’s www.henrypriestman.com Les Glover will be playing a solo gig at Processed Pea in May - but chances are Henry will be there and maybe, just maybe, those Men of a Certain Age will be, too. We’ve got our tickets ordered already! We’ve also got our fingers poised on the keyboard for when booking opens for Henry’s next (official) gig at Processed Pea for the 10th year on the trot next December! Well, we wouldn’t want to miss out!