Interview / Spike – Quireboys and the Rebirth of the rock ‘n’ roll Vagabond

To say it’s been a chaotic year for Spike would be an understatement. After a well-publicised fall out with The Quireboys, leading to his dismissal from the band, the affable Geordie has licked his wounds, picked himself up and reunited with some old friends.

This isn’t just any set of old acquaintances, though, far from it, but four men who have remained friends with the singer since sharing worldwide stages with him in The Quireboys. Now, with original first line-up band members Guy Bailey, Nigel Mogg and Chris Johnstone alongside Rudy Richman, Spike has returned with this new iteration, shortening the name to Quireboys.

There’s a very tangible level of excitement coming from the veteran frontman at this new chapter of his storied career, his passion certainly not diminished by the fallout from the start of the year. What we see here is a man on a mission to bring back his own very personal brand of whisky-soaked good-time rock ‘n’ roll to the highways and byways, more fired up than ever.

With a forthcoming single and album and a very special show at London’s O2 Academy Islington on the 15th of December that will feature a mind-blowing collection of stellar guests, things are certainly starting to reach blistering temperatures and what better Christmas party could you hope for?

15dec7:00 pmQuireboys, LondonO2 Academy, Islington

MetalTalk’s Paul Monkhouse caught up with Spike following his trip to see The Black Crowes the night before at Brixton Academy, the love of music inhabiting every fibre of his DNA and his own excitement about life and getting out there to play his own shows a beacon to believers in the power of rock ‘n’ roll

Spike, Quireboys
“There are a lot of things that have been happening ,” Spike says

Spike says he is doing brilliantly since the split earlier this year. “We haven’t stopped. There are a lot of things that have been happening since – I think everybody knows what went down. I was at The Black Crowes last night. I had so many people come up to me and wish me well. The usual thing is that everybody says to me, ‘if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have my kid.’ I say I’m so sorry (laughs). Even when I was in Norway at the weekend, it was the same thing. ‘We wouldn’t have our kids wasn’t for you, or we met at The Quireboys show’.”

The 15th of December sees Spike playing London’s O2 Academy Islington, an evening which will see the return of the famous stage bar. Spike says the fans are looking forward to the show. “Last night, everybody told me they can’t wait to put on their pinstripe jackets and waistcoats and come to the show. The Black Crowes had a bar on stage. I wonder where they got that idea from?” he says with a laugh. “But they did it a bit differently to us. We will have the bar back on stage, but I will invite people up to have a drink because we used to have people at the side of the bar when we were playing. We made everybody a part of it. We’re going to make it a pure English rock and roll show, just how it should be.”

The Islington show promises to be a memorable evening to cap off an eventful year. But Spike is happy to be back with some old mates. “I moved to London from Gateshead when I was 16. I met Guy Bailey, Chris Johnstone and Nigel Mogg, and we started The Quireboys. These were the days when we were in the back of a yellow Bedford van, and we played every university, any show we could get. We worked our arses off to build up the whole brand of The Quireboys. Many people forget that when we eventually got a major record deal, we had been touring for a long, long time.

“When all this stuff happened, I mean, I was as shocked as anybody else. You know, I ruffled too many feathers after lockdown because The Quireboys brand is a big brand, and I wanted to restart everything and get it back to what it was…and I think I must have said too many wrong things to people.

“The outpouring of love and support that I’ve had since has been outstanding, you know. You gotta remember that me, Chris, Guy and Nigel have been best friends all the way through, all the way through everything. Even from last night, people are coming up to me when I’m doing my acoustic shows, and people can’t wait for this [December] show. They can’t wait for it, and it’s going to be pure English rock and roll.

“We have a new album coming out. It was so wonderful to write with Guy Bailey again, who has always been my best friend. We sat down, and it was like we hadn’t been apart. I thought this is going to be special because even when The Quireboys first started, nobody sounded like us. There wasn’t really an English rock and roll band. When me and Guy sat down again and, I’m not joking, I think it must have been two or three hours, and we wrote the basics of four or five songs. Three chords, three or four chords, you know. It was, come on, let’s just do this, but keep it how we originally wanted.

“The people that come to see me, that I met the other night, that I meet at my solo gigs, don’t want to hear English rock. They want to hear English rock and roll the way that we do it. It really astounded me and the response that I got, and I’m so happy. Everybody is so happy that we’re doing this again.”

Spike, Quireboys. Interview.
“I ended up moving down to London and working on a building site.” Photo: Steve Ritchie

It’s not been an easy journey for Spike, moving down in his teenage years to London. That was a potentially huge gamble for him, but the adventures he has had since then have been incredible.

“When I was 16, I was sitting in the Monkey Bar in Newcastle, which is a pub where everybody used to drink. My dad came in, and he said ‘come on, you’re going to London. I’m taking you to London to get you a job because you’re not staying in this town and ending up like everybody else’. I ended up moving down to London and working on a building site, actually St James army barracks and a few other jobs. The first person I met was Guy Bailey. I moved into a flat with him right opposite The Oval cricket ground.

“One day, my dad turned up. I think I had been there for about six or seven months. He had brought my guitar. You could watch the cricket from Guy Bailey’s flat by the way. Guy said to me, ‘I never knew you could play the guitar. I play the guitar’. I said, are you kidding me? Then we got talking. Who do you like? And he said ‘Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones’.

“As my dad was watching the cricket, we wrote, I Don’t Love You Anymore and Roses & Rings. We wrote about five or six songs that afternoon. My dad turned around and said, ‘you know what? You should start a band,’ and that’s how it all came about.

“From those years on, we packed in our jobs on the building site, got a yellow Bedford van and travelled through every university and every club from Birkenhead Stairways onwards. I mean places that aren’t even around anymore. It took us a long time to establish what we did. Fortunately, Bush Telfer, at the Marquee club, saw something in us. He gave us a residency there. Then I discovered when the Marquee Club closed at 11:00pm, there was nowhere for anybody to go. Fortunately, there was a club around the corner called Gossips that was open until 3 AM, and I ended up running and putting on shows. That paid for the rehearsals. But we certainly served our dues. We really did.

“I was speaking to Chris Johnstone about it the other day. He said, ‘the best times were those early days before we became successful, really successful’. What we laugh about is the days before, when we used to go in the service station and nick a heart monitor, smack it open on the side of the road and take ten pences out, just to keep us alive. That was my upbringing. The Quireboys is my upbringing. I started that band when I was 17, with Guy Bailey, Chris Johnstone and Nigel Mogg and Chris Johnstone. When everything happened, [this year] I got phone calls from so many people, just everybody.

“The first thing was, let’s get the original band back together because I own the name, we all own the name, and everybody knows that. I just think we should prove to people what a great band The Quireboys are. Rock and roll, English rock and roll. The new songs that I’ve done with Guy Bailey, I was astounded, man. I was like, Guy, how can we do this? After all these years? Very quickly it turns out.

“I’ve written with a lot of different people over the years and me and him always seem to write the best of them. I know people have said a lot of different things about everybody, but he’s on top form. I’ve had Nigel Mogg with me for the past few weeks. Everybody’s so excited about doing this. We have a new album. So the new album will be out next year, and I must tell you we will release a song for Christmas. So many things are going on.”

Spike and Tyla’s Hot Knives have also recorded a new album. “We only ever do something like every five years. I said to Tyla, I think we’re getting a bit old now. I think we’re gonna have to make it every two years!”

Spike also released his Late Night Songbook, with 14 solo acoustic performances and a bonus DVD that includes Spike’s first live-stream lockdown acoustic show.

“The reason that I started doing the acoustic shows was when I was in lockdown, I was going up to my mom’s every day and taking the milk and the bread, and you couldn’t hug. It was heartbreaking. Mom said to me, ‘what I miss most is when you used to come back from tour, you used to pick up the guitar and play me all my favourites. I really miss that.’ Luckily, at that time, I had the studio in the house. I played her favourite songs on a CD to give to her. I gave it to Guy Bailey. I gave it to Tyla and a few other friends. They said ‘you should release this’. I’m not going to release this, it’s for my mum…you know, I’m singing freaking Edelweiss! I adored Ralph McTell. A lot of people didn’t realise that I could play the guitar, which I found very weird considering that I had written with Guy Bailey on the first few albums. I was classically trained from the age of eleven.”

Spike was persuaded to release it. “What am I going to call it? Guy said to call it Spike’s Late Night Song Book. I had a limited edition of it, and it sold out straight away, and now everybody’s asking when another one is. So I’m in the studio next week to do another one for Christmas as well, all songs picked by my mom. They are great songs that people love and remember from the era that we were growing up.

“So there is this and the new album, and then we have the Christmas song coming out, which is going to be wonderful. I’m so excited about that. The first Quireboys release, and everybody’s playing on it. Hopefully, we’ll come back with the sound of Christmas. This is gonna be fun.”

Is this an actual Christmas theme song?

“You’re gonna be shocked when you hear it. People ask when it’s going to be released. I say Christmas,” Spike says with a roar of laughter.

“There’s a lot of different things going on. Unfortunately, I don’t know, man…I seemed to ruffle too many feathers with what was after lockdown. I was The Quireboys. I’ve worked with so many friends in the music business, and The Quireboys brand should be so much bigger than it is. They didn’t like my interpretation of what we should be doing, I think.

“I love rock and roll, and The Quireboys are essential in my head as rock and roll, not heavy rock. That’s what I wanted. When it all happened, it was so nice as everybody called me, everybody got in touch, and the first people were my three best friends who I started the band with. They all have other lives, doing what they were doing, but we all agreed on one thing. Let’s get back together, restart, and play proper English rock and roll again.

“I mean, I didn’t even realise it was 30 years since Bitter Sweet & Twisted, the second album. I was going, oh my God, we never played a lot of those songs apart from when it was first released. There are so many great songs on there. I want to have the band sound the way it should sound. If you like The Rolling Stones or Mott The Hoople, that’s how we should sound in my eyes.

“When we started the band, there was nobody around doing that, and there still isn’t, apart from cover bands. Me and Guy Bailey have enough talent to record these things. What we’ve written and what we’ve done, I was like, oh my God, this is really, really cool. Because within The Quireboys, we can do everything from reggae to country. There were no holds barred.”

Spike, Quireboys. Interview.
“I still have the pinstripe jacket.”

Spike talks about Guy Bailey’s interview in a guitar magazine, “the most classic interview you’ve ever read in your entire life. They asked what effects Guy uses: ‘white wine and volume’, was the reply. ‘Do you use midi?’ ‘Yes. And bassy and trebly’. The greatest thing he said was chords should not have numbers in them. So, there are no numbers in the chords in the songs I’ve done with Guy lately. It’s just about life and how we live our lives, and what we’re doing. I think that everybody can relate to that, just like what we’ve always done.”

Spike speaks with that real spark of passion about the guys getting back together again. There is a real buzz here, stripped back to the early days when he was younger and hungry and just really fired up about everything.

“I’m still wearing the same freaking clothes as when I was back then,” he says. “I still have the pinstripe jacket. That was not really the look of that time”, he says. “We played with a lot of bands of the day, Poison were very good friends of ours. But we always used to jam with everybody, and they loved our style of rock and roll.

“I’m so lucky that I’ve got so many really good friends within the business that want to get up and play with us on the 15th of December. Everyone says, ‘can I come down?’ These guys are rock legends, and I’m like, are you sure you want to come? We can do anything we want.”

There will be no support band as there’s so much to play and so many guest appearances planned. “We’re going to do a whole evening.”

Spike is not giving away any names of the guests who will appear. “I’d love to mention everybody, but I can’t at the minute. But the funniest thing is everybody wants to play Quireboys songs. They don’t want to play covers. I think it was a good thing when The Quireboys started that we never played covers. Guy Bailey’s idea at the time was let’s start off with the best song and then end with the best song because all of the other bands used to end with a cover, and then people would walk away with that cover in their heads. We would start off with Seven O’Clock and end with Seven O’Clock, and then put all the other songs in the middle.”

Spike and Guy have been talking together about those older setlists, and the memories they have been refreshing. “The real fans of The Quireboys will know our set. They’ll know what we used to play. I think that people deserve to hear those songs we used to play that weren’t on the first album, and they would not have if this hadn’t happened. In those days, you didn’t have video phones, so there was no way of recording it for everyone to see on social media.

“But it’s been so wonderful to be with my friends again, real friends. They are so happy that they are back doing this with me, and I’m so happy, and all our families are happy because there’s been so many nasty things said, and I haven’t responded to anything. You know what, not everybody gets on with what they want to do, but I think that everybody knows that we are Quireboys, the real Quireboys, and I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem in the future. Especially by what’s been happening lately with what we’ve been asked to do and what’s going on.”

Spike talks about the role of UFO frontman Phil Mogg in the early days. “Phil Mogg was a major part, huge, what he did for us,” he says. “I remember we headlined the Dominion theatre through Bush Telfer. How many bands would do that without a record deal? We were like, how much further can we take this? I remember we were in rehearsals. We had been doing this for about seven or eight years. Maybe it’s about time we should just call it a day. I’ll never forget this, Phil Mogg walked in with two carrier bags full of beer into rehearsal and said, ‘I’ve just got you a gig with Guns n’ Roses at Hammersmith Odeon.

“We played the night before with UFO at the Marquee club, and we became really good friends. That night when we played with Guns N’ Roses, he got all of the UFO’s Road crew and all of UFO’s equipment. I’ll never forget Duff and Axl said, ‘God, you guys are so professional.’ They didn’t realise we didn’t have a pot to piss in.

But now the view is to the future.

“This is a new lease of life,” Spike says. “Everything is gonna be great. I think at the end of the day, it’s up to the public, you know? Good luck to them [the Guy Griffin lead The Quireboys]. I love them guys. I love Guy Griffin, like a brother, you know what I mean? It was heartbreaking for me. I have no bad feelings towards them. I just want to move on and play real English rock and roll.”

Sleeve Notes

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