A Steel Mill Interview with vocalist Spike
Interview by Soile & Kimmo Tattari / May 2014
This is rock’n’roll – that is exactly what the Quireboys are! Steel Mill paid a visit to London Putney, where the band had two sold-out anniversary shows at the legendary Half Moon – the exact location of their first ever show 30 years ago. We had a drink with frontman Spike, and talked about the past and the present of the band.
© Soile Tattari
So, thirty years since your first gig at the Half Moon Putney… what do you remember from that gig?
Well, the Half Moon back then was more of a folk place. For what I remember, we just played in the corner, where the bar is now. To be honest, it was thirty years ago… I can’t remember the last week… let alone thirty years ago…
© Kimmo Tattari
You’ve had quite a long career, congrats on that! How did you get the band started?
It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? That is the same thirty years, that was my first ever gig, I was like sixteen or seventeen years old… It took us quite a while, you know, we didn’t get a record deal until I was twenty-three, twenty-four. But all them years… We were just living in the back of a shit transit van, old school, you know, breathing in petrol fumes, sleeping on the amps, and just playing for basically nothing, which I don’t think a lot of bands can do now. And I don’t think there’s enough clubs for them to play in. It’s a shame, because that’s how you learn your trade, really, it’s an apprenticeship. But we packed in our jobs and went for it, you know, we did that for a long time.
It must have been interesting to be part of the London rock scene in the eighties…
When we started there was only the Marquee club, really, and that’s where we used to play a lot. Luckily Bush, the manager, loved the band, he could see the potential then, and he gave us every open slot there. We used to headline the Marquee, and, without a record deal or anything like that, it was a big thing. But with the whole scene… what happened was that in London, after the Marquee that was shut at eleven o’clock, there was nowhere for anybody to go to, so I started a rock club down at Gossips in Soho that was called Butz and Spike’s, and that’s what brought in the money and, for example, paid the Quireboys’ rehearsals and everything like that. So we created our own scene, really… All the American bands would come down when they were playing the Marquee… and everybody had to pay to get in. I remember Kiss coming down and having to pay, it was only two pounds fifty, I reckon, but that was funny… if anybody should pay, it should be the bands, right? In LA they had places like the Cathouse and all that, where everybody could get free, because they used to get a cut of the bar, it was a different thing there.
But, yeah, that was a great scene then, that and St Moritz, where Lemmy used to drink every night. In fact, we went in St. Moritz a while ago, and it’s exactly the same as it was in 1988, there’s still pictures of Griff and me and Nigel on the wall, it hasn’t changed one bit, there weren’t even any new pictures, just the old ones. And when Guns’n’Roses first came, they played at the Marquee, that’s where we all used to hang out and that’s how we got to know everybody.
Your first album A Bit of What You Fancy was a huge success when it came out in 1990. How much of that material already existed before you released the album, you had been around as a band for quite a long time at that point?
We had written a lot of stuff, things like 7 o’clock, for example. When we played, we all agreed on one thing, it was not to play any covers. If you play covers, no matter what, people will go away from the gig and only remember the covers. We had a lot of material, but we never had the time, or could afford, to rehearse that much, so we used to do everything on the spot, really. It was nice to, finally, sit down and put everything together, but many songs making on the album became different, of course.
With the next album Bitter Sweet and Twisted the expectations must have been high?
Well, you’ve got to remember that we hadn’t stopped playing since I started the band, we’d done all them years touring, touring, touring, until we got the record deal, we’d done the album, and we’d toured a lot. We couldn’t even see our family or anything, the only time we saw our parents was when they came for the shows, it was ridiculous. By that time when we finished the tour, we had nowhere to go to, none of us had, we’d all lost our girlfriends, they’d all left us, we had all given up our apartments, we had nowhere to live. So, we went to Ireland to write, to do the next album produced by Bob Rock, but the trouble was that we were exhausted. Then, Guy Bailey didn’t want to play anymore, so we thought to take a break for a while, to take a few months off. We never put the thing out, or split up or anything. The album, however, still did massively well, it sold millions of copies, that album.
For how long did you…
For how long did I go to the beach for in Los Angeles, you mean? That was from 1993-94 to 1998-99. I came down to England for a while, I had a record deal with Sanctuary to put the band back together, but Guy Bailey didn’t want to do it, he just didn’t want to tour anymore. Griff was living in LA, he’d got a solo deal, so he was out there already, and Nigel was out there already. Then what happened was that Griff had got divorced, Nigel had got divorced and I was single, so suddenly we all were back together in Hollywood. We took the guys that were in Griff’s band into the Quireboys, and that’s how it worked.
© Kimmo Tattari
You seem to get better and better all the time. What’s your secret?
To keep changing drummers!
I did have a question about that… the drummers still keep exploding on you, do they? Is it challenging to always have a new bloke onboard?
My God, we’ve had so many drummers… I tell you what, it’s not …you’d be suprised, playing in the Quireboys is not that easy. You’ve got to have that roll… do you know what I mean? A lot of people just can’t do it, and a lot of people couldn’t keep up with the life. Some went in hospital, a few died on the way… seriously, a couple of them ended in mental hospital. It was nothing to do with us, they just, you know…
There has been a lot of drummers. Hopefully we’ll keep Dave, he’s a good lad. He’s in the band called the Union with Luke Morley. And if he can’t play, then we have Simon, Simon Hanson, he’s an old friend of mine, and plays in Squeeze. So we’re covered, we have two drummers.
On bass we’ve got Nick Mailing, and when he doesn’t play – like in America recently – Share played, from Vixen… it was brilliant. She’s great! We had a girl in the Quireboys for the first time! I’ve known her since the days we toured with Whitesnake, and that was back in 1990, so I’ve known her for years. She’s a, I mean, she’s a teacher of the bass. I knew that she could do it, we didn’t even rehearse, we just got up and played. She was brilliant!
The new album will be out pretty soon after the previous one, Beautiful Curse. You seem to be going through an extremely productive period right now?
What happened was, our management asked, if we could do this 30th anniversary thing and, instead of just refreshing old Quireboys stuff, the thing that is coming out is a 3-disc package with us live in London on our last tour, there’s Sweden Rock, playing acoustic before Rush. What else is there… there’s a dvd with us playing acoustic in the studio and having a chat, and then the new album.
The new album’s got ten songs, we just finished it in the week, it sounds great. I’m so happy that we’ve done it. It’s good to keep busy, you know. So I think the next thing we’re going to do after this will be an acoustic album.
© Soile Tattari
Halfpenny Dancer volume 2? When is that coming out?
I don’t know… the thing is, it’s quite busy at the moment, because I’ve got my solo album coming out soon as well…
Is that with the Frankie Miller songs?
Yeah, have you heard about that? There’s Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser, we have the Free rhythm section! Ronnie Wood is on the guitar and Luke Morley, and Ian Hunter plays the piano. I’ve also done a duet with Bonnie Tyler, I played it to my mum and she asked “which one is you?”
When do you expect to have it released?
In the next few months, I think. The Quireboys album will be out in June, so a bit after that. And then I want to do some shows with everybody, and everybody’s agreed to do it, it’s gonna be cool. Even Ronnie Wood… it will be great! And Simon Kirke and Andy Fraser, they really want to play together.
Like the previous Quireboys album, you’ve been working with Chris Tsangarides again?
That’s right, yeah. He’d done Judas Priest albums as well, hadn’t he? They’re on the wall in the studio… Yeah, he’s been great! It’s the reason the album is coming out so late, I don’t know if you know, but we were in the studio two months ago, and while we were in the studio, he left for the weekend to go to Greece to see his family… and the time he came back, he got very ill, and then we found out that he had legionnaire’s disease… He’s fine now, but he’s still on a lot of medication and stuff.
He’s been great to work with. Everybody thinks he’s a heavy metal producer, but he’s done so much more than that, you know… that band from Canada, The Tragically Hip… they’re the biggest selling act in Canada, next to Alanis Morissette, he’s done them, and Anvil, that was funny. Yeah, he’s a great guy. I like to work with different people, you know. He’s done a good job on this new album.
Are there any titles you can reveal?
Yeah… where’s Griff? We’ve recorded them all… “What Do You Want From Me?”, “Mother’s Ruin”, a song called “Lady Lane”… I’ll give you a list if you want.
During the process of song writing, do you have a certain formula how a typical Quireboys song builds?
How we used to do it, it used to be me and Guy Bailey, and we used to, basically, sit down together. We did a few songs together, but then sometimes I’d write the entire song, and sometimes he’d write the entire song. I do the same now with Guy Griffin …or we finish each other’s songs off. The hardest part is coming with all the riffs.
© Kimmo Tattari
What would be your advise for the younger musicians, the younger bands that are trying to make a career? The business has changed so much…
Try to get a decent agent and play with any band you can play with. When we first started, we were playing with all kinds of bands, even with punk bands… That’s why we had a completely different audience, we didn’t stick with the rock… we got put into that, but we were playing with a lot of different bands.
Obviously things are completely changed now… I mean, I can’t even work the computer… Now it’s the Facebook thing and all that… I’m not on there, it’s too mental, I can’t be on there.
I guess, that’s the way, try and get a good agent, and try and get any good supports that you can get. Just get out there and keep writing, and put your heart and soul into it. We all packed in our jobs to do it, we were determined. And don’t mind living off, you know, nothing, not eating for a few years…
You have also recorded a Judas Priest cover “Rock Forever”. What’s the story behind this Priest tribute?
Was it a tribute album in mid 90s? I was living in LA, and my friend had all their records, and we used to do all these tribute albums. At the time, it was really well paid. That was probably Cleopatra Records, I’d done so many of them, I’d done Styx, Bon Jovi, Guns’n’Roses… It was a few thousand dollars for a two minutes job.
The band was actually me and Duff from Guns’n’Roses …and CC from Poison. Everybody was doing it at the time… I think it was in that period of the 90s when nobody was afraid of doing anything, you know what I mean? It was just a laugh for everybody, I think.
Some time ago, we were in a pub in Southampton or somewhere, all the band were there, and Guy was just pissing himself laughing, he said “Listen, listen, listen, quiet, quiet!”… and then, from the jukebox, there was me going “Lady…”, me singing a Styx song. I can’t remember doing it, can’t remember doing it at all…
© Soile Tattari
Active: 1980’s ->
Style: hard rock
|Discography: A Bit of What You Fancy (1990), Bitter Sweet & Twisted (1993), This Is Rock’n’Roll (2001), Well Oiled (2004), Homewreckers & Heartbreakers (2008), Halfpenny Dancer (2009), Beautiful Curse (2013), Black Eyed Son (2014)|
|A Bit Of What You FancyDebut album, a huge international success which brought the band into a wide spotlight – big time. 7 o’clock, Hey You, and I don’t Love You Anymore were in heavy rotation.|
|Bitter Sweet & TwistedProduced by the legendary Bob Rock, this hidden gem is hardrock of the 80s at its best. The only shortcoming is that the album was released in 1993, when the hayday of the genre was practically over.|
|Homewreckers & HeartbreakersThe 3rd album after the comeback. Check the excellent remake of Fear Within a Lie, which first appeared on “God’s Hotel”, an album recorded in 1997 by Spike and a Los Angeles band called God’s Hotel|
|Halfpenny DancerBasically a greatest hits album done acoustically, with plenty of excellent covers. Full of great renditions, especially the UFO song Love To Love.|
|Beautiful CurseThe biggest selling Quireboys album since the early days. The album proves the fact that the band is now tighter than ever. Highlights are Mother Mary, 27 Years, and Diamonds & Dirty Stones|
|Black Eyed SonThe newest chapter in the Quireboys history will be out this June. Celebrating the band’s 30th anniversary, it will be available in a 3-disc package, including a dvd from the band’s London show, plus acoustic live in front of 40 000 in last summer’s Sweden Rock.|