So, they finally sold out. Well, as near as damn it. There might be a few tickets left, but the Garage can’t be far off a capacity crowd for these two shows. Who’d have thought it, eh?
The last time I saw the Quireboys, at the old Bottom Line in Shepherd’s Bush in 1995, there was hardly anyone there, leaving me with the impression that everyone, bar a few of the faithful, had forgotten all about Spike and the boys. It was a bit of a saddener ‘cos they’d only been away for 18 months or so at this point. But now, having seen this… well, I can only assume that it was down to lack of publicity – something that definitely hasn’t been in short supply for these Garage shows. And, of course, there’s also the rise in popularity of the Internet over the last few years. Oh, and this from Spike…
“We’re not gonna give up this time. Not that we gave up last time. We were just too pissed.”
The fact that the Quireboys look, act and feel like a working band, a gang, again is something worth getting real excited about. Nigel Mogg and Guy ‘Griff’ Griffin are back on board and, boy, is it good to see them. I’d forgotten just how much of a presence Moggy has. It’s such a cliché to cite bass players as the ‘backbone of the band’, but in this case it’s true for so many reasons, not all of them musical. You can usually tell a musician’s rock ‘n’ roll credentials by the state of his hair. Mogg’s barnet looks like it’s been towel-dried and left to its own devices – which, according to my ‘I Spy Book Of Rock Follicles’, means that he’s seen and done things which mere mortals like you and me have only read about, mostly in Stones biogs. I’m not joking.
Of course, the biggest shock-horror news about the latest QBs incarnation is that there’s no Guy Bailey. I know, I know – if you hadn’t already heard, your mouth’s probably hanging open and you’re halfway through penning a letter of complaint to the government’s Arts Minister. But hold on just a cotton-pickin’ second, or at least until you’ve heard the new album, seen a gig, or had a really freaky lucid dream about it. ‘Cos the fact of the matter is, the only time I think about Guy is two-thirds of the way through the second night, when I realise that I haven’t thought about him.
How can this be? After all, Guy was a huge part of the Quireboys. That face, that cigarette, that hat, that style. And the Gray/Bailey songwriting partnership produced a good 95 per cent of the band’s back catalogue. I have a big fondness and admiration for the bloke. But I swear to you, the Bailey-less Quireboys works. And then some.
New guitarist Luke Bossendorfer is a snug fit. He looks the part (I’m a sucker for those Badfinger hairdos) and plays, and sings, like he means it. There are no mumbled backing vox here – he spits every lyric out like he’s lived it, and smiles so much you just can’t help but grin right back at him. He’s a star already. For the moment, though, it’s Griff, the longer serving of the two guitarists, who takes centre stage when it comes to solos. In fact, Griff feels very much like a leader in this line-up. He has an air of confidence and authority. Besides Spike, he’s the only other band member to speak to the audience. And the really good news is, girls, he’s as cute as ever.
Before I delve any further into the live show, though, I’d better give a nod to the band’s new album, This Is Rock ‘N’ Roll. For my money, it’s a classic already, and every bit as good as their debut (I’m a heretic, so dunk me). It’s basically the record the band should’ve made after A Bit Of What You Fancy. While Bitter Sweet & Twisted isn’t a bad album (the first four tracks are worth the price of admission alone), there are a few fillers on there – songs that don’t have the patented Quireboys ache, that special something that defines their best songs.
It gives me great pleasure to report that This Is Rock ‘N’ Roll is dripping with ache. From the very first play, it reaches in and tickles your belly. A warm, bluesy production brings the best out of the band’s soaring melodies and rockin’ riffin’. Never has an album been more aptly titled. This is rock ‘n’ roll, in all its glorious shapes and forms. There’s something for everyone – balls-out rock (the title track), Crowesy shuffle (Show Me What You Got), Slade-like glam stomp (C’mon), hard drivin’AC/DC riffage (Turn Away), rockin’ reggae (Coldharbour Lane), heartstring-tugging big balladry (Searching, To Be) – and that, my lovelies, is just for starters. All songs are Gray/Griffin co-writes, and it sounds to me like the start of a beautiful partnership.
Finest moments? I’m currently torn between three. I love C’mon. A great lyric, and there’s something about the way that the guitar follows the vocals in the chorus that just screams “ALRIGHT!”. My other two faves, though, are tales of lovin’ and losin’. To Be, the bluesiest tune on the album, sounds like something Spike might’ve included on his next solo record, if there was one. It’s a complete monster of a song, and Spike sings it like a devil. And then there’s the album closer, Never Let Me Go. “Baby, you’re just a bad memory that keeps haunting me.” A close family friend of Take Me Home, it boasts the kind of chord changes that make knees buckle, heads spin and hearts go boom.
I guess that what I’m trying to say here is, if this album was a woman I’d marry it tomorrow. And it’s not every day you hear a record worth committing bigamy for.
What’s more, as if to deliberately pour petrol on my passion, the band play six songs from it live (This Is Rock ‘N’’ Roll, Show Me What You Got, C’mon, Turn Away, To Be and Never Let Me Go) and make each and every one of them sound even better. The sound is incredibly loud but as clear as a see-through G-string – someone buy the soundman a Jack and coke! – and a tight-but-loose delivery means that the goods arrive in pretty much perfect condition. New drummer Martin Henderson seems like a rock-solid player, and keysman Keith (Simon Rinaldo obviously didn’t get the gig after all) is a top tinkler. Basically, they sound like the Quireboys we all know and love, but bigger, bolder and beefier. Bring on the live record, say I. (Yeah, another one – why not?!)
A setlist? Alas, I don’t manage to grab one (the roadies close the stage curtains so damned fast that no one has a chance), but a quick title count, a good memory and a pen means that I clock everything. In addition to the six songs from the record, there’s 7 O’Clock, Whippin’ Boy, Ode To You, Hey You, There She Goes Again, Misled and Don’t Bite The Hand, plus an encore of I Don’t Love You Anymore and Sweet Mary Ann, and a final sweaty romp through Sex Party – introduced on the first night by a guy in the crowd who does the word perfect spiel from 1990’s Live Album (“Do you wanna go to a party? A rude party? A dirty party?”), and with heaps of gusto, too. Even Spike looks impressed.
Two-thirds of Thursday night’s show is filmed, most probably so that the band can get some live footage in the can for a promo video, but I can’t help thinking how ace it would be to release a long-form live vid. The only official Quireboys videos out there (A Bit Of What You Fancy and Bitter Sweet And Live) are edited so damned fast that they ought to come with an epilepsy warning. Besides which, this new line-up really needs to be seen to be believed.
With a full tour in the pipeline for September, I’m hoping that the band will pull the audiences and attract the attention they deserve. I couldn’t give a rodent’s rectum where bands come from as long as they’re good, but it is a nice feeling to see a homegrown good-time rock ‘n’ roll band packing out venues like this again. It’s been a while.
Lock up yer drinks cabinets. The ‘Boys are back in town.