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Quireboys singer Spike: ‘Rock ‘n’ roll never grows old, does it?’

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Much-loved rock band The Quireboys, who first made a name for themselves in the early 90s, are scheduled to play the Cambridge Junction later this year.

The Quireboys. Picture: Tom Gold Photography
The Quireboys. Picture: Tom Gold Photography

Hey You is one of those classic rock staples that all rock fans of a certain age – and many who aren’t – know. It was also The Quireboys’ biggest hit, reaching number 14 in the UK singles chart and number five in the US Billboard Rock Chart in 1990.

That year, the band was the first act of the decade to appear on Top of the Pops, performing in the TOTP studio on January 4. The track was taken from the debut album, A Bit of What You Fancy, which was also released in 1990, despite the band having formed a few years before.

The prolific six-piece is led by lead singer Spike (real name Jonathan Gray) and long-time guitarist Guy Griffin, who joined in 1989. They put out their most recent album, the well-received Amazing Disgrace, in 2019.

In 2020, Spike and co were supposed to have toured to celebrate 35 years since the band was formed – though they split up in 1993 and remained that way for most of the 90s, reuniting briefly in 1995. It would also have marked 30 years since the release of A Bit of What You Fancy.

That tour obviously didn’t go ahead, but Spike is hoping to make it back to Cambridge – to The Junction’s J1 – on Thursday, September 16. In the meantime, the Newcastle upon Tyne-born musician, 53, has been in holed up in a studio in Bedford recording a solo album.

He also has some smaller acoustic gigs planned for May, when indoor entertainment spaces can (hopefully) reopen. “I’ve been recording a CD to sell after the gigs,” explains Spike, adding: “I’m doing shows in Brighton, Newcastle... I’m doing 10 shows and I’ll be the first one to play in this country when lockdown finishes, in front of 50 people.

“I did one in Brighton last year, before this lockdown, and everybody sits there with plexiglass between them and they get served at the table. So this is the start of getting music back going.”

Spike, famed for his on-stage charisma, bandana and gritty rock vocals, says it will be him on his own on stage, although his friend Chris Heilmann, of American rock band Shark Island, might join him for some of the shows.

The Quireboys. Picture: Tom Gold Photography
The Quireboys. Picture: Tom Gold Photography

“It’s mainly just me, doing some covers, some Quireboys songs, telling a few stories – just having a laugh basically, seeing if I’ve still got a voice left!” he laughs.

As well as recording in the studio, the affable frontman has also kept himself busy with other projects. “I’ve been doing a lot of these things on Dice FM, where I’ve recorded live shows with different friends of mine,” he notes. “You buy a ticket from Dice and then we do a full show with interviews and everything.”

Spike’s Dice gig on Saturday, March 27 consisted of songs by Scottish singer-songwriter Frankie Miller. “A few years ago, I did an album of songs by Frankie Miller [100% Pure Frankie Miller] – songs that nobody had heard before,” says Spike, “so I thought I’d get a few friends together and do that.”

The Quireboys played to 72,000 people at 1990’s Monsters of Rock at Donington with the likes of Whitesnake, Aerosmith and Poison. They supported the Rolling Stones that same year at St James’ Park in Newcastle, and opened for Guns ‘n’ Roses when Axl and co famously played the Hammersmith Odeon in 1987 – and again a couple of years later on their Use Your Illusion tour.

“We’ve known them quite a long time,” says Spike of Guns ‘n’ Roses. “The last time we played with them was in Switzerland about 10 years ago. Great guys – all good fun, they’ve calmed down a bit now though. We haven’t. We should learn!”

Has Spike been able to get together with the band to rehearse ahead of the tour which, all being well, will go on to Spain in October? “No, we never rehearse anyway,” he laughs, “we’ve been doing it for too long – I don’t think we’ve rehearsed for about 10 years!

“Maybe we’ll have one rehearsal, I doubt it though – everybody’s very competent in what they do.”

Spike says he’s looking forward to coming back to Cambridge – “we haven’t been there for a while” – and notes that all this time without touring has been “the longest we’ve had off in 20 years”.

He says: “The band reformed in 2000 to do [third studio album] This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll and we really haven’t stopped playing since then. I mean the year before the pandemic happened, we were averaging 280 shows a year, or something ridiculous like that.

“I think we took over from Motörhead being the hardest-working band! Any excuse not to go home, and we’re stuck in now – it’s been weird.”

The Quireboys. Picture: Tom Gold Photography
The Quireboys. Picture: Tom Gold Photography

He adds: “It’ll be good, getting back out there. Rock ‘n’ roll never grows old, does it? Especially the type of stuff we do. If you like the Stones and all that... it just keeps on going, you know?”

Spike, who describes the band’s dress code back in the day as “Steptoe & Son” (“I’m still wearing the same clothes I wore when I started!”), recalls the band’s early days: “When we started in 1984, we were in the back of a transit van, a Bedford van it was, getting fumed to death off the exhaust, sleeping on the equipment...

“It took six years before we even got the record deal. That was the hard work but that was the most fun, I think, looking back.”

He continues: “I feel sorry for the young bands today because all these clubs are closing down. Even before lockdown there wasn’t that many places to play. You used to be able to play the universities at least... We could have played the universities except we got banned from every one.

“We used to be called The Queerboys and all the universities protested saying, ‘Are you scared of your sexuality?’”

The band was originally called The Choirboys. Spike says the boys were working on a building site at the time and one day went to work with their eyeliner still on from a gig the night before, which led to a co-worker suggesting the controversial name change.

Despite selling out impressive venues such as London’s Dominion Theatre under that moniker, it became clear that another change of name was needed. “Once Sharon Osbourne [the band’s manager at the time] came on the scene and everything, it was like, ‘You’re going to have to change your name if you want to be on Top of the Pops’,” says Spike.

“So we just kept the Q and called it The Quireboys.”

The Quireboys are scheduled to play The Junction’s J1 on Thursday, September 16. Tickets are £22.50 in advance from junction.co.uk.

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