There is a danger we can become blasé about the Quireboys, and it is easy to form a stereotype around the lovable, shambolic rogues with the singer in a gypsy headscarf and glass in hand, who turn every gig into a shambolic, raucous barroom. They were already 20 years out of date when they burst on the scene, and have traded off the glory of their brief spell in the spotlight in 1990 ever since.
Indeed I encountered some scepticism when I told gig buddies I was going, with people asking me why I needed to see the same old same old for the umpteenth time. The answer though was simple, that a Quireboys gig delivers a good time, every time.
Despite the London gig going fraternity being split down the middle with many watching Dream Theater’s very different charms at Hammersmith the same night, a very healthy attendance for a Sunday night gig suggested this sentiment was widely shared.
Three bands were on the bill and I arrived too late to catch Norwegians Souls of Tide, but none other than Quireboys frontman Spike himself introduced The Last Great Dreamers, who I had never seen before but have been on the scene on and off for over two decades.
Looking dapper in hats and waistcoats they even resembled a Quireboys tribute band and shared the main act’s inspiration from seventies music, though in their case a mixture of glam rock, power pop and punk.
Songs like ’Oblivion Kids’ and ‘Far From Home’ impressed while singer Marc Valentine combined the mannerisms of Marc Bolan and Ian Dury with a very Hunter-esque nasal voice. Guitarist Slyder meantime took the mike for a Johnny Thunders tribute.
Some of the songs became a bit samey but the more frantic, punky ‘White Light Black Heart’ even got a clapalong going, and their eponymous track and ‘Dope School’ (though I thought they were singing Dog School!) ended a tidy set on a high.
After their usual introduction from a geezerish member of the Dirty Strangers, the Quireboys hit the stage with the title track of the most recent album ‘Twisted Love’, reminding us they are far from just a nostalgic act, with several recent releases. It also showed another, mellower side to their writing with Keith Weir’s keyboards and Guy Griffin’s sensitive guitar giving an almost soulful feel.
‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ had a more familiar Stonesy raunch but a brace from the classic ‘Bit of What You Fancy’ debut in ‘Misled’ and ‘There She Goes Again’ had people singing along, to the latter in particular, as they never get stale.
Nevertheless there is more to the Quireboys and of the new songs ‘Gracie B’ had an insistent feel with some almost Purple-esque organ from Keith and ‘Breaking Rocks’ a harder riff than they are known for. Then there were the mid-career favourites that have become Quireboys staples, ‘This is Rock n Roll’ which has become Spike’s clarion call, and ‘Mona Lisa Smiled’, featuring a sweet solo from Paul Guerin and with the folky feel reminding me of Rod Stewart’s early and best seventies work.
While Spike was full of his trademark bonhomie, he seemed more clear headed than usual and the self-indulgent band banter that can get a bit wearing at times was kept firmly in check. Moreover the band were as tight as I can remember any of their ever changing line ups. Relative youngsters Nick Mailing and Dave McCluskey have given the rhythm section greater solidity while the guitar pair complement each other, and I was hugely impressed with Guy’s tasteful, almost country rock playing.
The Quireboys groove that few can match at their best was well in evidence during the autobiographical ‘Tramps and Thieves’ which heralded a home straight of one classic oldie after another with the chorus of ‘Hey You’, powered by Guy’s slide guitar, met by a forest of punching fists, before ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’.
This has always been the song where Spike’s declining vocal range has been apparent over the years, yet his cracked huskiness only added to its emotional impact, not least as he dedicated it to a friend who had recently passed away, while the solos from both guitarists were superb. ‘Roses and Rings’ was another to call to mind classic seventies Rod, and the atmosphere during the countrified ‘Sweet Mary Ann’ was suitably raucous.
It seemed appropriate that Spike’s reminder that they would be doing a blues set at Rambling Man Festival led into his harmonica playing, introducing the timeless strains of perhaps their best-loved song ‘7 o’Clock’ and the lyric ‘time for the party’ did what it said on the tin.
I was curious what they might have saved for encores but ‘I Love this Dirty Town’, Spike’s homage to both Newcastle and London, again saw them lock into that raucous groove and all was well with the world.
They even slipped in two more rarely played numbers, in ‘White Trash Blues’ with some honky tonk style piano from Keith and ‘Black Mariah’, which had an early seventies American feel to it, before the traditional closer of ‘Sex Party’, its boogie given its usual joyfully chaotic feel not least with The Last Great Dreamers invited to share the stage.
At an hour and 35 minutes this was one of the more generous Quireboys headline sets of recent years. They had again been reliably entertaining, but on this occasion I was just as struck by the quality of the songs and the playing.
They have never received the critical acclaim of other bands, notably the Black Crowes, who plough a similarly retro musical furrow, but I think it’s high time that changed and the Quireboys were more fully appreciated as one of the UK’s musical treasures.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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Each week David Randall presents ‘New to GRTR!’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, with the emphasis on independent artists and labels. During December he replays favourite tracks including power plays featured during the year. This show covers the period January-March and was first broadcast on 1 December 2019.
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