Stage Times: Spike of The Quireboys

Spike talks getting the band back together, playing with the Rolling Stones, and losing a girlfriend to Guns ‘N Roses

Fans of the Quireboys got some very exciting news this May, when Spike (aka Jonathan Gray) announced that he was reuniting with founding members Guy Bailey and Nigel Mogg to record new music. Further celebrations followed when a concert was scheduled in Islington this December, featuring ex-members Chris Johnstone and Rudy Richard.

“Everybody’s so excited about the vision of band being back together!” Spike tells us. “No one can believe that we’re all back together.”

For all the excitement, it’s possible that no one is looking forward to the London performance more than Spike himself.

“Honestly, it’s going to be such a great evening,” he says. “We’ve got some great guests coming down to play with us and we’ve got the bar ready to go on stage so we can invite the audience up for a drink and everything.” He points directly into the camera on his laptop. “I’ll get you over to the bar for a drink on stage if you want. What’s your favourite drink? I’ll get the barman to make you your favourite drink”.

The Quireboys have rubbed shoulders with just about everyone in British rock and a pretty hefty chunk of America as well. Spike can namedrop like no one’s business, but in the stories he tells some of the greatest rock and roll acts of the last several decades come across like college bands all turning up to each other’s gigs and jamming together at their local pub. The December show promises a similar energy – one of the most influential British rock acts performing not to a venue full of fans, but a roomful of drinking buddies.

We sat down with Spike ahead of the show to talk about some of his favourite live music memories.

The Quireboys ~ 7 O'Clock

The First

The actual first gig… The guy who used to play drums for the Quireboys was a guy called Bill Coyne. He had a huge house in Herne Hill, and it had a basement where we played our first gig. We only had a few songs at the time, and our friends came over and we did them five songs about 10 times and everybody loved it.

Our first proper show was the Half Moon in Putney. There’s still a famous picture there of the ‘Queerboys’, as we were originally called. We were the ‘Choirboys’ with a ‘CH’ at first… Me and Guy Bailey were working on a building site at the time at the St. James’s army barracks and this guy came up to us and went “I hear you’re in a band” and all that. You’ve got to remember I dressed the same way when we were builders as how I dress now, and my eyeliner used to be smudged at work from the night before. And he says, “Well with that man in the band, you should be the bloody queer boys, not the choirboys.” So we thought, “What a great name!” We were the Queerboys for quite a long time. It wasn’t until when we were getting bigger that we started getting protests at universities because of the name. It was just meant to be tongue in cheek you know? But the protests were getting bigger and bigger. Eventually we realised that we had to change the name because we wouldn’t be allowed on Top Of The Pops. Or be able to get a record deal.

The Quireboys - Hey You TOTP

The Best

There’re so many. After those first shows we recorded those first five songs – like ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’ and ‘7 O’Clock’ – and we took them round to different venues and leave a cassette in each one. And then one night out of the blue we got a phone call from the Marquee Club in London. “Can you get here in half an hour? We don’t have a support band…”

We went down so well that we basically became the resident support act for nearly everybody at the Marquee. We would be in there, drinking every night, no matter who was playing. And after we built that up we ended up doing Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights and selling them out. I remember the first time we headlined the Marquee Club. I was with Guy Bailey and we got off the tube and there was this huge queue. Guy said to me, “What do you think’s happening in the Marquee?” I said, “God I don’t know, it’s really early in the evening.” And it was the people queuing up to see us. We couldn’t believe it.

It was just after the time of punk and everything like that. So we used to play with Tenpole Tudor, Doctor and the Medics… I mean, we played with so many different bands. And we used to play all over the place, all the time. People forget it took us about six, seven years before we got our record deal, you know, but it got to the point where we headlined the Dominion Theatre in London and we still didn’t have a record deal. We were just gonna pack in at one point and then Phil Mogg from UFO turned up at rehearsals. I think it was gonna be our last rehearsal actually. And I’ll never forget, he turned up with two carrier bags of beer and he said, “don’t stop yet. I’ve just got you a gig at Hammersmith Odeon with a new band called Guns N’ Roses…”

There She Goes Again

The first time Guns N’ Roses came to England we played the night before them. So we became really good friends. And that’s how it all started. Even though they pinched one of our girlfriends…

No way.

They did actually, in the Intrepid Fox. We were all drinking there and then of course, when American guys come to town all the English girls were like, “whoa, yeah!”. So we laugh about that to this day.

When we were playing the Marquee Club there was never anywhere to drink afterwards. There were no rock clubs, believe it or not, after 11 o’clock. But around the corner there was a club called Gossips, and you could stay there til three in the morning. That was the place to go. There was a little stage there and and we used to get up and play too. Bernie Tormé came down. Wolfsbane played their first ever gig there. So many people used to get up and jam. Once, Bruce Willis walked in, got up and started playing harmonica! I remember Kiss coming in one night claiming to be on the guestlist. We were like, “No, you have to pay to get in. You’re millionaires! It’s only £2, for god’s sakes!”

Sounds like every gig from that era could have been the best gig.

Oh, it was brilliant. We’ve been talking about it because Nigel is here now, and they’re the times that we remember the most. You know, the funny times like that, before you actually take off, you know what I mean? Because when we were really big, everybody was doing their own thing. We were a gang, together, the four of us. You know, it’s so wonderful to have us all back together. We never lost touch. We’ve always been best friends. And it’s so nice that everybody went off to have kids and do different things, and I always carried on the Quireboys, but then to have the original guys back… It’s just so great. You know, I’ve never laughed so much since Nigel’s got back here. We’ve had such a laugh.

The Quireboys - Mona Lisa Smiled

The Weirdest

We’ve done a lot of strange shows. I remember when we were managed by Sharon Osbourne and we were on tour in America – she got us on the same bill as The Rolling Stones at St. James’s Park. So we flew in from New York. We only had three days, and we came straight to Newcastle to do a video, do a signing, and then head to the stadium. Obviously I took a football and went straight on the pitch before the show. And then we actually flew back out and did another gig in Florida the next day. It was mental, but it was wonderful because all my family could come and see us with The Rolling Stones…

I mean, you’ve gotta remember, about three years before that, I couldn’t even afford a ticket to see the Rolling Stones. I remember standing outside, watching the fireworks going off. And then a couple of years later I’m actually playing with them. It was incredible. We’ve done some amazing shows over the years. David Bowie, Aerosmith, so many bands. It’s been great.

The Biggest

Well, obviously when we played Donnington. That was such a great day. Our great friends, Thunder, opened up. And then it was us, and then Poison, Aerosmith, and Whitesnake. And the backstage area was mental. Jimmy Page was there and so many different people, all our families, our kids. It was such a wonderful day.

Actually, the David Bowie show was even bigger, in Germany. We were on tour with Guns N’ Roses, and then we had a day off and we played with Bowie. Just to meet him was incredible.

The Quireboys - Long Time Coming

The Smallest

When we were starting, we’d do a gig and there’d literally only be two people and a dog. We’d be like, “did the dog pay to get in?!” But I feel sorry for young bands today, because there’s nowhere for them to play anymore. If you’re starting off, I mean. Luckily, we found an agent early on. We played all the universities and all the clubs. And we didn’t care if there wasn’t anybody there because it’s a free rehearsal.

But luckily that didn’t really happen often because we had a lot of good supports. We started off with Bernie Tormé, Doctor and the Medics, the Cherry Bombz. But we definitely have played shows to two people before. We didn’t care.

The One That Made You Want To Play Music

In Newcastle we used to have the Mayfair and the City Hall. So I used to go and see every band there, but I think the turning point was The Rolling Stones at Wembley Stadium. That gave me the incentive. The Rolling Stones were such an influence, definitely. Then Ronnie Wood played on my solo album.

You can always tell great rockstars because they’re just so down to earth like everybody else. It’s the wannabes that are the pains in the arses.

The Quireboys will play O2 Academy Islington on 15 December. Find tickets here.