What’s the hell is going on with The Quireboys?

The Quireboys with (inset) Spike
The Quireboys with (inset) former frontman Spike (Image credit: The Quireboys)

Back in March there was disbelief among fans when it was announced that The Quireboys had sacked their frontman Spike and were continuing as a five-piece. 

How was that even possible, fans wondered. In some ways Spike was the Quireboys. He had co-founded the group in the mid-80s, and his sandpaper howl was an ever-present focal point of their gritty sound. But now, guitarist Guy Griffin had also become their lead vocalist. The group explained that the decision to drop Spike was “the culmination of not just months, but years of persistent problems” with the singer. 

A response from Spike – who described himself as “the Quireboys founder, only original member and singer” – insisted that the name of the band belonged to him. That was disputed by the Griffin-fronted Quireboys as they set off on tour, and generated some warm reviews along the way. 

Meanwhile, guitarist Guy Bailey, bassist Nigel Mogg, keyboard player Chris Johnstone and drummer Rudy Richman – all of whom had played with the Quireboys during their commercial heyday – threw in their lot with Spike, signing up for a one-off gig at London’s Islington Academy in December.

Battle lines were well and truly drawn. Over two separate Zoom interviews, Classic Rock spoke first to Griffin, who replaced Ginger Wildheart in 1990, and fellow guitarist Paul Guerin, a fixture since 2001. A few days later we caught up with a couple of those in the opposing corner, Spike and Nigel Mogg. 

Let’s be clear from the outset, Classic Rock isn’t backing either horse in this race. No band gambles its future by ditching their talismanic lead singer without good reason. Understandably, neither side wants to get into a game of ‘he said, she said’, although both parties agree that some fundamental points require explanation.

Quireboys at the Classic Rock Awards in 2009

Happier times: Quireboys with Spike (centre), at the Classic Rock Awards in 2009 (Image credit: Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage)

“Down the years there were a lot of situations that ultimately forced our hand to do this,” Guerin begins. “You don’t make up one morning and think: ‘Here’s a good idea’…” 

“Yeah, let’s potentially screw up our livelihood’,” Griffin interjects. “But the reality was our livelihoods were being affected. Behind the scenes we found out a few things that broke the camel’s back. This line-up of the band had been together for around twenty years, and if you were in the same boat as us, with someone trying to take away your livelihood, you’d do what we did.” 

Guerin explains that when an email from a promoter representing Spike’s solo interests was “leaked” to his dismayed bandmates, insinuating that the Quireboys would no longer perform unplugged concerts, “that’s when the avalanche began”. 

“In a single stroke, fifty per cent of our income had been wiped out,” Griffin adds. 

Although Spike says the band fired him by letter, Guerin insists that several warnings were issued: “We contacted him umpteen times with mediators; our manager flew in from Ibiza where he lives to sit down with him, but Spike didn’t turn up. Obviously, shows are booked in advance; deposits are taken, flights are booked. What are we meant to do?”

The Quireboys already had a readymade replacement for Spike. As pleasantly surprised concertgoers have observed, Guy Griffin is a fine singer. 

“I had sung in a band called Glimmer that was signed to Atlantic,” Griffin says. “My singing is an ongoing process. But all you’ve heard so far is [my interpretations of] the old songs. There are ten other albums since we did the first pair of albums [A Bit Of What You Fancy and Bitter Sweet & Twisted, released in 1990 and ’93 respectively]. Don’t forget I played on those two as well, and wrote some of the songs. Paul will tell you, I always sang on the demos and I did most of the soundchecks for the past twenty years."

Griffin has an accomplished voice, but is it a Quireboys voice? 

“I take that on board to a certain extent,” he says affably, “but this is a lot more complicated than who is or isn’t the face of the Quireboys. If one single person is the Quireboys, let me know who they are and I’ll send them all of the bills. If he [Spike] is the Quireboys, here’s my credit card bill. Alot of harsh realities exist in the grownup world, but some people just don’t live in that place.” 

Since splitting with Spike, the Griffin-fronted Quireboys have toured America, appeared at the Monsters Of Rock Cruise and continued gigging across Europe. In September an Orchestral Quireboys show at London’s Forum was shot for future broadcast on Amazon Prime. Being blunt, since the change, has anybody who bought a ticket asked for their money back? 

“Not so far as I’m aware,” Griffin says with a shrug. 

He sounds slightly flummoxed to hear that Spike has teamed up with “a lot of guys who haven’t played together since 1993 and who are now going around proclaiming to be the originals”. And it’s a fair point. “The situation around [ownership of] the name is what is it; whatever happens will happen,” Griffin says. “But the reality is that there’s room for everyone to play their music. We’re the ones that pay the bills [to keep the Quireboys going]. So yeah, he [Spike and company] can re-live the first album, let them have their nostalgia trip. We were probably becoming slightly bit bored of playing those songs.” 

“We are going to move on with new material,” keyboard player Keith Weir says. 

“Because of their popularity, we never really played songs outside of those first two albums, and that’s something we’ll explore,” Guerin promises. “Spike just wouldn’t learn them.” 

Griffin: “Now Spike can re-live his dream; he’s back in 1989 again. I don’t mean that in a bad way, he loves it there. But he has no right to tell us to stop. We are just too invested. The band is called the Quireboys, not the Quireboy.”

The way that Spike tells it, the dispute was about the sheer number of concerts the band were playing, and also the size of the venues. 

“Exiting lockdown was our chance to start afresh,” he points out. “Obviously they didn’t like my plans.” 

Mogg: “The Quireboys is like a brand. When you build that up from the age of seventeen to twenty-four and then it goes down the pan a little bit, that’s very sad. I mean, why do nine months of small shows per year when you could just do five big ones? When you’ve a chance to re-brand, to save things almost, you should accept that.” 

Having had several spells in and out of the Quireboys and as an armchair viewer of their ongoing soap opera, Mogg has a fairly unique viewpoint. 

“I don’t agree with the way they went about it, but they [the band] have got to do their thing and do does Spike,” he continues. “Though we [Spike’s incarnation of the QBs] come from all over the planet, each of us thought it was wrong, and we came together to do something about it.” 

Was Spike sacked by mail? 

“Hold on a minute,” says Mogg. “The letter’s there on Facebook.” 

“All I wanted was for the band to get back to where it should be,” Spike interjects, sounding forlorn. “But this is a breath of fresh air for me. Now I get to move on.”

Guerin and company are in the mixing stages of The Band Rolls On…, an appropriately titled collection of brand-new material, with cameos from Joe Elliott, Dan Reed, Rose Tattoo’s Angry Anderson, Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke, Josh Todd and Stevie D from Buckcherry, and Chip Z’Nuff, among others. 

Along with Mogg, Bailey, keyboard player Chris Johnstone and drummer Rudy Richman, Spike recorded a festive single, Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year, the proceeds from which went to Care After Combat, a charity that supports former members of the British armed forces. 

“It’s a subject close to my heart as several members of my family were in the military,” the singer explains. “My grandad’s on the cover.”

Still in the spirit of nostalgia, Spike’s Quireboys reinstated the on-stage bar at their Islington Academy gig, allowing friends and kin to enjoy a tipple while the band play, a wheeze conceived at the band’s peak. 

An album follows in the spring. Says Spike: “On the first day I sat down with Guy Bailey, the first time in years, we wrote five songs – and they’re pure Quireboys, just the way we sound; good old British rock’n’roll.” 

With such steely determination from both sides of the fence, there will be no smiling reunion any time soon. So with a spirit of ‘live and let live’ co-existence just about confirmed by both parties, all we need to establish is what the two rivals would call themselves. It’s a subject that neither side is prepared to address publicly. 

“I believe it’ll work itself out naturally,” Griffin says. “In the meantime we’re carrying on.” 

“I really don’t want to dis anybody, but it’s like a wrestling match – someone wins and someone loses,” Mogg says. “We ain’t going anywhere.” 

“These have been the weirdest few months of my entire life, and despite the way they behaved I still love those guys,” sums up Spike. “But I’m so pleased to be back with Nigel and my pals that I’m way past all of what happened.”

Spike has a number of solo storyteller dates lined up | The Quireboys have dates in Europe and The UK lined up from February through May.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.