Colin Harkness, frontman with NWOBHM stalwarts Spider, dead at 62

Colin Harkness
(Image credit: PRT)

Colin Harkness, singer and rhythm guitarist with NWOBHM stalwarts Spider, has died at the age of 62. The news was confirmed in a Facebook post (opens in new tab) authored by his bandmates, Dave "Sniffa" Bryce, Brian Burrows and brother Rob E Burrows.

The statement read: "It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Spider band member Col Harkness. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends.

"Col had been in poor health in recent months, in and out of hospital – and sadly, he lost the battle. Please remember Col with love and affection – maybe dig out those albums and singles and listen to him over the weekend. Play it loud!"

"Rest In Peace Col - love you man!"

Harkness was a founding member of Spider, joining the other three musicians to form the band in Wallasey, a small town on The Wirral, England, in 1977. 

Famously tee-total and perhaps unfairly tagged as a poor man’s Status Quo, Spider racked up over 2000 gigs order the course of their career, releasing their first single Back To The Wall in 1977 before signing to major label RCA for debut album Rock 'N' Roll Gypsies in 1980.

They jumped ship to A&M for second album Rough Justice after falling out with RCA over a perceived lack of commercial material, but the same would happen at their new label, with 1984's single Here We Go Rock ’N’ Roll ("Have you heard the latest record/They’re plugging day and night/There’s lots of weird noises/An art student’s delight") taking daytime radio to task for ignoring the band.

“We’d done our bit by writing these commercial songs," Harkness told Classic Rock. "So why weren’t they being pushed by the record labels? We might as well not have bothered."

The band suffered more bad luck two years later, when another new label (PRT – formerly PYE) went bust on the day third album Raise The Banner was due to be released. Without label support the band faltered, recruiting Heretic guitarist Stuart Hurwood for some final shows before agreeing to call it a day.

“It felt like a death,” said Harkness. “It knocked me sideways and I went off the rails for a bit. I didn’t regain my interest in rock music till about 2003."

In 2012 Lemon Recordings released a 4CD anthology of Spider recordings that featured the three studio albums plus a fourth disc, The Early Years, but the band only reformed once, for an unplanned, unplugged fan club show in 2015. A scheduled return to public duty the following year – at the annual GTI Festival at the Santa Pod Raceway in Northamptonshire – never materialised.  

Harkness also played a small but significant part in the lives of two Classic Rock writers, introducing the late Malcolm Dome to the magazine's current News/Lives Editor Dave Ling at a Spider show. The pair would work together for decades and become close friends. 

"Our paths first crossed after Spider had played the Hammersmith Clarendon in 1980," says Ling. "When informed that I was a budding music journalist, Col uttered the life-changing words: 'Would you like to meet Malcolm Dome?' 

"Losing both of those wonderful human beings within such a short space of time is devastating. As lifelong Evertonians, I hope that Malc and Col are in Heaven’s equivalent of the Crobar debating over a few sambucas how Frank Lampard should go about keeping the Toffees up again this year."

No cause of death has been announced. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.