The trademark bandana. A drink in his hand. More stories of rock and roll ribaldry up his sleeve than all four members of the Rolling Stones combined. This is Spike. Singer, songwriter and showman supreme. He’s been the face of the Quireboys for almost 40 years but listen carefully and you’ll hear his trademark rasp on a succession of critically acclaimed solo records and treasured collaborations. Music is Spike’s lifeblood. Always has been and always will be. But buy him a few glasses of his favourite red wine and he’ll freely admit family and Newcastle United come a very close second.
St James’s Park, the home of his beloved Newcastle United, is a great place to start when telling Spike’s remarkable story. It was on that hallowed turf that the Geordie lived out his ultimate rock and roll dream as he performed in front of thousands of fans packed inside the stadium as special guests of the Rolling Stones’. Six years after forming the Quireboys with Guy Bailey, the Newcastle-born singer held a raucous home crowd in the palm of his hand and a meteoric rise was complete. Twenty-two years later and Spike was back on the pitch at St James’s Park — talking to 52,000 fans about a heartfelt song he’d penned in loving memory of former United manager Sir Bobby Robson. The emotion was there for all to see. Even those who thought they knew Spike well were forced to think again.
Spike left his native North East for London as a starry-eyed 17-year-old desperate to follow in the footsteps of his rock and roll heroes. Just four years earlier the impressionable teenager caught his first live show — UFO — at Newcastle’s much-missed Mayfair and there was no turning back. The famous venue would become a regular haunt for the wannabe rocker and Spike even went on to write a song about his much-loved second home. Leaving behind everything he knew was far from easy but the lure of London was too great for a musician as ambitious as he was talented. Sure enough, it didn’t take Spike long to become a popular staple of Soho’s thriving mid 80s rock scene as a performer, fixer and party-starting club owner.
Without Bailey there might never have been any Quireboys. In fact, Spike freely admits that the stars aligned when he met one of his oldest friends for the first time in a tiny flat near the Oval. As a songwriting duo the pair proved prolific and set about penning enduring fan favourites 7 O’Clock, Hey You, There She Goes Again and I Don’t Love You Anymore. All four songs became staples of the Quireboys’ chart-busting debut A Bit Of What You Fancy — the album that went all the way to number two on the UK charts and won the band coveted awards and gold and platinum albums all over the world.
For a while Spike and Bailey proved unstoppable as purveyors of good time rock and roll classics. Smitten with their singalong anthems, Sharon Osborne made a bold move to become the Quireboys’ manager and the band joined Whitesnake, Aerosmith, Poison and Thunder on the 1990 Monsters of Rock bill at Castle Donington in front of 72,000 fans. Fast forward to 2015 and an intimate show at Newcastle’s Cluny proved Spike and Bailey had lost none of the magic at the heart of their instinctive partnership. On stage together for the first time in years, under the banner of Spike and Tyla’s Hot Knives, two old friends and former colleagues rolled back the years and revelled in a riotous reunion.
Spike and Bailey helmed a second Quireboys album in 1993 but Bitter Sweet & Twisted arrived at a time when grunge was changing tastes and rewriting rock history. Lead single Tramps & Thieves and the criminally underrated Brother Louie B-side Can’t Get Through served as a timely reminder of the pair’s proven talent but their band’s days were numbered. For now. Towards the end of the year Spike, Bailey and co. went their separate ways with no hope or expectation of a Quireboys’ reunion any time soon.
If Spike liked his time in London then he always loved Los Angeles. LA loved Spike even more. And with the Quireboys on hiatus it seemed only natural to reconnect with his Sunset Strip family and relocate to California. A stint fronting short-lived rockers God’s Hotel kept the creative juices flowing before Spike hooked up with Poison’s C.C. DeVille to record a cover of Hank Williams’ Hey Good Lookin’. Shacked up together at DeVille’s Hollywood mansion, the pair always planned to do more…if only the partying hadn’t got in the way.
During his time in London Spike had struck up another close friendship with fellow Soho scene leader and frontman of the Dogs D’Amour, Tyla. Two kindred spirits and a pair of unapologetically committed party animals, the singers had often talked about joining forces musically. Spike And Tyla’s Hot Knives recorded the fabulously off-trend Flagrantly Yours…and would follow it up 20 years later with the equally eccentric The Sinister Indecisions of Frankie Gray and Jimmy Pallas.
With the Quireboys well and truly on the backburner and nu metal following grunge as the latest threat to rock and roll, Spike finally plucked up the courage to fly solo. Blue Eyed Soul, released in 1998, remains a collector’s item and features standout co-writes with former Go-Go’s bass player Kathy Valentine and God’s Hotel band mate Dominique Davalos. Only Want To Give credits all three songwriters and the title is a telling nod to Spike’s refusal to throw in the towel and his determination to keep writing new music — whatever the cost.
But you can’t keep a good man — or his band — down. In 2001 the Quireboys reformed and 20 years down the line they remain at the forefront of the UK’s burgeoning NWOCR movement. As godfathers of the scene, the popular veterans have helped support a new breed of rock and roll rebels and toured relentlessly across the globe. Pre-pandemic shows as far afield as the USA and Australia captured the imagination of fans new and old and Spike continues to set the standard as the ultimate throwback showman. Flanked by long-time band mates Guy Griffin, Paul Guerin and Keith Weir, the affable frontman has surrounded himself with top notch talent capable of keeping the Quireboys’ legacy alive. From comeback album Well Oiled through to 2019’s career-high Amazing Disgrace, myriad examples of Spike’s songwriting craft and lyrical prowess confirm his status as a national treasure. But that’s far from the end of the story.
For many years now Spike has been the proud custodian of hundreds of unrecorded and undiscovered songs written by Scottish singer songwriter Frankie Miller. On 2005’s solo album, It’s A Treat To Be Alive, he covered a brace of Miller classics including the brilliant Be Good To Yourself. It was the start of a special relationship which continues to stand the test of time. Miller’s wife, Annette, would rock up at Quireboys’ shows with her husband Frankie (who had suffered a brain haemorrhage in 1994) and Spike soon became a close family friend. 100% Pure Frankie Miller was released in 2014 but a carefully crafted collection hewn from the Miller archive was much more than a respectful tribute. Spike breathed new life into the work of one of his favourite artists and remains committed to celebrating the work of a perennially popular musician.
Spike’s determination to keep Miller’s music alive manifested itself in a spectacular show at Sweden Rock in 2015. Under the banner of Spike’s Free House, a star-studded line-up opened the main stage ahead of Slash, Toto, Def Leppard and more. Featuring Free’s Simon Kirke, Thunder’s Luke Morley, Mark Stanway from Magnum and Pip Mailing from the Quireboys, a glorious celebration of Miller standards and Free hits set the mood for a capacity festival crowd. The devastating loss of Andy Fraser, just weeks earlier, added extra poignancy to a memorable occasion after the bassist had previously agreed to join Kirke on stage for the first time in 40 years as a member of the Free House. Six years later and there is talk that an iconic set will finally be released as a special audio-visual package.
Releasing the Free House set from Sweden Rock is just one of the projects focusing the mind of Spike as he prepares for a post-pandemic future. A series of live-streamed shows maintained his close connection with fans during the darkest days of the Covid-19 crisis. And Spike will be one of the first musicians to get back in front of a crowd this summer as he hosts a series of seated, socially distanced ‘storyteller’ gigs across the UK from May 2021.
It’s almost 40 years since a wide-eyed Geordie upped sticks and headed south to chase his rock and roll dream. That dream is alive and kicking. And don’t expect Spike to give up on it any time soon.