It was around three o’clock on the afternoon of Saturday, 18 August 1990 when The Quireboys finally took to the stage at Castle Donington for that year’s Monsters of Rock festival. Anticipation was high; it had been two years since the last event had ended in tragedy but now thousands of music lovers had returned to the site to watch the homecoming of rock legends Whitesnake, all of which would be broadcast live courtesy of BBC Radio One. It had been just two short years since The Quireboys had first emerged on the scene and in that time they had amassed a loyal following, enjoyed a Top Twenty hit in their home country and now looked set to dominate the United States. But their appearance as second on the bill at Donington was to be a trial by fire and if they could prove themselves today then the world would be within their grasp.
Emerging during the late eighties, at a time when the American hair metal scene was dominating MTV, The Quireboys owed more of a debt to the sixties blues rock of the Rolling Stones than any of their contemporaries. Following a succession of singles that cemented their reputation as a force to be reckoned with, they released their debut album A Bit of What You Fancy in early 1990 to critical acclaim. To celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, frontman Spike and guitarist Guy Griffin have returned to their roots by re-recording their first release, offering fans an alternative version of a record that has already stood the test of time. And in December 2020 they will take A Bit of What You Fancy out on the road with a highly-anticipated UK tour that will run through to the following February.
Guy Griffin looks back at the making of the album and their decision to return to the studio to rework it for modern audiences.
Having chosen to re-record A Bit of What You Fancy for its thirtieth anniversary, how strange is it to return to the studio to record an album with a completely different line-up and is it a challenge to recapture or improve on the youthful energy of your debut?
It was hard to decide what approach to take; there’s so many live versions that have been recorded and released over the years, with different line-ups and the songs do naturally change over the years, so we decided to try and stay true to the original with a few new added parts. And obviously it’ll have its own vibe, as Keith and Paul weren’t on the original album, even though they’ve been playing some of these songs for twenty-nine years now!
You had previously re-recorded one of your first singles There She Goes Again for the album and now you have recorded it for a third time. Do you feel that revisiting older material with a new perspective brings something fresh to the music?
Yes , the songs have changed as you change members of the band; for instance, one drummer will add something new and then when another one comes in they may copy what the last one did, whilst also adding their own thing, so the songs change. I certainly don’t play exactly the same as I did at twenty years old in 1990, so there’s gonna be an added vine of how we are in 2020.
Despite including There She Goes Again on the album, your debut single Mayfair was not re-recorded for the 1990 release.
I think that was a record company/producer decision. There was a big push to promote it in the US and they didn’t think it would suit that market. Maybe they thought it was too poppy.
For the new release did you consider also re-recording the B-sides Pretty Girls and How Do Ya Feel?
We just wanted to concentrate on the album itself, but it’s definitely an option to do at a later date.
What song was the most difficult to record during the original sessions and was there a particular track during the re-recording that proved more of a challenge this time around?
Probably Hey You, as it was heavily re-arranged from the original demos. Same with the re-record, as it was one of the biggest hit songs, so it has to have the right feel and vibe of the original.
Were you always happy with the order that the songs were featured on the album and did you consider moving the tracks around to create a different flow?
It kinda feels like the running order is set in stone; people are used to it being in that order so I wouldn’t change it.
In the summer of 1990 you appeared at Monsters of Rock at Donington Park. Did this feel like it was going to be a significant moment in your career and how did you feel as you took to the stage?
It was the biggest audience we ever played to…ninety-thousand. So a very memorable and significant gig for us; our album was the biggest seller of all the bands in the bill at the time, so it was just great timing. Very nerve-wracking once I caught a glimpse of the size of the crowd, but once I was on stage the adrenaline took, it was over too quick! I’ll never forget that one.
In Kerrang!’s review of the event they noted that both The Quireboys and Thunder upstaged the veteran acts, particularly headliners Whitesnake. Were you nervous about sharing the stage with legends like Aerosmith?
We had played with Aerosmith before that, I think, so it was cool to say hi to them again. Everything was happening so quickly for us once the album was released; it was like a whirlwind really. We just wanted to do the best show we could and luckily it went well and the whole crowd were with us all the way.
To celebrate their appearance, Thunder released a live version of She’s So Fine recorded at the festival as a single soon afterwards. Had you made a similar decision, which song from your Donington set would have made the best single?
I would have released Right on Track. It’s amazing that it was our opening song at such a huge gig and it was never ever released on record!
In 2002 Billboard claimed A Bit of What You Fancy was overshadowed by The Black Crowes; did The Quireboys struggle to break into the American market?
Our album did well in the States – 200,000 – but obviously it eventually got overtaken by the Crowes, even though our album came out first. MTV picked them up and not us, so that was that. Plus, our label Capitol didn’t do a very good job. We toured for months in the US, spending ridiculous amounts of money when maybe we should have been back in Europe where the record was doing well. Capitol Canada did much better for us as we went Platinum there, selling more than we did in the US.
Was appearing on a show as iconic as Top of the Pops a special moment for you and was performing to a backing track frustrating for a band that had made its name as a live act?
I think it was better to mime on there, that was part of the fun of it, I think. Whenever you’d see bands playing live on there, they always ended up sounding awful. It was an amazing thing to get to play on the show, as you grow up watching it religiously and in the UK that was a sign that you had ‘made it as a pop star.’
Do you intend on re-recording Bitter Sweet & Twisted for its thirtieth anniversary or was this only to celebrate your debut?
It’s something we may consider as we’ve had fun revisiting this one. Tt was something I was always against doing, but it’s been a really enjoyable, interesting experience.
What can fans expect for your upcoming tour in support of this album?
We’ll still be playing some songs from our other albums, but obviously we’ll be playing all of A Bit of What You Fancy. It’ll be fun as we haven’t revisited some of the songs for years.
A Bit of What You Fancy and the numerous experiences surrounding the album must hold a special place in your heart. When looking back on that time thirty years later what kind of memories and emotions does this stir?
It was a very special time in my life to be recording in L.A. at twenty-years-old, meeting people like Rod Stewart, Don Henley, Guns N’ Roses, etc. The album did so well; as the band had steadily built a following prior to that, people were ready and primed for a young, homegrown rock band after the wave of US bands doing so well. Plus, we sounded British rock ‘n’ roll, as opposed to some other British bands trying to sound American, which wasn’t very convincing. It has stood the test of time, I think, the songs still stand up!