The Quireboys released their ninth studio album ‘St Cecilia And The Gypsy Soul’ via Off Yer Rocka on 30 March 2015. They head into their fourth decade by bringing out this Four CD deluxe edition, which was preceded by the release of the ‘Gracie B’ EP on 16 March 2015. Whilst this is their ninth album in 30 years it is their third album in as many years. Founded by Spike and Guy Bailey in 1984 (note Guy Griffin, joined around five years later and remains part of the core line-up today). The Quireboys celebrated their 30th Anniversary last year with a couple of shows at The Half Moon in Putney, the venue where they played their first ever gig. They also appeared at several festivals last year, as well as undertaking both unplugged and full electric tours, and found the time to record their eighth studio album ‘Black Eyed Sons!’
They have just undertaken an Unplugged & Personal UK Headline Tour in the UK. My equally blonde, but less glamorous colleague, Dennis Jarman reviewed the recent gig at Chester Live Rooms (see here). I reviewed the Manchester Academy gig on their last full band UK tour last year (see here). With four CDs to cover Dennis and I have collaborated for this review.
Disc 1 – St Cecilia and The Gypsy Soul
Ladies first? Not this time. This is what Dennis had to say: –
“It is a testament to the spontaneity of the Quireboys that this album came to be. A few new songs were planned to be penned alongside re-worked older songs but they came out with ten brand new acoustic numbers. The quality of a good, if not great, song is shown by being played acoustically and these new tracks are guaranteed show-stoppers! Highlights are many but stand outs are opening track Gracie B as it’s tempos and vocal lines bring to mind Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. Spike’s laid back snarling delivery and languid keyboards ease the album in.
‘Land Of My Father‘ features upbeat guitar strums and as the vocals build, it could have lead into Black Or White by Michael Jackson. The title track is bolstered by a lazy bar room boogie with a chorus to die for. Wistful guitars and mournful strings are the perfect foil for Spike’s lyrics on The Promise. The Hurting Kind has a bluesy Tom Waits like vibe. Spike is at his soul searching best on closing track Why Did It Take So Long as his vocals get chance to dominate, backed by sparse percussion and piano, but personal favourite is Can’t Hide It Anymore with lead vocals taken by guitarist Guy Griffin. His Marc Bolan like timbre is the perfect foil to Spike’s cutting backing vocals as the guitars and strings build to a crescendo.”
Trust me to take second place and have to follow that! So what can I add?
I’ll start with my highlight track which is the one, which gives the album the name St Cecilia (and the Gypsy Soul). St Cecilia being the patron saint of musicians. The first song that came to mind was the obvious, Cecilia by Simon and Garfunkel, but think of Rod Stewart doing it Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil Style with an added disco beat, say Can You Feel It by The Jackson Five. Merge the three together and you’ll get something like St Cecilia! In Land of My Father I picked up a U2 I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For vibe.
I thought Can’t Hide It Anymore, for which Guy Griffin takes the lead microphone, was similar to Make it Real by Glimmer, the band he fronted when the Quireboys split for a time in the 1990s, and although he may speak with a Southern accent I’m sure there’s a glimmer of the Manc to his singing style! This one reminding me of Oasis say Don’t Look Back in Anger. Out of Your Mind put me in mind of The Quireboys’ own Chain Smokin’ from their 2013 release ‘Beautiful Curse.’ The Hurting Kind had a, kind of, Frankie Miller vibe although I’m thinking of Spike‘s tribute album ‘100% Pure Frankie Miller‘, (which the other Quireboys featured on) and the track Cold, Cold Nights. Then penultimate track The Best Are Not Forgotten and final track Why Did It Take So Long both mellow tracks to bring the album to a gentle finish and although, if you listen to the lyrics, the songs are not about the band, it could be said that it’s taken them thirty years to get to where they are today! Their best songs won’t be forgotten, with a loyal following and gaining new fans all the time, they’re still playing many of their earlier songs live, to this day. Now they have even more great songs to add to their extensive choice for set lists!
1) Gracie B.
2) Land of my Father.
3) St Cecilia.
4) The Promise.
5) Can’t Hide it Anymore.
6) Out of Your Mind.
7) The Hurting Kind.
9) The Best are Not Forgotten.
10) Why Did it Take so Long.
Disc 2 – Halfpenny Dancer
The second disc of this four disc set is a re-release of the 2009 album Halfpenny Dancer which gave the band the inspiration to write St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul ” When the band locked themselves away for a week in what Paul Guerin described as “... the bleakest place I’ve ever seen” The plan was always to record some new acoustic songs and rework some originals,” added Spike. “But the plan changed. There was something about that place – the vibe got better and better and we just went with the flow.” So coming away with ten new songs the band have been ‘saintly’ and given their fans, the bonus of, a re-issue of Halfpenny Dancer, plus two previously unreleased discs of the 2010 ‘Halfpenny Dancer’ live show which features fiddles, pedal steel, mandolin, banjo and more.
Pulling some comparisons on this one isn’t as easy for me as, even though I had never heard the album before, they still play at least half of them live, so I’ve heard them many times and to me it’s classic Quireboys. However I’ve managed to find a few and there are some interesting covers thrown in on this one. A fiddle starts the acoustic version of There She Goes Again from their debut album ‘A Bit Of What You Fancy’ giving it a country vibe. Lola? Some may say that The Kinks’ Lola was indeed a Devil of a Man and that was my first thought when I heard the opening riff to this one. Can’t Stop Loving You their cover of the song penned by Billy Nicholls and released by Leo Sayer, is sung beautifully by Spike and reminded me of a cross between Love Me For a Reason by The Osmonds and Everything’s For Her by The Bounty Hunters.
With it’s Please Release Me by Englebert Humperdick meets Singing the Blues by Guy Mitchell feel I couldn’t believe it when the words ‘Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone’ sang out. A song way older than me which I’ve been hearing for forty odd years as it’s the only song my Dad, who has never been to a gig in his life, ever sings. (Apart from football hooligan chants, that is!) After all this time I’ve finally found out what the song is, although I have to say Spike sings it with greater emotion and more tunefully than Syd Swift (sorry Dad!). He’ll Have to Go was written by Joe and Audrey Allison and most famously recorded by Jim Reeves in 1959. Perhaps I should take my Dad to a gig for his 70th later this year and see if they’ll play it for him, although I’d be mortified if he joined in! My highlight track follows and, at track eleven, it was A Long Time Comin’ with Keith giving the ivories a fair bit of the Little Richard style pounding. The last song King Of New York has an essence of the song You Are So Beautiful To Me written by members of The Beach Boys and popularised by Joe Cocker, and it is, indeed, a beautiful melodic song.
This time I let Dennis have the last word or two!
“Released in 2009 and limited to only one thousand copies, Halfpenny Dancer has a slightly different track listing here than the original pressing. Consisting of thirteen tracks, ten originals of which many are still in the current set and four inspired covers. The first cover is a potent rendition of Leo Sayer’s Can’t Stop Loving You. The Quireboys version is piano led with mournful steel pedal guitar backing. Baby It’s You is a perfect choice for Spike’s throaty growl on this cover by Scottish crooner Frankie Miller and lastly an unusual but excellent take of ‘He’ll Have To Go‘, the emotional ballad more well known from the Jim Reeves version. Best cover of the four goes to a spine tingling take on UFO’s Love To Love. The atmosphere of the original is kept by acoustic compared to the bombast of the original as Spike captures the timbre of vocalist Phil Mogg whose nephew Nigel Mogg once played in the Quireboys. The laid back guitar solo here is as far removed as you can get from Michael Schenker’s electric but it works!. Highlights of the original Quireboys songs are a raucous There She Goes Again, one of many songs here given a new lease of life with violin passages. Spike’s vocals are more intense on Devil Of A Man than the original. Mona Lisa Smiled strangely brings to mind If You Can’t Give Me Love by Suzi Quatro as it builds to the classic chorus but personal favourite is a heart wrenching King Of New York that closes the album.
1) There She Goes Again
2) Devil of a Man
3) Love to Love (UFO Cover)
4) Mona Lisa Smiled
5) I Can’t Stop Loving You (Leo Sayer Cover)
6) Roses & Rings
7) Baby It’s You (Frankie Miller Cover)
9) Pretty Girls
10) He’ll Have To Go (Cover – info here)
11) Long Time Comin’
12) Hates to Please
13) King of New York
Then we have the two Halfpenny Live discs. I suppose it’s going to depend on your personal preference as to whether or not you enjoy live albums. I go to a lot of gigs but prefer to listen to studio albums, so I probably wouldn’t have bought them, but it’s a box set we’re reviewing so I’ve listened. They’re well produced and there’s no background chatter, which you can get at a live show, and they do give you a feel for what a live Quireboys show would be like, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure! I’m not sure, exactly, which venue these were recorded at but I’ve managed to surmise it was a seated gig in Bedford. Dennis and I have reviewed one of the live discs each.
Disc 3 – Halfpenny Live (Part I)
Here’s what Dennis has to say: –
“Disc one of two taken from the Halfpenny Dancer Live is pretty much what you would expect from a Quireboys gig. A rabid audience, a tight as a gnat’s chuff band fronted by the quick witted and inebriated Spike Gray. Of course the audio does not capture him pint in hand talking to the crowd like everyone is his best mate. Not many frontmen can do this which is why Quireboy’s gigs are so special. The show kicks off with There She Goes Again the perfect opener but most of their songs could be openers or encores! Personal highlights are the one, two sucker punches of tracks four and five Mona Lisa Smiled and Love To Love. The former sees Spike pushing his voice more as the song progresses, a more emotional version than the studio version, and the pace is then brought right down for a laid back cover of the UFO classic ballad Love To Love. Once again another emotional vocal tour de force with the acoustic guitars cutting like a knife and a show stopping Can’t Stop Loving You, the Leo Sayer paen of love lost.”
1) There She Goes Again
2) Devil of a Man
3) Mona Lisa Smiled
4) Love to Love
5) Roses & Rings
6) Pretty Girls
7) Cant Stop Loving You
8) One for the Road
Disc 4 – Halfpenny Live (Part II)
In the absence of any Sex Party I told Dennis that I’d review live album two so at least I can Have a Drink With Me (or them), as I’m sat at home with wine in hand, which I haven’t been able to do recently, as I’ve been designated driver at the last three gigs I’ve been to! A good mix of fast songs and slower ballads, typical of a set list really, as you would expect. Opening with Hates to Please with it’s Dog D’Amour vibe say How Come It Never Rains (and I’m still gutted that I never went to the gig when The Quireboys supported them at Manchester International II, because I didn’t initially like The Dogs!) The tempo then moves up a beat, or two, for bar-room pleaser Long Time Comin’ one that just gets your feet tapping and you wanting to dance, so not much fun at a seated gig! I’m sure I heard the ‘F’ word thrown in which, as most of the bands I like swear profusely, can only be a bonus but The Quireboys aren’t known for profuse swearing.
During Have a Drink With Me another slower number Bruce Murray was quoted as saying ‘You’re a long time dead’ If I hadn’t known better I may have thought that was Bedford rhyming slang for a dodgy curry, but if it wasn’t for his input, The Quireboys wouldn’t be the line-up they are today and I met him briefly, when I was vetted, prior to being allowed to interview his son! ;-) The only track I don’t recall hearing live, although in over twenty gigs spanning twenty-five years it’s possible that I have heard it live but just don’t remember, is Late Night Saturday Call, another slow ballad, which had Spike singing with real feeling. More upbeat popular Quireboys tracks follow then penultimate track 7 O’Clock which had Spike asking everyone to stand up. It’s another great bar-room track, giving Keith’s keyboard skills the chance to shine, and a bit of added fiddle although it still didn’t hide the missing ‘Dirty Device’ which I felt compelled to complain about when I reviewed This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll II but it’s a catchy, upbeat song which got the audience singing along in fine voice. Then final track I Don’t Love You Anymore another crowd favourite, sung with emotion, it really sounded like Spike was going to break down in tears at one point. Finishing with Spike’s customary ‘Good night, God bless. Thank you for coming out ‘ and a ‘Cheers everybody.’
1) Hates to Please
2) Long Time Comin’
3) Have a Drink With Me
4) Late Night Saturday Call
6) I love this Dirty Town
7) 7 O’Clock
8) I Don’t Love You Anymore
Guy Griffin (Guitar)
Keith Weir (Keyboards)
Paul Guerin (Guitar)
(NOTE – Martin Ekelund also played various instruments on Disc 1)
The quality of a good, if not, great song is shown by being played acoustically and these new tracks are guaranteed show-stoppers! Classic Quireboys with a few interesting twists think Fleetwood Mac to Oasis or Marc Bolan to Michael Jackson. With ten new songs, a reissue of Halfpenny Dancer and two live albums that’s four must have discs for any self respecting fan! Great value too at less than £20! Fans over in the states will get the chance to see them live shortly, as they head over for Unplugged in the USA, see poster above for dates.