Although the exact date has been forgotten, back in 1990, I heard a half-hour broadcast of a Quireboys live show on BBC Radio 1. It was recorded in November ’89, during the band’s stint supporting Aerosmith. For those thirty minutes, Spike and co pulled out all the stops. Remembering how great that live set had been, I checked out their debut album ‘A Bit of What You Fancy’, only to be initially disappointed.
Time is a funny thing. ‘A Bit of What You Fancy’ still may not be completely representative of The Quireboys I remember from that live broadcast, but in reality, although not perfect, it’s far from being a bad record.
The opening number ‘7 O’clock’ represents the band’s manifesto in four minutes with its bar-room trashiness. Musically, it rests somewhere between a slightly heavy handed version of The Faces and mid-period Rolling Stones. Guy Bailey & Guy Griffin’s three chord R’n’R guitars provide the perfect accessory for Spike’s whiskey-soaked rasp and the piano and harmonica add a much needed flourish. The anthemic ‘Hey You’ follows suit and manages to stay memorable a long time after the album has finished. It’s hardly surprising that between these couple of singles and a lot of touring, The Quireboys managed to gain a substantial fan base of rock fans looking for something retro and familiar.
Surprisingly, those singles are nowhere near as good as a couple of other tracks on the album. ‘Man on the Loose’ takes the tried and tested bar room formula and turns it up a notch, adding gospel styled backing vocals and ‘Whipping Boy’ represents a slower, bluesier band. The latter, in particular, stands up well with its brooding style, making for something altogether less disposable, and again, the female backing vocals are put to good use. The swaggering ‘There She Goes Again’ is timeless with its cocky Faces influence. Good use of a horn section coupled with a memorable (if somewhat simplistic) chorus makes it a standout.
Their Rolling Stones fixation comes to the fore for ‘Misled’, which sounds like a poor imitation of something like ‘It’s Only Rock N Roll’, but sang badly, and the album sags drastically during ‘Sweet Mary Ann’ and ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’. On the latter, it becomes especially obvious that Spike’s vocal style, most of the time, isn’t especially cut out for slower numbers. It occasionally works outside the Faces-style stompers though, since it sound fine on the country-tinged ‘Roses & Rings’; here, Chris Johnstone provides good accompaniment on the piano – an undervalued member, most of his contributions lend this album its long-lasting charm.
Hit ‘n’ miss as it may be, but ‘A Bit of What You Fancy’ is far better than I ever gave it credit for back in 1990. It mightn’t always have the all round perfection of the Black Crowes debut issued at a similar time, but its best moments are a fine example of classic rock and an always welcome reminder of Tommy Vance’s Radio 1 Rock Show…and for that, I’ll always be glad of existence and give it a spin every so often. It still doesn’t match the brilliance of the Quireboys live shows of the time – as any fan knows, it’s in the live setting they really shine. Now, if only the Beeb would issue that performance from ’89 and their Donington set from 1990 officially, that would be fantastic!