Cult Heroes No. 32: Spider
Four young blokes from Liverpool go out into the big, bad world to make their musical mark. Heard that one before? Well, this time we’re not talking about Beatles, but Spider, creeping and crawling along the NWOBHM web. Never huge news, they still do well enough for some to shed a tear or two at their memory. Why? Read on…oh, and check out all the past Cult Heroes here.
Words: Malcolm Dome
Yeah, go on, have a laugh. Most people who know of Spider usually do when their name’s mentioned. Oh yes, they’ll say, that lot from Liverpool who sounded like a Status Quo tribute band – only they played their own songs, which weren’t as good as Quo’s.
Maybe there is some truth in that. Spider never really came up with a true classic to match Down Down, Paper Plane et al. And the Quo comparisons were reasonable, because Spider did play the same style of boogie. But then, so what? Spider never set out to be arena stars (well, they probably did, actually) and knew how to have a laugh. In fact, nobody laughed more at Spider than the band themselves.
“We want everyone at our gigs to have a good time,” the moustachio’d bassist/vocalist Brian Burrows once told me. “That’s why we put a lot of effort into the show.”
And they really did. Even when playing pubs, they had a cannon (well, more like a pea shooter) firing out confetti, and they’d throw out cigarette papers for the blokes and sweets for the gals. It was very entertaining. The band weren’t just a bunch of ne’er do wells off the Merseyside streets. They put a lot of effort and time into their music and performance. Never virtuosos, nonetheless the four – with Col Harkness and Sniffa Bryce on guitar (the former also on vocals) and Rob E. Burrows on drums – played well enough, and their songs had an honesty and freshness about them, even if they were as musically challenging as Old Macdonald on his farm. Besides, did you really need to be Yes to play a song like Here We Go, Rock And Roll?
Spider started in 1976, and ended a decade later. Inbetween, they released three albums (each on a different label – this lot managed to secure three major deals), 10 singles and toured constantly, sometimes headlining, and at others supporting the likes of UFO, Uriah Heep, Slade and Gillan. They even played at the Reading Festival in 1982. That’s not a bad cv for band who were ridiculed by many.
I first saw them in July 1980 at the John Bull in Chiswick, West London. They pulled a decent crowd, had a right laugh and were thoroughly enjoyable. You never got the feeling that they were destined for greatness, but had a sort of presence and energy which made you warm to them. Well, I warmed to them anyway.
I saw the the band quite a bit over the next few years, including the Clarendon Hotel in Hammersmith, The Marquee a few times (on one occasion, they were supported by…Marillion!) and even Hammersmith Odeon – headlining!
Yes, Spider did play at that most revered of venues, on a public transport strike day! But they still managed to pull a decent crowd. A real moment of which to be proud. In a way they did so much better than anyone expected, helped by the shrewd management of one Maggi Farren. She got them their record deals and put them on those big tours. The band’s work ethic was remarkable. They were always on the road, and never seemed to stop promoting and marketing themselves. Bands with greater talent and profiles never got even close to fulfilling their potential in the way that Spider did. In fact, it can be said that this lot overachieved, which is to their credit.
In honesty, none of those three albums are exactly masterpieces. The fact is that Spider were never truly cut out for the demands of the studio. They had their moments on each album – Rock ’N’ Roll Gypsies (1982), Rough Justice (1983) and Raise The Banner (1986) – but not enough to make them really big. But then, perhaps that’s as it should be. Spider headlining Reading or Monsters Of Rock? Hmmm. Spider on Top Of The Pops? Erm. Spider getting OBEs? Wooo. Leave that sort of thing to the professionals.
It’s interesting that, since the split, not one of Spider has remained involved in music. Well, Brian Burrows did do some design work on the periphery of the rock world, but that’s the sum total of their connection with music over the past 24 years. But the reissue of their first two albums in 2008 (by Krescendo) actually made me realise that time has been kind to these loveable Liverpool larrikins. The records have, if anything, improved with age, and there’s an undeniable charm about them, albeit ‘charm’ in the way that we think of Dick Dastardly & Muttley. But that’s no bad thing.
What price then a reunion? Next year is the 35th anniversary of their formation and the 25th of the split. So, why not? They’ve more credibility than many other NWOBHM bands who’ve reformed having only ever released one independent single. And yes, Spider are part of NWOBHM – the boogie branch. What’s more they did headline Hammy Odeon, and how many others from that genre ever made it so far? Not a lot.
Besides, there are two other reason why you should care about Spider. Firstly, they were avid tea drinkers (seriously!) and did more for the British tea industry than any other band, bar Saxon. Finally, their fan club was run by…Dave Ling. He of Classic Rock fame. And if they were good enough for Dave…
OK, let’s here some music.
This is perhaps their best song: All The Time.
Let’s get into Here We Go, Rock And Roll
Finally, their rightfully acclaimed Amazing Grace Medley Part 1. How many tunes can you identify?
There’s also a website dedicated to the band: http://spiderarchive.multiply.com/