|Street Fighting Lady
|Around and Around
|Roll over Beethoven (Chuck Berry cover)
When a band releases a live disc the same year as a studio album it’s usually done as a quickie cash grab. Still reeling from the dizzying highs and lows of a major label contract, Quartz were only months removed from their second studio album when the rather obscure Live Quartz also appeared on record shelves. The rough’n’ready nature of the recordings was both at odds with the shimmering clarity of Stand Up and Fight and the musical direction the band seemed to be heading in. While their sophomore release had found them right at home in the newly minted NWOBHM, Live Quartz seemed intent on showing off more of the bands roots in hard edged rock and roll. Yet despite it’s mixed content this unabashed club set recording captures more than it’s fair share of magic.
Having attempted to ride their close ties with the mighty Sabbath to stardom for a few years already to no avail, the seemingly luckless group was suddenly in a very different place come 1980. Once seen as behind the times, Quartz now found that they fit right in with a new breed of headbanging rockers. With new life found as a metal band Quartz still managed to display a more street level attitude often foregoing the flash and fantasy of some of their contemporaries. It is this dynamic which manages to shine through brightly on Live Quartz. This is not the polished MTV metal coming up just around the corner but a much scrappier take on what they thought audiences were after.
Eschewing any of their more recent songs, Live Quartz instead focuses on gritty rockers and sweaty hard-boogie numbers. The show itself was recorded in December of 79’ so it’s possible the band had yet to write any of what would constitute Stand Up and Fight. Maybe they were trying to introduce new fans into their older repertoire or maybe they just needed a new release but either way the absence of any seminal album tracks may dissuade some listeners. We are treated to some older gems and covers which mostly work well together and show that the band was indeed heavier than most of their 77’ hard rock peers.
Opener “Street Fighting Lady” has a heavy Deep Purple influence and also shows off the ragged charm of the album’s production; feedback laden guitars, swirling bass and overly loud drums are all captured hit and run style and are totally free of gloss. Despite conditions, singer Taffy Taylor manages to give a modest and measured performance free of pretension. “Good Times” is a serious highlight for me, an updating of the classic Easybeats track which absolutely crushes the popular version by INXS featured in Lost Boys a few years down the road. “Belinda” carries on a similar vein of bashing you over the head with a muscular take on classic rock’n’roll but focuses a little too much on trying to get the crowd involved. I know this is a staple of live albums but I would always rather hear the singer’s voice than a tuneless mob.
Tracks like “Mainline Rider” and “Count Dracula” will probably have more of what NWOBHM fans are really after: sinister riffs and leads which recall the danger and Hammer Horror atmosphere the genre was good and capturing. The latter in particular could almost pass as a Maiden demo and has a seriously cool structure which is sadly marred by the out of time clapping of the audience and a SERIOUS faux pas from Taylor which frankly ruins an otherwise competent build up. This track is also a good showcase for the group’s lone axeman Mick Hopkins who seems to have a very sturdy and reliable playing style. Not quite as technically flashy as others from the era but a solid riff artist nonetheless who gives off a feel of genuine effort throughout the proceedings. “Around and Around” manages to summon a little bit of the Diamond Head spirit with some lofty riffing and a pounding, persistent beat throughout. The original LP closes with another suped-up classic in the form of “Roll Over Beethoven.” A smattering of keyboards can be heard near the end of the song and while he isn’t credited I have to assume its former keyboardist Geoff Nichols. Nichols himself would go on to be Sabbath’s man behind the curtain so to speak. If like me you bought the Dissonance cd version you’ll be treated to an extra track in the form of an excellent cover of “Nantucket Sleighride” by the super underrated Mountain. The track itself is well suited to Quartz style and features more prominent keys. One has to wonder if it is taken from the same show and if it is why was it left off in the first place?
The packaging itself evokes quite the nostalgic feel; a series of honest if slightly unflattering live shots contrasted with neon colored lines. Somehow it works and the digipak itself looks really cool and I dig that they rendered the band name and album title together in their signature font. It also speaks volumes about the content of the record itself and serves as a clear indicator of the almost working class nature of the band itself. Truthfully there are far better live albums from this era, but few are as genuine and down to Earth as Live Quartz. This isn’t some big band at the Hammersmith Odeon but it is a real band rockin’ in their hometown. Did I mention these lads are also from Birmingham, birthplace of metal? And while there isn’t as much metal on display as some fans might want there is a serious dose of gritty, heavy rock played by unflashy guys that seemed to really enjoy doing it. Definitely not essential but still very interesting and perfect for NWOBHM collectors searching for authentic live performances of the era. It’s not exactly on par with Vardis’s 100 MPH but has plenty of guts all its own.