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STREET FIGHTING MAN – Quartz’s drummer Malcolm Cope reminisces about the band’s early days

STREET FIGHTING MAN – Quartz’s drummer Malcolm Cope reminisces about the band’s early days
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“In Birmingham back then everyone knew everyone from a musicians’ point of view,” is how Malcolm sets the scene, “and the three of us played in a band called Copperfield in the late Sixties. That, unfortunately, didn’t do what it was supposed to do but as I said everybody in the Birmingham area sort of knew one another and we’d all played in different configurations with one another in different bands. We’d all had small amounts of success in various outfits but this time we wanted to go further than we had in the past. So we decided to really try and persevere and go for the big time, shall we say. We’d all had contacts with London management previously, so we got ourselves together, got ourselves this London manager and with all our connections over the years we got to Don Arden and Jet Records. We really just wanted to have a real go. We’d all played around for ten years or so, in different formations, and instead of just doing the social clubs we wanted to achieve a higher standard.”

Malcolm’s “three of us” were guitarist Mick Hopkins, bassist Derek Arnold and himself, and in joining forces with vocalist Mike ‘Taffy’ Taylor and guitarist and keyboard player Geoff Nicholls Bandy Legs were formed. Two singles came and went in 1974 and 1975 (‘Ride Ride’ b/w Don’t Play Games’ and ‘Silver Screen  Queen’ b/w ‘Lonely Girl’ respectively) before Bandy Legs signed to Jet in 1976. One more single, ‘Bet You Can’t Dance’ b/w ‘Circles’, appeared the same year before a change of name saw them become Quartz, and their whose self-titled debut album appeared in May 1977.

“A lot of hard work went into that,” say Malcolm, referring to the album which was produced by Tony Iommi. “We’d changed management and taken up with a guy called Albert Chapman who was running the Rum Runner [the famous Birmingham nightclub] at the time. He was a close friend of Tony’s (they went to school together) and at that point he started to semi-manage Sabbath. We all used to frequent the Rum Runner, so there was a camaraderie there: Birmingham was such a vibrant musical scene at that time. Tony put a lot of effort into us and that first album, and because of his close connection with Albert we were invited to go out on the Sabbath tour.

“It was all through Geoff, really,” explains the drummer. “It was Geoff who’d suggested Albert for our manager. We’d had a long stint with Wilf Pine who’d worked with Don Arden over the years and who’d got a view of the business and how it worked from him. Wilf had managed us in Copperfield [and also scores the production credit on the first two Bandy Legs singles] so we started out with him. It was his idea to expose us by putting us out as the backing band for Jimmy Helms – he had a hit record ‘Gonna Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse’ – and we were backing him for nine months. But Wilf had this habit of getting fed up with various acts that he worked with and it got to that point so then Geoff suggested we ask Albert if he would manage us, and because of Albert’s close connection with Tony, it all fell into place.”

To say Malcolm was pleased with ‘Quartz’ is an understatement-and-a-half. “I think we were all over the moon. It was so exciting. We were touring with one of the top bands in the world, and we’d got their guitarist who’s being admired not just for his guitar playing but his productions as well (because he’d already produced two or three Sabbath albums), so we couldn’t ask for any more, really. Jet were spending money on us but we didn’t know then that they were going bankrupt at the same time. Albert worked really hard for us, and as well as playing with Black Sabbath we did two tours with AC/DC.”

But with Jet Records in trouble, Quartz soon found themselves without a deal. Salvation came from Reddington’s Rare Records, a Birmingham record shop who created their own label and issued a handful of NWOBHM releases. “It was quite a large business in its day, it was quite vibrant, more like a social scene than a record shop,” recalls Malcolm. “It was really busy, and people would be coming in and out not just for the records but for a place to mingle. Two of our guys got involved in just helping out part-time in the shop and they built a friendship with Danny Reddington, who had this idea of us recording with his backing to put something out on an independent label. At that point in time the rock/metal independent labels were doing really well, and so we were sort of pushed into the scene, really. We didn’t realise we were, but most of the kids were avoiding – or appearing to avoid – the name acts and the big labels and buying all the independent stuff, and the first few things we put out with Danny just sold and sold and sold. We sold thousands of stuff, even t-shirts: I can remember going into the bank and the bank manager saying ‘Oh, you’re Quartz. Is it you that all the kids are wearing t-shirts of?’ So we were all getting excited because it looked like we were going to get that step up the next rung of the ladder to where we wanted to be.”

The band would go on to sign to MCA, but not before Reddingtons Rare Records had issued a single, a cover of Mountain’s ‘Nantucket Sleighride’ which would go on to feature as the theme tune to TV’s ‘Weekend World’, as well as the stunning (and self-explanatory) ‘Live Quartz’. “I never really took it seriously at the time as that album cost £350 to record, which Danny financed, but I’m quite proud of it now. It was recorded at Digbeth town hall, on 1 December 1979, and I think we were all quite surprised at the quality of the recording. And the other thing was that it really felt like a live recording. There’s very little overdubs. It was just a real, raw, exciting, fun night and it came over that way in the recording. I think we were all quite shocked as to how good it came over. There’s lots of energy too. I hadn’t played it for ages until recently and I thought ‘bloody hell! That’s a proper live recording!’”

So all of a sudden, after many years’ work, Quartz found themselves labelled as a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band. “We weren’t sure how that came about, to be perfectly honest!” Malcolm laughs. “We’d kept going through the punk thing which put a real dampener on playing heavy rock. We always classed ourselves as rock – heavy rock/metal – because from about 1977 onwards ‘metal’ crept in from, I think, Sounds. Before that it was all related to heavy rock, and that’s how we saw ourselves. But then punk came along and a lot of the writers started giving us a bad time because they regarded us as old school. They were even putting down the big names, the likes of Led Zeppelin. They were regarded as – how can I put it? – well, although they’d been there and done it all, they had no contact with the audience. So everyone seemed to latch onto the punk scene, and then there were one or two people who stared to refer to this New Wave Of British Heavy Metal at some point. But having said that, we kept going, we just kept playing. We’d got gigs we could always fill in certain parts of the country no matter what we did. So that kept our name bubbling, and as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal and the likes of Def Leppard and Iron Maiden came up…” Malcolm breaks off. “We actually gigged with Iron Maiden the night they got their deal – and they borrowed some of our equipment, if I remember rightly! One of our regular gigs used to be the Lyceum in London and a lot of the London bands used to play there for the record companies to come and view them. So that’s where the New Wave Of British Heavy metal thing slowly crept in and although we never quite understood how we got lumped in, when I listen to that live album and listen to how fast we were playing I can understand being associated with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal because a lot of the bands were quite quick, tempo-wise. So I can see now how we would fall into that category.”

I wondered if the band played faster on the live album because they knew they were being taped that night. “No,” laughs Malcolm, “I think we were actually always in that vein. Looking back now – and we were talking about this the other night – how quickly we were playing, we don’t know how Taffy ever got the vocal in!”

Logo Records re-issued the live album and then issued a highly collectable 12” single ‘Satan’s Serenade’, while Jet Records bounced back and re-released ‘Quartz’ under the title ‘Deleted’ and issued it in a brown paper grocery bag. As you do. MCA’s producer Derek Lawrence had taken an interest in the band and signed them, and the result was ‘Stand Up And Fight’, released in September 1980. But somehow the momentum that they’d built up with Reddington’s Rare Records was lost, and the band were never able to capitalise on their earlier success. Aside from Tygers Of Pan Tang, MCA dropped all their NWOBHM bands after just one album and Quartz found themselves back on the streets once more. Still, they picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and recorded ‘Against All Odds’, a more commercial offering, for Heavy Metal Records in 1983.

Although Taffy Taylor died in 2016 and Geoff Nicholls the following year, Quartz are still playing and recording today, a testament to their dogged determination.

The following Quartz albums are available on Dissonance Productions. Click on the links below to buy or stream them