An Interview with Malcolm Cope of Quartz

Header image courtesy of Quartz Facebook (official)

Image courtesy of Quartz Facebook (official)

I recently dug in with New Wave of British Heavy Metal hero, and drummer, Malcolm Cope of Quartz. Among other things, we touch on the origins, trials, and tribulations of one of rock and metal music’s most underexposed bands, Quartz, new music, and more.

If you would like to learn more about Quartz, hit the link to their Facebook page, and dig in. Once you’ve checked that out, dig into this interview with Pete. Cheers.

Andrew:
Malcolm, thank you for taking some time today to chat with us. Let’s dig right in. As a burgeoning musician, who were some of your earliest influences?

Malcolm:
I first began to take a real interest in music towards the end of the 1950s but was not particularly a fan of rock ‘n’ roll. However, I did like groups such as Bill Haley & The Comets and The Shadows. I also was heavily influenced by Tony Meehan of The Shadows, and Bob Henrit who played with The Roulettes, and later, Argent. Then in the early 60s, the Merseybeat scene came to fruition and that really changed everything for me as it’s totally different style of music. Everybody back then played cover versions, so you developed your own technique from varied sources, and most of us were self-taught.

Andrew:
What was it that gravitated you toward the drums over other instruments?

Malcolm:
I began drumming because my neighbor friend’s father had an old Premiere drum kit from his time whilst serving in the navy during WW2. We had a large lounge at home, so we could set up the drum kit, and take it in turns trying to play along to records. I would also go to local dance halls regularly to watch the drummers performing there, and then try to copy what they were doing when I got home.

Andrew:
What were some of your early gigs in which you cut your teeth?

Malcolm:
Most of the large pubs would put on bands every Friday and Saturday night as there was hardly any pre-recorded music played in public venues back then. Factories had working men’s social clubs, primarily for their employees and their family’s use and entertainment, which gave us the opportunity to play live. Also, there were numerous dance halls where the more established groups could play on a regular basis. I can still remember traveling on buses to and from gigs with all our equipment in tow. Back then we had Lyndon Laney playing with us who had a keen interest in electronics. This interest, and the lack of funds to buy a proper amp, led him to build the first Laney Amp in his father’s garage. From this, he would go on to found Laney Amplification a few years later. Coincidentally, it was Lyndon’s father who had taught me technical drawing when I was at school.

Andrew:
Take me through the formation of Bandy Legs, and the eventual signing to Jet Records.

Malcolm:
We had all played in numerous groups over the previous years enjoying varying degrees of success. Mick Hopkins briefly played with Geoff Nicholls in a band called “Time.” Derek Arnold and Mike “Taffy” Taylor played together in a band named “Lemon Tree,” and Mick would join them shortly afterward. When Taff and their drummer left Lemon Tree, I joined the band, and we then changed our name to “Copperfield.” Mick, along with Dave Walker, was asked to join the Idle Race in 1970 to replace Jeff Lynne who was leaving to work on bigger projects. So, I went to play in a band called “Eastwood” for a short while. After his stint in the Idle Race, Mick went to Canada in late 1971 to work with the Pilling brothers again. Mick had played with Brian and Ed Pilling before his time in Lemon Tree. Mick only stayed out there in Canada with Fludd for about six months or so because he felt homesick. On his return to Birmingham, Mick was interested in trying to get the old band back together for another shot at making the big time. The final piece of the jigsaw was completed when Geoff, who had recently had success in the World of Oz and Johnny Neal & The Starliners, joined us to form the five-piece outfit that would become known as “Bandy Legs.” Actually, Geoff’s first live performance with us was on New Year’s Eve in 1973. We released three singles as Bandy Legs on three different record labels in two years. The third of which was on the Jet Records label, which we had signed with in early 1976 following our successful support slot on Black Sabbath’s Sabotage Tour.

Image courtesy of Quartz Facebook (official)

Andrew:
As you’ve just alluded to, in the band’s earliest days, Bandy Legs, and later on, Quartz, hit the road in support of ACϟDC and Black Sabbath. What do you recall from your time on the road with those acts?

Malcolm:
Both support slots were really amazing experiences, and a steep learning curve for us, as a band as it was a huge step in level for us at that time. Our first tour with Sabbath in 1975, when we were still known as Bandy Legs, came completely out of the blue, so we had to quickly rehearse a heavier set. This set included some of the new material that we were working on at the time and a couple of cover versions, which seemed to go down well with the audiences. We learned a lot on that tour by playing in front of larger audiences plus watching Sabbath perform night after night was a great insight into the major league.

The tour with ACϟDC was a couple of years later as Quartz in 1977. We were out there promoting our debut album release with Jet Records. We performed a few dates on the second part of ACϟDC’s Let There Be Rock European Tour until we ran into problems with our work visas. I had to make the difficult decision on the band’s behalf to return home earlier than expected, which was very disappointing for us, and our record company.

Andrew:
How did Bandy Legs officially become rebranded as Quartz?

Malcolm:
Whilst we were working on our debut album in the studio everybody, both in the band and at the record company, began to think about our current name and its promotional viability. One of the main men at Jet Records back then was Ronnie Fowler, who had previously worked at EMI. Ronnie had a knack for coming up with band names that began with the letter “Q” eg Queen, etc., so his ideas actually carried a lot of weight. Ronnie came to us one day saying he had been reading a book about rocks and minerals, and said, “So, how about Quartz?” We all liked it, and as Quartz is a hard rock, it seemed quite fitting to us. [Laughs].

Andrew:
Quartz is one of the earliest examples of the second wave of heavy metal, or what would become known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Paint a picture of that scene and its formation.

Malcolm:
In the early years, it was hard rock and heavy rock bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc. that reached the pinnacle in terms of success and could be later labeled as the first wave of heavy metal. When the punk rock scene started, there was a massive generational change and shift in people’s attitudes. The youngsters were looking for music idols of their own age to identify with, and definitely not these old established bands. The music papers and journalists needed to latch on to this new wave of music to keep their credibility with their readers. Many individuals formed punk bands by picking up instruments for the first time and releasing songs on independent record labels to fly in the face of the establishment. Punk rock fizzled out after burning brightly for a few short years. It was quickly replaced by the realization that you didn’t need to be an established act or have a major record label behind you, to be successful in the music industry anymore, and as such, the NWOBHM movement was spawned. Our debut album was released in 1977, as already mentioned, but was actually pulled by Jet Records shortly after its release date. Following on from our local success in 1979, and with the emergence and continued success of the NWOBHM movement, Jet Records decided to repackage, rename, and rerelease our debut album as Deleted in 1980. Many music journalists and the music press thought both that album, and we were both new, but obviously, we weren’t.

Image courtesy of Quartz Facebook (official)

Andrew:
Quartz’s debut record was produced by Tony Iommi. How instrumental was he in the production, and overall sound of the record?

Malcolm:
Tony Iommi’s time, effort, and input in the creation and production of our debut album was far, far above, and way beyond the usual level of a normal producer. He would also spend hours and hours with us at rehearsals, and he attended many live gigs offering us advice and support. His commitment to us, and the album, was unbelievable considering that for several months at a time he would be either be away touring or in the studio with Sabbath. We are, and will always be, very grateful and appreciative of his help.

Andrew:
It’s rumored that Brian May of Queen attempted to change the sound of the songs more in the vein of Queen, but ultimately, he admitted that the tracks stood tall as they were. Is there any truth to that? If so, how did Brian become involved? Can any of his contributions be found on the record as it stands today?

Malcolm:
Brian dropped by the studio in London to see Tony whilst we were there recording, which actually happened quite a lot with Tony’s friends back then. We were re-recording a Bandy Legs track called “Circles,” and Brian said he might be able to do some Queen-esque editing to the track if we wanted. Tony told him to go on then, and we all went up the pub for a few pints of beer and a curry. On our return a few hours later, Brian was found sitting on the floor surrounded by lengths of cut audiotape, but with no improved edited version sadly. “Circles” didn’t make it onto the debut album in the end, but can be found on the B-side of our “Stoking Up the Fires of Hell” single released in 1980.

Andrew:
Ozzy Osbourne contributed backing vocals to Quartz’s debut, but it’s said those were ultimately cut by Tony Iommi. What was the reasoning behind that decision?

Malcolm:
Yes, correct Ozzy did some backing vocals on the song “Circles,” the same track that Brian May had worked on. Ozzy’s vocals were so loud in the mix that Tony kept asking him to move further and further away from the mic until he was eventually at the back of the studio. His vocal harmony part was further pulled down in the final mix, so you can’t really hear it, but we know it’s in there.

Image courtesy of Quartz Facebook (official)

Andrew:
In the late 70s, and early 80s, Quartz played in support of Iron Maiden, Saxon, UFO, and Rush, but ultimately got lost amongst the scene. Why do you feel Quartz didn’t establish itself in the same way as other bands initially?

Malcolm:
We were steadily climbing the ladder of success during the late 1970s and early 1980s, having built up a decent following through constant gigging, and several releases on smaller independent record labels. As a result of this success, the chance arose to sign with MCA — another major record label — who were signing numerous NWOBHM bands at the time. We enjoyed some initial success with MCA but became lost amongst the sheer number of similar bands they had added to their roster. So, when the scene began to move back to the established acts, we found ourselves, along with many others, left out in the cold, which had the effect of alienating us from many fans who believed we had sold out.

Andrew:
Take me through Geoff Nicholls’s departure for Black Sabbath, and how much of an effect that had on Quartz going forward.

Malcolm:
There were mixed feelings about Geoff’s departure at the time. We had worked together for about six years, and a deep bond had developed between us all. However, we didn’t want to deny him the chance of gaining much greater exposure, and possible success with Tony and Black Sabbath on the world stage. Anyway, he was initially only going out there to LA for a couple of weeks or so, but actually, stayed on board with Sabbath for nearly twenty-four years.

Andrew:
Stand Up and Fight, and Against All Odds are extremely underrated records within the NWOBHM scene. If you can, paint a picture of the recording of those records, and the struggles the band faced around that time.

Malcolm:
The Stand Up and Fight album was really a “rush job” in every sense of the word. When we signed the contract with MCA, they wanted a studio album straight away, so the pressure was really on everyone involved to deliver the goods, and to deliver them quickly. We had just begun a UK tour with Rush, so some songs were actually written and developed in hotel rooms before we took to the stage each evening. We had some other songs already in the pipeline that were used, so on reflection, it’s amazing what we managed to achieve under those conditions, and in that time frame. I suppose the adrenalin was pumping, and we were younger back then. [Laughs].

At first, we were not completely happy with the album because there were some mistakes on there. Derek Lawrence, who produced the album, was not really interested in adding effects, or layering overdubs because he too was on a tight time scale and had a strict financial budget from MCA. He did, however, in my opinion, do a fine production job with a great rocking sound that many people now cite as one of the best examples of that era.

With all the recent changes in personnel during 1982/1983, our musical direction was also changing. So the band took the conscious decision that with our next album we would try to break into the American market leading to a more AOR feel than before. The Against All Odds album was aptly named that because we had several recording, and production problems. The first studio we used mysteriously burnt down during our recording sessions, the next studio we chose had issues with the tape recording heads speeds, so we could sync stuff up we had previously recorded. So, we had to move to yet another studio in Coventry to complete the post-production of the album. Geoff Nicholls and Tony Iommi came to some of the recording sessions, and Geoff actually recorded some keyboards for us contributing the track “The Wake” as the intro to “Buried Alive.” Additional problems encountered with delays regarding the release date, and initial distribution problems meant the album didn’t have the impact that we hoped it would have had.

Image courtesy of Quartz Facebook (official)

Andrew:
Despite having three tremendous records and multiple high-profile supporting slots under its belt, Quartz disbanded in 1984. What caused the fracture?

Malcolm:
Being unable to make that next really big step up in level meant I, and Mick to a lesser extent and degree, had become very disillusioned with the music industry, plus I was beginning to suffer from burnout. There were also the great financial sacrifices we had all made over a long time with very little in return to show for. Family time and demands had become even more important to us, and to the fore, with the need for regular work required to pay the bills and mortgages. So, reluctantly in 1984, we decided to call it a day and went our separate ways.

Andrew:
In the ensuing years, Quartz’s legacy, reputation, and stature grew to cult-like status. Looking back, how important was Quartz to the late 70s and early 80s heavy metal scene, and its development moving forward?

Malcolm:
Quartz worked through some very turbulent periods in the music world, and thankfully, at the time, Taff was an excellent frontman and entertainer, which helped us survive and cope. We played with many well-known bands in our time but were rarely in awe of them, as we knew we could stand toe to toe with them in a live setting. I remember one time when we supported Sabbath, the audience demanded an encore from us, which was unheard of for a support act. We built up a significant following through our hard work ethic in the early days, so during the punk rock explosion, we were able to continue working when many of our fellow acts simply folded. We emerged on the other side stronger, and ready to go again, so we were in a better position than many of the NWOBHM bands that were just starting out. I think that is quite important, and relevant that we bridged the gap between the initial new wave of heavy metal, and the second wave of heavy metal — ie NWOBHM. It is part of our legacy that we are still associated with, and included in the NWOBHM movement, even though we predated it by a few years.

Andrew:
The 90s was a particularly tumultuous time for veterans of the heavy metal, and hard rock scene. How did you ride out the decade, Malcolm?

Malcolm:
During the mid-80s, and throughout the 90s, all of the original members of Quartz, except Geoff of course, had to find proper employment in the real world. I ran a nightclub and later worked as an electrician. Taff ran several pubs over the years and put on live bands at some of them. Mick became a civil servant, and Derek worked in the construction industry, and later, worked in retail. We all stayed in touch because of the friendships, and the camaraderie we shared. We also still dabbled with music in different side projects, as it was in our blood, and embedded in our DNA.

Image credit: Martyn Turner Photography

Andrew:
Take me through the events leading up to the reformation of Quartz in 2011.

Malcolm:
As time had moved on by several years now — 25 years or so — we found ourselves in very different places, and in much better situations in our lives. However, we all — even Geoff — had the feeling that there was still something missing. We attended a memorial charity gig in 2010 for Stu Clarke (RIP), which was put on by his former band, Cryer, with who we had shared the stage with many times in the past. Garry Chapman shouted from the stage, “Come On Quartz! If we can do this then surely so can you!” That sowed the seed of an idea that we could get back together for a one-off show to help raise some money for Stuart’s family. Well after eighteen months of sporadic rehearsals, we finally took to the stage boasting four of the original five band members, plus David Garner on vocals. The evening was such a fantastic success, and we went down so well, that it was not really a very difficult decision for us to reach to officially reform, but with the proviso that it was just to have “fun” this time around.

Andrew:
In 2016, we, unfortunately, lost original Quartz vocalist, Mike Taylor, and in 2017, we lost Geoff Nicholls. If you can, speak on their legacy and importance to Quartz and heavy metal on the whole.

Malcolm:
The loss of Taff and Geoff was profound, and very upsetting to us at the time because both still had lots to offer. Taff had struggled with mental health issues, and declining health problems for years, and as a result, didn’t look after his voice or himself. Taff was always fun, messed around a lot, and was always performing, in one way or another, throughout his life. Geoff was also fun-loving, with a dry sense of humor. The two of them would bounce off each other, cracking jokes, and teasing each other all of the time, both on and off stage. Geoff was very creative and had an influence on many musicians during his lifetime. He will be remembered for his inventiveness in using sounds to create moods. He always said he, “Knew his limitations in his playing ability,” but obviously more than made up for this with his ideas, and support of others. Both left huge voids in our lives, and within the music industry. The world is a poorer, and sadder place without them.

Image credit: Starspawn Photography

Andrew:
Quartz released its long-awaited fourth studio album, Fear No Evil, in 2016. Can you speak on the writing, recording, and reception of the record for us? How did the reinvigorated lineup, which features David Garner on vocals, gel in the studio?

Malcolm:
So after reforming in 2012, and gigging extensively in both the UK and in Europe, we came to the point of, “So what’s next guys?” David Garner, who was previously in the band in 1981/1982 as our vocalist briefly, had a small studio built into his garage at home, but admitted he had both limited ability, and the time available to do a professional job of recording a new album. We rehearsed and recorded at David’s when we could, but then passed on our demos to David’s friend to edit, clean up and master at a professional studio. That’s probably why the album has an old-school production feel to it but still manages to sound fresh. Fear No Evil was released by High Roller Records in October 2016, just shortly after Taff had passed away.

Andrew:
What’s next for both Quartz and for you, Malcolm? Can we hope for more new music and additional shows from Quartz?

Malcolm:
Well, despite the many uncertainties in the world currently today, and with our advancing ages, we have managed to record a new studio album called On The Edge of No Tomorrow for release shortly. This album is a tribute to the life and work of Geoff Nicholls. Through the technology of computers, the wizardry and skill of our engineer, plus lots of time and hard work by Mick, you will be able to hear again Geoff playing guitar/keyboards and singing on some of the tracks. There is also a possibility that our back catalog will be reissued on CD in collector’s boxed sets further down the line. One of the only benefits of the recent COVID lockdown is that we now have enough new songs, and material for another additional studio album too. Naturally, when things eventually get back to some kind of normality, we would love to play some live gigs, and festivals to promote these new albums. Fingers crossed.

Image courtesy of Quartz Facebook (official)

Interested in learning more about the work of Quartz? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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