Photo Credit: © CHRISTIE GOODWIN
Status Quo is a band that needs no introduction, nor does lead singer/guitarist and founding member, Francis Rossi. Quo have been regular visitors to Australia since the mid-70s and my own personal love affair with their music began a few years prior to that. Status Quo have held a very special place in my heart for more than forty years so it was an honour and a privilege to finally have the opportunity to interview someone I have held in such high esteem for so long.
I spoke to Francis ahead of the band’s Last Night of the Electrics Tour, kicking off in Australia this month. Quo have long had a strong connection with their Australian fans, having made regular visits to our shores over the last forty odd years. The band has a reputation for putting on one of the best rock shows you will ever see and they’ve been rocking hard for a long time now but the Last Night of the Electrics Tour will, as the name implies, see the band tour with their famous and much-loved electric set one last time.
Francis says that it has been ‘about four years’ since their last Australian tour. “For the last four hundred years, it’s been every four years or two years depending on what’s happening here.”
And there has been a lot happening in the last four years…
“Yes, there has. My partner’s health problems finally caught up with him,” he laments, referring to the passing of his long-time friend and band mate, Rick Parfitt. “He had a massive heart attack last June and then died on Christmas Eve. I could hear him laugh and say, ‘At least I didn’t go the day before.’ We would have been in Liverpool or Manchester or somewhere. Even though we were in the middle of a show, we don’t cancel. We are very business minded in that respect or showbiz minded. The show must go on. We’re kind of old school.”
Despite the loss of his friend and the obvious void his passing has left behind, Francis says that the current band is working out ‘very well’. “Once or twice before, we had to get John Edwards’ son to stand in. He’s a great player. Having a relative on stage, it’s kind of safe. Then when Rick had to step down because he wouldn’t be able to go on tour any more, we were looking for someone permanent and that became frightening I suppose. There was this young kid, Richie Malone… he was about 30 I think… he’s been coming to see us since he was about 11, maybe younger, with his dad and he used to come up to sound checks sometimes and watch us. He looked remarkably like Rick and watched Rick and myself whilst he was growing up so Richie immediately came to mind. We first had a few rehearsals in Belgium and it was good but then something happened earlier this year. He settled in and he also made us focus very much on the arrangements as they were rather than playing on auto. I think bands that have been around a long time tend to be on auto a certain amount and it made us focus on the arrangements and something happens now on stage. It’s somehow like when we were in our 20s. It’s almost like these young men fighting against the world, which is how it used to be. And I find that going on stage now, there’s this unknown of what may happen on stage. Little things are changing in the arrangements and the dynamics and so it’s made us all wake up and it’s done something. I really never thought I’d be in a position saying that a young person’s come in and kicks us in the derriere and makes us all focus and concentrate but it seems to be working well. People say that they really miss Rick but also that they didn’t realise that it (the show) would be that good which is very nice for us.”
“Some things become institutionalised I think. One of my daughters said some time ago, when I was thinking about retiring for the last two hundred years, ‘Well what will you do Dad?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know what you mean?’ She said, ‘what will you do at night?’ Because I generally sit down for two hours most nights and play guitar and she said, ‘Ever since I can remember, you played guitar at night’ and I was thinking, if I didn’t do that, what would I do? The idea of just sitting watching TV was kind of weird. All these things you think you’re working towards and then you stop and take a break and all of a sudden you get revitalised and reinfused with something you’ve done for so long. I can feel my heart rate going up now talking to you. It’s always that feeling of where you can take it each night and where it can go each night.”
Quo already has a massive back catalogue of songs but Francis says that he never stops creating. “That’s one of the things that happens when I’m practising each night. You’ll get a phrase, a chord sequence, or a feel of a chord sequence and of course, like everybody else, I stick it on my phone. And, you’ve got a whole bunch of little tasters of songs and you go back and listen and sometimes this little ‘feel’ is in it.”
“You’re always trying to imagine what the fans would like but there are times when certain songs you just adore. Most of them, you want people to like and so on but there are some, only a handful, that I fall in love with and I couldn’t give a shit who likes them and who doesn’t and that’s a nice place to be. Generally, you want other people to say, ‘I love your songs, I love your band or I love your music’. We’re strange things, human beings.”
One record that he is very keen for people to hear is an album he has been working on with a singer named Hannah Rickard. “I can’t wait for people to hear the album I’ve done with Hannah,” he tells me but adds that it won’t be released until sometime next year.
Talking about what audiences can expect from the shows this time, Francis says “It has a certain freshness and edge. Whether it’s because, as I said, the band had become complacent and perhaps it was safe and now we’re not quite sure all the time. Now, as I said, little things are changing in the arrangements. One that comes to mind would be ‘Roll Over Lay Down’; there’s one point where you can see we’re all looking at each other to see what’s going to happen next and I find that quite exciting somehow. Whereas, in another four or five hundred years, maybe it won’t be there. I do look forward each night to seeing where it will go as opposed to walking on stage, knowing where it’s going to go. Sometimes the build-up to things is so great that the actual thing itself is an anti-climax. I try not to expect anything from a show and when you get there sometimes the sense of euphoria is fantastic but I find looking forward to it too much or imagining what it will be or will opening this gig be fantastic, all works in a negative way for me… but I‘m a dickhead,” he says in a self-deprecating tone. “I have to qualify that…” The rest of us would strongly argue that point, Mr. Rossi….
“There’s a fine line I think between being professional and sounding slick and there’s a crossover where it becomes so you’re just playing on auto. There has to be a certain amount of auto but there’s a point where it becomes so auto, sometimes, and that’s the only reason I can find at the moment that it’s really happening. We’re getting lots of quite positive responses and reactions from people. They miss Rick and they miss how it used to be but they’re very much impressed with how it works. I think it’s because we aren’t trying to play down what Rick did. It’s just that this guy has moved in and it’s a fantastic place to be at the moment and…” He pauses briefly. “I can feel my heart rate going up again and that’s good because it means I’m enthused about it. My feet are going now. Why don’t I just get on the plane and go down there?” he suggests.
Sounds good to me. Yes! Yes! Come on down any time! He laughs but I must admit I’m only half joking.
This tour includes not only the usual concert venues but a couple of shows as part of the Rock the Boat 7 Cruise departing from Sydney on 16th October. Quo will be joining an impressive line-up of artists who will entertain passengers on the cruise. It’s an entirely new experience for the band and Francis admits that he is not quite sure what to expect. “Rick and I used to joke about that. In the early 60s, it was one of those things where you either ended up playing Vegas or the cabaret circuit in England or various cruises but that’s all changed and now there are cruises out of Aberdeen, there are cruises out of Miami, there are rock ones, heavy metal ones, country ones; I never thought we would do them but it’s what everybody does these days. I’m kind of looking forward to it but it’s an unknown so I’ll park that in my mind and deal with it on the day and see how it’s going to be. I’m terrible at thinking what will happen if? which frightens the hell out of me most of the time. I guess, if I don’t like it, they’ll throw me overboard.”
Status Quo start their Last Night of the Electrics Tour at The Star on the Gold Coast on Friday, 13th October. For a complete list of tour dates and to book tickets, click here.
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2017. All rights reserved