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Francis Rossi

Things may come and things may go but Status Quo it seems will always be with us.

And as the statistics tell us they have sold 118 million units and have recorded 64 hit singles over five decades. The band has also raised thousand for children's charities and via their traditional UK Winter tour has become a British institution.

Pete Feenstra talks to Francis Rossi the down to earth, self deprecating founder member who readily cuts a swathe through the stats in search of his next gig.

The new DVD Live at Montreux is in many ways a perfect career summary so far. How do you top that?

That's very nice of you sot say so, I like the idea of it being a summary I don't really know; I mean we've got o sit down and right some new song obviously and sometime plan a new record for next year but as of now I've no idea what and when that will be. But it's very nice of you so say so

Will the historic footage on the screens be incorporated into the UK winter tour?

Well it worked really well in Montreux at that venue, but for a number of reasons ranging from the size of the stuff we'd have to carry around, to the fact that Rick didn't like some of the old footage of himself (laughs), I don't think we will be able to incorporate it into the end of year tour.

But as an idea I thought it worked well. It's a bit of nostalgia and lets face it when you've been doing it as long as us and you've got a 40th anniversary its probably the best time to do it. It's also an age group thing so I don't apologise for it. I think it worked well and I'd love to do it on tour but it's not likely.


I never let my ego get out of control and never got carried away by any of it.

You once said you'd like the following words on your gravestone; 'I've been getting away with it all my life', But in musical terms you are very successful and prodigious song-writer. Do you ever get fed up with people knocking Quo's style?

Yes the quote is something someone came up with a long time ago. In some people's eyes I've always been wrong 'cos I wear Denim and white socks to coming from Purley and playing boogie rock and liking Country music. But I am what I am and it doesn't bother me.

And as regards the songs, well you could say that over the years 4 to 6 million people really love what we do but then there's 6 billion in the planet which is a bit of a leveller (laughs). I think the quote is more relevant in regards to the fact that I never forgot who I was or where I came from.

I never let my ego get out of control and never got carried away by any of it. There are other people who go through a substantial change, you can almost see it in their eyes…Amy Whitehouse might be going that way….Mariah Carey, Cheryl Cole. I don't know…but I know I'm lucky that I never got into all of that, so I really do believe that I've done all right with the abilities I have.

Only the Stones and The Who have lasted longer does that surprise you?

Well that may be true but these are the statistics people like to talk about but they don't really man much. Of course we are still here, still gigging, still giving it a go. I'm doing a solo project at the moment and when I'm doing something I enjoy I get really enthralled about it.

But its not something I like to think about too much. In fact when you do you realise the context of all of this which is that we are in a market of vastly diminishing record sales. In terms of playing and writing etc, it's a personal thing that I need to do; I have a need to carry on.

I've still got that drive to do more I'm the opposite of bands like The Eagles who wrote 'Hotel California' and then all but called it a day and later said they wouldn't play together again 'unless hell freezes over' etc. This is a very strange business and I certainly don't get caught up in statistics and all that other stuff; Status Quo.

Status Quo

Does the fact that back in the early 70's you built up your following on the back of heavy gigging in part account for your longevity?

I think that's probably true. We certainly have done out fair share of work but I remember the old days and when people talk about the Who and Stones they also did the early gigs in front of a handful of people. I remember the Stones and Who and The Stones in particular as a boy playing the Glenlyn Ballroom in Forest Hill in front of about 15 people. Then there was The Who. They were called The Detours back then. They were about to change their name and everyone was going on about Who? Geddit? It was really pissing Pete Townsend off.

Anyway they were playing in front of very few people and we all did that at one point. We went through that. But it was the case that at the beginning we all had to play whatever gig there were. Years later we all do corporate gigs now. The Stones certainly do and we've finally done a few and you end up getting paid a lot of money to play for someone's birthday for a group of people who probably don't even know your music. But yeah it was always important for us to play live especially in the 70's and continues to be so today.

You also seemed to adapt quickly to the promo video format?

Yes we got into that at the beginning. At the time I couldn't see it at all. But our manager made the point that it would get the band to new territories we couldn't otherwise reach. Our first video costs about two and a half thousand pounds which seemed an aweful lot to me at the time.

The singles were doing well but videos brought you so much more TV and to different markets. But then just as we got the hang of it along came the New Romantics who had imagined themselves being in a video (while acting it out in their bedrooms before the format even came out) and they were made for that medium. So we almost got bitten in the bum by them.


Really, music is music and it doesn't really matter what people think about the genre or the image. All the stuff about this or that being hip is rubbish. I mean years ago a German told me that I shouldn't like Abba. I like a lot of other stuff too, but it's not about whether something is hip or not.

Over the years Quo have shifted from being a psychedelic pop band to a heavy rock/boogie band and have almost come full circle to being a pop/rock band. Is that how you see Quo?

Well I think we were always a pop band and don't let anyone kid you otherwise. People get hung about different musical genres which I think is a shame. I mean years ago you talked about Country music (some of which I like) and people would have this idea of the 1940's image of Country and Western, whereas the reality of it now is something that is a lot more rocky.

Really, music is music and it doesn't really matter what people think about the genre or the image. All the stuff about this or that being hip is rubbish. I mean years ago a German told me that I shouldn't like Abba. I like a lot of other stuff too, but it's not about whether something is hip or not.

Going back to the early days, did 'Down The Dust Pipe' come from an early Man demo?

Yes that's probably true as Carl Grossman and Ronnie Scott who signed us up for Valley Music were also involved with the Bystanders, which was Man's original name. They were a great harmony band. And although at the time I can understand why they changed their name to Man, I think they should have stuck with the Bystanders. A few years later it was difficult for them with a name like Man. But yes I think the demo came from Ronnie.

Back in 73 you signed with Vertigo which was more of a Prog label with bands like Gracious, Colosseum, Sabbath, Juicy Lucy yet you forged your career on the back of singles such as paper 'Paper Plane', 'Caroline', 'Down Down' etc. Was there a point when singles became more important than albums? After all this was an album driven market at the time?

Well I never understood record companies much. We had a great guy looking after us at the time Brian Shepherd who set up the Vertigo deal and he really believed in us to the point that he monitored us for nearly 14 months before finally signing us up.

He was a real A& R guy who came up with ideas and plans for the band and saw ways of developing us. I think it was on 'Back To Back' album that he came up with the running order of 'Mess of Blues', 'Ol Rag Blues' and then he told us to release 'Marguerita Time' for a Christmas single; We were amazed by all the forward planning - a Christmas single?

He had a plan and he really worked well with us. But since those days, like a lot of things in life, the record biz has gone corporate. A lot of the guys involved at the time either left to start an indie label, or in the case of Brian I think he ended up running a flying school in California!

You've enjoyed incredible international success and yet after 'Rockin All Over The World' and your Live Aid performance you still didn't crack America. Were you surprised at that given you were virtually made for stadium tours and other UK bands like Foghat and Savoy Brown did so well in the 70's?

Foghat, hah, they copied us in many ways. But we were doing so well in the UK and Europe that we thought that America wasn't so important for us. Certainly our management thought that too.

We also realised that although we were doing so well it might not last. So we didn't want to end up giving that up for chasing the American dollar. We didn't want to miss out on the success we were having for something that might not work.

So effectively we stopped everything to do with the US and forgot about it. We could have gone the other way like some bands and concentrated on working there and become very exclusive to that territory but then we might have been forgotten about over here.

Surely 'Live Aid' and 'Rocking All Over the World' boosted your popularity over there?

Well it did, but the situation didn't really change as we couldn't afford to take our full show over there. We would have to have taken a stripped own show and we would have lost money either way, which is stupid when you are doing so well back home. We can still go there now and play 1500 to 20000 seaters but for those reasons it didn't really make sense.

Given your well documented coke habit in the past, when did you actually get time to sit down and write?

Ha, well you still write songs you still find time to do what it you enjoy, although when you are in the middle of coke driven madness you tend to write stuff that isn't as good as you think and probably our output dipped at that point.

You have also said 'There's something in us that wants to go and stand in front of people so they can tell us we're good'. Is that still the case and do you still get a buzz from appearing at things like the Glastonbury Festival?

Well I still love playing and showing off, but I can't pretend the Glastonbury gig was any different from the three gigs before or the three or four after that. Of course there may have been more people and it was fun but all the other gigs are no less important and no less fulfilling. And I certainly don't go down that road of, this is sooo important and the others are less so. But yeah in terms of standing in front of the crowd, it's what motivates a lot of us and I know it still does it for me.

Thinking back to your BBC court case, I think a lot of people were backing you because it was making a point about agism on radio as much as about the units sold….. What was the actual reason you lost the case, as the point seemed to be a self evident one?

It ended up to do with monies owing rather than actual lack of airplay. We were asked by the BBC to do a 25th anniversary show. Apparently they had a poll and most people wanted us on with Del Amitri.

In the end we did a gig to 125,000 people and struck a deal with the BBC for a live album. Just like Del Amitri we played for nothing, we waved our fee. So when they decided that the album wasn't coming out they didn't want to playlist us anymore we decided we should be paid for what we did. After all 125,000 represent a lot of money and we had all our crew and everything to sort out. So our manger decided that it would be a good PR stunt to sue the BBC…..

A few years later Cliff Richard came across the same thing in terms of being barred from the play list. From our perspective it was taking away our working tools. Radio is a barometer and if you get 3 or 4 plays a day it would give people a chance to hear your song and if it sold you know it worked.

I sometimes listen to Radio 2 nowadays and hear the occasional thing I like - lets say Michael Bolton or something - but it's really becoming like the old Pirate Radio days before they took it away.

You are writing with Bob Young again with whom you wrote 'Caroline' and 'Down Down' etc. Is there any major difference in the way you write now as opposed to the past?

Actually I'm sorry about being engaged earlier on I was talking to Bob Young about a song we are working on. In fact I missed another call earlier on because of that.

But it's a good question really, as sometimes it is and sometimes not. Its not really different from before but you do tend to approach song writing differently with different people.

With Rhino for example, we'd come up with an idea and he'd go way. Then sometime later he'd come back and we'd develop it. With someone else I might sit down and write some lyrics together while with Bob it's more a case of sitting together and actually trying to write a song.

You've also been quoted as saying that you have a dislike for macho characters and the like from your school days onwards. Yet Quo surely trade on being one of the lads?

Yeah that question has come up before. Well Quo have been known as a 'lads band', but being 'one of the lads' doesn't mean having tattoos and going round punching someone in the face. I grew up in Peckham and realized that I needed a front to survive. So you adapt to the circumstances and for example use a South London vocabulary, but I really hate all that macho stuff. I hate to be like that.

After all these years, do you see a sense of irony in the band's name given the fact you have become hugely popular for giving the people what they want and never really changing?

Nah, I simply liked the name Status Quo all those years back and in fact we have changed our sound and style a few times. I can see the irony that people suggest but really we play what we play and if people like what we come up with then great.

How did the Pentonville prison gig come about?

It came from one of our PR people who thought it would be a good idea.

Did you go down well?

Nah not at all (laughs). It was certainly a new experience but it was a case of 'you what?', 'you want some of this' etc. I think some people liked it but we were never going to change anything.

I've read you like the Stones, Jeff Lynne, the Beatles and Muse etc. Is there anything contemporary that interests you musically?

Yes I like Muse and bands like Snow Patrol and The Killers. I get a lot from the radio, the internet and sometimes from what people send me. I like all the above influences but really I'm open to a lot of different things and not really interested in genres. I mean the Everly Brothers were an influence on me and at the time I thought the Bay City Rollers did what they did really well. But different music can mean different things to you and I'm I just pleased to be still playing it.

'Status Quo Pictures - Live At Montreux 2009' is released on DVD on October 12.

DVD Review

Interview © September 2009 Pete Feenstra

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