One for the road: Status Quo's Rick Parfitt on first gigs, pratfalls and stage rigs
Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt explains the perils of getting your wings, the mysterious ‘mush’, and reveals his favourite venue.
What was your first live gig?
“The first big group I ever saw were Herman’s Hermits at the Atlanta Ballroom in Woking. The venue had a sprung floor, a new thing in 1960, and I was amazed, not just seeing Herman’s Hermits, but also to be bouncing up and down! It was a great experience.
“Soon after, I saw The Kinks at the Taunton Odeon. Then I used to go to see beat groups at the local Co-op venue. Every time I went along, I’d watch the guitar player and learn a new chord. I only went to three shows, of course.”
Describe your current stage rig…
“Quite big! Quite loud! White! It’s called Marshall! It’s got a microphone in front of it! There’s loads of stuff I don’t understand behind it. I have a live AC30 in an enclosed box sitting behind the backline.
“Our soundman, Andy May, gets a combined sound from the two amps, mixes it down and then feeds it to the PA and out to the audience - it’s a big, colourful, magnificent guitar sound. I have three pedals; one makes everything louder, one makes everything twinkly, and one turns everything off. It’s not rocket science.”
Me and my guitar with Status Quo
Getting your wings
Best tip for getting a good live sound?
“Of course, the guitar is the key to it all. Without that, there would not be much point in having the amps. The whole combination of guitar and sound from the backline, becoming one and working together so well, is amazing - some nights, that is, not every night!
“Sometimes I look at the monitor tech and indicate that the sound is mushy, not punchy as I like it to be! In that labyrinth of wires and boxes, one little gremlin can move a little to the right and it’ll sound strange. I’ve never understood why sound can vary so much from gig to gig, and after 50 years, I’ve given up trying to fix it! It’s either a good day at the office, or it’s a bad one.”
What’s the nearest you’ve come to a ‘Spinal Tap’ moment on tour?
“We’ve certainly got lost on the way to the stage! In some of those old theatres, you can follow the signs to the ‘Stage’ that lead you down flights of stairs, until the last door you get to is locked.
“'Hello Cleveland', indeed! Everyone then troops back up and tries to go down the other side. Sometimes we’ve heard the intro ‘drone’ playing and we’re all thinking, ‘Where the fuck are we?’ and have gone so far out of our way.
“Falling over is, of course, the classic. We call those moments getting your wings, and we’ve all got them. Doing the rockstar thing and leaping off the riser, not landing on the right beat, falling flat on your face, then trying to get up. Now, that’s embarrassing. It’s difficult to hold the rockstar face when your leg is hurting and you’ve made a bit of a twit of yourself!”
Riding with 'The Skull'
What’s the best venue you’ve played?
“Hammersmith Odeon, or whatever it’s called now. We’ve been playing it forever, it would seem. Best gig in the world for me. You can give me stadiums, arenas, whatever you want. At Hammersmith, you have real contact with the crowd, you can’t fault it. You can see and feel it rocking.
“Not far behind, I’d put Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow, which we used to play. It’s gone now. Talk about feeling at one with the audience. That Scottish audience were a real challenge. If they didn’t like you then, boy, you knew all about it.”
What’s your worst journey to or from a gig?
“We have had a few, I can tell you. I do remember being in Ireland, driving from Belfast to Dublin. The guy behind the wheel was Dennis, nicknamed ‘The Skull’, don’t ask me why. He wasn’t the greatest driver in the world. About halfway there, the road went to the right; we didn’t, we went straight on and into a lake! Somehow, we managed to get out and get the car back on the road.
“I do remember being in a Transit van and getting stopped on the Falls Road in Belfast when The Troubles were at their height. We were told not to move any further under any circumstances. We just had to sit tight and felt incredibly vulnerable. After around 15 minutes, we were waved on, but, while we never found out what the problem was that night, it was not a pleasant experience.”
Winning the crowd
Your best tip for getting the audience on your side?
“You can’t ever take an audience for granted, or give less than 100 per cent. We sometimes play big, public gigs where anyone can come along. We did one recently, in Sweden, to around 25,000 people and some were Quo fans, but many didn’t know who we were.
“You’ve got to work at it. You’ve got to convince them you’re enjoying it and to persuade them to enjoy it with you; that’s where professionalism kicks in. It can be difficult to connect with those standing further back with their arms crossed, but thanks to good sound and hard work, we normally win in the end. You must keep chipping away. That’s the challenge, and we’re always up for it.”
What do you do to warm up?
“Nothing. Next! Once we’ve rehearsed, done a few gigs and the band is ‘played in’, about 30 minutes before we go on stage I’ll pick up a guitar and play the opening to Caroline, to ensure my hands and fingers are ready. I do enough stretching and all that once we’re working! Sometimes I might think to myself, ‘How the fuck am I going to do this tonight?’ but when the lights go down and I hear that audience, that’s it, somehow it happens.”
Status Quo's Deluxe two-CD versions of Hello!, Quo and Rockin’ All Over The World are out now.
Me and my guitar with Status Quo