Since breaking out in late-60s London with their beery brand of boogie-rock, the Quo have rocked it all over the world. As they release a three-disc hits package, guitar/comedy double-act Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt look back…
Your new hits package, Accept No Substitute!, features 54 tracks. What are your own favourite guitar moments?
Rick Parfitt: “The one that comes to mind is Forty-Five Hundred Times. I’ll always remember sitting there doing it, getting goosepimples. The amps were all around the room, and we just sat in a circle and vibed with each other. Nobody knew where anybody was gonna go, and in those days, you didn’t give a fuck about overspill, so the amps were cranked. It was magical.”
Francis Rossi: “I think with any band that’s been around a long time, there are some great moments coupled with lots of shit. I find the best solos are the ones that are succinct. Not 45 fucking minutes.
“Nobody’s smoking dope any more in audiences, so the idea of playing a solo for 45 minutes [snores]. It’s all about the tunes to me. I think Big Fat Mama is alright. Whatever You Want is great. They’re catchy but they’re simple.”
They like to boogie
When you first met, what did you think of each other as guitar players?
Rick: “I first saw Francis in The Spectres in 1965. They hit you straight on the nose - wallop. I mean, he wasn’t as accomplished as he is now. When Francis is in the mood, he can play like a bastard.”
Francis: “Some people think I’m a blinding player. But I know that’s not true. There are so many seriously fucking good players around. Plus, the whole younger generation are so much better, because they can access all sorts of tutorials online. Rick is a fantastic rhythm player.”
The trademark Quo boogie isn’t as easy to play as it sounds, is it?
Rick: “That’s what everyone thinks! When you form a band, it’s ‘Oh, we’ll do a bit of Quo, because it’s easy…’. Until you come to do it. If you’re going to play something relatively simple, right, it’s got to be done properly.
“It has to be done with 100 per cent commitment, and played with power and conviction. And if you don’t do that, it’ll sound pathetic. There is something about the two Teles, when Francis and I lock in with our right hands. There’s a chemistry.”
Francis: “It’s not as easy as it sounds. Because if you don’t believe in it, it sounds like a sack of shit. There’s millions of people doing it. You hear that shuffle everywhere. It’s just that Quo do it in your face.”
Clubs to arena
What do you remember about early days?
Rick: “We’d pack these clubs with four hundred people, rammed like sardines. You’d fight your way through the crowd to get onto the stage, crank everything up and hit ’em like a ton of bricks.
“In those days, it was a complete sweat-bath, everybody fucking rocking in a small environment like that. Everywhere we went, we were tearing the place up. We were very frightened the first time we went to Scotland, because the audience had a reputation for being tough.
“If they didn’t like you, you’re gonna get bottles, fruit, the lot. We went on at Green’s Playhouse and tore the place apart. We got mobbed up there. You felt like The Beatles. You couldn’t get to the car without being ripped apart.”
How did it feel when you broke through in the mid-70s?
Rick: “It was great. You’ve been playing these poxy little clubs. Then all of a sudden you find yourself doing Wembley Arena, and you start to feel like a rock star. You start to take on this kind of attitude, y’know, the iconic legs-apart stance that Alan Lancaster [bass], Rossi and myself had.
“It was just a wonderful time. Anything was possible. You’re young. You’re earning a lot of money. You’re getting famous. Your albums are going to number one. You’ve got songs coming out of your ears. I think we found out what we were in the 70s, which is this blues-based, hard-rocking band.”
Francis: “It was great to be successful, but it goes to your head. When I look [back] at myself I think, ‘prize dickhead’. Three or four albums went in at number one on the trot. We sold shitloads of records. But I still think the Frantic Four lineup has been overblown. I find it hard to live up to sometimes. It was probably easier when people said, ‘This is shit, who wants to see them?’ That always made me dig in.”
How wild did the band get in those days?
Rick: “It was fucking mad. We’d heard about Led Zeppelin riding motorbikes up hotel corridors. So we used to book the floor of a hotel, take all the doors off and it became one big party area. The road crew would go down and nick everything from reception - pianos, plants, stuff like that.
“There were various clubs. My club was the magic fingertips club - use your imagination! Young ladies knocking about, foreign substances flying around. Life was one big fucking rollercoaster of fun. Because you were young, you could survive hangovers and still do the gig.”
Francis: “It was a bunch of fucking idiots being overly indulged. Rick came into my room once and there were 12 women: two or three in bed with me and a few on the side. There was coke all over the place.
“In the early days, there was a guy in Germany who used to get a projector and show a bit of porn. We’d shine it on the curtains and the fucking thing shines right through, so there was this giant knob across the street. So then the police would come…”
What’s the worst trouble you ever got in?
Rick: “In the late-70s, me, Francis and Alan got in a fight with the security people at Vienna airport. They didn’t like us, so they started to strip us down, take our shirts off. Francis and I had got through, and we thought, ‘I hope the guy doesn’t do that to Alan’. Because he was always the tough guy, like a little bulldog.
“All of a sudden it went off, so Francis and me dived back in to help Alan, who was having a fight with this security guard, who was in fact a policeman. We were marched off and sentenced to three months, but the judge then pulled out a calculator, and converted the sentence into a fine of £3,000 each. We did actually go to prison for 24 hours. And it was horrible, awful.”
What’s been the hardest time to be in Quo?
Rick: “It’s not all been beer and skittles. Maintaining the success is more difficult than reaching the top. Through the 90s, we did these covers albums, on the advice of other people, which didn’t do us any good.
“Over the years, I think we’ve done some great stuff, and we’ve done some crap stuff. But it’s impossible to maintain that level of the Hello album (1974) and Blue For You (1976) - where the magic was all fresh - for 50 years.”
How did it feel to put down the Teles for the Aquostic album?
Rick: “It was weird. I quite enjoyed it, because it was out of my comfort zone, and I like a challenge. But it’s a funny thing, playing an acoustic, because you have to use different muscles.
“You’re reaching out and across the guitar, as opposed to a Telecaster, which sits on your hip, and you literally play it downwards. When you’ve never really been onstage playing an acoustic in anger, it’s quite painful, actually, to make that transition. It was vastly different.
“It was tricky, because everything had to be incredibly accurate, with something as intimate as that. With the strings behind you and other instruments going, it’s all got to be spot-on. There was quite a lot of pressure there. But I enjoyed it.”
Francis: “I didn’t really want to do the album. I didn’t think it would work. It transpired it was a very good move.
“What happens is, the melodies have to get through, whereas a lot of what goes on with Quo is the feel and noise of the backdrop. But it was a very successful album, and that had to be down to the melodies.
“People kept coming to us and saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you wrote such nice songs’. And I’m thinking, ‘Well, what the fuck were you listening to?’ I really enjoyed reworking Rock ’Til You Drop, Rollin’ Home, Marguerita Time, Claudie. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, if you can play acoustic guitar, you must be good’. But it’s just a fucking guitar!”
Loved by millions
You’ve always been loved by the public, but slammed by the critics…
Francis: “There is something about Status Quo. It must have that X factor. Because some people hate the fucking band, and other people think, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to have a wank, they’re on’. It’s better than porn to some people.
“I’m very much aware that a few million people around the world think Status Quo are great. The rest either don’t know us, or can’t stand us, or don’t give a shit.”
Rick: “We got some rave reviews in the 70s. But then, of course, they get on your back after a while and pan you. You get to the stage where you don’t read it anymore. Really and truly, if the fans like it and I like it, then I don’t give a fuck what they say. I never read any of the write-ups about the albums. I’m just not interested. I get the feedback from the fans when we play live - that’s all I need.”
Have a break?
Have you enjoyed being guitar heroes?
Francis: “Yes, but you mustn’t take it too seriously. If you don’t keep your feet on the ground, you end up like many that have got carried away. I dare say there are a few bands that believe all the press that they’re wonderful. Well, no, you’ve just sold some records, that’s all. Let’s just get a balance on this. You’ve just sold some records.
“And in fact, I wish I could sell as many records as fucking Kit-Kats. We went to the Kit-Kat factory once for something. There’s no way anybody on the planet is ever gonna sell as many records as they sell Kit-Kats.”
Do you think you’ll keep gigging until you drop?
Rick: “Well, I have done, twice. Last time [in 1997, when Parfitt had a quadruple heart bypass], I had an operation on the Friday, and I played the NEC on the Saturday. So that’s quite rock ’n’ roll. And then, about 18 months ago, I had another heart attack out in Croatia, in the middle of fucking nowhere.
“We cancelled the gig, obviously, then they flew me home, operated on me, and about three weeks later, I was back onstage. So I’ve almost dropped while I’ve been rocking. Let’s hope there’s not a third time…!”
Status Quo’s Accept No Substitute! - The Definitive Hits is out now on Universal.