Status Quo: British rock band, British institution. Like that other British institution the Ford Transit van, Status Quo have changed over the years, yet are still unmistakably the same: same look, same sound, same feel. Also like the Ford Transit, Status Quo celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2005.
Band members of Status Quo1 have come and gone over the years. There are still two remaining core members, Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt. Without one or the other, Status Quo would surely fold.
Status Quo formed in 1962. Wait, maybe that was 1965. Or should it be 1967? Like your ageing nan, Quo aren't quite sure how old they are nowadays. In fact, the age of Status Quo has been a hotly-debated topic for some years now2.
The Status Quo
Don't anybody listen any more
I can still hear them banging on my bedroom door
Is it too late to tell them, will they understand
Calm down, come on round and listen to the band
- Blues And Rhythm (Rossi/Bown), 2002
In 1962, South London schoolfriends Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster decided to join the school band, primarily as a way of getting out of lessons. This wasn't cool enough, though, so the pair started a 'beat' group, with Francis on lead guitar and vocals and Alan on bass guitar and vocals. After extensive rehearsals in Alan's bedroom (and after going through two organists and a drummer within a year), the boys were ready to play their first real gig at a local sports club. Rehearsals eventually moved to an air cadets base, where Francis and Alan met John Coughlan, who was drumming for another band at the time. John had a 'real' drum kit. It wasn't long before their existing drummer was shown the door and John was convinced to join. Now they were on their way.
Back in his school days, four-eyes and zits
No good at games and skinny
Locked in the boys room, left him no choice at all
Had to be fame and money
- Fame or Money (Rossi/Bown), 1991
In 1965, the band managed to get a summer residency gig at Butlins in Minehead. It was here that they met guitarist Rick Parfitt, who, like John, was playing in another band at the time. Rick and Francis immediately hit it off and kept in touch. In the meantime, the band found a manager and got themselves a recording contract with Pye. Four singles were released. None charted.
I started gigging in my early teens
Sewed the red leather patches on my filthy jeans
Got my first Fender Tele, got my Marshall stack
Big head, knock 'em dead, I know where it's at
- Blues And Rhythm (Rossi/Bown), 2002
In 1967, Rick Parfitt joined the band as a rhythm guitarist and vocalist. Persistent gigging around this time - using a Rossi family ice-cream van to transport the gear - finally paid off. The name 'The Status Quo' finally stuck after having been through a number of other names3. Management convinced the band to go the psychedelic pop route. This they did, with the success of two top-ten singles, an album (Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from The Status Quo) and a UK tour supporting Gene Pitney. However, one year later, the follow-up album, Spare Parts (in the same vein, but with an orchestra à la Sgt Pepper) wasn't quite as well received. Changes were afoot in the Quo camp.
The Frantic Four
Riding in a three grand Deutsche car
A to B is often very far
Home is near but such a long way
Legs and heads all feel the wrong way
- Paper Plane (Rossi/Young) 1972
By 1970, Quo's keyboard player had left the band, their roadie Bob Young was occasionally playing harmonica on stage, they had sacked their manager, dropped the word 'The' from the band name, grown their hair long and started taking to the stage in their jeans and T-shirts (and Francis's denim waistcoat, which he still wears onstage today). Down to a four-piece ensemble, Francis, Rick, Alan and John were getting a reputation for being a heads-down, no-nonsense hard rock band. The stage show was rawer, the next two albums (Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon in 1970 and Dog Of Two Head in 1971) were rawer and a new hard-core fan base was loving the new direction. Transport now consisted of a Ford Transit van and a Mercedes and Quo would travel back and forth between Europe and the UK constantly, playing show after show.
Another lament from the Frantic Four. Frantic Four, Lame Brains and all that!
- Francis Rossi, Glasgow Apollo, 1976
In 1973 Quo secured new management and a new record deal with Vertigo. For their first studio album under the new record label, Piledriver, they quite literally lined up the amps, plugged in the guitars, turned everything up to ten and blasted their way through a key selection of their well-rehearsed stage set. For the next few years things continued in a similar fashion, just bigger, better, and more frantic: sell-out world tours, top-ten singles, chart-topping albums (Hello, 1973; Quo, 1974; On The Level, 1975 and Blue For You, 1976). Studio recordings were getting a bit more polished and slick as they went on, but were still unmistakably Quo. Perhaps the pinnacle of this era, a double live album, Live!, was recorded at the Glasgow Apollo.
Easy when you're number one
Everybody say you're having fun
Smiling for the public eye
When your body's saying wanna die
- Living On An Island (Parfitt/Young), 1979
Quo tried something a bit different with their next studio album, Rockin' All Over the World. With a softer sound, it wasn't quite as well-received by fans and critics. Bizarrely, the single from this album - 'Rockin' All Over the World' - went on to become one of Quo's most recognisable songs. The following album, If You Can't Stand The Heat, was also a diversification, with some brass and female backing vocals. Quo were struggling through problems with their personal lives and problems with the tax man4. However, the final album of the decade, Whatever You Want, was Quo back on form: harder, rockier and Quo-ier.
The Old Men in Boys' Clothes
Old men in boys' clothes has gone beyond a joke
Skin me another, pass along the whisky and the coke
- Breaking Away (Rossi/Parfitt/Bown), 1979
1980: tour, album, tour, album, tour, album. The non-stop touring and recording (Just Supposin' in 1980 and Never Too Late in 1981) cycle of the early 1980s was now taking its toll on the band's members. Things got too much for drummer John Coughlan, and he quit. Quo hastily found themselves a new drummer, Pete Kircher. At the same time, their long-standing studio and stage session keyboard player Andy Bown joined in a more official capacity5.
No messing about tonight. Important night.
- Francis Rossi, Birmingham NEC, 1982
In 1982 Quo released their 20th anniversary album, 1+9+8+2. Like the first two albums of the decade, this had a cleaner, more polished sound. The same year, they played a landmark gig at Birmingham's NEC. The show was recorded for an album release, Live At The NEC, and was televised. It was attended by HRH Prince Charles, who allegedly wished he'd turned up in his jeans. Another year, another album (Back To Back) and another round of top-ten singles, and Quo were looking unstoppable.
Did you think it was forever? Well now you know
The summer sun keeps shining, shine through the blue
- Ol' Rag Blues (Lancaster/Lamb), 1983
In 1984, the band announced that they would stop playing live - after one last End of The Road tour, that is. Behind the smiles, there was something going on: a distance between band members, less energy on stage. Irreconcilable differences meant that bass player Alan Lancaster effectively quit the band after this final tour, although none of them had reckoned on the persuasive powers of a certain Mr Geldof...
Gotta keep moving, they're gonna push us off. We could get stuck in...no, we'd better not.
- Francis Rossi, Wembley Arena, 1985
Despite the apparent break-up, Quo were convinced by Bob Geldof to open Live Aid6. Quo, previously known for playing a live set of around two hours, had to keep it down to about 12 minutes. They opened - of course - with 'Rockin' All Over the World'.
The Two-man Band
One day some day I may slide away
Turn around and call it all a day
Even though I fooled myself for years
I can't escape this ringing in my ears
- Burning Bridges (Rossi/Bown), 1988
After a three-year gap, Francis and Rick (the two remaining original members of Quo) and keyboard maestro Andy Bown recorded a new album, In The Army Now, with new bass player John 'Rhino' Edwards and new drummer Jeff Rich. Surprise, surprise, they went back on the road with the new line-up. The energy was most definitely back, Francis and Rick running about like maniacs onstage. Not a band to shy away from a bit of hard work, the tour incorporated three shows in three different European countries within 24 hours. One other live appearance of note was the 25th Reading Festival, 1987: Quo were the headline act, on account of the band being the same age as the festival. The other two album releases of this period, Ain't Complaining in 1988 and Perfect Remedy in 1989, were poppier and more commercial (and coming at almost two-year intervals now), but not doing as well as expected. With a management change around the corner, maybe fortunes would improve.
I've been working on the road as long as I recall
And it's feeling like yesterday
Giggling, travelling, and getting better every day
- Like A Zombie (Rossi/Frost), 1991
To start off a new decade, Quo returned to Butlins in Minehead for a concert to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Wait...28th anniversary, surely? No, the 25th anniversary of Francis and Rick meeting at Butlins. To prove that the recent 'three shows in 24 hours' had been a walk in the park, Quo instituted a new world record by playing four shows in 12 hours.7
Come together, or we're wasting my time
And I'll always be a one-man band
- One Man Band (Parfitt/Williams), 1991
Quo's next studio album, Rock 'Till You Drop, was a cracker by all accounts: hard, rocking Status Quo for the 1990s. Then more age trickery: Quo headlined yet another 25th anniversary concert: BBC Radio 1's 'Party In The Park', on account of the band being the same age as the radio station - or something like that, anyway. This show was recorded for another live album, Live Alive Quo. However, just when the loyal fan base thought it was safe to go back into the record shops (since Quo's commercialised offerings of the late 1980s), the next studio album, Thirsty Work, was another soft, pop-rock affair.
The Grand Old Men of Rock 'n' Roll
Walking round in circles, oh I must have walked a mile
Trying to imagine I was putting on the style
- No Problems (Rossi/Parfitt), 1991
By 1995, Quo had decided that they had definitely reached the ripe old age of thirty and would celebrate with a 'covers' album - Don't Stop. The hardcore fans were none too pleased. To add insult to injury, the really hardcore fans were invited to a special 30th anniversary show where, as it turned out, the new album was performed in its entirety. If this wasn't bad enough, Quo mimed their way through the set! To make things worse, at around this time Status Quo decided to sue Radio 1: the band hadn't been paid for the 1992 concert and hadn't received promised air-play on subsequent singles. The media spin on this, however, read more along the lines of 'trendy Radio 1 bans old codgers Quo'. Not surprisingly, other than another world tour or two, things went quiet in the Quo camp for a bit.
The radio, the vinyl disc
The jukebox chart, the hit and miss
- Famous In The Last Century (Bown), 2000
Finally, after a five-year gap, an 'original' studio album was released - Under The Influence. This album was heading in the right direction, if still a little middle-of-the-road. However, it came backed up with an intimate pub tour, with lucky British and German newspaper readers getting to nominate their 'local' for inclusion on the tour. In the beginning of 2000, Quo begrudgingly admitted that they had signed a record company deal obliging them to release another 'covers' album, Famous In The Last Century. The album was a bit hit-and-miss - no, it was just a 'miss'. A decade of 'aggressive' management was now definitely working against the band - a change was in order. Also around this time, drummer Jeff Rich decided to leave the band and was replaced by Matt Letley.
We're in a black limousine and onto a plane
Into the hotel missing breakfast again
- Diggin' Burt Bacharach (Rossi/Young), 2002
In between more relentless touring, Quo somehow managed to find time to record two albums. These albums were scheduled to be released more or less simultaneously. Clearly, something odd was going on. It turned out that one of the albums was a distraction to stop anyone noticing the other one. The other one would be...yet another 'covers' album (one last remnant of the 1990s management). Still, the first album, Heavy Traffic, was released. It was a stonking album, full of good old-fashioned rocking tracks and memorable riffs. It did so well that the release of the covers album, The Riffs, was delayed by a year so as not to spoil the good mood the fans were finally in.
And though the tune is different
That old familiar blues
There is nothing I would change in us
There is nothing I could lose
- Familiar Blues (Parfitt/Bown), 2005
In 2005, Quo were busy with TV appearances galore, decent radio airplay of a recent single and Live8 coming up... Ah, yes. For some inexplicable reason, Quo weren't asked to open Live8, but were given a slot later in the afternoon. For some other inexplicable reason, Quo said that what with the gig they were playing in Ireland that evening, they wouldn't be able to make it. Bob Geldof clearly wasn't feeling quite as assertive as he had been 20 years earlier, and The Quo weren't feeling quite as energetic as they had been back in their four-gigs-in-an-evening, world-record-setting days. So that was that, then. Still there was some touring to do and a 40th anniversary album to release. The previous (proper) album was a hard act to follow, but the new album, The Party Ain't Over Yet, just got away with it. Excusing the couple of blatantly commercial tracks, it was different, but in a good way and still that old familiar Quo. The party certainly wasn't over yet.