Status Quo: British rock band, British institution. Like that other British institution, the Butlins Holiday Camp, Status Quo have been around longer than you can remember, yet are still unmistakably the same: same look, same sound, same feel. Also like the Butlins Holiday Camp, you could reasonably expect that being woken up by them daily at seven o'clock would be a noisy affair.
Status Quo may have changed over the years, but their live stage show is still essentially the same event that it was back in the 1970s. It's not a complex affair. A huge row of Marshall amps stacked at least two-high across the back of the stage. Lighting rig overhead. Drum riser and drum kit rear centre. Assortment of keyboards on the right (as viewed from the audience). Assortment of guitars (mostly Fender Telecasters) just off-stage to the left. Three microphone stands at the front: left, centre and right.
Here's how your average Quo gig gets going ...
How are you then, alright?
- Francis Rossi, any live Quo show, anywhere, ever
Francis Rossi strolls onto the stage, wanders up to the microphone and casually asks 'how are you then, alright?' in much the same way as you'd enquire of your next-door neighbour: 'nice day, isn't it?' However, your neighbour's reply of 'yes, not bad' would be totally drowned out by the sound of the Glasgow Apollo (or wherever) answering 'alright!' The audience has already erupted, and Status Quo haven't even played three chords yet.
By now, Rick Parfitt has found a nice spot in the middle of the stage with a bit of elbow room, and he blasts into the opening riff of 'Caroline', joined four bars later by Francis, and another eight bars after that by the rest of Quo.
To celebrate the completion of the first 12 bars of rock for tonight, the denim-clad diehard fans at the front plug in their air guitars and start playing while nodding their heads vigorously. And so begins a couple of hours of 12-bar boogieing, rocking, rolling, bluesing, head-banging, jigging, jumping, clapping, cheering, singing, swaying, partying and just plain making a lot of noise.
The Francis Rossi Chat
If you wanna give your hands a bit of a rest...
- Francis Rossi, Southend Kurzall, 1975
After two or three invigorating numbers - say, 'Caroline', 'Roll Over Lay Down' and 'Paper Plane' - it's time to settle things down just a bit with the first of many of Francis's chats. Francis is the frontman on stage. Between songs, he can be found talking about anything from the security guards standing on the roof of Sainsbury's (watching the gig for free) to the draught coming from backstage where someone has left a door open. Here's a tiny selection of subjects he's covered in the past:
- The Americans:
Don't mention the Yanks. I mentioned them once and I think I got away with it.
- The desire for refreshment:
Must get me an orange...an Opal Fruit, yes.
- The audience pacing itself during the gig:
Save yourselves. Save yourselves. You'll be knackered soon, I know you lot.
- The turning point in Quo's history:
This is something that possibly...did a lot to get us...where we...possibly are. Are we somewhere?
- The female fan who really likes 'Forty Five Hundred Times':
That girl there, with the black hair, the white T-shirt and the funny ti...er, lunch.
- The concern of only just getting away with playing three songs at Live Aid:
We've got time for one more. Have we? No? No more? One more! We've got time for one more.
- The need to make a good impression in front of the kids:
Try this out and see what happens. And try and do it good 'cos one of my nippers is here and he likes this one.
- The road crew's mortal fear of balconies:
Nice bunch of fellas, just very, very scared of balconies.
The Words, and the Other Words
The sun keeps burning down
On the holes drilled in the...stage.
- Francis Rossi, Montreux, 2004
Francis and Rick are always having a bit of a laugh on stage. Maybe they are having a bit of a natter to each other during the 'quiet' bit of 'Roll Over Lay Down'; or nodding in the direction of the audience, grinning at each other, then running over to the drum riser and jumping off it as things start getting noisy again. Or maybe they are changing the words to the songs. So, next time you're at a Quo gig, look out for (and join in with) these:
- All point at Rick during 'Burning Bridges' when Francis swaps 'ringing' for 'Ricky':
I can't escape this Ricky in my ears.
- Wonder no longer what that extra syllable is doing in the third verse of 'Little Lady', where Rick sings 'strasse' instead of 'street':
Well I saw my little lady walking down the strasse, didn't know where she was going to.
- Join Francis in any opportunity to change the word 'love' to 'lunch', as best demonstrated during 'Caroline':
Can I come there for lunch, sweet love.
- For those outdoor gigs, sing the summertime version of 'Don't Waste My Time', where you're not 'sitting with your head hanging down', but instead:
Sitting with my legs going brown, treating me just like a clown.
- And finally, do your best rooster impression during 'Slow Train', as Francis and Rick change the words 'ticket' and 'leaving' to...erm... 'chicken':
I've got a feeling that I'm leaving with a chicken and I won't jump the ride/It's no good you believing that my chicken was all wrong it was right.
The Old Favourites
An old favourite. We'll have some 'hands' in the middle of this with a bit of luck. After four. Four.
- Francis Rossi, Wembley Arena, 1985
Status Quo have a 40-year back catalogue to choose from for the setlist. Usually a couple of recent tracks (often singles) get popped into the set at about the halfway mark, but it's the classics that most people want to hear. All of Quo's better-known singles get played, which is everything from 'Caroline', 'Down Down' and 'Rocking All Over The World', to 'Burning Bridges' and 'In The Army Now'. Quo are not embarrassed about their history. Yes, Francis occasionally jokes about playing 'a thing from nineteen-seventy-fhhmmvvmmhh (cough, cough, mumble, mumble),' but the oldies are embraced:
- Album tracks, such as 'Softer Ride', that haven't been played live since the mid-70s are suddenly dusted off and turn up in the setlist 30 years later.
- Songs that have been superseded ('Hold You Back') by other more recent but similar songs ('Burning Bridges') always eventually see the light of day again.
- Really old psychedelic 1960s singles ('Pictures of Matchstick Men') that you'd think might be buried forever with the frilly shirts and wispy moustaches get resurrected and given a bit of Quo-ed-up rock attitude.
Yes, the old favourites are the backbone of the Quo live experience. You may not remember all the words, so just jump up and down, or bust the strings on that air guitar.
The Long Ones
This is something again from one of those albums where we forget to sing a bit and all that business.
- Francis Rossi, Glasgow Apollo, 1976
A Quo gig isn't a brief affair. The length of the concert isn't just down to the number of old favourites that need to be crammed in, but is also due to the length of some of the songs. A few early-1970s album tracks in particular are short on singing, and long on guitar solos. Played live, some of these songs can go on for ten or 15 minutes. At its peak, a certain 'Forty Five Hundred Times' had evolved into 20 minutes of guitar heaven. In recent years this has been trimmed down a bit (or occasionally - shock, horror - dropped from the set entirely).
Quo are well known for playing out with a better rendition of The Doors' 'Roadhouse Blues' than even The Doors themselves were capable of. Not content to play it straight, halfway through they go off at a tangent into 'The Irish Washer Woman' (yep, the Irish Jig), followed by 'The Mexican Hat Dance', before getting back on track and into the moody 'you gotta roll roll roll, you gotta use your soul, alright!'
Finally, when you think you've almost had enough, Quo come back on for an encore. This usually consists of only one song: Chuck Berry's 'Bye Bye Johnny'. However, Quo know how to turn a 12-bar into a party. As with 'Roadhouse Blues', Quo get to the middle and digress, this time into a medley of old rock 'n' roll classics such as 'Lucille', 'No Particular Place To Go', 'Let's Dance', 'Rock 'n' Roll Music' and 'Great Balls of Fire'. And just when you think you've heard it all, there's time for a bit of 'Batman' (yes, the Batman theme). With the song (and the gig) finally drawing to a close, there's a last chance for some audience participation - singing 'bye bye Johnny, bye bye Johnny B Goode' at the top of your voice. All that remains is 12 more bars (oh, all right, 24 more bars then) of rocking guitar solo, culminating in one huge rock C-chord.
You've lost your voice. You've lost your hearing. You've lost the plectrums for your air guitar. But you've certainly rocked till you dropped.