HEART TO HEART WITH FRANCIS ROSSI PART ONE
INTERVIEW. First Posted 27 OCTOBER 2016
He’s pressed the button on the National Lottery show, he’s received the OBE from the Queen, he opened up Live Aid in 1985, he’s sold over 128 million records and counting and he’s about to set off on his final Electric tour with the iconic band he co-founded forty-nine years ago.
Francis Rossi is a big believer in luck and he doesn’t bullshit about the bullshit industry he’s been in all his life. And the great news is that he hasn’t completely ruled out a ‘comeback’ Electrics tour.
Francis is instantly personable and bubbly and starts the conversation off on a great footing.
“So any groups we can we talk about that I might know then?”
Yes, how about Status Quo?
“Status Quo? Oh yeah – I remember them. Do you know my PR [Chris Hewlett] is jealous of me because I can beat him at The Times crossword, the cryptic one that we do. There’s the cryptic and the concise that we do and I know how to do him on the cryptic now so I’ve fucked him off [laughs].”
Well we had a bit of concise news yesterday that Rick isn’t coming back. Not completely unexpected but it’s got to be massive for you personally as we cannot think of a longer standing partnership in rock’n’roll.
“No, but you have to understand that we’ve all seen this coming for some time, I think even Rick, and when the rest of us cleaned up in our late-30s/mid-40s, Rick was still hammering it, having the time of his life and in his press statement to Sky News he said ‘I’ve been the wild man and this is the payback’.
“But I did find it weird that he said he didn’t like the Aquostic because when our manager first mentioned it he was really, really all up for it and now he isn’t but it’s something he needs to adopt now and go and do and it has to have a facade, if you like, to it, so good luck to him and he and I are still partners in many other things. It’s just very strange, a) to be still doing this at this age and b) to be split up and doing the Aquostic… it’s really confusing because it’s out of the norm. We’re out of the comfort zone.
“It was a real panic in the summer trying to make it work and I suppose that Dunkirk spirit came through. We fought together as a team and as a team to make it work and Richie [Malone, Rick’s replacement] – I keep saying ‘kid’ but I think he’s maybe 30 and I’m still going ‘all right son’ to him – he’s done something, whether it makes the rest of you stand up and go ‘we’ve got to try a bit harder’ but something’s happening that is really quite joyous and I can’t understand how or why.
“You expect, ‘oh blimey, Rick’s not going to be there’ for the first couple of shows because it’s an emergency but the longer it went on the more surprised we were by it.
“Rick’s going to make an album and maybe do some dates. We’ll see.”
And will you be having any involvement in Rick’s forthcoming album?
“No, I don’t think so because that would be almost Status Quo all over again. I think he’s making his own decisions but one thing I again found weird was that he said he’s always been a rocker at heart. It’s a great statement but he came from cabaret and he loves old school music hall stuff, which I love too. I think he believes in that image of the archetypal rock star that he looks like and I think whatever he does is good so I don’t see why he doesn’t do the… he did talk to me last year about doing an album with Frank Ifield stuff, various songs like that he’s loved, ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams’ and all that, then he was talking about a ukelele album.
“I think at the moment he’s kind of missing the rock thing. As I said, we’re both kind of confused at the moment, thinking ‘where the fuck are we and how the fuck did we get here?’ when less than a few months ago it was ‘we know who Quo are, we know what they’re doing’ and suddenly… hello, even we’re thinking ‘what the fuck’s happening’ so it’s quite good from that point of view.”
So have you missed him on stage and has the band dynamic changed dramatically?
“Yes – it couldn’t not. I used to say to my wife, ‘did you miss me?’ ‘Well you weren’t here, were you.’ Of course you miss them but we had to do something and luckily it seems to be working. We’ve had no complaints about the shows and people are kind of surprised. They miss Rick but they’re not feeling cheated or anything. It seems to be working for them and us but maybe I would say that.
“Those that have seen it thus far are kind of surprised and say ‘we miss Rick but great show.’ Well fine. It’s kind of sad for all of us. It could have been me and you could just put another bloke in front of the mic with a green guitar and so long as you’re doing the catalogue as near to the truth as possible, people are going to love it and that’s a good thing for all of our egos, that it goes on without us anyway. Let’s face it, Presley’s been dead how long? I saw an advert for an Elvis Presley album the other day and I’m thinking ‘but he’s dead’, but there he is. And that could still be happening with Quo in another ten or fifteen years.
“I just find it really weird what’s happened with our industry since I began in it, that it seems to have gone through its peak and it’s coming out the other side and we’re all going ‘what happens next, what’s everybody going to do?’ and the generation coming up behind us, who I call the ‘X Factor generation’, they don’t really know, like us old school, how to fall flat on their face with a bad idea, get up and go on to the next project. They maybe know how to do that once or twice and then it’s ‘I can’t do this’.
“If you look at X Factor, and I do occasionally, it’s moved aside. The guy who won last year, the Irish guy, he seems to have all sorts of problems. They win and go all the way back down the ladder again and become just competition for everyone else out there. Anyway, I’m waffling here… ask me a question…”
At home in his music room
Tell us more about Richie Malone then. His band Raid supported you in the mid-2000s, right?
“I don’t actually remember them supporting us, I just remember he used to come and see us a lot and we’d see him at soundcheck and he modelled himself on Rick somewhat, well quite a lot really, which wasn’t a problem and the first time we saw him it was very apparent that he had a similar playing style to Rick and when he first got in, one of the things we had to say to him when we got him in was ‘you can’t be a clone of Rick because the people won’t like that. They love Rick and they don’t want you trying to be Rick. You have to try and be yourself’. He’s got to do his own thing.”
So you’re all ready for tomorrow night in Belfast then, the first night of The Last Night Of The Electrics?
“Yes, I’m very much looking forward to it but I hate to say but I have to say, no more than any other show. Going back to the X Factor thing, they say ‘I’m going to give 100% tonight because it means so much to me’. So what the fuck were you doing last night? You decided to walk out and give 70%? I find all that weird, like when we did Glastonbury that time, ‘what are you going to do at Glastonbury?’ Err, Status Quo, what the fuck do you think we’re going to do? We’re bored and we’re going to do the Floyd catalogue.
“‘Are you going to do something special?’ Well no, you mean the previous night wasn’t special? Maybe I’m a bit of a schmuck like that but that’s how I see things – each night you’re on there, you do your fucking damndest.”
Yes, totally get you. So it’s a case of appreciating exactly who is paying your wages, right?
“Absolutely right. There’s an issue about filming at one certain venue and I don’t like that because the audience become second. They want to take the audience barrier out another few feet. No, you don’t – fuck off! The people in the room come first and all these things are very important to me, on the night, with those people.”
And that’s very good to hear and I guess that’s one one of the reasons why you’ve been on top of your game for so many years now?
“I think it’s sheer fucking luck and nothing to do with that.”
But you make your own luck in this world, don’t you?
“No, I really do believe that. I always used to think with Status Quo, when we were kids, we were very unlikely to break through but we did and once we did we were very unlikely to maintain it… which we did… when we did ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ everyone was going ‘fantastic timing’ and I thought ‘I’m not going to tell them’. If it had gone out when we decided it should have gone out, it would have been four months earlier so the fantastic timing would have been four months out.
“We went to make the album but John Coghlan broke his foot or ankle or something playing football so we had to postpone it for four months and then go to Sweden and do it and everyone’s going ‘fantastic timing’ and you go… [whistles] ‘I’m not going to tell them it was just sheer luck.
“I think so many people’s careers are just sheer luck when you just bump into the right people at the right time. It could have been that when I first met Rick, I could have thought ‘he’s just some bloke, who the fuck are you?’ I met my wife at Butlins on 29th May 1965 as I walked into Butlins with John Coghlan. There was my first wife with her sister and two or three days later, there was Rick and he worked in this little cabaret act, which was fine and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way – he sometimes thinks I do – and people say ‘it was really fortuitous that you met’ and it just seems to be like that.”
Shortly after the original Butlins meeting, you became The Scorpions.
“Spectre, Scorpions… yeah… but Scorpions was very short lived and then our manager at the time wanted to call us The Muhammad Alis, then he said ‘what about The Queers?’ I don’t think so… and he kept coming up with these names, then went for Traffic, then it was Traffic Jam because [Steve] Winwood had a band, then he came down the stairs one day in this basement in Lambeth Walk – it stunk, it was fucking gross down there – and he says ‘we’ve got to change the name again. What about Quo Vardis? What about Status Quo?’ Yeah – that’s all right.
“And that’s one of those fabulous things. We should have tailored that story. Like one of those shit movies. ‘We realised we were going to be successful and weren’t going to change and this was our destiny’. No – it was sheer fucking luck.”
O2 Arena, London, 19th December 2014
Well it’s refreshing to hear this kind of honesty and do you think that’s another part of why you’ve been at the top for so long – because people do appreciate that kind of honesty and the fact you don’t bullshit.
“I try not to because showbiz itself is bullshit and I must be bullshitting somewhere – I don’t mean this morning – because the very thing about showbiz is, and I’m possibly getting on people’s tits because I want to tell them ‘it’s not that clever back here, it’s all held together with bits of tape, gaffered, it’s falling over’, and another thing I’ve been going through recently, is historically people in our position don’t talk about money… [whistles] ‘it’s not important’… well it certainly is. If we don’t take x a year, we go bankrupt, you can’t afford to record the stuff, you can’t afford to take it out, you can’t afford to pay your crews, your office, so I find it quite weird that whenever that subject comes up it’s like people haven’t heard the question.
“We all need to know that we live in this scandalous system and it’s a lot different than in the 70s and when Rick fell over this year – we always call it ‘fell over’ – people were saying ‘why don’t you just stop?’ and I’d have loved to have had the summmer off and got paid but promoters now sue for loss of earnings, understandably, and it has to go on and it’s not the 70s. It’s just funny in this world these days that that’s what it’s like and I just think people need a dose of that truth.”
Are you happy with the reception that Aquostic, the two albums and the gigs, have received from the fans?
“Immensely so because the reaction is that it’s the biggest album we’ve had for some time which again leads you to the Capitalist thing again; if it’s successful what are you going to do? You do another one. And also I find it weird that the drug this business is, and we were discussing this when we had the first album out, ‘it would be nice to do the second one and do the same amount of pieces’ and at that point it was ‘yeah!’ and now it’s ‘no, we want more’. And that’s part of this business, it always wants a little bit more… it’s like that woman you always wanted to meet. She always wanted a bit more… [laughs]…”
Feel free to elaborate…
“I didn’t think it would be received well at all and I didn’t think the show would be that good at all but it was such a fabulous feeling in The Roundhouse hearing the audience… wow… because you don’t really hear them when you’re doing the electric, it’s such a fucking din.
“Like with you at the Union Chapel [here]. When something hits you that you didn’t think was going to happen. I love that about life you know.
“It’s interesting, for some years, I don’t know why, for some years there’s been friction between us and The Pet Shop Boys, something went on with John Edwards some years ago, but there are certain songs of theirs I don’t want to like but I like them and I’ve got no idea why, and I sent them a mail a couple of years ago and said ‘I hate to admit this but I love your new single’. They wrote back, very polite, ‘thank you very much’ and at the end, p.s. ‘is there any chance you could do a cover of this track?’
“And like yourself, it was ‘fuck it – I didn’t expect it to be like that’ and that to me is the joy of music, per se, as is, whether it be thrash, Metal, whatever it is that we like, or don’t like, I love it when something comes left field and goes ‘you didn’t think you’d like this’.
“I heard that Shakin’ Stevens single the other week. Have you not heard it?”
I haven’t actually, no…
“It’s fucking… you think…. really? Again, it makes you just think again. We worked with them and I thought it was brilliant and it’s stylised kind of and it’s all right, yeah, lovely, lovely, well done, I like some of his tunes but this one, who the fuck is this? And lo and behold, I love it when music does that to you.”
Well I’ll give it a go on your recommendation then.
“‘Last Man Standing’ I believe it’s called.”
This Morning, November 2015
Well when I was a teenager you were pretty much one of the heaviest bands around. Your style hasn’t changed but the music scene has and the extremities have been pushed to the limit now. Have you ever been tempted to go in that direction?
“Yes, they really have. In the mid-60s we were this rock band with a sort of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, Everly Brothers, rocky sort of Little Richard thing, got back to London and everyone was doing this soul thing and we had to do a load of stuff to get a gig. We were Madeline Bell’s backing band so she did our stuff and we eventually go through various singles and come out with ‘…Matchstick Men’ which has all that stuff which people call psychedelic, so there we were hitting success and we were a rock band with a soul set and a pychedelic single.
“So we kind of had to morph and change and go to where we actually really felt comfortable and there’s this bad thing about pop and I realised I had like pop music, blues music, rock music, country music, Italian opera, the Top 40 classsics, maybe some Strauss waltzes – I love waltzes – all the things that when you’re a young man and your testicles are getting in the way… it’s one of the things I didn’t like about the 70s, the way people were compartmentalised, ‘I like this’ and ‘I like that’, and we were probably one of the worst bands for doing that to people because they could identify with us and wear the uniform. I think we should all be able to like what we like.
“I have this engineer who I’ve worked with since I was twenty and we have these discussions about music and he says ‘the only thing I really hate is Italian Opera and I thought… ‘Oh’.
“It’s funny how you develop a like or a hate for something. Something goes into you and… I just love music generally, I can’t help it. Even thrash Metal sometimes, that’s the one I don’t want to like and then I hear something and I go ‘that’s brilliant!’
So who is your favourite thrash Metal band then?
“There’s a band, Clawfinger, which me and John really love from Scandinavia and some various bands I don’t even know the names of but wow, they can play and they’ve got the commitment and energy, it’s just to me the overall lifestyle, it’s probably good in that part of the industry where everyone identifies with it but it then means you can’t like Pickettywitch or you can’t like Abba or whatever is poppy around these days.
“I mean, I like Bruno Mars. I don’t think I’m supposed to, being in the archetypal rock band. I love Pet Shop Boys, I love country music, Dolly Parton, Randy Crawford, it goes on and on and on….”
Going back to The Last Of The Electrics, we all know it’s the last, this is it, December 23rd in Liverpool is the end but is the door totally and completely shut or is there a chance you may change your mind?
“To be really, really honest, and as we’re having this heart to heart, as far as I am concerned it is the end but you know what happens in this business, you know what we’re all like. We could take a year out and go ‘ooohhh’… and I’m having some fabulous shows this year, whether it’s a change is as good as a rest or the unput from the young fellow [Richie Malone], but if I go until 2018 or 2019, I’ll be 70 and the thing that’s getting really hard about the electrics is the physicality of it. It fucking hurts.
“It hurts the following day. The body’s older and we always said there’s a physical commitment to it and if you don’t, it’s fucking boring to listen to. I see that in Little Richard every time I say that. If you look at those Little Richard clips, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly, ‘Lucille’ and you watch it and you’re off, you’re moving with him, with it, and that’s what I think Status Quo has always had, because people say ‘I don’t get that’ and then they walk into a venue and they feel this excess of rhythym that’s going on, they get suckered in…”
And at that point, one of Francis’ dogs, Molly, one of his two ‘Westies’ sat on his foot. “You fucking stink,” remarked Francis (to Molly, not me) not and he proceeded to tell the story about how he wanted to take his favourite dog, Nancy, on the Last Of The Electrics Tour but couldn’t as it would not have been right to split the pair up for a month.
Maybe, just maybe, there will be another opportunity in 2017 or 2018. We know what happens in this business…
Part Two of this heart to heart with Francis will be published tomorrow, Friday 28th October 2016, the first day of the last Electrics tour. There could be an insight into some forthcoming new releases, some whisky, some ice cream and some intriguing tales from the Doghouse.
We are MetalTalk and we publish rock’n’roll and he is the one and only Francis Rossi and he creates rock’n’roll. Catch it while you can at these venues from tomorrow…
The Last Night Of The Electrics Tour:
Friday 28th October: SSE Arena, Belfast
Saturday 29th October: 3 Arena, Dublin
Thursday 10th November: Barclaycard Arena, Hamburg
Friday 11th November: Arena, Leipzig
Saturday 12th November: Dreiländerhalle, Passau
Monday 14th November: Max-Schmeling-Halle, Berlin
Tuesday 15th November: Messehalle, Erfurt
Thursday 17th November: Stadthalle, Rostock
Friday 18th November: Nordseehalle, Emden
Saturday 19th November: Lanxess Arena, Köln
Monday 21st November: Jahrhunderthalle, Frankfurt
Tuesday 22nd November: Brosearena, Bamberg
Thursday 24th November: König-Pilsener-Arena, Oberhausen
Friday 25th November: Swiss Life Arena, Hannover
Saturday 26th November: Stadthalle, Magdeburg
Tuesday 29th November: Porsche Arena, Stuttgart
Wednesday 30th November: Olympiahalle, München
Friday 2nd December: Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam
Saturday 3rd December: Ancienne Belgique, Brussels
Sunday 4th December: Zenith, Paris
Thursday 8th December: Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham
Friday 9th December: Bournemouth Bic, Bournemouth
Sunday 11th December:The 02 Arena, London
Tuesday 13th December: Brighton Centre, Brighton
Wednesday 14th December: Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
Friday 16th December: Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham
Saturday 17th December: First Direct Arena, Leeds
Monday 19th December: Manchester Arena, Manchester
Tuesday 20th December: The SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Thursday 22nd December: Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle
Friday 23rd December: Echo Arena, Liverpool
Part Two is now online right here.