HEART TO HEART WITH FRANCIS ROSSI PART TWO
INTERVIEW. First Posted 28 OCTOBER 2016
Part Two of MetalTalk’s Heart To Heart with Francis Rossi and if Pet Shop Boys and Shakin’ Stevens revelations had you reeling yesterday, you better fasten your seat belts for this one.
Part One is right here in case you missed it and We left things on a canine note then and there’s some tales from the Doghouse coming up later in this, Part Two. We resumed the conversation with a revisit to the now legendary Union Chapel gig last month. Quo followed that performance with a massive gig in London’s Hyde Park two days later.
So how did the two compare Francis?
“The difference was vast but we had to go and do something first otherwise we’d have had to go straight into Hyde Park. We hadn’t played in front of that many people with Aquostic before. I think the most we did was about 15,000 in Stuttgart and realising that at that time, sitting down in the venue, the bigger the venue the further people go back you need a loftier elevation to get above them and then thinking about Hyde Park it was ‘oh dear’, we’re only on forty minutes, are we going to sit down? No, we don’t want to be sitting down so we stood up and that’s what we tried at The Union Chapel.
“So perhaps all of this is a change, it’s kind of unsafe and it’s not certain what happens next. Perhaps we have become blasé about the whole electric thing but to go up there with Aquostic and they said ‘the sun is going to be in your eyes’ and everybody was trying to hide the guitars away from the heat, from the direct sunlight, the string players were covering up their instruments with big towels to protect the strings, but… something happened that day… which, as I’ve said to many people, everybody in this business, we’re all insecure little show-offs, we all want to show off but don’t look at me because I’m shy. Why aren’t you looking at me? Don’t look at me because I’m shy. Why aren’t you looking at me..?
“And I feel like I’ve been there all my life. I’m sure some are more cocky than that and some are less cocky but the times you get up there and it works, it’s a joy!
“So perhaps it’s that a change is as good as a rest… it’s making me quite jumpy right now thinking about how we are going to do it. I’m not worried about tomorrow night’s show, I probably will tomorrow afternoon but generally we know how to do that, enjoy that, it’s a comfort zone and this is out of comfort zone. It’s very strange that humans hate being taken out of their comfort zone but quickly try to make that the comfort zone again.
“It’s quite exhilarating, ‘oh shit, what’s going to happen here…’ and then it works, it’s like someone playing with your knob end, isn’t it. It’s marvellous. I say that because it’s something that everyone can relate to.”
So forty nine years of Status Quo and you’re still up for challenging yourself.
“Yeah, but kind of kicking and screaming. As I said before, I think it was weird when Rick said he didn’t want to do Aquostic because when we were doing the ad for Australia, which everyone said ‘it’s disgusting – they’re just doing it for the money’. Yes… I’m not doing it because I love Australian fucking supermarkets but anyway, we were doing it at Shepperton and it was set up in a certain order and there was something about it, and we did the last take and the thing about these things is they are never as easy as you think – it’s work. We finished about seven in the evening and I didn’t want to do it but that’s what we do – we take it out of the comfort zone.”
April 2016. Photo by Christina Jansen
While you’re on the subject of Rick, you’ve offered refunds to fans who don’t want to see the band without him. Has there been any take-up on that offer?
“About fifty I think. I was talking to my manager [Simon Porter] this morning and he said someone had come back for a refund then phoned back up and said he’s changed his mind.
“Now what made him one way or the other? What made him think ‘no, I don’t want to see them without Rick’, then think ‘yes, I do…’ It’s weird. People don’t like change, including me.”
Well change is inevitable in life I suppose. Tell me what the absolute highlight of your career has been, the one crowning moment of the whole trip, if there is one?
“I don’t know really and if I’m really honest, one crowning moment would be fucking sad. I’m sure the Live Aid thing was good but that was something that we wanted to do and it wasn’t until we walked on and saw all the media… then we thought ‘oh shit, this is quite serious’, and the total feeling of euphoria in that gig… never before, never since will we feel that again. People were just so happy to be part of whatever we were all trying to do, so probably that, but if I’m really truthful it could well be some gig in the back of Norway or Sweden, that’s usually what happens. You’re not particularly up for it one day and then it’s like someone playing with your knob end again. ‘How did this gig end up being like this? Why is this so good?’ Then for the next few days, which is a problem to me, you get on stage, and in my head, I’m looking for whatever it was there last night and usually if you’re looking for it you can’t find it.
“The ideal is that you get up there and… energy develops in the middle of the stage which you can then suddenly lock onto and ride and whenever we get a gig like that, that is when it becomes so good. That’s when it’s like that climax point between two humans when the…. you know… is going on. You think ‘this is fucking marvellous’ and then I don’t want to go to bed. Well because, well you can’t live on last night’s gig, which is sad, but you can’t… you must know, you’re obviously a player in a band somewhere?”
No, absolutely not. I could never achieve the standard I’d want to achieve if I went down that road so I took a different path…
“Hang on a second – look at me. I haven’t and I’ve got away with it. That’s one of the things that still bothers me. I’m still practising, ridiculously trying to catch up, I was such a cocky little shit when I was younger… really, I didn’t start really focusing and trying to practise until I was in my mid to late thirties and I’m desperately trying to catch up now. The younger generation are so far ahead, where I’ll never get to…”
But you wrote ‘Pictures Of Matchstick Men’ when you were a teenager.
“Yes, well I was trying to copy ‘Hey Joe’. I was… I was sat there trying to… [hums ‘Hey Joe’ guitar riff]… and then it suddenly came out [hums ‘…Matchstick Men’ guitar riff]… and I said this to people over the years, I must try that again, go upstairs to write and go ‘Im going to try and write a song like…’ I haven’t done that since then because of this… strive to be original, which I think is pointless. Just do whatever it is, however you juggle those notes, however you get it there.
“It’s weird because at that point we were on the end of that… [hums four bar guitar riff]… and by 70, early 70s, that was gone and I never thought that would ever come back again and sure, with that Britpop and Oasis… [hums very similar four bar guitar riff]… everything’s cyclical in this business so for musos to sit there and say ‘I want something challenging’ and to find something different… I don’t necessarily want it different, I just want it… whatever it is that’s there, that… ‘why is that so fucking good?’
“Going back to The Pet Shops, they got slagged so bad… one of the first records of theirs I ever got into was ‘It’s A Sin’ but the slagging they got for it, and I’m thinking ‘what are you talking about?’ ‘But it sounds like this and it sounds like that…’ Yeah, but it’s fucking marvellous and I stop every time it comes on the radio, and that’s usually in the bathroom, turn it up, just fucking listen to that, I don’t know why, again, that’s one of the things I love about music, there we are, strutting along, then it hits you. It’s just a joy.”
Live Aid, 1985
Well thanks for the answer on Live Aid because I’ve just won a bet as I said you would say that.
“Well it has to be that, but I don’t know that it was – it could be some gig I’ve really forgotten. In fact this year we did Rochester Castle (see here) and it was just something again, it was just, I don’t know what it was, but everyone knows about Live Aid and, as I said, that euphoria about everyone raising money for a cause, it really made it feel good.”
And it revitalised Quo as well. Legend has it that gig put you back on the map.
“I don’t really know. We were one of the acts that didn’t have product out at the time. Many of the acts at that time had product out, which you know, boosted their sales by three to four hundred thousand, which is serious. Rick and I were in town in the summer and we weren’t working, which was unusual, and Bob [Geldof] was at the same thing as us, at the time he was in the Boomtowns I think, something like that, an upstart, some cocky little Irish bloke, and he said ‘I want you to do this, that and the other’. ‘No, sorry Bob, don’t know what you’re talking about?’ Then a couple of weeks later, doing some PR or something, I said ‘look Bob, we’re not getting along very well, we’re under rehearsed…’ and he said [does perfect Bob Geldof impersonation] ‘doesn’t matter a fuck what you sound like, would you just fucking do it’. ‘Yeah, all right’. But subsequently, we realised he said that to everybody, the bastard.
“That’s how you did it. You just didn’t know that it was going to be such, and we were very, very lucky that nobody wanted to go on first, ‘yeah, we’ll go on first, get on, get off, get it finished…’ because as I said, we were under rehearsed, we weren’t getting along, we had to be there early, on the fly, everything was out of the comfort zone, let’s just get it fucking done.”
But it turned out to be a masterstroke, going on first.
“Well again, we didn’t know that. It was nothing to do with us. It was just ‘yeah, OK, we’ll go on first’ and then every newsreel around the world carried that. So then we were asked to do the second one. U2 opened the second one. They didn’t want to be top of the bill that night, did they. And that’s what all the problem was in the first one. People in our business are full of this ‘no, I’m top of the bill, I couldn’t go on before him, I’ve sold more records than him, I’m bigger’, all of that shit goes on. So we just went on first. It’s a charity gig – why are we jockeying for position? This is to raise money for people so we just went on and got every newsreel round the world and people are still talking about it now.”
And another career highlight must have been getting your OBE in 2010?
“Yes, I think that’s fabulous but I don’t think people like us deserve it however, not wishing to sound negative, I balance that with the fact that when it was announced, the amount of news people that came to my house and the studio to film us, whatever, I thought ‘I see’, people like us raise the profile, because the bloke who’s the milkman, that does something really worthwhile, won’t get the profile so we maintain the profile of the honours system, which… I’m not necessarily a royalist but I have the greatest respect for Her Majesty because of what she does. We met her two or three times and she’s the last of a dying breed. She believes it’s not her right but her duty to do what she’s doing and that’s the difference whereas I think subsequent generations will think it’s their right. She doesn’t see that, she sees it as her duty. I don’t think her sister would have done it.
“Hold on – I’m getting a bit too… I’m going to get my bollocks cut off for saying all that…”
They’ll be carting you off to the tower…
“Yes, to the tower young man, there’s your testicles…”
Receiving the OBE, 2010
But don’t you think you deserve it [the OBE, not a trip to the tower] for making a lot of people happy?
“Well… our payment for that is literally money and a good life. A fabulous life, a great lifestyle… I mean, there are times when you think, ‘shit…’, it’s like anything else but my main feeling is that we have… hold on, just a moment… why are you doing that? Why are you dropping your arse down my shoulder? You know when a dog sits on the back of a chair and looks out the window, she’s doing that but her bum’s sliding down my…
“I don’t really think we deserve it. Perhaps we’ve given people… no, they’ve given us much more than we’ve given them I believe. I had no education whatsoever… all those things, I think most of us this side of the fence receive better than we’ve given. That’s just how I feel.”
OK, all right. I think that…
“A bit of Scouse crept in there. Do that again…”
Scouse? No, Teesside…
“Yeah, I know but it was there… [mimics perfect Liverpoool accent]”
I might have Liverpool on my brain because we’re kind of hoping to be there for the last ever one on 23rd December. We’re definitely doing London, Johnny Main is definitely doing Glasgow, and we’re all hoping to be in Liverpool as it’s a special occasion. Will there be any…
“No! I know where you are going. No.”
[I was actually about to ask whether any former Quo members would be appearing on stage that night, or on any other nights of the tour…]
“Going back to what I said before, why would that one night be any more special than the previous ones?”
“And that would mean I’d have to start doing that last night thing every night and hang on a minute, that would be a weird thing and plus the people that come every night would be like ‘I heard him say that three weeks ago’, so we do the show as best we can and then we move onto whatever’s next.
“And as you said, maybe there will be a comeback in a few years’ time but it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? And the other thing too, going back to what we said about it needs to turn over a certain amount of money, if they don’t come and see the Aquostic, something else has got to happen. I don’t know what that is but something else will have to happen. Or maybe we will retire and I’ll end up making records for other people?”
But you ain’t complaing though and that’s one you said previously you should never have recorded. Why was that?
“I just thought it was a piss poor track. It was one of those periods when… all the bands, they get in their decade and then as we move into the next decade, things change, sounds change, approaches change, compressors, drum sounds and all that changes and that band started to follow the latest which we did through the 80s and 90s and you can see us going ‘oh fucking hell’, and I see The Stones doing it and The Bee Gees used to do it, many bands do it in fact and then we go back to it and come back to who we are.
April 2016. Photo by Christina Jansen
“Because there’s a train of thought there and we started to do the vocal and Andy Bown and I had this thing at the time when we’d go ‘all riiight’, and I started doing it when I was doing the vocal, just fucking about, and what was the record at the time… ‘Ride on time, because you’re ride on time…’ [Black Box] and that thing was going on and what was modern at the time was the sample and I was going ‘all riiight’ and it just got played in and at the time I thought ‘yeeeah!’
“And now I think ‘noooo!’ In fact ten minutes after I thought ‘no’. We were, like, in the doldrums, we were lost there and wondering what to do. I think. And we’d upset lots of people – coming back to John Edwards and Jeff Richards [Pet Shop Boys ‘celebrity fan’] – and I do love our fans, especially for what they’ve done for us, but they are also quite vociferous in what they want and what they don’t want and we’ve got to be careful because we’re subject to their own image of what they think they are. But it’s just Status Quo and if you like it or you don’t, you’re going to fuck up sooner or later.
“I think our fans are really good because it’s like a football team, ‘they played shit today, they’ll have to get rid of the manager’, but they turn up next week to see the team again and I think that’s what happened with us and probably lots of bands, that they feel they can say stuff and I suppose they’re just being fans doing that but sometimes it’s disconcerting… ‘oh, what the fuck have we done wrong this time?'”
So what’s your favourite Status Quo song then, the one you look forward to playing the most?
“Out of how many songs… you want me to pick one… what a sad existence I’ve had… I love the country ones, ‘Marguerita…’, I love ‘Claudie’, I love a track called ‘All We Really Wanna Do’, I love ‘Never Too Late’… I love ‘Tongue Tied’… there’s loads of them… and there’s loads of them where I think ‘that’s a load of shit, what was I thinking about?’ And you don’t know what you were thinking about.”
What were you thinking about when you did ‘King Of The Doghouse’ in 1996?
“I was half and half on whether to do a solo album – ‘oh it’s a disgrace when he does things for money, this person’ – and I was working with this guy called Tony McAnaney and the track that really got me was a track called ‘Darlin” and a track called ‘King Of The Doghouse’. The first version we had of ‘King Of The Doghouse’ was just donkey’s knob… sorry, it’s good innit – donkey’s knob… it was something to me that was a cross between country and where Quo are and rock, that was it, but I didn’t realise at the time that him and a couple of other people on the project were doing ecstasy so one day I’d be off doing something else and I’d come back to the studio and we’re working on it and there’s suicide in the dressing room and then I’d come back two days later and it was ‘my God, let’s all have a wank, this is brilliant’, then I’d come back in a couple more days and there’s blood everywhere where people have slit their wrists and I didn’t understand what was going on and so I think that was truly wonderful except the version that finally went out was so watered down and so not what I signed on for but I still think they are great songs.
“It’s about that famous country singer… died in the back of a car… Hank Williams. He was king of the doghouse because his wife, he’d get home, a bit too late from the gig and his wife would beat fuck out of him with the rolling pin and he’d have to go and sleep in the doghouse.”
So can we expect a third solo album, because you had ‘One Step At A Time’ in 2010 as well.
“I have a solo album in the can already which was due for release in April but now we know that Rick wants to do an album at that point… I started getting involved with Hannah Rickard who’s one of the backing singers and she loves country and we did some writing, we played it to the manager and he loved it and he played it to the record company and they loved it and I’m now committed to do that album but I don’t really want that to go until probably September because you have to look at delivery dates and we’ll probably go for delivery late May.
“So yes, I’m going to do an album with Hannah Rickard which may be slightly country-ish. I don’t know… it’s leaning that way. I always say to her ‘you mustn’t go copying what the Americans do’. We take a modicum of it and spin it up. I like The Shires, I like Ward Thomas and that Swedish band…. First Aid Kit. The only thing against them is they went to Nashville to record it. You don’t want to do that. I’m always hoping that sooner or later something that’s homegrown in Europe will make a big splash in the country scene and I would like to be that.
“Which is kind of weird, because everything I’ve said to you in the last hour or so it kind of contradicts. That he’s tired and old and he wants to slow down and that, he gets confused… damn…”
Well talking about new recordings, is there any chance you will record Last Night Of The Electrics and do something with that?
“Oh yes, they’ll probably record that, yes. I’m sure they will, they’ll film it, record it, put it through a blender, add a bit more fruit and some nuts and then put it out again. It’s something I don’t like about this business but of course, it’s what this business does. As I said to you, we’ll be dead and they’ll still be releasing Status Quo albums. As I keep saying, Elvis Presley, it fascinates me. He’s been dead fucking yonks and he’s got a new album out again.”
Beethoven has been dead nearly 200 years now and he’s still big…
“Well that’s weird with classical things, you don’t really think there wasn’t stuff that Beethoven did that wasn’t shit. There must have been. Or whether it was Amadeus, or was it Straussy… anyway the father didn’t like what the son was doing and he used to send people in to the sons’ gig to nobble it, boo it, and the mother and sister used to go and support. So it’s weird that we think ‘they were really great’, but people at the time would say, like you and I are talking, ‘have you heard Mozart’s new one? It’s a sack of shit, it won’t do any good’. And it does…
“I talk too much, don’t I…”
No, it’s really good, carry on, it’s great…
“But you’ve nodded off twice…”
Three times actually. What’s it like being chairman of Rossie Whisky when you’ve been teetotal for so many years?
“It’s a business venture and I grew up in retail so I understand business retail and it’s like with the Quo cider, I’ve got to be careful because I quite like the cider. I try not to so I can’t have it on the bus in case I drink it. I’ve always been in an industry that’s been Devil’s music and drug laden and I’m still in there, kind of, so I feel that the whisky was a business proposition, do I want to go there, yeah, all right then… I look at it that way… can’t stand the stuff anyway…
“Oh… the chairman just shot himself in the foot. Did you hear the gun go off?”
Talking about retail, there is still a Rossi ice cream parlour down the hill from Southend Pavilion.
“That’s another thing I was buying into that we’re still working on it. It’s strange because the thing I wanted to escape was that post World War II black and white bomb site world and that retail thing I grew up in. I thought ‘fuck, I don’t fancy this’, however there is a definite thing to be learned about the whole retail structure that many poeple, even in Status Quo for many years, just don’t quite get, like when you’ve grown up in retail. There was a cousin of mine came to see us in Marbella and we were sitting talking, and we had some friends, and we were saying about how when we were young, the Italian thing, people would say ‘oh, you eat worms and you stink of garlic’ and all that, and the other thing they would say to us was ‘all that free ice cream, all those free sweets’, and of course if you’ve grown up in that you go ‘what are you talking about?’
“They never understand that no, you buy them, you sell them and you make a piece on the top, so if you’ve been eating the fucking things there’s nothing to make and most people do not understand that, which is kind of weird because its just basic maths. Mind you, I’m far from a mathematician. My wife is but she’s a cocky Yank.”
Glasgow, April 2015. Photo by Carlan Braid
OK, we’re on the last question.
“Jolly good. I’ve only got one answer left anyway. I love my own jokes…”
What gear are you going to use on the tour because the 46-year-old Telecaster had to go into retirement.
“It’s sat in the corner, just over there, the Tele [points]. I now use these two Status guitars I had specially made and that really puts a lot of old school people off because they’re of a mind that guitars made in the 50s when pick-ups and that weren’t very good, they think that’s going to make them sound better, i.e. they’ll buy a Signature Series Eric Clapton and think they’re going to sound like Eric. We all sound like who we are when we’re playing, whatever the instrument is and generally that’s how it is.
“I’m knocked out with these Status guitars but I’m sure that most people think ‘that’s not right, what’s he done with the Tele?’ but it served me well for many years and I now play a different guitar.”
And has that taken you out of the comfort zone as well?
“It did for a while but I’ve reached a nadir, this summer has done a lot for us and Rick has done a lot for us in that respect, and I’m not being rude or pretentious or anything, I really didn’t expect to be where we are. What was it Lennon said, ‘life is this thing that happens while we’re making other plans’. We really didn’t expect to be doing this without Rick, let’s face it.
“And as I said before, if we cancel, we’re in big, big trouble. I really don’t think Angus wanted to go out with… err, whatever the fuck… I can’t stick that other fellow… Axl… I really don’t think he wanted to go out with that, it was just too late, everything was running and rolling, the trucks were booked, the venues were booked, everything was on, so you’ve just got to go and do it.”
So despite it not being totally ideal circumstances, i.e. no Rick, you’re obviously really looking forward to this tour.
“Yes I am, very much. I just hope people enjoy it and more than ever, I really hope they enjoy it and I can see some will be upset that Rick’s not there but they’re still coming so we will do our damndest to make it the best we’ve ever done. I don’t normally say shit like that because… I don’t.
“I’m now getting jumpy. My hand is rubbing nervously down my leg… but I really do hope it’s the best we’ve ever done for them because I appreciate them supporting us for so many years and maybe in years to come they’ll still support us.”
Well I’m sure that will be the case and I can’t wait to see it myself in London and hopefully Liverpool too.
“Thank you sir, I look forward to you being there. It really does matter.”
It’s been a real pleasure and an honour to speak to you today Francis. Thank you so much.
“Thank you – always remember any artist that speaks to you, I notice lots of journalists around saying ‘thank you for this’. No, no, no, it’s a two way street and any artist who makes you feel you’re honoured to speak to them is a dickhead. It’s the truth.”
And that kind of attitude is yet another reason why Francis Rossi and Status Quo have stayed at the top of their game for almost half a century, and counting…
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