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It is a wonder that I haven`t printed any articles about Status Quo before as they have been on the music scene since the early 60s. One of the biggest bands in England, loved and treasured by everyone from denim-wearing working class people to the Royal family. Still going today – catch them if you can!
The irresistible rise of Status Quo
Steve Clarke checks out the band`s special brand of kick-in-the back rock
It`s just turned half past six, well over an hour to go before the doors open, and a queue is already beginning to form outside St. Albans` City Hall.
Out front, too, the presence of the band`s maroon Austin Princess signifies that Status Quo are also present, going through a tuning up ritual that has been known to turn into a three hour stint.
Why the crowd has arrived so early, it`s difficult to tell. Maybe they don`t believe the “Sold Out” signs, and are waiting on the off-chance of exchanging their £1s for a ticket.
Tonight`s St. Albans` gig is just one of a string of British dates which have consolidated Status Quo as one of the country`s top live rock acts. Every date except one has sold out, and audience reactions are amazing, verging on riot-like proportions.
But it hasn`t always been so easy for Quo who, at ten years old, must be one of rock`s longest surviving acts. They first came to attention with an exercise in lightweight psychedelia called “Pictures of Matchstick Men”. When “Ice In The Sun” followed, it looked like Quo had established themselves, at least as a singles band. But little was heard of them until some years later, they emerged as a boogie band accepted, latterly, by the heavies and boppers alike.
“I don`t think `Matchstick Men` was a bopper record”, says a healthy-looking Mike Rossi. “It was a record. When we made it, we didn`t say: `Right, there are teeny boppers, there are this and there are that`. We just made the record. We didn`t even think it was going to be a hit.”
“In fact”, adds Quo`s other guitarist Rick Parfitt, “it was originally intended as a `B` side.”
There`s still no doubt that Quo attract a young audience. At the tour`s opening gig in Chatham, the average age of the audience couldn`t have been much more than 12. At St. Albans, I`d say it was nearer 15/16.
“There`s nothing wrong with young kids,” says Rossi. “We had someone come in the dressing room the other night saying what`s all these boppers doing here, as though there was something wrong with them. It doesn`t matter to us what age they are, as long as they dig it.”
Parfitt takes up the theme: “I mean we dig it. We can hear it and we can feel it. I`m sure other people would, too, if they took time, rather than just put the record on and say: `Oh yeah it`s Status Quo so it`s got to be ballsy. It`s got to be like rock and boogie and it`s got to be moving fine. Oh yeah, take it on the face of it.` They don`t try to get into it.”
Over those ten years, say Rossi and Parfitt, the thought of splitting never entered their minds. Even when they weren`t exactly pulling in the crowds.
“We had a dangerous spell in `69 when there was nothing happening. We were just doing working clubs, and there were hardly any people coming to see us. But it just built again from there, without records or albums”, says Rossi. “We never thought of splitting.”
Parfitt: “We`ve been together a long time, and everybody gets confidence in one another. Perhaps we would have thought about splitting if we`d have realised our predicament. But we didn`t realise how down we were.”
One of the refreshing things about Status Quo is their naturalness – success hasn`t gone to their heads. The fact that they`ve remained the four cockney lads they`ve always been and has undoubtedly had something to do with their appeal.
“We don`t feel any different now `cos we`re big,” says Rossi. “The only difference is the number of people we see out there. We`ve made it to a certain extent, but there`s always a long way to go and there`s a lot more in us.” Not that the Quo`s progress hasn`t been accompanied by a goodley share of knockers. One reviewer described the band as “musically atrocious.”
While this doesn`t bring the band down, it does annoy them.
“Before the success of the band, people that used to write about us were mainly people who liked us. Now there seem to be those who write about the band who don`t necessarily want to. It`s just a job to them.
“Even if a reviewer doesn`t like it, he should at least say the kids dug it”, says Rossi.
And “musically atrocious”? says Rossi: “They`re talking a load of crap, cos most people don`t know anyway. Music is a thing that comes from the heart. It`s about feeling. I know that sounds corny, but it`s true.
“Someone once said that most of the great pieces of music have been diabollically simple and musically atrocious. We play basic, simple kind of things, but that doesn`t mean we`re musically atrocious.”
Parfitt: “If we tried to be musically more technical, we`d lose the feel that we get.”
And that`s really what Status Quo are all about. Like Parfitt says, the music kicks you in the back.
From the minute the band steps on stage, the audience surges forward as though someone was throwing £1 notes from the stage. And once they`re up on their feet, they don`t sit down again until they leave the gig. A Quo audience puts as much into a gig as the band themselves, and that`s a helluva lot.
From the balcony of the City Hall, the audience is like a seething mass of tentacles. Beneath, the Quo just pound out a relentless boogie.
Rossi stalks the stage like he owns it, squeezing the last note out of his guitar and then, with a quick upward thrust, flicking his hair back to return to his original position. Between numbers, he achieves a cunning report with the audience.
“Has anybody got the `Dog` album?” he shouts. The audience responds automatically. “I want yer all to dance up and down and wiggle yer arses”.
Audience reaction is already causing concern among certain promoters, as Rossi points out later: “We`ve had a lot of trouble with heavies. They think we`re taunting the audience. There`s all sorts of messages come up from the side of the stage telling them to sit down, but it`s pointless trying to tell them.
“Once an audience is up, you can`t tell them to sit down again. At Leeds, all of a sudden, the audience just surged. I`ve never seen anything like it…
“At one gig this guy got up on stage with us and the heavies dragged him off by his hair and just slung him out into the street. That`s terrible. He came up to me afterwards and said: `Sign this for me man I was the one who got thrown out! You knew which one he was because he was bald.”
At St. Albans, Quo encore with the Doors “Road Hog Blues” and “Johnny Be Goode”. Only the house lights save the band from another encore.
As I make my way backstage, Quo freaks are already milling round the dressing-room area. There`s a kind of embarrassment about the fans, mostly female, as they shyly ask for posters, programmes and anything else which can be autographed. One young lady is even flourishing a No. 6 cigarette coupon for signature.
Some nights, the band will have another blow in their dressing-room after the gig.
But tonight it`s just a case of unwinding, before joining their wives for the drive home in the maroon limo. You just know that Status Quo have earned every inch of chrome on that car.
I have always liked badgers. Too bad the band of the same name failed to do too much impact even though there was a lot of money spent on full page ads.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Don McLean, Harry Nilsson, Manassas, The Yardbirds, Supremes, Brinsley Schwarz, Faces, Frank Zappa, Spirit, Rory Gallagher, Procol Harum, Larry Coryell.
This edition is sold!