Another day, another article. This one with that likeable chap from Status Quo, Mr. Rick Parfitt. Hope you all like it and have a small rest from christmas preparations and work while reading it. Until next time….!
How Woking`s Cliff Richard and the ice-cream man`s son and all their mates met up and made good
…Being an appraisal of the works of STATUS QUO, essentially a product of our time and their environment, who in defence of critical opinion have been rockin` the underprivileged teenage wasteland for 13 long years. TONY STEWART confronts the faded denim phenomenon in its lair.
This is the story of how a bunch of kids made the Big Time…how they avoided the almost inevitable nine-to-five factory routine by dragging themselves out of the South London streets on a three-chord shooting brake.
It begins back in `62 when Francis Rossi, the son of an ice-cream man (could he be anything else with that surname?), and a factory worker`s lad called Alan Lancaster started a nice little pop group together.
Then along came John Coughlan, and sometime later – when they played a gig at a Butlin`s Holiday Camp – they bumped into Rick Parfitt, described at the time as Woking`s own Cliff Richard because he`d sung “Travelling Light” on the television.
Parfitt always wanted to be famous.
“From the word go,” he says, “when I was playing guitar, looking at myself in the mirror and trying to imitate Cliff Richard, I wanted to be a pop singer. You don`t think about what heights you want to go to. Well, I didn`t. But I would have liked to have been a pop singer, like Cliff.
“That was my ambition and it`s brought me to where I am now.”
He also fancied himself as a guitarist.
“There was nothing else to do but be in a band,” he explains, although football was nearly the thing to do at school. Lots of people wanted to be footballers then. But you`ve got to do what you`re best at really.
“I got my school colours for football,” he boasts. “But I suppose even then I was playing guitar better than I could kick a ball.”
Anyway from such modest beginnings emerged one of the 60s great pop singles bands, with hits like “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, “Ice In The Sun” and “Down The Dustpipe”. But pop fame was balanced precariously on their shoulders, and quite suddenly it fell away.
So, they went back to the drawing board, and the grisly club circuit, to emerge several years later as one of the 70s` great rock bands.
Now, with four major selling albums to their credit they celebrate their 13th anniversary with their 13th British tour and the release, last May 13, of course, of a 13 minute long EP. Besides acknowledging that they`re not superstitious, what more can you say?
Happy birthday Status Quo, I suppose.
Ten minutes into the interview and it`s obvious that using Rick Parfitt`s desirable detached residence in the Green Belt as our meeting place wasn`t such a good idea.
A capable team of zealous builders seem to be taking the house apart brick by brick and then rebuilding from scratch with as much hammering as possible in perfect tempo with all the hits and more on 194.
The lounge where we`re sitting in company with his wife Mariette, photographer Penny Smith and publicist Keith Altham, is more or less intact, but the household pet – a small King Charles spaniel called George – has a particularly distracting habit of suddenly lurching at the French windows and noisily boxing at the panes with his paws, trying to get at the birdies outside in the garden.
It`s the closest you`ll get to a madhouse without being certified.
But then in a strangely ironic way the ambience is conductive to what progressively becomes a hostile interview as I pump questions at the normally jocular Parfitt in a surprisingly aggressive manner – not for the sheer hell of it, but as possibly the only means available of getting a foot into his mental door, keeping it ajar for a couple of hours and really coming to terms with Quo`s unusual psychology.
I figure it`s the best way of avoiding the trap of nostalgia and reminiscing our way through 13 years of memories.
The alternative is to be positive and examine the validity of Quo`s music now and its possible future.
Hopefully, Parfitt will be needled into giving us some new insights.
Really, the whole exercise is a bit like sizing up your grandma on her 76th birthday and asking yourself if it`s worth keeping her around the place any longer.
On this occasion, however, it`s difficult to tell whether we`re getting to the meat of the stated objective because Parfitt rarely swallows the hook so that we can haul him in. Sometimes his smile turns to a sneer and you can tell he`s thinking, “Why doesn`t this turd stop needling me and sod off?”
But I`m immune to such glares. After all I look at myself in the mirror every morning and ask the very same question.
First of all, let`s be realistic. Quo have existed long enough for them to be in the same league as rock`s other old-timers – such as The Kinks, The Who and The Stones – but they haven`t achieved anything like the same kind of success.
They`re relatively big in Europe and Britain but Stateside they mean very little. And as Parfitt has just returned from their fourth American tour it seems appropriate to ask whether he feels in the least degraded that they should have to play second or even third fiddle there.
“We find it hard,” he responds, “but we don`t find it degrading. Sometimes it brings you down a bit but you get to the stage where you can look at one another and grin and say, `Hell, what`s it coming to?` You know, when you find yourself in the back dressing room of some club where you`ve got to go in individually to change because it`s so small.
“We know we don`t mean anything – or we didn`t anyway – in comparison to people like Zeppelin. But at least it`s a start, and the album`s gone in the charts at 163 there.”
On the surface the comment sounds so ludicrously self-justifying that I have to laugh.
“Well,” Parfitt adds, “it`s like having a number 48 over here. At least there`s a feeling of progress, which is basically what we`re working for. If we`d come back feeling we`d achieved nothing, then maybe we would have felt completely degraded.
“But it`s the same as what happened over here.
“When we first heard that an album (`Piledriver`) had gone into the charts here we all freaked out, `cause it was a big thing to us at the time. Three years ago we were all hoping to get an album in the charts. And it`s all happening again in the States. We`re elated.”
Perhaps degradation was too severe a word to bandy around in this context. Maybe the struggle of trying to make headway in the U.S. has helped Quo to keep a sense of perspective, and stopped them becoming complacent because of their British triumph… the old adage of not allowing success to go to your head.
But Rick seems baffled by a question framed around this point, and Mr. Altham comments a little sarcastically, “because of this overnight success you`ve had after 13 years you must be getting a bit complacent now.”
“Well,” says Parfitt hesitantly, “whatever complacent means… I`ve got no idea, being a lame-brain. I don`t understand those words.”
He`s probably joking – playing on the image. Anyway the question`s rephrased and just as he`s about to answer the dog dives at the window. He shouts “George!” at the top of his voice, and the thread of the conversation is lost.
And for some reason when we resume he`s saying, “We don`t see an end to Status Quo at the moment.”
George might not be as lucky.
“I think we had the added advantage of going through a phase of being pop stars in this country, and then going off the road and coming back as we are. The fact that Status Quo had come round for a second time got publicised, and a lot of people hooked on to it. That helped an awful lot in making us big over here.
“In the States we haven`t got that advantage. We`ve just got to start from nothing as another rock band…George!”
America is – it transpires – an important market for the band. And the way they tackle it reveals an integral element of Quo`s philosophy. Parfitt says they have to make it there on their own terms; in other words on their own merits. As they`ve done in this country.
“We`re not going to try and force anything,” he explains – “Like having a bloody great billboard on Hollywood Boulevard, because that`s not the way Status Quo works. It`d look stupid, I think, to have a billboard up there on a band nobody really knows.
“It seems like a hype, and Status Quo`s always been a long way from that. All we`ll do is what we did over here.
“We`ll work and try and build up a following, and hope that a single breaks some time. And if a single does break I should think an album will break. Then the following will build and it`ll be more or less the same way as we did it over here.
“We`re not going to try and force anything on the people because it won`t work that way. That`s why the album`s called `On The Level`.”
Oh dear, that sounds so crummy he could have lifted the quote from a True Confessions magazine. But when I laugh at Parfitt maintaining this stance of an obviously straight South London boy he responds unemotionally.
“Well, we`re honest. We`ve always maintained that. Always.”
And what`s more he`s right.
Even when discussing their music Parfitt remains candid. After all it has been noticed that certain Quo numbers sound decidedly alike.
“Yeah,” comments Rick. “I`ll give you that. That`s the band`s playing style.”
For example, “Junior`s Wailing” (six albums ago, appearing on “Ma Kelly`s Greasy Spoon”) sounds similar to both “Roll Over Lay Down” (from “Hello”, three albums ago) and “Little Lady” (from their latest, “On The Level”).
Faced with concrete examples Rick becomes unnecessarily defensive.
“We can`t just change like that,” he reasons, “and say to ourselves, `Let`s do something different`. If we did it wouldn`t be us. If we tried to play in a different style or tried to rehearse songs away from how they were written it just wouldn`t come out right.
“I mean we wouldn`t feel it. We wouldn`t get into it. And it would be a disaster.
“I do agree with you that a lot of the tracks are alike, but in fact they`re all different.”
Think about that one.
“The only way we can change,” he elaborates, “is if we do songs in drastically different rhythms – rather than in the hard rocking thing of Quo, like the 12 bar.
“There`s a thing being written at the moment which is a collective effort, and it`s totally different to anything we`ve ever done before…at the moment. We`ll see what happens when we get it into rehearsals.
“It`ll still sound like Quo,” he predicts. “You can`t get away from that. But how it will come out I don`t know. It`ll probably come out much the same as ever.
“If that album doesn`t sell because the stuff`s the same, fair enough. But if it does and it goes to number one, who`s to knock it?”
But that`s the artist`s cliched justification: If it`s a hit, it`s quality. Surely they must be looking for something artistically satisfying – which is the journalist`s cliche for starting a row.
“I agree,” he comes back instantly. “I attach an awful lot of importance to self-satisfaction.”
To qualify this he refers to his own feelings when the band has a bad gig, and returning to the subject of records he comments that he was only totally satisfied with four out of the ten tracks on their latest album.
But the similarity between LPs doesn`t end with either the style or structure of individual numbers. It`s more far reaching, in that the approach and concept for each of the four (on Vertigo and so excluding those on Pye) is more or less the same every time.
In this respect “On The Level” is almost identical to “Piledriver”.
“So are all the albums,” Parfitt asserts quickly. And he relates the concept of an album to the way they arrange a stage act.
“We like the album to open lively and arrange everything in between to build up for the end. Which is how `Bye Bye Johnny` becomes the last song (on `OTL`). It`s the last song in the stage set and I thought it was a lovely idea to do it the same on the album.
“So the concept of the album works in the same way as the stage act does. It goes in with a bang and it finishes with a bang.”
He maintains, though, that it`s pure coincidence that the albums should be similar, and he`s explaining how this obviously means they still approach the music in the same way – which is a good thing he thinks -when he has to go and quieten the builders so we can hear ourselves.
As he returns the phone rings.
“It`s your go,” he prompts as the phone`s hung up.
In general terms is there much of a progression musically? Do they, for instance, know more chords than they did when they started?
“I think everybody`s improved individually as musicians,” states Parfitt. “I`ve seen the difference in the playing. If you really listen to those albums, which I expect you probably have, the standard of playing on `Quo` is far higher than it was on `Piledriver`.”
“Collectively we`ve improved – we knitted tighter. The playing`s tighter and better and, I think, a lot more varied. But I don`t think that`s so obviously noticeable in the space of time I just spoke about… like, one of our fans isn`t going to sit down and say, `Crumbs, they`re much better musicians now than they were then`.
“The only thing we`re concerned about is making a better album than the last one,” he continues. “To our minds that`s what we`re doing, and that`s what we`ve done up to now. It`s getting harder and harder to make a better album every time. We always say, `Christ we`ve got to go some to top this one next time`.
“But everytime we come out of the studio we get that feeling we`ve made a better album than the last one. So, as long as we get that feeling we`re satisfied.
“And,” he adds almost as an afterthought, “they do go to number one.”
Aren`t you really just making an extension of previous albums with each new one, though?
“Not to our minds. We`re writing new songs and recording new albums.”
But couldn`t they have put out the four albums, from “Piledriver” onwards, as a quadruple set, because the changes aren`t that startling?
“That`s what I just said,” he replies simply. Touche.
“Hello” is, however, the exception.
“Why do you think the change was so startling on that?” Parfitt asks me. “It`s still the same 12 bars. I mean, we were still playing 12 bars, as we always will do.”
Actually it`s Quo`s definitive statement. And from there the band could have been…
“Don`t you like the band?” he interrupts, virtually as an accusation.
Yes, but Quo could have been the modern-day Chuck Berrys.
As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted them. That wasn`t what I meant at all.
“We didn`t want to be modern-day Chuck Berrys,” he retorts. “We wanted to be the modern day Status Quo.
“There`s only one Status Quo in this country,” he continues vehemently. “There`s a lot of bands around who`re trying to do what we`re doing, but nobody will succeed.”
He`s very dogmatic.
The import of the “Hello” album, though, is that it was really the first time all the different element`s of Quo`s personality came together successfully. The music is as forceful as “Piledriver” and played with a simple confidence and directness, and of even greater significance, the lyrics are completely complementary.
The songs are not profound statements by any stretch of imagination, but they work because they`re just basic accounts of situations anybody could find themselves in.
For instance, “Blue Eyed Lady” is about a party pick-up. And “Softer Ride” refers to somebody quitting their job because of boredom.
In essence what I`m saying is that Status Quo are not just a bunch of chicken heads, but a band who have a lot going for them because they`ve got a distinctive musical formula, as epitomised by “Hello”.
Parfitt though isn`t into critical analysis.
“To be honest,” he says, “I`ve never thought in depth about the lyrics…and I`ve never really attached too much importance to them, because they`re secondary.
“Status Quo haven`t become big because of the lyrics. It`s because of the drive.”
And further ventures into this area hardly create any response at all.
You can tell Rick Parfitt gets about as much pleasure from a microscopic examination of Status Quo as he would from swallowing darning needles.
Why do such a large number of people enjoy their music? He doesn`t have any particular explanation and can only hazard a guess – besides pointing out that Quo are unique and do have a good stage act.
“If people want to get off easily they`ll go and see Status Quo,” he states matter-of-factly.
The truth is probably that Quo can be related to on a large scale as Working Class Heroes. Slade might have been once, but not anymore. Unlike them, SQ aren`t glitzed up in gladrags and wigs, but dress in the blue denims. They look exactly like the kid standing next to you in the hall.
And they also come from a similar environment to that of most of their audience. But they`ve exchanged anonymity, a secondary mod education and a council house for rock stardom.
One day the kid standing on his seat, swivelling his trunk from side to side as he plays imaginary guitar to Quo`s music, may do the same.
Go into any disco-pub along London`s Old Kent Road between the Bricklayers Arms and New Cross and the records which receive the loudest cheers are by Status Quo.
“We were tagged with that because we came from South London,” says Parfitt, “And our mums and dads are factory workers and cafe people. But I don`t know whether it`s right to describe us as heroes.
“I suppose if we were an involved band playing very, very involved material, somehow it wouldn`t seem right, coming from where we do. It`s rough and ready hard music.
“And I think we`re the only South London band ever to have achieved any success.”
That they eventually would was never in doubt.
“Ever since we`ve had a style of playing,” Rick says, “we`ve never thought to ourselves that we wouldn`t make it. We`ve always felt we would, and we still do – `cause, I mean, we haven`t made it yet. I`ve said this before, but…
“…Status Quo are a First Division Band now, and when we started we weren`t even in the League. But we worked through the Divisions. Now we`ve got to get into the Premier Division which is where The Who, Stones, Rod Stewart and The Faces and all the big bands in America are.
“That`s the goal.”
This ultimate ambition demands a considerable amount of hard work. A week after this interview Quo were to be found opening their 13th British tour at the Leicester De Montford Hall with a completely new stage act covering no less than 17 numbers over a two-hour period.
Later this year they`ll also tour America twice, each time for about two months. And this isn`t so they can make the bread to help them live in the style they wish to become accustomed to.
“We`re not concentrating on how much money we`re going to bring in,” Parfitt states simply. “We`re concentrating on making the band big. Once the band is big, then maybe we can concentrate on earning a few bob for ourselves.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Billy Connolly, Sailor, Rick Wakeman, Elton John, Henry Cow, Robert Wyatt, Report on New bands in New York, John Cipollina, Herb Rooney (Exciters), Chris Squire, Cecil Taylor, Patti Smith and Television.
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