Things may come and things may go but Status Quo it seems will
always be with us.
And as the statistics tell us they have sold 118 million units and
have recorded 64 hit singles over five decades. The band has also
raised thousand for children's charities and via their traditional
UK Winter tour has become a British institution.
Pete Feenstra talks to Francis Rossi the down to earth, self
deprecating founder member who readily cuts a swathe through the
stats in search of his next gig.
The new DVD Live at Montreux is in many ways a perfect career
summary so far. How do you top that?
That's very nice of you sot say so, I like the idea of it being a
summary I don't really know; I mean we've got o sit down and right
some new song obviously and sometime plan a new record for next
year but as of now I've no idea what and when that will be. But
it's very nice of you so say so
Will the historic footage on the screens be incorporated into
the UK winter tour?
Well it worked really well in Montreux at that venue, but for a
number of reasons ranging from the size of the stuff we'd have to
carry around, to the fact that Rick didn't like some of the old
footage of himself (laughs), I don't think we will be able to
incorporate it into the end of year tour.
But as an idea I thought it worked well. It's a bit of nostalgia
and lets face it when you've been doing it as long as us and
you've got a 40th anniversary its probably the best time to do it.
It's also an age group thing so I don't apologise for it. I think
it worked well and I'd love to do it on tour but it's not likely.
I never let my ego get out of control and never got carried
away by any of it.
You once said you'd like the following words on your
gravestone; 'I've been getting away with it all my life', But in
musical terms you are very successful and prodigious song-writer.
Do you ever get fed up with people knocking Quo's style?
Yes the quote is something someone came up with a long time ago.
In some people's eyes I've always been wrong 'cos I wear Denim and
white socks to coming from Purley and playing boogie rock and
liking Country music. But I am what I am and it doesn't bother me.
And as regards the songs, well you could say that over the years 4
to 6 million people really love what we do but then there's 6
billion in the planet which is a bit of a leveller (laughs). I
think the quote is more relevant in regards to the fact that I
never forgot who I was or where I came from.
I never let my ego get out of control and never got carried away
by any of it. There are other people who go through a substantial
change, you can almost see it in their eyes…Amy Whitehouse might
be going that way….Mariah Carey, Cheryl Cole. I don't know…but I
know I'm lucky that I never got into all of that, so I really do
believe that I've done all right with the abilities I have.
Only the Stones and The Who have lasted longer does that
Well that may be true but these are the statistics people like to
talk about but they don't really man much. Of course we are still
here, still gigging, still giving it a go. I'm doing a solo
project at the moment and when I'm doing something I enjoy I get
really enthralled about it.
But its not something I like to think about too much. In fact when
you do you realise the context of all of this which is that we are
in a market of vastly diminishing record sales. In terms of
playing and writing etc, it's a personal thing that I need to do;
I have a need to carry on.
I've still got that drive to do more I'm the opposite of bands
like The Eagles who wrote 'Hotel California' and then all but
called it a day and later said they wouldn't play together again
'unless hell freezes over' etc. This is a very strange business
and I certainly don't get caught up in statistics and all that
other stuff; Status Quo.
Does the fact that back in the early 70's you built up your
following on the back of heavy gigging in part account for your
I think that's probably true. We certainly have done out fair
share of work but I remember the old days and when people talk
about the Who and Stones they also did the early gigs in front of
a handful of people. I remember the Stones and Who and The Stones
in particular as a boy playing the Glenlyn Ballroom in Forest Hill
in front of about 15 people. Then there was The Who. They were
called The Detours back then. They were about to change their name
and everyone was going on about Who? Geddit? It was really pissing
Pete Townsend off.
Anyway they were playing in front of very few people and we all
did that at one point. We went through that. But it was the case
that at the beginning we all had to play whatever gig there were.
Years later we all do corporate gigs now. The Stones certainly do
and we've finally done a few and you end up getting paid a lot of
money to play for someone's birthday for a group of people who
probably don't even know your music. But yeah it was always
important for us to play live especially in the 70's and continues
to be so today.
You also seemed to adapt quickly to the promo video format?
Yes we got into that at the beginning. At the time I couldn't see
it at all. But our manager made the point that it would get the
band to new territories we couldn't otherwise reach. Our first
video costs about two and a half thousand pounds which seemed an
aweful lot to me at the time.
The singles were doing well but videos brought you so much more TV
and to different markets. But then just as we got the hang of it
along came the New Romantics who had imagined themselves being in
a video (while acting it out in their bedrooms before the format
even came out) and they were made for that medium. So we almost
got bitten in the bum by them.
Really, music is music and it doesn't really matter what
people think about the genre or the image. All the stuff
about this or that being hip is rubbish. I mean years ago a
German told me that I shouldn't like Abba. I like a lot of
other stuff too, but it's not about whether something is hip
Over the years Quo have shifted from being a psychedelic pop
band to a heavy rock/boogie band and have almost come full circle
to being a pop/rock band. Is that how you see Quo?
Well I think we were always a pop band and don't let anyone kid
you otherwise. People get hung about different musical genres
which I think is a shame. I mean years ago you talked about
Country music (some of which I like) and people would have this
idea of the 1940's image of Country and Western, whereas the
reality of it now is something that is a lot more rocky.
Really, music is music and it doesn't really matter what people
think about the genre or the image. All the stuff about this or
that being hip is rubbish. I mean years ago a German told me that
I shouldn't like Abba. I like a lot of other stuff too, but it's
not about whether something is hip or not.
Going back to the early days, did 'Down The Dust Pipe' come
from an early Man demo?
Yes that's probably true as Carl Grossman and Ronnie Scott who
signed us up for Valley Music were also involved with the
Bystanders, which was Man's original name. They were a great
harmony band. And although at the time I can understand why they
changed their name to Man, I think they should have stuck with the
Bystanders. A few years later it was difficult for them with a
name like Man. But yes I think the demo came from Ronnie.
Back in 73 you signed with Vertigo which was more of a Prog
label with bands like Gracious, Colosseum, Sabbath, Juicy Lucy yet
you forged your career on the back of singles such as paper 'Paper
Plane', 'Caroline', 'Down Down' etc. Was there a point when
singles became more important than albums? After all this was an
album driven market at the time?
Well I never understood record companies much. We had a great guy
looking after us at the time Brian Shepherd who set up the Vertigo
deal and he really believed in us to the point that he monitored
us for nearly 14 months before finally signing us up.
He was a real A& R guy who came up with ideas and plans for the
band and saw ways of developing us. I think it was on 'Back To
Back' album that he came up with the running order of 'Mess of
Blues', 'Ol Rag Blues' and then he told us to release 'Marguerita
Time' for a Christmas single; We were amazed by all the forward
planning - a Christmas single?
He had a plan and he really worked well with us. But since those
days, like a lot of things in life, the record biz has gone
corporate. A lot of the guys involved at the time either left to
start an indie label, or in the case of Brian I think he ended up
running a flying school in California!
You've enjoyed incredible international success and yet after 'Rockin
All Over The World' and your Live Aid performance you still didn't
crack America. Were you surprised at that given you were virtually
made for stadium tours and other UK bands like Foghat and Savoy
Brown did so well in the 70's?
Foghat, hah, they copied us in many ways. But we were doing so
well in the UK and Europe that we thought that America wasn't so
important for us. Certainly our management thought that too.
We also realised that although we were doing so well it might not
last. So we didn't want to end up giving that up for chasing the
American dollar. We didn't want to miss out on the success we were
having for something that might not work.
So effectively we stopped everything to do with the US and forgot
about it. We could have gone the other way like some bands and
concentrated on working there and become very exclusive to that
territory but then we might have been forgotten about over here.
Surely 'Live Aid' and 'Rocking All Over the World' boosted your
popularity over there?
Well it did, but the situation didn't really change as we couldn't
afford to take our full show over there. We would have to have
taken a stripped own show and we would have lost money either way,
which is stupid when you are doing so well back home. We can still
go there now and play 1500 to 20000 seaters but for those reasons
it didn't really make sense.
Given your well documented coke habit in the past, when did you
actually get time to sit down and write?
Ha, well you still write songs you still find time to do what it
you enjoy, although when you are in the middle of coke driven
madness you tend to write stuff that isn't as good as you think
and probably our output dipped at that point.
You have also said 'There's something in us that wants to go
and stand in front of people so they can tell us we're good'. Is
that still the case and do you still get a buzz from appearing at
things like the Glastonbury Festival?
Well I still love playing and showing off, but I can't pretend the
Glastonbury gig was any different from the three gigs before or
the three or four after that. Of course there may have been more
people and it was fun but all the other gigs are no less important
and no less fulfilling. And I certainly don't go down that road
of, this is sooo important and the others are less so. But yeah in
terms of standing in front of the crowd, it's what motivates a lot
of us and I know it still does it for me.
Thinking back to your BBC court case, I think a lot of people
were backing you because it was making a point about agism on
radio as much as about the units sold….. What was the actual
reason you lost the case, as the point seemed to be a self evident
It ended up to do with monies owing rather than actual lack of
airplay. We were asked by the BBC to do a 25th anniversary show.
Apparently they had a poll and most people wanted us on with Del
In the end we did a gig to 125,000 people and struck a deal with
the BBC for a live album. Just like Del Amitri we played for
nothing, we waved our fee. So when they decided that the album
wasn't coming out they didn't want to playlist us anymore we
decided we should be paid for what we did. After all 125,000
represent a lot of money and we had all our crew and everything to
sort out. So our manger decided that it would be a good PR stunt
to sue the BBC…..
A few years later Cliff Richard came across the same thing in
terms of being barred from the play list. From our perspective it
was taking away our working tools. Radio is a barometer and if you
get 3 or 4 plays a day it would give people a chance to hear your
song and if it sold you know it worked.
I sometimes listen to Radio 2 nowadays and hear the occasional
thing I like - lets say Michael Bolton or something - but it's
really becoming like the old Pirate Radio days before they took it
You are writing with Bob Young again with whom you wrote
'Caroline' and 'Down Down' etc. Is there any major difference in
the way you write now as opposed to the past?
Actually I'm sorry about being engaged earlier on I was talking to
Bob Young about a song we are working on. In fact I missed another
call earlier on because of that.
But it's a good question really, as sometimes it is and sometimes
not. Its not really different from before but you do tend to
approach song writing differently with different people.
With Rhino for example, we'd come up with an idea and he'd go way.
Then sometime later he'd come back and we'd develop it. With
someone else I might sit down and write some lyrics together while
with Bob it's more a case of sitting together and actually trying
to write a song.
You've also been quoted as saying that you have a dislike for
macho characters and the like from your school days onwards. Yet
Quo surely trade on being one of the lads?
Yeah that question has come up before. Well Quo have been known as
a 'lads band', but being 'one of the lads' doesn't mean having
tattoos and going round punching someone in the face. I grew up in
Peckham and realized that I needed a front to survive. So you
adapt to the circumstances and for example use a South London
vocabulary, but I really hate all that macho stuff. I hate to be
After all these years, do you see a sense of irony in the
band's name given the fact you have become hugely popular for
giving the people what they want and never really changing?
Nah, I simply liked the name Status Quo all those years back and
in fact we have changed our sound and style a few times. I can see
the irony that people suggest but really we play what we play and
if people like what we come up with then great.
How did the Pentonville prison gig come about?
It came from one of our PR people who thought it would be a good
Did you go down well?
Nah not at all (laughs). It was certainly a new experience but it
was a case of 'you what?', 'you want some of this' etc. I think
some people liked it but we were never going to change anything.
I've read you like the Stones, Jeff Lynne, the Beatles and Muse
etc. Is there anything contemporary that interests you musically?
Yes I like Muse and bands like Snow Patrol and The Killers. I get
a lot from the radio, the internet and sometimes from what people
send me. I like all the above influences but really I'm open to a
lot of different things and not really interested in genres. I
mean the Everly Brothers were an influence on me and at the time I
thought the Bay City Rollers did what they did really well. But
different music can mean different things to you and I'm I just
pleased to be still playing it.
'Status Quo Pictures - Live At Montreux 2009' is released on DVD on October 12.
Interview © September 2009 Pete Feenstra
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