Francis Rossi, Status Quo interview

The original Monster of Rock puts the world to rights. Mark Pilkington meets music legend Francis Rossi of Status Quo…

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Status Quo. They have sold 118 million albums worldwide, recorded 22 Top 10 hits and spent 415 weeks in the UK singles chart.  The band has had more chart hits than any other rock group. The original monsters of rock, they have played at sold out gigs in almost every country across the world, taken part in Live Aid and have a catalogue of chart topping hits to their name. Now the original line-up are reunited (Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan) for one final time for one final tour. With the original band back on the road, the Xtreme Entertainment Network was invited to interview founding member Francis Rossi.

It was always going to be an interview with a difference. Meeting in a bar of a hotel, Rossi was more than happy to talk about literally any subject I could throw at him. To say he was in a chatty mood is an understatement. For an interview that was scheduled to be 20 minutes, it ended up being just under an hour. A privilege to be in his company; Rossi came across as one of the most genuinely likeable people I’ve ever met. And boy, can he talk…

Jolly good to meet you, Francis, and thank you for your time. My name’s Mark and this interview will be for a website called the Xtreme Entertainment Network.   You work for an obscene publication, did you say?

Ha, no Xtreme! There’s no ‘E’ in the Xtreme. It’s all very trendy. How’s it going anyway?   I’m alright. I like talking about myself. I’m not one of those people who likes to sit in the background.

I know – this must all be a bit of an ego trip.   Of course it is. I don’t believe people who say they don’t like talking about their act or themselves. I love a joke, and I love talking. I’ve learnt to be jack the lad cockney boy. I’m actually basically quite nervous – and I’m getting better as I get older – but I can talk a lot. I like interviews where I can just sit back and let it all out.

status quo3Now here’s an interesting question – how can you be nervous when you’ve been on stage all those times in front of so many people?   Yeah, but that’s different.

How’s that different?   Whether it’s the physicality of hiding ones testicles behind a piece of wood, I don’t know. I honestly don’t know what it is. If I walked on stage without a guitar I’d be all over the place with nerves. However, having said that, there is not one night that goes by when I think I don’t want to do this. I never want to go on stage. But I’ve been doing that since I was 12 so I should be kind of used to it by now.

So the hardest part is just walking on stage?   It really is! Every night before I go on, I’m thinking ‘I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to do it’. But then if one us is ill or it gets cancelled for some reason I instantly regret feeling like that. The British tours are always hard, for some reason there’s more pressure on them.

What’s been the worst time for you then?   Easy. I’ll always remember the day when I thought we’d never play again – when I found out Rick had cancer.

That must have been awful news…   We were in the middle of a UK tour when I found out. We had just had a meal at a restaurant, and I was walking up this hill on the way back when I was told by my manager, ‘There may be a problem, Rick might have cancer.’ I couldn’t believe it, I was dumbstruck. I saw Rick the next day during rehearsals, and we cancelled the gig immediately. He was whisked off to be operated on, and the gravity of the situation hit us. Everyone was in shock. We always sound-checked to Don’t Waste My Time – I would have given anything to play that song that day…

I can’t imagine how that felt. You’ve been together for so long –   Yeah, too bloody long.

Ok you’ve been together for too long – can you ever imagine it ending at all? Is it ever going to end? You’re like the Stones in a way. They’ve been going for decades as well…   I keep thinking I want to retire in two years, but it never happens.

status quoSo you’re surprised you’re still here?   I was surprised when I hit 30. You don’t know about that yet. I mean how old are you?

Me? I’m over 30.   Are you really?

Yes seriously.   You look fucking good for your age! You jammy git, I don’t want to talk to you anymore. (laughs) But I mean you must remember what it was like when you hit the big 3-0. I thought I’d be dead by the time I got to that age, Then I got to 40, and now I’m over 60. I should be retired by now, but I’m still going.

I think it’s more of a young thing isn’t it? When you’re younger, you dread getting older. You hate the thought of it. When you get to 25 you don’t want to get any older, you just want to stay eternally 25.   Yeah, eternally 25. That’s it. That’s when you think you’re not too old.

You can get away with a few things then, but it starts to get a bit serious after that. You have to get mortgages and get married.   Yes its curious isn’t it? There’s a Woody Allan thing that says if we could start off life at the end, you’d start off with a big party, then you keep going back, back, back, back as you get younger and end with a massive blinding orgasm. And then you die. Now that wouldn’t be bad, would it? We’ve got it around the wrong way, all this getting old. It’s weird shit.

So how do you keep it fresh after all these years?   Playing Caroline to a packed stadium to people all over the world never gets old. It’s like showing some woman your knob who has paid to see it. Its just phenomenal, every fucking time. However, rehearsing it is a different ball game. Which is why there’s this thing about us being the hardest working band – you could say greediest too – but we all need to rehearse after a while. So we bring all the equipment in and we have to play at 11 o’clock in the morning to a brick wall. And then it really is hard work! You can’t beat playing in front of people.

What’s been your wildest gig you’ve played in?   Some of the Scandinavians when we were younger were dreadful, because they were just so drunk. We knew they couldn’t see further than a foot in front of them, and none of them could stand straight. You imagine playing in front of 10,000 of them. Sod that! I’d announce the next song we were going to play, and they would have no idea what I just said. It was no fun. We all like to be appreciated, and they didn’t know what planet they were on, let alone what we were playing. Don’t even get me started on the fights that used to break out…

‘Who’s playing in front of us?’ Sounds like a nightmare.   It was. I still maintain that musicians, and you can include actors in this as well, we are all insecure deep down, no matter what we project. We all want to be watched and appreciated.

You know the worst people for that, don’t you? Comedians. It’s the joke thing – people have to get the jokes they tell. They need the laughter to know they are doing a good job. They want people to laugh with them.   Yeah, you’re right. I’m quite good at making people laugh, but I couldn’t just stand on a stage and do that. But when you’re up there you have to get on with it. When I’m on stage I’m just really into it – I think I look a dickhead – but I’m really into it.

Talking of being on stage, most people associate Status Quo with boogie rock, but before that you were a psychedelic band.   Well before that we were doing Little Richard covers, and all the rock and roll classics. Then we release Matchstick Men, so we became a rock and roll band who did soul covers with a psychedelic single out.

status quo2Matchstick Men. It’s one of the best songs ever, that. Apparently I heard you wrote it on the toilet. Is that right?   Yes, I wrote it on the toilet to get away from my mother in law. I was trying to copy Jimi Hendrix Hey Joe. That song sounds nothing like Hey Joe, but I guess that was my take on it.

So how do you normally approach song writing?   I was just thinking about it as you said that. I haven’t done any real song writing for about four or five months, and that’s a long time really. I like to write, but it’s something where you can lose confidence in yourself and you forget how to do it.

A bit like writers block?   Kind of. You’ll be stuck for ages, and then suddenly off you go and you come up with something fantastic. I don’t know what it is, but something happens, and you find a sequence and come up with a melody. You then have to somehow fit lyrics into the song that mean something, which is bloody hard to do.

Unless you’re like Oasis used to be, who threw any type of lyrics into their songs. What rhymes with ‘hall’? ‘Cannonball’ of course.   Yeah, but I can’t knock them for that. I just wish they’d tried to last a bit longer. Are Liam and Noel really brothers? I can understand a sibling rivalry when they’re in their mid-twenties, but they’re old now. Why pretend to be angry young men still? They should be over all that by now. And if not, then what sad cases they are…

Liam is still an angry young man – I think he’s brought into the whole rock and roll mythos too much.   Noels the talent. They are not angry young men any more though. They must be pushing forty by now.

In terms of other bands these days, what ones are your favourites?   Muse is are the most exciting thing I’ve heard for a long, long time. Matt Bellamy came and jammed with us a few years ago, he knew his stuff. The albums are amazing. Stockholm Syndrome and Hysteria; I could listen to it those songs all day long. I’ve never known a band to make such an incredible noise and control it. I think they are truly tremendous.

What about X Factor? Do you watch it?   I watch X Factor, I find it fascinating how they grind the contestants through ‘the machine’. You give one of them a great song, and all they’ll do is show you how their voice has been trained. But you have to remember it’s an entertainment show…

In a way it is killing music.   I was thinking to myself the other day, what happened after 1995? Music just isn’t the same any more. I think it’s so much harder for acts to survive nowadays. If we put a bunch of records on now, we could listen to a few bars and recognise what period they were from. The 60s, 70s and so on. You can’t say that for these days – it has got to the point now that we have all the sounds we want. You can’t tell the difference anymore.

This is true. What is it? They don’t make them like they used to! And on that happy note, Francis – I would like to thank you for talking to me. It was great to meet you.   Likewise. Take care of yourself.

Mark Pilkington