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FRANCIS ROSSI (STATUS QUO) talks of life after Rick, playing with an orchestra and opening Live Aid.

With the retirement and then death of his partner in crime, Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi decided to keep Status Quo on the road.  Their UK acoustic tour now converted into fully plugged in and electric shows is now underway.  Mick Burgess caught up with Rossi to talk about life after Rick Parfitt, next year`s 50th anniversary celebrations, playing with an orchestra and finally playing with the Frantic Four after over 30 years apart, not to mention how he felt opening Live Aid and appearing on his beloved Coronation Street.

 Your latest UK tour starts at the end of the month.  Are you looking forward to getting started?

I am actually and it`s not like me to but something has happened since we`ve taken on Richie Malone. Maybe he`s made us older people think about what we are doing and pull our socks up or something.  He plays the arrangements and dynamics to the songs as they were originally.  Perhaps we drifted away from that.  There`s this vibe now going on and maybe it`s because we feel we have something to prove.

 This is your last big tour for at least a year and next year is the first time in 30 years you won`t be doing a winter tour.  Do you feel that it`s the right time after the tour ends just to take it easy for a while?

 At the moment we`re working between May and October and I`d like to have a winter off.  I always loved that think about winter when it was misty or snowing staying in doors and light the fire.  I may even do some Christmas shopping for the first time so yes, I`m looking forward to have winter off next year for once.

Do you think knowing that you have a good stretch of time off next year this will really invigorate you for this tour?

 There`s a bit of that but we still feel like we have something to prove. I think all older bands become complacent, but I think Rick`s death has changed that.  Initially I wasn`t too keen on carrying on but we had shows we had committed to do.

These shows will be you plugged in and electric.  You`d originally planned these as acoustic shows.  Why the change of heart?

 We had said we weren`t doing any more electric shows and now we are.  These shows were all supposed to be acoustic but we got so many e-mails and letters, do you remember them, that we discussed it with management and the promoters and we decided to give them what they wanted.  Now we need to get through to everybody to say that we ARE doing a full electric show.

On 6th December you`re up in Newcastle at the City Hall.  What sort of reaction do you expect from the Geordie Quo fans?

 Traditionally when you play Newcastle City Hall, they go nuts, there`s such an incredible vibe.  I can`t wait to play there again as last year we were at the Arena which doesn`t have the same atmosphere.

You`ve been doing some of your acoustic Aquostic show in Europe over the last couple of weeks but you`ll be fully plugged in and electric for the UK shows hence Plugged In: Live and Rockin` tour title.  Is it fairly easy to switch from acoustic mode back into electric mode?

 We will be doing some acoustic shows in Europe first then jump back here to do electric and then it`s back to Europe for more acoustic shows.  It was strange at first but recently instead of tip-toing around we`ve still put a Rock element to it and the fact that it`s acoustic doesn`t mean that it can`t really rock.

 What sort of setlist do you have planned for this tour?

 We have been doing an acoustic version of Don`t Drive My Car that I thought was brilliant and we`ll be doing that version but only electrically on this tour.  It has a great vibe and I enjoy it immensely, there`s just something about it that my foot`s tapping away just thinking about it.  I can`t wait to play it.  We will of course be doing the hits that everyone wants to hear and some songs from right across our career, old and new.  I think it`s a pretty good mix.

 It`s hard to come back after a key member of a band passes away. How did you cope initially with the loss of Rick Parfitt?

It was hard.  Rick had retired earlier before he passed away so we already knew what it would be like without him there but it was a big shock when he died but we decided to carry on.  It`s that British thing with backs against the wall.  We had to give it a go. We all had to pull together knowing Rick wasn`t there.

How did you first come across Richie Malone, who has stepped into Rick`s shoes?

Both Rick and I knew Richie from years ago but at those first shows I still felt that he was standing in my partners place but the guy is really good and it`s done something to the band and Rick was really pleased, when he toured with us last year after Rick retired, that it was Richie taking his place.   Richie actually came to one of our sound checks when he was 15 or 16 and played with us.  Rick jokingly said that if he ever died that we had to get Richie in.  He then laughed and said that we should get a look-a-like for me to play with Richie and then we could both stay at home and watch the television. That was what Rick was like and I don`t really think that people understood the humour that we had between us but that`s just the way we were. Whether we`re trying to prove something or show people what the band can do, thus far the reactions have been great.

Did it feel strange not to have Rick alongside you for those first few shows without him?

 Initially we had Freddie, who is Rhino`s son, playing with us when Rick was ill.  Rick then retired when doctor`s said he couldn’t continue and that`s when we got Richie in.  I might have been a little off with Richie at first.  We said to him that it would be no use trying to do Rick as that just wouldn`t work.  He took that on the chin and he developed into something really special but initially it must have been tricky for him and was tricky for us. Rick actually phone Richie and told him to go for it which was fine by me.  We could have got a known name in but that would’ve carried baggage. I think we`ve done well getting Richie in and he`s doing a great job. There`s an incredible vibe in the band right now

Have you thought about writing new material together yet?

We have talked about it and we may well do a new album at some time but I want to make sure we have lots and lots of new material ready so if it does happen we have some great songs to put onto the album.  I`d like to do a new album especially for Richie and Leon.

 Does losing Rick make you all the more grateful for doing The Frantic Four shows with the original line up a couple of years ago after over 30 years apart?

 Yes, it did, especially for Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan and it was addressed and done but it got to the point where we couldn`t do it anymore.  John was wise enough to realise that Rick and I had continued working since they both left and he didn`t have the stamina that we had as we`d worked on since the late `70`s and Alan and John hadn`t. All credit to John, he said he didn`t have our stamina and I think the two tours we did together was enough for him.  It`s hard work being a drummer.  I`ve played drums before and after about three minutes the shins go.  I sometimes look at Leon, our current drummer and wonder where he gets his energy from as the Rock `n` Roll lifestyle in general is draining but it`s even harder for the drummer.

 Did it feel like 3 decades had passed since you`d done that?

 I did notice the difference between what me and Rick had been doing for the last 30 years or so and what Alan and John had been doing at the level they`d been playing at.  I think after the Piledriver album there was a real intensity from the crowd that really lifted your performance and I think where John and Alan had been playing that intensity just wasn`t there. It`s understandable that that me and Rick had the stamina and the others didn`t.  That, I did notice. We addressed it, everyone was happy with it but we couldn`t have done it again.

 It was a real Rock show for your older denim and leather fans.  Did you notice a different make-up of the crowd at these shows than your usual shows

Those tours really worked for our older fans from the `70`s.  We have a big following but if you try and play Just Take Me, Backwater, Is There A Better Way or Oh Baby for the peripheral fans who just know the hits then there`d be a lot of puzzled faces but the fans at the Frantic Four shows absolutely loved hearing those deep album cuts.  On this upcoming tour we hope to play a good mix though so everyone will be happy.

 At the moment you`re doing some of your Aquostic shows.  When did you first come up with that idea?

 It first came up when we were doing an advertisement in Australia on a huge mock-up stage and the style of the track was a very acoustic Down Down, a bit like the version that ended up on the record.  They put us in the round and the audience was all around us and the audience at the time thought there was something good about it.  Rick thought it was a great idea but I wasn’t too sure. I thought we may as well give it a go.  It wasn`t until we did Paper Plane that I thought there was something good. It took those songs back to where they were written as we mostly wrote them on acoustic guitars.  To take them back to the acoustic format was a joy.  The album took off extremely well and far exceeded what I thought it`d do.

 Did it give you the chance to have a fresh look at your catalogue and play some songs that you hadn`t done in years?

 Acoustically definitely.  We had a good rummage through our songs and listened to some of them again for the first time in ages before we could decide what to do. One of the things on the acoustic album, And It`s Better Now, was suggested by Mike Paxman.  That`s a song only our hardcore fans would know, most floating Quo fans wouldn`t know it.  People said to us that they didn`t realise that we wrote such nice songs.  I don`t know if that was a compliment or a smack in the face. There is certainly a case of looking at the songs again but from a different perspective. We`re also currently thinking of doing an album with an orchestra so we`ll be having another rummage through our material to try and see what will fit with alongside an orchestra

 Next year it`s 50 years since you released your debut album Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From The Status Quo. How do you hope to mark your Golden Anniversary as recording artists?

 I have absolutely no idea what we are going to do about that next year as we`ve said we`ll be working from May until October so there`s gaps before and after so I`m sure something will be lined up.  I`ll be doing Rock Meets Strings, where we`ll be playing with an orchestra sometime next year. I said I`d do that when I thought I wasn`t doing anything next year but now it`s starting to get all busy again.

 50 years is incredible and it`s hard to see artists now reaching that milestone. What do you see as the highlight of your career?

 Live Aid must be up there as it was totally unique. We weren`t very good or very well-rehearsed and we weren`t getting on together very well but it was such an incredible day.  We were lucky that no one wanted to go on first, so we thought we may as well do it. We got every newsreel around the world.  When they panned out from Wembley Stadium it was fantastic, there were so many people there and it was such a lovely day.  It was incredible.  Even now when I see shots of Live Aid I look at it and think, “Cor, look at that there, it looks great down there” All credit to Bob for managing to get everybody to agree to doing it.  It was a fantastic occasion and it worked.

Did you realise at that time it`d be such a historic event?

 Not really, not until we`d walked on stage and saw all of the people there. Everybody backstage was great and we all cleared out of our dressing rooms after our sets to make way for the next artists although Madonna did surround herself with 12 big guys when she went to the loo and that put everyone`s nose out of joint a bit.  When we walked on stage I`d never seen so many cameras in all of my life. Maybe I have since then but I`d never seen it and then this euphoria from the audience, warmth and love was there not for Status Quo but for the whole event.  They were feeling good about getting together to enjoy the music and do something to help others.  It was lovely.

You`ve had number 1 singles and albums, sell out tours, starred in your own film but can anything top appearing on Coronation Street with Les and Cilla Battersby

 I remember Coronation Street when it first started and I played the theme tune on the trumpet at school.  I can now play it on guitar and it is surprisingly enough a lovely piece of music.  It`s an iconic show and has been around for so long that when we were first asked I thought it`d be outside of our comfort zone but our manager was a very, very big fan of the show and he pushed us.  It was a very enjoyable experience.  It was great working with Les Battersby.  I actually learned how to fight on television through that.  When we went into the Rovers and when Betty mentioned “Hot Pot”, we just kept laughing and they had to keep doing it again until we got our parts right.

 Your tour ends in London the night after you play in Newcastle.  Where do you go after that?

 We head back to Europe for some more acoustic shows and we get back home on the 21st and my daughter is coming over from Canada with her mother for Christmas, which is really nice as they get on really well with my current wife.  My children all get on extremely well together so we have a large Christmas together and we have an Italian night on Christmas Eve so I`m looking forward to all of that.

 What are your plans going in to 2018?

 I won`t be doing anything musically until late January or early February when I`m going to finish an album I`m doing with one of the singers on the acoustic record. Then I`ll go and do the classics thing then out and play shows in the summer and then it`s October again and who knows what`ll happen then.

 Status Quo`s  are on tour now, fully plugged in and electric.  The tour ends in London on 8th December .

Interview and Photos by Mick Burgess

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