It’s weird being alone: Status Quo’s Francis Rossi on life without Rick Parfitt
- Credit: PA
Ahead of an acoustic gig in Norwich, the guitarist and singer tells us about coming to terms with the death of his musical partner-in-crime and why he's jealous of Ed Sheeran.
'I was thinking the other night it is kind of weird being alone now,' says Francis Rossi.
The Status Quo stalwart is reflecting on how things have changed since the death of his long-time musical partner-in-crime Rick Parfitt. 'It's like when I got divorced from my first wife. As much as you know you have to carry on there is a side of you that can't help but feel it and look back. I'm not used to being on my own. I'm having to get used to it, but it's very different.'
That he is still coming to terms with Rick's death on Christmas Eve 2016 is unsurprising given that the pair had been band mates for almost 50 years.
Rick joined Status Quo in 1967 after he had met Francis while performing at Butlins in Minehead. Together with fellow original members, bassist Alan Lancaster and drummer John Coghlan, they enjoy a string of hits from psychedelic-pop breakthrough hit Pictures of Matchstick Men to hard-rocking classics like Caroline, Down Down and Rockin' All Over The World, which became immortalised when they opened Live Aid.
In 2015, the band passed a milestone enjoyed by only a handful of musicians, spending a total of 500 weeks in the UK album charts.
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The subject of Rick's sudden death is the one time in our chat when the guitarist's jack-the-lad, quick quitted banter changes for something more sombre and reflective.
'It's a very different dynamic now that Rick has left us,' says Francis. 'His health for the last few years hadn't been what it could have been but it was still a huge shock. There was a point where we had to face the fact that Rick is not there and the rest of us in the band had to focus a more on the future, and a new young guy coming in to play, whereas before we'd been an automatic.'
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Loved by fans, but often derided by critics, Status Quo has part of the landscape of British music for as long as most of us can remember. And it was the front duo of the blond hard-rocking guitarist and wiry singer that was inseparable in the public's image of the band.
It was surprising then when Rick's autobiography, as well as chronicling decades of rock'n'roll excesses and his series of heart attacks, suggested the pair weren't as close as people thought, and that their relationship had plenty of ups and downs.
'Oftentimes Rick and I would disagree but we'd discuss things and though that sometimes you'd find what you want,' says Francis. 'But remember too, and this isn't to put what we had together down at all, but it was an image. It is something that the pair of us worked on together for years and in the end it becomes this image, this logo, me and Rick as Status Quo.'
Rick's death hasn't been the end of Quo. Later this month the band comes to Norwich to perform an acoustic show, off the back their hugely success Aquostic albums, complete with backing singers and strings.
The first Aquostic album, complete with cover photo of Francis and Rick with only a pair of guitars to protect their modesty taken by singer-turned-photographer Bryan Adams, was the band's most successful in years.
'The whole project came about accidentally,' says Francis. 'Some of it was driven by the fact that Rick's health was failing. It has proved to be most enjoyable and it was easier for Rick.'
Despite initial misgivings Francis was surprised how well the normally hard-rocking songs worked in a stripped back acoustic form. 'One track that we did was Paper Plane, which is a very straight forward track, which I said that wouldn't work, but actually it sparkled,' he says. 'That was really the point at which I thought maybe this does actually work.
'In The Army Now, on the second album, was another that we really couldn't see working, but it did. Because these songs have kind of proved themselves over the years you have the basics, and when we transferred them to the format of the four of us sitting around strumming it got the creative juices following.'
The band's first acoustic show at London's Roundhouse was also a nervy moment. 'When the lights went down and the noise of the audience, I thought oh s*** weren't not even as loud as that. We're used to the roar going up and then the opening guitar hits.
'But actually what we found was that the course feeling was still there. A lot of people have since said I never knew you had such nice songs. It makes you think what they were listening to, but Status Quo is like Marmite. People either love us or hate us.
'When people hear Status Quo as much as it is instantly recognisable there is an equal minus to it in that people have their preconceptions. But take away the noisy guitar and people just listen to the melody. I found that quite uplifting that people have said actually they're quite nice tunes. It takes me back to the fact that Status Quo is a pop band really.'
Francis says his influences growing up were the likes of The Everly Brothers, Connie Francis, Guy Mitchell and Little Richard, though one later love proved controversial. 'Once in about the mid-1970s in Germany I mentioned liking ABBA and the record company guy said 'I don't think it is good to say that'. When I asked why not, he said it's not good for our image.'
The band have never been strangers to East Anglia from their earliest days of gigs in Norwich and Ipswich pubs through to shows in such unlikely locations as the palatial grounds of Holkham Hall. And they are one of the few bands to have played both Portman Road, where they supported Rod Stewart, and Carrow Road, which they headlined exactly 20 years ago.
'Rick had been ill around that period and we played it as a comeback show,' recalls Francis, when asked if he recalls it. 'I think that was the one where our manager at the time thought I'd be a great idea to go back on in an Ipswich shirt — it wasn't!
'We've done every kind of venue, from Wembley to weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate shows to playing at the bottom of a quarry and at the foot of the Eiger in a snowstorm. That's what happens with longevity.'
He adds that he doesn't know what the long-term future of Status Quo holds, but what keeps him going? 'Ego, insecurity, money — the usually things,' he laughs. 'Like everyone I worry about the future. I'm probably going to live until I'm 90-odd. Most of it is down to being an insecure little show off, which is what most people in this business are.'
Ed Sheeran's a genius and I'm jealous
The sales success of the Aquostic albums bucked recent trends — with a notable local exception. 'The amount of albums we used to sell in a few days, if you do that in the entire length of the album nowadays you're very lucky, except if you're the ginger fella [Ed Sheeran]. I love him to death, but I'm very jealous of the git. You know I'm Italian? I've had a contract put out on him because he is just too good. He is very talented and a nice guy too, apart from having too many tattoos in my opinion, but then I'm an old person.'
• Status Quo: Aquostic, UEA LCR, Norwich, , November 16, 7.30pm, £45, 01603 508050, uealcr.ticketabc.com