Quo: Rockin’ All Over... Blickling
Status Quo bring their brand of three-chord heavy rock to Blicking tonight. Ed Nash speaks to Francis Rossi about the secret of their long-lasting success.
People need stability in their lives. In an ever-changing world it's comforting to rely on things like rain on a bank holiday weekend, Terry Wogan wearing the same absurd wig at Eurovision or Tim Henman failing to win Wimbledon.
And we can add to that list the certainty rock dinosaurs Status Quo will regularly produce the same hard-rocking albums they've turned out for the past three-and-a-half decades.
Band leader Francis Rossi is adamant that 2005's new disc, due for release in September and coinciding with a tour celebrating the Quo's 40th anniversary, will not deviate from their ever-popular boogie sound.
"It's a little bit late for changes now, isn't it?" said the ageing rocker. "It's like asking Tom Jones to change his voice - it's just not going to happen. We do what we do and that's all there is to it."
Indeed the Quo, loved by the armed forces, women in tight jeans and their long-haired boyfriends alike, will be doing exactly that when they roll into Norfolk, bringing their head-banging three-chord boogie to Blickling Hall tonight in the midst of a run of concerts that includes Will Young (tomorrow), Jools Holland (next Saturday) and Ronan Keating (next Sunday).
It's the first time the hall has played host to the Quo, and Francis is looking forward to rocking the fine Jacobean venue on the same weekend as fellow vintage rocker Meat Loaf who held sway last night.
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"I like playing outdoor gigs," he said, "People think it's a new thing, but in Europe and Scandinavia they've been playing outside for years.
"You get a much better atmosphere outside - people can dance around and have their drink and their party in the park. It's better than being stuck in some smelly little club where there's sweat up the walls and you can hardly move."
Gigs are a subject that Francis is something of an authority on. Last year alone the Quo notched up 115 live appearances in a hectic touring schedule which saw them on the road for about 300 days. "I worked out that in total we've played something like 2000 gigs," said Francis. "But it seems like a lot more."
And for an act like Status Quo, gigging is hard work. "What always goes down well is a song like Down Down, but it's hard work playing something like that," said Francis. "Down Down is thrashy and hard to sing - I have to really get behind it.
"We're not a band like Oasis who just stand there - I'm not saying there's anything wrong with what they do - but it's not rock 'n' roll.
"When we do a song like Down Down we have to get our whole bodies into it. It's rewarding and the crowd loves it, but it's exhausting because you have to be really physically committed to it. I learned to sing like that by watching old films of Little Richard. He would really get into his music and that was what made it sound so good."
Francis' first gig with the Quo, then known as The Spectres, was at Butlins in Minehead on his 16th birthday in 1965.
Singing and playing the guitar for a living made a welcome change from his previous job cutting spectacle lenses, and the band's three-month stint at the Minehead resort would also introduce him to budding young guitarist Rick Parfitt, who was to join (the then renamed) Status Quo two years later just before the release of their first hit, the playful psychedelic Pictures of Matchstick Men.
In the '70s, the Quo abandoned the whimsical sound of their early hits to concentrate on a rougher bluesy style which, while bringing little success in America, at home saw them rival the likes of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple as one of Britain's leading hard rock acts. By the end of the decade their competitors had fallen by the wayside allowing Status Quo to establish a reputation as rock 'n' roll survivors.
Their fame was sealed when they were the opening act at one of the greatest ever showcases of rock talent - 1985's Live Aid.
Francis said: "Live Aid was an incredible gig and there was a real sense of camaraderie on the day - nobody tried to outdo each other which is what normally happens."
In the last decade times were more mixed, a 1994 number one with football champions Manchester United - Come on you Reds - brought more mockery than acclaim.
But 2002 saw the Quo defy a Radio 1 ban to bounce back into the charts with single Jam Side Down, helped by a video of the band horsing about on board aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.
The hit brought the band their 101st Top of the Tops performance, setting a new record for the show, and accompanying album Heavy Traffic saw a return to form, rising to number 15 in the charts.
It's also Francis' favourite album. "I think its our best album. Everybody loves Piledriver and Hello, but when I listen to them they're never quite as good as I think they'll be. But something really happened for me when I was writing Heavy Traffic. With lots of old albums there's a few good tracks, but it's not all as good as you want it to be."
And despite his hairy rocker image, Francis is a man with very diverse taste in music.
"I've got a CD wallet next to my laptop and in there there's Maria Callas, ELO, Fleetwood Mac and Pavarotti albums.
"There's nothing intellectual about it - all that matters is what you like.
"I don't like it when people say they hate something just because of who it is by - you've got to give it a go. You should be able to like all sorts of music across the board - I don't like Celine Dion, but I like her new record."
He's enthusiastic about hits by pop stars such as Anastacia - "met her, didn't like her but loved that Out of Love song" - but surprisingly not so keen on the crowd of current British guitar bands heavily influenced by the classic sound of the '60s and '70s.
"I don't know about Coldplay, Keane have got some good songs and Franz Ferdinand are okayish," he said. "There seems to be a genre of stuff that sounds like it's from the '60s. In Europe we have this whole school of people who learn to play a bit then show off."
His also keen to move on from his image as a rock 'n' roll wildman. "I don't think trashing hotel rooms is rock 'n' roll - that attitude isn't rock 'n' roll, it's just stupid.
"We learned pretty early on in our career that if you throw a TV out of a hotel window the only thing that happens is you have to pay the bill the next morning. I know people who have done it but I've never done it myself."
Mellow words from a man who, by his own admission, was once spending up to £1400 a week on cocaine, but it seems having eight children - six sons and two daughters - has chilled his restless spirit.
"Someone invited me to a party the other week and I said 'I don't do parties'. I've started to go home at 7pm - there are only so many productive hours. When we were making albums years ago we used to start recording at 7am and work through until 2am, but now we work between about 11am and 5pm or 6pm."
And work on the new album certainly seems to be going well. Francis said: "We've got about nine or 10 tracks finished, including a couple I really like. I'm really looking forward to touring a new album again."
Status Quo perform at Blickling Hall this evening - further details on 08700 104900. The band's new album will be released later this year.