Francis Rossi has been a giant of British rock music since the early 1970s. Lead guitarist Rossi continues to carry the torch for Status Quo since the death of rhythm guitarist Rick Parfitt in 2016. In this exclusive interview Francis discusses life in lockdown and what he learned from quarantine, returning to the road with Quo for British dates early next year, the thorny subject of the band’s set-lists and how he feels that each tour could be his last.
Did you use your lockdown productively?
Lockdown became the longest period of time that I’ve been at home since I was about 15. I missed playing live but certainly I used my time to relax, spend some proper time with the family and get out into the garden. I can’t wait to get out on the road again now though, I’m looking forward to these ‘Out Out Quoing’ dates in early 2022.
Presumably there was some songwriting involved, maybe leading to a follow-up to 2019’s Backbone?
There was plenty of musical activity, but not necessarily towards a new album. I practiced a lot, as I always do, and worked on ideas with some other players too. But there’s no formal timeline for a new Quo album.
You are the subject of a new, limited edition coffee table photo-book, AAA, which according to the press blurb admits the reader to the “inner sanctum”, allowing them to “see what really goes on, to behind the curtain”. What sort of secrets does it reveal?
AAA is largely a photo-book which concentrates on the places and the times on a show day that the fans don’t get to see: backstage areas and the preparations for taking to the stage. The images were largely taken on the last spoken word tour so it’s bang up to date. It’s been beautifully put together so I hope the fans enjoy it.
Given that 2019’s 33rd studio set, Backbone, was the first record made without Rick Parfitt, and that Bob Young (co-composer of Caroline, Down Down and more) returned to co-write several of its songs, did the public give it a fair, objective listen?
Backbone got an incredible reaction, I’m told, but one has to understand that to us as a band the number that it sold, and that any album ever will these days, still felt a little sad; the glory days are gone, I guess. I’m not someone who looks backwards but [what we did in spite of market restraints] felt like a real achievement. Bob’s involvement is simply because we still write really well together and have been doing so regularly again since Heavy Traffic [in 2002].
Quo’s Spring 2022 tour is preceded by a second spoken-word jaunt of the UK. Each night questions from the audience are invited. Which were the best/most entertaining examples of that?
There are always a couple that I’m surprised [host/presenter] Mick Wall reads out. I won’t give examples of the best – or worst! – in case people manage to top them and really put me on the spot. I’ll try to answer anything; though it’s impossible to settle on a ‘favourite song or gig or specific moment’. Any answer could change in an instant depending on all kinds of things.
Quo’s most recent live gig took place in Switzerland way back in September of 2019. How do you feel about the mental and physical demands of getting back to work?
That’s right, and the last UK show was an intimate affair for Radio 2 in Hyde Park! As I said, I’m always practicing so that side of things should be fine. I do keep myself fit and healthy too, but a full-on Quo show is a serious workout and there’s no true way of completely preparing for it. It’s a serious physical challenge, no doubt, and I’ve never been off for this long before. The lift we get from the fans helps us through.
What did quarantine teach you about yourself?
That we can all take a step back and take a breath. Everybody took a lot for granted, live music certainly, but also things more personal than that. I hope that we have all become a little more self-aware.
Presumably it made value your work more than ever before?
I miss that connection that comes from an interaction with a live band. It works both ways, of course, and I know that the fans are desperate to get out there again. It made me realise even more that I actually do enjoy it! The ‘Out Out Quoing’ tour dates I hope are going to be special.
Why were there no ‘behind-closed-doors’ Quo gigs on the internet?
Well, we don’t all live in one big house! We had to respect all the rules and conditions of quarantine. We could have each performed from separate locations, but what has always made this band tick is the collective energy that you just don’t get over Zoom. Other bands did amazing stuff, given the circumstances, but it’s just not me.
You must be aware that considering its sheer depth of catalogue, Quo’s set-list is considered too rigid for some fans?
We [the band] choose the set-list and I’m always happy with it. We can’t play everything and, whilst there will be classics and also some new songs, I gave up trying to please everyone a long time ago. We do make changes, but we’ll always have a set that we think is the optimum and maximises the fans’ enjoyment.
The existence of a handful of songs written by co-founding bassist Alan Lancaster (who left in 1985) that feature guitar parts from Rick, laid down before he passed, and drum tracks from John Coghlan (the band’s original drummer until 1981), is well documented. Would you ever complete them by adding your own contribution?
As I keep saying, I don’t look back, and it wouldn’t be my place to complete someone else’s work. Alan has asked but it’s not something I’m comfortable with. There is a massive amount of material that we do have to choose from, and with so many good songwriters actually in the band right now I think if we were looking to record we would have plenty of up-to-the minute options to pick from.
If you could sit down and write a song with another artist, who would you choose?
It’s hard to say. Do I think that I would really improve a song that was being written by one of my heroes? That would be rather presumptuous! So I’ll say maybe someone that we’ve lost so I could have a chat with them again? I’ve always loved Muse, and it could be interesting to see what came out of that, though perhaps the reason that I love them is that they think differently and it’s unlikely that our processes would align successfully.
What’s your favourite reworking of a Status Quo tune?
There was a dance version of Whatever You Want that an act called Scooter did a few years ago. I wouldn’t say it was my favourite but it really did underline that sometimes an element of something can be taken and transformed into something completely different. Not sure I need to hear it again, though!
Is there an artist that you’d like to cover one of your own songs?
Maybe somebody who really has their own voice and talent would be interesting. Perhaps Taylor Swift who came from that country tradition that I love but very much does her own thing. God knows which Quo song she’d choose though! Maybe it’s more likely I’ll cover one of hers.
The token ‘retirement’ question: Do you expect to know when the right time to remove the waistcoat, return the Tele to the stand and call it a day should finally come around?
I always think: “We’re done”, and then I think again. Lockdown would have been a good excuse to draw things to a close but I would always want to say goodbye – and thank you – to the Quo fans who have been such a part of my life. I’ll keep hold of the waistcoats come what may. I like to look my best.
Status Quo’s 14-date British tour begins on February 7, 2022. Tickets are available now (opens in new tab)