It’s November 13, 2012, the morning of the eighth annual Classic Rock Awards, and the Status Quo ‘Frantic Four’ – Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan – are gathered in a cafeteria inside London’s Roundhouse where the event is being held. Later in the evening they will accept an award for their 1977 concert release Status Quo Live!
As a band, Status Quo rocked hard and partied even harder throughout the 1960s and 70s. But by the start of the following decade, for various reasons, their empire had begun to crumble. Now the reunion that nobody considered possible is actually happening.
Just a few hours earlier, tickets had gone on sale for a tour the following March, these four musicians’ first dates together in 31 years, and already the guys know they are flying out the door. Quite understandably, all of the Frantic Four are giddy with nostalgia and excitement.
“It’s such a pleasure to be sitting here together. I’m feeling like the ‘new boy’ all over again,” says Rick Parfitt, who joined Quo after their first hit, 1968’s Pictures Of Matchstick Men. “It’s freaking me out, in a way.”
“I’m feeling disorientated, but I’m really enjoying it,” adds John Coghlan, who’s been out of the Quo line-up since 1981.
“If the reunion didn’t happen [now] then it probably never would,” says Francis Rossi. “I mean, look at us – we’re old men.”
“I’ve got this big mirror in my bedroom and I play air guitar,” admits a beaming Alan Lancaster, who was sacked by the band 27 years previously. “I’ve been practising jumping off the bed like I did from [drum risers] during the seventies.”
The most poignant comment of all comes from Parfitt: “Perhaps after all these years we’ll finally get to know one another for the first time.”
And for a short while that’s how things turned out, although sadly the Frantic Four’s wildly differing personas were doomed to return to type.
Alan Lancaster was incredibly proud of his family, and of the band that he co-founded as a schoolboy. Lancaster – or ‘Nuff’, as the group’s fans knew him – had a clear vision of what Status Quo should and shouldn’t be. And when others within the group began to blur those same lines, sparks would fly about the direction of a particular song or album, or the hiring of a new producer. So it’s hardly surprising that he was forced out of Status Quo following the decision to carry on after reuniting for Live Aid in July 1985.
Bass player/vocalist Lancaster and frontman/lead guitarist Francis Rossi had put the band together in 1962 as The Scorpions at South London’s Sedgehill Comprehensive School. By the mid-80s Rossi felt that a retirement from touring could only be overturned in a calmer and less volatile head-space. And with rhythm guitarist/singer Rick Parfitt electing to side with Rossi – despite having allegedly initially discussed teaming up with Alan to elbow Rossi aside – in January 1986 Lancaster found himself firmly out in the cold.
Having put in so much hard work to make Status Quo one of the biggest and most exciting hard rock acts in the world, it was an ignominious place to be. Lancaster once said that watching the band continue without him was “like having your child abducted”.
After Parfitt’s arrival, Quo ratcheted up the heaviness of their sound, grew out their hair and had a string of No.1 singles and albums, and played numerous sold-out tours. From 1970’s Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon to their ’77 double album Status Quo Live!, Quo were the UK’s undisputed kings of boogie-rock. Their ’74 album Quo is, barring a couple of softer moments, the band’s heaviest studio release, and a watershed moment in the pantheon of hard rock.
Quo’s astonishing success was based on fan power. Lambasted by the critics, the band grew bigger with each album, thumbing their collective nose at those who dismissed them as a three-chord, one-trick pony. After the double live record, recorded over three triumphant and boisterous nights at Glasgow Apollo, Quo set their sights on America with the album and single Rockin’ All Over The World, having hired a specialist producer, Pip Williams, to smooth off the rough edges. For Lancaster, this was the beginning of the end. He respected Williams as a producer, but felt him wholly unsuitable for Quo.
“Back then Quo was almost like a religion to the fans. To the band it was like being in a football team; you were allowed to have the occasional bad game, but nobody wanted to hear us playing netball,” Lancaster once told me, with a mischievous grin.
He would later learn that as early as 1969, Rossi and Parfitt had considered jettisoning him in favour of forming a power-trio with Kenney Jones of The Small Faces. The hushed-up idea made it to the rehearsal stage.
“When I found out years later, it made sense,” Lancaster told me in 2001. “It was all part of their psychology. The band was always my baby. I had recruited everyone, including the manager. So there was intimidation.”
“There was always tension between Alan and the rest of us,” Francis Rossi agreed in 2001. “Early on we got [our manager] Pat Barlow to sack him, but took him back again on a three-month trial. Unfortunately that lasted until 1984!”
Behind the scenes, some bad decisions were being made. And while drummer John Coghlan stuck to alcohol, elsewhere in the group the use of cocaine was increasing rapidly.
“Drugs were ultimately what broke up the [original] band,” Lancaster said in 2001. “We became the cocaine gang. If you weren’t doing it, you were excluded.”
In another interview he elaborated: “Once the cocaine [took over], our humour started to sound cynical. Paranoia set in, and things you’d say [as a joke] were [misunderstood]. Cocaine changed the dynamics and the synergy of us as people. The camaraderie had gone.”
In 1985, Rossi and, to a lesser degree, Parfitt finally got their way. Two years earlier Lancaster had moved to Australia, where he started a family with his wife Dayle. Such was the bassist’s dissatisfaction with Quo’s song Marguerita Time that at first he refused to play on it, then did it only after Rossi told him the song would appear on a solo album. (For the record, Rossi disputes this version of events.)
When Quo were invited to mime to Marguerita Time on Top Of The Pops, Lancaster stayed at home in Sydney. Jim Lea from Slade stepped in to deputise. For another TV show a cardboard cutout of Lancaster was used.
“All Marguerita Time did was advertise that we were becoming a bunch of nerds”, Lancaster fumed. The situation worsened when, apparently at the record label’s insistence, Ol’ Rag Blues co-writer Lancaster’s lead vocal was removed from the track and replaced by an alternative take with Rossi singing lead vocals.
Lancaster and the ‘new’ Quo reached an out-of-court settlement in ’86, before the release of an album titled In The Army Now. For many diehards, Lancaster’s exit spelled the end of Status Quo as they were known and loved. His successor, John ‘Rhino’ Edwards, had short hair, played a not very rock’n’roll-looking bass without a headstock, and creatively speaking contributed little to the group’s increasingly keyboard-friendly direction. To Quo’s detractors, Rhino seemed like less of a stereotypical rocker.
“Alan was always much more macho heavy metal than I was,” Rossi huffed. “I never really understood that obsession of his.”
In 1987 Lancaster hooked up with the Party Boys, a supergroup of Australian-based musicians, for the first of two spells, and appeared on their album of the same name. Next up he worked again with John Coghlan in The Bombers, before forming the Lancaster Brewster Band with John Brewster, guitarist with local heroes The Angels.
In 2001, given the extent of the bad blood between Lancaster and Rossi and Parfitt, the mere notion of the Frantic Four burying the hatchet and sharing a stage again seemed pie-in-the-sky. Or as Rossi put it: “It would be like trying to get your dick up your own arse… impossible.”
For Lancaster, the feeling was nothing less than mutual. “I would never play with them again. It would be against all my principles,” he swore as part of the same story (in a separate interview, of course). “When I left Quo they were one of the top ten bands in the world, but now they’re just a laughing stock. To me, there are better covers bands out there than the current line-up. My 22-year-old daughter says she’s embarrassed to tell people that her dad was in Status Quo.”
Eventually, thanks to Quo manager Simon Porter, Lancaster and Rossi began to talk again, at first by phone. Lancaster realised that he’d been hoodwinked over business issues by somebody in the band’s organisation. And so, against seemingly insurmountable odds, their strong childhood friendship was rekindled.
“Alan was apologetic and realised that he’d been wound up,” Rossi told me. “He is the epitome of the British bulldog. He’ll bite your leg off before bothering to decide whether you’re a friend or an enemy. But at the point [at which he expressed regret] it [the reunion] became possible.”
After Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan had been reunited at Shepperton Studios for the touching conclusion of Alan G Parker’s 2012 documentary Hello Quo!, and again at the Classic Rock Awards, fans were astounded when the four of them agreed to a series of dates in 2013 – the first time they would play together in more than three decades.
Lancaster stayed at Rossi’s house in Surrey before the tour, working on his fitness and exercising in the guitarist’s indoor pool. At the Classic Rock Awards, Lancaster had sought to quash rumours that he was suffering from multiple sclerosis.
“There’s nothing wrong with my health!” he thundered. “I’ve passed every test known to mankind. I’ve got the heart of a thirty-year-old and my cholesterol’s fine. The only negative is a toxicity that came from some hair dye I used several years ago. It affects my energy level, but I’m completely stage-fit.”
Although he looked frail on stage, and needed to have the pick glued to his fingers, his voice still sounded amazing, and for the joyous denim-clad hordes who attended the shows the Frantic Four reunion was akin to a religious experience. Although Rossi consented to another tour the following year, and enjoyed the second one far more, his negativity towards the reunions was hard to stomach.
Following what turned out to be the final Frantic Four show, in Dublin in April 2014, Rossi spurned the aftershow celebrations. The following morning, along with Rick Parfitt, he boarded a bus to join a new tour by the group that Rossi considered to be the ‘real’ Status Quo.
When informed that this could sound callous, Rossi shrugged: “Look, I’ve never been into that whole group hug thing. No… I’m going on to the next show. I said goodbye to everybody before we went on, and I was back on the bus within two and a half minutes of leaving the stage. That’s how I do things.”
Although Lancaster lobbied hard for a third Frantics tour, Rossi refused. “We achieved the goal of playing some nice shows, and it’s time to put the thing to bed,” he explained.
Lancaster had wanted Rossi to add some guitar and vocals to a handful of his new songs, for which Parfitt had recorded rhythm guitar parts before his death, and Coghlan played drums. The project was referred to as PLC (Parfitt, Lancaster, Coghlan). Rossi declined the request. Still rallying for further Frantics activity, Lancaster pushed things just a little too far with Rossi during a Boxing Day phone call, and the pair never spoke again since.
Of the second Frantic Four tour, Lancaster once told me: “I can’t remember when I enjoyed so much laughter. We’d be playing the piano in the hotel bars, it was wonderful. And of course for John and me it was also about reclaiming the legacy. People had forgotten what [the original Quo] was really like.”
Alan Lancaster died on September 26, 2021, as a result of complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 72 years old. Following the loss of Rick Parfitt in 2016, that passing leaves just Rossi and Coghlan from the Frantic Four.
In a statement, Rossi commented: “I am so sorry to hear of Alan’s passing. We were friends and colleagues for many years and achieved fantastic success together. Alan was an integral part of the sound and the enormous success of Status Quo during the sixties and seventies. Although it is well documented that we were estranged in recent years, I will always have very fond memories of our early days together and my condolences go to Alan’s family.”
Quo manager Simon Porter added: “It was an absolute pleasure to be able to reunite the original line-up for two sell-out tours in 2013 and 2014 and to give Frantic Four fans a final legacy and such a lasting memory. Although Alan was not in the best of health even then, he got through the tours with determination and grit and was a pleasure to work with.”
It’s no great secret that Alan Lancaster would never have held down a job in the Diplomatic Corps, but without his stubborn streak, not to mention talent, drive and sense of purpose, there would have been no Status Quo as we knew/know them, and the lives of many readers of Classic Rock would have turned out very, very differently indeed.