I have been into the heavier side of rock music since I went to my first concert at the age of 15 when Status Quo played my local leisure centre in Antrim, Northern Ireland. That sowed the seeds of a lifetime passion that has seen me also see Status Quo over twenty times and still counting, as I am due to see them again in a few months’ time. Francis Rossi needs no introduction as one of the original band members and part of the group that has been one of the most successful chart acts in the UK for over fifty years. I have done many interviews over the last eight years since first embarking on music journalism and this was truly one of those bucket list moments that I could never have ever dreamed of achieving. Francis is currently promoting a new solo album, so to discuss that plus all things Quo I was delighted to be able to spend some time in conversation with him last month.
ANTIHERO: How you doing, Francis? Good morning.
Francis Rossi: I’m just listening to that accent. It’s drifting around. You’re Irish and you’ve been living in Europe?
ANTIHERO: Not far off. Northern Irish, living in England for the last 3 years.
Francis Rossi: Really? You don’t sound like you’re … a little bit of European crept in there somewhere. I don’t get it. I definitely heard the Irish, but I always say Irish because some Northern Irelanders don’t like you to distinguish between left and right, as I call it.
ANTIHERO: Exactly. Okay, this is a bit of a bucket list moment for me. First ever gig was Status Quo back in 1982.
Francis Rossi: I see. They should have put you on medication then really, that would have helped.
ANTIHERO: I got hooked instantly. Anyway, on with the chat.
Francis Rossi: Very nice.
ANTIHERO: This year’s shaping up to be a particularly busy year for you. You seem to have a lot going on.
Francis Rossi: Yeah, I do. I don’t know how it got like that. It wasn’t an idea, “Let’s get busy.” There were various things come up. The band, I agreed to do some rock and roll shows, music shows, from June into September, just to keep in and things are going, there are things in preparation.
And the talk tour had been talked about for about the last three years because I talk too fucking much. And I’d also had the album – Hannah and I – after the acoustic tour got together and started writing and suggest doing an album. That album was liked by the record company. We had a song on there called ‘Talk too Much’ and it kind of all fell into … They’d been pushing to do a book, and I said, “As long as they don’t want to make it sensationalist, just about me slagging off Ricky, then it’s fine.” So, it all fell into place. And now it’s just like, “Fuck I’m busy.”
ANTIHERO: I just wonder how it was writing songs with Hannah? Is it difficult to write with somebody different?
Francis Rossi: I thought it would be. The difficult part for me … and saying that I write with Bob or Andrew or John or whomever, it’s the lyric usually that’s difficult. Because I’m not a poet, I’m not particularly a writer, not really well-read, so I think that contributes.
But I’m always wondering where the inspiration for the story … They usually love stories, yes no stories. I’m always fascinated by how country people can find the … What’s that guy? He’s got a song, ‘All I Wanted was a Car’. I forget his name. But he’s fantastic and I really … I’ll have to look on my phone. How they come up with a certain idea of a song, I would never think about a song and think that all I wanted was a car as a teenager. And this guy obviously did. What’s he called now? Sorry won’t be a minute, I’ve got to have a look.
ANTIHERO: No problem.
Francis Rossi: Brad Paisley… The opening track on an album was ‘All I Wanted was a Car’. And he talks about my buddy Blake did this, it was about steak, he did that, my friend there did that and the chorus is, all I wanted was the car. I would probably never go there. So sitting writing with Hannah, initially, we were trying country-ish. And she was really taken with as many Americanisms as possible. And the first track we wrote was the opening track on the album, which somewhat sounds like a nursery rhyme really. (singing)
And so, I had mentioned down in California, California this … Arizona, so many American sounding words and stuff in there. And I then from that track onwards, once we carried on writing the rest of the songs, we sort of eased off a little bit with the American influences, because I think if we did try to make it too country, it would alienate people in Europe and in England. Because otherwise, we would be buying national products, which we don’t. And if it gets to America, Nashville, we obviously sound like pretenders because we’re trying to pretend to be American, pretending to be Americans.
So, after the initial write, we just sat there and wrote what came. But it’s always the lyric that is the tricky bit. You get great ideas, and I’d send her bits and she’d send bits, and we’d do bits on the phone. And then she came and spent a couple of weeks, and we did …
And I found that what’s happened as I’ve got older, I finally actually enjoy the process. Whether the projects I’m about to get into do well financially or not, I’ve realised I enjoy the process. Which is a joy to realise that I suppose? Perhaps I always did. But it was always nice looking at the massive success that we had.
And I was just talking to another guy just now, it’s pretty much impossible to sell those kinds of pieces, i.e. with records, books, or anything anymore.
ANTIHERO: Do you find it easier to create slower songs like, ‘Unspoken Words’ and ‘Most of the Time’. Or heavier ones like, ‘Down Down’ and ‘Caroline’?
Francis Rossi: Not really, because the basic … when you start them, as we said on the acoustic tour, that ‘Down Down’ was written on acoustics. (singing) So, it was played for playing (singing). Whereas ‘Caroline’ was written as a shuffle, but still on an acoustic guitar. So, it’s kind of all about the melody. When we did the acoustic album, people would come up to me and say, “I didn’t know you wrote such nice songs.” And I thought, “Well it’s the same fucking song. You’re just now listening to the … you can hear the melody more clearly.” It would seem that some people found the noise that Status Quo makes offensive, or just, they switch off.
ANTIHERO: Well, in my opinion, the noise that the band made was quite an entertaining one.
Francis Rossi: And taking away that grunge guitar noise, whatever you want to call it, made them just listen to, “I want all the world to see.” And they think, “That’s a nice melody”. Or that paper planes are nice. They’re nice melodies. And I think that’s the pop element of Status Quo, leaning towards the country element of Status Quo. ‘Unspoken Words’ is me and Bob, and leans more to the blues influence, which Bob brings in a lot of the time with me and pushes me for. So, Status Quo to me has always been a pop, country, blues, rock band. And blues people don’t like the fact that we do pop. Rock music who don’t like that we do pop and country. Country people don’t like the … And I like it all. And I believe Status Quo are all that, and I believe I am all that. I like blues, I like country, I like pop, I like just music. I can’t help it.
ANTIHERO: Will you be featuring any of the new songs with Hannah on this solo tour?
Francis Rossi: Not on the talk tour, no. I will probably … I’m taking the acoustic with me. But I don’t want to do songs per se, because it will make it a performance. Apart from that being pressure on me, and me trying to make them … one acoustic guitar and my voice is far too much of an exposed situation for me. I think. However, I will be demonstrating I hope, how certain songs came about. And the reason that we did lots of shuffles. De dun de dun de dun de dun de dun de dun. How they come about from Irish music, Welsh music, Scottish music, Italian music, and basic march. A march is (singing) and you bring that up above the heart rate, which is why a lot of the times, the march, they would send people into … men into battle with a march, because it raises their heartbeat, and it’s kind of, “We can do this.” And I think that’s obviously what happens with Status Quo, that it lifts the heart rate, it gives people an elevated feeling. However, if you don’t like Status Quo, it’s shit, so you don’t get anything do you?
ANTIHERO: Will the solo tour that you’re doing, the talking one, cause you to feel any additional pressure? I mean, obviously, you’ve played in front of audiences previously many times with the band.
Francis Rossi: Well there is because over the last 10 to 15 years I’ve become made aware that I talk too much. I mean that. And apart from it’s a great title that we’ve got, and I use it, is I do, I like to talk. And whether it’s gotten older, I think I was always like that as a young child. And then when you get to seven years old, and there was some girls party I went to once, and she said, “Shut up.” And I think I shut up for many years. And the insecurity, whatever, lack of education, all sorts of things, I’ve gotten older, and I have things to say and I have opinions. And whether they’re valid or not, I still express them. And some people have become engaged with me talking to them, and it’s become, to the notice of the management and PR and whomever else. So it’s been talked about as I said, for three years or so, to do a talk tour. I never thought it would actually come together because I didn’t think people would want to sit and listen to me talk. But in the talk show there’s probably 45 minutes, the first half of myself and Mick maybe describe a certain song, and how it came about. Second half will probably be a Q and A from the audience. And that could get very interesting. Because I’m sure people are going to ask me stuff that they think is going to make me feel awkward or uncomfortable.
ANTIHERO: So, you’re ready for that though?
Francis Rossi: I think so yeah. And I suppose really, I’m big mouthed enough that if there’s somebody asks me something and I don’t want to talk about, “I’m sorry mate, next question.” And I’ll go somewhere else. And if it gets … I doubt if it’ll get difficult.
ANTIHERO: It’s not. You’re going to get mostly … well, predominantly fans there. Just to hear you talk about those songs.
Francis Rossi: I think so. But again, my manager made a point that there will be people that come along that just don’t necessarily want to know how a song came about, but more about perhaps life experiences on the road with the band, the early band with Rick. My relationship with Rick. My own personal relationships and so on. Because it seems we have a world now, there are lots of these kinds of talk shows are coming off, and people are finding it interesting I suppose.
ANTIHERO: You’ve been a professional musician for many, many years, and then the industry has changed dramatically, do you think those changes have been for better, or generally for worse in recent years?
Francis Rossi: I think the fucking shame is we would like, just depending on how we feel, we would like to say, “It’s all worse now. It was better in my time.” Or, “It’s all better now because it’s worse …” What happens is, because we live in the realms of relatively, it’s pretty much equal. I love using computers and the flexibility of computers. I don’t necessarily believe that analogue or old-style recording was better. I can’t say that I hear something on the radio and say, “Oh, I wish that was an analogue, I’d buy it, or I would like it.” I either like the melody or whatever it that appeals to me, regardless of whether it’s digital, or whether it’s analogue. So, I think a lot of that goes on. But I’m sure that when in the ’60s and ’70s we were all thinking, “It’s going to be so good, the future we’re going to have, we’re going to have.” And we now have. We have music … I got so much music on my phone which I rarely listen to because I’m always making something else. Various TVs in the house that have got hundreds if not thousands of movies and television programmes on them. So inevitably I never watch them. So I think the negative is that the internet and whatever else, technology, has given us everything, so like everything when we get to it we go, “Oh, I’ve got that not.” Whether it’s a new car, a new woman, a new shirt, a new … Christmas eve, Christmas day, whatever it is, suddenly we get there and go, “Oh. The expectation was far better than perhaps, the reality.” So I think, to answer your question, as I said, it’s equal. There are some things today that are so much better than there were, and some things today that aren’t. And it seems that once you’ve opened the box, you can’t go back. I suppose looking at the planet where we have a plastic problem … When plastic first came about, “Yeah, wow, fantastic.” Now, “Oh shit. We didn’t realise this would happen.” And maybe certain powers that be did realise that. Or maybe, just like the rest of us, we don’t look, and don’t study and therefore, oh shit, it just bit me in the arse. Which is what it seems that everything’s doing to us all these days. It’s biting us in the arse.
ANTIHERO: What about in terms of being a professional musician? I mean … and revenue streams. Obviously, guys like yourself, you don’t make as much from albums, album sales.
Francis Rossi: Nowhere near as much.
ANTIHERO: So, you have to look for alternative sources of revenue?
Francis Rossi: There is that to a degree. Plus, obviously, I’m not poor. But I have bills like everybody else, and you keep looking at the world the way it is, and I keep living longer and thinking I need to finance living longer, and I don’t want to suddenly shrink everything down and not live as well and as nicely as I do, so those come into it. But as I said to you earlier. I actually enjoy the process. I sometimes get in the morning when I’m sitting drinking coffee at about half seven ish, seven, when you’ve just woke up thinking, “Wow,” you know? And I quite often think, “Well maybe why can’t I just sit down and just wait for death.” And I don’t mean that in a morbid way. Just maybe, why can’t you just sit and take it easy now. I get enthused, okay, when I wrote the songs with Hannah. I’m writing songs with Hannah. I speak to my manager every day, and he says to me, “How are you getting on with Hannah?” “Good, really great.” “Can I hear some?” So, he hears them, I want him to like them, don’t I. He likes them. Great. Hannah next says, “Can I play it at the record company?” “Well yeah, yeah. I want that.” And then before you know it, we’re committed to making the album, and me committed to … So, the albums out there, and now we’ve got to promote it because not promoting it would be fucking stupid. Although as I said, I enjoy the process, and I’m already talking to Hannah about doing another one Because we could do another one, enjoy being together and going through the process, and make a better one. What for? I was talking to my manager this morning and saying, “Is it worth doing anything like that anymore?” And he mentioned to me, “I believe Sheryl Crow has just decided she’s not going to make any more records.” Whilst I said, “Well I could just go and make music in the studio,” there’s something in us that’s, “What’s the point in doing that unless you are going to release it?” And if you are going to release it, then you have to promo it. If you’re going to promo it, you’re on that wheel again. See, I’m a confused young kid, I’m a confused old man.
ANTIHERO: Just wanted to talk to you about one of my favourite Quo songs. ‘Forty-Five Hundred Times’. When that song was originally created, what did you set out to do? Was it always the intention for it to be a long piece with different sections?
Francis Rossi: No, not at all. No, no, no. It was just me and Rick wrote the parts, the three separate movements as we like to call them. And it was very much in those days, the audience were smoking dope so that they would be fascinated and sit there and listen to the three changes in the song. And then at the end it just got longer, and the more we toured, it got a bit different each night. And for it to develop that way, it took a long time. People keep asking me to redo it. If we redo it, we can only do the first three movements, which we’ve done many times, and the whole end section, you need two or three years of playing it and playing it and playing it, and see what happens tonight. And leaving it open in the show, to see where we’re going to go. And you look at each other and I go somewhere, and sometimes it goes down a blind alley, “Woops that’s no fucking good.” Or we mess up, because I go one place and the band go another. You couldn’t actually … The way that was shaped and formed, you couldn’t sit down and rehearse that. It just wouldn’t have been as it was, if it had been sat down and rehearsed.
ANTIHERO: Did it surprise you that it became such a fan favourite when you played it live?
Francis Rossi: Not at the time. Because it was a different time again. Most of Quo’s audience were men. And ask men about … it’s different today, but the men at the time were very … you had to be more macho, everyone kind of spoke down there, and you had to wear a certain kind of clothing, and not like another kind of music. And there was something that used to happen in those gigs and stuff. I realised that when I did the frantic tour that…
ANTIHERO: Yeah. I was going to touch on that.
Francis Rossi: Yeah, there was a … in Hammersmith Odeon, I didn’t think we were very good at all, and it was kind of messy and sloppy. But I had to admit, “Oh I see,” the audience, you could see these people were just, they were there again. Obviously, we couldn’t be there again. But they were there again. And the people that cried, all sorts. Whether they were crying because it was so bad, perhaps I got it wrong. I’m being funny. But I had to realise that they loved it. And the second time we did it, you could sense it wasn’t quite as … you’d done it. So, the idea that Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan wanted to go on forever, it couldn’t. Because the nostalgia would have drifted. It’d just become another band out there touring, which was … One of the best things about it is it hadn’t been around for years, and people were elated that we took it out again. I couldn’t do that again.
ANTIHERO: Just a couple more to finish. Just wondered if any of your family have pursued a career in music? I do recall seeing one of your sons’ band, ‘Little Egypt’ support you.
Francis Rossi: Yeah. He has a decorating business now. He always wanted to be in musical theatre, I forget what he does. I think he works in computers again, in a hospital somewhere. But he basically is into opera. So, Nicholas was into rock. And his brother works in the oil industry, I think. He designs safety systems for oil rigs somehow. I don’t know how my family got into the … My eldest son who was ..Kieran is very, very good but shy. Bernadette had a band called ‘Bernadette and the Norths’ in Canada. She now has two children. They realised that it’s … Apart from Nick. It’s different out there. They probably didn’t have that thing that their father had to detriment of everything else. Status Quo always came first. My two youngest Kyra and Fursey both sing and play guitar very well. They like country-ish music. One of the very talented ones doesn’t do music at all, that’s Finn. And Patrick isn’t musical much at all anyhow. So, most of them have done something, but not in that public thing. I kept them out of the public glare as it were.
ANTIHERO: Just a couple then. There was a notice .. a few months ago, on the official Status Quo website where I read that there would be an official Rick Parfitt tribute gig. Just wondered if that was still happening?
Francis Rossi: I really don’t know. It’s got very little to do with me. I can’t stand situations like that. And Rick used to hate those kinds of things too. So why they’re doing that … I dare say that’s his sons doing that, and they’re doing it for their father. And perhaps they should do. But I don’t … I mean not just Rick, I don’t like tribute things to anyone. The Freddy Mercury one went on, and whoever went on.
ANTIHERO: Yeah. I guess you could reply with the fact that you’re still out there, and touring, and playing those songs.
Francis Rossi: Yeah. I mean we still … We were doing that when Rick was still alive. He kind of retired for his health. And he was only too pleased that we had Richie Malone in there. Richie Malone was someone that Rick had seen and liked and was only too pleased that we used Richie and not somebody else. So, that’s a very good point. Perhaps that’s a tribute in itself, that we do a couple of the songs that Rick used to do.
ANTIHERO: Just a final one. You’ve done many, many interviews over the years Francis, but if the roles were reversed, who would you yourself like to actually interview?
Francis Rossi: With respect, nobody. I wouldn’t be any good at it. I’m probably not that interested in anybody else. That’s my selfish … it’s not my own ego perhaps.
ANTIHERO: There is nobody? A personal hero, maybe somebody that’s inspired you?
Francis Rossi: Closest I come to a personal hero, apart from the Everlys, would be Jeff Lynne. But I wouldn’t want to sit there and ask him questions other than, seeing in his work. And he told me once, we were talking once, and he said, “You never really need to meet your heroes.” He worked with Roy Orbison, and at the time he was somewhat disillusioned after working with Roy. And I’ve known Jeff Lynne on and off since I was about 15 or 16, I think. We used to see him with Idle Race working around the Midlands. So, I often watch interviewers and think, “What a way to ask that.” You obviously are interested in Status Quo, so your questions … perhaps you prepped your questions.
ANTIHERO: Very little preparation required for this one, Francis. I have seen the band live many times over the years.
Francis Rossi: So, I suppose, being honest it would probably be the Everly Brothers or Jeff Lynne maybe I’ve had conversations with Jeff Lynne over the years, so I know certain things that I wanted to know, as it were. So, Everly brothers if you wish, if you must have somebody.
ANTIHERO: Okay Francis that’s great. Slightly over time. So good luck with the tour. I’m actually hoping to get along to the Lancaster show.
Francis Rossi: Lovely. And thank you very much.