Francis Rossi of Status Quo talks to Kevin Cooper about his appearance at Download, that infamous opening spot at Live Aid, being awarded his OBE, his forthcoming gig at Clumber Park and the Arena Tour later this year, together with the success of Piledriver beer.
Francis Rossi and Rick Parfittt are the founder members of Staus Quo, a group that has had total worldwide record sales of in excess of 118 million units. They have recorded 64 British Hit Singles; 22 of which have hit the Top Ten. They have spent, to date, over 415 weeks in the British Singles Chart with their first hit being ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ which was released as far back as 1968.
Having opened Live Aid in 1985, played three major shows in different countries within a 24 hour period, playing a current total of 6000 live shows to an estimated total audience of in excess of 25 million people in their 39 year history, and with his forthcoming appearance at Clumber Park and an Arena tour in December, he is quite naturally a very busy person. Kevin Cooper was therefore very grateful when he agreed to speak to him on the telephone, and this is what he had to say:
Good morning, could I speak to Mr Rossi please?
Well it’s not a sandwich bar…so!
(Laughter) Mr Rossi how are you this morning?
You had me on speaker phone, and let it ring and ring and then answered before I had the chance to say hello.
The reason why I have it on speaker is so that I can record it and then transcribe it later.
I see, well hang on one second; I’ve got a dog’s bum looking at me (a short pause while Mr Rossi arranges for someone to feed the dogs and then he’s back). I’m ready (laughter).
So how is Francis Rossi today?
I’m alright, not bad, what the fuck. I’ve got scaffolders in the house this morning who are going to take the face off the house. I’ve got three dogs around me at the moment, the housekeeper is busy talking to the wife, but it’s not too bad actually. I’m fine. You had better keep cutting me off as I do tend to waffle on so off you go.
What are you up to at the moment?
Things are good at the moment; we are in the middle of making a new album of sorts. We go out at the weekend’s kind of semi-pro style and it’s quite pleasant really. When you look at it in the itinerary you think that it looks really good; a bit like the child who thinks that the grass is always greener over there. But then in the winter when we are touring two days on and one day off, you think that it would be nice to do it in the summer but you just keep going. So everything is nice at the moment. If I am being honest with you Kevin it always has been nice. We are extremely lucky people.
How was it playing Download?
Well it was a gig (laughter). We have got this thing recently where it seems that we have got to be careful because the gigs in the end are getting bigger than the acts, but without the acts there is nothing there but just a bunch of people in a field. It was quite good; we did it once in 80 something, we did it once in 85 and we did it again this time. They have now named it Download to appeal to the younger people and we were the only people there who didn’t have dyed black hair and didn’t have a tattoo (laughter). I even had a tie on. Other than that it was very good I believe (laughter). I just go on, do it and move on.
People think that I am taking the piss, but if you don’t approach it like that you end up thinking that it is a very special gig tonight and you finish up being like an X Factor contestant; “I’m going to give 110%” and “I’m going to give the performance of my life tonight”. I don’t know any of that; I went on, did it, it happened to be good and then we go to the next one. The trouble is that I can’t take last weeks show to next week’s show and say “fuck me you should have seen us, we were great”. We simply have to do it all over again. But it was ok.
And this year the weather was kind to you.
Reasonably, it was quite chilly, nothing too vicious but I prefer it a little on that side as opposed to a swelter. But I don’t really like the summer much, I’m a bit odd. I like the winter, the spring, the autumn and the summer last. It’s a bit weird, I like the spring but then when it starts getting warm I don’t really get off on that. It’s strange for an Italian bloke but there you are (laughter).
Are you looking forward to playing at Clumber Park?
Well I can’t look back on it yet can I, now you are being funny now (laughter). I look forward to each gig as much as I said to you earlier, otherwise I will build this one up into something special. There were two shows last weekend and when we got to Download everyone was asking us if we were looking forward to it, and I always think, “why is it any more important than last night’s venue”. So I am always looking forward to the gig each time. We had a really good gig the Friday before the Saturday and if you are not careful you carry it on that night and you are looking around in your head to try and find what happened last night to get that vibe. And whenever you are chasing it, it never happens.
So I go out there as zeroed as possible and so therefore anything from then on is a plus and it all gets to be really enjoyable. But if I go out there with massive expectations, invariably over the last 400 years that I have been doing this, it doesn’t work. So I go out there thinking that it will be alright, but I don’t know, it might be rubbish. It’s the best and worst thing about this job, you don’t really know. You could go on and die on your arse or it could all go badly wrong. The sound could be horrendous, you could sing flat, sing sharp, and it could all go horribly wrong. So inevitably I just think that there is a gig coming, I will go on, I will enjoy it, it was good, next one. There are no post-mortems. Years ago we used to have post-mortems which is why I think that a lot of bands end up splitting up and punching each other because you get “it was your fault that went wrong not mine.” It’s just a gig (laughter). Sorry, it sounds like I am being ratty, I’m not it’s just me (hysterical laughter).
Last year I saw you at the Civic Hall Wolverhampton and then again at the Capital FM Arena…
Where’s the FM Arena, which one is that one?
It was the Trent FM Arena here in Nottingham.
Oh that one, it’s a shame that one, they could warm it up a bit. It’s quite nice but bloody freezing backstage (laughter).
Do you have any preference, small intimate gigs or the larger Arena venues?
I think I prefer the Arena tours. The idea of the small intimate gig is kind of great but we have to do so many shows to get through, and that is the reason that we took out the theatres. So as much as it is nice to be in that situation, production wise it costs a lot more money to do it, and it takes a lot more out of us. You have to remember Kevin that I am over 45 now (laughter) so I quite like the Arenas. There is always a jolly clairvoyant, a happy medium (laughter). Over so many thousand you soon realise that you start to look smaller and smaller. Each have their own thing but I would rather be doing the Arenas when we do the British tour at the end of the year.
How did you feel being the opening act at Live Aid?
To be honest Kevin I didn’t expect anything to be like that at all. Bob Geldof to his credit was pushing to actually get it, and you have to remember that at that time he was just some little upstart out of some Irish band and I thought “fuck me what’s he on about”. He got everybody of the older generation in the same way, he said “if we don’t have you then it won’t work”. He said that to The Who, he said that to David Bowie, he said it to Queen and he said it to us. We agreed to do it but it wasn’t until I walked on that I thought “oh shit this is quite something”. I think that everybody on the day thought ‘oh this is quite important’.
But again, it was a gig and we did our bit and we finished. And that is the only way that you can do it. It is without doubt the most unique gig that we will ever do or ever have done particularly in terms of the audience. Hang on Kevin I’ve got a dog’s bum on my shoulder now (laughter). That’s better (laughter). The audience felt that they were part of it. Normally with anything that we do, any show, any act, any band does its quid pro quo; they pay for their ticket and there is a certain expectancy. Whereas with that particular gig, everybody felt like they were taking part in it. There was a totally euphoric feeling, and it was totally unrepeatable. I think that is why I believe that the one that they tried to do later on just didn’t work. It may have raised money but I remember seeing it while we were over in Ireland, and we had had discussions as to whether or not we should do it. I think that U2 probably wanted to open realising that is probably the best spot.
That’s the other thing that happened to us. There was all of this jockeying for position with “no I couldn’t go on before them” and “I couldn’t go on after him” and all that kind of stuff. We just said “fuck it, we will go on first” not knowing at all that this was the best spot to have on that show because it hit every newsreel in the world. At the time everybody said “let them go on first”, then before you know it, shit, they all wanted that slot. But that’s show business for you. Hang on Kevin there are people driving up my drive, what the fucks going on here. Sorry, carry on (laughter).
Just moving away from the music for a short while, Piledriver the beer is selling extremely well. How did the relationship between you and Wetherspoons happen?
They approached our merchandising people and there was talk and talk, and lots of these things come up and people usually want you for a little while, but they are not necessarily serious. These Wetherspoon people are very serious and the campaign will run for at least a couple of years. We are having a lot of success with it and I really didn’t expect it, but I think that it is fucking marvellous. When you have been doing this for so long, any offshoot is different. I am also involved in ice-cream which is Rossi’s Ice-cream from Southend. They are semi distant relatives as all of us Rossi’s are and I am now involved with them. So it’s all very strange that the thing that I tried to escape from when I was younger, I could end up being part of now that I am older, I am older aren’t I, shit (laughter). So the Piledriver thing is really like “wow” its fantastic news.
Out of the many accolades which you have received over the years, is there one which gives you the most pleasure?
(Silence) you see Kevin, you can hear me thinking now. Probably the OBE; I really didn’t expect it, I really don’t think that we are entitled or worth it. But it’s the one that’s part of the system that we have all grown up in. I am aware that certain people say “bunch of arseholes, what did they get for” and other people say “that’s our boys, they deserve it”. But I soon became very much aware when we received it, especially from the news people, that people like us keep the profile of the honours system going. If you just give it to the people who merit it really, it doesn’t hit newsreels. For example if you gave it to a paramedic from Leeds there is no headline there, whereas if you give it to two arseholes from Status Quo that is going to cause some sort of contention and as I said it raises the profile. So that’s the one that I find the most endearing to me. All of the others are part of the gig you know but that one isn’t.
I still don’t think that we are worth all of those other ones that you get as you go along you know. We got one the other week from Kerrang, I’m not sure if it was the Antique Roadshow award or what the frig it was (laughter). It’s like you are old enough so they had better give you an award. You can see that going on and I understand that it is part of the game, so the short answer to your question is the OBE (laughter).
When you were 20 did you ever foresee yourself being in the business for such a long time?
No, I mean when you are 20 there is the big 30 which is bullshit really isn’t it. Again, I was thinking this last night, that one of the reasons that we didn’t continue in the USA was because at any point you think that this is all going to be finished within 3 or 5 years. To a young man 3 and 5 years is such a long time. And we were spending so much money chasing the Yankee Dollar that it could have easily finished and that would have really hurt. You are very much aware that people said “well they had it all and they lost it chasing that” and so we backed out of America. I’m not saying that’s a terrible shame; I’m pretty sure that Rick and I would have killed ourselves if we had had that much success in America with foreign substances. Well they are not so foreign any more are they but never mind. Is that me being racist calling it a foreign substance bum bum (laughter) right carry on.
I was speaking to Don Powell and he said that the reason that Slade never cracked America was because they simply couldn’t get enough backing from the radio stations.
There was some of that and there were deals that one had to do which when you left the country simply went dead and the record company would then move onto another act. We didn’t have representation over there as such. Our Manager once said to me, which was a very cleaver question, “how would you like to be managed by an American” and I told him to fuck off. However how he should have put it was “look as soon as we leave nothing goes on. If we give away 50% of the management, you are giving away 50% of nothing and you will have representation”. That should have been put to us, which might have been a way through.
There were also such corrupt deals with how one got airplay; whenever you put an album in for airplays, certain powders and stuff would go each way. All of that went on and maybe still does, I don’t know. But I also think that Status Quo and Slade were too bloody English. We were at the time, hang on I’m married to an American now, so I had better close the door, wait a minute (laughter). We were very anti-American at the time and we were in awe of all things American. The first time that we went to the States, we were in Los Angeles, and Rick and I heard the phone ring and we were like “wow look, just like on the TV”. We had totally gone with the whole American thing. Everyone that we met had the accent which made them appear very confident and like they knew what they are fucking talking about when in fact they didn’t (laughter). They have the superior accents and are taught how to express themselves and so on and we are very reticent and quiet. All of those things would have affected us and Slade. We were simply too fucking English.
Is there anything left for you to achieve?
Yes, if I can just get to the kitchen now and get some breakfast, I’ll be fine. That’s a joke, never mind (laughter). The only way that I can explain it, particularly to a guy, is that most of us guys think that we want to be with a nymphomaniac woman. We love the idea of a nymphomaniac. But this business is so much like a nymphomaniac; it will never, ever be satisfied. You asked me about Download and when we played Glastonbury, and everybody was saying “it’s going to be this and it’s going to be that when you do it” but you go through it and it’s just another gig.
You are always trying to go better, and better; it’s never ever satisfied. I am finding that increasingly frustrating as I get older and I am definitely getting frigging older (laughter). You are always trying to get to that point where you can say “done it”. It’s like; I dare say when Obama got to the top, “I’ve done it”. He will do probably one or two terms and he will be fine; he will have actually finished and achieved it. There may be things that he goes on to do but that drive and that hunger will stop, and that is the only thing that I am finding now which is kind of frustrating. But as the day goes on and I am in the studio I will get all enthused again, and then I realise that we get committed to stuff that lasts for two or three years. I have to be really aware of that as I get older; do I really want to commit to another three years or so of it. It’s hurting at the moment.
You mentioned a new album, when will that see the light of day?
That will probably be October or at least around that period anyhow.
Do you have any thought on retiring?
Yes, I have a lot of thoughts about retiring. I want to slow down a little bit but I’m not sure that Rick does at the moment; he seems to run hot and cold on that. I am very much aware that we are 65. We were playing a gig at the weekend and we were the only people who didn’t have dyed black hair and tattoos. You seriously feel like the older generation, seriously so. And as I said to you earlier Kevin, I would like it to come to a conclusion. That doesn’t mean that I will vegetate and I won’t do anything, but I need to slow down a little I think.
I will see you at Clumber Park and also at The Capital FM Arena as I am shooting both gigs.
Lovely, and we have got Chas and Dave with us this year. We have been after them for about 5 years. They are fucking marvellous; I really like those two. When I was growing up those two were revered musicians, and image and stuff comes along and I hear people who don’t know them, mocking them and I think that it’s like mocking Bach, it’s really silly. They are seriously good.
I have been collecting records now for over 45 years and the first record that I bought was Down The Dustpipe.
Blimey, it took a long time to break that single; it took six months to break which is a different world isn’t it. It just kept getting played and the record company believed in it and stayed with it, and eventually it just broke. That’s something that’s not going to happen nowadays is it.
You have had over 60 chart hits in the UK, which is still a record.
Yes I think so, but listen; each band has to have stats (laughter). I realised some years ago that nobody ever mentioned stats but now everybody mentions how many tours, how long they have been around, how many albums they have sold, how many gold’s they have got; it’s just how these things go. Sometimes you get fed up when you sit down for an interview and the stats get read out, particularly on TV and its ‘they have been on Top Of The Pops’. Wow! However if they didn’t have that they wouldn’t have anything to say about us so that’s just how it goes.
Let me just say thank you very much for your time.
No problem at all Sir.
Good luck with the tour.
I hope so, we should be fine. If not then something else happens (hysterical laughter). I’m very philosophical this morning. Take care now Kevin. Bye.
Status Quo will be appearing at The Clumber Park Festival on Friday 15th August 2014.
Tickets can be purchased online by visiting
or call 1845 075 6101