Status Quo frontman: ‘If I dropped dead tomorrow, what a fantastic f**king life I’ve had’
Last year the original line-up got back together again. Frontman Francis Rossi talks to Ronan McGreevy about three chords and the truth in advance of their last concert together in the O2
Status Quo’s Francis Rossi at his home in south London. File photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
You are billing this as the last ever Status Quo concert. Is that the last with the original line-up of the Frantic Four aka yourself, Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitar), Alan Lancaster (bass) and John Coghlan (drums) or the last of the newer incarnation of the band?
The other three would like to do more. I wouldn’t like to do more. I think it has run its thing. Alan Lancaster is not particularly fit or well. Rick Parfitt and I have worked so many shows. We’re a lot fitter than they are. As a reunion thing, I never thought it would happen.
It happened. It was a great nostalgic event. We went and did this year again so we could take in Europe. If it goes anymore, it will really lose its spec (sic). As far I am concerned, it is definitely the last show we will do together.
As soon as I’ve finished with that, I’m off with the other guys to Denmark and we’ll carry on with the rest of this year. They’re the regular Quo. Nobody thought the original Quo would reform because of the problem between Lancaster, myself and Parfitt.
That being said, it was really been good though it could have been better. We are getting older. I can’t believe I’m nearly 65 (he’s 64). You start to think to yourself, ‘this can’t be f***ing possible. I can’t go on’ .
There is a stick and a carrot and I feel I’ve been trying to catch this carrot all my life since I was 12 or 13 and that generally keeps me going. I’m getting to the point where I feel I don’t need to chase the carrot anymore.
Could you have imagined in 1962 when you started what became Status Quo that you’d still be together more than 50 years later?
No way. We thought in the late 1970s that it was all over because we were spending so much money chasing the Yankee dollar.
What keeps you going?
Many things. Money is one of them. When I was going to a Catholic school we had a teacher called Mrs O’ Sullivan. She said that when you are older and die, you’ll have a place next to God and when you’re older, you’ll be able to do all the things you weren’t able to do when you were working. Those were two of the biggest lies I ever heard.
There’s also a definite ego thing with me. I am an insecure little show-off, but even that is getting to the stage where I’d like it to be enough. I’d like to be satisfied myself with it so there is a frustration when I say to myself ‘when the f**k will you be satisfied? When will it be enough?’. I’d like it to be enough because I’d like to take it out of my head for a while because ever since I can remember, I’m always thinking about Quo.
To balance that, if I dropped dead tomorrow, what a fantastic f**king life I’ve had.
They talk about positive manifestations for young people. If you want it, go for it. The negative side is that I have no education whatsoever. I was a cocky little shit in school and I didn’t even learn to play my instrument correctly because we got successful, but I got everything I ever dreamed of. I’m so lucky. I’ve never had any serious illness. F**k me, I’ve had a charmed life.
You once said you snorted €2 million worth of cocaine in the 1980s. Were drink and drugs a bit issue with you?
It is very interesting that I read interesting articles about cocaine and heroin and I read various people how cannabis led people to stronger drugs. It isn’t true. The thing that led me to cocaine was alcohol. If I hadn’t been a little bit tipsy I would have said no. There was a lot of pressure in those days. So then it was the drink and the coke and the coke and the drink. When I stopped drinking in 1987, the cocaine also tailed off. I’m very lucky. Now, I’m at the ‘now listen to me young people’ stage.
Your family used to own an ice cream business like many Italian emigrant families in London. Have you any interest in the business.
Oddly enough, in the last year or so, I’ve had a relationship with the other branch of the Rossi family and I’m going to relaunch Rossi’s Ice Cream in June. We’ve been talking for the last six to eight months about it. They were originally family rivals, but when I went down to the Rossi factory, it was like being in my grandfather’s factory again. You can’t believe how fresh the stuff tastes.
A Guardian writer once asked the question: why are Status Quo so dramatically underrated by those outside their fanbase? Do you believe that is the case?
If you see a movie and you say it is bad, it may well not be bad. What you really mean is that you did not like it.
I happen to like what I like and other people don’t. We are always looking for world domination where everybody should like you. I’m aware that four or five million people around the planet thinks the sun shines out of Status Quo’s arse and the rest of the planet don’t even know who we are which is very good for me as a leveller because I’ve got an ego.
If people don’t like you fine. I don’t understand U2, for instance. I just don’t get them, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, but we always love to validate our own opinions.
On the subject of U2, do you find Bono to be the most irritating individual on the planet?
I have done since he has gotten older. Sometimes I temper that fact with the fact that there is a career going on there whether we like it or not, the same with all of us.
I think he’s a bit like the Pope sometimes. I met the man once or twice. He seemed to be a perfectly pleasant chap. I went out with Adam Clayton the night one of my daughters was born. I lost a car that night. I don’t know how it happened.
Just because I don’t understand them doesn’t mean there’re not fantastic which they obviously are. Like the rest of us, Bono doesn’t want to go back working on a mik round.
You once lived in Ireland as I recall?
I lived in Dublin for a while. I really enjoyed being there. I lived in Dromoland Castle in Co Clare for a while. I wanted to do some recordings and make demos so I moved up to Dublin. I went into Jury’s and had a room there for a few months. I really enjoyed myself. That was about 1925. Wait a minute, no, it was around 1979/1980.
You recently released an album sending up your reputation for only playing three chords entitled In Search of the Fourth Chord. Do you find that perception irritating?
Yes and no. We do a lot of 1, 4 and 5 chords or 1, 5 and 4 chords (traditional blues chords) as everybody else does. I have had various answers to this over the years.
Do you think people listen to the radio and go ‘shit, I’d have bought that if it had one more chord’. We know the answer to that.
Does it mean that we can only play three chords? I was in a studio in Dublin and I did a song called Rearrange. My eldest son came to me and said ‘Dad, it’s got seven or eight chords’.
And I said, ’yes, son, I know. I wrote it’. Nessun Dorma, La Donna e Mobile, Tshaikovsky concerto No.1 have only three chords, most arias are three chords. You just like it. You don’t sit there listening and think those songs would be better with another chord.
Lemmy from Motorhead recently said that he didn’t know who was going to carry the torch for rock and roll once guys like you and him stop playing. Do you agree with him?
There does seem to be a hole somewhere with the advent of this X Factor programmes. All the old school fellows will tell you that it’s hard work. Most of the time things go wrong. The public only see the front face of it. There doesn’t seem to be anybody who wants to or can last though I’m sure there must be. Maybe it’s just my generation.
How do you finance music nowadays? Somebody I know has just reached No.2 in the album charts and they have done 12,000 records. That doesn’t even pay for the labelling.
Are you glad you started out in the 1960s and not now?
Yes, it seems even more vacuous nowadays than it used to be in my time. I liked the Spice Girls because they knew how to work the system. Since then it’s all about marketing. It’s very little to do with music. That’s the logic of a capitalist society. If it doesn’t pay, it’s no f**king good.
I f you had an epitaph, what would it be?
I can’t believe I got away with it.
Status Quo play the O2 in Dublin on Saturday night April 12th. Tickets from €49.65, are on sale now, and can be purchased from Ticketmaster at online at ticketmaster.ie