It all began and ended in 1984. My very first gig was meant to be one of Status Quo’s last as they played two shows on what was called the ‘End of the Road’ tour. Already they were an institution, much ridiculed and parodied for their predictable three chord boogie, but virtually the only rock band to be a permanent fixture in the UK singles charts as I was growing up.
However, the Quo were showing signs of wear and tear – I remember friends at the time already bemoaning their decline since drummer John Coghlan left, while bassist Alan Lancaster seemed a marginalised and disillusioned figure – and this 17 year old had one last chance to see them before it was too late.
As it was, it was to be the first of hundreds of gigs for me and far from the ‘End of the Road’ for the Quo as within a couple of years Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt ploughed on with a new line up. However, after the Georgia Satellites blew them away at Reading Festival in 1987 with their similarly influenced, supercharged rock n roll making the Quo look tired and stale, we parted company, at least as a live act.
As they play to family audiences of grannies and kids, rock and roll and Christmas medleys and kitsch like Margarita Time and Burning Bridges sitting alongside the Quo classics, they have become all too cabaret for me. Only one thing might get me to change my mind and that was a return of the original Quo which would surely never happen…..
Well dreams do come true. Not only did the original ‘Frantic Four’ bury the hatchet and put together a short tour one more time, but rather than Butlins or an anonymous cavern like Wembley Arena, they were even playing a proper rock venue in the old Hammy O.
The atmosphere was very special, the crowd, at least downstairs, noticeably older and blokier than normal, with chants of ‘Quo-oh-oh oh’ ringing out and a backdrop of the ‘Hello’ album sleeve as there was a rare sense of expectation in the air.
A set closely based on the ‘Live’ album from Glasgow Apollo, just before Rockin All Over the World heralded a watered down, poppier Quo had been promised, and sure enough the same Jackie Lynton ‘is there anybody out there who wants to boogie ?’ intro was used, sadly a recording rather than in person, before the curtain fell to reveal the band opening with the souped up blues of Junior’s Wailing, with Alan Lancaster singing.
His voice was in good shape and considering his supposed poor health, he looked surprisingly sprightly, not to mention being alone in retaining his long hair. Indeed with Backwater, the Rory Gallagher-esque Just Take Me and Is There A Better Way, the early stages were the Lancaster show and it was bizarre to see the usual Rossi-Parfitt axis relatively marginal. Though Francis sang In My Chair and Most of the Time, this was a reminder to younger fans that his reedy voice was once just one of the many sounds of Quo, alongside Alan and Rick’s more rough and ready rock’n’roll style.
Considering it was the first time back together, the band were admirably tight and any rustiness did not show, although it was noticeable that regularly they would play with backs to the audience and facing John, who was playing a key role in ensuring everything held together.
Rick, whose heads down, angled at 45 degrees, furious strumming pose remains unchanged, even if his shorter barnet takes some getting used to, sang Little Lady but this was a real set for the Quo connoisseur with obscurities like Blue Eyed Lady, Railroad, with ‘5th member’ Bob Young popping on to add his harmonica playing, Oh Baby, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, April, Spring Summer and Wednesdays, complete with ‘na-na’na’ refrain, from the Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon album that marked their transition from psychedelic popstrels to lank-haired boogie merchants.
4500 Times was the bedrock of the set, yet surprisingly curtailed to about half of the length of the ‘Live’ version, and by the time of Rain, Rick’s tour de force Big Fat Mama and Down Down- a UK No 1 single, lest we forget- the crowd were well and truly stoked, before the band stretched out on their cover of Roadhouse Blues with Alan singing.
The encores were Don’t Waste My Time, ending with a typically crisp and clean solo from Francis on his Telecaster, and the old Chuck Berry live favourite Bye Bye Johnny with Alan singing again.
Not knowing the setlist, I girded my lions for a final encore of Caroline and Roll Over Lay Down, but must admit to a sense of anticlimax when after an hour and a half the curtain came up. While respecting the decision to avoid the ‘usual suspects’ in the set, as early examples of the relentless boogie that made Quo so great in the seventies and prominent on the ‘Live ‘album, I did think an exception could be made for them.
Nevertheless this was a very special evening, worth waiting those nearly 30 years for and a ‘Still Crazy’-type story that would lend itself to the silver screen. At the same time, it both reawakened my dormant love of the Quo, yet made it even harder to go back to the Rossi- Parfitt band pantomime after such a night.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
Photo Gallery by Steve Goudie
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