Fireworks

Fireworks Magazine Online 43 - Status Quo

“Yes, that’s because that’s incredible bullshit, all that. It’s gone down in autobiographies, interviews, perceived as the main reason of us falling out - it was nothing to do with it!”
(ALAN LANCASTER on ‘Marguerita Time’)


Fireworks Issue #43 has an epic four page feature interview with original Status Quo members Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan, discussing their time in the band to celebrate the excellent 'Live at The BBC' box set with writer James Gaden. We present an extract of the in depth interview here:

STATUS QUO

As long standing British institutions go, you aren’t going to be able to top Status Quo. For forty years their brand of boogie rock have made heavy impacts on the charts, embedded themselves into everybody’s subconscious and woven a spell over all who has heard them - resulting in the unwitting listener having no choice but to tap their feet to the Quo’s trademark shuffle. With 28 studio albums to their credit, thousands upon thousands of live shows and countless hit singles, the band in conjunction with the BBC have released a set documenting their various appearances on the British Broadcasting Corporation over the years, both on radio and TV. Available as a two disk, four disk or deluxe eight disk set, the amazing set spans 1966 - 2005 and includes recordings of the band as The Spectres and Traffic Jam, before they became the Quo we all know and love. To celebrate this set and talk about the old days, I phoned up original members Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan. Both were more than happy to talk about the band and I found out plenty I didn’t know as Alan in particular was keen to dispel some Quo “facts”.


‘Piledriver’ was the first Quo album that really captured the true Quo sound (although there were hints of what was to come with tracks like ‘Mean Girl’). With ‘Piledriver’ being the first full on heavy rock album, was that a result of you guys being frustrated with pop material and taking matters into your own hands?

AL: We’d been going in a direction for years, but Roy Lynes left in 1970 because his organ playing, keyboards, it was redundant. We didn’t throw him out, he just left because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there. The band had evolved into a four piece. We were nervous the first time we had to play as a four piece, but it was wild and the crowd loved it. The organ masked our sound. When it was removed, it really showed off the band dynamic much better as a four piece.

JC: It was more fun. We were playing every pub that had bands on and we really enjoyed playing that stuff. But with Roy... I remember to this day, we were on a train going to a gig. It was unusual, I think that Bob Young was driving our gear there and we were going by train. We got to I think it was Stoke, and Roy just said ‘Look, I’m getting off.’ We thought he was joking but he did. We see him walking down the platform and then realized there was no chance of him getting back on and he was serious! So we went ‘Oh well, four piece then!’ (laughs) It was really weird, I’ve never heard of anyone doing that. You’d think he’d say ‘I’ll do the gig but tomorrow I’m off’ but not Roy!

AL: Yeah, the band were different on stage like I said. When we had a couple of hits, people were dressing us up for Top Of The Pops and stuff - giving us an image of an out and out pop band. We were getting photographed like that too. We never wore that stuff before we had a hit! (laughs) Our records were the same, gave us an image that were were a pop band. By the time ‘Piledriver’ came along... ‘In My Chair’ was basically a hit with no radio play, we were pulling in big crowds playing that type of music. Once we’d decided we weren’t going to wear any of the silly free clothes and that, we started to try and record what we did on stage. ‘Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon’ wasn’t great although there was some decent stuff on there. ‘Dog Of Two Head’ was better, much better. That direction took us to ‘Piledriver’ and we were there, we knew what we were doing. And of course, we produced that ourselves, we didn’t have an outsider in there. It worked wonderfully.

JC: I think Francis, Rick, Alan and Bob all found that writing in that vein, that four on the floor shuffle, we all knew it worked. It’s a shuffle that I enjoyed playing and can play it well. It worked a treat and I thought that was a great album, it’s gone down in history, that one.

Once you’d found that sound on ‘Piledriver’, you made a string of records in the same vein, but ultimately Andy Bown would be recruited to add keyboards.

JC: I can’t remember who actually said that we needed keyboards. A lot of people didn’t like it - the older fans certainly preferred it without them and I did too. We were a raunchy rock ‘n’ roll band with raunchy guitars, so I didn’t think we needed them. That’s a bit unfair to Andy who does a really good job and does play guitar and harmonica onstage too, but I don’t think we needed them. Maybe Francis or Rick wanted them, I can’t remember how it happened. But there again, without a keyboard player, we wouldn’t have had that intro to ‘Rocking All Over The World’ so who knows?

That’s the thing - Andy plays with his keyboards now to sound like piano rather than some of the synth sounds he used in the seventies and even more so in the eighties. It’s a much better fit for the style of music.

JC: Yeah. I play ‘Rocking All Over The World’ with my band but we don’t have a keyboard player. I do a drum intro instead and it comes out okay. Fans like the sound we get - we can recreate the sound Parfitt got on ‘Whatever You Want’ too, you know with that famous intro? So we do plenty of that stuff without keyboards and it sounds great.

With your decision to leave, was there some major point of contention that caused your departure?

JC: I think it was our manager at the time, Colin Johnson, who said basically I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. What it was, it was too much work, too much partying, too much of everything. If we’d have said ‘look, let’s have three months off’ so we could have chilled out, it might have been alright. But I just had to get off the merry-go-round if you know what I mean. I went home and I didn’t touch a drum kit for a year. I didn’t do a thing, just recuperated and felt so much better for it. Life is much better now. I play now with my bands, but at a rate I can settle with. I did a tour of Sweden last year, maybe the year before, spent ten days with a Swedish blues player in a three piece and it was awesome. We did a little tour and I really enjoyed it, it was great fun. As you know, you look at Quo’s schedule - it’s packed. And they still do it now. So they must enjoy it, but it’s extremely hectic.

AL: Yes, the keyboards and then the departure of John, that changed the sound. John didn’t write much but his sound was integral to the arrangements. It’s not just about playing something, it’s about passion and feeling. John had that mindset. That’s what makes you a great band rather than a group playing something. You need that feel, or you sound like any backing band - and John gave us that. When he left, on a recording level it fell apart. Pete Kircher came in, a great drummer no doubt... and he worked really hard to not replace, but to substitute John. You couldn’t replace John. Pete studied what John did and he tried to match the style and dynamic. He did a great job - like that gig at the NEC for Prince Charles, that was really good. He played in the style of John, but was probably a bit neater because he was fresh to the music.

Alan, round about the time you and Francis starting disagreeing about the direction of the band, ‘Marguerita Time’ is cited as one of the main points of contention. There’s a oft-mentioned performance on Top Of The Pops where you didn’t appear because according to what I read, you elected to stay at home with your pregnant wife rather than promote the single so Jim Lea from Slade filled in. However, on the box set there is a performance from the Little And Large show of it, and you’re there...

AL: Yes, that’s because that’s incredible bullshit, all that. It’s gone down in autobiographies, interviews, perceived as the main reason of us falling out - it was nothing to do with it!

Really? I watched some old Quo stuff on YouTube and there the one with Jim Lea, where Rick does his pratfall into the drum kit, but I found another one which looks to me to be Top Of the Pops and you’re there, performing the song you supposedly despise.

AL: Of course I’ve done ‘Marguerita Time’ on Top Of The Pops. I’ve never missed anything with Quo. What really happened was, you’ve heard about all the drug scene and everything, how Rick and Francis were out of it and can’t remember a thing? The management were doing it, the record people, everyone was into it, except really for John, when he was there, and me. I lived in Australia so I was away from it a lot. If I’d lived in England maybe I’d have been into it, but I had reason to get away from it. The band had disintegrated on a social level and because we were big and constantly busy, we saw each other all the time so we didn’t socialize away from the band. Rick and I would get together sometimes but the social thing we had during the early albums had gone. You mentioned the early stuff was more raw and we had the change when Andy came in, that also happened when we stopped producing ourselves. We had all this success, loads of number ones and big hits... And what happens? The record label say ‘Cor, look at the success these guys are having. Let’s get them a really good producer!’ (laughs) It’s madness. Why fix something that isn’t broken? So in comes Pip Williams. I think he’s a very good producer, but he was totally, totally wrong for Status Quo. I didn’t know at the time, nobody did, but we already had what we needed! By bringing in a producer it fragmented the band. Instead of us all working together, you bring an outside producer in and one guy goes into the studio for hours doing parts on their own, one will be playing darts, another one playing table tennis, one watching movies... no longer were we being like a band. At the time, we thought it was great, but looking back it took away what we had. I’m not knocking Pip, but he was wrong for us. We needed to do it ourselves. By having an outsider produce us, any one member of the band could go to him with a song and maybe the rest of us wouldn’t like it, but if the producer did... We’d end up working on stuff that wasn’t really Quo. Rick I think was the first to spot it and say we were going in the wrong direction. I hadn’t seen it, I thought it was easy, I could spend more time in Australia and leave the responsibility with Pip. Live we stayed the same, but on record we changed.

We did ‘Whatever You Want’ ourselves... well, that was the plan, but even then Pip was brought in about halfway through to help and co-produced the record. After that we had ‘Just Supposin’’ and ‘Never Too Late’ and did those ourselves, but some of Pip’s mentality had sunk in and affected us. Our engineer John Eden, he got a credit in there I think - he worked with Pip a lot, but in reality the band did it - although we’d done it with Pip’s mindset. Things weren’t going that well, songs that weren’t right for the band starting coming in. By the time we did the ‘1+9+8+2’ album, without John of course, the whole thing was just atrocious. Hit and miss - we’d try to write songs that weren’t right for the band. We’d had a thing put in our heads about cracking America, that they wanted something different. Rossi was writing more pop stuff, so I started trying to and we lost our way. We were all over the place and didn’t know it.
By the time ‘Back To Back’ came out... that load of tripe! We spent all our time laying in the sun.

I was intrigued about how you divided up the vocal duties with you, Francis and Rick all singing. One of the examples on ‘Back To Back’ was ‘Ol’ Rag Blues’ which you wrote and sang, but there was another version with Francis singing it which according to the sleeve notes was another nail in the relationship’s coffin.

AL: We never really argued too much, most stuff suited one of us more than the others. If I wrote a song with a bluesy, hard edge to it, usually I would sing it. Maybe Rick. If it had more of a classical scale to it, if it was more melodic, I’d ask Francis to sing it. I’ve asked Francis to sing a lot of my songs. With ‘Ol’ Rag Blues’ I’d already put the vocals down. When it was chosen as a single, Francis went in and put his vocal on it. People think ‘Oh, the record company chose’ - more bullshit. The version with Francis on was sent to the record company and they thought that was the one. I was annoyed because I’d put hard work in and effort to lay down what I felt was a good vocal and somebody takes it off and puts theirs on instead, you’d get angry. And that’s what happened. That was a decision made during the big drug scene I mentioned so you have to take it in that light, but that’s what happened.
With ‘Marguerita Time’, I didn’t think it was right for the band at all, but I didn’t mind recording it. Francis was making a solo thing at the time, none of us wanted to do it. Francis asked if the band would work it up because it was due for a solo thing. I thought it would be a great song for his solo thing too, I liked him working on that because I thought that stuff he was writing was against the grain of Quo’s image. But I had no problem putting down a great track for him, he liked it and it suited him. What I didn’t want was it to go on a Quo album and I had no idea it would be a single. That was the thing, the single. But as regards to me not being at Top Of The Pops for it, the truth is I wasn’t there because my son was born. Everybody knew I couldn’t come over for it. Usually they’d reschedule for me to be there, but at that point, again the drug induced decisions, they went ahead without me. Yeah, I’m glad I wasn’t on that bloody video because that song was completely against the grain of what we did - a silly little Butlins Holiday Camp piece. We’re a rock band! Whatever were they thinking? But I didn’t miss the shoot for that reason, as you saw, I appeared for it elsewhere.

I agree with you - I like the song in honestly, it’s okay, but I saw Francis perform a solo show not long back in support of his new album and he played it then. It fitted in great with what he was doing because he hardly played any Quo stuff, but I can see why it stuck in the craw of someone like yourself and the hardcore Quo fans.

AL: Yeah, if you went out to go and see AC/DC and they came out and started off with ‘Marguerita Time’, there’d be some complaints! (laughs) It was wrong business wise, image wise, everything. ‘Lies’ wasn’t right either, it was more pop rock, not hard rock with a boogie slant. I like stuff like ‘Accident Prone’ to be honest, that was a decent direction to follow, but it wasn’t a big hit compared to other stuff which is why we didn’t go that route. ‘Marguerita Time’ though sold loads of copies, twice as many as some of our hits, so everyone thought ‘Hey, this is the way to go!’ All the success that we’d had with our fans, we started trading that to try and impress Joe Public, who is sat in his armchair going ‘Oh yeah, I like that one, I sing that down the pub’. If a song catches on, like ‘Shaddup You Face’ it catches on and sells a lot of copies... for one go. But then you’ll be dropped like a bucket of cement and they’ve forgotten you. Meanwhile, your hardcore fans will drop you because you’ve sold out. But despite my feelings on the song, that’s not why I missed the Top Of The Pops show. I was told about it while my son was being born in Australia - and I’m not saying this was Rick and Francis’ fault, I think it was more the management wanting to oust me from the band.

I’m enjoying shattering so many Quo myths in one go, this is fantastic!

AL: I know - there’s biographies and interviews from TV and radio, magazines, the general perception, even from my ex-manager Pat Barlow, one time he said we were The Scorpions on TV, before we became Quo. No we weren’t, that was a suggested name. I think sometimes when you’re asked a question and put on the spot, people get nervous and don’t want to look like the can’t remember or need to think hard about it. They want to look like they’re with it and give you a quick, decisive answer. What with that and misquotes, things get out of control.

So when you both left the band at your respective times, did you keep following their progress, or completely wash your hands of it?

JC: I took a complete break. I always go and see them now when they play Oxford which is near me though. It’s great, I go and see the lads, we all still get on great, we have a drink and a chat, life goes on, you know?

AL: I didn’t follow them too closely, but I know they had a couple of flops after that, low chart positions to what they were used to. When John was gone, Pete came in and the ‘1+9+8+2’ album, which I think is a load of rubbish, went into the charts at number one and stayed in the charts for twenty five weeks, one of Quo’s bigger albums! Crazy. When I left, ‘In The Army Now’ went to number two I think and was one of their bigger albums. So much hype and press surrounded people leaving, people flock out to buy it because they’ve been hearing all about the band in the newspapers. I don’t think the long term fans liked the direction of the band when John left, or when I left, but Joe Public bought a lot of copies. It’s confusing! (laughs)

The mid-eighties stuff wasn’t so good. Even Francis admits things like ‘Ain’t Complainin’’ were dire. It wasn’t until ‘Rock Till You Drop’ that they really thought about maybe going back to their old sound. That did okay and they sort of built it back up from there. But a lot of the eighties releases are not well liked.

AL: There’s some good tracks in the eighties, it was a good band too, but it was the wrong direction. In the latter stage of my time there, we weren’t writing together which was when all the best stuff came out. Everyone was writing away from one another, people were writing pretty songs, people were submitting songs nobody else liked... I wrote some back then I thought were good, I hear them now and think no they weren’t... in fact, a lot of that stuff then, mine, Rick’s, Francis’, it was decent stuff, just no good for Quo. None of it matched, we were never a band who had loads of great songs to choose from to make an album. We played the stuff in the studio but the passion was lacking because a lot of it we weren’t that into. The drug thing affected things quite badly too.

I think it’s great the band is still going and still filling venues and making good records. Obviously the box set features stuff from after you guys left the group and there’s still some great material there. When you look at it as a retrospective though, spanning from the late sixties to 2005, you realize what a tremendous legacy the band has.

JC: Oh yeah! Also, if I meet someone and they don’t know what I used to do, if somebody says to them ‘Oh John was in Status Quo’ suddenly they become your friend. I don’t think there is anybody about who doesn’t know who Status Quo are, it’s a big household name with a current crop of fans and still some of the older fans from the first time around. I think it’s great they’re still going in all honesty.

John said he still sees the guys... Alan, I heard that you met up with Francis earlier this year when the band came over to Australia. Is that true, or is that more bullshit? (laughs)

AL: Oh yeah, Francis and I get on great. Recently we’ve been talking on the phone, texting jokes, we hear from one another in some form nearly every night. We talk about the old times, talk about this stuff I’ve been telling you a lot, he and I chat quite a lot. I went to see them - it’s more of a Status Quo show now than a Status Quo concert, it’s not what it used to be like, but it does feel more like a show and I had a great time. It’s not a tribute band, it’s like watching a show documenting all the great songs we did. Rick and I have chats, I signed some stuff, we all went back to the hotel and Andy came down, we talked about anything and everything. It was great. There was mutterings about a reunion because of nostalgia, but you’d have to think of the logistics of it and more importantly, would it be as good, if not better than it was? If not, it’s pointless. It doesn’t matter if I’ve become a better bass player than I was or Francis is a better guitarist or whatever, if the mindset isn’t there it won’t be right. It needs the passion and you can’t fake that. We’re all older now as well. It’s probably easier for them to do what they are doing.
Francis maybe is tiring of it and needs a break which is why he did a solo album and tour that you saw. When I was there I never thought of doing a solo album because I was devoted to Quo. I think Rick was too. But Francis has that other side - he writes good stuff and it suits him but not Quo. When you specialize in something, stick with it. We specialized in hard rock boogie, there was nobody bloody better. The only band I can think of that managed to follow us was Bob Seger’s Bullet Band. None of the others did for me. When you start trying country songs or stuff like that, there will always be people who do it better. If you want great country guitar playing and vocals, look no further than John Denver. That was his speciality. Francis does hard rock boogie the best, but I think he feels he has to try to be something else from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard his solo album and there’s some good stuff on there, but Quo is his speciality.

Read the full four page feature interview with Alan and John, including them discussing the band's beginnings as The Spectres to their huge success as Status Quo, in Fireworks #43.

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