Monday, February 22, 2010

Francis Rossi (Status Quo) interview (2010)

“Our production office has been turned into a catering room for some reason and the phone has been hidden under a table, so we’re all sitting here wondering where that ringing was coming from before following the tangle of phone cords, which was pretty weird.” The start of my conversation with Francis Rossi - OBE, and founding member of Status Quo, most successful band in British chart history - is nothing if not humble. Perhaps he’s remained grounded by his band’s frequent bad press, and the writing-off of Status Quo as ‘dad rock’. One thing’s for certain, grounded he may be, but defeated he ain’t.

Looking at Status Quo’s history in terms of fashion-ability, they’ve been long admired and ridiculed in equal measure. After a ‘90s backlash that included them suing a UK radio station for not playing their single - and losing, more recent years have bought a renewed love for the lads. Rossi discusses; “You do get a sense of that, but I think it’s just part of the cynical way we look at our TV stars or pop stars as fashionable or not fashionable based on what the media says is cool. But with us, we  just started to get this new wave of popularity about two years ago after the Pictures (Best Of) album came out.”
With Status Quo’s peaks and lows in mind, Francis explains his thoughts on staying on top in music. “I think once you become fashionable it’s inevitable the next phase will be unfashionable. I look at The Rolling Stones and think, well why are they still considered cool – Mick Jagger can get up there on stage and look like an complete idiot, and I think ‘how can he be doing that now?’ – looking fucking stupid with his little wiggly legs. I guess there’s still a side of Mick that goes ‘well this is great fun man’.” Frances continues, laughing; “Its show business though isn’t it? Some people in the so-called serious music magazines can’t deal with me calling it that either, I can tell you. I did one interview where the guy got quit shirty and said well what about Jimi Hendrix; amazing, talented musician blah blah blah… But mine and probably a lot of other people’s overriding memory of Hendrix was him kneeling over his Stratocaster, pouring petrol on it and setting it alight. That is not music. It all comes down to show business in the end.”
That’s all very well for the stage, but as Frances points out, being a rock star 24/7 might be pushing it; “If you mean the whole ‘rock ’n’ roll lifestyle’ cliché, I don’t understand what being a dickhead has to do with rock ‘n’ roll, you know. Any bastard can smash up a hotel room and shit on a coffee table, but it still hasn’t got anything to do with music.” I suggest to Rossi that Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty aren’t necessarily more rock ‘n’ roll than Kylie and Ronan Keating; (laughing) “I think people have a morbid interest in Pete Doherty because he could drop dead at any moment. It’s funny because he sounds alright when he’s talking, quite sensible, but his lifestyle to me looks like a grab for attention. Oh and “Amy Winebar” is a great singer but then probably not as great as we’re led to believe. The press in England was on about her being like nobody we’ve ever heard before and that’s just bollocks, she’s almost exactly like a lot of singers in the ‘60s.” Francis exclaims, “The PR she had in the beginning basically treated her like she was a god, then the cow goes off the rails and she was just indulged by these PR wankers. So, sure it’s sad but then she’s just stupid and I don’t get that about people.”

Growing up in the hedonistic ‘60s and ‘70s didn’t make a casualty of Francis Rossi. He reminisces on some decisions made – while trying to avoid clichés – that were always for the preservation, never of destruction of Status Quo; “It’s weird in a way, because the band has always been like this separate entity I want to protect, despite some of the strange things we’ve done in the name of Status Quo.” He explains, “I mean we’ve played on a fucking train in the Australian outback, done tours of rural pubs, a shitting Christmas record with Rolf Harris, and it’s only in hindsight we’re we go oh well that was a diamond idea or what the fuck were we thinking, you know. So I don’t think I’m precious about the band at all, but at the same time I have this drive to do whatever it takes to keep it alive.”

In the downtimes I wonder if Francis’s confidence in Status Quo ever waned. The outspoken front man’s response is typically well considered; “I’ve been asked what would I like on my gravestone, and I say “getting away with it all my life” – that’s what it feels like sometimes. I’ll be in the middle of a show and thinking to myself ‘this is really fucking good, don’t ever stop Francis’, but then other times, I feel this overwhelming insecurity and wonder which one is closer to true.”

In terms of chart action, Status Quo are the most successful British band of all time, clocking up a record 60+ hits beginning in 1967 with Pictures Of Matchstick Men. The bands longevity is matched by only a handful of acts, but despite experience, time is still a teacher for Rossi when it comes to songwriting; “I was thinking just last night I have to start writing some stuff soon.” He reflects, “Even after all these years of doing this, I’m still worrying about getting into the right mindset. It doesn’t get easier with time.” Rossi says, with a little sigh emerging. “I sit down and listen to AC/DC and they come up with some amazing records but, basically it’s just the same thing every time. But I know why that is, because for us whenever I’ve tried to change what we do I just end up thinking ‘what a complete waste of time, stick to what you know, make a fucking Status Quo album, Francis’.”

Not for their contribution to music, but rather for their ongoing charity work – seriously enough to make Bono look like a scrooge – Status Quo received Britain’s highest honour of OBE’s in 2009. An honour, yeah, but Francis reveals some pretty cold facts about the selection process; “I don’t think we should’ve got them really, I mean it was a great honour but it wasn’t really deserved. I came to the realisation after I saw this list of people being nominated for OBE’s – there were ambulance drivers, careers for the elderly etc… – but the thing is if that were it, then the media wouldn’t even pick it up. The publicity of having people in showbiz get it mean the profile of the honour is kept high and so is the system, but I don’t think we we’re anymore worthy than Joe Bloggs doing his bit at all.”

I remind Rossi of John Lennon famously rejecting his OBE giving the singer cause to rail against growing old disgracefully; “John Lennon was considerably younger when he received his, so he was something of an ‘angry young man’ still, but I don’t know about maintaining the rage when you’re 40, 50 or 60 years old. I mean some people genuinely still have this anger but for the most part, I think it’s more a public image thing.” He continues, “The problem with rock stars is that nobody will tell you if you’re being an arsehole, so you have these guys basically protected most of their lives from reality, with no idea that they’re being wankers.”

Between 1967 and 2007, Status Quo have charted in Britain almost yearly in an unmatched record. I wonder has there been an outbreak of ‘chart placement apathy’ in ‘Quo or if the checks keep the blues at bay? Francis explains; “In some ways I don’t care much what the money reward is for a single or an album doing well in the charts, because that’s pretty much a joke, but the elation of having a high place on the chart has never gone away. But I think this band should be judged on what we do live, I mean we’ve never been able to fully capture on record what our shows are like. A really good Status Quo gig to me is the best kind of success.”

It’s impossible to finish our interview without mentioning Francis being responsible for the most bizarre rock memorabilia item in living memory – In 2009 he auctioned off his famous ponytail with the proceeds going to one of the many charities he supports; “It’s not really a ponytail but more of a rat’s whisker,” He muses. “Luckily that made a good profit for the charity or wouldn’t I have looked ridiculous.” He laughs adding, “All I know of its whereabouts is, a very nice woman won it and she keeps in a glass case.” In closing he reassures the adornment’s winner, “And yes, it was washed before I sent it, so there’s no chance of infection.”



  1. Haha that was a class interview \,,/

  2. This is why I love this guy down to earth :-)

  3. Francis Rossi, what a legend. And so many "Serious music magazines" who will never understand....

  4. Francis is the best! :) I Love him!!!

  5. I would like to see an article on the song writing in quo. It's like they go out of their way not to write with each other. I often wondered if this was a publishing issue back in the sixties that means they would be financially penalised for writing together.