It’s a few months since I last wrote about my gigging years so, to jog your memory, I’d left things when I’d been to Milton Keynes Bowl. There, my expectations of what live music should be about were raised significantly.
Up to now, my recollections have been chronological. From here on in, the timelines are somewhat blurry, and the order in which I saw artists is jumbled in my mind. At one point, I felt like I was going to a gig pretty much every week, so I hope you’ll understand.
It also means my recollections of some concerts are a little hazy – and, sadly, that’s all to do with the passage of time and my ageing brain cells and not the use of products freely available at gigs.
So, in reality, I’m not sure exactly where seeing Status Quo for the first time falls in relation to other artists, but they were among the early groups.
Compared to some of my friends, I was a latecomer to Quo, but that may have been more to do with those friends having older brothers who were into that kind of music. I had a mother instead and, whilst she enjoyed an eclectic mix, heavy rock wasn’t part of it.
My proper introduction to them happened in 1976, when they released Wild Side of Life. It was a little more mainstream than some of their earlier songs, and I wouldn’t claim it’s one of their best, but something about it appealed and I managed to borrow albums off friends and tape them. Probably the ones that had the greatest impact at the time were Hello! and Blue For You, both of which represented a harder kind of rock than I’d been used to.
I’ve said I came to them late, but 1976 now seems very early on. But they’d already been around for nearly 10 years and, to a freshly minted teenager, that seemed ages.
In 1982, some bright spark in the Quo camp noticed that, if you added up the numbers for the year, the answer was 20. This presented an opportunity to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band being together. In reality, it was the anniversary of Francis Rossi (lead) and Alan Lancaster (bass) meeting. Status Quo didn’t actually form until 1967 – but why let facts get in the way of a good story?
Off the back of this, they released an album, 1+9+8+2, and toured under that banner.
The album was the first of many let downs, with the lamentable Dear John the only one that most readers might have even heard of.
They were also undergoing personnel changes. John Coghlan, their drummer from the outset, had left and they’d also formally brought keyboard player Andy Bown into the band – previously he was simply listed as ‘guest musician’. But this was background I wasn’t particularly interested in. After listening to Quo for what felt like eons, I was finally going to see them live!
Predictably, I went with Zim, and I’m pretty sure some other mates were with us.
Having previously restricted ourselves mainly to local venues, we’d decided to go to Hammersmith Odeon for this one. As far as I remember, this is the only time I went there, and I can’t recall much about it. I just remember thinking it was weird going to a cinema to see a band.
So what was distinctive about the gig?
The first thing was the sound. I still wasn’t an old hand yet, but I had sussed out that, whilst live music was exciting and its rawness only added to the experience, the clarity of sound sometimes left a bit to be desired. Whether it was the acoustics of the Odeon or the band’s superior sound system – maybe a combination of both – it was hard to distinguish the sound quality from that of their albums.
Then there was the interaction with the crowd. When he first addressed us, Rossi’s tone was conversational, and you could just imagine you were down at the pub with him and a bunch of mates. About two thousand of them, admittedly, but mates all the same.
Another point of note was the strategically placed fans (and I’m not talking groupies). I say strategically, because… Well, take a look at this, and keep an eye on Rick Parfitt’s hair.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the best singer in the band was Alan Lancaster. Even back in the ‘80s, most people knew Rossi and Parfitt. Lancaster and Coghlan always felt like background material. By the time we left Hammersmith, I was convinced the wrong man was fronting them. Sadly, he didn’t feature much on the better known songs, but this one is a favourite of mine, so I hope you’ll enjoy seeing and hearing Alan at his best…
I ended up seeing Quo several times and, although I won’t write about each one in detail, there is more to tell so I’ll come back to them in the future. In the mean time, I hope the choice of songs here will show that, once upon a time, they were a very good rock band.