Sharing the secrets of 50 years in rock: Francis Rossi talks ahead of Midland and Shropshire shows
He remembers it like it was yesterday. When Status Quo kicked off the biggest gig of all time – Live Aid – nearly two billion people were watching. Rock legend Francis Rossi led the live audience of 72,000 through a joyous sing-a-long and fans in 150 countries were literally rockin’ all over the world.
It wasn’t the band’s greatest show, Rossi says Quo ought to have rehearsed more so that they sounded even sharper. But that didn’t really matter. Quo captured a mood of optimism and hope as 40 per cent of the world’s population joined together to enjoy great music and tackle Africa’s famine.
“I’ve never known a gig like that,” he says. “The energy from the crowd was unbelievable. It was something else. I think it was because it was a charity gig and everyone was there because they wanted to do something.”
Quo’s decision to go on first – the smartest move of the day – was a last-minute thing. While all of the other bands who appeared that day were squabbling to bag slots as late as they could in the day, Rossi and co were happy to go on first. “We didn’t mind at all. We just thought we’d do our gig then get out of there. But it turned out to be the best thing we could have done because when we went on the world’s entire press was focused on us.
“We walked onto that stage and I’ve never seen so many cameras in my life. Everybody was watching us.”
Rossi reminisces about his remarkable career in his acclaimed one-man show, I Talk Too Much. The hit production toured the UK in 2019 – and was so popular that he agreed to return for a further 54 shows. It features a mix of remarkable stories and a handful of classic Quo tracks played in a stripped-back and acoustic format.
Fans were dazzled when he took to the road last spring and he’ll be visiting all parts of the UK from this month until June. The show coincided with the publication of his best-selling autobiography, also called I Talk Too Much, which was written with the rock writer Mick Wall, who hosts the live shows.
Rossi is centre stage, reflecting on his partnership with fellow Quo legend Rick Parfitt, narrating the way in which he started his career as a boy, telling tales about the highs and lows of rock success and sharing the secrets of 50 years on the road.
“It’s a thorough show, we really do look at the remarkable career that the band has had. We celebrate Rick’s life, we answer questions from the fans, I do a meet’n’greet before the show and fans can buy signed copies of the book.
“It’s not for me to say whether it’s any good or not. But the fans seemed to love it first time round and we’ve been asked back to a number of the venues that we sold out.”
Rossi has watched rock’n’roll change completely during his years in the game. He’s seen the demise of bands who cut their teeth by gigging in small clubs and the rise of here-today-gone-tomorrow pop stars who feature on such shows at X Factor.
“We’re into the ‘darling’ generation of X Factor – ‘you’re so good, darling’ – but they don’t realise that most of the time in showbusiness and acting the word you are most likely to hear is ‘no’. Can I have a deal? No. Will you pay for the records? No. They only see the yes. That’s where the old school acts are strong because we played the bar mitzvahs or weddings or any other gig we could get.
“I remember walking home one night when the Stones were on and weren’t selling too well. They were at a rubbish festival in Forest Hill. Everyone always assumes they’ve always done well – not a bit of it.”
He’s an obsessive when it comes to Status Quo. While other members have come and gone, he thinks about the band non-stop, working out how they can play better shows, write better songs, please more fans and create better work.
“I’m totally obsessed. All I’ve been able to see since I was 12 or 13, is this. I’m obsessed with it. It never gets put down, to a failing. I know the rest of the guys don’t look at it the same way, in this band and in the old band.
“A lot of people just want to do the nice bit. But I can’t put this down. I’m always thinking about where I’m going next, what I’ll do, what the set will be next year. I’m always trying to get a happy medium to keep the punters happy, which is impossible. The hardcore want the old, old stuff that most don’t know, the general audience wants the stuff we’ve done for years and some of the others want to hear new ones. The band, sometimes when we’re doing the new stuff, can’t understand why the fans don’t love it as much as us. It’s a game that’s impossible to win – maybe that’s why I love it.”
These days, Rossi has ditched many of the things that fans remember him for: the drink, the drugs and even the pony tail. His date with the barber came in 2009.
“When I finally decided I was too old to carry off a pontytail, I had it cut off – then auctioned it for charity. When we played at Glastonbury in 2009, we were treated like the coolest band in the world. It’s become almost against the law not to like Quo these days. And I loved that. But I also saw it for what it was. The wheel had turned. What was out was now in and vice versa. Whatever you thought of our music or us you couldn’t deny that we were authentic, the real deal. And authenticity is the true currency these days.
“Like when we appeared back at Wembley for the 2007 Concert For Diana. A great day, huge Wembley crowd, we even opened with Rockin’ All Over The World again, but it was a totally different vibe to Live Aid.
“This was held at the newly opened rebuilt Wembley Stadium and the crowd was seated. Ten years on from Diana’s death, it took place on what would have been her 46th birthday, hosted by Princes William and Harry with all proceeds going to Diana’s charities, as well as to charities of which William and Harry are patrons. What’s not to like? But the truth is it was a huge publicity splash for all the acts involved. Does anyone really think they cared that much about Diana? I very much doubt it. Now I probably shouldn’t say stuff like that but I daresay it’s the truth. It was showbiz. Of course we wanted to do it.”
Rick Parfitt has loomed large in Rossi’s life and in I Talk Too Much the founder of Status Quo will explore that relationship. Parfitt remains a firm favourite of fans – and he was a close friend to Rossi, despite rumours to the contrary.
“Every Christmas after we’d finished our latest tour, Rick would come up to me and ask the same thing: ‘We are going to be all right, aren’t we, Frame?’
“I’d say: ‘Yes, Ricky, of course. We’re going to be fine.’ And he would go off happy, satisfied that the band would be able to keep going for at least another year. But the truth is, I always knew there would come a day when Rick wouldn’t be around any longer to worry about that. And he did worry about things. For someone who had such a sunny public image, Rick became a real worrier. He was always either flying high or crashing down low.
“His health had suffered a great deal. After that first massive heart attack in 1997, he suffered two more cardiac arrests. He came through both and came straight back to the band with the same attitude he’d had to the first. That it was simply a case of getting a bit of biological rewiring done, like putting a vintage Roller in for an overhaul. And he always emerged ready to carry on as he always had before. Rick was a really lovely bloke. He was a darling and I loved him. Except for those times, particularly in the latter years, when he wasn’t and I didn’t.”
Rossi has led one of the most remarkable rock’n’roll lives. His band sold a reported 100 million records, he put more than a million pounds worth of drugs up his nose – until part of his nose fell off in the shower – and he made waistcoasts fashionable long before England manager Gareth Southgate.
He’s been responsible for some of the most memorable and life-affirming rock’n’roll songs of the past 50 years and during his one-man show he’ll tell fans how some of those came about.
He’ll also reveal the biggest obsession of his life: Status Quo. “The psychologist and writer Jordan B Peterson says that very successful people tend to be obsessive about what they do, or feel they have absolutely no choice in the matter. I look at my wife Eileen and I realise that if I had not married her I would never have been able to carry on with Quo in the late 1980s. But because she was so important to me, I just knew I had to do whatever it took to keep the show on the road. No matter what. I had to make sure we kept going in the right direction. If that meant giving up drugs, I gave up drugs. If that meant giving up drink, I gave up drink. If that meant being the most unpopular guy in the band, that’s fine, that’s who I would become too if that’s what was needed. The leader is the one everyone relies on to keep things together.” Ah yes, Eileen. Rossi has a remarkable relationship with his other half. They love each other – forget the band, forget the success – and have been a constant source of love and support.
“Eileen and I finally made time to get married. It was just a few days after we’d done Wembley Stadium with Rod Stewart.
“We kept it all very low key. We set off from home that morning for Croydon Register Office and went back home in time for lunch. The driver I’d hired for the day and our lovely housecleaning lady were our only witnesses. I didn’t even have a best man. I did remember to kiss the bride though. No honeymoon afterwards, either. As far as Eileen and I are concerned, every day we spend together at home is a holiday. I can see a lot of you grimacing at that but it’s true. We did try going on holiday now and then, somewhere hot by the beach. Then we came home again a few days later because we were bored.”
Rossi will be able to air all of his stories, and more, when he hits the road for I Talk Too Much. The tour will stop off at Wrexham William Aston hall on March 21, Stafford Gatehouse on March 22, and Telford Oakengates Theatre on March 26 before returning to the region in May for shows at Newtown Theatre Hafren and ending at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on June 7. “I have very happy memories of the Midlands, some of my best friends have come there. And we’ve done some great stuff in Wolverhampton over the years, it’ll be good to be back.”
“I’d never done a talking tour before but I’ve quite enjoyed it. More to the point, the audiences have told me they’ve really enjoyed it too.”
Flush from the success of Status Quo’s most recent album, Backbone, and riding the crest of a wave, Rossi’s tour is a must-see show.