50 years of the Quo
by Pete Clemons
I must admit to having a soft spot for the Status Quo. There early hits were a regularly played at our youth club. And the tunes just stuck in my mind. To the point where, whenever I hear them, they kind of transport me back in time. The sell-out concert they played at Coventry Theatre was a highlight. Another was when, the ‘frantic four’ as they were known, reunited for a reunion tour in 2013. They repeated it again in 2014. This after the Quo had split up, bitterly, during 1985. The cracks, however, had first begun to appear a few years earlier after drummer John Coghlan departed.
The Status Quo story began when Alan Lancaster and Francis Rossi, then known as Mike, first met during 1960 at school when both were aged 11. Francis has made no secret that he loved Alan’s family and in particular his Mother.
By 1962 and amongst other musical activities both Alan and Francis had a band going called The Scorpions. They met up with the slightly older John Coghlan while they were rehearsing at a T.A. barracks. John was over the road at the Air Training Corps centre rehearsing with his band. Having recruited John into their band The Scorpions became known as The Spectres. Alan Lancaster’s Mum became involved and oversaw the band and dealt with any issues and organised events.
About two years in and The Spectres were joined by keyboard player Roy Lynes.
Meanwhile, future Status Quo guitarist, Rick Parfitt, was winning local talent competitions that led to gigs at places like Butlins on Hayling Island. Rick also had a season with a trio called The Highlights at Minehead during 1965.
Coincidentally The Spectres also happened to be auditioned at Butlins in Minehead during the summer of 1965. And it was there that they met Rick Parfitt. It seemed that Rick had wandered across to The Spectres audition and was hugely impressed. Despite Ricks more cabaret background, The Spectres and Rick hit it off and became firm friends.
That same year the band The Spectres gained their first recording contract. They recorded three singles: ‘I Who Have Nothing’, ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ and ‘We Aint Got Nothing Yet’ under the directorship of John Shroeder. All three singles failed to touch the charts though.
1967 saw The Spectres change their name to The Traffic Jam. At the same time they decided that they also needed another singer and so offered Rick Parfitt the opportunity to join. After a brief spell as The Traffic Jam, the band became known as The Status Quo during August 1967.
With producer John Shroeder The Status Quo released their debut single, ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ during January 1968. Matchstick Men which became a huge hit both in the UK on the Pye label and also in the US where it was released on the Cadet Concept label. The Status Quo was also invited to play Top of the Pops which was an incredible experience in those days.
Strangely, Matchstick Men was to be the only major Status Quo hit in the States. After the follow up single bombed, the band returned to the charts later on during 1968 with ‘Ice in the Sun’. Although the Quo broke as a psychedelic band, Francis insists that this had been at the guidance of their management. ‘They even sent us to Carnaby Street to buy frilly shirts for photoshoots’.
Around this time the Status Quo management hired Bob Young as a roadie and tour manager. Almost immediately Bob began writing with the band. And over the years Young became one of the most important pieces in the Status Quo family. In addition he would also play harmonica with the band both on stage and on record.
But the hits dried up for a while and the group began to re-think their direction. On tour in Germany they heard ‘Roadhouse Blues’ by the Doors and they all suddenly had their heads turned to a certain sound. In addition, Status Quo came to the realisation that they were all about jeans, pumps and t-shirts.
After a short time away they returned to the charts in 1970 with a tune called ‘Down the Dustpipe’. It was the first record to feature their soon-to-be trademark boogie shuffle. Roadie, Bob Young, plays the distinctive harmonica on the single.
Soon after the ‘Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon’ album, also released during 1970, Roy Lynes left the band. Roy had appeared on three Status Quo albums before leaving and was, by all accounts, just a bit too easy going for the rest of the band. He was replaced, albeit not as a full time member, by Andy Bown.
Between 1970 and 1976 the Quo became hugely popular. Their easily distinctive sound was as clear on their albums as it was on stage. And this tended to set them apart from other rock bands. During that period Status Quo released 5 top 5 albums. The first of those was the ‘Piledriver’ album. Piledriver also contained the song that changed their fortunes ‘Roadhouse Blues’. 1972 culminated with a highly successful appearance at the Reading Festival. After that success sales of albums and singles grew with successive releases. The ‘On the Level’ album hit the number 1 spot at the same time as the single ‘Down Down’ topped the singles chart.
It wasn’t to last though. At the time of the Rockin all over the World album during 1977 Andy Bown became a full time member. At the same time Status Quo found themselves exiled in Jersey and the excesses of rock n roll were taking over. After the single of the same title drummer John Coghlan left the band to be replaced by Pete Kircher.
In the words of bass player Alan Lancaster ‘the band was never quite the same again’ and that they ‘suddenly made bad albums’. So the band embarked on an ‘End of the Road’ tour.
But it wasn’t quite the end for Status Quo. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure had organised the Live Aid concert in July 1985 and at their insistence The Quo regrouped to open up the event. They opened with ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’ and finished with ‘Don’t Waste My Time’. This would be Alan Lancaster’s last gig with the band. It seemed that Alan and Francis just couldn’t work together any more.
That didn’t stop the band carrying on though. They recruited and added Jeff Rich and John ‘Rhino’ Edwards to their ranks and along with Alan Bown, Rossi and Parfitt embarked on a new phase. The first album in this new format was titled ‘In the Army Now’. And it was this version of this band that continued to tour until the untimely death of Rick Parfitt on Christmas Eve 2016.
The ‘classic’ line up of Parfitt, Rossi, Coghlan and Lancaster did, however, have a final and timely hurrah. Under the banner of the ‘Frantic Four’ they toured together during 2013 and 2014 simultaneously while Parfitt and Rossi kept the current Status Quo line up going. I remember hearing an interview on the radio with Francis during 2012 when rumours were rife of a reunion and where he recalled, fondly, his thoughts of Alan’s mother and how close he had been to that family. Coordinated by the bands manager, Francis Rossi and Alan Lancaster got talking again, about the old days. Any bad blood was suddenly buried.
Status Quo is an institution of the British Rock scene. With Quo you got what you heard. No aires and graces. They were unfashionable among the more ‘thinking’ rock fan but their denim clad army of fans was fanatical about them. And that was all that bothered the Quo.