Status Quo: the Frantic Four Reunion Interview
What a difference 32 years can make. It’s late 1981 and Status Quo are in Switzerland recording the album that will mark their 20th anniversary when John Coghlan kicks his snare drum across the studio. The hot-headed drummer (aka the Mad Turk) informs his bandmates: “That’s it, I’m leaving.”
The reply from Francis Rossi must have stung: “Fucking good job. This time you’re out [for good].”
And Rossi meant it. Coghlan was quickly replaced by Pete Kircher. Coghlan’s departure brought a fractious end to the ‘classic’ line-up of Quo, which is now widely referred to as the Frantic Four, thanks to a song introduction from their celebrated 1977 album Quo Live!.
Four years later, bass player Alan Lancaster quit Quo after their appearance at Live Aid, leaving Rossi and fellow guitarist/vocalist Rick Parfitt to carry on the name. A legal battle saw the ugliness continue to fester. Back in 1992, addressing the question of a Frantic Four reunion, Rossi told Classic Rock: “That’d be like trying to get your dick up your own arse – impossible.”
But here we are on the day of the 2012 Classic Rock Awards. Rossi and Lancaster (both 63), Parfitt (64) and Coghlan (66) are seated around a cafeteria table at London’s Roundhouse to discuss one of rock’s most unlikely reunions.
Having recently denied having multiple sclerosis, Lancaster looks more frail than expected. And Parfitt is less hirsute than usual (“Never go to a random barber in Teddington,” he will tell The Daily Mail a few days later. “Maybe I’ll wear a syrup [on the tour] and no one will notice!”).
Welcome to the madhouse.
We happen to be meeting on what is the first day of the pre-sale of a tranche of tickets for the upcoming Frantic Four live shows…
Rick Parfitt [interrupting]: They sold out in 10 minutes, apparently.
Francis Rossi: Which is nice, obviously.
Parfitt: We’d been told that they would either sell [raises hand to indicate mid-range success] or they’d sell [stretches up to the ceiling]. And fortunately they’ve flown out the door. That’s a fantastic start. I wasn’t sure it would happen, to be completely honest. And I know that you [gesturing to Rossi] weren’t either.
With most of the shows taking place in midsized theatres, were you a bit too cautious?
Rossi: The business people always are very cautious, and I suppose that’s wise. If we go in there all buns glazing [sic] and nobody turns up, then we’ve got egg on our faces, haven’t we? I mean, if there hadn’t been a band for the last 30 years, then maybe we’d have been a lot more gung-ho. But there has, so we weren’t. The fact that tickets are on sale – and selling out – makes this real.
Do you all share the astonishment of the fans that it’s finally actually happening?
Parfitt: I’m still finding it pretty mind-boggling. I just said to Nuff [Lancaster] that walking around the streets again with these guys feels very surreal. I’m sitting here and I’m feeling like the new boy all over again. I mean, these three started it all up.
Alan and John, do you share Rick’s sense of disorientation?
John Coghlan: I do. But I’m really enjoying it. After all these years, I’ve lost count of the fans that have asked me whether the original four members would ever get back together. I always told them I had no clue. But now… what a buzz.
Alan Lancaster: I’m just looking forward to playing again with the boys.
Parfitt: But there’s still a lot of work to do to bring things back up to the standard that the fans will have been used to. None of us are thinking that we’ll just plug in and play all those old songs again and – hey presto – it’s 1973 again. I’d like people to know that we’re not approaching things lightly.
Have you actually played together since the segment of the Hello Quo! documentary filmed at Shepperton?
Parfitt: No. But we’ve got two weeks of rehearsals to put it all together. The songs aren’t a problem, though I’m sure some of them won’t work the way we hope, so there’s plenty of work to do.
When do the rehearsals begin?
Parfitt: Tomorrow at 10am. No [laughs]… after Christmas. Three of us will be rehearsing [for all of that time] together but the long-haired one [nodding at Lancaster] says that he doesn’t need to.
Lancaster: John and I could play the set tomorrow. We did a lot of those songs together in Perth [with The Party Boys in 2008].
Rossi: Yeah, but you didn’t do them with me and him [Parfitt].
Lancaster [indignantly]: I tell you what, we did it in front of 25,000 people.
Rossi [with a sense of triumph]: So what the fuck are you doing sitting here, then?
It’s a good question. For those that don’t know, why is this happening now?
Rossi: Well, if it didn’t happen soon then it probably never would. I mean, look at us – we’re old men.
And what changed to make it possible?
Rossi: The fact that we’re talking to Alan again. He came to see us play in Sydney…
Lancaster: Actually, it [the process of reconciliation] started quite a long way before that. Simon [Porter, Quo’s current manager] and I had been talking for about six months to a year. Eventually we [the Frantic Four] came to our senses. A lot of the problems we had were down to managers and the people that looked after business. We have been partners all our lives. I don’t mean like a limited company, more like it’s a marriage. And it had broken down – badly. But every problem between us had been given to an outsider to sort out, people that were being paid by us; it was ridiculous. We were being milked. So when Simon put Francis on the phone to me, everything fell back into place.
Rossi: At the time of the split there was a lot of cocaine involved. Some of us smoked, some of us snorted, some of us drank – and of course some of us didn’t. That’s not conducive to communication, is it?
Parfitt: It was especially difficult for John because we all got into the wonga [cocaine] and he didn’t even smoke…
Rossi: …so we held him down and blew it up his nose.
Lancaster: But now John’s on the heroin, he’s perfectly okay.
Parfitt [trying to make himself heard]: Poor old John, he’d drink himself silly and the rest of us would be in hysterics over anything – a teaspoon, maybe. He just didn’t get it.
So, basically, you were sitting targets to be ripped off?
Lancaster: We were taken advantage of, yeah. People would say, ‘Oh, I’ll sort that out for you.’ And they did sort it out, but they’d also take money out of the bank account.
Parfitt [nodding]: We took our eye off the ball, big time.
How much of the Frantic Four split can be attributed to drugs?
Parfitt: A lot of it, I’d say. We were all wonga-d, we were all laughing. Often we’d go onstage a bit wonga-d. We were all over the shop, and something had to give.
Lancaster: You must realise that the band’s decision-makers were on cocaine, the record company was on cocaine and back then so was the whole bloody industry.
When it all went tits up, how did it make you feel?
Parfitt: The elevation of the band through the 1970s seemed to happen so quickly, it was mind-blowing. And then for it all to fall apart… to go our separate ways… it was really, really sad. I never wanted it to happen.
Rossi [quick as a flash]: Yeah, but if we hadn’t split up we couldn’t have got back together again, could we? And Classic Rock have a few blank pages in their magazine.
Can you verbalise your feelings about the day you met again at Shepperton Studios and played a few numbers together for the Hello Quo! movie?
Lancaster: I felt a bit like I’d been thrown in at the deep end. I thought there’d be a little room where we could sit and talk [before anything happened]. But I walked into Shepperton and there we were on a fully lit concert stage with 14 bloody cameras in our faces. We hadn’t even discussed what we were going to play. I hadn’t tuned up my bass and my voice was about three tones too low because I’d not done any exercises. When we went into In My Chair… it could not have been any colder.
Parfitt [nodding]: Yeah, that version of In My Chair was just fucking awful.
Coghlan: There were no set-lists but to me it felt really exciting. We just played what came into our heads.
Rossi: Those versions of Tie A Yellow Ribbon and Michael, Row The Boat Ashore were great, weren’t they?
So that’s the practicalities – let’s talk feelings.
Lancaster: I was very emotional indeed.
Coghlan: After all those years, I was too.
Rossi: To me, and I don’t mean this in a bad way, it was like putting on an old shoe or glove. Even if you’ve not worn it for 20 years, it still fits. There were a few disagreements over tempos that we’ll have to address later on, but it surprised me how comfortable it felt. I thought it would be really weird but… [pauses for thought] it just wasn’t.
Francis has quite rightly said: ‘There’s no way this can be the band of the 1970s.’
Rossi: That’s the thing that really makes my bum twitch because quite obviously it cannot be that again.
Lancaster [laughing]: That’s right. I’ve got this big mirror in my bedroom and I was playing air guitar. I practised jumping off the bed like I used to do from the rostrum…
Rossi: They’re called drum-risers now, Nuff.
Lancaster [ignoring him]: And I really hurt my foot. I’ve still got all the movements together.
Rossi: We don’t want those.
Lancaster: I can still do a bit of bum-wiggling. We’re gonna do a lot of disco moves.
Rossi [leaning into the dictaphone]: That’s why it’s not going to be a very long tour, folks.
Several issues ago, Rick predicted to Classic Rock: “This tour will bring back the older fans that lost faith in us.” Can you elaborate on that please?
Parfitt: I’m very optimistic that it will. There are a lot of forgotten faces – the ‘front-rowers’, as we like to call them – that have long, long since disappeared. I’m sure when we walk out there, it’ll be, ‘Oh, it’s you again.’
Rossi [interrupting]: ‘Ain’t you got fat and old?’
Parfitt: And I daresay they’ll think the same of us.
Coghlan: For me, getting the chance to do this again proves a point. We’ve been slagged off and laughed at, but the fans still love us. Look at the way the tickets are selling.
Although you’ve stated that the set will use Quo Live!, the double album from the Glasgow Apollo released in 1977, as its blueprint, there’s been much speculation as to what will be played.
Parfitt: The way it’s looking right now, one of us will be singing quite a lot and two of us won’t.
Rossi: Rick and I are gonna be sitting on stools. Count them: Backwater, Just Take Me [both sung by Lancaster]…
Lancaster [in shocked tones]: At Shepperton I thought that I used to sing Umleitung but it was him [points to Rossi]. That’s why nobody could remember the words.
Parfitt [to Lancaster]: I’ve been singing Roadhouse Blues for the last 20 years when it was in the set. But if you [to Lancaster] can’t sing it then we’re fucked.
Lancaster [above the laughter]: I want us to do a 45-minute version of Forty-Five Hundred Times.
Rossi: You’ve got absolutely no fucking chance.
Parfitt: Actually, it was only 22 minutes long.
Rossi [slightly contemptuously]: Yeah, and that was the short version.
And what happens if Francis says he wants to play Marguerita Time?
Parfitt: We split up again. What would be great is to start with Marguerita Time, then halfway through it we have a punch-up and walk off. Then we re-form and come straight back on again.
Rossi [grinning]: With Marguerita Time. [Much laughter]
Francis, you once told Classic Rock that Live! is “the worst album that Quo ever made”.
Rossi: I think so, yeah. I always have done. It’s a mess.
And now you’re basing the set on it?
Rossi: Well, that’s more from a production sense. The third night [of the three that were recorded] was by far the best, but there were problems [with the audio]. What we should’ve done was go back in and overdub. Had we done that, it would’ve been great.
Parfitt: I know what Francis means, but it does have a certain rawness. It sounds ‘real’.
Lancaster: Going back to it to re-learn it, I still stand by it.
Will Jackie Lynton introduce the show, as he did so famously on the Live! album?
Parfitt: We’ve thought about this…
Rossi: …But he’s quite old now, isn’t he? And he’s ill. To have him go out there and say: “Do you wanna fucking rock?” again, that might be a bit… [pause]… well, he’d have to tone it down, which wouldn’t be right.
Parfitt: For nostalgic reasons I’d like to think we might use Jackie, but whether he could raise it to the level of that original – I mean, he really fucking meant it.
Rossi: “Are you ready to… I don’t quite remember what I’m here for.” It’s not the same, is it? So the jury’s out on that. Lancaster: We wouldn’t want it to be corny.
Of the four of you, who has changed the most of all… and the least?
Parfitt: Wow, that’s a really interesting question.
Lancaster: To me, Rick’s changed the most. As a person, he’s a lot warmer than he used to be.
Parfitt [looking perplexed]: I’d say that’s probably a lack of drugs.
And what about Francis, Alan?
Lancaster: Well, he’s become really cold.
Parfitt and Rossi [simultaneously]: That’s a lack of drugs as well! [Much laughter]
Rossi [into dictaphone]: Bring back the drugs! Now!
Parfitt [attempting to sound serious]: I think it’s really quite weird. When we were together back then, Spud [Coghlan] and I used to love our drinking, so did Alan and Francis. Like I said earlier, most of the time we were completely out of it – wonga-d. It’s quite a shock when we get back together, all straight, and sit around a table. Perhaps after all these years we’ll finally get to know one another for the first time.
Lancaster: What Rick’s saying is true, but we weren’t out of it all of the time…
Parfitt [interrupting]: You speak for yourself, mate. [Roars with laughter]
Lancaster: What I’m trying to say is that none of us are really that different as people. Maybe the personalities have been tweaked a little? Softened?
Lancaster: That’s it exactly. One of the reasons that we got so grouchy – and this might sound stupid – is that we used to go for huge periods of time without being fed. Also, our diets were wrong. [The others nod]
Rossi: That’s a good point. Hunger can do strange things to a man.
Lancaster: If you’ve not eaten for 24 hours…
Parfitt [interjecting]: Because you’ve not got any money…
Lancaster: …You tend to behave a little differently. It can make you really angry.
Rick, in your last Classic Rock interview, you stated that John is “still a moody bastard”, just like he used to be.
Parfitt: I didn’t mean that to sound nasty. Until we get out on the road, I don’t know whether Spud has got better or become worse. Time will tell.
Rossi: Oh… look out, he’s got that look in his eye.
Parfitt: Spud, by his own admission, was a moody fucker. You’d get halfway through the set and something would upset him, and then you’d see his face change. He looked like thunder, and he played like a bastard – it was fantastic! So we’ve got to make sure we upset him somehow. [Laughs]
Rossi: Back then Spud was much, much quieter than the rest of us, but a lot more explosive.
Parfitt: John always looked very handsome when he was moody… till he grew a beard.
Rossi [horrified]: Well, I didn’t want to shag him.
Parfitt [looking around him]: All I can say is that it’s such a pleasure to be sitting here with everyone else. It’s freaking me out in a way.
That’s unusually profound, Rick.
Parfitt [in decidedly forlorn tones]: What happened was such a shame. Although in some ways the split was inevitable, after all of that amazing success, for it all to have fallen apart… for me it was incredibly sad. So it’s very refreshing for the four of us to be sitting around a table again, it really is.
So is this all about closure or can we realistically hope for more?
Rossi: Like Rick just said, it’s nice to be back together again – apart from him over there [Lancaster], of course. If it goes well… who can say? That’s the crazy thing about this business. Two years ago this would have been completely impossible. The next step is to see how the tickets really sell. It’s no good us wanting to do something – the demand must be there. And if that’s proven?
Rossi: Well, then we’re game. I certainly am.
Parfitt: If the gigs in March are as successful as we’re hoping, then… dare I say it…
Rossi: Dare, dare!
Parfitt: Then there could be a world tour [from the Frantic Four] in 2013. Australia wants us.
Rossi: The Germans are interested. But at the end of the day, it’s not about whether or not we want to do it. The business reasons have to work.
Lancaster: We’re just the prawns in the tempura.
Parfitt [splutters with laughter]: I like that! But yeah, if none of us dies in the meantime then that could well be on the agenda.
Rossi: Then we’d have to have two buses – one for us and one for them.
Parfitt: No, fuck that, we’ll have one each. If we’re gonna get big again, let’s do things properly.
Could that extend to an album?
Rossi: Possibly, yeah. Nuff has got a mile of tunes.
Lancaster: The way forward might be to do an EP.
That seems to be the new business model.
Lancaster: Exactly. That way you have quality control and time. If your three EPs are well received then you can match them up for an album. Nobody wants to hear anything that’s 50 per cent crap.
Rossi [amazed]: Fucking hell, Nuff just got serious.
On behalf of Classic Rock readers everywhere, welcome back guys – we hope it lasts.
Rossi: Well, it’s early days.
Coghlan: We haven’t even decided who’ll go out on stage first.
Parfitt: Oh, we have!
Rossi: Gladly… you two [Lancaster and Coghlan] walk out our first. That’ll suit me just fine.
Parfitt: The bottom line is that none of us know what’s gonna happen, or where this will take us. But I’m sure it’s going to be fun finding out.
The original version of this feature appeared in Classic Rock 182, in February 2013. The Frantic Four played 26 shows across Europe on their reunion tour, but didn’t get to Australia. No studio recordings emerged.