Francis Rossi: ‘I’m still an insecure little show-off – it’s not about money’

Francis Rossi. Picture: Danny Clifford.
Francis Rossi. Picture: Danny Clifford.
Jerry Williams onstage at Wedgewood Rooms. Picture: Paul Windsor

REVIEW: Jerry Williams at Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

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One thing you could never accuse Francis Rossi of is being short of words.

Early on in his chat with The Guide he says: ‘I chinwag, you know me, I’ll burn your ears off.’

And he’s not kidding. Even after 48 years of Status Quo, he talks with boundless enthusiasm about his band, his life in it, and any other subject that flits past.

But he’s no idle nostalgist. When talk turns to their relatively recent reunion tours of the ‘classic’ ‘70s line-up, Rossi is far from misty-eyed, praising the professionalism of the present-day music industry over the somewhat haphazard approach of the past.

‘I loved the ’70s but I’ve always been a person of the now,’ he adds.

Our talk is peppered with plenty of swearing, rude jokes that’ll never make it past The Guide’s censor (the features editor), little asides and numerous detours that will end up with Francis asking: ‘What were we talking about again?’

If I had failed when I was 30, I don’t know, that would have destroyed me. I have no real education, all I know is retail, I would have gone back to selling ice cream. Oh God, or Butlins

Francis Rossi

We were talking about Aquostic (Stripped Bare), the acoustic album that has seen them rework 25 of their biggest hits, and since its release last autumn has become their fastest seller in years.

It’s the 31st studio album in a career that has seen them sell 118m albums, and stretches back to their psychedelic ’60s beginnings with Pictures Of Matchstick Men, through to the chugging boogie rock that they’re best known for, including hits like Caroline, Rockin’ All Over The World and In The Army Now.

But the new album had its roots in something rather prosaic. An Australian supermarket chain used their song Down Down for one of its commercials. And over the years it evolved into a series of ads that the band got more involved in.

‘We did a series of ads that were extremely successful,’ and he chuckles, ‘prostituting yourself one more time.

‘One of the versions of Down Down, they mocked it up in Shepperton studios, and there was just something about it.’

This acoustic version ended up as the catalyst for the sessions that became Aquostic. Rossi’s long-term foil in the band, Rick Parfitt, was initially the more enthusiastic of the two about a full-blown acoustic project, but as Francis says, once they got into it, the old creative juices began to flow.

‘It’s very strange to say that the creative element seemed to just come. You would think that with a bunch of songs you’ve known and done for years, that wouldn’t happen.

‘But the creative element was to take them somewhere different with a different arrangement, and that was the fear for when we’re doing it live – which arrangement are we doing? But when you’re out there and your bum’s twitching, you’re on, you know, you go back to your comfort zone and we couldn’t do that with these now.’

The tour for Aquostic will also see the band hang up some of their trademark stage moves for a while.

‘The focus is different,’ says Francis. ‘You focus on playing and singing the best you can, there is no visual to think about whereas, if I dare say, Quo has lent on the visual – darting around all over the stage, what’s going on? What’s he doing over there? This one we’re just sat down.’

Aquostic hit gold album status in eight weeks, and was the highest-selling independent album of 2014. No mean feat in the current climate of illegal downloads and online streaming.

And Francis is happy with that: ‘It’s very, very good. And I’m glad that you put in that “current climate”, because we’ve sold that many albums in less than two weeks years ago, and many other acts would have too, but the insecure little show-off who’s been in showbusiness this long still has that: “Yes! It’s fantastic, we’ve been in the charts from October!”

‘That’s why I say “insecure show-off”, I don’t think about the money – it’s “look at me, look at me, don’t look at me, I’m embarrassed, why aren’t you looking at me?”

‘I make jokes of it, but I realise many of us in this business are insecure.

‘If I had failed when I was 30, I don’t know, that would have destroyed me. I have no real education, all I know is retail, I would have gone back to selling ice cream. Oh God, or Butlins.

‘I’m very, very lucky to have got this far and still be, like, successful.’

While there is undoubtedly an element of luck in any long-running band’s success, hard work and a willingness to try something, even if it might mean ending up with egg on their faces, help.

Rossi is acutely aware it’s all about the marketing: ‘Sometimes it goes horrendously wrong. But that’s the thing that us old school bands are good at doing – falling flat on our faces and getting back up again.

‘It’s like U2 giving away their album, ooh, now that was a mistake, and I dare say it looked good on paper.

‘But that’s good for a band: “What are you going to do now?” “Well we’re not giving up!”

With that approach in mind, they got rocker Bryan Adams, who is also a renowned photographer, to do a photo session for the new album – nude.

‘It was difficult to convince me at first,’ admits Rossi. ‘If we came out and said: “Quo have got a new album,” you’d go: “Yeah, and?” As soon as we say: “They’ve done an acoustic album,” that’s the interest.

‘Then it’s: “They’ve redone some of their old songs”. “They’ve done what?” Some people aren’t going to like that. “And they’ve done the cover in the nude”. “Now I’ve got to have a look at those two idiots”. And we’ll get Bryan Adams to do the photos. That got us in the door. It’s 80-90 per cent marketing.’

Status Quo, Aquostic Live, is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Friday, April 24, doors open 7pm. Tickets cost from £42.35 to £53.35. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk or call 0844 847 2362.