The necessary fashion accoutrement for the aspiring bohemian at my school was the canvas rucksack. Cheap and hard wearing, available at all army surplus shops, the bag suggested ‘although I recognise that I have to carry school work around this cheap bag is all the respect am am going to show it’, or something like that. The other advantage of canvas bags was that they could be hand decorated with ball point pen. This of course had it’s own set of rules you were only allowed to put bands names on although if you could produce an approximate copy of the bands logo that would give you extra credibility points. Unsurprisingly though only certain bands were eligible for admission and they were the hard rockin variety whith names that could be abbreviated, we are talking Zep, Purple, Sabbath and, of course Quo.
I had problems with this apart from my usual problem of not wanting to be part of any club that would have me. Sabbath I didn’t get at all and still don’t really, they were just off my radar. History of course would prove me stupid but I didn’t really get Zeppelin either. I caught ‘Trampled Underfoot’ on The Old Grey Whistle Test where they did their usual thing that they did for bands who couldn’t be tempted into their broom cupboard to play live, of superimposing some random black and white unrelated footage over the recorded track. Well, it was one of the most boring things I had ever heard with Plant shouting intelligibly over a relentless riff with a guitar dub two thirds of the way through. One of the problems as far as I was concerned was that John Bonham’s drumming was leaden and just did not swing at all. Today, of course, he is regarded as probably the best rock drummer ever so its possible I might just be wrong about this but it’s fair to say that in 1973 the mighty Zep were not going to appear on my canvas rucksack.
Purple, on the other hand were a bit a a favourite of mine and in the early 70’s were giving Zep a run for their money ( and I still believe Ian Paice is a better drummer than Bonham). The band that I really loved however were (Status) Quo.
The band had been formed in 1962 by guitarist and main man Francis Rossi and bassist Alan Lancaster. They were soon joined by John Coghlan on drums and as The Spectres toured all the usual working man’s clubs, pubs and holiday camps where they met guitarist Rick Parfitt who had his own cabaret act.They made the mistake of changing their name to Traffic when we already had a perfectly acceptable band of that name so they then changed to Traffic Jam (nice move!) then Status Quo. Parfitt finally joined the band prior to their first hit single ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ which was an enjoyable piece of psychedelia but wasnt going to persuade anyone they were the Catford version of the Grateful Dead.
So by the end of the 60’s the band made a remarkable decision, out were the Carnaby Street frilly shirts to be replaced by t shirts and, a lot, of denim. The music also changed to accommodate a lot of boogie, an American influence which few bands were actually picking up in the UK at the time.
And so we remained fairly indifferent to their charms until they were picked up by a proper heavy rock label Vertigo and were allowed to produce themselves.
There then followed an extraordinary run of hit singles ‘Paper Plane’,’Caroline’, ‘Down Down’ (No 1 in the UK), ‘Rain’ and ‘Mystery Song’ are as good as music gets. Unlike the heavier bands (Zeppelin pah!) the Quo could swing, there was light in their heaviness. It was hard to dance to Sabbath but it was impossible to stay still when Quo were playing.
I was sufficiently convinced to actually buy a Quo album, ‘Piledriver’ the first of five fairly similar records from their heyday. On stage they were an uncomplicated boogie band with some great original songs but on record they allowed their artistic side a look in. This was not altogether a good things, they had not completely left their psychedelic lite period behind which meant there was still room for pleasant jangly inconsequential pop such as ‘Joanne’ or ‘And its Better Now’ off their second classic LP Hello.Piledriver has it’s fair share of cheese with the likes of ‘A Year’ and ‘Unspoken Words’ where they sound not entirely unlike Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.
The highlight of the record is Paper Plane. Here they are in their hairy glory
Inevitably the quality began to slip on the likes of ‘Whatever You Want’, ‘Break the Rule’ and the self parody ‘Again and Again’.
Their Live Album of 1977 marked the end of the classic period. Punk was happening and their allegiance to an American Art form was going to mean that they would be unfashionable for a while. The cracks were beginning to show Coughlan walked in 1981 which meant he got to miss Live Aid. The band later split and when they reformed neglected to tell Lancaster, the man who had formed the band and well as a contributor to the singing and song writing duties.
The 80’s Quo were pretty crap, most bands were crap in the 80’s but Rossi and Parfitt had developed stupid cocaine habits which lead to judgements such as an appalling covers album and a falling out with Radio One who rightly didn’t want to play any of it.
Rossi seems to be morphing into Mr Burns from the Simpsons in looks and attitude but in 2013 the original band, ‘The Frantic Four’ reunited and its a delight to see how much Lancaster is enjoying this after years locked in litigation over loosing the band.
Rather like the Stones a decade earlier Quo took a style of music alien to their culture and made it their own, compared with the Allman Brothers or ZZ Top they were lightweights they hailed from the London suburbs not Memphis or Texas. Coughlan is quite a limited drummer but he was just right for the Quo at a certain period and Parfitt’s ability to play essentially the same guitar part for hours at a time should not be underestimated. The band were massive throughout the UK but unsurprisingly not in the USA, they had the real thing.
Rossi was, and is, a pretty good guitarist but never felt it necessary to prove it. Take his guitar part in Caroline, its largely two notes, a precursor to The Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson’s solo on ‘Hog for you Baby’ and The Buzzcock’s solo in ‘Boredom’. The band were solidly working class and the music press tended to regard them as musical idiots recycling three chords (very few of the bands recordings are actually standard 12 bars by the way). Most importantly both Parfitt and Rossi sang in English accents avoiding the mannerism’s of the Plants and Jaggers. This very much paved the way for punk when authenticity was all .
So here is my favourite Quo number of all time