I'm much happier now says ‘unplugged' Status Quo guitarist Francis Rossi
Famed for their three chords and loud guitars, Status Quo are hanging up their electrics after their current tour, which ends tonight in Liverpool. Before a new acoustic phase begins, frontman Francis Rossi tells Andy Welch why they're still rocking, if a little less vigorously
"YOU should probably ask a question, shouldn't you?" says Francis Rossi, some 10 minutes in to our conversation.
He sure can talk, the Status Quo frontman. About anything too; how much he likes Bruno Mars, why he doesn't like Channel 4's Gogglebox, why he wishes he'd never had hair implants and how having his eyes lasered is the best thing he's ever done.
"I saw Phil Collins on TV the other night, and he's calling his new tour Not Dead Yet, which I think just about sums up us oldies perfectly," he says. "We've had a very busy year, which is good because that means I'm working. The bad news is I can't have any time off. The grass is always greener, although I did ask myself last night why the hell I'm making all these plans. I'm 67 – I could be dead in a year."
One of the reasons Rossi believes Status Quo and their contemporaries are still touring so hard, is because they can't believe they're still in the music business.
"We came to it in the 60s and 70s, and everything we knew about the business then was that it wouldn't last. Nothing lasts that long, we thought, certainly not pop music."
Another reason is cold hard economics., "I joke that I might be dead in a year, but equally, I might live for another 25. How do I finance that? I've got to work, I can't retire," says the London-born singer and guitarist. "People tell me to sell up and all that, but that would be failure to me. I don't want to stop so I can live a life I don't want to live. It's about ego."
But, as he and fellow co-mainstay Rick Parfitt advance in years, something has to give, and by his own admission, Rossi says the band's electric shows are too exhausting to do any longer – and without the customary energy they put into them, they won't do them. That's why The Last Night Of The Electrics will be just that, the last time they tour electrically. Acoustic shows will take their place from there on in.
The declining health of Parfitt, well known as a wild man of rock in his younger years, might have much to do with the band's de-electrification. Parfitt (68) was warned in the 90s to curb his drug-taking, smoking and drinking, and did indeed calm down – but it wasn't until a heart attack in 2011 that he finally quit drinking and smoking. Subsequent health scares have changed things even more, particularly the cardiac arrest he suffered earlier this year, which saw him collapsing on stage, technically dead for a few minutes.
"It's payback for being a wild-man," says Rossi. "And he admits that himself. We've known for a while that Rick could have another heart attack at any moment, but I remember looking over when we were on stage in Turkey and seeing him on the floor, and thinking, 'Oh Rick. Not now'."
He goes on to say the band would've loved to have stopped touring to wait for Parfitt to recover fully, but after cancelling or postponing six dates, they drafted in a replacement guitarist and got the show back the road.
"The insurance would've killed us," Rossi explains. "It's logical the music business had to get serious, but it's ruthless and you will get sued by everyone for cancelling shows."
Status Quo have now released two acoustic albums, Aquostic I and II, which saw them rework and strip back their greatest hits. Songs such as Caroline, Down Down, Pictures Of Matchstick Men and Paper Plane took on new life, 40-or-more years after they were written.
"I actually didn't think the acoustic albums and shows would work as well as they have done, but here we are. People want to come to see us, and that's the main thing. If no-one comes to see us, we'll stop and we'll go broke.
"I guess we were always seen as a safe band, but there's an element of danger with the acoustic stuff, it's an unknown. I just like to worry, really," he adds, catching himself. "I'm an insecure little soul, otherwise I wouldn't have done this for a living, would I? I'm an insecure show-off, like everyone else in the business. If it was all about the music, we'd stay in and practise. The ego kicks in, even after all these years."
Perceptions can be funny things. You might not think Rossi's an insecure show-off. You also might not realise what a gifted musician he is – largely through practise, something he says he does for around four hours a day. The band's reputation for only knowing three chords and being stuck in the past is well established. Rossi even makes the same joke when he says reworking the band's back-catalogue for the Aquostic albums got his creative juices flowing.
"Many people are going to laugh at me using the words 'creative' and 'Status Quo' in the same sentence," he says.
One thing those stripped-back albums have done is allow a slight reappraisal of their work. Even his driver of 16 years saw a new side to him – telling him: "I didn't know you could play acoustic guitar. That's proper music" – while people have stopped him in the street to tell him they couldn't stand the band plugged in, but can now finally hear the melodies.
"Oh, I can imagine retirement," says Rossi, finishing up. "But I can imagine lots of things. I just want to carry on moving forward, and carry on working. I feel like I'm still writing our story.
"Some of the band, I think they still wish it was the 70s. I occasionally miss it, but I also sometimes miss my ex-wife, or the house I used to live in. Doesn't mean I want to do it again... I can't stand all that nostalgia, and I'm much happier now."
:: Aquostic II is out now. See www.statusquo.co.uk