The interview: Francis Rossi

Status Quo's Francis Rossi

Status Quo's Francis Rossi

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Next weekend Hoghton Tower is again the place to be, as MALCOLM WYATT found out with the help of two of the artists involved in this year’s Symphony at the Tower

Status Quo hardly need an introduction. This is after all a band that has sold more than 100m records worldwide, from early crowd favourites like Caroline and Down Down through to classics like Rockin’ All Over The World and Whatever you Want.

And next weekend they follow in the footsteps of James Blunt last year and The Human League in 2013 by headlining the first of a two-night music event at a Lancashire beauty spot, part of a major annual fund-raiser for St Catherine’s Hospice.

The legendary rockers, with Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt joined by long-time cohorts Andrew Bown and John ‘Rhino’ Edwards plus ‘new boy’ drummer Leon Cave, have beensynonymous with chart success for decades.

They had more than 50 British hit singles before the last century even ended and more than any other group now, having also spent 500 weeks on the album charts.

Now they will bring their unique brand of classic rock and pop to the county, and are guaranteed to have the crowd singing and dancing along.

Their headline show will be more or less 30 years to the week since they started the Live Aid bash at Wembley Stadium with Rockin’ All Over the World, as I reminded Francis Rossi on the phone from his London home this week.

“Is it really? Wow! When Bob (Geldof) asked us, we were quite dismissive, and it wasn’t until we walked out, we thought, ‘Oh!’ The amount of press coverage for a start…

“It proved to be the best slot you could have, but no one really knew it was going to get like that. And that audience was just unique.”

Quo’s Symphony at the Tower gig is sandwiched between dates in Germany. Did their tour manager get confused as to where Preston was?

New York Tourists

New York Tourists

“It’s always like that, this time of year. We go to Germany tonight, back Tuesday evening, on Thursday one of our buses goes to Europe and the other takes us to Preston.

“We’ll come out of this show and go to a hotel, then in the morning get on a private plane we use occasionally and fly down to Vienna, then get on our bus…”

I’m sure it will be worth it though. It’s a lovely setting. Has Francis, now 66, visited Hoghton Tower before?

“I’m not really sure until we get there, but I don’t think so. But sometimes you do turn up somewhere you haven’t done before, which is quite refreshing really.”

We might go acoustic one day, but this will be an electric show!

Francis Rossi

I take it fundraising for the hospice on the night means a lot to the band as well.

“Any we do supporting the more serious charities is. I think hospices like this are very good, and remind me of the Macmillan people who looked after my mother when she was dying.”

So apart from 100% Quo, what can we expect from you next weekend – something loud and live, a bit of an acoustic hits jukebox, or a bit of both?

“Well, we might work on acoustic sets for future years, but this will be an electric show. We got an email yesterday about volume and how that’s becoming an issue everywhere in Europe, which doesn’t really work when we have someone like Rick, the loudest rhythm guitarist ever!

“I’d love to say it’s going to be the best show ever seen. But I don’t know that yet. We do have at stage left two ladies kissing, and on the right side two Chippendales for the ladies… no, actually it’s just us lot!”

So what about the other bands on Friday night? Well, it turns out that the Quo have support from two East Lancashire acts, Blackburn’s New York Tourists and Clitheroe’s Good Foxy.

I caught up with New York Tourists vocalist and guitarist Gary Taylor this week, while he was enjoying a perfect midsummer’s evening.

We haven’t had many of those lately, but it was close enough to his band’s appearance at Hoghton Tower to wish for more of the same on the actual night.

“It will be absolutely superb if the weather’s like this. I’m not bothered if it rains all day, as long as it’s nice when we’re playing.”

The band are set to step on stage for St Catherine’s Hospice’s big fund-raiser on Friday, July 3, at 7.45pm, just before the mighty Quo, and after a band they know from the local circuit.

“We’ve played a few times with them before. We suit being on the same bill, although they’re more bluesy sounding than us, a bit more like The Doors.”

So when did Gary get the call about this prestigious support?

“A few weeks ago we got this message on our band Facebook asking if we’d like to support Status Quo. We thought it might have been a joke, and were making sure it wasn’t just a tribute band.”

I guess after all these years, Rossi and Parfitt’s outfit are their own tribute band really. Was their heyday long before Gary’s time?

“My Dad was a big fan, and he’s always reminding me of them opening Live Aid.”

So will this be a chance for the two support bands to replicate that piece of music history?

“I’d like to think so!”

While maybe not in the same mega-league as the show’s headliners, New York Tourists have already had a few prestigious supports in their relatively-short spell together.

“We supported The Futureheads twice, with the Doves and the likes of Calvin Harris at Kendal Calling.

“There was the Buzzcocks, The View and We Are Scientists at King George’s Hall. We haven’t done bad so far.”

Incidentally, they have a date closer to our Preston patch this weekend, the band visiting the Brockholes wetlands and woodlands nature reserve on Saturday, June 27, for a late night cantina event.

“It’s acoustic, and we don’t normally do that, but it’s part of a kick-starter campaign for our album. We had a £2,500 target and managed to hit £3,500, with certain pledges securing certain things, one for a half-hour acoustic slot which Crafty Vintage donated £100 for.

“It might well become a regular event for us, maybe bringing in a new audience. These events involve street food, cocktails, different beers. It should be good.

“I’d recommend it during the daytime too, with vintage clothing, home food, cheeses, chutney, and all that.”

Gary could get a job with the tourist board at this rate. And it works out that straight after Hoghton Tower, the band play the Glastonferret Festival in Preston.

“Yes, we’re on at 9.30, so we’ve got an hour to hack down, get to the Ferret, and play again!”

The Ferret is a favoured venue for the band, but might cause a slight dilemma if Francis, Rick and co ask their support back on to join them on Caroline or Down Down.

“Yes, I think I’d have to pass on the gig if I got offered that opportunity!”

As well as Kendal Calling and another outdoor event in Shrewsbury, there was a festival in their hometown last year too.

“Yes, at Blackburn we were main support to Toploader, which was brilliant. We’ve quite a local following, so there were around 1,500 to 2,000 watching us.

“That was probably the highlight of gigs so far for me personally… although I have a feeling that the third of July might top it!”

You’ve a few more dates this summer too. I’m guessing that fan-base is steadily growing.

“Yes, and now we have an album finished and ready to release, waiting for a date, possibly in September or October.”

Is there anything from your early EPs on there, or is it all fresh material?

“We have older songs on there, including a fan favourite we always end the set on, A Kick in the Teeth, and another nine tracks.

The album was recorded at Clitheroe Grand Studios, as per their EPs, 2013’s Thank You and Goodnight and last year’s Dead Man’s Leather.

Those songs hadn’t gone unnoticed either, receiving promising reviews, with Chew Me Up, Spit Me Out listed on BBC Introducing’s top 10 tracks of 2013.

“We won’t really go anywhere other than the Grand Studios. We’ve recorded with a guy called Tom Peters there. He’s absolutely superb.”

Gary, ‘born and bred in Chorley’, has been based in Blackburn for around three years, having joined guitarist Carl Rutherford, his cousin Lewis Lovett on drums, and Graeme Anderson on bass, the latter two then making way for Adrian Mckenzie on bass and Joe Mooney on drums.

“I was looking for bands and scouring the internet and they messaged me off a website, leading to this nerve-racking audition, with all their mates in the room.

“There were no songs at that stage, so I sang The Kings of Leon’s Molly’s Chambers. That’s how it all sort of kicked off.”

Gary says the band’s material is a lot ‘more catchy’ and dance-oriented now, ‘more towards an indie sound’ than their ‘dirty rock’n’roll’ roots.

Early reviews suggest they were more Arctic Monkeys meet Led Zeppelin, but current comparisons suggest Queens of the Stone Age meets Foals.

I’ve also seen mentions of AC/DC and White Stripes, which I can see with their guitar style and Gary’s vocals, although there’s not so much evidence of his appreciation of Johnny Cash.

“Yeah, I was a big fan. The Cure are a massive influence too, especially with me and Carl. We’re huge fans.”

So why the name? You’re hardly the New York Dolls, and they at least came from New York.

“Actually, Carl went to New York and when he came back… well, that was it really.”

They might have to reinvent that anecdote to add more mystique. But now at least you know.

Besides, there seems to be a history of bands from Blackburn taking on the identity of other places, Morrissey’s former 80s favourites Bradford springing to mind too.

Finally, any chance of a Quo cover in your set at Hoghton Tower?

“Oh no, we won’t be doing that. We’ll just be trying to get our own material over to people.”

It might be a nice gesture, at least something unexpected in their own style - checking first that the main act won’t be upset, of course.

“Upset, or upstaged? No, I’m only kidding!”

And with that Gary was back to the sunshine, dreaming of a further balmy summer evening on a local hillside … very soon.

This year’s Symphony at the Tower events, two nights of live music at Hoghton Tower, end a month of celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of Lostock Hall’s St Catherine’s Hospice.

While Status Quo and co perform on Friday July 3, the following night (Saturday, July 4) will see BRIT Award-winning classical vocal group Blake headline, the three-piece having sold more than 100,000 copies of their debut album and performed for Shirley Bassey’s 70th birthday party, in front of thousands at Wembley and toured with last year’s Saturday night Symphony at the Tower star Katherine Jenkins.

They will be joined on the night by Britain’s Got Talent 2014 runner-up Lucy Kay, whose rendition of Nessun Dorma made her a star and who toured most recently with classical music maestro Andrea Bocelli and BGT winners Collabro.

The Saturday night will close with a firework finale set to the music of the orchestra. Picnics are welcome on the Saturday, although no food or drink can be brought into the concert arena on Friday. There will however be stalls selling a variety of food and drink on each night.

For tickets visit www.stcatherines.co.uk, ring the hospice on 01772 629171 or call into the hospice in Lostock Lane, Lostock Hall, Preston, PR5 5XU.

l This time next week read Malcolm Wyatt’s full exclusive interview with Francis Rossi.