My first ever proper rock rock concert was Status Quo at Leicester de Montfort Hall in May 1975. Aged 16.
They played four beats to the bar rock’n’roll and blues turned up to heavy. The sound was monstrous. I was was right at the front – doing what today would be called moshing, I suppose. I touched Francis Rossi’s plimsoll. Looking round and up at the circle, I could see that it was moving up and down, wobbling, as everyone stood up and jumped to the same metronomic beat. Frightening. As resident fifth form scribe in Johnson’s house at Oakham school, I penned a short letter to Sounds music magazine on behalf of all who attended the concert. Flob, Morv, Rollo, Hedgepig amongst them. It went something like: We went to see Quo at Leicester, they were f*****g brilliant! It got published….
Tonight, somewhat against my better judgement, I went with my two Yorkie friends called Dave to see the two main men from Quo – Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt – play an acoustic set of the band’s hits, mainly from their best days in the early seventies. It was being transmitted live for BBC Radio 2 and shown on the red button on TV.
Why against my better judgement? Well, because while I absolutely loved them in the mid-seventies – before punk blew everything apart – they turned increasingly into an East End knees up pub band, which is fine in an East End pub, after West Ham have won. Otherwise, no thanks.
Anyway, Big D persuaded me and not-s0-big D to come along. And it was pretty good, especially the first half of the set, when they played most of my old favourites. “Paper Plane”, “Caroline”, “Down Down”, “Mystery Song”, and the wonderful “Softer Ride”, with its immortal line, I don’t wanna work, I don’t wanna work no more. The only one that was really missing was “Roll Over Lay Down”.
The crowd, naturally, was mostly 40 and over, predominantly male, and with a high proportion of closely-cropped heads. I think a fair few might have been West Ham season ticket holders.
The band was much larger than the old Quo. There were FIVE guitarists, a string section, accordion player, and two backing singers, amongst others. The old hard rock sound was stripped back to basics and then embellished. It worked well. It brought home the fact that Quo were rooted in American country-blues, amped up and speeded up. The accordion was a nice touch, though, as not-so-big D pointed out, it ran the risk of making the music sound like a Bavarian stomp. The hideous spectre of the “Birdy Song” loomed.
And that was what happened in the second half of the show. As I look at the playlist now, I see that some of the songs were still from the golden era, but it became increasingly like that pub knees-up. I cannot deny that the audience was reacting increasingly enthusiastically as I switched off. But by the end, I was expecting someone in Lederhosen to come on the stage and pump some elbows.
It was good to see the Quo again. I’m listening to them on iTunes as I write this. They will always have a place in my musical heart, although I cut them off brutally from 1977, with the making of “Rocking All Over The World”, which I could just about appreciate, but which heralded the descent into knees-up.
Tonight’s show started really well, then got dull, then got gruesome. But only if I’m being a musical extremist. It was actually fun all the way through. People were really enjoying themselves. You can’t knock that.
Here’s a video of Quo playing “Caroline” in 1973. Their best song?