Exclusive Interview by Karen Shaw
For years Status Quo founder Francis Rossi led a lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. At the age of 64 he’s calmed down at last but he’s still rocking. Karen Shawtalked to him about his life, his music, his family…and his dogs.
For nearly 50 years Francis Rossi has been rocking all over the world with his band Status Quo, and more recently he and his fellow band member Rick Parfitt have just starred in their latest film ‘Bula Quo.’ Filmed in Fiji, the comedy sees them finish their final gig to thunderous applause and when they are out celebrating they witness a gang murder and flee with crucial evidence. With the murderous gang now hot on their heels, have they played their last gig? Well, luckily for me it turns out they haven’t played their last gig, and when I call Francis, he’s alive and kicking.
So instead of the greeting I usually deliver, I say ‘Bula’ (meaning hello in Fijian), in a Yorkshire accent. It’s at this point he says: “Erm, can you please excuse me? There’s something I need to do. Won’t be a minute.”
“No, not at all, that’s fine.” I say. And from the other end of the receiver all I can hear is mutterings interspersed with laughter and then the talk of money being exchanged. I strain my hearing to try and decipher what or who is holding up the interview. Maybe he’s saying his goodbyes after paying off a high class hooker, or perhaps he’s settling up with a drug dealer…
When he does return to the conversation, he apologises for the delay. He couldn’t find any change for the window cleaner. And he promises that I now have his undivided attention. As he settles down to chat, there’s yet another interruption; she’s called Nancy.
“Nancy’s a little dog. She’s a cross between a Jack Russell and a Westie. She’s adorable. I’ve had dogs all my life. I’ve had Great Danes and Wolfhounds. Now I’ve got one Westie, and one that’s a cross between a Cairn Terrier and a Westie.”
Chuckling away he goes on to say: “I named her after my mum. I’m getting my own back on her, you see. My mum was a Scouser and a very strict Catholic. She was a big fan of Francis of Assisi, hence my name. I’m a very lax Catholic.”
In a few days Francis is about to embark on his next tour of Germany, and then he’s back for Christmas touring the UK. So are their latest tunes from the ‘Bula’ soundtrack going to be played on tour?
“There are two songs from the new album,” he says. “We try not to do any more than two from an album, and we need to do our full catalogue. In the 70s, you’d tour an album, stay off the road for two years and then tour a new album. I like the idea that we are our back catalogue. It’s what the fans want to hear.”
His first step into the acting arena came along in 2005 when Francis and fellow band member Rick Parfitt rocked the cobbles of Coronation Street, and ended up playing at Les and Cilla’s wedding. “It made a welcome change,” says Francis. “I liked the fact that the director takes responsibility for it. It wasn’t like making a record; it was someone else’s responsibility.
“A couple of years later, the script for ‘Bula Quo’ came along. The whole idea is that we go to Fiji and Rick and I witness something going on in a bar. Jon Lovitz plays Wilson and he’s got this bent Russian roulette gambling thing going on. He also murders tramps and harvests their organs and sells them off.
And we play witnesses to this.” There are stunts a-plenty in the film, but luckily for Francis and Rick they had a couple of stunt doubles. “My double had just finished working on a James Bond film. There was one scene where we do the stunt ourselves. We steal a couple of tanks and end up falling backwards into the sea. I always wondered why they did it that way,” he says “but now I know… do it the other way and it f****ing hurts! We had to do part of that scene a few months later in Hastings in an aquarium. It was a huge tank and pretty frightening. For safety reasons there were five other divers in there with us, to make sure the fish didn’t get too close to us. They said ‘If anything comes near you, don’t panicespecially if it’s that stingray, just don’t poke it!”
Over the last 46 years Status Quo have recorded 100 singles, and they are one of the few bands that have managed to successfully retain their fans from four decades ago while still managing to attract new ones.
“I don’t know how we’ve done it to be honest. I’m just aware that Status Quo are so lucky. Like the X-Factor kids now, we were desperate to be out there, desperate to be liked and loved, and I know some of my peers think they can’t do that any more. It’s such a smack in the face to their fans.
“If I was feeling down I’d think, at least we’re a few million singles or whatever it was. Least we weren’t dying on our arses. People sometimes ask me ‘What would you advise my teenage boy?’ And I say to them ‘Tell him to leave it. If the kid has it, he’ll go after it. If not, he’ll listen to this silly old man.’”
Wise words, but it’s clear to see that Francis is a wise man, a dad of eight and happily married to Eileen. His days of partying and hell-raising are now a distant memory and he can often be found listening to his favourite music, Italian opera. “You don’t need to know what they’re saying to get the emotion. I like all music. I can’t understand the people who say I only like thrash metal or whatever. I also like the Pet Shop Boys and recently got Bruno Mars’s new album. Bruno and his band know how to work that stage.”
In March, Status Quo joined up again with Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan, the original members more commonly known as the Fantastic Four. “We could have played a lot better,” says Francis. “We could have rehearsed a lot better, but it was good. I just couldn’t get over how the fans were taken with the gig. It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what the crowd thought. It’s not for me to judge those shows. I kept looking up at the Hammersmith audience – ‘We’ve only done one number, what are they all getting excited about?’”
While filming in Fiji, they’d be up at 5am and filming at six, seven days a week, but despiteworking long days he admits that he hasn’t seen the film himself. “I can’t stand to watch myself, because you can really mess up what you do and get self-conscious. I try and avoid it as much as possible just in case I think I look odd,” he laughs.
Proud of his work ethic, he was infuriated years ago when a newspaper wrote that he was lazy and didn’t riseuntil midday. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “The only time I’ve stayed in bed till midday is when I went to bed at four o’clock. So I don’t know what they’re on about, staying in bed till midday. That’s what the X-Factor generation don’t realise, that it’s f***ing hard work.
“The thing about X-Factor is, they all have these great voices, but they all sound the same. They’ll all shout and sing, but nobody old-school has a great voice. Maybe one or two, but none of us can sing, but we make this noise, or learn to work with what we have. I usually turn X-Factor off. Everyone’s a belter, a shouter.”
Francis has never shirked from work and from a young age he’d be up at 5am and working for his dad and grandad in the family ice cream business. Then he’d be off to school. Work is very important to Francis, but as he gets older he feels that despite it being important it’s also vital that a balance should be maintained. “My dad was a good worker. During the winter he would still sell his ice cream.
“One of my sons is a chef; he’s worked at The Ivy. They nearly worked him to death. He’d come in at one in the morning sometimes, and he’d be off again at half five. Everyone says ‘He’s a good worker, your boy’. I’m thinking ‘Yeah… and?’ It’s just how I was brought up. Are they saying that the person who’s not a good worker’s an arsehole?My PA once said to me ‘We’ve all become human doings, not human beings any more.’”
When it comes to performing, Francis is certainly no sloth on the stage. His signature rocking and stepping from side to side has become a popular move with those who practice air guitar in dodgy rock clubs. And at the age of 64, you’ve got to admit that this rocker is still rocking. “I try and do eight minute abs work-out and a few press-ups a day.
I’m working with a trainer because I’ve been a bit lax this year. I’m getting older. This year I’ve noticed that the shows hurt more, especially the morning after. So I’ve got to be on top form for this winter’s tour.”
Now it’s common knowledge that a life of exercise and healthy eating hasn’t always been top of Francis’s priorities. It’s well documented that he has blown more than two million pounds on cocaine, not to mention the fast living and loose women. This lad has snorted and drunk through his rock n’ roll lifestyle.
“I got very fed up with that lifestyle very quickly. I got bored of shagging everybody,” he says. Don’t ask me how but when I was 30, I started drinking Margueritas one night, which led me to cocaine. People kept saying ‘Try the coke, try the coke.’ I become even more boring when I stopped. My life is much better after knocking it on the head, and I don’t even drink now, so I don’t really go out.” Now that’s not to be sniffed at…