Francis Rossi’s Tunes & Chat tour runs from 24th March to 28th November
“EVERYTHING ABOUT TOURING with Status Quo is hard work,” says Francis Rossi, the 73-year-old singer-guitarist who started the band when he was a teenage schoolboy. “I don’t drink, and they drink all the time.”
Sober since he quit all drugs and alcohol over 30 years ago, Rossi admits that while “I really enjoyed being with them on stage, being on the tour bus, doing the band thing, in close proximity all the time, it wears me out.”
This is just one of the reasons why he’s looking forward to his one-man Tunes & Chat tour which begins this month and runs until November.
“When I’m on the road and there’s just me, it’s quieter, which makes a nice change. The main difference is the places I go. I never thought I could enjoy being in small theatres again, playing in a little place to 300 people.”
The veteran rocker set out on his first speaking tour in 2019 and discovered, “I really liked it! I wasn’t going to do any playing or singing but I got pushed to at least do one song and the moment I put on the acoustic guitar, I really started to enjoy it. So this tour is an extension of that.”
While his two speaking-tour forays were in support of his memoir, I Talk Too Much, this tour will mainly feature music from his extraordinary near 60-year career with Quo, plus some chat.
“I know the tunes I’m playing, roughly what order I’m doing them in, but until I walk out, I ain’t got a clue what I’m going to say. I seem to do better when I don’t know what I’m going to say. My old manager said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go off on tangents’. It was the worst bit of advice I’ve ever had, because the best stuff happens when I wander off at tangents.”
So will this show just be Francis and his guitar?
“Not quite. I’ll have an assistant guitar player. I toyed with the idea of using computer backing tracks. But no. One of the joys I’ve found is not having to do that.”
South London-born Francis has rehearsed “between 18 and 20 musical numbers”; far more than he’ll need. But he has over 60 Quo hits – including Rockin’ All Over The World, Whatever You Want, Down Down and Caroline – and almost as many chart albums to draw from.
“I know I have the tunes, and without sounding too cocky, I’m confident of the way the music will go. But because of the fear of it just ending up like a Quo show, I’m going to be flying by the seat of my pants, trying something different.”
Of the speaking parts, he says, “I don’t have the funny stories to lean on until I find them. On the first speaking tour, I refused to rehearse. I said, ‘Stuff this, I’ll be all right on the night’.”
Once I’m standing there on the stage, hopefully that’s when I’ll know what to say.
“There will be a Q&A of sorts. But instead of leaving it to the end like I did before, I might do a bit straight after the first two or three tunes, because I need to calm myself down, otherwise I’ll start going, ‘Quick next tune!’”
“I’m going to put the guitar down to stop me from doing that.”
Rossi has certainly never been short of something to say. “Even talking to you now doing an interview, I start to waffle, but it will still go somewhere. If I hear a titter in the audience, I’ll pick up on that. You just respond to what’s going on. I’m just looking forward to doing it.”
Might he shelve Quo to do this full-time?
“No,” he says. “But I would like this to go on, because it’s less stressful. It’s also kind of where I started, strumming and just being able to sing without the strain.”
Rossi insists Quo’s December tour was “the best one ever; I enjoyed it immensely, but it was “bloody hard work.
“It was getting around to two hours a show, when we swore blind that we’d only do 75 minutes.”
“But because of Covid and the economy it’s different out there. Every act will tell you that. You can’t rely on ticket sales anymore. We played two shows in Germany where people were suddenly masked up, and only 850 people turned up out of the 3500 we’d normally expect in the same venue.”
“Wembley Arena was only half-full. We can’t open the shop unless the customers come, and no one’s sure about them coming anymore.”
“I feel like the whistle-blower because I seem to be the only musician that talks about budget and finance. So I’d like to do more Quo, but we are all physically older, and that catches up with you too.”
Quo took a blow to their public image in the wake of the death from sepsis in 2016 of singer-guitarist Rick Parfitt. Rick and Francis had become a loveable double-act in the years since Quo sealed their place in the public’s affections after famously opening Live Aid in 1985.
Fans were fully aware that Parfitt, aged 68 when he died, had already suffered several heart attacks and a throat cancer scare, yet remained a prodigious drinker and smoker.
It wasn’t so much the shock of Rick’s death that hit the fans hard, insists Francis, but the fact the band continued on without him, recruiting 30-year-old Dublin-born Richie Malone, a lifelong Quo fan whose guitar style is based on Rick’s.
“There were a lot of naysayers who didn’t like the idea that I carried on with Quo,” Rossi acknowledges. “But what else was I supposed to do? I started Quo when I was 15.”
The trauma of Rick’s passing is something that still affects him personally.
“He was my best friend ever,” he says softly, adding “‘Was’ being the operative word, and that hurts. There are a lot of stories about Rick I could tell that I never will.
“Then he dies, and everybody tells me how great he was. ‘Cor, blimey, he did so much, didn’t he?’ You’ve got no idea what he did.”
But the public don’t want to know, and they’re the ones we all rely on for our ego, for our earnings, for our everything. For the love they give us, so no I won’t say anything against him.
“My wife Eileen says, ‘You’re always going on about Rick’. I say, ‘Because he was always there’. “
“I still dream about him. I had a dream the other night. I was given this thing to go and do on a movie, and Rick came up to me and said, ‘I think you should let me sing this, I would do a better job than you’. In the dream! I woke up and went, ‘Jesus Christ, you even dream exactly as he would be!’ It’s better than it was, but it won’t go away.”
As for the immediate future of Status Quo, despite Rossi’s concerns about “the numbers”, plans have already been announced for more shows in the summer of 2024.
“We can only really afford to go out and do summer shows where you get a fixed fee, with a far smaller crew, and you don’t carry a PA or lights.”
“I can’t help but get carried away and enthused like I used to when I was younger. But as much as I might like to go on with Quo, I’m going to be 74 in May. I’ll be 75 when we go out next year.”
He pauses. “Mind you, I’ve been saying that since I was 50. Wait till I get out on this Tunes & Chat tour, then see what I’ve got to say about it.”
*Francis Rossi’s Tunes & Chat tour runs from 24th March to 28th November. For details & tickets visit francisrossi.com
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