Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
It’s been over ten years since we last saw Quo live in the flesh but walking down the hill to the BIC the memories of a lifetime of following comes tumbling through the chill fog of a December evening.
This time of year, had, over the years, become synonymous with an annual nationwide Quo tour. Once unfairly maligned by the media nowadays, with total deserved justification, Rossi et al are revered as a national treasure.
For a moment I’m that ten-year old lad in awe of the artwork, grasping a newly purchased copy of ‘Just Supposin,’ four hairy gods of rock adorning the rear cover. Beneath ten, then puzzling, symbols with the tag ‘From the makers of’ alongside.
The die was cast, an irrevocable choice had been made. That symbology would come to not just mean that wonderful 12 bar boogie but an addiction to a healthy-sized dose of down to earth rock n’ roll that defied the mainstream conformity of what was defined as trending. At once I was a proud individual.
Four years later, on a baking hot summer afternoon, and out front of the legendary Cornwall Coliseum I feared my first ever Quo gig would be my final one. The End Of The Road had been reached. However, with a re-energisation The Quo were back in force in ’86. Countless tours, festivals up and down the UK and across mainland Europe the addiction knew no bounds.
Sadly, though that did begin to wane, misperceptions of a jadedness pervaded. Then the unthinkable, the untimely passing of Rick Parfitt in 2016. The Quo couldn’t continue, couldn’t possibly function without the legendary rhythm guitarist? It wasn’t until the Radio 2’s Hyde Park extravaganza was aired that my misgivings were adeptly dispelled, that September afternoon, with a stunning performance in front of a 40,000 crowd.
The Quo still had ‘it’ and my mind was made up; the metaphorical deal was sealed upon a return to the unwaveringly loyal ranks of the Quo Army. The Telecaster necklace is worn with a quiet pride once again.
This evening’s special guest Shakin’ Stevens is a very special guest for an absolute truckload of reasons. With a career spanning, like Quo, seven decades with 33 top 40 UK singles and 20 studio albums to his credit the Welsh rock n’ roller is still going strong.
His 1985 festive chart-topper ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ goes down an absolute storm; bringing the house down as the befitting finale of a stellar 55-minute set. Rightly so too! It’s the first day of December and the track that has charted every year, on the dot, since 2007 has just been announced, by Radio 2, as the fourth most streamed Christmas Number 1 of all time! 287 million streams and counting!
Cardiff-born Stevens, the youngest of 13 siblings, is more than just one single though. Discount him as a novelty act at your peril! There is, of course, a musician serious about his craft herein, who this evening gives a wide-ranging demonstrative journey through his expansive catalogue. Steven’s journey began in the late 60s with his band The Sunsets via a 19-month lead role as Elvis in a West End musical production before signing to Epic, a move which catapulted him into the UK charts.
Just shy of half past seven the lights dim, and Steven’s nine-piece band assemble upon a stage bathed in blue. With a click of drumsticks hey launch into a neat groove redolent of Creedance Clearwater Revival despatching Tina Turner’s ‘Steamy Windows.’
Sharply attired in an all-black suit, with a denim shirt underneath, Stevens joins the sizeably proportioned ranks of his band. We’ve got glittering backing singers afront a brass section in addition to a full band in the arsenal. Set opener ‘How Could It Be Like That’ – from 2007’s ‘Now Listen’ album – possesses a tasty, infectious hook that sets the tone. Evoking the 60s the midtempo rock n’ roller ‘Turning Away’ continues the hi-quality nostalgic theme that rolls into the retrospective trucking of ‘Radio.
A track, recorded in 1992 with Roger Taylor, which proved to be, Festive recharting aside, his penultimate charting single.
Amongst a well-received 14 track extravaganza a pair of 1981 chart-toppers are thrown in for good measure. With a honky-tonk vibe ‘Green Door’ and the upbeat rock n’ roll jive of ‘This Ole House’ Stevens serves up a hearty reminder of a golden time. A seven-year period that spawned an incredible 23 top 20 UK singles; a run kick-started by a reworking of The Blasters ‘Marie, Marie’ for which both Steven’s guitarists join him mid-stage for a 60s rock n’ roll shuffle. Lovely stuff.
There is much more to this gent than purely his wide swathe of hit singles. There’s his latter material like the folksy skiffle vibrancy of ‘The Fire In Her Blood’ and 2016’s Orbison-esque ‘Down Into Muddy Waters’ to tangle with. The hard rocking of ‘Fire Down Below,’ complete with low-slung guitar solo, is unexpected marauder that is warmly invited in.
Additionally, Stevens pays homage to the greats of rock with a soulful rendition of Credence Clearwater Revival’s 1971 smash ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain?’ midway through his slot. Coupled with the twelve-bar beat of Tampa Red’s classic blues standard ‘Don’t You Lie To Me’ – also interpreted by Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and the Kings Albert and BB.
It’s been a heady brew and one that has amply whetted the musical palette. With a raft of talent alongside him Stevens has ably demonstrated the core reason for his longevity. Simply put quality. All that remains is for the festive season to be heralded with ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ bringing the veritable house down.
There are a great many rock outfits hankering aspirations of but precious that can actually boast the evergreen durability of both this evening’s performers. From their humble south-east London roots Status Quo have released an incredible 98 singles of which 57 have landed in the UK Top 40. Alongside 33 studio long-playing offerings, over half of which have dwelt in the esteemed halls of the UK Top 10, spanning a simply remarkable 54 years it’s a record of records not to be taken lightly.
The conundrum this legacy raises is how on earth do you practically condense this into a tangible resounding performance without missing a beat? Whilst ensuring that shows don’t slide into the quagmire of self-indulgence. Simple answer is to tear a leaf out of Quo’s rock n’ roll manual! Apply minimal fuss and squarely hit the punters hard and fast to achieve maximum effect.
Questioning “What can a poor boy do?” Primal Scream’s ‘Country Girl’ fades from the PA as the instantly recognisable drone of Quo’s intro rumbles into life. Both stage and auditorium darken before spotlights ‘feather’ and circle about the ‘BIC.’ Opened back in 1984 this venue is, with its 4000 seated capacity, one of the largest in Southern England. Appearing over 30 times here, since their first gig over 35 years ago on the ‘In The Army Now’ tour, Quo have a fond affinity with this venue.
Down on the floor no-one is remaining seated for this one, expectations run high as, one by one, the ten-legged beast that is The Quo files on to the stage. Sole remaining founder member Francis Rossi and ‘old-hand’ John ‘Rhino’ Edwards partake in a last-minute chat as recent recruit Richie Malone adopts a wide legged stance afront his amps. Spotlights shine on the Irish six-stringer as he blasts the unmistakable opening riffing bars of ‘Caroline.
A certain Mr. Parfitt would surely be proud with a tremendous output firmly striking the assembled ranks of the Quo Army. Andy Bown’s delectable keys complement as Rossi hits those trademark nasal vocals. “Go on sing it!” he encourages before indulging with Malone in that heads-down no-nonsense rocking that the quintet is renowned for.
Bassist Edwards takes the vocal reigns pouring his soul into ‘Rain,’ a top 10 hit in 1976, as the juggernaut howls along the carriageway. The fortitude of the mid-track instrumentals is to behold. Thundering clouds gather on the horizon. Lifted off the behemothic coupling of 70s albums ‘On The Level’ and ‘Hello’ respectively ‘Little Lady’ and ‘Softer Ride’ serve ample notice that Quo are a serious force to be reckoned with outside of their singles. The diehards amongst the crowd already, naturally, acknowledge this but the casual observer amongst the near sell-out crowd would find it impossible to provide a tangible thread to oppose this.
Between these two album tracks Rossi takes a breather for some of his beloved crowd banter extolling the ‘virtues’ of the back-stage medications before spotting on the crew descending the steps amongst the terraced seating. “Nice pair of legs” Rossi quips, no-one is safe apparently!
From those halcyon 70s years we are catapulted forwards to more recent times with ‘Beginning Of The End.’ Given the current climate the Rossi/Edwards co-penned lyrics can be forgiven as being a touch ironic with Rossi singing “Happy days are here again, it’s official from number ten.” I’m surely not alone in this train of thought.
The evergreen bounce of ‘Hold You Back’ precedes a double serving from the recent Quo catalogue with ‘Rock n’ Roll n’ You’ exploding into life courtesy of Bown’s keyboard skills. Rossi fiddles with a capo in readiness for the galloping ‘Twenty Wild Horses.’ Looking across to Edwards he tests his application noting “Oh that’s not bad” in a self-deprecating tone.
The time-honoured employment of ‘The Medley’ is Quo’s equivalent of a certain Colonel’s chicken-based recipe. Seemingly straightforward and rather tasty there’s an unwritten skill within that makes it damn difficult to pull off with elevated levels of success associated. A quarter of hour flies past with incredulity as ‘What You’re Proposing’ and ‘Mystery Song’ provide the mellifluous parentheses for a bumper six-track filling featuring the likes of ‘Railroad’ and the country rocking of Hank Thompson’s ‘Wild Side Of Life.’
The fun-filled eastern-flavoured ‘The Oriental’ spices up proceedings rolling right into the psych-drug influenced 1970 single ‘In My Chair’ is an inspired inclusion. Replete with the freight-train mournful harmonica of Bown it’s an emotional moment on a personal level.
The latest album, and widely judged return to peak-form, ‘Backbone’ has a spotlight shone upon it with the meaty pairing of ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ and ‘Liberty Lane’ unleashed. For the former Bown dons a glittering gold jacket and causes Rossi to inadvertently chuckle with a comedy moment almost losing his footing. It takes a moment for the Quo frontman to regain his complete composure. It’s going to be required as the gears are stepped up through as the big hitters now weigh in for a mighty 12 bar barrage.
Lighting and band are at one in a well-choreographed output as ‘hand grenades and missiles’ are launched with the crowd adopting the role of Sergeant chorusing “Stand up and fight” for the 1986 number 2 single ‘In The Army Now’, a splendid ‘owning’ of the 1982 single by Dutch duo Bolland & Bolland.
With a slight bluesy fringe ‘Roll Over Lay Down’ takes centre-stage before all bar Rossi depart the stage leaving the lead six-stringer alone with just four white spotlights for company. A seriously re-worked and extended ‘Down Down’ is brought in by Rossi before his cohorts re-join him to whip a maelstrom of fury in the arena with their only number one single. A release that is the nearest Quo have come to taking the Christmas number one spot, ending Mud’s four week run atop the charts with ‘Lonely This Christmas.’
Titular tracks ‘Whatever You Want’ and ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ weigh in with show-stopping force. The Quo mean business for sure and after a spectacular hour and 45 minutes they take the raucous cheers of the BIC ensemble.
Not quite finished the five-piece return for one last hurrah with the jigging jig of ‘Burning Bridges’ that has the arena bouncing as Rossi adopting the role of ringmaster encouraging “C’mon do the monkey!” Arms go up and down as the crowd quite literally ‘Go Ape’!!
As we file out into the foyer, with the chill outside awaiting, we can reflect on a fine, fine, fine performance from Quo. Amongst the very best I’ve witness in the 40 years I’ve followed them. There’s a driven assuredness in their approach nowadays; gone are the comical lyric embellishments with an enhanced sense of final product within. This evening has seen The Quo serve a double dozen gold bars with a couple on side order for good measure. We’ve been out out Quoing once more and are much the better for it!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM