Status Quo still Rockin' All Over The World

Status Quo are celebrating 40 years since their first hit Pictures Of Matchstick Men. The band carried on rocking all over the world, and have a full run of UK dates lined up for November and December. We travel to Paris with the Quo, talking to Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt about their lasting appeal, and how, despite being one of the biggest-selling British acts of all time, they might not get the credit they deserve.

"Really?" counters Francis Rossi. "So is Broadmoor."

We're in Paris for the first leg of the band's European tour, before they head to the UK for a 31-date stint.

The tour marks the end of a big year for the Quo who have been on the road almost solidly since the beginning of May.

Unsurprisingly, they're not nervous ahead of this evening's performance, although the links between their songs are causing rhythm guitarist and sometime singer Rick Parfitt a little concern.

"A lot of our songs end and go straight into the next," he says. "We have to change key, change tempo and things. I'm not nervous, but it's a first night, so nothing will go quite as smoothly as you think it should. The important thing is not to think too much. If you think 'How does it go here again?' you'll tighten up and tension creeps in.

"Despite what people say, our songs can be quite intricate," he says, laughing.

The Quo are well aware of their reputation. For years, they've been mocked for only knowing three chords. Proving they're in on the gag, their last album in 2007 was called In Search Of The Fourth Chord, released on their own Fourth Chord record label.

In reality their music is much more complex than you might think, and, if the band and the people around them are to be believed, they sound better now than ever before.

Lead guitarist and singer Francis, now shorn of his trademark ponytail, practices for three hours a day and has done for the last six years or so, only giving himself a three-day break over Christmas.

After Rossi and school friend Alan Lancaster formed the band in the early-Sixties, Parfitt was invited to join in 1965, himself a veteran of the holiday-camp circuit Rossi and Lancaster had cut their teeth playing.

By February 1968, they were riding high in the charts with debut single Pictures Of Matchstick Men. It might sound uncharacteristic now, but it's a swirling, psychedelic track, now hailed as one of the great singles of that decade, name-checked today by the likes of Kasabian as a big influence.

Despite the success of Pictures... it wasn't until 1973 that Quo had the follow-up Top 5 hit they'd been looking for. With hindsight, says Francis, that was a good thing.

"We never would have got to this point if we'd had a second hit straight away," he says. "We were always a rock band, but had a hit with a psychedelic song, and that sound didn't last. We realised records were pretty vacuous early on, and it was no good trying to appeal to the Top Of The Pops crowd. A few thousand of them would come to our gigs, but they'd get bored because the lads were just there because they knew there'd be masses of girls, and vice versa.

"Instead, we went back to being a rock band, left that psychedelic thing behind and built it up again."

The plan clearly worked, and in 1972 their song Paper Plane reached No 8 in the chart, kick-starting a chain of 33 consecutive Top 40 singles which included Caroline in 1973, the song that traditionally opens their live set, and Rockin' All Over The World, the first song anyone heard at Live Aid in 1985.

Watching the band in Paris is something of a revelation. Aside from the sight of 2,000 Parisians clad in denim, doing the signature Quo shoulder dance or playing air guitar - how could that not be amusing? - they're just so much better than you might imagine.

Any worries they might have had about the new setlist - which now includes Pictures Of Matchstick Men, a song retired for years and only resurrected last year to celebrate its 40th anniversary - are completely unfounded.

At the height of the Blur v Oasis media war of 1995, Damon Albarn snidely referred to his Northern rivals as Quoasis. Taking the intended diss as a compliment, Noel Gallagher appeared days after wearing a specially made Quoasis t-shirt, and he was right to do so.

There are similarities between the two bands; both have two members of core importance while the line-up around them changes, and both steadfastly refused to the change their musical style in the face of fierce criticism. Musically, they're not a million miles away from each other.

The deluxe edition of their recently released live DVD, recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival earlier this year, features a documentary on the history of the band, inside which are interviews with die-hard fans. Some are in their teens, as are a vast number of the audience in Paris. What is it about a band made up of guys of advancing years - the youngest member is 48-year-old drummer Matt Letley who joined in 2000 - who play shuffle music that attracts the teens in their hordes?

"I wish I knew, but I don't," says Rick, 61, pondering the issue for a second. "I do know I love it, though. It's great to see people that age coming along, and they're all down the front doing that rock sign thing to us, you know the devil horns or doing that 'We're not worthy' worship thing from Wayne's World, and it really means a lot."

Francis, a year younger at 60, doesn't have a definitive answer either, but thinks the recent influx of younger fans might be down to YouTube.

"This is where the internet is great, because people will find something on their own and they can watch videos of us or hear the music and not have it judged for them," he explains.

"There are lots of bands of our age and older, The Who, for example, the Stones too who can go out and get the young crowds. Teens now can like The Killers or Muse and Quo, or the Stones or Oasis, or whoever they want."

Now in their 41st year, with millions of album sold, an enviable back-catalogue of hits and still with enough pulling power to sell out a massive UK tour year on year, it seems Status Quo don't get the credit they deserve.

Rick says he's been wondering about the same thing for some time, and holds ambitions to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame one day, which, considering some of the bands in there, wouldn't be unreasonable.

"I'm not going to say we don't get the credit we deserve," says Francis. "That sounds pompous. Perhaps, over the years, the incessant 'three chords' thing has done us harm, but we're still here and the people who like us love us to death.

"Usually people see us for the first time and say 'You're actually really good.' The first person who said that to me was Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet. He came up to me and said 'I'm sorry, I said all these things and didn't realise you were this good.'

"And we're even better now than we were then. I think in our area, our small niche, we're good at what we do. We're a very, very good band."

Extra time - Status Quo

Status Quo have sold more than 118 million albums.

Quo have recorded 64 British hit singles - more than any other band - 22 of which have hit the Top 10. The first hit was Pictures Of Matchstick Men which reached No 7 in January 1968.

Quo have made 106 appearances on Top Of The Pops, more than any other group. That works out to being on the show once a week for more than two years, or more than twice a year for the show's entire 42-year run.

Quo have spent more than seven and a half years (415 weeks) in the British singles chart, the 11th highest ever.

Quo have had more hit albums (33) in the British Albums Chart than any other band apart from The Rolling Stones.