Cornbury Festival: Re-establishing the Status Quo

With Status Quo as one of the headline performers at Cornbury Festival this year, lead singer Francis Rossi tells Katie Jarvis why he's still rocking all over the world

“Hello, daddy. It’s me here, daddy,” squeaks the voice on the other end of the phone.“Oooh, hello,” I say, with a mixture of wariness and surprise. After all, I’m the one who dialled the number. “Umm. I was looking for Francis Rossi. Status Quo. Err… is this the right house?” I’m cautiously glancing at my phone display as I speak and the number I tapped in seems to be correct.

“Daddy!” the voice continues, with unabashed enthusiasm.The puzzled silence on my part – I’m pretty sure I haven’t fathered any children and certainly not in Croydon – is broken by an immense gaffaw.  “I love doing that!” roars Francis Rossi. “I normally open with ‘Freddie’s Sandwich Bar. How may I help you?’ But recently I did it with some journalist guy and it freaked him out.” Well, I can understand that.It’s an odd method of introduction, there are no two ways about it. On the plus side, however, it creates an instant level of intimacy. I’ve only spoken to the man for 20 seconds, and already I can slap my thigh at dinner parties, and chuckle, “Oh, that Francis Rossi! What a joker. Gets me every time.”

I have a vague premonition that this conversation is going to be the verbal equivalent of herding cats – “I wasn’t even sure if you were German or not,” he continues, unaccountably – but I’m still, at this early juncture, willing to try for a more conventional angle.“So,” I say, “you’re coming to Cornbury Festival, in Oxfordshire. What are you going to be doing there?”This time the puzzled silence is from his side of the phone line. “The thing about this promo stuff is you’re supposed to get on and sell it,” he says, with an air of hopelessness. “And tell them we’re going to have strippers; women; aircraft. No, it’s actually Status Quo are going to play...”

“No,” I explain. “I know you’re going to be playing music there. I just wondered more specifically which numbers. New? Old favourites?”“Oh – we always do who we are. I find it ridiculous that some of us (other veteran bands) want to deny our back catalogue. So obviously we do most of the old favourites…”

And suddenly we’re off. Cats all rounded up. Synchronised and in harmony. And I begin to realise what a sweetheart Francis Rossi is. Funny, insecure, self–mocking, honest, open and not just an inveterate rocker, but an inveterate talker, too. “You haven’t asked me why I don’t shut the **** up for two minutes. I love talking, you see,” he says, at one point.

Which all fits with my childhood memories of Quo. They were the unscary rock band. The ones your parents liked, too. If they ever smashed the stage up – and I can’t remember they ever did – they probably came back to hoover and dust afterwards. Francis Rossi may have had long hair, but he tied it neatly back in the sort of ponytail your school might have insisted on (sadly now cut off and won by a fan in a newspaper competition).

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And while the Sex Pistols were spewing out their hatred of the Queen and her fascist regime, the Quo were mainly li-li-li-iking things. I’m not saying they never did anything naughty – certainly, some of their trips around the world were from the comfort of their own armchairs –  but look who’s still here more than 40 years on.

And Cornbury – or, more specifically, Oxfordshire – will be a sort of homecoming for them all. “We used to work in Chipping Norton a lot and, for me, that was the best residential studio in England. I forget how many albums we’ve done there but I miss it,”  Rossi reminisces.

“It was kind of one of those turn-of-the-other-century schools – unusual; the sort of place that makes things more creative. Those days are gone: the idea of being months on end in a residential studio and creating as you go along. You can’t really afford to do that anymore.”He waxes lyrical for a few moments about multi-track and two-inch tape: “But it’s like guys holding onto the horse and cart when you’ve got a car. We have computers and that doesn’t mean the computer does it all for you; it just makes things more flexible; more efficient.”

What has changed for the worse, he says, is volume of sales. “My manager was talking the other day about Kung Fu Fighting when it was out with Carl Douglas. He was saying that, when it dropped to 70,000 a day, everybody at Pye Records went, ‘Oh, well that’s all over, then’. There was a great buzz in that you knew the amount of people that had gone home that day with your record. As much as the download thing is all very good, there’s that tangible thing I think that people miss. But I’m of a different generation in that respect.”

Their own new album – Quid Pro Quo – which is just out, is a pacey collection. Rossi can’t remember how many albums they’ve done but, he says, he heard it on Ken Bruce the other day and was as thrilled as ever: “It’s the insecure little show-off, isn’t it?”

So why does this veteran rocker think today’s young singers find it so difficult to stay the course? “A lot of the time it’s how they get there. People think I’m knocking Cowell but the truth is he doesn’t look for the X Factor because people with the X Factor are difficult to fricking deal with.

They’re all arty–farty and problem–makers. They never go for anybody that can play or write. So when we sell them to the public, there’s no substance to them. They didn’t work their way up; they don’t know what it’s like to play to a bunch of miners in Sheffield: “Get the **** off the stage”. If they get anywhere near that X Factor thing, they know they’re going out on tour; they go straight into arenas. That isn’t real life. You’ve got to play a ****hole first.”

He may talk in the vernacular and meander around his points (some here have been airbrushed), but he also speaks a lot of sense. He worries about his own children – he has eight by two marriages – being brought up on a diet of materialism. “All those hippies I used to hear when I was younger, they have a point.

“In this society and in this capitalism thing, the worst thing you can do is fail, isn’t it? Not make money or fail in some way. I’m 62 and still frightened of failing. Surely I must have proved it by now? But, obviously, nope, I haven’t.”

Failure?? What about being awarded an OBE, along with band member Rick Parfitt, in 2010 for services to music…? “It’s humbling. People say to me, ‘Well, you do so much for charity’. And I have to remind them that, for anybody in my position, doing something for charity is never going to be a negative. There’s some paramedic in Leeds who way, way deserves it more than I do.”

He talks about two of his children who sometimes play alongside him – Nicholas, and Bernadette, who has her own band, The North; about his relationship with his fans (he’s on first–name terms with the front row); his preference for doing crosswords rather than going out to parties or big award ceremonies; his love/hate relationship with performing; and about the fact that, even after all these years, he never really thinks he’s good enough.

“Whenever we go back to work, it’s, ‘Oh no! Why did I say I’d do it?’ and I start getting ratty. And then I do it and I really love it. I need to go up there and show off what I can do. And yet a side of me says that I’m not very good.”

Not very good? I would say, ‘Oh, that Francis Rossi! What a joker.’ Except that, rather endearingly, he means it.

Status Quo will be performing at the Cornbury Music Festival (July 1–3) on Sunday, July 3. The ticket hotline is on 0844 338 0000 or log onto

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