When I decided to start this blog, one thing I wanted to do was go back and write about concerts I’ve been to in the past, and I realised that I have an ideal opportunity to start this.
This post is very deliberately timed, exactly 35 years to the day, to the hour, from when I was at what I consider to be gig #1 – the first gig I went to on my own, Status Quo at Leicester de Montfort Hall, on 6th June 1984. I was 15 and in the middle of my O Levels, and went on a National Express organised trip from Northampton.
The thing that made me go to this concert was the fact that this was The End Of The Road tour – their last one, this was going to be it. So given that they were one of the very first bands I started to listen to, and Never Too Late was the very first LP I bought, I had to go.
I’m a Quo purist – I like the early 70s heavy blues-y rock stuff, and think that the downward spiral started with Rockin’ All Over The World. I don’t know what changed – was it the fact that they stopped producing the records themselves, was it a conscious decision by the band to change their sound? I do know that the change coincided with the use of keyboards.
Nothing they did after the mid 70s matched those earlier heights – some of the late 70s/early 80s albums are OK – Whatever You Want, Just Supposin, Never Too Late – but beyond that they went, well, Down Down…
Anyway, rant over.
I knew what they were like live because as well as the formidable Quo Live album (recorded in 1976), the BBC had shown part of their 1982 NEC concert live – a charity event for the Prince’s Trust, with Charles & Diana attending, for some of it at least – and I had recorded the Friday Rock Show broadcast of the whole concert a couple of weeks later. I listened to that recording so much – in the end I had to make a copy of it as the original tapes were wearing out, and many years later I transferred it to mp3.
Fortunately they have at last released the full concert on CD, as my second-generation cassette recording of a radio broadcast wasn’t the best quality!
The first part of that NEC show was OK, featuring the main hits – but the second part blew me away – especially the 20+ minute guitar wig-out of 4500 Times which I must have listened to hundreds of times now. I think this clip is from the NEC show (it’s definitely not the 2005 it says) but it’s bloody magnificent.
To be honest, I can’t remember much about the concert – well it was 35 years ago! The setlist is on setlist.fm though. It was loud, it was great, they played the songs I liked, and they didn’t play anything from the recent “Back to Back” album – which is probably the first one they released with no redeeming features whatsoever and included songs I actively disliked (yes “Goin’ Down Town Tonight”, I’m talking about you).
4500 Times was magnificently long and loud, and would have been something like this clip from their “final” gig in 1984 in Milton Keynes – something that has still never come out on DVD or CD, shameful.
I loved it.
And I thought that would be it.
I decided not to go to the final concert in Milton Keynes, which I regret now but I was only 15. There’s even more regret around it as Marillion supported them that day, and little did I know that I’d never see them with Fish still in the band.
But it wasn’t the end.
They played Live Aid in 1985 and then in 1986 they got back together – sort of, with a new bassist and a new drummer – and did a new album. OK, it was In The Army Now which is far from their finest hour, but they were back.
Since that first show on their supposed End Of The Road tour, I’ve seen them another 9 times.
Three times at the NEC in Birmingham when I’d started working and could afford to go to more gigs.
The second of these was their “Rock Til You Drop” event – they played 4 gigs in a single day, in Sheffield, Glasgow, Birmingham and London, to get in the Guinness Book Of Records.
This is the only time SWMBO has come to one of their gigs with me, and we actually managed to get right to the front – right against the barriers. We had a hell of a long wait, not helped by some inane local DJ trying to gee up the crowd.
A side note: She doesn’t like to talk about it, but SWMBO’s dad played with Quo once – he was in a band that supported Quo in Narbeth in the late 60s, back in Quo’s psychedelic early days. Apparently he still has a poster from the gig somewhere in the loft at home.
I saw them once at Wembley Arena in London when we were living in Clapham – I went to this one with SWMBO’s parents. She declined the offer to go.
To be honest, these shows were nothing to write home about – they played the classics, but also some of the new material they were releasing. They played the godawful medleys, and the long and heavy guitar workouts had gone.
Then 3 more shows at Colston Hall in Bristol. I assume I started seeing them because they started playing smaller venues, which I prefer to the arena shows.
After the last of these, I decided to stop – the shows were OK but it was basically the same set every time, and there was no spark any more. They had another drummer, who I found completely uninspiring – just tap-tapping out the rhythm. Listen back to John Coghlan live stuff and it’s heavy with lots of fills, and to me it was indicative of their decline.
Thank for the memories, but that was it.
Or so I thought.
I can’t remember how I heard about it, but in 2012/13 I began to hear rumours that the classic lineup – Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, John Coghlan (who left ahead of the 1+9+8+2 album) and Alan Lancaster (who left after Live Aid and ahead of In The Army Now) – were going to get back together, mainly because Alan Lancaster was in poor health and they had apparently resolved their differences. I never saw the band with John Coghlan on drums, and with Lancaster just that first time.
Surely it wasn’t going to happen…
Oh yes it bloody well was!
They announced a “Frantic Four” tour, with just the classic lineup – no keyboards and no songs from after 1976.
They were only going to do a few dates, and unfortunately not in Bristol – but they were going to play the Hammersmith Odeon (or the Apollo, or whatever it’s called now – it’ll always be the Odeon to me though) and that was enough to justify a trip to London. The shows sold out quickly, but I got a ticket.
I was almost late for the gig – problems on the underground – and ended up right at the back, but they’ve never been the most visual of bands and I was just glad to be there.
The atmosphere in the crowd was electric, there was a real sense of anticipation before the show. And I’ve never heard such a loud audience, it was really noticeable. The reaction when Francis Rossi introduced John Coghlan and Alan Lancaster was quite something.
The difference was amazing – they sounded so much better, more raw. No keyboards, just a couple of contributions from Bob Young on harmonica. It was bloody magnificent, and something I genuinely never thought I would see.
I can’t remember much specific about it – but I do remember Rick Parfitt having trouble with his guitar – and you can hear it on the recording they released, there are parts of a couple of songs without him thrashing the hell out of his Telecaster.
And then in 2014 they did it again.
I got there earlier so had a better view this time, and caught the support act – the incomparable Wilko Johnson.
The show was largely the same as the year before, but that didn’t really matter as again it was a loud and raw performance of some of their classic material. The audience atmosphere maybe wasn’t quite as electric as there wasn’t the level of anticipation from the year before, but it was still a loud crowd.
The 2014 shows were billed as the last ones for The Frantic Four lineup, and the sad passing of Rick Parfitt in late 2016 put paid to any possibility of a repeat.
Francis Rossi is still performing with Quo, but I have no desire to see that incarnation of the band.
The one thing that frustrates me is that surely Quo or Vertigo have some kind of archive of live material? Or is it possible that they simply didn’t record much in the 70s?
I’d love to see a DVD release of the full 1982 NEC concert, or a properly done version of the 1984 “final” concert from Milton Keynes – that was released in two parts on VHS, but included some pretty ham-fisted edits. I don’t know if there are even any DVD-quality quality masters out there. I’ve heard suggestions that the masters of the final concert might have been lost in a fire, but a quick google suggests that might not be true – and that someone is working on re-mastered audio and video of the concert. Here’s hoping, and a 35th anniversary would be an ideal opportunity to release it.
Post Script: I remembered that I bought a sweatshirt at the 1984 show. I’ve found this image on ebay – I actually chose to wear that in public. Well, it was the 80s…