It was two weeks before Christmas 2016 when the phone rang.
“Where can I buy a monkey?” asked the caller.
Initially I didn’t recognise the voice and so the Tommy Cooper-like babbling continued until I realised it was Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt lampooning my company’s name, Monkey’s Paw Media (he’d delighted in doing this before with Little Green Men). I was thrilled and relieved to hear from him – other than email exchanges it was the first time we’d actually spoken since his near-fatal heart attack that summer.
Whatever I might have expected after media reports that Rick could no longer perform live with Quo, he seemed in a fantastically upbeat mood.
Don’t Drive My Car
He was particularly thrilled at having passed his driving test again – required after the serious neurological effects of his heart attack. It hadn’t occurred to me that would be necessary and the very idea of Rick Parfitt not driving a car was absurd. He boasted that he had taken about ‘115 practise exams and passed more than 90-something of them!’
The gravity of the heart attack was far from lost on him but there didn’t seem to be any undue sadness on his part that he would now be pursuing a different future. He wasn’t, he said, that happy about acoustic Quo – he wanted to rock and was fizzing about working on his new solo album and pursuing a publishing deal for his autobiography.
Go Go Go
And it was for that new album that Rick wanted me to make a music video and EPK. I have been fortunate to Produce and Direct numerous projects with Status Quo since 2005’s The Party Ain’t Over Yet documentary, and Rick had always been complimentary, enthusiastic and great fun to work with. He was particularly pleased with the more recent Go Go Go video, not least because the only moment of spot colour I used in the black and white version was on a few frames of his gorgeous vivid red guitar!
“I don’t want some young c— who doesn’t know what they’re doing’, he said.
Naturally I was happy that he preferred an older one.
Despite telling me he ‘had loads of ideas’ for a promo – he always did and they were usually expensive! – Rick didn’t offer any at this point. Since it was planned that he would be putting finishes touches to the album at a Hamburg studio in mid-February, I said I’d send him some initial creative thoughts sooner rather than later. During the call I’d already begun forming ideas.
Understandably his brush with death had clearly had a profound effect on him – psychologically as much as physically. As Rick saw it, he had literally come back from the dead – a Lazarus-like resurrection.[i] I asked him if he would feel uncomfortable about confronting what had happened to him with brazen and characteristic tongue-in-cheek humour. Rick assured me he wouldn’t. And though I hadn’t heard any demos or been given any song titles at that point, a week later, on 14th December, I emailed some ideas to Rick.
They would prove fateful.
Fighting For Every Heartbeat
After discussing the fairly obvious (and cost-effective) route of filming promo material in the Hamburg recording studio, perhaps with some cutaway shots of him driving around the city in a suitably snazzy sports car, I continued:
“In our phone conversation, it was clear that your recent heart attack has figured large in your thinking, and that in a very real sense (and no pun intended) this project is a resurrection…. no sooner had I put the phone down than I saw the image of a black screen with a green luminous line running along the bottom with the unmistakable tone of a heart monitor’s flat-line alarm. The line then blips, faintly, then stronger, and stronger still…BIP…BIP…BIP, BIP, BIP, until it matches the rock rhythm of the track to be promoted… (green luminous line could even spell out ‘Rick Parfitt’)
Another image: Guest Andrew Bown, in white lab-coat, wielding car battery charger electrodes – in a homage to the 1930s Boris Karloff Frankenstein – madly shrieking “It’s Alive! IT’S ALIVE!!!!!!!!”[ii]
Another image: A shroud covering a hospital gurney is pulled back to reveal RP’s battered telecaster…
And so on.”
Rick emailed on the 15th to say he had ‘not been able to take a view’ on the ideas, having ‘been very under the weather with a virus of some sort’. He signed off with ‘will get back to you next week. Luv Rp.’
That was the last time I ever heard from him. A week later, Rick was gone.
It was only in subsequent conversations with Quo’s Manager, Simon Porter, that I learned the intended title of the album and book was Fighting For Every Heartbeat…
Synchronicity? It was an eerie feeling and not a little disconcerting. I am sure Rick would have laughed about it. Nonetheless I was still relieved that Simon, who had seen Rick just a couple of days before he passed, told me ‘you should know that he was extremely keen for you to do the EPK on his solo album and spoke in glowing terms about you.’
On a sunny but bitterly cold January day, I was privileged to join other mourners at his funeral service. The tiny chapel at Woking crematorium was crammed. I stood at the back, wedged in with Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley, hilarious Quo stalwart and all-round geezer, Jackie Lynton and Rick’s long-time business associate Mike Hrano. I had been a 13 year-old squirt when I first bought Paper Plane, and I was now standing in front of Rick Parfitt’s coffin. The experience was both moving and utterly surreal.
And for me, quite impossible not to be fleetingly haunted by the video that never was.
[i] At the back of my mind was a Quo song written by Rick and Andrew Bown titled Resurrection, including the lyric ‘A new direction, a resurrection Calling me back to rock and roll’ © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
[ii] I was taking Andrew’s name in vain with this idea. The thought had been prompted by his wonderfully mad performance in the video I made for his solo promo Rubber Gloves. In the end of course, there was sadly no need to ask him.