On Francis Rossi’s Doorstep
by John Keeling
In 2005, through the good offices of Executive Producer Ken Maliphant, I got the opportunity to Produce and Direct a documentary about Status Quo, a band I had been passionate about since I was a 13 year-old squirt. That year the band was celebrating its 40th Anniversary by recording and releasing the aptly titled album The Party Ain’t Over Yet. By a quirk of fate, the documentary DVD package was to be released by Warner Music Vision (and I had been Retail Marketing Director for Warner Home Video during the late 80’s).
I kept notes during the filming of this project and wrote a production diary for the band’s Fan Club magazine, FTMO From The Makers Of (Vol 9 No.1) .
With the passing of Rick Parfitt, I am prompted to share it again here, in a sequence of blogs. Beyond one or two inserts and edits, it’s largely as I wrote it 12 years ago:
Purley, Surrey – June 2005
I’m standing on Francis Rossi’s doorstep (could be a Flanagan & Allen song) [Note: It now occurs to me that Mother Kelly’s doorstep is of course Ma Kelly!] absolutely cacking it. I’ve been a Quo fan since 1973 and, although I’m not some Mr. Big Shot director, I’ve landed the plum job of producing a documentary about Quo at 40. You can imagine what’s going through my head: they’re going to hate me. Or worse – I’m going to hate them! Please, God, don’t let me f**k up…
There’s no answer to the doorbell. I fight the urge to panic and run. Just then a car pulls up. It’s Francis’ wife, Eileen. She smiles.
“Just go in!”
We do. Heidi, my PA, and I walk through the hall into the conservatory. Apart from the baby grand piano we pass, there are no trappings of rock stardom here. And no sign of Status Quo. Not until Bob Young comes ambling through the door. I’m relieved. I’d already met Bob at our Soho offices. He’s a straight-down-the-line geezer and immediately puts you at ease.
He’s there because I want to film the Rossi/Young song writing team together, and Bob kindly ‘persuaded’ Francis to let us film at his home studio. It’s the first of many favours he does me. In fact today I was supposed to be filming the main interview with Francis but unfortunately he’s developed a painful looking sty on his eye. You really can’t miss it! And I’m not going to have him wearing shades in an interview. He’d look like some sort of junkie. Perish the thought. I’m tempted to greet him with “Aye, aye!” but probably don’t have the balls.
And just then he appears. He fixes me with a narrow-eyed smile and says:
“We could be twins!”
Christ! What’s he saying? He’s 12 years older than me! He then grabs my pinstripe lapel, “Nice tennis.” This is just how I imagined Francis Rossi to be. We have a brief chat about his eye and how I can cheat the filming to disguise it. The battle plan is to interview Bob first, and then shoot some footage of them together in Francis’ studio.
A Roof Somewhere In Surrey
By now my cameraman and sound recordist have turned up, and we’re about to get our first look at the fabled ARSIS studios. It’s built on top of a garage area adjoining the main building. As we walk through the garage, with Francis’ amiable dog trotting along next to us, I notice a bunch of old amps in various states of disarray. This is a bit more rock’n’roll! Inside, the studio looks more or less like every other studio I’ve been in. A mess. Guitars everywhere. Overflowing ashtrays. Faded newspaper cartoons pinned to the wall. There is a few bits and bobs of Quo memorabilia about but nothing excessive. A Roof Somewhere In Surrey eh? When I read the book XS All Areas and learned that Francis had lost a sister, Arselia, I wondered then if her name and ‘sis’ had really been the derivation of ARSIS. If I put this to Francis, will he think I’m an anorak? Best not.
We start the interview with Bob, and Francis buggers off. I thought it was really important to include Bob in the film; he’s played a huge part in the Quo story and has always been very modest about it. But he’s such a gent that his answers are always extremely careful. Especially the difficult stuff – like Francis and Alan (Lancaster).
“Ooh, now you’re getting me into some dangerous territory…” he laughs. “’Cor, dear… OK. I’m going to have to think about this without lying.”
His answer is very diplomatic. And it’s the same when I ask him about the huge gap in his and Francis’ writing relationship. [From the mid-80’s to 2000, Francis and Bob did not write together].
“We sort of did drift apart as far as the writing goes. I’d like to think we always stayed friends. If you dig deep into it, there’s all sorts of things that did go on…er…which they can tell you about more than I can.”
He goes on to tell me that during the last six years he and Francis have written some 60 or 70 new songs.
“Probably 30, 40 of those are all demoed here.”
What keeps the mood light is Bob’s rumbling stomach. I included one instance in the DVD out-takes but, trust me, there were loads of interruptions! Francis comes to the rescue with a generous offer of sarnies from Eileen’s kitchen. “Plom-ploms” he calls them; a kind of cheese and pepper omelette in French bread. My crew are delighted but nervous tension means I decline. It’s a decision Francis will rag me about for the rest of my stay. Especially since one gets cooked for me anyway.
“Look at that bread and cheese goin’ to waste,” he mutters with a withering glance.
After the ‘Plom-ploms’ we set things up to get some shots of Francis and Bob together. I pop downstairs to use the loo. Inside, there’s a large mirror adapted from the poster for Quo’s appearance at 1975’s Great British Music Festival at Olympia.
“I went to that!” I boast.
“So did I” says Francis, innocently.
Bob’s come up trumps and brought along a bunch of original Quo demos dating back to 1968. Wow! I’d like to listen to all of them. I know my Quo but there’s some real interesting titles here I’ve never heard of. The idea is that we’ll play a couple for Francis and Bob to comment on. First up is the original version of Caroline, a slower shuffle version with some extra bars and without its signature riff. I can’t resist it, head nodding away out of shot.
“Oh look! He’s happening now!” shouts Francis.
Bob and Francis decide the track is terrible.
“And it’s Terry Williams, later of Dire Straits on drums,” adds Bob, “How about that?”
Francis grins. “We should have given ‘im the job, shouldn’t we?’
Bob: ‘Then we decided to speed the whole thing up – do a second version. Dis we say ‘Let’s do a second version?’”
Francis (deadpan): “What we said was, let’s do a second version for Quo and speed it up. That’s exactly what we said. I remember that, and you…”
Bob: “I said…I remember it like it was four years ago.”
And they launch into several cannabis war stories. It’s completely impossible to control this banter and I don’t try. Besides, I’m having a right laugh and Francis is showing me how to play some Quo licks the proper way.
This beats working for a living. But it’s time to leave.
We have an appointment to sit on Rick’s boat.
(To be continued)
Parts 2, 3 and 4 to follow.
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