Alan Lancaster interview (part one)

From our special correspondent in Australia

Helen Nickenig

Part One – Saturday 23rd February 2008

(sitting at hotel swimming pool)

Alan: So what do you want to ask me? (smiling)

Helen: Well first, I want to say “hello”.

Alan: Hello.

Helen: And ask you how you are.

Alan: I’m well… can be expected.

Helen: And I’d like to thank you on behalf of the Association Quo France for giving us this interview!

Alan: Always a pleasure, Helen.

Helen: Thank you !

Alan: Will we be recording this to go on the … or is this going to be…?

Helen: On the website, it will go on the website.

Alan: What the recording?

Helen: Well, we’ll write it down

Alan: Oh, ok

Helen: Ok, so first question. What comes into your mind when you think of France? What is your favourite memory of touring France in the seventies?

Alan: My earliest memories of France were … (some guests arrive and are noisy)……Do you want to go somewhere else? Maybe we should?

Helen: I think we should.

Alan: (now in Alan’s hotel room) So earliest memories of France?

Helen: Yeh, your memories of France.

Alan: Well obviously, in the days when we were doing the big tours, they are all good memories. The Slade gigs, the Paris Hippodrome…..was it the Hippodrome? We used to play there?

Door opens and Dayle, Alan’s wife, comes in, says “Hi, sorry” She is surprised to see us in the room.

Alan: (talking to Dayle) “We came up here because we couldn’t get any peace downstairs”.

Dayle: “I’m glad I put my knickers away then” Everyone laughs.

Alan: Touring around France was always great. In the early days we used to tour with Slade. They were good mates of ours. But my earliest memories of France, the best memories really, were before we ever made it. That’s when I was about seventeen, driving this old Thames van around which belonged to our manager. We had to get permission to actually go outside the country, as we were too young to work abroad.

We were booked in Lyon and Avignon as the Spectres. It was just me, Roy, Francis and John then. I always remember just driving forever and ever.  Roy and I were the only ones that could drive.

I remember all the pinball machines and the little places we used to stay. I remember the little church in Avignon and the park we used to walk around. I remember those days best. I remember St. Tropez in the winter, being served mussels, just on our own in these little boutique restaurants, freezing cold, but the sun was shining. I’ve lots of fun memories of France.

I must have driven for, you know, round these ring roads for ages. I actually encircled myself. I can remember getting back to London and sharing the money. We had six shillings and eight pence each…(Helen laughs)… that’s how much we made. But they were good times. It sort of knitted the band together. That was our roots. Our early kind of getting it all together. We didn’t know what to expect when they booked us into these little pubs. That’s when we kind of started scratching a living, I suppose. As you know, when you go on the big tours, most cities become the same because it’s the airport…hotel...gig…hotel

Helen: You don’t see much of it at all.

Alan: Don’t see much of it…but in those days, before we actually sort of made it big, we saw a lot of France.

Helen: You did the actual driving?

Alan: “Yeh I did the actual driving. The van only had 3 gears: first, second and third, and a reverse gear. But the third gear only worked on its own, without the first and second, and the first and second gears only worked on their own without the third. So if we wanted to go fast, you had to push the van so it would gather up speed to get into third. We’d drive for ages, but if we had to stop, Roy would have to get out, get under the van and change the gearing around  (he was a mechanic).  When we hit Paris and drove through the Champs Élysées,  you know this great big…(looking at Helen)

Helen: yeh, yeh, yeh

Alan: roundabout, I was, oh no, in third gear. I hope the traffic cops don’t stop us, but course they did. We all had to jump out the van and push it to get the speed up. The cops blew their whistles (general laughter). We stopped and explained that we only had third gear and needed to get up the hill. So they stopped all the traffic through every part of the Champs Élysées, as we gathered up speed to get us up this hill. We just couldn’t make it so we all jumped out of the van (Alan laughing now) and began pushing it. The police made a long line, blowing their whistles, and we had to back down the hill. Roy spent the next couple of hours trying to change the gears around, so we could continue our journey.

Helen: Well, I’ve got another question here, which…you actually answered already
(meaning before we started the interview)…but I’ll ask you it again. What about your nickname “Nuff”? When exactly did you get it? Bruno wanted this one.

Alan: That was in Lyon or in Avignon, when the punters there nicknamed me “Nuff” because I’ve go a  turned-up nose.

Helen: That was because of your nose?

Alan: Because of my nose.

Helen: That was a French expression?

Alan: French expression (in French accent) neuff neuff (laughter). I think it was like the pig, or, you know, like a teddy bear type of pig thing.

Helen: So you got it from France?

Alan: Yeh, but uhm…really the boys carried it on, you know.

Paul: It just stuck, didn’t it?

Alan: Yeh it just stuck, well for them it did (Alan and Paul laugh).

Alan: I never really liked it but I never really cared.

Helen: Well, everybody knows you as “Nuff”  (All three laughingly agree on this)

Paul:  If you were still in the band, what would be your opinion of recent material like Under The Influence, Heavy Traffic…?

Alan: Well I haven’t heard much of this to be honest. I’ve only heard bits of it when it first came out, but I cannot listen to more than the first few bars. It’s a different type of music. It sounds like fairground music.

Paul: Like a factory type…

Alan: You know that’s just my opinion. I know many people probably do like it, but it’s not my cup of tea. I know we did a lot of funny things when I was in the band, but it just had a different slant then for some reason. At least it was natural.  It’s certainly not the Status Quo type…style of music that I was…

Helen and Paul: “When you were there…”

Alan: …responsible for.

Paul: Well, carrying on from there, what would you say is the best track that you were involved with…with Quo?

Alan: Mainly the live stuff…Quo was always a live band and recorded stuff was always inferior. We weren’t really a recording band. When we used to go into the studio, we used to play live, but of course, it could never be as dynamic as a real live performance in front of an audience. Although we used to put everything into it, in the studio, it was never as good as a live thing. When you’re in the studio, you’re starting to create something new.  It’s the early stages where songs and things have never had the chance to develop. Therefore the best tracks that I was involved with was the live stuff.

Helen: What about songs that you composed. What would you say was your favourite among them?

Alan: Difficult to say really. Again it’s the live stuff I think.

Paul: Going on from that…just like that…with songs like “Who Asked You” and  songs like “Blue Eyed Lady”…I don’t think you ever played “Blue Eyed Lady” live?

Alan: I don’t think we did. The best songs usually were those that the band wrote together. Blue-eyed lady was a ‘change-over’ because Rick and I were writing at that stage but then he changed his mind and started writing with Bob Young. His name ended up on Blue Eyed Lady somehow. I wrote that in Australia, funnily enough, when I met Dayle (Alan laughs). I like the solo on Blue Eyed Lady. It’s a good performance.

The performance always came first, before the song with us, which was different to most bands. Most performers look around for good songs. We didn’t actually look around for good songs, but more to fit in with our performance. We’d be doing this rocking ‘thing’ and there’d be Bob Young in the corner writing lyrics out, you know, and we’d think…oh, he’s writing lyrics. Here we go.

In the very early days we were mainly a rock band, but when Pictures of Matchstick Men became a ‘hit’, we went into this hippy…kind of flower-power kind of image. However, that wasn’t the style of music we were performing live at the time. We were recording that type of music because we had songs pushed on to us by the publishers. Record this song, play that song, etc. It took us ages to arrange them,

trying to make them work. The early Pye stuff wasn’t our style, but we did it to record. The pop stuff didn’t work for us live. We felt awkward with it. 

Phone rings…

Alan: I can see this is going to be a long interview…….

We stopped. Alan had to leave but was kind enough to give us another interview on Wednesday 27th February at a friend’s home and it turned out to be twice as much as we had already recorded on the Saturday J


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