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Alan Lancaster interview (Part two)

From our special correspondent in Australia

Helen Nickenig

Part two…recorded on 27th February 2008

Helen: Hello Alan. Thank you for giving us this second chance to interview you.

Alan: That’s all right. This is not being broadcast, is it (laughing)?

Helen: No, not at all.

Alan: You can ask anything you like then (we all laugh)

Helen: Ehm…I’ll try and see where we stopped…yeh this one about…Francis always says that touring in France isn’t easy…the audience and things. Would you agree with this and, if so, do you have any stories? On the crowds themselves…the audience?

Alan: No, I disagree with that really…I mean…Germany really was the hardest country for live performances. Quo was very much an ‘audience participation’ type band, whereas many bands were ‘super cool’ in those days. The audience used to sit down and just sort of get into the music…so to speak…but not actively participate. We encouraged the audience to participate actively, but the Germans were the hardest to win over.  I think it was a new thing in Germany when they actually started getting actively involved, dropping the ‘super coolness’, like the Brítish and everyone else. There was a big change in Germany. Yeh, once they clicked onto what Quo was all about, it changed. Therefore, if anything, German audiences were hardest in the early stages. They became more forthright, less self-inhibited when they realised we were ‘on the level’, only being natural – which was ‘cool’ (Alan laughs loudly). French audiences were also a bit reserved at first, but they were mainly very responsive. Francis may mean that, in the early days, when there were no mobiles phones, faxes and that kind of stuff, the electric power-supply seemed to be incompatible with our lighting and sound equipment. It was awkward in France…you know I was always getting electrical shocks from power systems…they were always blowing up. It was slightly unorganised in the “live” area. The Germans seemed to have a complete roundabout phase, but the French were always pretty much into it…impressive crowds.

Helen: May I ask you what you are doing professionally at the moment?

Alan: Not a lot because, as you know, I’ve had a bad hand for a while. It’s one of those ‘things’. I find it difficult to play properly. That has been very frustrating but, as you know, I have been doing a lot of music business things for the last several years, so that’s taken up most of my time. Nevertheless, professionally, I have been doing the odd thing with the Party Boys, as you know. I’ve made no recordings as such, but I’ve just written a new theme song for Australian League Football AFL, I’m about to produce.

Helen: That’s interesting !

Alan: I’m pretty pleased with it actually, but I’ve only demo-ed it so far. So I’m just looking for the best way to produce it. I have also been taking an interest in my son, David. He has just finished making a great rock album.Things like that. So I’m sort of taking more of a back seat. I still write but I don’t publish so much these days…’cause I haven’t got my own band anymore. It costs a lot of money to make music. It’s pointless producing music, which costs a lot of time and money, just to leave it on the shelf. So I’m not doing a great deal professionally on the music scene, but enough to keep me occupied.

Helen: Paul, I’ll pass the next question to you.

Paul: In the beginning of the nineties, your collaboration with Angry Anderson stopped while you where working on some projects with him. Why was that?

Alan: Well…the Party Boys were only getting together for about 3 weeks, but it was so successful in this country, drawing big crowds, without any product release, we decided to record. I produced a single: ”He’s Gonna Step On You Again”, but at that particular time, Angry Anderson had just been offered a deal for Kevin Beamish to produce a Rose Tattoo album, so he left the Party Boys. He would have been on “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” but he left, and John Swan joined. 

Angry Anderson made an album, but I think the album was non-conducive to Rose Tattoo…it was…like…a producer came in and changed the whole concept of what Rose Tattoo was all about. It was a queer album. It wasn’t like Rose Tattoo at all. It’s just like Quo…you know, like…you’re gonna get an outside producer in, to make a Status Quo album and it turns out nothing like Status Quo.That’s what happened to Angry Anderson.

There was no kind of falling out. It’s just that he had to make an album on his own and I was about to make an album, or a single at least, for the Party Boys…and that was the first studio release the Party Boys ever did.

Paul: It actually went to no. 1 too, didn’t it, no. 1 in Australia?

Alan: Unfortunately it wasn’t a hit in Britain…didn’t understand why…’cause the profile was big at the time and I was over there promoting it.  I’ll never understand that but…there you go…those things happen. But It achieved platinum sales and I think it sold more copies in Australia alone, than Quo sold in Britain.

Paul: Yes it did.

Alan: It sold some oveseas but the main sales were here in Oz and in New Zealand.

Paul: Ok now, what kind of equipment did you use during your period with Quo and what do you use now?

Alan: Well as you know, I used to use the Mustang all the time…I had the strings very high so I could play it really hard without getting fret buzz. After some years, I went on to the heavy steel guitars, like the Travis Bean and the Kramer.

In the early days I used to use H & H equipment, but it was mainly 4 x 12 inch speaker quad cabinets, either side of the stage. Roland developed a bass set-up for me in the late seventies and I used that a lot…I had a really nice set-up then. A lot of bass players increase low bass tones into their sound, but I decrease those tones. Bass is such a big wave that it can cloud the notes…  so I’d take the bass out and make it ‘toppy’  on stage,  to get this nice “gunk” sound. So you could actually hear the individual bass notes. If you have too much bass added, then it just becomes a distorted mess and the guitarists cannot hear themselves or anything. It’s a strange phenomenon but I sort of sussed it out years ago.

I got worried about the concert the other night (Alan refers to the Bon Scott Concert on 24th February) because that wasn’t my equipment and I was wondering how the equipment was set up for myself. I like to be tight with the drums, and have my equipment a little more ‘toppy’ because when the audience fill the room, the sound pressure levels change, it warms it up and the bass becomes heavy. Other than that, the sound I used was very straightforward. The secret for me was to have the strings very high and hit the strings rather than stroke the strings…I used to hit them hard, more like Slap-bass before Slap was invented…Alan laughs

Helen: And any changes now, at the concert for example, what you used there?

Alan: I used my Mustang bass there, yes, because it’s light and my other guitars are so heavy. I can hardly pick them up at the moment. The Mustang usually always covers most things. Most people prefer the sound of the Mustang to anything else, funnily enough. They always ask me to use the Mustang. Recording-wise, I am tempted to use the Travis Bean or the Steinberger.

Paul: I was gonna ask you about the Steinberger…I’ve seen you play the Steinberger.

Alan: I’ve had a special body made for that, the same as the Travis Bean and it’s very very hard work to lift it up…it’s a very very heavy bass…extremely heavy.

Helen: Would you say that being in Australia…the Australian way of life has made any influence on your compositions?

Alan: Uhm…not really. I suppose it does in one sense, because you know it’s experiencing the things around you. Most compositions I write, I write for a reason because I want to do it. Obviously writing in a little room somewhere, compared to sitting on the ocean…on a little yacht, I expect might influence you to write something different.  So I suppose it does have something to do with the environment. It depends on what you want to do anyway. You’ll just get an idea into your head that you want to do. I don’t particularly like writing unless I’ve got a reason to write. If I write for pleasure, I’ll ‘shelve’ lt and might use it at a later time. But I usually have to have a reason to write, otherwise I see it as a waste of time.

Paul: And are there many songs that…you know going back years ago that…as you say… you’ve sort of written and maybe put them on the shelf like…you know how

they say like…the lost recordings and things like that…is there much of that sort of thing around?

Alan: I think I probably have the last of that stuff that we did. Rick and I messed around with some songs just before I was ousted from the band. There’s a good song called “That’s all I Gotta Say” that should have been a Quo track, but we didn’t finish it when I was there. It is now finished but it still doesn’t have final drums. It has a nice feel.  I’ve probably got about half a dozen or so, songs that you’ve never heard.…
I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything with them. You know…what would I do with them? I’ve given a few cassettes to the fans throughout the years but they’ve probably lost them, I suppose…but I’ve still got them. I’ll put them on a website one day very soon (Alan laughs).

Paul: There you go…that’s the avenue. What about music in the 21st century? What do you like and what do you listen to now?

Alan: Funnily enough, there’s so much around now that it’s hard to find stuff that I really like, you know. Some stuff’s fantastic but a lot of it is manufactured and hasn’t got ‘the feeling’. I like it for what it is. I don’t seem to have a relationship with the artist, you know…with the heart and head. So even though I like certain stuff, I’m not passionate about a lot of it, if you know what I mean. I think, “that’s really well done and that’s really well produced” but I don’t kind of…take it to heart. AC/DC’s probably still my favourite rock band…they’re still real…they stuck to their guns and they do what they do…simple as that and …what else have we got…ehm

Paul: What about Airbourne, have you heard of Airbourne? They’re a kind of AC/DC…want-to-be band. Have you heard Airbourne at all?

Alan: I think I have but it’s not made an impression. One of the best bands in the seventies was the Bullet Band. Bob Seger and the Bullet Band…live…they were one of the few bands that could actually follow Quo very well. Not many bands could go on after us. They were very good…excellent band…let’s see…I’ll have to come back to that one (laughter)…

Helen: Well, we could ask you…we could carry on…what about Australian bands…any recommendations on good Australian bands?

Alan: Yeh, the Brewster brothers.

Helen: Oh yes…the Angels?

Alan: Well …not so much the Angels… the Angels are a great band… right up there, if you like. I think they’re getting back together with Doc Neeson, but the Brewster Brothers in particular with Rick and John Brewster are great. Have you heard their album?

Helen: No.

Alan: It’s fantastic!

Helen: Well, I must try to get it before I go home.

Alan: I bought about ten the other day. I think they’re fantastic. I love that stuff. Even the fades are artistic. It ’s Dylanesque, got a bit of Dylan in there….I put it up with “Dark Side Of The Moon”

Paul: Oh really!

Helen: Well that’s a good recommendation!

Alan: Yeh, you know…’cause it’s got that feeling…it’s real stuff

Helen: What’s it called…what’s the album called?

Alan: Shadows Fall…it’s not like…a heavy  album…it’s rock…but it’s like…it’s acoustic rock, guitar rock, you know…two guitars…bass guitar…something else

Paul: Drums? (laughing)

Alan: Drums, yes (also laughing) That’s one of my favourites at the moment.

Paul: Ok then, what would you say were the reasons for Quo not touring at all in ’83?

Alan: ’83? Well, you’ve got to realise that in November ’81, we’d just started the 1982…1+9+8+2 album…then John was ‘squeezed out’. He was semi-sacked. It took a lot to get over. We recorded the album, which took us through to ’82 . It was released in mid ’82, wasn’t it? Then The Prince Charles thing was going on and all that ‘live’ stuff. There was no time. Before we knew where we were, we were at the end of the year, and had to prepare and start making the Back-To-Back album. So there was very little time, to sort of get things together. John hadn’t actually left. He was still an equal partner of the band, but he wasn’t participating. There were a lot of things we were doing, but making the album was of course a priority. In1983 we made the Back To Back album in Montserrat. It was pretty laid-back and it was very difficult  to ‘get together’. It was the wrong atmosphere, you know…looking over a beach; being waited on by the natives; etc. It’s under volcanic lava now.

Paul: Fantastic!

Alan: It was fantastic for a holiday but not for…

Helen: Not for work..

Alan: Of course, at that period I got food poisoning, got dumped by a ten-foot wave -  I came out the sea completely covered in blood, plus I was suffering with a fever. I thought I was gonna die. I was in my room for about ten days or so, being looked after, with all my bruises…food poisoning etc. Didn’t we tour much in ’83 then?

 

Paul: I’d like to ask you…about a song there, that you wrote…”Ol’ Rag Blues”. That’s one of your songs and initially the song had you on lead vocals…you did the lead vocals for Ol’ Rag Blues, but when it was actually released as a single, it came out with Francis singing…

Alan: Yes. At that particular time the material was getting a bit poppy…there was this mentality about writing stuff for America, being virtually briefed. I mean our manager,  Colin Johnson, telephoned me when I was in Australia saying: “Oh I’ve heard this great song called Gloria”…but not Gloria by Van Morrison…it was Gloria by Gaynor (Alan sings…Glor.i.a..Glor.i.a…laughing)…he said: “You gotta start writing stuff like that”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I thought, well, perhaps it’s me,  perhaps it’s the way we’ve got to go, perhaps this is what it’s all about now. And of course you suddenly start to write more ‘poppy’ sort of concepts. I started writing some awful stuff after that. It was not right for the band. It was really surprising from Colin Johnson because he really liked the harder…sort of…bluesy Quo, you know. It used to ‘turn him on’.  What was the question again?

Paul: Oh ehm, about Francis doing the vocals on…

He just wanted to sing it…but I just…well I felt… ok…I  used to let him sing a lot of the melodic stuff…cause I thought he was better at that than the bluesy stuff that I wrote, but I thought Ol’ Rag Blues needed more of gravely vocal sound to give it a harder edge. I don’t think anyone’s actually ever heard the mix that Rick and I did. Francis didn’t turn up for the mix, but he got into the studio and remixed it with his vocal on it, without us knowing. Everyone seems to think it was a record company thing, but the record company had nothing to do with it actually. A single would be nominated and they used to say…yeh, we’ll go with that or whatever…or we fancy this, but we were in control at the time…not the record company. Ol’ Rag Blues was presented to the record company with his vocal on it. They didn’t like the mix so Colin Johnson, our manager, sent the tapes over to me, to remix it in Australia with Francis’s vocal on it. I gave Francis the masters to look after, but he conveniently lost them. Therefore, the only thing that remains is an acetate of the mix.

Paul: And, following along from that, it’s often said that…the break up of Quo…that a big contributing factor was…your moving to Australia, but you’d already been in Australia for many years before that.

Alan: Well, I came over to Australia in September 1979. That year we entered into our biggest record contract so far. In December 1982, when I’d really settled in, we entered into a new record contract that was even bigger. No record company is going to pay you millions of pounds to make records if things are not right with the band. I was in Australia, Rick was in Germany and Francis was spending a lot of his time in Ireland. The band was different then. It wasn’t like…oh, you need to call the band up and get together in five minutes. It was planned months and months in advance.

Interviews, photographs, press, radio and tv, is all done while you’re gearing up for a tour…or on tour. So, it didn’t matter. I spent less time in Australia than I did in the UK It was only after the Live Aid concert, after the band had dissolved, that I spent a lot of time in Australia. But up till ’85, I spent more time in the UK.

Paul: And another one with the RAOTW video…

Alan: Oh no, that was planned.That was a publicity kind of thing.Top Of The Pops was mimed. We always looked on miming a bit disdainfully.

Paul: Oh about the dummy…

Alan: Well that was totally planned. That was all done…that was a thing…oh yeh

Helen: Just a bit of fun really…

Alan: A bit of fun, yeh

Helen: But so many people have made so much out of that story…

Paul: They’ve always said…well no,  we rang Alan and he couldn’t come.

Alan: I was in a big custody case for eighteen months, we were touring and I had to fly back from France, Germany, wherever we were, to get to court by ten o’clock in the morning, every day. When I arrived in Australia to get married, I thought…”Oh, I’ve gotta do that video, but I can’t cancel the wedding again” (everyone laughs). I’d already cancelled the wedding twice for Quo. So the idea of a puppet materialised. It was a bit of a copy of The Faces, when they used a similar idea for Ronnie Lane. The band got on well together for most of the time. Many things have been dramatised and exaggerated over the years.

For one of us to miss anything was out of the question. No-one would back out from anything. It was just unheard of. I’ve flown from Sydney to Germany just to do a tv show for one day. And then caught a plane straight back - I didn’t even have time get jet lagged.

Helen: Well you didn’t even realize you’d been and gone…laughing

Alan: That’s right. But we wouldn’t want to miss out on our thing. You know it was very guarded.  So to say that I wouldn’t fly over is just absolute nonsense.

 

Paul: Ok…ehm…why after Blue Eyed Lady, Backwater, Drifting Away were there no more Parfitt/Lancaster compositions between ’75 and ’84?

Alan: It was very competitive then. As I said, Francis changed his writing partner every couple of years, first Rick second Bob third Bernie Frost. So Rick and I started writing together. When we wrote for the Quo album, it was tricky because all we had from Bob and Francis was Fine Fine Fine and Slow Train. Then Rick started writing with Bob. Then Francis and I started writing together. It just chopped and changed.

Helen: There’s a question here on the “Quo” album. You sung four songs on that album…lovely songs…

Alan: Well, was it only four?

Helen: Well, yeh.

Alan: Well they were going to sing on every one of them…. (laughter)

Helen: Well that’s the question, you see. Was it ever an option for Parfitt or Rossi to sing these songs?

Alan: Well, not for Rossi so much because, as I said before, it was always the melodic stuff I wrote that I preferred Rossi to sing. It was never really an option for Francis to sing those tracks, except for Break The Rules, which I thought was right for him. So there were no arguments about that, but Rick tried every single track before I sang them. Somehow they didn’t suit him. Of course, as I had written the lyrics and melodies, I’d already rehearsed them, and knew them back to front. Rick wrote the riffs and all that stuff.

Paul: And along with Who Asked You, what ehm…was that ever played live?…Who Asked You?

Alan: It might have been done…once or twice…I’d have to look that up.

Helen: What is your best or most special gig memory with Quo?

Alan: Live Aid

Helen: (surprised) Yeh?!

Alan: Yeh, well no…ehm…I think…Milton Keynes but that was without John. Live Aid…that was without John, but we had a great time.

Helen: And what about the early days?

Alan: Ehm…

Helen: I know what I’m wanting you to say but you’re not saying it…obviously  (Helen laughs)

Alan: Oh that…oh that one was obviously…because we recorded that live  (Paul and Helen laugh)

Paul: (laughing) those Glaswegians!

Alan: Most of the gigs we did were special. Glaswegians were always ready to rock, yeh they were, but everywhere you went, it was that sort of energy. It’s just that the Scots are a bit more aggressive than other crowds and so their passion is more

pronounced. That’s why, I suppose, we recorded at the Apollo. Yeh, that was a memorable one. The Apollo was one of our favourites, it was a special gig.

Helen: Well, I suppose you had so many special gigs that it’s hard to really………

Alan: Yeh but I mean the Apollo was a special one. Hammersmith was always special too. It was just the right size really for a rock band. Wembley was just that bit too big. Other 10 to 15 thousand seaters felt better than Wembley. Earls Court was a special one for me. That’s the one we did with Jimi Hendrix, wasn’t it?…Queen…Small Faces….like…they’re dead now. But the most memorable one really was Live Aid. I think that was the biggest gig we ever did – and Milton Keynes because it was my last full Quo concert.

Paul: That’s right, yeh

Alan: The Prince Charles one was very special………

Paul: NEC…yeh

Alan: The power of that gig was incredible. EVERY SINGLE PERSON stood on their seat and was shouting: “CHARLIE”…like that. Even Prince Charles said something like: “How can we capture this power?” You could see he was moved. It was so LOUD. It moved me, that one. That was very special.

Helen: Well unless Paul has something else to ask, we’ve come to the end….but I would like to ask you something, Alan. Would you mind sending a short message to Bruno and the lads from the Association QuoFrance? I’m sure they’d be really pleased.

Alan: Hello Bruno. This is Alan Lancaster here…from Quo. I’d like to thank you for all your support over the years thank you very much, mate, for all your support and for L’Association Quo France…all their support  too!

 

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Francis Rossi aka Frame or the Gomor Rick Parfitt aka The Womor Alan Lancaster aka "Nuff" John Coghlan aka "Spud" Roy Lynes Andrew Bown Pete Kircher Matt Letley John "Rhino" Edwards Jeff Rich Bob Young Leon Cave the new boy 2013 Paul Hirsh