In the BBC documentary Hello Quo, there’s revealing footage of a jam session at Shepperton Studios featuring the original members of Status Quo, for the first time since drummer John Coghlan left 31 years earlier.
That 2012 meeting led to two reunion tours for Coghlan, old pal Alan Lancaster (bass) and Quo ever-presents Rick Parfitt (rhythm guitar/vocals) and Francis Rossi (lead guitar/vocals). And recriminations and tensions surrounding Coghlan’s initial departure were finally put aside for what proved to be one last hurrah of the ‘classic’ line-up, deemed all the more important bearing in mind Parfitt’s death last Christmas.
And while Rossi remains busy on the international circuit under the old Status Quo banner – alongside long-time associates Andy Bown (keyboards), John ‘Rhino’ Edwards (bass) and Leon Cave (drums) plus Rick’s recent replacement Richie Malone (guitar) – the original drummer is also still out there, leading John Coghlan’s Quo from the rear.
Coghlan first worked with Rossi and Lancaster in The Spectres in 1963, that band becoming Traffic Jam then Status Quo in 1967, by which time Parfitt was also on board, a five-piece honed down to the ’Frantic Four’ in 1970 and lasting until the drummer’s 1981 departure. But after a year kicking his heels he was back behind a kit, and 35 years later the gigs continue for this amiable 70-year-old, who brings his band to The Continental in Preston, Lancashire. on Saturday, August 12th.
That’s not the next show though, and I asked my interviewee about the Party in the Park in Woking, Surrey, on Saturday, July 8th, dedicated to Parfitt, who grew up within walking distance of that open-air location. What’s more, we talked about an impromptu tribute in South-West London at what turned out be an emotional end of year JCQ show at the Half Moon in Putney, following Parfitt’s death in Marbella on Christmas Eve, 2016.
“It was, and I also had an email on my phone from a friend in Holland who wrote a poem about Rick. I read that out and it was very moving. We miss Rick. He was a great guitarist, great singer, great guy, and just a really lovely bloke.”
Coghlan’s doesn’t come over as a big talker, at least not on the phone. Just humble, I guess. There’s nothing showy about him. My interview with the more in-your-face Francis Rossi – and I mean that in a good way – a couple of years ago was very different. But I told the original Quo sticksman I’d just watched that Shepperton Studios footage from 2012 again, and felt Alan G. Parker’s film perfectly captured the sense of awkwardness as the ‘Frantic Four’ resumed for the first time since 1981.
There are several versions of the story behind Coghlan leaving, the most dramatic involving him sat down to do a session take, tapping around then getting up, kicking the whole kit apart and storming out. He denies that in the Hello Quo documentary, suggesting – a little tongue-in-cheek, perhaps – he loves his kit too much to damage it. But the drink and the drugs were clearly taking their toll on the dynamics and there were obvious in-band tensions. It seems he didn’t feel part of the inner circle, Rossi tuning his drums before he came in to that particular session supposedly proving the last straw.
A decision was made – to Lancaster’s surprise, the original bassist the next to move on four years later – to let Coghlan go, Pete Kircher replacing him. Coghlan recalls tour manager Ian Jones telling him the day after the kit incident that the band were thinking of replacing him with a drum machine. His response, he recalled in 2012, was, ‘Bollocks. I’ll get on the plane.’
We don’t go into all that though. Instead, I asked if it was a relief, particularly in light of Parfitt’s passing, to finally get back together after all those years.
“Well yeah. We all did it for the fans. That’s the way I look at it. Because there’s nothing better than the Status Quo fan. They look after our band really well and follow us everywhere. It’s really appreciated. And if it wasn’t for those fans none of would still be doing these gigs.”
And as a result, the classic four-piece ended up playing two reunion tours together.
“Yeah, we did a UK tour in 2013 and then the following year started in Berlin and did dates in Germany, Belgium and Holland, then back to England, finishing in Dublin.”
Was that a bit of ‘closure’ for you and the band? And was it nice to be back with the old crew, rather than dwelling on all the problems and arguments that ultimately pulled you apart?
“Yeah. It was good fun, but Francis didn’t want to do a third tour. I think Rick, me and Alan would have done another, planning to get together with someone else for a PLC (Parfitt/Lancaster/Coghlan) line-up. That never came to light of course, but there was talk about it, and I think it probably would have happened.”
Looking back on that 1981 departure – irrespective of the decision and the aftermath – I suggest to my interviewee that he got out at the right time, even though he probably didn’t feel that way at the time.
Let’s face it – the years that followed weren’t the band’s best, creatively. And to be part of the band for so long was something to be proud of. He was on board for 20 years and 14 albums, after all.
“I think I was.”
It was rarely the same again from 1981 until more recent returns to form, at least not in the studio.
I tried my best there, but he wasn’t for enlarging on all that, opening old wounds. You can’t blame him either, and I’m sure Parfitt’s passing help put all those old tensions in perspective. Instead, I moved on, right up to date, asking about the fact that he’s still out there playing and to shed light on JCQ and JCB (the John Coghlan Band).
“JCB doesn’t exist anymore, but JCQ is basically me playing with my band – Rick Abbs (guitar/vocals), Mick Hughes (guitar, previously with Predatür) and Rick Chase (bass/vocals). We play all ‘70s stuff, including songs from the early Quo albums that we never really played on stage. We have a great following, and we’re looking forward to playing in Preston and elsewhere.”
The prime aim – according to JCQ’s press release – is ‘to recreate an authentic ‘70s Quo sound’, in keeping with John’s time with the band. And the diary remains pretty full.
“Yes, most weekends we’re away, and we did two gigs in Belgium and two in Holland, then others at The Northcourt, Abingdon, and The Brook, Southampton, then Queen’s Hall in Nuneaton, and we’re looking forward to the Party in the Park, Woking, and beyond.”
Did you always enjoy the travelling, including all that down-time?
“It’s a part of your life when you’re playing in a band. You have to accept you do a lot of travelling. We try and do it as comfortably as we can, and if we’re playing in Europe we fly out the night or day before. Days of getting up early in the morning, catching a flight don’t exist anymore for us. If they want us out there, they fly us out the day before. We’re not teenagers anymore!”
Seeing as he mentioned age, I asked if it’s harder to get up on stage these days, or does his rock’n’roll vocation keep him young?
“Well yeah. It doesn’t make any difference really. It’s still the same. We’re all quite fit and look after ourselves, and I’ve learned to relax while I’m playing to save energy. It works, and it’s great.”
Originally from South London, he’s been based in Oxfordshire for more than 30 years, on the edge of the Cotswolds, having spent around a decade on the Isle of Man before that. Is there enough room on the drive for his collection of vintage military vehicles?
“Well, I used to be a collector. I’ve only got one now, and that’s somewhere else. Yeah … it’s a hobby, I suppose.”
“Oh yeah. They supported me and loved it, although nobody in the family on either side was a musician before,”
You had that early break with The Spectres, getting a call to play Butlin’s in Minehead. Was it then that you had a little extra tuition from Lloyd Ryan (as Phil Collins would later)?
“Yeah, Lloyd was playing in the orchestra in the theatre, We got together and he taught me a few things. That’s where we met Rick Parfitt as well.”
By his own admission, your future bandmate Mr Parfitt was more on the cabaret side of the business at that stage.
Coghlan grew up in Dulwich, leaving school at 15 to begin an apprenticeship as a mechanic. Could that ever have worked out, or was the pull of music too strong?
“Yeah, I got a job but hated it. It wasn’t really my scene and I wasn’t happy. But I learned to play drums and realised I could make a living out of it. I’m lucky in the sense that my hobby is also my job and I enjoy doing it. I love walking on stage and playing with the band. And I’m lucky I don’t have to get up at six in the morning to go to work.”
It helps that you’re very good at your job too.
“Well, yeah. I guess I’m lucky that what I do I can do well.”
Was there the belief when you joined The Spectres 54 years ago that you could ever reach the top?
“Not really. I think in those days if you were in a band that was enough – there weren’t that many of us. We loved the excitement of playing to an audience and being able to make everyone happy, playing good music.”
“I suppose those six weeks at Butlin’s were an eye-opener, doing it – in a sense – professionally, getting to play to people and them coming up saying how much they enjoyed it. Then you think back to that stage with Quo in ’68 with our first hit record, Pictures of Matchstick Men, and playing places like the Royal Albert Hall, Glasgow Apollo, doing the live album there (October ’76), Hammersmith Odeon, Manchester Apollo …”
After you left, you had around a year away from it all, but already had side-project Diesel in the background, making your live debut at the Marquee in ’77.
“Yeah, that was just a bit of fun. Jackie Lynton, our singer, thought of the name, with me, Micky Moody, John Gustafson and various others playing with us. It was really good fun. I guess we could have made a career out of it, but we were all in other bands.”
I’m also intrigued by your one-off 1983 project The Rockers, with Roy Wood, Phil Lynott and Chas Hodges.
“Yeah, that was a strange thing!”
That’s some line-up though.
“Yeah, but it was just put together by this character who had this idea. But there was no plan to go on the road with it, which I thought was a shame. That would have been fun.”
Did you keep in touch with your fellow Rockers?
“Not since we did that recording. Our paths haven’t crossed. But it was fun.”
One of those involved with Diesel was Andy Bown, part of the Quo set-up since 73 but not a full-time member until after Coghlan left.
“He played keyboards but wanted to play bass with us, and did … well. I haven’t seen Andy since Rick Parfitt’s funeral.”
I’m guessing you met a lot of old mates at Woking Crematorium that day, albeit in difficult circumstances.
“That’s right. We went on somewhere after the event and had a chat with Matt Letley, who was also with Quo for a while, and loads of girlfriends of friends too, but it was a sad occasion.”
When you think of Rick now, is there a particular moment that springs to mind, or was it just all those shared memories?
“Well, he was just a lovely guy, one of the best rhythm guitarists in the world, he wrote great songs, sang extremely well, and all the fans loved him.”
I suppose the business gets in the way sometimes and it’s easy to forget the good times and shared memories you had.
During those years on the Isle of Man and in Oxfordshire ever since you’ve been with your beloved, Gillie. Does she deserve a medal for sticking by you all those years?
“I think anyone deserves a medal for sticking with me that long!”
He also has a daughter, from his first marriage, based in Hertfordshire, Is he a grandfather these days?
“Yeah, we have a granddaughter. She’s lovely, and doing well at school.”
But Grandad John’s still out on the road. Could he ever have envisaged that scenario all those years ago?
“I don’t know. Maybe Eric Clapton. I like the blues and I think he’d be a great guy to play the blues with.”
You suggested on the Hello Quo documentary that after your success with Pictures of Matchstick Men, you still didn’t know which direction to take until the band heard The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues.
“Yeah, Bob Young suggested we get rid of the pop image for heads-down boogie blues. That’s what we did, and it paid off.”
And of course Young was another Quo contributor who ended up with you in Diesel.
“Yes, he sang and played harmonica for us.”
Finally, of which Quo tracks would you say you’re most proud of all these years on?
“We made so many albums and recorded so many songs I think it’s difficult to pick one out as the best. I always felt if you ask a Status Quo fan they’ll tell you which they think is the best. They take it from a different outlook, not being part of the recording process.”
Okay then, if you put me on the spot, I’d have to say Paper Plane, or maybe Down Down … or Caroline …
“Oh yeah – good stuff!”
Tickets for John Coghlan’s Quo at The Continental on Saturday, August 12 are £18 in advance from WeGotTickets or in person from The Continental (01772 499 425) and Action Records (01772 884 772).
For details of Woking’s Party in the Park on Saturday, July 8th, try here. The band are set to go on at 5pm, and later the same day play the Rose Theatre in Kingston, stepping on stage at 9.30pm. For more gig news and all the latest from John Coghlan’s Quo, check out the official website. You can also keep in touch with John’s happenings via Facebook and Twitter.