The First Time: Paul Russell – Status Quo, Hammersmith Apollo, 27th June 1979

Memories, memories. Looking back at one’s youth is sometimes a very embarrassing thing. My first venture into the wonderful world of popular music was buying a series of vinyl singles. My initial purchases, which I bought with my hard earned pocket money, were a mixed bag. Nemo (Jonathan King) – ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’; Chicory Tip – ‘Son Of My Father’; Hot Butter – ‘Popcorn’; Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs – ‘Sea Side Shuffle’; Blackfoot Sue – ‘Standing In The Road’ amongst many others. (The latter always intrigued me as it was on The Jam Record Label and the centre of the single had this dollop of jam on it – something that was quite bewildering and mesmerising to look at as the vinyl span around my humble record player).

Whilst buying singles were a rite of passage – saving enough money to buy my first album was a serious thing. I didn’t have to think too hard though, as Status Quo were fast becoming my favourite band. Having heard and bought their singles ‘Paper Plane’, ‘Caroline’ and ‘Down Down’, I was thrilled to be able to have enough money to buy their album ‘Quo’ in 1974. And what a mighty fine album it was – choc full of glorious songs and the highlight for me being their barn-storming closer ‘Slow Train’. That song mesmerised me with it’s pounding rhythm and John Coghlan’s superb drumming – and it was 7 minutes 55 seconds long! How cool was that.

I had to go and see this band live. It was quite an adventure, as I was a late developer when it came to gigs – for a range of very boring and unimportant reasons. So, a mate and I took the bull by the horns and booked tickets to see Quo at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo, which on the night was a lovely summer Wednesday evening in June 1979. Although we were big fans, there was an element of trepidation and apprehension at the thought of this ‘big’ gig. We rocked up to the Apollo and were met both outside the venue and in the foyer by a sea of denim. I knew that this form of clothing was an important element of the Quo look – but I had never imagined to see such a cavalcade of blue.

The added element was the abundance of patches – Quo patches were everywhere on our fellow gig-goers. Patches on their back pockets; on their shirts; on their t shirts; on their denim hats; on their bags – everywhere.

Needless to say my friend and I stood out like a sore thumb as, whilst we had jeans, that was about the limit to our denim adornment. We decided that rather than look foolish, we got to our seats. And were we pleased with our ticket choice – we had seats in the front row of the first floor circle. Ok, it wasn’t from row of the stalls – but we were chuffed.

The anticipation before Quo gigs are always amazing – and this debut venture on our part didn’t disappoint, with the crowd going wild with ‘whoa oh oh oh oh’s’ being sung with incredible fervour. Expectation was building to almost fever like feelings, when it was finally announced that the band were about to come on stage. Great – no support act.

Opener ‘Caroline’ set the tone for the evening, with a blisteringly accomplished version, at a time when the band played really fast. Things didn’t let up over the next 90 minutes with fantastic live interpretations of the likes of ‘Hold You Back’; ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’; ‘Big Fat Mama’; ‘Down Down’ and closer ‘Bye Bye Johnny’. All the way through this set – I had never experienced such a euphoric feeling – a simply wonderful mixture of exhilaration and utter joy. This feeling, shared by your fellow fan surrounding you, was completely new to me and something I was genuinely blown away with.

The other simply astonishing things was the volume – earth shatteringly loud. So loud that as we put our hands on the edge of the circle, we swore we could feel the whole of the circle moving in time with the music.

Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan were joined by Bob Young on harmonica (who, at the time, I had no idea was one of the main song co-writers with Rossi) and Andy Bown on keyboards. This was the last date of their tour and was the 32nd gig they’d performed that summer. But you’d never had known – they looked as though this was the first date of the tour, such was their passion and energy. We left that gig unable to hear what each other was saying – but with a Cheshire Cat smile on both our faces. Life would never be the same again.

This was such a mind blowing experience for this teenager that it was literally life changing. My love and respect for this band has continued from that memorable evening to today and I have seen the band perform live so many times now it’s a little embarrassing. Every single gig, though, exemplifies what a stunning live act Quo are. Yes, the music is a little limited in it’s range – but the sheer bravura they bring to these gigs is astonishing.

Although we’ve lost a couple of the main band – they’re still a live force to be reckoned with and I’m not in the least bit embarrassed to say they’re my favourite band of all time and they’d be one of my Desert Island Discs artists. No higher praise.

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Lovely article Paul. I don’t know what it was about Quo that could engender such excitement and loyalty but you only had to go to one of their gigs in the 1970s to be immediately drawn in for life. I was fortunate enough to see them in their pomp at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1973 (bought the tickets on spec since Deep Purple had sold out and never regretted it – still got the ticket stub) and again later the next year. I love the way you picked out Slow Train from the Quo album. This exemplifies for me what they were as a band – from the means-business opening, through the Irish jiggy bit, Coughlan’s meaty but short-enough drum solo to the heads down no nonsense Quo signature riff ending. Sublime. I was also lucky enough as well to see the reunited Frantic Four tour in both 2013 and 2014 – the latter at the Hammersmith Odeon (still can’t call it anything else). They played basically the set from the quintessential Quo Live album and clearly still had the chops. It was clear the difference that having to play again with Alan Lancaster and John Coughlan meant that Rossi and Parfitt had to drag themselves away from lazy old Pantomime Quo and up their game to do Proper Quo justice. It was great to hear the songs that Alan Lancaster was lead vocalist on and he did a fantastic job, despite obviously sufffering from what emerged to be MS. There’s a DVD (or it’s probably streamable now) of their final Dublin gig from that second tour and you’ll see Rob Young come out and do the harmonica from Railroad after all these years. An absolute treat – right from the spine tingling moment when the speakers blare out “Is there anybody out there wants to rock??!”