It’s been a good few years since last I saw the Quo live; I even missed the ‘Frantic Four’ reunion shows of a couple of years back (mainly because the nearest venue to me was the Manchester o2 Apollo, a venue I now dislike so much I’d rather miss the band than set foot in there ever again). That was regrettable, but the ‘current’ Quo was always intended to continue, and they have been playing shows regularly at the end of the year for some time now. They always bring along an interesting support too, yet for whatever reason I’ve not been able to go along until this year.
The Quo’s annual visit to EchoTwo this time featured Wilko Johnson as support, somebody I’d wanted to see for some time. EchoTwo is the brand name for the ‘theatre’ style layout at Liverpool’s Echo Arena; all they do is bring the stage forward so that there is a smaller seated floor while still using the tiered seating at the back. It was a respectable, if not totally full, turnout and I was able to get a ticket on the night – albeit in a side tier.
I got in to find Wilko and his band already on stage, he plays with just a bassist and drummer. He takes lead vocal as well as guitar so there isn’t quite as much of the angular stage movement he’s known for as there used to be. His guitar style is something I’m not that accustomed to, being more of a hard rock fan, tending to chop in and out as he sees fit, while his rhythm section keep things nice and tight, so it took a bit of getting into. However he was getting a very warm reception from the Quo army in the stalls and ended his set with Dr Feelgood favourites ‘Back In The Night’ and ‘She Does It Right’. It’s a miracle we still have Wilko of course, so it is to be hoped he will continue for a good while yet.
I did have to smile at the Quo backdrop with its slogan ‘Accept No Substitute’, coming as it does still quite soon after those aforementioned Frantic Four reunion shows. There’s still plenty who can only accept the classic Rossi/Parfitt/Lancaster/Coghlan line-up and only listen to their material up to 1979’s ‘Whatever You Want’. However, this line-up deserves some plaudits – keyboardist Andrew Bown has been with them for 40 years, has co-written some of their best-loved songs and has a genuine link to that Frantic Four era, playing on all albums from ‘Hello’ onwards. These days, he contributes occasional rhythm guitar and harmonica as well as that famously tinkling piano. Meanwhile, bassist ‘Rhino’ Edwards is himself coming up to 30 years with Quo, having joined in 1986 when the band decided to come out of their self-imposed touring retirement. That means he’s been in Quo for over twice as long as predecessor Alan Lancaster, although will always be regarded as a ‘new guy’ since ‘Bomber’ was a founding member. The present line-up is completed by drummer Leon Cave, who came in for Matt Letley in 2013.
The set Quo played was a real mixed bag, similar to last time I saw them in Blackpool in 2009 they make an effort to cover as many bases as possible. Opening with fan favourite ‘Caroline’, they sounded tight and they sounded heavy, with solid drumming by newcomer Cave and of course, rock-solid rhythm guitar from Rick Parfitt. He is one of the great rhythm guitarists in rock, vastly underrated of course but take him out of the equation, and all those air guitarists would suddenly stop playing along! Frontman Francis ‘Frame’ Rossi was in great form too, pausing to remind the audience how old they all were (apart from their drummer) and made a Tommy Cooper reference about himself and his bandmates, which few others (unless they’re of a certain age themselves) would get away with! The last time I saw Quo, he was still clinging to that ponytail; not long afterwards he finally cut it and frankly, he looks better for it. It certainly hasn’t changed his guitar playing (he joked at the time that he hoped he wouldn’t lose the ability to play his one chord), still a fine lead guitarist. He’s now playing a new guitar; the famous green Telecaster became too fragile for gigging. A couple of covers they had hits with followed (‘The Wanderer’ and ‘Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like’) which still sounded surprisingly heavy live, then one of my personal favourites, ‘Rain’. I wasn’t so keen on ‘Burning Bridges’ (performed tonight) but that might have had something to do with it being reworked into a Manchester United FA Cup song some years ago (!)
The inevitable medley came after that, which had the regulars breaking out the air guitar as it included several old favourites, then a bit of a treat with a rendition of ‘Gerdundula’ from the ‘Dog Of Two Head’ album. This saw all the guys come to the front of the stage, even Leon Cave who had a small drum set to play standing up. They played 1986 hit ‘In The Army Now’ (how many were aware that is also a cover?) before the last stretch of classics including ‘Down Down’, ‘Whatever You Want’ and of course ‘Rocking All Over The World’. ‘Paper Plane’ was performed in the encore and they ended with another medley including ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ – just as they did in 1984 when I saw their ‘farewell’ gig at Milton Keynes!
You know exactly what you’re getting with Quo, they may have a light-hearted image but are seriously good musicians. Always as self-deprecating as ever, Rossi admitted to a couple of missed cues during the set but nobody minded, he is well-backed by an excellent rhythm section. As he once joked: “All we need now is a couple of decent guitarists and someone who can sing, and we’ll be away!”. The air guitar was played often during this set, a sure sign of a good time. So long as they are around, a good time is definitely on the agenda!