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That was the Quo month that was ... October 2003

9th - "Classic Rock Special Edition" magazine released in UK

The long-awaited Classic Rock magazine Special Edition on Quo hit the UK newsagent shelves on October 9th. The full-colour 148-page epic is a great tribute to the band and features interesting forewards by both Prince Charles and Lars Ulrich (of Metallica). It is also great to see such a large amount of material contributed by fans as well as new interview material and previously unpublished photographs.

The mag kicks off with a section called "Don't Quote Me But", which features letters from various fans including Tony Marles from Australian Quo tribute outfit, Quo Vadis. "Marguerita Time" follows, a short year-on-year history of the band from 1967 to 2003. "Fan Tastic" offers up stories about some die-hard Quo fans in their many and various bizarre forms! The band's favourite guitars get coverage via "Tele Addicts" and the bedenimed Quo look is treated in the "Jean Genius" section.

The next section, "It's Number One, it's Top of the Pops" provides a history of Quo's appearances on Top of the Pops (but, annoyingly, does not list them all out, a list which is as yet unpublished anywhere by the way) which includes some excellent photos. In "Passions", each Quo member is interviewed about their passion outside of Quo. Francis talks about his love of clay pigeon shooting, Rick of fast cars, Andy of Pederson bicycles (!), Rhino of football (and Brentwood FC in particular), and Matt of astronomy. This section provides a fascinating insight into the real lives of our Quo heros.

In "The Day That Rocked The World", Live Aid is covered in depth along with some 'interesting' discussion with Francis and Rick about the recording of the 'Band Aid' single! The latter portions of the magazine are devoted almost entirely to more review-type material. "1960s-2000s" is unsurprisingly a decade-by-decade rundown of Quo's career, necessary for completeness but the fan will learn nothing new here. Next up, a controversial "Top 50 Songs" running from "Spinning Wheel Blues" at 50, to (you guessed it) "Forty Five Hundred Times" at number 1.

A long-overdue "no holds barred" interview with Francis and Rick is the subject of Jon Hotten's "The status quo of Status Quo". This interview adds real value to the magazine with some previously unrevealed thoughts from the GOMORR and WOMORR. A whacking "Quo Essentials" section (itself broken down into reviews of Quo albums, a rundown of the chart hit singles, reviews of bootlegs, multimedia offerings and rarities, and reviews of some of the top Quo gigs) completes this epic tome. An entirely unnecessary afterword from Bruce Jones (aka Les Battersby from Manchester-based soap, Coronation Street) completes the story.

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22nd - Rick and Francis interviewed on The Steve Wright Show (Radio 2)

Rick and Francis made a long-overdue return to the Steve Wright Show on the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd October. Intended as a promo for the forthcoming "Riffs" tour, they avoided questions about the new covers album but Wrighty did play the re-recorded version of "Caroline" which sounded much like the current 'live' version of the song. The interview was the usual entertaining stuff but unfortunately has not been captured for posterity on Radio 2's website.

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29th - Quo concert at Guildford Civic Hall

Due to family bereavement, I was unexpectedly back in the UK for a couple of weeks in late October, giving me the chance to catch the opening night of the "Riffs" tour at Guildford Civic Hall. My (lengthy) review follows.

Status Quo and Surrey. A tour called Riffs and drizzly rain. Welcome to a British institution playing on their home turf, kicking off yet another tour. The year is 2003 and, some forty years or so since their first ever gig just down the road in Woking, Status Quo play the soon to be demolished Guildford Civic Hall.

We arrive at 6.15 and indulge in the familiar pastime of queuing outside in the cold & damp evening air, just outside the hallowed entrance to the Civic Hall. Seeming surprisingly unprepared, the Hall staff wander charmingly amongst the bedemined throngs to locate the owners of pre-paid tickets, despatched from a curiously-sorted little box. The doors remain firmly closed and are now adorned with a hastily-prepared sign informing us chilly folk that they will remain that way until 7pm. The queue of course gets longer and snakes its way from the Hall doors, around the concourse, and out towards the street. Without hint of complaint, friendships are re-kindled, T-shirts are compared, and a short - but obviously necessary - rendition of the "Quo-oh-oh-oh-oh" chant rings out across Guildford town. Glances at watches become increasingly frequent, every move of the Hall staff now being monitored by the eagle eyes of the eager fans. Our expectations having been set, it is with surprise that the doors open a little early and the usual chaos ensues. The snake that was the orderly queue suddenly thrashes about uncontrollably, flinging as it does so a few of its tail-riders up to its head in remarkably fortunate fashion.

The snake's writhe turns out to be short-lived, the rush for the barrier is soon over and the usual suspects take up their spots. Outside of the arena, attention focuses on the merchandise stand where keen punters are handing over Queen-embellished notes as fast as their difficult decisions can take them. The usual fodder of caps, badges, T-shirts, polo shirts, rugby tops and programmes is joined by new tastes like plectrums, denim jackets and even greeting cards. Fan club man (and now merchandise manager) Mike Hrano is almost a permanent feature around the stand and his new gear - all, of course, emblazoned with the Riffs tour plectrum logo - is selling well. Curious onlookers are heard to confuse the plectrum logo with anything from a handbag to a broken heart, though, but it doesn't stop the hugely secure cardboard tray masquerading as a till from being well-stashed within the first half hour.

Merchandise sorted, upstairs to the bar where business is just as brisk with a permanent line of suitably attired Quo fans keeping the Hall bar staff on their toes. A balcony-like affair, the bar area affords much sought-after views of the merchandise stand and the entrance to the standing area of the arena, which is now seeing a steady stream of fans taking up position for the support act. Given away via their CD on sale at the merchandise stand, it would be German Quo regulars "Who's That Girl" taking the Civic Hall stage at 7.45.

Our balcony seats reveal that tonight is a full house even for the support - the floor is jam-packed and the balcony is also full. The Teutonic duo, well known to European fans, appear confidently and to warm applause. Armed simply with electric acoustic guitars, the boy & girl outfit waste no time in launching into their 35-minute 'covers-only' set, in this their first ever UK gig. Accomplished performers, they quickly find their range and soon have the Quo faithful on side with a well-chosen selection of rock and roll-laden classics, including an especially memorable, innovative and well-executed Beatles dozen-some medley. Paying regular homage not only to Quo but also to the merits of rockland Guildford, the Quo be-Tshirted blonde girl singer belts out sing-along tune after sing-along tune and both band and crowd find it easy to wear a smile at their climax. A good choice of support here, following favourable European support slots over the last few years.

The support act's minimal equipment is soon ushered from the stage, giving way to the frenzied action that is Quo's crew in full flight. All we see (and hear) though is Tonto doing his thing with the trademark Teles up front, the rest of the stage shrouded in mystery by the return of the stage curtain. The curtain wears no colour or logo, simply looming dark and heavy between them and us. The only Riffs come from Tonto, the stage itself seeming so far to be unaware of which tour it is hosting.

Time ticks on apace and the natives are becoming restless. The arena floor is fuller than full and Tonto has ceased his tuning act. The houselights dim dutifully as the chanting of the sell-out crowd heightens and the mighty Quo roar heralds the drone. The hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.

A new drone for a new tour. The first gig of the new tour. Tonto stands stage left surveying the scene. The drone is building, giving way to those trademark opening riffs of "Down Down". But wait - the curtain remains infuriatingly between us, these riffs must be part of the intro. With a deft flick, the curtain is gone and there's Frame continuing with the opening song. Their number 1 song is song number 1 of the set and the Quo machine thunders into action once more.

The stage set is an assault on the senses - a huge arch hangs over the traditional backline, from which hang spotlights and an array of lightboxes. The actors are all in their usual places and, a few bars in, the enormous soundstage reveals itself. "Down Down" is going down well, this should settle everyone in to what's to come over the next hour and a half.

Next up is the welcome return of "Softer Ride", a good old timer that always keeps the tempo high and the audience on their feet. This outing is no exception and we definitely ain't gonna work no more! By comparison, "Something 'Bout You Baby I Like" is a let-down but manages to get good crowd involvement and is saved by its successor, an unexpected full version of "Break The Rules". Only seen in medleys for eons, it's wonderful to hear the complete rendition, even if Francis's solo falls well short of the mark (which he later acknowledges). That was all good, then comes the crowd-pleaser of "Don't Waste My Time" in which Francis redeems himself with a note-perfect solo that is just so damn good, it hurts. Simply brilliant stuff thus far, with some surprises already.

The stage falls dark but for a white spot on Francis as he steps cockily up to the mike for the traditional "ow are you then, alright?" He talks of a six week break and one week of rehearsal of a new set to be premiered tonight. The softcore and hardcore spiel follows predictably before the show continues. Oddly, the stage remains a Riffs-free zone and Francis sees not fit to mention the impending release of a new album of that name...

Welcome back, "Backwater". Guildford knows this one, down to every last soul in the place. Rick takes control of us all with the opening bars, then the steady build, then the place goes off. Matt's work here is exemplary and Rick does a top job on lead vocal, making this song one of the highlights so far. Keeping up the tradition of the old 'uns being the good 'uns, "4500 Times" begins and "Be my friend" roars around the unlikely confines of the Civic Hall. As usual, there's not a closed mouth in the house, everyone wringing out every last drop of the quality of the song they can before the band cuts to "Rain", almost anti-climactic by comparison. Time for one more old one, another newbie for this year's set, in the shape of "Paper Plane". Another trusty campaigner, this one fills the slot perfectly and gains enthusiastic support. It's been a big 15 minutes or so and we deserve a rest.

It's time for Francis to address his servants once more, this time to announce that four tracks from 'Heavy Traffic' are to follow - yes, four. This means only one thing - "The Oriental" fans are to get their wish, but not before "All Stand Up" and "Solid Gold" are trudged out yet again, and rounded out with "Creepin' Up On You". The expectation around "The Oriental" is huge and Quo deliver this beast for the first time in the live arena with a newfound heavy edge, stunning breaks and an effective lightshow. The song stands up well to its first test by the Quo faithful, yet fails to stir the more casual observers. Indeed, four tracks from 'Heavy Traffic' back-to-back leave a good proportion of the audience somewhat lost and looking for a Quo classic to keep the faith in where the set is going.

Following the relentless "Creepin", we get a full version of "Living On An Island" which is well placed to slow things down a little. Rick performs well again here, though the song has noticeably had its ending changed to save him from the perilous high-pitched climax we traditionally associate with this song. Maintaining the easier theme, "Gerdundula" follows and showcases the very best of modern-day Quo. We're lucky to have this two-song slowdown, before being subjected to a five-track onslaught of power and class.

Feeling uncomfortably out of place mid-set, "Caroline" comes next and the Civic Hall goes ballistic. This is what the punters have turned out to hear and they are not to be disappointed. In its somewhat modified recent guise, the song feels ever fresh and no-one tires of it. It is followed by the only real choice, "Roll Over Lay Down" and Quo rock relentlessly on, sounding as hard here as they have ever done live. Matt keeps things tight, Rick and Rhino keeping a driving rhythm and an audience that just can't get enough of this. On a high, we're in for a treat with the long-overdue return of "Little Lady", a top little song that managed to get forgotten for way too long. While we're at it, two more from the top draw of popular Quo, "Whatever You Want" and "Rockin' All Over The World" - for the detractors, watch this Guildford crowd during these songs. This is Quo preaching to the converted.

Only a short break and Quo retake the stage for what is inevitably an all too short encore performance. "Juniors Wailing" is always good value in this slot and makes a mockery of the turgid "Mystery Song" medley and the ever-present "Rock 'n' Roll Music" before the bittersweet "Bye Bye Johnny". Given their last opportunity, the audience give Quo a rousing send-off before being told they were wonderful and watching their idols depart the Civic Hall stage, this time for good.

So what if Quo in 2003 on stage in Guildford for chapter 1 of the lengthy tome known as the Riffs tour? In typical first night style, their performance was a little rough around the edges, but this is almost a treat given the slickness of performance one can expect as the band plays in the new set. Speaking of the set, rejuvenated rather than revolutionized and all the fresher for it. Four 'Heavy Traffic' songs seems like overkill now and dropping "Big Fat Mama" is a curious decision in the face of attempts to harden the overall feel of the set. The returners - "Softer Ride", "Break The Rules", "Backwater", "Living On An Island" and "Little Lady" - all fit in well and, at long last, "The Wanderer" has found its way home and realised home is not the Quo live set. Sound was excellent here, very well-balanced and clear, the only criticism being an over-bias to keyboards especially during a number of solo breaks where guitar was almost swamped unforgivably by Andy's ivory-tinkling. The new stage setup looks fabulous and the lighting routine is solid, with especially inventive work reserved for "The Oriental". Of striking oddness was the complete lack of promo or mention of Riffs, either on stage (via curtain or main set) or during Francis' exchanges with the audience, perhaps signalling the lack of enthusiasm the band has for this album.

Overall, a solid and energetic performance, showcasing a nicely tuned new set which can be expected to tighten up considerably as the tour progresses. Quo might have only come a few miles from the Samuel Jones Sports Club in Woking for this gig, but their decades of experience have honed them to one of the tightest outfits playing live today - long may this show go on.

Revisit the October 2003 event list  

30th - Quo concert at Brentwood Leisure Centre

Curiously, Quo drop "Don't Waste My Time" after a single airing in Guildford. The set list here showed "Burning Bridges" as replacing "Juniors Wailing" in the encore but "Juniors" was still played.

Revisit the October 2003 event list