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Fear factor as Francis Rossi set to sail solo

Birmingham | Entertainment | Published:

You wouldn't think that Francis Rossi would be nervous about touring after 40 years playing the world's biggest arenas and stadiums with Status Quo.

By Ian Harvey

You wouldn't think that Francis Rossi would be nervous about touring after 40 years playing the world's biggest arenas and stadiums with Status Quo.

But with his first ever solo tour due to arrive at Birmingham Town Hall this week, Rossi is, he admits, "terrified".

To be honest those are not his actual words, but what he actually said can't be published on a family newspaper's website. That's one of the perils of interviewing Rossi. On the one hand he's a great interviewee in that he barely stops talking, on the other hand you couldn't possibly print half of what he says!

We're talking ahead of the tour which is to promote his second solo album, One Step At A Time. The venues are markedly smaller than the arenas Quo usually play at and Rossi is not sure how many people will turn up or what sort of reaction he'll get.

He says: "I said to my manager, we don't realise how lucky we are in Quo do we? It's been there for so long and it's 'let's go and do that' and we'll have loads of people turn up and it's all fine and now I'm begging people. It's like starting all over again.

"It hit me really hard yesterday, what do I do this for? This is really hard work. You've got to beg for people to come and see you. And then I think why would they want to see that bloke in Quo if he's not with the other bloke in Quo. I have never been on stage with anybody else in my life.

"I've got one of my sons, Nicholas, in the band, my daughter's supporting. We've got two nice girls singing backing vocals, I've always wanted to sing with girls. I love that."

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Then he adds: "I'm very nervous and realising I needn't have done this."

Rossi explains "Generally when we're on stage, in my head there's this frantic 'yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh' going on for two hours and unless that's coming back at me, unless it goes down as well as Quo I'll be terrified.

"But it won't go down like Quo because it won't be as intense or frantic. Having said that the rehearsals were most enjoyable, I went over some things with Nicholas yesterday and got all enthused again. It's that insecure little show off thing again.

"There's something in me that wants to do this. And you sort of analyse it. Why are you doing this? Well, because I want people to notice me, I suppose. I don't go into it thinking oh, let's get noticed. I like these songs, I believe in these songs but once the album's out you think 'Oh God, why would anybody want to buy that?'"

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It's 14 years since Rossi released his first solo album, King Of The Doghouse, which, it has to be admitted was not a huge success, so why go through that again?

"I wasn't putting it together as an album," he says. "It came about slowly. I had various songs, I've always got lots of songs on paper or on hard drive and I've just built a new studio and I was working and then after a couple of weeks of messing around with it I thought 'this would make a nice little album'.

"And then one's ego gets involved. You can tell I've met Prince Charles . . . 'one's ego'! Suddenly it's an album."

Although there are plenty of Quo-like moments on One Step At A Time, particularly the opener Sleeping On the Job, the album gives Rossi a chance to try out other styles and sounds, particularly on the quite gorgeous ballad One Step.

Then there's the "cover version" that Rossi has done of the Quo classic Caroline, with a honky tonk meets country swagger. It is, he insists, how that song was originally written, and the re-recording was inspired by Black Country rock legend Robert Plant.

"My manager went to see him and he did a couple of Led Zeppelin tracks and he did them in a different way. And then suddenly a smile came to my face and I thought . . . Caroline.

"I went straight to the studio and did the basic guitar track and the drum loop and it made me laugh. I thought it's kind of cheeky and I like to do things that one's not supposed to do. You know, 'He's not going to open with Caroline is he?' Yes he is! 'He can't.' Yes he can!

"I just think it's hilarious. I've been doing this for years. 'He can't wear white socks with a black suit.' He will!"

It's now just over a year since Rossi had his trademark ponytail cut off and people are still talking about it.

"Yeah, it's weird," he agrees. "They're talking about the hair on the back of his head. You can take umbridge at this sort of stuff, you know!"

Was getting his hair cut a condition for being awarded the OBE?

"No, it was just time for it to go. The OBE is just so humbling and I felt a bit ashamed, kind of."

But you didn't consider doing the rock 'n' roll rebel thing and refusing it?

"No because I think that's a PR gesture to be honest. And as much as I'm not necessarily a royalist, watching the Queen doing what she did that day, it was outrageous.

"She is such a pro. She is old a school. We aren't going to get a monarch like that again. She does believe she was born to it. She does believe we are her subjects and she does believe that she owes us something.

"And whether we want to believe in that or not she believes in it, otherwise she'd have checked out at 50 and said to Charlie let's you have a go and I'll go and have a good life. I know I would!"

* Francis Rossi plays Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday May 13, 2010. Tickets are £19.50 plus booking fees.

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