This blog typically relates to my professional life as a specialist in software testing, so I hope you will indulge me with a much more personal blog post than usual here today.
It’s not exactly a secret that I’m a massive fan of the UK rock band, Status Quo. I’ve been seeing them live for just over thirty years and collecting their records and memorabilia for even longer. The band in its various forms over the years has given me some of the most memorable times of my life and I’ve made the most incredible friendships as a result of following them.
My passion – sometimes referred to as an “obsession” – has brought me great joy, but on Christmas Eve 2016 it has now also brought me great sadness. With incredible timing, just the day after the “Last Night of the Electrics” tour concluded in Liverpool (UK), I received the news that Rick Parfitt had passed away. Being in the UK at the time, it was big news – and quite surreal watching the news stories talking about the rock hero we all thought was indestructible. I was unsure whether to blog immediately to capture my raw emotions but Christmas didn’t feel like the right time. Two weeks after the event, it feels like an appropriate time to take a moment for me to put virtual pen to virtual paper in some kind of tribute to Rick.
I appreciate that many of you reading this may not have heard of Rick, so a few words by way of historical record are in order.
It was a chance meeting at Butlin’s holiday camp in Minehead in 1965 that brought a young Rick Parfitt (then performing in a trio called The Highlights) together with a young Francis Rossi (then performing in a rock combo called The Spectres) with Rick officially joining the band that would become Status Quo in 1967. It was a partnership that lasted almost fifty years, quite incredible. Quo’s longevity is well documented and they remain the band with the most Top 40 hits in the UK (with an untoppable 57).
This early colour TV appearance shows a very young Rick in full flow, his face barely visible thanks to the long blonde hair:
The rock and roll excesses of the 70s and 80s certainly didn’t pass Rick by and Quo’s conformance to the sex, drugs and rock & roll mantra is also well documented.
Rick played hard on stage and lived life to the full off it. After decades of mistreatment, his body showed the first signs of cracking, with his first major health scare coming in 1997 when he underwent a quadruple heart bypass – but he was still back on stage a few weeks later. In 2005, he had a throat cancer scare and then it was more heart trouble in 2011 with surgery required after another heart attack and then another heart attack in 2014. His most recent heart attack came shortly after a very hot gig in Turkey in June 2016 and this ultimately led to him retiring from touring duties with the band.
He will perhaps be best remembered for his legendary rock star blonde locks (which stayed with him even in his sixties) and his incessant rhythm guitar skills on his faithful white Fender Telecaster. There are few rock rhythm players around who could go head to head with Rick and the following relatively recent clip (well, in Quo terms anyway, it’s from the 2009 Glastonbury festival) shows his power, opening just one of many thousands of Quo gigs with the iconic “Caroline”. Rick with his back to the “wall of death” of amps thrashing out the opening chords of this song is surely one of rock’s most recognizable images.
Rick was also a significant part of the songwriting ammunition for Quo, penning (and co-writing) a number of their best known songs, including “Whatever You Want”, “Rain”, “Again and Again”, “4500 Times”, “Backwater”, “Little Lady” and “Mystery Song”.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Quo live over 250 times and also very fortunate to have met the band, including Rick, on many occasions. He was always friendly and ready to crack a joke, always the rock star but also always just one of the lads.
Some of my most memorable meetings with Rick occurred on Australian shores over the last 20 years or so, where it’s easier for the band to mingle with the public than in Europe where they are much better known. Rick once said that his favourite place on Earth was in Australia – a place called Magnetic Island off the coast of Queensland – and he always seemed relaxed and happy being downunder. It is such a shame we will not get to welcome him to our shores again. The following photo comes from a meet & greet at the gig in Wollongong in 2006, happy memories indeed. I will miss seeing him up their doing what he did best – but the vast recorded legacy will always mean he is but a CD spin away.
Before leaving the UK to head back to Australia, I visited the tribute to Rick outside the Hammersmith Apollo (formerly Odeon). Each day I visited, more flowers and trinkets had been added to the tribute and different fans were there to pay their respects. Some took the chance to embrace fellow fans and let their emotions out, while others chose more solitary personal reflection at the site. This was an important thing for many of us, just somewhere to go to share our sadness with others who “get it”.
RIP Rick, keep on rocking, you will never be forgotten.
“Playing loud, playing clear
The song will never change
The memory will always be so near” (A Year, 1972)
(For an excellent collection of tributes to Rick, see the brilliant www.rickparfitt.de site.)