'Women do not need sex as much because they're on the receiving end' - Status Quo's Francis Rossi on sex, money, and his candid memoir
Francis Rossi tells it like it is, no matter how offensive. And the Status Quo rocker certainly doesn't hold back in his new autobiography - or this interview. He tells John Meagher why men need more sex than women, why he's motivated by money, and why he's never been bothered about being considered cool
The MeToo movement has changed many things, including how men speak about women. There's far greater care in the language used lest a poor choice of words cause offense. But Francis Rossi doesn't seem to have gotten the memo. The Status Quo rocker speaks frankly and in a manner that might lead to jaws dropping. And he is unrepentant.
He is talking about his brutally honest memoir I Talk Too Much - which, it turns out, is well named - and the conversation moves on to an admission in the book that he spent much of his life womanising. Readers of a sensitive disposition might want to look away now.
"It's a bloke thing we have," he says. "There are female friends of mine and we were having a heated discussion the other day and I was saying to them: 'What you don't realise is we have this thing down there and when it stands up it has to go somewhere."
"Women," he adds, "do not understand that and do not need it [sex] as much because they're on the receiving end." He doesn't say if his female companions threw their drinks at him at that point. And he doesn't seem to realise just how tone-deaf his words sound in a world increasingly intolerant of such Neanderthal thinking. "I know we're in a tricky area with the whole male-female thing, but women have to understand what this thing f***ing does. As much as they might say, 'Well, leave it then', you f***ing try."
He suggests that it's easier for a member of a huge rock group to indulge in prodigious sexual "adventures" than for the ordinary man on the street. Being in the spotlight on stage is a "bonus", he adds. "See how the word 'bone' crept in there?"
Groupies were a major feature of life of the globe-trotting bands of the 1970s and '80s, including Status Quo. "It wasn't just us that would be marking them out of 10," he says. "They would be doing that to us too, believe me."
He admits that his infidelity caused great hurt for some of those close to him. "It's true. It did. And I can't pretend I didn't hurt people because of my actions. Reading back over [the sexual exploits passages] and I think, 'What a d**k."
And yet, he feels he is deserving a certain measure of sympathy. "Look," he says, "it doesn't excuse men, but it's one of the most difficult things to control. And that leads us on to the Catholic Church and the way they go on about sex" - Rossi, of Irish and Italian extraction, was raised Catholic - "and they're just not living in the real world.
"I probably would still be a devout Catholic if my mother hadn't gone so frigging mad about religion, completely over the top. When a child touches his k**b, it's dirty - that's what Catholicism seemed to be saying. But it's not dirty, it's absolutely lovely. My son - number three son - said religion ruined our family."
It's all there in the book - and there's no holding back in our interview either. Rossi, who turns 70 in May, is disarmingly plain-speaking, even when taking on the business of plugging his memoir. "Why would anybody want to buy a book about some d***head in Status Quo?" he wonders. "If I was going to do this it would have to be real life, not showbiz. I'd have to be honest.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't want to write this book. I thought they'd want me to slag Rick [Parfitt, his deceased bandmate] off. But then they threw money at me and there's something about numbers with zeros after it and I thought, 'Hmmmm.'"
If the Londoner says unpalatable things about sex and gender relations he is, at least, refreshingly honest about being financially motivated. "I know lots of people pretend it's not about money - but people have always done stuff for money and so have I.
"I remember we did an ad for an Australian supermarket years ago - it was one of the biggest ads they ever did - and it was a Marmite thing: Some people loved us so it worked and some people hated us so it worked too. So, anyway, we're coming back from Australia one time and these Australian blokes are with their wives in first class - they're looking over at us and then one of them says: 'I bet you did it for the money.' And I was like: 'Nah, we did it because we f***ing love supermarkets.'"
The commercial is available on YouTube and it's based around the cheesiest reimagining of one of their big 1970s hits, Down Down. Even their most ardent fans might find themselves looking at the ad through laced fingers. One hopes the band were, indeed, well paid. "Oh, we were!"
Rossi says he has never been considered cool, especially by London's "snooty" music press, and Status Quo is hardly a name to drop to impress anybody. Yet, it's sometimes forgotten how enormous the band were in their 1980s pomp. They rarely played venues smaller than stadia and they sold truckloads of albums. "It was a really good time to be in the music business," Rossi says. "It's all so different today - people expect to get their music for free."
His mother's father, Paddy, was from Ireland, but he says it's the Italian side of him that has been more pronounced. "There was a period when I was with [his daughter] Bernadette's mother Elizabeth and I was living in Ireland and I had a really strong feeling for Ireland. I feel a sense of belonging when I hear the accent. And I love the Irish jokes too," he says, oddly. "Not that it's knocking the Irish, mind." He says that certain traditional Italian songs had an impact on the music of Status Quo. He chants the rhythm of one of them and it does indeed sound like the chugging beat of so many Status Quo anthems. "It's that shuffle thing. Status Quo would do the bluesy side, but also the less 'cool' side."
Rossi has made music since his adolescent years. Much of his love of the guitar was fostered thanks to his friendship with old schoolmate and future Status Quo member Alan Lancaster. "We got our first record contract in 1966. We were a group then. That's the word they used. Rory Gallagher started that 'band' thing."
He is engaging when talking about how the industry has changed, especially when chatting about the sharp practice of some unscrupulous figure in the 1960s. "It was a hard business then," he says. "You wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of some of them. I remember in America this guy we were dealing with was pissed off with me over something and said he could have me killed. I don't think it was an idle threat."
His fortunes changed when he met Rick Parfitt in the mid-1960s. The two hit it off immediately. "Writing about those early years helps to balance the negatives about how it went later on." The two fell out in the years before Parfitt's death from sepsis in 2016, so he says writing the book helped him to remember just how close they had been in their youth. "We used to love camping it up. I've always liked being around gay people - I can't say fags anymore - and wrongly, I thought they were kind of weedy until I met Freddie Mercury." The terminology used is another breathtaking illustration of his archaic outlook.
"Me and Rick had some really great times together, and some not so great," he continues. He says Parfitt changed over the years. "Someone got to Rick. He become the archetypal rock star and ultimately became a caricature of himself. It's an a***hole lifestyle and the problem is rock stars get indulged. I stayed at home like a boring old fart - the music is the rock'n'roll to me.
"When he started to try to do the rock thing, we would clash there. I'd be going, 'What the f*** are you doing?' They made things fractious between us. They [bandmates] wanted to get rid of him after the first gig, but I said no. When the band was young it's us against the world, then it was me and Rick against the other three [in the band]. We always wore these stripy blazers together. There's a period when we would ring each other to see what we were wearing. It sounds a bit pathetic now, but we were close. Then we grew up and got married and had kids and that's different."
He says he is keen to remember Parfitt in a positive way. "He was extremely honest, so maybe he would have appreciated what I was trying to do in this book. And he was this handsome bloke with loads of charisma. Sometimes he'd go in [to a gig] looking like Lemmy on a bad night and come out looking like Michael Bublé!"
Despite pooh-poohing the rock star lifestyle, Rossi certainly indulged too. In the book he notes that he had an epiphanal moment in the late 1980s when, at 38, he realised he had been a cocaine user for more than a decade. "I came to it late and that's probably what helped [when it came to getting clean]. Alcohol meeting coke was where the problems began for me."
Despite those excesses, the band remained professional, playing one big-ticket gig after another. He says nothing compared to the thrill of playing Live Aid. "It was [Bob] Geldof who convinced us to play it," he says. "It's funny looking back, because it was the Loadsamoney generation [in reference to Harry Enfield's comedic creation from the time], and here we were trying to raise money for Africa. When I was in school, we used to collect money for what the Irish nuns would say was for 'the little black babies'.
"But Live Aid... it was the biggest feeling I can remember - and I've never felt that atmosphere from a crowd before or since." Status Quo got the legendary show underway at Wembley Stadium that June 1985 Saturday, with Rocking All Over the World, the first song played on the day (after the Coldstream Guards had completed their rendition of God Save the Queen).
Despite his appreciation for Live Aid, Rossi says it could have achieved much more. "Why didn't big business get involved in Live Aid? I'm not trying to be negative, but so much more could have been raised if they'd sort of shamed corporate Britain to cough up. And I hate the back-patting that happens with Comic Relief and Children in Need and all of that. And none of that is to knock Geldof because he had the vision and the drive to make Live Aid happen and it probably would never have happened without him."
Rossi - who has eight children with three women - says he is thankful for the life he has had and his desire to make music has not diminished. "It's still there," he insists. "That thrill never goes."
And he says the criticism that he and his band have shipped from day one only makes him stronger. "The music press used to call us has-beens even in the early '70s and the very best thing people did for the early Status Quo was to criticise us. Today, you've kids who've been told they're great since day one - that whole X Factor generation - and they can't handle the slightest bit of criticism.
"But, strange as it sounds, I think criticism is a good thing because it makes sure you don't get complacent. And we certainly got criticised. But you know what we did? We dug in. Now people say, 'you're no good without Rick'. But I'll f***ing try and I'll keep on trying."
'I Talk Too Much: My Autobiography' by Francis Rossi with Mick Wall is published by Constable at £20.