INTERVIEW FRANCIS ROSSI ("40 years Top Of The Pops")
A couple of weeks ago Patrick Cusse interviewed Francis for TV2Weken, a Flemish magazine where he is assistant chief editor, for a series of articles about the 40 year history of Top of the Pops. What you can read here is the full, unedited transcript of the interview tape. The interview was done over the phone.
Francis : Hello?
Patrick : Hello Francis.
Francis : Hello Patrick.
Patrick : Hi, how are you?
Francis : Not bad, not bad.
Patrick : As you've probably been told, this is mainly about Top of the Pops. Can't really do a story about the history and not put you guys in there.
Francis : Sounds like a good idea to me.
Patrick : Can you remember the first time?
Francis : I do. I'm trying to think now who else was on. I remember it was such a big thing to do, probably still is. I used to watch it all the time. The idea of being on it, you kinda made it. If you did the song on Top of the Pops in those days, it usually went up the chart, it started to sell. I'm trying to think of first meeting Jimmy Saville and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. Lots of weird acts. It's very strange to actually it when you're used to watching it. And there you are, doing the actual show. I think on Matchstick Men you can actually see there's a shot when John Coghlan sees himself on the monitor, he goes 'wow! I've seen myself!' It was very impotant to any act at the time, and I believe it still is. It's one of those shows that people talk about all over the world. Don't know why, maybe the format.
Patrick : The format has now been sold all over the world. There's one in Belgium, one in Holland... It's the same set.
Francis : Oh really?
Patrick : That's one of the reasons for doing this article.
Francis : Well, there's something about it.
Patrick : There are pop shows all over the world. What's so special about this one? Why does everybody want to be on it? From the Beatles to Kylie.
Francis : Maybe because very early on it was seen around the world, and it was the time of the music explosion in Britain in the sixties and the seventies. All I know is it still has that name around the world. There's been shows come and gone in this country, and in Europe... Top of the Pops has no pretentions. It's plain chart music. Always has been.
Patrick : How many times have you been on?
Francis : I think it's 101 or 102. Maybe 103, not sure.
Patrick : What's the atmosphere like backstage? Does it compare easily with festivals or regular gigs?
Francis : No, not at all. The BBC is a huge building, you can all end up in different corridors. There are blue sections and red sections and so on. Ever since we've been doing it... We're a strange band, we leave our dressing room door open, we don't like it closed much. You get in there early in the morning and it's usually kind of a relaxed day, a lot of waiting. Television is hurry up and wait. You have to be there early, but wait. One day we ordered a curry and stuck a fish in the roof somewhere in one of the dressing rooms. Things like that. You get so fed up... One day we were there and Lemmy was coming down the corridor. He said: Do you want some sulfate? You know, speed. I said: Nono, thanks. He said: Do you want some of this? He had a bottle, a large bottle of orange juice, with wodka, and speed in that. I said: Nonono thanks. It was about ten o'clock in the morning. It was one of those things. You met all sorts of people. You met a lot a people that you knew, chat in the afternoon...
Patrick : It's very weird that you've been on the show so many times, while at the same time a huge part of the industry does not take you seriously. But you still get asked to do this again and again, and you happily oblige.
Francis : The industry does not take us seriously, but obviously the people that do, really do. Those that don't, completely don't. There's no middle way with us. I find that odd. We make some people nervous when we're doing it. Some people don't consider it real music. But when you add it all up, you know, it's just three minutes of music. Some people want to make it out more important than it is. It's just music, it's a small part of peoples lives.
Patrick : In Noddy Holder's autobiography there's a part about not really getting the star treatment by the BBC. And he writes about the sprint from the backstage door to the car while fans try to tear your clothes of.f Do you remember any of that?
Francis : It really was like that, especially in the early days. The bigger the star, the bigger you got ripped apart. That was part of it. You loved it it. It was a marker of how big you are. But as Noddy says, there are no star dressing rooms in that place, nobody gets treated any bigger than anybody else. It's just a tv show and it's been running so long, most of the time we knew the floor manager, the camera men, we knew the producers. We grew up with it, and once we were in the business, we grew up in it. It was a great tool to get the record promoted. You have to remember it was like 18 or 20 million people watching it. Maybe it's 5 or 6 million now, I'm not sure. People still want to get on Top of the Pops. I think if we all knew what it was, everybody would try to make shows... this is the format, this is the secret. It's the same with Status Quo. I don't really know what are secret is. I don't know what the secret of Top of the Pops is. There's nothing particularly outrageous about it, it's not particularly clever, it's just chart material. You get some fantastic acts on there and you get some of the world's worst acts on there.
Patrick : I did a little search on the internet just before I called you, just typing in 'Top of the Pops' and 'Status Quo'. One of the things that inevitably comes up is Rick falling into the drums on Marguarita Time. Was that intentional or was he just drunk?
Francis : It was both. He was drunk, but it was intentional. He had already planned to do it with Pete Kircher. I remember standing there and we were just getting ready to go and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were on. And he said: That'll be number one next week. That was real clarity in the middle of being drunk and totally out of it. He'd already said he was going to fall into the drums. Jimmy Lea was playing bass with us at the time. You have to remember it's a kind of day out for us. You didn't have the pressure of playing live, so you didn't have to worry about being in the right condition necessarily. And by the time you'd been there from nine or ten in the morning till seven or eight at night, usually people would have had something…
Patrick : At that time the program did go out live
Francis : Oh yes. Nobody was playing live, but it was going out live. Which is one of the reasons you could do stuff like that. He knew if he fell they wouldn't be able to do a retake and we suddenly decided it would be funny and we went for it.
Patrick : Do you like lip synching? Cos let's be honest here, Francis, you're not the world's best lip syncher.
Francis : No. I can be, but I just don't take it that seriously anymore. In the old days you had to take it seriously, because they were worried people might think it wasn't live. Now most people, I think, know when things are live and when they're not, there's a distinct difference in the sound. On television I would rather mime, unless you could be there for a couple of days and have everything you want. We did some live stuff for Top of the Pops a couple of years ago and it was fine. There's a differend mindset playing live. Like I said, it's like a day off. You have a bit of sleep in the afternoon, you have some food. On a show, you wouldn't have those amounts of food before you on. Or you wouldn't get drunk, you wouldn't have this or have that. But on Top of the Pops you have the day off, you meet a lot a friends. We used to see Slade quite a lot, we got on well with them
Patrick : Having been on so many times since the late sixties, you've probably at one point or another just about met everybody in the industry. It's impossible to write or say anything about the history of Top of the Pops and not mention Status Quo.
Francis : I would think so. I know most people, I think. I don't know 'em very very well. I'm not good at that. We did something in Deutchland the other weekend. Fifty years of Rock I think it was. There were all sorts of people I admired since I was young. I said 'Hi, nice to see you again…' And back to the dressing room.
Patrick : Last year you did 'Jam Side Down' on Top of the Pops. Do you people in the audience know who you are? Or was the place packed with Quo fans?
Francis : There's a bit of everything. But you have to remember it's television. If an audience doesn't make enough applause, they just make 'em do it again. It's television, it's not real. But there are always Quo fans. Some always find out you're doing it and find a way in there somehow. It took me years to realise you're just in there for the camera. It's got nothing to do with what's going on in that room. The live stuff we did a couple of years ago, there was a fantastic response. There were young people there who had not heard that kind of stuff before, the power the band has. But that doesn't really make any difference on the tv. On the tv you get the same cheer the previous band had. It's tv, it's not real.
Patrick : You talked about the record sales. Was it that obvious the next day? Did record sales really shoot up like a rocket?
Francis : Oh definitely. In those days you did Top of the Pops and you might go up five places. You were selling so many records and everybody else was selling so many records, you went up and down the charts five or ten places. These days there are singles up there and woosh, down the next week. The sales just aren't there. So if you have a strong fan base… I think Marillion had a single went in at number three and droped to thirty something. I those days it was more of a thriving thing going on. Wether or not our industry has lost the plot somewhere and let the thing go… When we had What You're Proposin we were going to France to promote the single. We would try and get figures. You'd get an early morning ten a clock figure, you'd get a twelve o' clock figure, and so on. I think we got a twelve o'clock figure at Heathrow. We'd done 47000 that morning and by the afternoon it might have done 60 or 70000. A friend or mine, a producer, who produced 'I want to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony', he said they were doing 103000 singles a day. There's very few singles now that sell that in three weeks, or even three months. So the idea of getting on Top of the Pops… But I very rarely thought of the actual financial rewards. It was just the idea that all these people had gone out and bought it! All these people were interested in you. That was fantastic! So it was always good to get down there, even if the sitting around was a pain. It was day off, you could take it easy. It didn't matter if you turned up a bit of a mess in the morning, you could have a wash… Like I said, a day off, but with a bonus, you were promoting your record. Where now one would have to do maybe five or seven television to do equal of what Top of the Pops could do.
Patrick : I'll plug the two gigs you're doing in Belgium later this year, but can you also tell me something about the 40th anniversary, maybe an album next year?
Francis : I've been writing today. The last two months I've
been in the studio. We have a single we hope to go on a greatest hits package
at the end of this year. A new song, which will be on
the new album next year. We're hoping to do an album for the 40th anniverry, which is actually the 40th anniversary of when I met Rick. We'll have an album and another single for that, I hope. We're looking at trying to have a few guests. I think Lars from Metallica wants to do something. And I'm hoping to get the guy from Stereophonics. I think Bon Jovi might want to do Rocking All Over The World but we want to try and find people that want to guest and do soemthing unusual rather than Rocking and Whatever You Want and so on. And hopefully after that year we'll slow down a little bit. Take a year off and see what happens.
Patrick : That's it for the interview, but I'd like to add a more personal note and just, well, thank you for the music and everything else. I'm one of those santa hat people and…
Francis : Well, if you weren't there, I wouldn't be able to do it.
Patrick : … I travel a lot to see you, New York and Dublin and places like that. I know that for me and for many others it has become more than just gigs. It's about so much more than that hour and a half on stage, it's also about friendships.
Francis : You know when we talked earlier about people not talking it seriously? They don't really understand. They just don't understand that people don't just come down for the show. People meet, there's people that got married! There are great friendships and you meet up in different parts of the world. A lot of people don't understand what people get from that.
Patrick : By the way, I was in your support act in Brussels two years ago.
Francis : Were you? I liked that gig. Next time don't be so good.
Patrick : Thank you. I bet you say that to everybody.
Francis : No, I don't talk to everybody that supports us. But what you were saying, people will just knock it and say get a life…
Patrick : It is a life…
Francis : Exactly, I agree with you. I met somebody last year… We played in Croydon last year, which is not far from where I live, and I saw this woman in the front. I thought: I know you! I know you from somewhere! In the middle of a song I asked her, she shouted: the gym! I thought, I know my gym, I don't know you from my gym! After that show she came to five more shows. She'd seen us when she was very young, and now she's about forty, and decided… She's been to six shows since last year. And I do see her in my gym. And she gives out this vibe… Like, oh, I don't know why I didn't go anymore! Lot's of people do that, they grow up and they don't do that anymore, and ten years later they come again and you can see it, they realise! Why did I stop doing this! They enjoy it. Wether life or society makes us think 'oh no, this is Status Quo, it's too simple it's too this or too that', but you can't dismiss the energy in the room.
Patrick : In New York there were about fifty Europeans staying in the same hotel, we had a blast!
Francis : BB King's? I enjoyed that! Apart from that one big Mexican fella! He was a shit that guy! Do you know… There's a guy that comes to see us, he's got long hair and a blond girlfriend, and he's got a slightly cast eyen like I've got, he waves his hands in the air to do Shake Shake and he also sometimes shouts Spicks & Specks, he's a guy I've been seeing, never spoken to him. I turn up somewhere in Australia, and he's outside the gig! And I was so shocked! For someone to travel to Australia! We have to try and realise what an honour that is that people will come out and do that. Him and his girlfried travelled from Germany to Australia for us. Fuck! I wouldn't go down the road to see anybody, let alone Australia.
Patrick : Well, we wouldn't do it for anybody else. And I'm not sure there are many bands who have fans like us.
Francis : There are, but not a lot. Which is one of the reasons people don't understand. People are frightened of that. I don't know why. A lot of bands want to feel detached from their audience, they want to feel superior to their audience, and they want to feel that their music is real music and everything else is not real music. But I'm afraid the notes are just the same. It's just music. It's not rocket science. It's just music.
Patrick : Thank you Francis. I will see you later this year, somewhere.
Francis : I hope so. Take care, Patrick.