Previously on Sweating With Strangers: young Hodge goes to see Status Quo at Torbay Leisure Centre, drowns in a t-shirt, protects his ears, and falls asleep.
That’s right folks: second gig, same as the first gig. When you’re so young that you’re entirely dependent on your parents to take you to see bands, you only get to see the ones that you both happen to like. In my case, in the late eighties and early nineties, that meant Status Quo. And as we lived in Torbay (where 99% of bands’ names seemed to involve a clever pun on the name of the group they were impersonating), that meant very rarely going to see Status Quo.
Actually, we COULD have seen them more often than this. I remember being aware that Quo had returned to the South West’s ultimate heavy metal swimming pool in 1989, but only AFTER the event. There are three reasons I can think of for us not going to that gig.
- My parents didn’t realise it was happening either.
- They knew about it, but decided I didn’t need to go.
- The album Quo were touring for that year (‘Perfect Remedy’, it was bad at the time, it has aged as well as you might expect) was so tame and unsuccessful that my folks assumed the tour accompanying it would be equally poor.
Whatever the reason, it goes without saying that this was UNACCEPTABLE!
Firstly, they should’ve known! Sure, there was no internet, but we had Teletext. It can’t have been long after this that I started spending every morning watching the teletext tour listings pages run all the way through over breakfast, in order to check if anything of note was coming up. Couldn’t one of them have been doing the same?
Secondly, if they DID know, but decided to keep it from me, that’s tantamount to child abuse. As conscientious parents, they must have been aware how important it was for children to jump right back on the horse when they fall off, and so must have realised how important it was to me to see my first encore!
Finally, if it was because of the naff album that gave the tour its name, well that is one lesson I have learned over the years: with the great live acts (and Quo are one of them, make no mistake), you don’t let a poor release get in the way of great rock show (see also: Muse, Manchester 2013)!
This would never be allowed to happen if 7 year old me was around now. I would be all over that sh*t online and I would’ve been there, at the back, on my dad’s shoulders… and I probably would have fallen asleep. Actually, with that in mind, it might be for the best that we waited until I was the grand old age of nine to go again. By the time Quo rolled back into South Devon’s premier rock-and-roll badminton courts, my advanced years meant no ear defenders were needed (they probably were, in hindsight), I didn’t have to spend so long on Dad’s shoulders (I was a weirdly tall kid), and I was in no danger of passing out through exhaustion before the end.
The three years that passed between the shows also meant something other than my height and sleep resistance had increased massively: the ticket price had risen from £10 to £15, which meant only Dad and I got to go! Times must have been tough in the Hodge household in the early nineties, or at least my dad’s gig budget extended to only £30 every three Decembers, because mum found herself out in the cold.
It reminds me of when I went to see the Dark Knight Rises on opening night in 2012. Waiting in the queue were a group of 4 boys and the parents of one of them. Suddenly, the father started counting the tickets he had, then counting the people with him. He paused, repeated the counting, paused, repeated again, checked his pockets, and then looked guiltily at his wife.
Wife: “What is it?”
Husband:”Ah, I’ve only booked 5 tickets!”
Wife: “Are you sure?”
Long pause. Everyone looks awkwardly at the wife.
Wife: “Well I guess I’m going home then!”
And she stormed off! There was absolutely no chance she was ever getting to stay, family night out just became lads and dads night out! Although I don’t recall being present for the equivalent conversation in 1991, the net result was the same, in that when it came time to decide who was in line for a Christmas boogie, mum was out!
*side note, since writing my last post and mentioning the ridiculous price of tickets these days, I went to buy Muse tickets and saw that they are £76 for the Manchester Etihad Stadium. Same band, same venue in 2013: £57. Mental. I realise that’s actually less percentage growth over more time than Quo managed in 1991, but the point stands. If I had a 9 year old Muse fan son, you’d better believe my wife would be staying at home while the boys went out to rock!
Anyway, enough diverting off topic. Status Quo, at Paignton’s elite 5-a-side football and chicken nugget birthday party venue, 1991, the ‘Rock Til You Drop’ tour – not to be confused with the other ‘Rock Til You Drop’ tour they had done earlier the same year, which was a UK tour of 1 hour shows in A DAY, and which got the band in to the Guinness Book of Records. I guess if you can’t break a record, just invent one!
No, this was the full deal, and I was reaching goddamn-exploding-child levels of excitement, because on top of the fact that I was going to see Quo again, the album they were touring was AWESOME (‘Rock til you Drop’ – naturally – and it has aged well too, for those of you keeping score)! It might still be my favourite album of all time, it’s certainly in the top 3, and there’s something extra special about going to see one of your favourite bands touring a new album that you’ve fallen in love with (see also: Stereophonics, Birmingham 2005; Muse, Manchester 2016).
If nothing else, it means you get to look forward to the band inevitably playing the new songs and actually attempting to flog the record, instead of treating them as a necessary evil to get through. It does also lead to less opportunities to nip out for a pint however, so every silver lining has a cloud. Of course, I didn’t know any of this in 1991, but suffice to say I was rather looking forward to it.
My memories of the actual gig are only slightly better than in ’88. I remember arriving and not having to queue this time, which I can only guess was because we’d turned up later, or because Torbay’s primary roller disco venue had perfected their crowd management over the course of the preceding 3 years. Also, it speaks to my superhuman levels of impatience that 27 years later I can clearly recall the level of queueing I had to do as a child.
My clearest memory of this gig, however, was the way it started. It’s 164 shows later, and this may well be my favourite opening to any gig I’ve ever attended. It seems a shame to have peaked so early, so I’ll correct myself if necessary as we go along.
The lights dropped, the crowd roared, and a rotating glitter ball showered us in cheesy spinning lights as the album’s (surpisingly gentle) ballad of a title track played over the sound system. As it reached it’s conclusion, and Francis Rossi sang “So Rock…. til you drop……..” instead of playing out with the original track’s downbeat “…toniiiiight”, the lights came on and the band launched directly into Down Down, sans it’s usual gradual buildup. Spine-tinglingly epic, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Here it is, with added Chris Tarrant introduction:
- I definitely made it to the end of this one, because I remember them playing ‘Rock til you Drop’ and thinking it was unnecessary to hear it again.
- Down Down, Quo’s only number 1 single (if we forget ‘Come on you Reds’ with Manchester United, which we should) was always a great opener, and had been conspicuous by it’s absence 3 years earlier. Not playing your biggest hit live? How cool are Status Quo!
- Two Quo gigs, two different openers, 5 songs in the encore. Fellow Status Quo fans will know that these are not traits associated with the band’s most recent two decades, as the setlists became more and more predictable. They’re not the only band guilty of this, and it’s a real shame when it happens. As amazing as they almost always are live, there’s no replacing the thrill of simply not knowing what is coming next in a setlist.
- This continued the pleasing tradition of bands always playing my favourite album tracks: in this case ‘No Problems’, last time out ‘Cream of the Crop’.
- Whoever wrote this setlist is either not a fan of contractions, or thinks Quo began the ‘Anniversary Waltz’ with the best-enunciated cover of ‘Let’s Dance’ in history.
And that concludes our Torbay double-header.
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