7. Status Quo – NEC, Birmingham – 16/10/1999

Previously on Sweating With Strangers: urination, deathly crushes and nationalism in South Wales.

We’ve reached a banner year for this blog: 1999, the first year to feature 2 gigs, and therefore an early leader on this super cool graph:

2015 was fun

Yes, after the eurphoric highs and pee-stained lows of my trip across the Severn in the summer of 1999, it was soon back to the comfortable and familiar surroundings of the good old NEC Arena, for the warm embrace of another Status Quo autumn tour. Wait – autumn tour? That’s right, this year’s tour was brought forward to October, because the band were off to Europe to take part in the ‘Night of the Proms’ tour for the rest of the year, performing 4 songs a night backed by a full orchestra. Seems like a pretty sweet gig!

We hadn’t seen them in 1998, when the tour was titled ‘It’s Good to Tour’ (get it?), because if you recall, it had been decided that I didn’t need to see them every year. I was mostly ok with this until one night in December when I attended a school friend’s birthday party, and the Taylor family turned up to collect Jason, having just BEEN to the gig we had decided to neglect. They kindly regaled me with tales of how wonderful it had been, ruining my night, Christmas, and in fact the whole year. I firmly decided I was not missing Quo tours again, and informed my parents as such the next morning.

Luckily, the aforementioned mainland orchestral jaunt only resulted in 1999’s tour being brought forward, so I was able to see them sooner than expected. Even more luckily, especially for my Dad’s interest levels, something incredible happened that year: Quo decided to start making good albums again.

At some point after the Don’t Stop album, with all it’s covers and trumpets and synths and acoustics, Quo agreed to work with Mike Paxman as the producer for their next album. Paxman gets a lot of credit for the next few recordings sounding so good, but it always seemed like a simple enough change to make. Like Christopher Nolan pitching his vision for a Batman movie (“Get this… we make it…. DARK!”), I always envisioned Mike Paxman being asked how he would improve Status Quo albums in the late 90s and going “Well, we could turn up the guitars!?” – cue RAPTUROUS APPLAUSE! It ain’t exactly rocket science, it’s rock n roll!

This era of rocking Quo albums peaked in 2002, with Heavy Traffic, making 1999’s Under the Influence seem like something of a toe-dipping exercise. But even if that’s the case, it was a richly satisfying dabble in the waters, and definitely whetted the appetite for seeing the band live again. There’s a handful of belting, real-Quo tracks on there, and it was easily my favourite record of theirs since 1991.

Image result for under the influence status quo

They promoted it initially with a tour of pubs (get it?), which would’ve been amazing to be at, but which I had no hope of attending as the tickets were almost entirely sold to locals, and Evesham wasn’t high on their list of places to visit. Some of the shows stretched the definition of ‘pub gig’ somewhat – The Fleece and Firkin in Bristol, for example, was a live music venue in its own right, it just sounded like a pub – but damn that would’ve been awesome.  I did get some idea of just how great it would have been a decade and a half later, when the band’s bass player Rhino brought his band – and loudversions of Quo songs – to The Railway Hotel, Evesham, but that’s for another time.

Happily, when it came to the main arena tour, our tickets were booked and plans were made. Dad and I were joined by my school friend Dan, whom I had recently learned shared my love of the band, and in particular the ‘Live at the NEC’ album, so he got to experience the same thrill I had 4 years earlier.

Even at this relatively early stage in my gig-going career, it was a bit strange seeing Quo in October. It’s possibly not very complimentary to any rock act to say that their tours feel right as a Christmas event, but it’s true. So the autumn show, with the sun still out when we arrived and more than a week of school left afterwards, was definitely a jolt.

As always, we bought a programme and I read it cover to cover, learning all about the pub tour as I did. Apparently, due to a printing error, they actually ran out of programmes before the end of this tour, making mine something of a collector’s edition. I’ll be sure to dig it out of the loft next time I’m at my parents’ house and see if I can retire off the profits (cue £6.57 eBay sale).

Continuing the odd selection process for support acts, Quo had gone from Paul Rodgers in 1997, to T’Pau (no, really!) in 1998, and then to a guy called Gwyn Ashton, about whom I can recall precisely nothing! Sorry Gwyn.

The show marked the end of a few eras. Firstly, it was the last time I would sit on the side at the NEC for many a year. During the show, I noticed a group of men not much older than me, going apesh*t together in the floor seats, and it looked like far too much fun for me to be missing out on. As such, and quite sadly, it would be the last time I would attend a Status Quo winter tour gig with my Dad, as he just isn’t up for the non-stop carnage that entails when you’re in the floor seats at a Quo show (only joking, he just prefers the view from on high).

Also, this would be the last time I would see a Quo show with Jeff Rich on the drums. He left the band in 2000, to focus on his drumming workshops for schools (see, I did say he was a good egg). Although at the time I had no problem with either the sound or focus of the band when Jeff was drumming for them, after he left, both improved dramatically. It soon became clear that this hadn’t really been his fault, but more on that next time.

Setlist thoughts:

Status Quo Setlist NEC Arena, Birmingham, England 1999, Under the Influence
  • I was wrong! 1997 was not the last time I saw them start with anything other than ‘Caroline’, but I’m 100% certain that this was. It was almost even more surprising, because earlier shows on the tour actually started with ‘Twenty Wild Horses’, but the band decided it wasn’t quite working and switched them around. With any other band I’d think ‘Good! Don’t just start with the first track off the new album, it’s lazy!’ But with Quo I would’ve welcomed the surprise and the actual dedication to the new record.
  • ‘4500 Times’ is my favourite song of all time – in fact, it’s in my top 3 favourite things of all time – and this was the first time I’d heard it live. For the uninitiated among you, the original version is a 10 minute long, heavily improvised rock epic, that closes Quo’s Hello album, from 1971. Over the decades that followed, Quo would apparently play live versions that extended to near 30 minutes in length, but it was phased out after the band reformed in 1986, even though – for my young mind at least – they recorded the seminal 12 minute version of the track in 1991, and stuck it at the end of the Rock ‘Til’ You Drop album. I genuinely never expected to hear it live, and when they introduced it at this show, I had a real Thierry Henry/Jamie Carragher moment with my Dad, where I thought ‘Holy sh*t! They’re gonna play it all!’
    Jamie carragher and Henry's reaction to the news of Rodgers leaving LFC
    Alas, 5 minutes in they jumped – a bit awkwardly – to ‘Roll Over Lay Down’, robbing us of 7 minutes of pounding guitar, screaming solos, bass jams and drum breaks which would’ve sent me into the sort of bliss that most 17-year-olds can only achieve through illicit means, but which might have put some of the older crowd members in to an uncomfortable sleep. After this tour, the band started to segue it into ‘Rain’, which worked slightly better, but I never stopped hoping for the full version
  • Favourite album track alert: “Keep ‘Em Coming”, which is a blistering track about cars, and really should’ve stayed in the set far beyond this tour.
  • No ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ at the end? I’m surprised we’re not still there now, waiting for the show to finish! I can understand why they tried to move away from it, they’d been ending shows with it for over 30 years! But although I love ‘Burning Bridges’, I guess nothing quite comes close to ending with ‘Bye Bye Johnny’, so this experiment didn’t last very long.

That’s all for now.

Next time: same band, same venue, but a very different feel.

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