Cast your mind back to Christmas 2016 and the idea of a new Status Quo album seemed about as likely as… well, something very unlikely. With the death of founding member Rick Parfitt, the band only had a handful of shows to honour and it looked like Quo had finally hit the end of the road. Three years later and the band’s 33rd album Backbone has been getting rave reviews. A fanbase divided over whether the band should even continue has largely been won over thanks to an album bursting with vintage Quo riffs. XS Noize caught up with Quo’s Dublin-born guitarist Richie Malone a few days after the album’s release.
Malone remembers attending his first Status Quo gig in Belfast in 1999. It was the tipping point that began a love affair with music which eventually led to him recording an album with his favourite band. Now the man who was once inspired by the band has an opportunity to inspire Quo’s next generation of fans.
“I had no guitar, I’d never seen a concert in my life. I didn’t even like Quo at the time and knew nothing about music! But from the minute the lights went down, something clicked inside me and I knew music was for me. Quo ultimately kicked that off, the first show sent me on my musical journey. It was crazy. I think Rhino (John Edwards, Quo bassist) was the first band member to come out and look down with eye contact, he even slung out a plectrum. All of that was quite special for me, I wasn’t expecting any of that, that atmosphere and the eye contact between the band and the fans.”
“There are times you can be really down on the road, but seeing some of the kids down the front is great. When they’re not expecting it I’ll throw out a wristband or a plectrum, I’ll look for the young ones may be at their first gig, and you get messages from the parents saying what it has done for that kid. That really brings it home and makes it special and worthwhile. It’s a small thing, but… I’ve done it myself, I queued up for six, seven, eight hours outside a Quo show in the rain waiting to get in, so I know what goes on.”
His days of queuing just to see the band were numbered though, and Malone was drafted in as Status Quo’s second guitarist in mid-2016. Parfitt’s ill health forced his retirement from touring and the band was on the lookout for someone to see out the remaining gigs. Rhino’s son, Freddie Edwards, had been deputising but Malone’s name was also mentioned as a prospect. The Irishman had met Quo several times and even played with Parfitt during a soundcheck in 2008. Understandably, the call came as a shock to him, but his Quo-loving father Karl took it all in his stride saying, “I had a feeling kiddo, it had to be you.”
“I always knew how to play the Quo set to a point,” says Malone, “but when Rhino called I hadn’t seen the band in a couple of years. When he sent me the setlist, I went back to Rick’s last few shows. That was my starting point to see where Rick had left off. I tried to mix the current versions with the album versions and find that happy medium. I had to start listening as a musician and leave the fan in me at the door, and I started picking up on little notes or things that were missing in the modern sets. I was doing them naturally, just because I heard them, but Francis hadn’t heard them in years and had maybe forgotten they were there, but it’s strange he picked up on them.”
It’s that balance between old and new in Malone’s playing that has won fans over and helped Backbone make an instant impact. His own songs Get Out Of My Head and bonus track, Face The Music, have that unmistakable vintage Quo sound. As a younger member of the band, Malone benefits from the influence of Quo’s decades of music without feeling their weight and has been allowed to develop by his more experienced colleagues.
“If you’re a Quo fan you’ll understand Get Out Of My Head. If that’s not a Rick rhythm I don’t know what is!” he laughs. “It just came out. I was working on Face The Music, getting frustrated and just before I called it a night I came out with that riff. I could have dismissed it but there was something there. Sending the clip to Francis was nerve-racking and he refused to work with me on it… in a positive way. He didn’t want to intervene because he knew something special was happening that was old-school Quo. But if he or Andrew or Rhino had have been with me when I’d played that riff they would have dismissed it and said, ‘We’ve done this 150 times’. What turned out to be the track as you know it was just from me working on it. It has that old school driving rhythm, but there are pieces of the melody or the lyrics that aren’t Quo, so it is slightly different, but it’s gotta be Quo. Leon came in with the four-four drum beat to back up the rhythm, I’m a sucker for that because it’s what used to be on those Frantic Four albums. That wasn’t the intention though - I didn’t put on On the Level and think I want to write a track like that - I’m just lucky it came out well.
“People have been messaging me saying fans are picking up on my tracks, and I was like ‘that’s bollox!’ But I’ve seen the reviews and I can’t believe it, it’s great. As much as I love Get Out Of My Head though, I’m so proud of Face The Music. The lyrics mean a lot to me, and the fact that Francis sings on it. I’m privileged to have seen the magic happen. He put his voice on it, and it just came to life.”
Through Malone, Parfitt’s influence is certainly heard on the album, but his absence was never a weight on their shoulders in the studio. Backbone took shape organically through extended jams during soundcheck and the sharing of ideas recorded at home during time off. Malone says everything was casual and collaborative, resulting in an album with “nothing gimmicky, false or fake”.
“I think people misinterpret Francis - he absolutely wanted everyone’s input on this. I put my track forward and if it was rubbish he’d have told me to try again. When I went to the studio and heard the other tracks they’d been working on, the fan inside me started to get excited, knowing that if it came out I couldn’t wait to hear what the fans would think of it.
“People have asked did we have pictures of Rick in the studio when we were making the album. Why would we do that? We genuinely didn’t think of Rick because we were just making an album, it was just like going out to do a rehearsal or a show. Of course, you think of Rick at times. When I wrote that track I did think of Rick after I’d come up with the riff and thinking Rick is never going to hear this hurt me a lot. I would have loved for him to hear this album. But when we were doing the album we were at work and focused on the song, not wondering what Rick would think. If we’d done that I don’t know what way the album would have turned out, you can’t second guess.”
For all the success of the last few years, being catapulted from life long fan to full band member, Malone dismisses the suggestion that he’s living the dream.
“I have to be really honest and say for me to be living the dream would mean I was thinking for years that I can’t wait for Rick Parfitt to move out of the way so I can take his place. I never once did that. I always dreamed of that situation, being in a band like that, but not taking over from my idol.”
As they’ve done so many times before, Status Quo has evolved and adapted. Plans to tour are in the early stages, but if Malone has anything to do with it a hometown gig is a must.
“If I’d a Euro for every time I’ve been asked that I could paid to bring the band over to Ireland myself! There will be shows next year, the album’s out and we’ll tour it. Francis has said we’ll tour the album late next year and I’m hoping there’ll be Irish gigs. We should be back next year.”