1. What are your feelings on Bernie Frost, and the success Rossi had with him? And what are Francis’ comments on why he left Bernie and came back to you as a writing partner?
BOB Francis and Bernie wrote some excellent songs during their time together. Our writing styles are very different which reflect in many of the songs we’ve both written with Francis for example Down Down and Marguerita Time.They hadn’t written together for some time and I was nicely surprised and, of course, happy when Francis rang out of the blue and suggested we meet up and see where it would take us. I’d always hoped we’d end up together one way or another. Maybe some things are meant to be and the writing is still, as it always was, just one small part of our relationship.
2. Gerdundula - what were the issues behind Francis and you calling yourselves Manston and James on the song-writing credits? Why these names - did you just pluck them out of the phone book?
BOB The names, if I remember correctly, came out of no-where just as some words or lines in a song do. I can’t really tell you why we decided to use pseudonyms. The song has stood the test of time and been good for the band. I’m pleased to see it’s now become a standard in the band’s live show and has a great entertaining feel-good factor about it. I sometimes wonder where the real Gerd and Ula are now.
3. Rhino has written some great Quo songs recently eg Creepin’ Up and Bella Vista Man with Rick. I'd be interested to see what you and Rhino could come up with – have you ever fancied writing with Rhino?
BOB Yes it might be interesting to write something with Rhino. No two people ever write the same together so it could be an interesting combination. So who knows…?….. With the song ‘Heavy Traffic’, Francis and I had already written and recorded a demo of this before Rhino came up with some new ideas that we worked on with him and these created the final version of this song. The original demo is quite different in many ways. Maybe sometime in the future we’ll get to release an album of original demo recordings.
4. Do you feel that your 'broken' writing partnership with Rossi and Quo after Just Supposin' resulted in Quo becoming more 'poppy' than they would have ultimately been had you continued to write with them, Rossi in particular? What is your take on the route the band took from the mid-eighties and how was it that the magic spark came back immediately on the ‘Heavy Traffic’ album?
BOB I think anyone who’s read Francis & Ricks autobiography ‘Excess All Areas’ will know now that the various changes musically, in the bands line-up, and the people around them came about because of a build-up and combination of many complex issues that had surfaced around the late 70’s and early 80’s and which would eventually set the pattern and tone of the band for the following decade and more. My personal view is that the mid 80’s began a decade of further turmoil and unhappiness and many predicted (once more) the final demise of Quo during this period. Many now suggest that the ‘magic spark’, as you put it, finally came back on the ‘Heavy Traffic’ album. I think most will agree it was another turning point for the band and positive proof (again) that Status Quo were far from finished. As it says on the box ‘ the party ain’t over yet’ (by a long way). It’s impossible to put the reason down to any one particular thing. I believe that, just like other times during the previous 35 years, their backs were against the wall and it was time to prove the cynics wrong yet again. The “tipping point” returned once more. With a new manager, Simon Porter, who knew the band better than most, having worked with them as their PR person for 20 years (prior to David Walker’s death in 2001), their agent Neil Warnock, who continued to believe in them just as he’s done for over 25 years, a core road crew who have stayed with them since the 80’s and early 90’s and, importantly, a complete batch of new songs written not just by Francis and I but also Rick, Andy & Rhino which all worked so well together, it all felt very positive. Every song recorded made ‘Heavy Traffic’ an album that could, if the band chose to, be played 100% live and work well on stage in the same way the songs on many of the 70’s albums had.
5. What is the feeling you get from writing with Rossi in the past couple of years? Do you wish to continue writing bluesy numbers more reminiscent of Quo or are you happy for stuff like All That Counts Is Love?
BOB I get a feeling of satisfaction knowing that we can still write some quite good songs together in a comfortable and emotionally rewarding way. In the past five years or so I think we’ve written and demoed about 35 new songs and have maybe another twenty or so started which we’re working on. There’s a lot of variety in these songs from rock and blues to country and ballads. The one’s which will work for Quo will always naturally come to the surface and the rest will be either for Francis’ solo album, covers for other artists or possible use in films.
6. I'd be interested to know what your take was on the Rossi/Young (writing) partnership ‘break-up’? Francis mentioned in the ‘XS All Areas’ book about the 'rift' that actually never existed, and years later you both discovered it was just manufactured rumours that broke you and him up.
BOB When we got back together five or six years ago after a long period of not writing together it all soon fell back into place and I think one of the reasons is that we were under no pressure to come up with anything. Once we realised, through the days and weeks of just talking, that much of what had happened between us all those years ago was set up to suit one or two other people in the organisation then we were quickly able to resolve a lot of unanswered things and the songs just naturally started to come. We soon realised that, above all else, the friendship was still there and that's what mattered most. We’d missed out on a lot of years but it was now a time to look forward. There’s no bitterness or anger about anything that’s happened in the past. The good stuff easily outweighs any of the bad and what really matters is we’re in a good place now.
9. When writing with Francis, who does the lyrics and who does the tunes? Is it a mix between both of you?
BOB It’s a mix of both. We have a way of writing that works for us and hasn’t really ever changed in almost 40 years. We just seem to hang out and chat, watch television doing nothing in particular. Francis always has a guitar on his lap. He strums and I hum…. we seem to know when we’ve actually started a new song and it’s a good feeling when something really starts coming together. Francis has such great ideas and rhythm and licks. We’ve always first recorded the ideas onto a really battered old cassette player and will eventually know and decide when enough of a song is written to take it into his studio and put together a decent demo. The ones we’ve recorded over the past few years I reckon are pretty special. One or two of them actually sound like they could have been recorded 35 years ago for the ‘Ma Kelly’s’ album. We’re feeling good about a lot of the new unheard songs and there’s still so many started and waiting to be finished.
12. Who’s idea was it to change the musical direction from pop to blues?
BOB At Butlins Quo was basically a Rock & Roll band and the pop thing came along more when record companies and publishers got involved and it was important to find a ‘hit’ song. So they recorded all kinds of stuff until eventually (and fortunately) Francis wrote ‘Matchstick Men’ which was to give them the recognition everyone was desperate for. It would also give them an image and style that was going to be hard to shake off a little later when things turned from good to bad to worse. The music changed when it seemed like times couldn’t get any tougher and the band had nothing to lose by playing the kind of music they wanted play and not what they were told to play and so, much to the horror of Pye Records, ‘Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon’ album’ was written, recorded and released in 1970. It was to be their last recording for the label. At last they had made an album of songs that would to set them off in the direction of the next 35 years. It may have coincided with my writing with the band but the fact is that at that time we all had the same blind faith in the material and direction the band was going in.
13. Tell us more about the hotel demo of "Down Down". Who spoke the words on "Paradise Flats" on the first album?
BOB I have a tape of Francis and I writing this song in the Travel Lodge Motel in Hollywood during the first American tour although I think we started it a week or two earlier in the UK. Again this is another piece of archive material that will hopefully one day go onto a collector’s CD. I’ve just checked the first album and it’s Rick singing lead vocals on ‘Paradise Flats’ and definitely me speaking the words in the middle although I can’t remember doing it.