Death in Double Denim - on celebrity, seriousness and Status Quo

December 27, 2016

Of all the celebrity deaths in 2016 that might have provoked me to write a few words, it feels somehow incongruous that it should be Rick Parfitt from Status Quo.

When David Bowie died, it seemed like everyone else was already saying everything that I felt, and a lot more besides. He made some amazing music, which certainly had an impact on me, but I didn’t feel entitled to grieve. I didn’t know him, I hadn’t met him, he hadn’t personally touched my life (beyond recording some music I love). Obviously things are different for his family and friends, but as someone who just admired his music, what right did I have to feel bereaved? If I’m being brutal, his best years seemed to be behind him, so it felt more appropriate for music lovers to celebrate the fact that he’d been alive, rather than mourn his loss.

Besides, public displays of emotion over people I didn’t know aren’t really my style. Ever since Princess Diana died, I’ve felt uncomfortable about the suspicious hegemony of public grief. Is there something wrong with me that I don’t feel as connected to the famous as these other people do?

Similarly with Prince, I didn’t feel that I had much to add - I’ve got a lot of his albums, and I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve watched Sign ‘O’ The Times on VHS, but there was nothing much for me to say about his passing, other than that one of my regrets was never seeing him play live. When Leonard Cohen died, it barely registered with me, although I may have been somewhat distracted by the impending American election.

So why has the death of a denim-clad ageing rocker prompted me to write this? It’s not to say that I’m now mourning the loss of a musical genius. While I remember having a bit of a soft spot for In The Army Now when I was about 10, I was definitely a non-believer when it came to Status Quo. They seemed to embody a certain kind of meathead music, lumpen and unimaginative, bought by Mondeo men at motorway service stations. They weren’t what I wanted music to be - irredeemably white, unsexy, badly dressed - the opposite of Prince and Bowie. Or at least that was the caricature that I believed.

So I wasn’t a fan of Rick Parfitt. But I did once spend an afternoon preventing his car (and Francis Rossi’s) from getting a parking ticket outside Shepherds Bush Empire.

Status Quo were playing a fan club only show at a smaller venue than usual. I was working unloading trucks, and was staying around all day to operate a spotlight. As local crew, I was officially the lowest of the low in the music industry’s food chain. At other points in my illustrious career, I hoovered the stage for Sting, spent hours folding drapes in the Millennium Dome on New Year’s Day, performed the job that a peg could have done better on the pitch at Twickenham, and a host of other undignified jobs. On this occasion, the task assigned to me was to stand outside in the loading bay and keep an eye out for traffic wardens.

When the gig started, I didn’t have high hopes. The audience, clad in the commemorative T-shirts they’d been given on the way in, matched the stereotype I’d expected to see. Having loaded in the white Marshall 4x12s, partly loaded with lights, I was ready to sneer at the cliches of Dad-rock.

But as the gig went on, something happened. As I stood among the faithful, watching the balcony above the sound desk bouncing up and down with the weight of in the midst of hundreds of sweaty middle-aged Quo devotees in matching T-shirts and denim, I realised that I was wrong. In spite of the fact I was working, in spite of the fact that I thought I was too cool to like Status Quo, I was having fun. In terms of atmosphere, there aren’t many other gigs I’ve been to that have come close. Everyone in the place was smiling, including me.

So here’s to you, Rick Parfitt, for helping me to remember one of the most important things about music - it should be about enjoying yourself.