So Long And Thanks For All The Riffs

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Rick Parfitt 1948- 2016

I’ve tried several times over the last few weeks to write a tribute piece to Rick Parfitt since his death on December 24th.   Given the significant influence he had on my younger years I didn’t want his passing to go by without comment but I found it very hard to write something that gets across exactly what you want to say without sounding cliched and straying into banal platitudes. Hopefully this does the great man justice.

One of the greatest pleasures in my life was the moment at the start of a Quo show when the intro music, known as ‘The Drone’, started the band walked on stage and Rick Parfitt strapped on his white telecaster, took up his position usually just in front of the amps, legs apart and there was just a split second before he started to thrash out the opening chords to Caroline.  That moment never failed to get the hairs on my arms standing to attention and was the prelude to me strapping on my air guitar and into full on head banging mode.  Ask anyone who has been with me to a Quo show.  You didn’t really want to stand beside me when a Quo classic was on as I entered my own little world, lost in the power of the music.

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I learned of Parfitt’s death as I was coming out of the cinema on Xmas Eve, I checked my phone and saw the news headline ‘Rick Parfitt, Quo guitarist, dead at 68’.  My heart sank and I just stopped in my tracks not quite believing what I was reading.  Luckily my wife and son had gone to the bathroom and didn’t see that I had become quite emotional and I had some time to try and compose myself.  It’s kind of weird that the death of someone you never met can have such an effect on you but Rick Parfitt was quite simply my first rock star hero and has been for nearly 40 years.  Of all the icons who died in 2016 this was the one I felt the most.

Parfitt’s hero status was gained or rather confirmed back in May 1979 when as a young naïve 14-year-old I rolled up to the Glasgow Apollo to see the mighty Quo for my first ever gig.  All thanks to the son of one of my mum’s friends who had procured a pair of freebie tickets because he worked at the hotel Quo were staying in.  How he persuaded my parents to let me go I’ll never know but eternal gratitude.  The Apollo itself smelt terrible, its décor was horrific, the bouncers were big and scary and the stage was 15ft high.  I totally fell in love.

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Quo were phenomenal and simply blew me away.  It was the classic Frantic Four line up and it was rock music at its rawest and I came out of the show desperate for more Quo, live music and was the reason that over 37 years later I’ve been to nearly 800 live gigs including nearly 60 Quo shows.

That night it was also the 30th birthday of Francis Rossi and if memory serves Parfitt was wearing a white Bauer t-shirt with blue stars on it (This may have been a later tour).  With his long blonde hair, he looked every inch the rock god and I just loved the way he played guitar with such a ferocity and intensity.  I never ever lost that awe of seeing Parfitt play and where possible I always tried to make sure I was at his side of the stage at any Quo show.

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The odd thing is since the 80s I’ve always had this strange love/hate relationship with Quo.  I absolutely love the music they produced during the 70s and up to around 82/83 but when the Frantic Four line up gradually split up leaving Rossi and Parfitt to play under the Quo banner the recorded output thereafter left a lot to be desired as their music became, to me, a watered down version of what made them great.  Despite that I still went to see them live to hear the classics and watch Parfitt play guitar.

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When the Frantic Four line up got back together in 2013 to do a short run of dates I was in absolute dreamland and did 5 nights in a week, 2 in Glasgow and 3 in London.  I never thought I’d get to see that line up play again and it was the icing on the cake that they decided to do it again a year later in 2014.  Although this time after a back op I was restricted to 2 Glasgow shows and even then medical advice thought it maybe wasn’t the best idea but nothing was going to stop me and I even managed to get out my seat for a few songs.  It’s quite difficult headbanging sitting down.  I had planned on doing another 4 shows or more until the surgery intervened.  Seeing the four together again after so many years was enough to bring a tear to a glass eye.  Parfitt himself seemed to particularly enjoy these shows as this was the music Quo were meant to play.  He was always a rocker at heart and these shows seemed to re-vitalise him as Quo dusted off some classics not heard for many a year.

All in all it is probably remarkable that Parfitt kept playing live for so long after quadruple by-pass surgery in 1997, a throat cancer scare in 2005 and 3 heart attacks over the years which would probably have seen most people retire and take it easy. On reflection the fact that he was still able to get up on stage and perform the way he did was quite a feat.  He put everything into a show and is up there beside Malcolm Young as one of the greatest ever rhythm rock guitarists.  I’d say he was the best but then I might be slightly biased.

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When I heard he’d had his 3rd heart attack in June last year I just knew then that I had seen my last Quo show with Parfitt and at that point I just hoped he’d recover enough to live a long and happy life.  Optimistically I wished he’d maybe recover enough to do the shows in December so we could say our farewells but it wasn’t to be.  I did go and see Quo with stand in guitarist Ritchie Malone in July as I had already bought tickets but it wasn’t the same and with Rick not in his rightful place it was felt all kinds of wrong.  I left the venue thinking that I had seen Quo for the last time.  I even had a front row ticket for their December Glasgow show that I ended up getting a refund after it was confirmed Parfitt wasn’t going to play.  I did head down on the night to see if I could pick up a mega cheap ticket as I reckoned it was probably the best Quo tribute act going but it wasn’t to be and I’m glad as it was a few days later Rick left us and I would have felt in some daft way that I’d cheated on him.

In the end Rick’s love of the rock n roll lifestyle finally caught up with him but what a life he lived and the adage ‘It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years’ should probably be applied in his case.  He lived large parts of his life to excess and lived the rock n roll dream but like many others have found there is a price to be paid at the other end.

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With the news after his death that Parfitt had plans to write a book with a supporting Q&A tour to promote it and also record with former Quo colleagues Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan he clearly had a lot to look forward to but sadly none of these plans will now come to fruition.

Fortunately, I’ve still got the records to remember Rick by and they’ve been getting a fair old blasting in the last few weeks. Parfitt was responsible for some of my favourite ever songs such as Rain, 45 Hundred Times, Mystery Song, Big Fat Mama among many others, but nothing will replace the sight of Parfitt in full flight live on stage.  That simple pleasure now consigned to the memory banks, DVDs and you tube videos.

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Richard John Parfitt, you rocked my world and life will never be quite the same again.  Thanks for the music and the memories.

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The Wimbledon Experience

Soaked and Sunburnt

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I have to admit straight up I’m not that much of a tennis fan.  Over the years I’ve watched the odd Wimbledon match but it’s been no more than a passing interest and has never been a sport that I’d normally make much of a special effort for.  Although back in the very distant past I do remember watching the likes of McEnroe, Connors, Nastase and Borg when tennis players had a personality but that seemed to be part of the school summer holiday ritual where you played tennis for a couple of weeks then golf for 4 days before you returned to your first love of football and clubs and rackets were placed at the back of the cupboard until the next year.

So I approached a trip to Wimbledon with an open mind but there was always a lingering doubt that this might be akin to watching paint dry or even worse, watching cricket.  The reason for the trip was a 40th birthday present to my wonderful wife who had always wanted to go to Wimbledon and as I got to stand on the hallowed turf of the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon for mine it was only right she got to go to Wimbledon for hers.

On the face of it this seemed quite a simple proposition until I started to investigate how you got tickets.  It turned out I’d already missed the December ballot.  Options for tickets were fairly limited once you dismissed the prices on the legalised touting sites.  A small number of tickets are put on sale 24 & 48 hrs before each day’s play but you’d have more chance of winning the lottery than getting a pair of those or the final option is you go and join the famous Wimbledon queue to get a ground pass.  There can’t be many major sporting events these days you can rock up on the day and get a ticket, all be it you have to put a bit of effort in.

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Fortunately I had factored in this option when booking a hotel.  The obvious trick is to get to the queue as early as possible that is if you’re not mad enough to camp out overnight.  So I chose Kingston Upon Thames as our base which was only 15 mins away by train and crucially,  the Kingston train gets into Wimbledon ahead of the first tube from London.  Although if you follow the same plan as we did get a taxi from the station as it’s a bit of a trek on foot.

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After getting up at 5am, I’ll repeat that, 5am, in the morning we arrived at the queue around 6.30 and welcomed with the sight of 1,000s of people already there. The stewards issued us ticket numbers 5,024 and 5,025 which sounds quite high but was actually ok as there are approx 1500 tickets available across the three show courts and around 5,000 for the ground on sale each day so it was looking good for us getting in but we weren’t taking anything for granted at this early stage.  We got ourselves settled for the long wait in the queue just in time for the first downpour of the day.  Fortunately I had packed a couple of plastic ponchos courtesy of Magners from The Waterboys Kelvingrove gig a few years back and they turned out to be an inspired last minute packing item.  We would have been completely drenched and miserable otherwise.  Even with them and a ground sheet to sit on it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs as the downpours arrived at regular intervals but given it was the 100th anniversary of the Somme that morning our small gripes really were fairly insignificant.

The queue itself was brilliantly managed given the thousands of people already there and the thousands who arrived after us.  Also it might be the kind of people tennis attracts and the early hour but the arsehole count was thankfully almost non existent.  Apart from the people throwing umbrellas to each other to try and entertain themselves.  Although I’m not sure I was up to quaffing champagne at that time in the morning like some were.  So for about 3 hours or so it was enjoying the odd break in the rain showers, trying to stay as dry as possible and resisting the temptation to not constantly check the time.

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The queue did eventually start to move and although the gates to the ground open at 10.30 we didn’t get in until after 12.  I did enjoy the stewards stopping people who tried to queue jump and hold them back until their queue number came up.  As we got into Wimbledon proper we just headed for the nearest court which was 17 as play was due to begin and we’d decide where to go after that.  Our game was a men’s single match between Frenchman Lucas Pouille and American Donald Young and after a few mins they appeared on court but there were more dark clouds ominously heading our way and about 30 secs before the game was about to start play was suspended as the rain came down and on came the covers. This was to be the story of our day.  I think we must have chosen one of the wettest days Wimbledon has seen for a long time.  At this point we decided to invest in Wimbledon ponchos as we didn’t think ones emblazoned with Magners would be acceptable.  We did look like muppets but at least we were dry muppets. So for the next 3 hours we became experts in the cover system as we watched them coming off then going back on again about 5 times before finally, we saw some tennis.

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My early worries about being a bit bored were soon dispelled.  When you are up that close to the action you realise how fast these balls are travelling and although the players we were watching were not in the same league as Murray or Federer they were in the top 100 players in the world and no slouches.  The margins of error were so fine it was fascinating to watch.  Pouille was seeded 32 and even to my untrained eye he clearly had the edge when it came to the range of shots and accuracy.  Young was the bigger hitter but more erratic and was starting to lose the rag through the 2nd and 3rd sets.  He changed his racket 4 times, moaned about the bounce, moaned that this was the worst court at Wimbledon and added a few expletives under his breath.  He did rally slightly but class won through in the end and Pouille saw the game out and we had finally seen our first game of championship tennis.  It’s also became a apparent that it was a dangerous job being a ball boy/girl.  During the Pouille game one of the ball girls took a serve full in the face and had to retire hurt and in a later game one of the ball boys dislocated his finger.  Tough shift.

I also had my first taste of Pimms, well we were at Wimbledon, I’ve tasted worse although at £8 a cup I was going to drink it no matter how it tasted. I had expected prices to be extortionate but they were actually fairly reasonable overall and you are also allowed to take a small amount of alcohol in with you which we didn’t bother doing but regretted later.

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lucas 2After our first game we then had a stroll round the rest of the grounds and courts.  Wimbledon is a bit of mix and match when it comes to the layout of the courts.  There are three show courts comprising centre court and courts 1 and 2 which are ticket only courts. Court 3 is a mix of reserved and unreserved seating and all other courts are first come first served.  Although some of these have very little seating and you just watch from the walkway and you could watch several games at once depending on your position.  As we walked around watching a few games here and there the dreaded rain came on again and on went the covers.  We decided we’d head for court 12 to see men’s ninth seed Cilic’s game and sat there waiting on the rain to go off but the announcer said there would be no play for at least 40 mins so we went off to see Henman Hill/Murray Mound.  Which both of us originally thought was outside the grounds but is actually behind court 1.

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We sat and watched the Williams/McHale game taking place under the roof of centre court on the big screen before the weather cleared and the covers started to come back off.  We headed back to the Cilic’s game but stopped off at court 3 where British player Tara Moore was playing 12th seed Svetlana Kusnetsova.  We thought it would be all over fairly quickly and we would still get to see most of Cilic’s game afterwards.  Moore lost the first set 6-1 and looked to be well out of her depth but came out and took the 2nd set with some great tennis that had the Russian on the ropes.  There was plenty home support with folks irritatingly shouting out ‘come on Tara’ between every shot and a bit of terracing chant when swapping ends. It did seem to galvanise her but she just couldn’t quite sustain it and the Russian won through with the match winning point coming seconds before the rain came down again and play was suspended for the final time and tennis on Day 5 was over.

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So a mere 14 hours since we had started queuing our Wimbledon experience finished much as it began in a downpour.  Given the unpredictability of the weather we were probably lucky we saw two games to their conclusion and although it was a frustrating day weather wise it was still a great day out and one I’d highly recommend, especially if you are a big tennis fan.  The ground pass was £25 which gives you access to all the courts bar the show ones and there is a re sale ticket office where you can queue to get tickets for the show courts at a reduced price after 3pm.  If the weather had been kinder to us we could have seen 8 or 9 hours of tennis which would make the ticket great value for money.  We’re already talking about coming back next year and now we know how the land lies we’ll be much better prepared and hopefully get better queuing weather if we don’t get tickets any other way.  We did think about going back on the Saturday later on as they do a reduced ticket after 5pm but we saw on twitter people who had queued since 7 in the morning were only getting in about 5 and also the weather was still pretty changeable so we thought better of it.

So I may not be a tennis convert just yet but all in all for me it was a surprisingly good day out and one I’m more than happy to repeat and even better the other half really enjoyed it as well which was really the purpose of the whole trip.