John Coghlan’s Quo @ The Half Moon, Putney
Bizarre as it may seem to today’s fresh-faced youth, there was a time when one could count on the period betwixt Boxing Day and New Years Eve (now referred to, or so I’m told, by marketing men as “Twixtmas”) as being an absolute no-no for gigs of any kind. A principle which, on reflection, was not entirely without reason- I mean, who’d come? After the preceding week’s customary festive frolicks, surely everyone would be either completely skint, knackered or both. And even if they weren’t, the forthcoming NYE debauch would soon put paid to what little remained of their already woeful energy and funds.
Recently, however, attitudes have changed- and while debate still rages as to whether this is a good thing or not, the announcement of this show several months ago seemed at the time an appetising prospect. After all, why sit at home twiddling one’s thumbs when instead, you can bop down to your favourite London venue with your pals, quaff a few tipples (OK, shandies in my case) and see the year out with some heads down, no nonsense mindless boogie? What I didn’t count on (perhaps, with hindsight, rather foolishly) was how the passing of John’s ex-bandmate Rick Parfitt would alter the entire context of the show overnight.
Only a few months earlier, you see, the fourth in a line of increasingly severe cardiac arrests had left the man ironically once referred to as the “Human Metronome” clinically dead for several minutes: though he subsequently announced his impending retirement from the band he’d co-fronted for 50 years, the first week of December had also seen the announcement of his intention to reunite with Spud (Coghlan) and Nuff (bassist Alan Lancaster) for an all-new, return-to-heaviness, Frantic Four-style album of the kind repeatedly pooh-poohed by Francis Rossi, and though in retrospect such plans may have been extremely optimistic, many of us still believed him to be at least partially in recovery.
Sadly, his sudden death on December 24 2016 (ironically not from heart failure, but sepsis) set the seal on all such plans for good. The upside, however, is that it also turned an innocuous, already-long-booked gig by his one-time colleague into both a memorial and a sellout. As a result, even at the relatively early hour of 8.30, the place is already rammed to capacity: a veritable cornucopia, if you will, of denim, leather and hair. Much like the mid ’70s in fact, only in a smaller room and with a much older, wiser crowd. Well, some of us.
Yet, whilst it’s undeniably great to see so many heads throbbing to such classics as ‘Junior’s Wailing’, ‘In My Chair’, ‘Hold You Back’, ‘Rain’ and ‘Big Fat Mama’, and yelling along in the boisterous, ebullient manner of which the late axeman would have most surely approved, you still get the impression that half of these people wouldn’t be here tonight had recent tragic events not occurred. In other words, what we essentially have here is another case of the Wilko Johnson Principle, only in reverse.
Not, I should stress, that I mean any disrespect to Spud, who at 70 is still (in spite of the odd missed beat here and there) one of the hardest-hitting, most bottom-heavy drummers in rock: nor is it any slight on his excellent band, who for me have been (FF reunions excepted) far closer to the true Quo spirit than the “actual” Quo for the last 20-odd years. It’s simply a sad fact that even at a supposedly festive time of year, nothing unites fans (or sells tickets) quite like death- and in rock’n’roll, a genre with which mortality has been inextricably linked since around 1959, that’s truer today than ever.
In a just world, of course, punters should flock to see JC and his quartet (mainly comprised of ex members of Predatur) Not only are they pretty much unsurpassable in their chosen field, but with Frame now sat tinkling ukes on stools and Ricky grinding out riffs at the big jam session in the sky, where else are you going to hear deep cuts like ‘Gerd Und Ula’ (the vagaries of its pronunciation resulting in much Alan Partridge-style onstage banter) eerie, CSNY-inflected ballad ‘A Year’ (its melancholy lyric rendered even more poignant tonight) or the thudding, harmonica-inflected ‘Spinning Wheel Blues?’
Sure, one pillock may exclaim loudly that “Rockin’ All Over The World is the best thing you ever done!!” (er, no it isn’t) but the majority of tonight’s audience, even though they may well not return in such numbers next year, still like their Quo hard and heavy- and JCQ, especially in their natural pub-rocking environment, are better qualified to provide this service anyone else. Yes, we’re all well aware that there are many decent tribute acts floating about, in particular the South Coast’s Just Supposin’ – but why see them when, for the same price, you can watch the original drummer? The man who beat the traps on all of the band’s best albums, and whose departure in 1982 meant they ceased in many people’s minds to be that band?
Both bassist Rick Chase and guitarist Mick Hughes (nice to see the members’ first names remaining roughly in concordance with those of the old outfit) specialise in the kind of blasting bar-room boogie riffs every rock fan of my age dreamt of before they’d even set foot in a bar: under their aegis, even ‘Wild Side Of Life’ and ‘Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like’ sound weighty, a feat modern-day Quo definitely haven’t pulled off since “Heavy Traffic”. And even that was the exception rather than the rule.
As for JC himself, one must be prepared tonight to cut the man more than a little slack: as well as suffering the after effects of the same dreadful cold many of us dahn ‘ere on old Thamesside seem to be nursing, he’s clearly grieving, and several heart-warming anecdotes recited by both himself and Hughes (even a rib-tickling, pre-Matchstick Men tale concerning the flammability of Carnaby Street jackets in Peckham fireplaces) bear a misty-eyed tinge they wouldn’t normally possess. But even so, he’s still John Coghlan, beater of skins par excellence- and when he’s “on it” it’s he, rather than any Krautrock percussionist, that symbolises the living definition of “motorik”. Stuff that up your jumper, Wire readers…
With a near-impeccable catalogue on which to draw- seriously, I defy you to find one bad song, even the bonus tracks, among those first 14 LPs- it’s now up to Spud, unless Nuff should ever choose to return again from his self-imposed exile Down Under, to carry the torch of true Quo. And, though it may be an uncertain world right now for veteran rockers, one hopes he doesn’t drop it for a long while yet.
In the meantime- Happy New Year to fellow ‘eadbangers everywhere. And, of course, RIP Rick Parfitt, 1948-2016.