Featured image copyright Thomas R. M. Brosset
I know exactly when I first became a Status Quo fan – it was in June 1978, when I was 15 and went on holiday to Spain with a mate and his family. My friend brought some of his cassette collection with him – he was a massive Quo fan, and by the end of two weeks, so was I. I have interviewed Francis Rossi twice in the course of my journalistic endeavours, and consider myself fortunate to have also interviewed Rick Parfitt in October 2015, the year before he became the first member of the classic Frantic Four line-up to pass away. Sadly, I never got to speak to bassist Alan Lancaster before he too, passed away this past Sunday morning at his home in Sydney, Australia, at the age of 72, but it feels as if another part of my long-lost youth has been chipped away.
Lancaster was effectively responsible for Quo’s existence. It was 1962 when he and classmate Alan Key from Sedgehill Comprehensive in Beckenham roped in another kid from their school, Francis Rossi, to form a musical group. The three lads played brass in the school band, and their original plan was to form a swing combo; however, Key and Rossi both had access to guitars at home, so Lancaster talked his parents into buying him a bass, and suddenly they were a pop group calling themselves The Scorpions. Alan Key left soon afterwards, to be replaced by a keyboard player named Jess Jaworski, and having drafted in a 16-year-old army cadet named John Coghlan on drums, the new band played their first paid gig in October 1962 when most of them were still 13 years old. Jaworski was replaced on keyboards soon afterwards by Roy Lynes, and after a formative summer season at Butlins in Minehead under the name The Spectres, the foursome released their first singles – Lancaster was the first member of the group to start writing original material, with his song Hurdy Gurdy Man being released as a single in 1966. The band was eventually renamed The Status Quo, releasing their first album in September 1968, just after they were joined by rhythm guitarist Rick Parfitt, whom the band knew from their time at Butlins, where Parfitt had been a cabaret singer. Lynes left the band before they really took off, but the remaining foursome, Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan, as Status Quo, went on to be one of the biggest names in British hard rock music, breaking into the big time with their fourth album Piledriver in 1972, and its manic single Paper Plane.
The foursome became both one of the most loved and also the most maligned bands of the ‘70s, drawing a following of die-hard fans of their driving, hard-rocking style, and an equally die-hard army of detractors, derisive of their perceived three-chord limitations and lack of musical experimentation. As it happens though, they were prolific songwriters, with Lancaster, Rossi and Parfitt all able to write, and all able to sing – Rossi’s nasal twang became the best-known voice, contrasting with Parfitt’s more rocky style; Lancaster’s voice was perhaps richest of them all. Indeed, his ability to write songs in varied styles leads some to think of him as the hardest rocker of the three of them – his voice dominated the proto-metal Quo album and the classic live set – while others remember him more for gentle ballads such as Blue For You and Ease Your Mind from 1976.
For several years the boys could do no wrong, but although the team were a telepathically tight unit, capable of perfect precision, there were personality frictions, exacerbated by the pressures of fame. It was Coghlan who broke first, storming out of a rehearsal session in Switzerland in 1982, not to return for 30 years – Pete Kircher from Honeybus was drafted in as his replacement. Lancaster was possessed of a fierce temperament and a tough, uncompromising character, and he and Rossi consistently rubbed each other up the wrong way with their shared reluctance to back down. Their animosity came to a head in 1983 when recording their 16th album Back To Back, which contained the infamously cheesy party favourite Marguerita Time, a Rossi song which Lancaster famously loathed. Combined with a separate row over another single on the same album, Lancaster’s song Ol’ Rag Blues, the stress became too much for Rossi, and he announced that the coming tour would be his last. Effectively, the band folded in 1984.
Nevertheless, when Bob Geldof and Midge Ure staged the massive Live Aid event in 1985, Geldof was utterly insistent that Status Quo should take part, dismissing as a minor objection the fact that the band did not exist anymore. A sceptical Rossi agreed to at least ask Lancaster, who was now living in Australia with his wife Dayle, if he would be interested, and to his and Parfitt’s amazement, Lancaster agreed and flew over at his own expense to take part. Pete Kircher again occupied the drum stool, the event was a massive success and effectively rejuvenated Quo’s career, who reformed with a new line-up that nevertheless did not include Coghlan or Lancaster.
In 1987 Lancaster joined Australian band The Party Boys, playing bass and co-producing their only album; their cover of John Kongos’ He’s Gonna Step On You Again went to no. 1 in the Australian charts. In 1988, he formed The Bombers, who also recorded one album, then formed the Lancaster Brewster Band with John Brewster from The Party Boys. After that came Alan Lancaster’s Bombers which released a single EP, and he stayed active, both writing and producing for other projects.
Most momentously for Quo fans though, both he and Coghlan buried the hatchet with Rossi and Parfitt and re-formed the classic Status Quo line-up for two massively popular Frantic Four reunion tours in 2013 and 2014. Although not obvious to audiences at the time, Lancaster was already unwell when these reunions took place, in the early stages of multiple sclerosis. His death from complications of the disease on 26th September 2021 was announced on social media by Lancaster’s close friend, Australian entertainment reporter Craig Bennett.
Alan Lancaster was born on 7th February 1949 and died on 26th September 2021. He is survived by his wife of 43 years Dayle, his children Alan junior, Toni and David, and five grandchildren. He was 72.
Graeme Stroud is the author of the book ‘Status Quo: Song By Song’ available through Fonthill Media