July 7, 2024

Now it’s just possible that some of you out there will be thinking, ‘Does the world really need another Status Quo live album?’ Having learned some powerful lessons from the political figures who have been hogging the airwaves in the UK these past few weeks, I shall keep on speaking while diplomatically avoiding answering that particular question. But what I will say is this: the PR surrounding this particular release posits this album, not as an indispensable addition to any rock lover’s treasure chest, but as a collectable item, and therefore aimed squarely at the hard core Quo completionist.

Westonbirt Arboretum is the third release in a sequence named the Official Archive Series.  The first instalment, Vol. 1 – Live In Amsterdam, was released in August 2023, and Vol. 2 appeared in December of the same year, in the shape of  Live In London, recorded at the O2 Arena at Christmas 2012. And now, less than a year after the first episode, we have Vol. 3, recorded in the bucolic outdoor surroundings of Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire on an unseasonably chilly June evening in 2008. All three live albums are from the ’new’ Quo line-up, (as we old-schoolers call any Quo after 1985), but still featuring the late, lamented Rick Parfitt, who sadly  left us in 2016. The three instalments so far make a cohesive series, each one available as a double CD or triple vinyl, with each concert mixed and mastered by Eike Freese and Laurin Halberstadt at Chameleon Studios in Hamburg, and each package featuring photography by Christie Goodwin.

2008 Status Quo line-up, left to right: John “Rhino” Edwards, Andy Bown, Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi, Matt Letley (photo by Christie Goodwin)

Westonbirt Arboretum was recorded on the In Search Of The Fourth Chord tour in 2008, but also crossed over into the Forestry Commission’s Forest Live project, hence the tree-lined setting. Thus the context is established, and the target audience identified. But is it any good?

Well yeah, it’s all right; Quo has always been a great live act, and Francis Rossi remains a communicative and engaging front man. But there has certainly been no shortage of Quo live recordings over the years, and every album re-release or special edition is accompanied by some live material as bonus tracks or as a bonus disc – in fact, ten of the Westonbirt songs first saw the light of day in their raw state on the extended 3CD version of their excellent Quo’ing In compilation in 2022. An interesting feature of their modern gigs is that they take an even sprinkling of tracks from every period of the band’s existence – so this release opens with Caroline (which is the same track they opened with when I saw them in 1979), followed, (on the CD version at least; the running order on vinyl is somewhat different), by their version of Dion’s The Wanderer from 1984. A couple of tracks later we hear Beginning Of The End, which was from their current album at the time of the gig.

We also have The Oriental and Creepin’ Up On You from their 2002 album Heavy Traffic, plus multiple classics from the ‘70s. I have to say that the highlight of the whole double CD for me was, quite unexpectedly, an 11 minute epic called the Proposin’ Medley. This starts off with 2 minutes of the lightweight What You’re Proposing from 1980, then segues into a 30-second extract from their pre-fame 1970 non-album single Down The Dustpipe,  with Rossi laughing and fluffing the first line. Then we jump to 1975 for one minute of Little Lady from On The Level, then to 1986 for another minute of the great rocker Red Sky. This is followed by less than a minute of Dear John from 1982, but all of this only serves as an intro to Big Fat Mama from way back in 1972, which is played in its entirety. It seems like a totally random song selection to make into a medley, but it works a treat, and shows off the band as the tight, rocking entity that it is, while also serving up small helpings of some fan favourites.

The enthusiastic crowd is mixed high enough to make its presence felt on singalong numbers such as In The Army Now and Paper Plane, and they also sing an impromptu musical backdrop to Matt Letley’s drum solo, which actually comes across really well. Paper Plane and The Wanderer have been the two singles so far from this release; check out the rocking rendition of Paper Plane below. Please note though; we are only concentrating on Westonbirt here. All three Archive Series albums so far have 21 listed tracks, of which 14 appear in all three sets. Of the remaining seven listed at Westonbirt, five appear in one or other of the first two sets. So the only unique songs on Westonbirt are Don’t Waste My Time from 1972’s Piledriver, which will probably appeal to the old-school Quo army, and The Wanderer, which probably won’t, although for what it’s worth, this is a pretty decent rendition.

One other thing to add is that each set in the series is a strictly limited edition, with individually numbered sets of both CDs and LPs. Having said that, we are not told how many are available of each set; all I can say is that we are now up to Vol. 3, but Vol. 1 is still available from the official Status Quo online store, so there is still time to get in for the full collection. Enjoy.

Status Quo – Official Archive Series Vol. 3 – Live At Westonbirt Arboretum is released on 12 July 2024 via earMUSIC