Former Status Quo drummer John Coghlan tells Tim Hughes about his enduring love of the band’s music and why he is still playing the tunes to his army of loyal rock & roll fans
JOHN Coghlan chuckles as he recounts some of the hair raising exploits he got up to while drummer for one of the country's best-loved rock & roll bands, Status Quo.
"They were good times," he smiles "It was madness most of the time but great fun. It was like being at one huge party!"
John is one of rock's great survivors. Joining the band in 1963, he was part of the group's definitive line-up, alongside Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt and Alan Lancaster. He stuck it out for the best part of two decades, enjoying their glory days from first hit Pictures of Matchstick Men through to classic hits Down Down and Rocking All Over the World, quitting, in true rock style, after falling out in 1981.
Living in Shilton, near Burford, with his second wife Gillie, he is a contented character, assured of his place in rock history but also somewhat pleased to have left the worst excesses beyond.
John joined the Quo when when it was trading under the name The Spectres. They went on to perform as Traffic, then Traffic Jam (Steve Winwood having also bagged the name), then The Status Quo. "We soon dropped the 'The' though, as it sounded stupid" says John.
While 1968's acid-drenched Pictures of Matchstick Men was their first big hit, reaching number seven in the charts, the Quo quickly shied away from their flower power roots, dropping the hippy image on advice from roadie, harmonica player, tour manager and songwriter Bob Young.
"In those days, the more you got on Top of The Pops, the more hits you got. We wanted to get on there more, so Bob said get rid of the frilly shirts and baggy trousers, so we did – although my jacket caught fire by accident because I was stood to close to a heater at our manager Pat Barlow's house."
they instead turned out in their trademark denim and T shirts.
"We played colleges and got a new following," says John.
They also amped up the sound and turned to heavier rock with hits like Paper Plane, Caroline, Break The Rules, Rain, Rockin' All Over the World and Whatever You Want, and, of course, chart-topper Down, Down.
"It was a great band," he says. "Rick was one of the best guitarists in the world and the band were great to work with. The only thing that wears you down is the constant touring. You end up cracking up."
"They were good times though, I remember playing the Glasgow Apollo and the balconies would be bouncing under the weight of all those kids dancing. It was amazing they withstood the strain!
"People would have a few beers and leap around to the music."
And then there were groupies. Surely that must have been the best part? "There were lots of women following us about. We were liked!"
He talks excitedly of the crazy after show parties and exploits in hotels, but insists he was more clean-living than most.
Francis and Rick famously confessed to spending millions on cocaine between them – Francis ultimately losing part of his nose in the shower.
"I wasn't into drugs," insists John. "You may think it's okay in the beginning but it catches up with you in the end and the older you get the less wild you get.
"I just go to the pub!"
He says he knew when he had to leave though. "We fell out in 1981," he says. "I don't know why. Probably it was because we had been together for so much time and it all got really stressful. If we were not on tour, then we were recording and constantly travelling around the world.
"Most of it was so Spinal Tap," he says referring to the spoof rockumentary of a British heavy metal band.
"That film was very close to the mark. But if you're not a party person, don't go in a band. It was great fun though."
And he praised fans for their loyalty. "They just loved the music," he says. "And we were a good, honest band playing rock music and heads-down boogie."
Leaving Quo, John went on to perform with Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), Roy Wood (The Move, Electric Light Orchestra and Wizzard), and Chas Hodges (of Chas & Dave fame), then rejoined the band for two tours from 2013 to 2014.
He has since concentrated his efforts on his own project – John Coghlan's Quo – alongside bandmates Rick Abbs, Mick Hughes and Rick Chase, delighting fans with early Quo hits, many of which he had a hand in writing.
Tonight he brings his band to Kidlington Football Club for a run through the early hits. They follow that with a trip to Abingdon United Football Club in Northcourt Road on June 16.
"We are not a lookalike tribute band," he says. "After all, all the songs we play I had hits with –and I can't be a tribute to myself!"
John, a native south Londoner, admits to loving Cotswold life, and frequently packs out his village pub with his equivalent of a hometown show. "I love Oxfordshire," he says. "It's a great place to live. There are some reasonable gigs and I live near a great pub, which is important. And it's near Brize Norton which is also good because I like planes – after all I used to be an air cadet."
He talks fondly of Rick, saying his death on Christmas Eve hit him hard ("He was a lovely guy, fabulous guitarist and great songwriter"), but he paid tribute to the enduring legacy of their band. "It was ridiculous some of the stuff we did," he says. "We flew by private jet from LA to San Francisco to share the bill with Aerosmith and ZZ Top and had so much fun.
"And we had so many fabulous songs. People try to be clever, but the good thing about Quo's music is its simplicity.
"It was about more than three-chord rock. More like three-and-a-half-chord rock!"
* John Coghlan's Quo play Kidlington Football Club tonight (Friday). Tickets are £15 from the club, from wegottickets.com or on the door