Director Alan G. Parker was in London to promote his film Hello Quo and I got the chance to have a chat with the filmmaker about his epic rock documentary.
Alan G. Parker is a friendly and passionate man with as much to say as the stars of his rock-doc. We talked about the inevitable Spinal Tap comparisons, the rumours surrounding a reunion tour for the original Frantic Four members of Status Quo and the difficulty in cutting 50 years of rock history down into a manageable length for a feature. Parker also teased about his next project which looks set to be another definitive look at an even bigger international rock’n’roll band.
As the barricades were being erected in Leicester Square and fans started arriving long before the premiere would begin, I started by asking Mr Parker what it was like to finally be showing his film to a packed audience this evening.
With the Leicester Square premiere of Hello Quo about to kick off, I imagine you’re looking forward to the audience reaction…
AP: What’s been fun is that so far at the press junkets and showing various pals in the industry the film, nearly everybody has said the same thing which is ‘did you sit down to make a comedy?’ Because it’s laugh out loud stuff. There’s laughs all the way through it. You start watching it and within five minutes, everyone in the room’s laughing. Within thirty minutes some people’s sides are aching, they’ve laughed that much, and yet it’s a very serious story about a rock’n’roll band. But I understand why it’s got that thing about it. The lineage if you like is that everybody who’s spoken about this movie in print, within ten sentences has mentioned Spinal Tap but not in a bad way.
Comparisons to Spinal Tap are always welcome surely…
AP: Well Quo’s a funny beast. It’s the dark secret isn’t it? It’s Dad’s father’s day present. It’s something that everybody knows a song by but is anyone wearing the t-shirt to shout about it? And I think that Quo in that respect is a very, very big reason why we made Hello Quo. Because Hello Quo at no point ever sets out to change anything that you know. What it does set out to do is… one example for years we’ve been told the reason Alan Lancaster left the band is because of Marguerita Time… now that’s not true. Well then here’s the real reason why he left the band. OK fine great, that’s more plausible, I’m glad you did it that way. That’s the way I see it.
And it’s long but again how do you do a film about Quo in 90 minutes? We tried for three months in the edit. It didn’t work.
How long was the first cut?
AP: Nearly six hours. But that was just talking heads. There was no archive in it, nothing. Having said that, Who Killed Nancy? Which is my film, not the last one, the one before, was about four hours in rough cut. And that’s about 100 minutes in cinemas…. The way I got taught to do it by Don Letts… always go big. Because when you’ve got more, you can keep more. If you’re fishing about trying to find something, that means you didn’t get it in the first place. That’s when we have the sort of Eureka moment… well this is the first movie to contain the whole of the Frantic Four. This is the first movie to have Francis, Rick, Alan and John on board.
What is it that makes that original line-up such a big selling point?
AP: So in the same way that there’s loads of people read The Dirt by Motley Crue who don’t know own a single Motley Crue album but they read it because it’s a rock’n’roll story. It’s about sex, drugs and everything we all think we might do but not of us are gonna. That’s the Frantic Four story. It’s cocaine, it’s being in prison, it’s platinum albums, it’s the first band to have six straight UK number one albums. It’s spending too much money, it’s being ripped off cause that’s how it worked back in the seventies and it’s a juggernaut of a story. So what I did I went back to the band and their management and I didn’t want to diss the new band because they’re very successful and they do what they do. And I said listen, we need to weight it heavily in the favour of the Frantic Four so I would say 85% of the movie is the Frantic Four story which is why we called it Hello Quo and why we used the iconography of the very early 1972 album for our poster. Because we’re not feeding anybody a false myth. Yes it does bring you up to date… but by the time we hit the new band there’s probably 30 minutes of the film to go.
And then you have the big reunion as your climax…
AP: Then we always knew we had the ace card at the end… With this lot they’re probably going to carry on rolling for a while. So I said we need something that’s big enough, we need a P.S. but it’s got to be a punch in the stomach P.S. It’s got to be like ok well if they do make a brilliant album next year, that’s not unfeasible, they made a brilliant album last year with Quid Pro Quo, probably the best album they’ve made in ages. So what we’ve got is what all the fans wanted to see which is Francis, Rick, Alan, John back together again. And that has been a talking point online since about last Christmas.
There are all sorts of rumours around what happened at that reunion, what was it like?
AP: I mean the biggest thing is, like all these things, I know what it’s like cause I’m a fan of bands too. But let’s be honest, the first rumour I read online which I thought was hilarious was ‘it was a two hour jam session’. No it wasn’t. I know that cause I was there. I filmed the damn thing with 16 cameras. It was about 50 minutes. Oh yeah ‘there must have been 50 or 60 people there’. No there weren’t, there were about 20 odd people there and that included wives, girlfriends, the odd wife, the odd kid, management, our gang. That’s it done completely. There were just too many to me false rumours floating around and then of course came the big one which none of us can ever have control over. Therefore two and two together make eight, they’re doing a reunion tour! Who says they’re doing a reunion tour? Where’s it written down that they’re doing a reunion tour? On Facebook? Well that’s going to be reliable. About as reliable as Wikipedia who for three weeks to begin with on this film said ‘following the rip-roaring success of The Commitments, Alan Parker makes Hello Quo. And we got that pulled down and got my name right. So all this reunion talk seemed to be a house built on sand, not built on a good foundation. Now that’s not to say that it won’t happen, that’s not to say that it will happen but it is to say that right now, it’s about Hello Quo. What happens in the future, be it near or far, who knows? I’m the only person in the entire world whoever shot that band together in 28 years so that being the case, you think I might have some insight on that matter. But got none. Sorry to disappoint.
This is what fans do I suppose… speculate and jump to conclusions…
AP: You’re always going to get with any fan base; the people who post on the band’s forum are the hard core. They’re the ones that probably have a jacket full of badges, three tattoos and someone’s changed their first name to Ricky Quo or whatever. You expect that from people like that. If I found out that Kiss were doing their last ever gig next week and it was on the top of Ben Nevis, I guarantee I’d be there. I’m gonna be there and that’s it… But it’s what fans do. How does the movie end? They get back together. Oh well they must be playing round our way soon then.
The premiere is tonight in Leicester Square and then it’s released on DVD and Blu-ray next week. Were there plans to screen the film around the country?
AP: I’m kind glad we did it this way because at least this way, we go in, we do our thing for one evening, they’re all about to go away and do that wild tour thing they do every year where it’s Europe, Europe, Europe, Australia, then here forever at Christmas and we’re about to have a very short break and a holiday and then start movie number eleven, So I don’t think either of us are that bothered about, yeah we’ll promote it and yeah we’ll stand behind it but we don’t want to keep on talking about it till Christmas dinner. We’ve done it now and it’s great and I’m glad it’s been well-received apart from The Times and Time Out but fuck’em frankly. The Times didn’t like it, everybody else did…
You’ve done Sex Pistols, The Clash, Monty Python, what’s next for you?
AP: A fella said to me last week and I love this, I was doing an interview for some Japanese magazine and the kid said to me ‘well at least it fits in with your lineage’. I said ‘my linage?’ What Sid Vicious, Monty Python, Status Quo? I’d like to sit here all afternoon and talk about this lineage. Where’s the lineage? All I can tell you cause we’re under wraps is this: it is a massive, big, worldwide rock’n’roll band. Potentially bigger than this even. And we’ll be running on it pre-production wise this side of Christmas. It will be out next year. But it’s probably going to be late next year. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. It’s neither Kiss nor Slade. I know both those bands very well and I have talked to them about doing something but it’s neither. It’s a great group and I’m flattered to be doing it and hopefully via Classic Rock magazine which is our normal first port-of-call, we’ll have that news story out this side of Christmas.
You’ve got some great talking heads in the film, was that difficult?
AP: Brian May didn’t need any persuading at all. Cliff Richard didn’t need no persuading at all. Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy just went ‘where and when?’ He’s a mate of mine anyway but he was like ‘where and when, I’ll do it!’ To my mind that means we did something, we pulled it off and I’m massively pleased with that.
You talked about cutting it down to a manageable length, how difficult was that?
AP: When we got the cut down to about 2.25, K5 (International distributors) had said no longer than 2.20 deliverable. And I’m going ‘show it to them, screen it for them now’. And God bless Carl Clifton from K5, he came out of that room and he went ‘actually it works very well at 2.25 doesn’t it?’ I went ‘good’ because… I feel like it’s been through a butcher’s shop. I don’t know where that five minutes would have come from. The only thing we could have done was pull a story. At the moment I happen to think all the stories in that film are important enough to still be there.
So what was the worst thing you had to cut?
AP: There’s a few things we pulled out that we knew were kinda good stories but at the same time maybe they’d been told a lot in previous Quo books or they’d been told a lot in previous doc’s that had been done for other TV companies. That’s not to say that when you’re doing a story as big as this about a band as big as this, you’re bound to go over old ground. What I tried to do when we were going over old ground was not to reinvent it but to revisit it. Normally when you see a movie that says next to the band’s name ‘official’, it’s been stamped all over by management and lawyers who’ve gone ‘you can’t say that, that’s no good, why’s he slagging him off?’ We had none of that at all. We were given a completely free hand so whatever else you can say about this movie, Hello Quo yeah but also Honesty Quo. Everyone’s been dead straight about everything. The fact that Alan Lancaster about 30% into the film is allowed to say ‘but after John left, it all went shit, we made shit albums after that’. Normally that would get pulled straight away. But we were given a great deal of breathing space.
Is this the definitive Status Quo documentary then?
If there’s a point in doing a Quo movie in ten years, then we didn’t do our job. So let’s say this is the Quo movie and that’s it done and when Rick Parfitt and Bob Young who’s our consultant but also their best mate and worked for them and is tied in with them both come back in 24 hours and go ‘this is the best Quo doco ever’, I go (mimes ticking) tick because who else is going to tell me? Some bloke with long hair and denim might tell me tonight but it won’t make me any richer and it won’t buy me a drink… It’s nice that the band think it’s a good doco and I think it is very honest. I like that.