With his thick moustache, long hair, sleeve-less shirts and tight jeans, Alan Lancaster (born 7 February 1949 in Peckham, south London) had the image of the rough and tough guy among Status Quo. For sure, the singing bassist and founding member contributed with a number of hard-edged songs in contrast to Franics Rossi’s often very hummable boogie, but as a journey through his work proves, Alan Lancaster had more to offer. For instance, his writing contribution “Sunny cellophane skies” to the band’s first album in 1968, was a riff-driven pop tune in the vein of contemporary The Who.
Over to song number two, “So ends another life” (1969) and it’s time for a more thoughtful tune, awash with strings, resembling The Bee Gees.
Doubtlessly, however, Alan Lancaster benefitted highly from the transformation from hit list pop through to heavy blues-based boogie rock, which Status Quo went through in anticipation to third album “Ma Kelly’s greasy spoon” (1970). The album’s long-form finale of “Gotta Go Home” may have featured Rick Parfitt on vocals and Francis Rossi on lengthy guitar soloing, but the composition was Lancaster’s. Here, the band’s image of heads down legs apart boogie was established.
After the breakthrough of the “Piledriver” album (1972), Lancaster remained a prolific writer, penning both ballads and as in the case of “Blue-eyed lady”, a rocker written by Parfitt/Lancaster and sung in unison by Francis and Alan. The song was brought up to date on the reunion tour of 2013.
Many would argue that the “Quo” album (1974) is the pinnacle of Alan Lanaster’s career. Doubtlessly, the album is the band’s hardest, and the duo of Lancaster/Parfitt wrote half of its eight songs. Surely, the “Backwater”/”Just take me” medley is one of Lancaster’s most beloved moments.
During the subsequent years, Alan’s raw voice could be heard on numerous songs, soft and hard. His last classic may well have been the heavy boogie of “Over the Edge”, 1980.
The early 80’s proved to be a rough time for Alan Lancaster, who became ever more estranged from his previous good friend and fellow Status Quo co-founder Francis Rossi. Things came to a head during the “Back to back” album (1983), when Lancaster strongly questioned the choice of smooth Rossi single “Marguerita time” for inclusion on the LP. Furthermore, when Lancaster tune “Ol Rag Blues” was chosen as second single, a Rossi-sung version was elected. In 2000, the original Lancaster version was released on the “Rockers rollin'” boxed set.
In 1984, Status Quo disbanded, doing just a brief reunion opening Live Aid the year after. In the meantime, Lancaster and Parfitt started planning a new band, but suddenly, in 1986, Status Quo was back on the road. With a new bass guitarist. These whereabouts started a rift between Lancaster and the band he once co-fronted. Having relocated to Australia, Lancaster joined The Party Boys, enjoying a national number one hit record with “He’s gonna step on you again” 1987, then forming Bombers with Status Quo drummer John Coghlan. Alas, Lancaster’s career never seemed to take off.
Alan Lancaster lead a private family life in Australia, until 2012 when news were out that the original “Frantic Four” version of Status Quo had re-formed for a UK tour. The 2013 trek was a great success, a second part – extended into other European territories – fared perhaps even better. But old rifts made themselves known, and the Lancaster/Rossi companionship once again soured. Also, the band was by this time much less frantic than yesteryear, nowhere more obvious than with Alan Lancaster, whose Multiple Sclerosis disease stopped him from moving freely across the stage.
Alan Lancaster passed away on September 26, 2021. It has been rumoured that four or five songs remain unreleased, recorded by him, Coghlan and Parfitt. In an official statement Francis Rossi said that “I am so sorry to hear of Alan’s passing. We were friends and colleagues for many years and achieved fantastic success together as the Frantic Four alongside Rick Parfitt and John Coghlan. Alan was an integral part of the sound and the enormous success of Status Quo during the 60s and 70s.”
Photo by Hans Karpheden