In My Chair – Status Quo
I saw her talking, now
My ears were burning
Her feet started walking, now
They started turning
My eyes were half open
But she didn’t see me there
We ran along, walking ‘cross the roof-tops
In my chair
I was working in Bude, Cornwall on Julia Davis’ series Nighty Night when I got the offer. Did I want to play Status Quo‘s road manager Barney in 3 episodes of Coronation Street to mark the 45th anniversary of Britain’s longest-running soap ? Who’s gonna say no to that?? These are the moments in an actor’s life which really lift the spirit. Straight offer. No audition. Working with a band I’d loved since I was knee-high to a wotsit. Iconic.
And on a TV show with it’s sensational trumpet theme tune which had been with us all the way – a host of characters who were real – Ena Sharples, Hilda Ogden, Albert Tatlock, Elsie Tanner, Rita Fairclough, Ken and Dierdre, Vera Duckworth, played by actors who were even more real. Reminding all of us soft southerners that this country of ours had a north, who spoke differently. Working class people on TV. And it was comedy too, unlike Eastenders the slit-your-wrists southern soap. The combination of Status Quo and Coronation Street was earthy and righteous. I said yes there and then, and a few days later the scripts arrived. One of the things people always ask me when I get a job and I’m shooting some programme or film is this : “When is it coming out ?“
Which is one thing I never ever know. Some time next year, when it’s all edited and got a soundtrack and some PR behind it and blah blah blah. But this was the one exception. Coronation Street scripts come with the TX, or transmission date printed in capitals at the top of page one. When’s it coming out ? September 21st 2005.
I’d had hair extensions added for Nighty Night because I was playing a new-age sex therapist who was a bit of a twat (enjoyed that role very much and both Julia Davis and Rebecca Front (and the rest of the cast – truly blessed we were) are genius but that’s for another post) – so I kept the long hair for Corrie since I felt in my bone of bones that the old fella Danny the Dealer from Withnail and I would get another outing. Withnail was shot in 1985 – then in the mid 90s I’d filmed Wayne’s World 2 and played another rock’n’roll character called Del Preston (for another post too!) and he had spoken with the rhotic ‘R’ sound & stoned delivery of Danny from Withnail, after I’d called writer and director of Withnail Bruce Robinson and asked him if he thought it was OK (it’s your character Ralph, do as you feel). I felt that I would wheel him out once more, perhaps for the final time – indeed I haven’t played that character since then, but hey never say never. There are people who wonder why I didn’t make a career out of that geezer, (I did : Ed) but I’ve always felt rather protective of him and kept his powder dry. Coronation St with the Quo though felt completely right, so it was dangly ear-rings, maroon waistcoat, jeans, cowboy boots, a floppy yellow hat and permanently stoned gaze.
EXT. The Rover’s Return – day
My first scene was in The Rover’s Return, the legendary pub on the Corrie set, which nestles in the centre of Granada TV in the heart of Manchester. Of course the exterior is in The Street while the interior set in inside a studio. Obvious but there you go. I’d met the band briefly before we went on set, invited to their dressing rooms (one each for Rick and Francis) and said hi – they were both very easy-going and normal and friendly -unsurprisingly because their image was of down-to-earth-fellas, because that is who they are. Like me I hope. And then we were in the pub – initially me at the bar and them in a booth. Next to me at the bar was Jack Duckworth.
Julie Goodyear (Bet Lynch), Liz Dawn (Vera Duckworth) and Bill Tarmey (Jack Duckworth) in the pub in Coronation Street
If you’ve never seen the show it’s not easy to explain who this person is. He’d been an extra on the show for ten years, playing darts in the background of The Rovers before becoming a regular character in the early 80s some 25 years earlier. He was, in short, a fixture on the show, and on that particular set. He spoke with a viscous throaty Manc growl, full of beer and fags and character, a kind of gloomy town crier that you used to be able to find at the bar in every pub in England. In the scene he had to ask Barney who those geezers in the corner were, and I had to sing a section of Rockin’ All Over The World which he wouldn’t recognise, at which point I say “The Quo man? Status Quo” and carry the beers back to the lads. It was fun.
Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi : the stars of Status Quo
After four or five takes they stopped to fiddle with a lamp and Bill Tarmey – or Jack – turned to me and said, with all sincerity :
“Ralph lad, you’re doing very well. Very well. I’ve had top actors in here, A-listers stand at this bar and I’m telling you lad, their knees have gone”
Christ it was funny. I wondered who he was talking about – Ian McKellen? Ben Kingsley? – and carried the beers back to Francis and Rick, and we had a sup and they called cut. Rick Parfitt and I lit up a Benson & Hedges each. A runner ranneth over, doing his job (running). “Sorry you can’t smoke on set gentlemen you’ll have to go outside“. We looked over at Jack Duckworth who was perched, nay, carved into the bar with an Old Holborn roll-up permanently tucked and smouldering inside his hand. “Jack’s smoking” I said. The runner assumed an air of private suffering. “That’s Jack though” he smiled weakly. Rick and I looked at each other, made a decision to say nothing and walked outside for a quick puff.
Francis Rossi had formed a band with Alan Lancaster at Catford High School in 1962 who evolved into Status Quo, adding Rick Parfitt in 1967, Andy Bown in 1977, and John Rhino Edwards who replaced Alan Lancaster on bass in 1985, all of whom are in the current line-up and present on set in Manchester. Quo have had over 60 chart hits in the UK and specialised, since 1969, in denim-clad 12-bar boogie.
Status Quo in 1970 when they released ‘In My Chair’ as a single
Their peak era was the mid 1970s, with a run of hits including Softer Ride and Down Down just as I and my friends from school Conrad, Tat, Andy Shand and Tigger were forming our own band called Rough Justice based in Kingston nr Lewes. We wrote our own material, but also played a nice wedge of covers – two by The Beatles (Birthday and Get Back), two by Elvis Presley (Heartbreak Hotel and Jailhouse Rock – see My Pop Life #80) and THREE by Status Quo : Paper Plane, Caroline and this song In My Chair. In My Chair is a very low-temperature boogie with delightfully surreal lyrics and a terrific old school guitar solo, and if it got any slower it would slowly slide off the sofa and fall asleep on the floor, yes, but it’s also a tune. My favourite Quo song along with Gerdundula, which was actually the B-side on Pye Records. (Francis Rossi had later told me that Gerdundula was written for a German couple they knew in the late 60s called Gerd und Ula. So now you know 😉 Rough Justice loved the Quo, but we also found these songs relatively easy to play – 12-bar songs with a rhythm guitar part (Conrad playing Parfitt) and a lead part (Tat playing Rossi). I would then sing the relatively undemanding nasal lead vocal (Ralph singing Rossi). Although as I recall I played bass on Caroline (three whole notes!!) and Andy Shand sang the lead vocal. People could dance to them too. Of course I told the Quo all this, and they were pleased. They were pleased to be in Coronation Street, with lines, acting, thrilled to bits to be honest. Which was very sweet. I asked them who they liked and they said Jeff Lynne of ELO and Hank Marvin, guitarist with The Shadows. Rick had sat next to Hank at some variety TV show where the audience is filled with celebrities, and told us that he’d spent some of the time looking down at Hank Marvin’s right hand, thinking – that hand played those licks! They were lovely fellas all right and they made me feel very welcome.
I appear to be happier than The Quo
Later that night Rick and I had a few too many in the hotel bar and Rick actually fell into a glass table covered in drinks, causing mayhem, spillage and jokes. Kind of gratifying. We ran along walking across the rooftops in my chair. Three weeks later we would return to Manchester for the following episode. Now read on dot dot dot.
Jack Duckworth, the character, passed away in 2010 asleep in his chair. Millions mourned. He was the 2nd-longest serving male character on the show – over 30 years. Two years and one day later Bill Tarmey the actor passed away in Tenerife at the age of 71, of a heart attack. We mourned all over again. Here’s to you Bill.
Late note : as I was writing this blog, Rick Parfitt was suffering a massive heart attack. Thankfully he lived and is now in recovery, on the mend. My thoughts are with him.
In My Chair from 1971 :
clearer visuals :
the B-side Gerdundula played live in 2004