Alan Lancaster – bass guitarist, singer, songwriter
Born February 7, 1949; died September 26, 2021
Alan Lancaster, who has died aged 72 following complications from Multiple Sclerosis, was the original bass player with Status Quo, the band whose roots lay in groups formed with guitarist and vocalist Francis Rossi while a schoolboy. As they developed their sound away from voguish psychedelia towards the no-nonsense three-chord boogie, a stream of hits followed their breakout single, Paper Plane (1972), taken from the fourth Status Quo album, Piledriver (1972). Others included Caroline (1973), Down Down (1974), and a cover of John Fogerty’s song, Rockin’ All Over the World (1977).
Along with drummer John Coghlan, Lancaster provided the steady but insistent pulse behind Rossi and guitarist Rick Parfitt’s at times manic but always radio friendly headbangers. As a writer, Lancaster penned Don’t Think it Matters (1974) and Lonely Man (1974), and sang lead vocal on other co-writes, including Backwater (1974), Is There a Better Way (1976), and High Flyer (1979).
Lancaster also took the lead on Quo’s version of The Doors’ opus, Roadhouse Blues (1972). The raw appeal of the song’s twelve-bar blues was what prompted Status Quo to take their own sound in a similar direction. An extended version of the song became a favourite of Quo’s live set, and featured snippets of other songs such as Shakin’ All Over. A fourteen-minute rendition ends the band’s 1977 album, Live. A 2014 deluxe reissue of Piledriver features a fifteen-minute live take, recorded in 1973.
Lancaster stayed with the group throughout their peak 1970s period, playing his final gig with them in July 1985 at Wembley Stadium, when they opened Live Aid with Rockin’ All Over the World. With Coghlan already gone, Lancaster’s increasingly acrimonious relationship with Rossi during the recording of their 1983 album, Back to Back, instigated his own departure. Various disputes included the release of Ol’ Rag Blues (1983) as a single in a version featuring a lead vocal by Rossi rather than Lancaster, who had written the song with Keith Lamb of Anglo-Australian glam rock band, Hush.
With Lancaster already living in Australia by this time, legal action saw him attempt to prevent the use of the Status Quo name by his former bandmates, and resulted in an out of court settlement. Lancaster joined Australian band The Party Boys, who had an Australian number one with their cover of John Kongos’ song, He’s Gonna Step on You Again, taken from the group’s Lancaster produced self-titled album.
Lancaster then formed The Bombers, whose line-up initially included his former Quo colleague, Coghlan, on drums. After a sole album, Lancaster formed The Lancaster Brewster Band with former Bomber John Brewster, before the group morphed into Alan Lancaster’s Bombers.
With his health deteriorating, Lancaster teamed up with the original Status Quo line-up in 2013 for the Frantic Four tour, rejoining again for a similar excursion the following year. It was a triumphal last hurrah for one of the most unsung talents from the classic rock era.
Alan Charles Lancaster was born in Peckham, south London, and attended Sedgehill Comprehensive School, Catford, where he met Rossi by way of the school orchestra. Both brass players, their initial plan was to form a swing band, but with classmates Alan Key on drums and Jess Jaworski on keyboards, the pair formed a beat group called The Scorpions, instead. Still in their early teens, the group played a weekly residency at a sports club in Dulwich, with Key eventually being replaced by Coghlan.
Renamed The Spectres, the group played their own material, and in 1965 while playing Butlins holiday camp in Minehead, met guitarist Rick Parfitt, who was playing in a cabaret band. The Spectres signed to Piccadilly Records, with their 1966 single, Hurdy Gurdy Man (not to be confused with Donovan’s song of the same name) penned by Lancaster.
After various name changes, Parfitt joined the group, which in 1967 became The Status Quo. The band scored a hit with the of-its-time psychedelic whimsy of Pictures of Matchstick Men (1968), before flowery shirts gave way to dressed-down denim to accompany their more basic direction. The chugging guitar lines that became the band’s trademark sound struck a chord with the public, and mass appeal followed.
Lancaster made sixteen albums with Status Quo, four of which went to number one. As Rossi and Parfitt increasingly embraced a rock and roll lifestyle, Lancaster’s settled domestic life in Australia furthered the rift. When he refused to return to the UK to make a video while awaiting the birth of his second child, a puppet of him was used instead, while Slade bass player Jim Lea stood in for him on Top of the Pops. The remaining members of Status Quo replaced Lancaster with John ‘Rhino’ Edwards. Lancaster later said it took him a decade to recover from the split.
Lancaster and Coghlan’s surprise return to the group for the Frantic Four tours delighted long-term Quo fans, with Roadhouse Blues incorporated into the set. With the band by now a stadium sized institution, Lancaster rose to the occasion to play some of the most solid bass lines in rock.
He is survived by his wife, Dayle, three children, Alan Jr, from his first marriage, and Toni and David, to Dayle. He is also survived by five grandchildren.
The Herald, October 4th 2021