Alan Lancaster obituary

<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

Alan Lancaster, who has died aged 72 of complications from multiple sclerosis, was the bass player in the rock band Status Quo from the quartet’s formation in 1967 until 1985, and again in 2013-14 for a short-lived but popular reunion.

A member of the band’s most successful lineup, alongside the guitarists Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt and the drummer John Coghlan, he was the first bassist to step on stage at Live Aid in July 1985, as they opened the show at Wembley Stadium with a performance of Rockin’ All Over the World in front of a global TV audience of more than a billion.

Although Status Quo went on to enjoy a degree of success after Lancaster left later in 1985, it was in the pivotal early years during his membership that the group established their reputation.

Each of the 11 albums released between 1972 and 1983 made the top five, with their best known songs from the period including Paper Plane, Caroline, Down Down, Whatever You Want, Dear John as well as their cover of John Fogerty’s Rockin’ All Over the World. Catchy, simple in structure and phenomenally popular, these singles – they released more than 100 in total, more than any other British rock band – have become an essential part of the canon.

Lancaster was regarded by fans as the band’s “quiet one”, partly because he deferred to the extrovert personalities of Rossi and Parfitt, but also because his bass parts were supportive rather than flashy. Still, he had a more fiery character than his reputation would suggest. “Alan was hard – really hard,” said Parfitt in 2014.

“You wouldn’t want to fight with him, he could really handle himself. I once saw him take on two leather-clad rockers who had bicycle chains – he just went in and beat them up.”

Alan Lancaster playing in Newcastle in 1976.
Alan Lancaster playing in Newcastle in 1976. Photograph: Ian Dickson/Rex/Shutterstock

Lancaster’s bass-playing could be elaborate when required,

as witnessed on live versions of Forty- Five Hundred Times, initially released on Quo’s 1973 album Hello!, and his skills as a singer and songwriter were also of great use. He took the lead vocal on their version of Roadhouse Blues by the Doors in 1972, and wrote Don’t Think It Matters and Lonely Man two years later.

As he explained: “My game is playing hard rock, but I listen to and enjoy a wide range of genres, with various rhythms and bass styles. Bass-playing that I particularly admire is usually creative rather than clever. A creative bass line frames the song and shapes it.”

Born in Peckham, south London, Lancaster met Rossi at Sedgehill school in Catford in 1962, where they both played in the school orchestra, and he honed his abilities as a bass player in the Scorpions, the Spectres and Traffic Jam, the early incarnations of Status Quo. Although the group’s first years were difficult, with little public interest in their first two psychedelia-infused albums, a style change to hard-driving blues-rock with the 1972 LP Piledriver paid off.

Lancaster soon became known for the consistency of his playing. As his later replacement John “Rhino” Edwards put it: “I saw Status Quo in 1971 at my local club. I thought, ‘It’s pretty good, but it doesn’t look very difficult. I could do that!’ Of course, when you actually do it, it’s a completely different animal. You’ve got to really perform with Status Quo. You’ve got to pile it in or else it doesn’t work.”

The group enjoyed a successful decade in the 1970s, but by 1980 internal tensions and the consequences of rock’n’roll debauchery caused the group to split, with Coghlan departing that year. Lancaster, who had moved to Sydney, Australia, with his parents and siblings in 1983 – causing Status Quo, in his absence, to use a cardboard cutout of him for televised performances on Top of the Pops – quit the band after Live Aid. A co-founder of the group, he issued an injunction against Rossi and Parfitt in order to stop them using the band’s name: it was settled out of court the following year.

In Australia, Lancaster joined the Party Boys, which scored a hit with a self-titled album in 1987. He also formed the Bombers, in which he was initially joined by Coghlan. However, it was a case of diminishing returns for the bassist, and two more groups, Lancaster Brewster Band and Alan Lancaster’s Bombers, made little headway.

Although Lancaster then did some work as a soundtrack composer and producer, it was only in 2010 that his name came up in connection with the idea that the original lineup of Status Quo might reform. He and Rossi met in Sydney, although the group’s then bassist Edwards explained that his predecessor’s health was poor. He added that no bad blood existed between the two sides, saying: “It was great, he’s a legend. You know, I’ll always only be Alan Lancaster’s replacement ... I’m trying to keep his legacy in a safe pair of hands.”

When it was announced in 2013 that the “Frantic Four” were reassembling for UK dates, fans were keen to see Lancaster back on stage. Although he was grey-haired and frail, he did his job in efficient fashion. A Guardian reviewer wrote: “Quo are at their most thrilling – and thrilling is the right word – when they bring on the boogie ... Small wonder the Hammersmith Apollo was as packed as I’ve ever seen it.”

After the reunion ended in 2014, Lancaster revealed some remaining bitterness about the original split, by then more than three decades in the past. Interviewed by the TV channel Studio 10 in 2016, he said: “Status Quo ended up costing me more money than I ever made from it, because I was trying to protect it. I’m not a big corporation, I’m on my own. In the end you have to give up ... None of us in the band have ever received a royalties statement, ever. There’s lots of millionaires going around the world who’ve made their money from Status Quo, but the band themselves struggle to get there.”

Lancaster is survived by his wife, Dayle (nee Thurbon), whom he married in 1978, his three children, Alan Jr, Toni and David, and five grandchildren.

• Alan Lancaster, bass player, born 7 February 1949; died 26 September 2021