Sunday, 2 September 2012

The triumphant return of Suzi Q... By James Nuttall

Suzi Quatro live at the Havering Show, Essex, 27th August 2012
The August Bank Holiday included countless festivals all over the country; some in castles, some in fields and some in downright odd places chosen as the venue. 

One of the less publicized weekend festivals saw the first ever female rock musician return to form after a five month recuperation.

Suzi Quatro has sold over 50 million albums worldwide. She has inspired the likes of Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Oasis, The White Stripes, Pat Benatar and Melissa Etheridge. She is also an actress and radio and television personality.  Last year she was inducted into the Detroit Music Hall of Fame, both as a solo artist, and as a member of her original girl bands, The Pleasure Seekers and Cradle.

She closed the Havering Show in her home county of Essex on Monday 27th August. It was her first gig since the end of March after falling from the top of a steel staircase while boarding an airplane the day after a show in Kiev. The resulting injuries included a broken left arm, right leg and a black and blue chin, which she landed on.

A misdiagnosis resulted in Quatro needing her leg to be re-broken and screws put in. 

Staying in touch with her fans via Facebook and Youtube, Suzi tracked her recovery commenting that the physiotherapy was 'S**t... absolute s**t... It's better to have a baby!"

Shows all over the world had to be rescheduled, and some were cancelled altogether.

However, Quatro, ever the professional, chose the free festival in Hornchurch as the place for her comeback gig. The Mersybeats and The Searchers had headlined the festival the day before, each day having a strict 6 pm curfew.

Suzi arrived a little after two o'clock on the day of her performance, and marched straight into her dressing room tent. Fans had come from all over the world to welcome her back to the stage, but much to everyone's shock and concern, four members of the St John's Ambulance team rushed into Quatro's tent shortly after her arrival.

Inside the dressing room I found myself watching the 62 year old rocker having her right wrist cleaned and bandaged up. "Can you believe this?", she asked, trying not to laugh "All for a coffee burn!... Tony [her driver] poured me a cup of coffee, and well... yeah!" 

When I asked if it would affect her performance that evening, Suzi quipped "No... no big deal. After what I've been through... you gotta be kidding me!" Pointing to her lower wrist, she told the medic "Just try to stay away from there, I'll need to be able to play."

After being bandaged up and doing meet and greets with some fans, we sat down in the dressing room to discuss her projects- past and present, her favourite albums, and how it feels to reclaim her position as the reigning Queen of Rock and Roll. 

Suzi's performance was running late, as the whole show was behind time. However, it still had to be finished by 6pm as the festival was in a public place. "We have to stick to the time, unfortunately. I hate it when that happens, but that's how it goes. They're having problems with sound too, but I'm just so ready... I shall be high-kicking with the best of 'em!"

Since her second operation, Quatro has had to have screws in her leg to aid the healing process. She has already said they have caused her much discomfort from day one, commenting "worst screw I ever had!". As a result, she had plans to have one of them made into a necklace; something she is still yet to do. "I'm still deciding if I want to take the other one out yet or not."

(Pointing to her shin) "That one's still there, that had to be there. So if I never take it out then I'll frame the one, or both if it does come out." 

Watching her update videos on youtube, Quatro was clearly unhappy and frustrated that she would have to take so much time out from gigging- the longest time since she was pregnant. 

However, speaking to her on the day of the gig, she looked healthy, happy and very strong. She clearly managed to stay in shape while injured. "Well I was immobile. [I stayed in shape] by not being lazy. I was on that walker going everywhere. I was emptying the trash, I was putting the dishes out of the dishwasher, I was cooking, I was going from one end of the house to the other. That in itself was exhausting, dragging the cast around. So I didn't sit around, basically."

Although the accident stopped her touring, it did not halt Suzi's thirst for work. While recovering she penned her one woman show, Unzipped, named after her 2007 autobiography. It will be performed from Monday 29th October to Saturday 3rd November at the London Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square. 

"It's me telling the story of my life. Basically, how I became Suzi Quatro from the very beginning, the early days up to the modern day." There is music in there, but it's not going to be a concert. There will be a couple of hits in there, but you're going to get talking, you'll get bits of music that were important in the beginning. There'll also be video clips from the very beginning [of my career], too. I think people are going to enjoy it."

This will not be the first time Quatro has been on stage for more than rock and roll. In 1986 she played the lead roll in Andrew Lloyd Webber's production of the musical Annie Get Your Gun

She also wrote her own musical with Shirlie Roden, Tallulah Who?, about the life of actress Tallulah Bankhead; a project she has in the past said she would like to bring back. "I would love to bring that back, I'm still hoping we will. In fact, it was performed in Hornchurch, which is right here. If there's a time for it we will; somebody will approach me."

Last year Suzi was quoted in a national newspaper saying that she would like to also do a musical about her own life, commenting at the time she would like KT Tunstall to play her. Would she still like to do that? "Yeah, but let's see how [Unzipped] goes." 

And is KT still her first choice? "No. Not now. Whenever it happens is when I decide who I want to play it, but she's good, I like her." 

Since Unzipped was published to good reviews in 2007, Quatro has expressed her ongoing love affair with writing, although she has not released another book, but she will... "I'd like to. I've given stuff to publishers to see. I have a fiction which I started quite a while ago, which I haven't gone back to for a while called The Hurricane. That's really good so far. I will go back and finish it. I could write another autobiography after all this... maybe it should be called Re-zipped, haha!"

At the moment, the next Suzi Quatro release is set to be a limited edition release of her 2011 album, In the Spotlight, which will contain a bonus CD entitled In the Dark. "I've received the album cover already, but I'm yet to see the finished piece. It's got demos, unreleased stuff that nobody's heard yet, postcards and also the unseen video of Strict Machine."

In the Spotlight was released by Cherry Red, who have also remastered and re-released seven of Quatro's albums, starting in 2008 with Main Attraction, originally released in 1982 on Polydor. Some of these albums are on CD in their own right with the original art work for the first time.

Several albums, such as If You Knew Suzi and Oh Suzi Q are still to be released, however. "It seems to be that little by little all the things are getting redone, so I should think they probably will too given chance. Nothing is cement right now."

Has she given thought to her next studio album? "No, but I've already started to write."

On the subject of albums, Quatro has often spoken of her fondness for her first album, 1973's Suzi Quatro, along with 1979's Suzi... And Other Four Letter Words, and 2006's Back to the Drive. So which of her albums would be her least favourite? "Probably Aggro-Phobia." This was the only album Mickie Most, who discovered Suzi in Detroit in 1970, brought her to England and signed her to his label, RAK, ever produced.

The other albums were all produced by Mike Chapman, who composed most of Quatro's hit singles, along with writing songs for Tina Turner, The Sweet and Mud. He would go on to produce Blondie's most successful albums. He also spearheaded In the Spotlight and executive produced Back to the Drive for Suzi.

"I never thought Mickie was my producer. I love him to death, but I never thought he knew how to bring out the best in me. The only way I can say it is I don't like the way Mickie produces me. I think Mike Champan brings out the excitement in me, and Mickie was always lost in the studio with me. He got me where I wanted to go, but not production-wise. But he was smart enough to know that Mike got me."

Moving onto other people's albums, Suzi has always expressed her love for Jackson Browne, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and The Eagles... Her favourite albums by them are as follows:

Tom Petty: "Definitely, without a doubt, the first one. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers I bought about five albums all at once, and that's one that I wore out."

The Eagles: "I don't know, I like their Greatest Hits because it's just a group of most of their best songs."

Jackson Browne: "Running on Empty. That's another album I wore out... fantastic."

Suzi is an accomplished musician. In her autobiography she offers Gene Simmons from KISS some redeemable bass lessons. In 1975 she was named the third-best bassist in the world after Jack Bruce and Paul McCartney. She also reads and writes drums and piano. 

Staying in contact with the outside world by Facebook and Twitter, Quatro commented that her bass playing is the best it's ever been. 

"It's much better now than it used to be because I relearned how to play. So it's excellent, I'm playing really well. It's just readdressing technique, things that you would maybe cheat on because you find this position's easier. Everybody has little cheats. When I relearned how to play once the cast was off I couldn't do any cheats, I had to start from scratch."

Suzi Q was set to go onstage at 4:45pm. She was finally announced about 10 minutes late, and the 2000-strong crowd went wild with excitement as she took the stage in her iconic leather jumpsuit, with a red Ed Hardy tattooed sleeve t-shirt underneath, and launched into a cover of Neil Young's Rockin' in the Free World, then straight into her 1979 single I've Never Been In Love

Fifteen songs were packed into a one hour show. Can the Can, Devil Gate Drive, The Wild One, Tear Me Apart, and other hits each went down a storm. The loudest reaction was Suzi's trademark bass solo, which sent the crowd wild with excitement.

The single from In the Spotlight, a cover of Goldfrapp's Strict Machine, was supposed to end the show, but time delays lead to it being cut from the encore, making A Girl Like Me the only song to represent the album at the gig. One encore of the top 5 UK hit If You Can't Give Me Love, and Chuck Berry's Sweet Little Rock and Roller closed the festival. 

After the show, we escorted Suzi to the merchandise stand, still in her stage clothes, where she signed autographs for eager fans- all desperate to get albums, programmes and photographs signed. 

Her high heeled boot had caused her to hurt her ankle after the show, so taking my arm as we walked back to her dressing room she said "That was incredible."

So finally, does she see herself doing this when she's 72? "Yeah. I do!" 

By James Nuttall

Many thanks to Suzi for her time; thanks also to Lynn and Skip for helping to arrange the interview. 

All photographs © James Nuttall 2012

1 comment: