Tag Archives: progressive rock

R.I.P. Chris Squire (1948 – 2015)

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I was very sad to learn of the passing of Yes bassist, Chris Squire, who had been fighting leukemia. He was only 67 years old.

Squire was often called the ‘linchpin’ of the band and is the only band member to appear on every album that Yes released. He began his life in music much the same as a lot of British rockers – playing in R&B cover bands, with a few Beatles tunes thrown in for good measure. He joined The Syndicate, which shortened their name to The Syn and released two psychedelic 45s in 1967 called “Created By Clive” and “Flowerman” (which was backed with their hommage to the counter-culture event at Alexandria Palace in 1967, called “The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream“). The band split shortly after and Squire joined another psychedelic outfit, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, in 1968. He soon met Jon Anderson and the two decided to form a new group – which was called Yes, after a suggestion from original guitarist, Peter Banks.

Yes released their first LP in 1969 and showcased a longer-song format, with flourishes of classical music and jazz – what eventually became known as ‘progressive rock’. Squire’s bass-playing was unique in that he played it almost as a lead guitar, with fluid lines and hitting notes in the upper register of the instrument. After a second LP, “Time And A Word“, released in 1970 – Peter Banks was asked to leave, as the sessions for the second LP were frought with tension. Steve Howe, formerly of Tomorrow and Bodast, stepped in for the third album (and the one considered to be the first ‘classic’ Yes record), called “The Yes Album“. It was released in 1971 and placed the band at the forefront of prog rock groups. Jon Anderson managed to poach our Rick from The Strawbs (abandoning Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) for the fourth Yes LP, “Fragile“, which made them one of the top bands in the UK and even got them attention in the U.S., due to the radio-friendly tune, “Roundabout“.

Close To The Edge“, considered to be the best Yes album in the band’s catalogue, was released in 1972. Original drummer Bill Bruford left during the tour for the album and was replaced by former drummer in John Lennon‘s backing band, Alan White. A live album of the tour was released, called “Yessongs” (along with a film of the same name, directed by Peter Neal, shot at a Yes show in London). Back in the studio, they started recording what they considered to be their magnum opus, “Tales From Topographic Oceans“, based on Shastric scriptures that Anderson and Howe were reading. The final album was a sprwaling two-record set and even longtime fans thought it was too self-indulgent. Rick left after the tour and was replaced by Patrick Moraz, for the follow-up, “Relayer“.

The band took a break in 1975 and a lot of the members released solo albums. Squire’s was “Fish Out Of Water“, referring to his nick-name and to his ‘solo’ piece on “Fragile”, “The Fish (schindleria praematurus)“. It sold well and is reckoned to be one of the better solo outings from members of the group. Yes reconvened in 1976 when Rick re-joined. “Going For The One” was released in 1977 and the band enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, even during the punk explosion. “Tormato” followed in 1978, but was not received as well and Anderson and Wakeman both left the band in 1979. A stop-gap live set, “Yesshows“, was released in late 1979. The band, with Squire, Howe and White soldiered on, adding Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, from new-wavers The Buggles. They released one album together, “Drama“, before a disastrous tour in 1980. It looked like Yes, like many prog-rock bands of the 1970s, wouldn’t make it into the new decade.

Jon Anderson started to work on some new demos in 1981 with Trevor Horn, original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and eventually Chris Squire and a new guitarist, Trevor Rabin. They were brought in to help fill out the sound. The new project was to be called Cinema – but was changed to Yes, as it seemed a more sound commercial appeal. This version of the band released the “90125” (after the Atlantic Records catalogue number assigned to it) and had a few hit singles. They toured again, playing some of the ‘classic’ songs alongside the new ones. Another studio LP, “Big Generator“, was released in 1987. The band split once again. Anderson reunited with Steve Howe, Rick and Bill Bruford (who had left the 1980s King Crimson line-up after Robert Fripp split that band once again). Squire owned part of the rights to the “Yes” name, so the collaboration was called “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe” and released one album in 1989. A year later, it was decided to record an album with both of the 1970s and 1980s line-ups. The result, “Union“, was a bit too much of a mish-mash and contained too many tracks. I did get to see them live in Hartford, Connecticut on that tour in 1991 and I enjoyed the show. I preferred the 70s tunes more, but the ‘in the round’ set-up of the show and the revolving stage were pretty cool, too.

Yes continued to release albums and tour up to now – with the line-ups ever-changing. Anderson finally left in the early 2000s, for what seems to be permanent. Squire was the one main-stay and now that he’s passed on, it seems to me that Yes has as well. They are going to tour with Billy Sherwood on bass duties – but to me, it’s just won’t be the same (it wasn’t the same without Anderson, either). Perhaps the remaining ‘classic’ 1970s line-up will re-form one last time and then call it a day. Rest in peace, Chris – thanks for all the music!

Gryphon – Union Chapel, London – 29th May, 2015

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Gryphon, the 1970s, medieval folk-prog band, announced earlier this year that there would be a short tour of the UK. I’m not sure what prompted the tour (they didn’t mention in the promotional blurbs about it being a 40th anniversary of the release of the excellent Raindance album), but maybe they felt it was time to fire up the crumhorns and malleted drums again. They did play a one-off reunion show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2009 – but I wasn’t fortunate to get tickets to that one. I was determined to see one of the 2015 gigs and ordered a set of two for the Union Chapel show in London.

I met up with another Gryphon fan (Pixie did say that she wasn’t really up for the trek to The Big Smoke) and his missus near Soho and we drank a couple of pints at a pub I hadn’t been to – then grabbed a quick tube journey to Islington. I was hungry, so my friend’s wife and I ordered some grub at a Weatherspoons joint, almost right across the road from Union Chapel. The show was meant to start promptly at eight p.m., so we rocked up just before then.

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No sooner had we chosen a pew (literally, it is a still-used place of worship and the seating is in the pews), then the boys filed out to the stage to generous applause. It’s quite a lovely venue – high ceilings and stained-glass windows give a ‘sacred’ air, but somehow, it’s oddly secular at the same time. The band were arranged in front of the massive pulpit, with Richard Harvey on the right side of the stage, sat at a keyboard and Brian Gulland and drummer Dave Oberle on the left. Sandwiched in between were guitarist Graeme Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett. Bassist Jonathan Davie was a bit to the back, behind Gulland.

They opened with an energetic “Renaissance Dance Medley“, which never appeared on an LP – but was played in a BBC session in 1974. They followed that with a nice version of “The Astrologer“, from the first Gryphon LP, released in 1973. Gulland and Oberle traded vocals, as the characters in the song, and the rest of the group backed them through the tricky melody. A lively “Kemp’s Jig” was next, also from the first album. In fact, as Harvey announced in-between tunes, most of the first set would be from the debut. After a really spooky rendition of “The Unquiet Grave” (the tone of the song heightened by the concert setting), Graeme Taylor performed a guitar solo in a ‘mock-classical fashion’, as he put it, called “Crossing The Stiles” (also, you guessed it, from the first album). “Juniper Suite” followed, with Gulland deftly moving from bass crumhorn to harmonium and back. The first set concluded with “Dubbel Dutch“, the lone choice from their second LP, “Midnight Mushrumps“, first released in 1974.

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There was a 20-minute interval for people to head to the bar, or the toilets (or both). We got back to our pews in time for the second set to begin with “Midnight Mushrumps“, the entire 18-minute piece. It was so great hearing it live and almost note-perfect (actually, it may have been, as I’ve only listened to it a small number of times). Gulland again switched between crumhorn and bassoon and Harvey would swap his keyboard for a tin whistle. Spell-binding stuff! An ‘unreleased’ song followed. It’s called “Ashes“, written by Graeme Taylor during the “Raindance” sessions in 1975. Transatlantic Records decided it didn’t fit the album and it was cut from the LP. It was eventually released on the “Gryphon – The Collection II” CD. A nice wistful tune, Brian explained that Graeme wrote it on a nice spring day near to a river, where the recording studio was located it definitely has that vibe to it. It was then “Red Queen To Gryphon Three” time, which I was excited about, as it’s my fave Gryphon LP. First up was a really nice “Lament“, played beautifully, then a “muddle-y” (Harvey’s word) of “Red Queen…” themes. It was great seeing the interplay, particularly between Gulland and Harvey. I didn’t quite catch the title of the final tune in the set, I heard Harvey say something about “our roots” and thought he announced the tune as “Yulattis“, but it may have been “Estampie“, from the first album. No matter, ‘cos it was a great little jam.

The encore was an extended version of “Le Cabrioleur Et Dans Le Mouchoir“, from “Raindance” – it had a nice little rave-up at the coda, with Gulland firing out blasts from a trombone. The crowd (including myself) were on their feet for an ovation. So glad I was able to see them live! The fan I attended the concert with is an old friend of the group and he was able to get me into the after-party in the upstairs floor/bar of the chapel. I said “Hello” to Brian and Graeme and had brief chats with Dave Oberle and Jonathan Davie. Richard Harvey talked for a moment with the bloke I went to the show with, but I didn’t get to talk with him. We left quite late and the tubes had all finished by then, so I got a cab back to Victoria Station, and a coach back to Oxford. All in all, a brilliant show and night! Here’s to hoping they’ll do it again soon (with maybe an Oxford show thrown in).

Set-list:

First Set

Renaissance Dance Medley

The Astrologer

Kemp’s Jig

The Unquiet Grave

Crossing The Stiles (Greame Taylor solo)

Juniper Suite

Dubbel Dutch

Second Set

Midnight Mushrumps

Ashes

Lament

“Red Queen To Gryphon Three muddley”

“Eulatis” (Estampie?)

Encore

Le Cabriolet Et Dans Le Mouchoir

Two guitar-slingers head to the great gig in the sky

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Much as I was hoping not to turn this blog into an obituary page, it’s really not been a good couple of months for musicians. Maybe these things really do come in threes?

Kevin Ayers passed away last month and now we’ve lost both Alvin Lee, the fleet-fingered axeman for UK psych blooz band Ten Years After and Peter Banks, one of the founder members of UK prog-rock giants, Yes.

TYA formed in 1966, out of a couple of local Nottingham bands. Lee was enamoured of American blues and rock-and-roll and used those influences in his guitar-playing. The quartet moved to London and were offered a recording contract on Decca’s progressiveDeramlabel, also home to The Moody Blues, among others. Their first record was released in 1967 and while it was primarily a straight-forward R&B/blues collection, it did show off Lee’s lightning-fast guitar phrasing on a few of the tracks. Their second LP, Undead, was recorded live and Lee came to the fore with his playing, this time incorporating a bit of jazz into the mix.

The band went ‘underground’ during that time, playing in hippie clubs like Middle Earth. Their third album, Stonedhenge, released in early 1969, reflected the change with a more psychedelic tinge in it’s studio experimentation. Ssssh followed on in the same vein, but maybe a bit less experimental. They also went from a cult act to internationally famous after their appearance at the Woodstock festival in August 1969 (and the subsequent film, released in 1970).

In 1970, they again released two LPs, the first of which, Cricklewood Green, is considered to be one of their ‘classic’ records. They released a single from it, Love Like A Man, which made the upper reaches of the UK charts that year. Watt, their final album for Deram, was released late in the year and didn’t fare as well. A Space In Time (on Chrysalis Records) was dropped in August 1971 and is considered to be their finest album. They had another hit single with I’d Love To Change The World, which is their most well-known song (besides their Woodstock show-stopper, I’m Going Home).


After that – the band entered a slow decline, not helped by Lee’s alcohol intake. The last couple of studio records seemed uninspired and even a stopgap live set couldn’t slow the fragmentation. TYA split in 1974 and Lee embarked on a solo career. By the 1980s, even Lee was laying low, but the original TYA line-up reformed in 1989 for the About Time album, which was fairly well-received for a new record by a ‘dinosaur’ band. The reunion didn’t last long and soon Lee was back as a solo act. The others carried on as Ten Years After, with new guitarist, Joe Gooch.

While Lee is primarily remembered for just a couple of songs and super-fast soloing, he deserves a bit more credit for songwriting and being willing to stretch his band’s repertoire beyond just playin’ th’ blues.

Peter Banks started out in a few R&B bands, before getting together with future Yes bassist Chris Squire in The Syn, an R&B-turned-psychedelic group who released a couple of singles. One of them, Flowerman (with 14-Hour Technicolour Dream as the B-side), is considered a classic of UK psychedelia now. The Syn folded late in 1967 and Squire joined Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop, featuring Jon Anderson and Bill Bruford. Banks joined for a short while, then left. The band then broke up and Banks and some of the remaining members formed a new group with the ‘provisional’ name Yes. The new band gained a reputation on the live circuit and even played as a support act at the final Cream show in 1968.

Their first (self-titled) album was released in 1969 and was a melange of pop, psychedelia and stretched-out arrangements. Banks would often incorporate classical melodies and bits of show tunes and other snippets into his solos, much like Roy Wood of The Move. They were creating a fusion of rock and classical music (along with King Crimson, Genesis and a few other bands) in a distinctly British way that would eventually be called ‘progressive rock’.


By the second album, Time And A Word, in 1970 – Banks was becoming more critical of the direction of the band. He didn’t like the orchestral arrangements which effectively sidelined himself and keyboardist Tony Kaye. Banks was asked to leave the band in April 1970. He was replaced by former Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe and the band entered their ‘golden’ era of prog-rock. Banks formed Flash in 1972 and they released three albums of pop-prog which sounded very much like early Yes. The original incarnation of Flash split in 1973 and while Banks was trying to get a new line-up together, met Sydney Foxx. They were married and recorded three albums as Empire, though none of the material was released until the late 90s.


In the 1980s, much like Lee, Banks did a lot of session work and generally kept a low profile. He released his second full-length solo album in 1993 (his first was dropped in 1973), with another one following in 1995. He also was instrumental in getting the Yes BBC sessions from 1969 and 1970 released as a 2-CD set in 1997. Banks rejoined The Syn in 2004, but left again shortly after. Lately, he was playing in an improvisational trio called Harmony In Diversity.

Danny Baker has referred to Banks as the ‘Architect of Prog’. I’d say that’s a fairly accurate description, though Banks may have to split the title with Robert Fripp and Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues. Still, he was a talented guitarist with loads of great ideas. He certainly guided Yes to become a top-flight progressive band and for that, he should be given accolades.