A very nice article and interview that explains a little bit of the trials and tribulations that Yes had to go through early in their career. I really liked this one by Mrs. Penny Valentine, given the name Penelope by her parents in 1943. She worked for a large number of publications as a music journalist and also worked as a press officer for Elton John`s record label in the 70s.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Valentine died young, only 59 years old, after succumbing to cancer in 2003. She will be remembered by her writing of brilliant articles like this one.
How Yes stopped being the little band round the corner and learnt to cope with success Part 1
Penny Valentine talking to Jon Anderson & Chris Squire
Down at Middle Earth a band took the stage for two appearances. Under the unlikely name of Mabel Greer`s Toyshop they consisted of one bass player, a singer, a guitarist and a drummer.
It was 1968. The bass player was Chris Squires, the singer Jon Anderson, the guitarist Clive Bailey and the drummer a guy called Bob – neither destined to stay in the band much longer or indeed have his surname remembered.
Nobody, that night, fell over with surprise. In no way was it the dynamic start of a band that were over the next four years, to consolidate a very special position for themselves as elite maestro`s of a new form of rock music.
In those days the format was rough and almost flung together. The energy that was there had no real direction, the ideas were fuzzy. There was no sign that a sophisticated set of entrepenours was about to bud.
A few weeks later – after a lot of talking – rehearsals started in Kingston, the drummer split for warmer climes (a paid week`s gig in France) and Bill Bruford turned up in answer to a “drummer looking for work” advert.
Something was beginning to stir. Chris Squires remembered a keyboard player called Tony Kaye and got him out of bed in Lots Road where he was out to the world in his basement flat. Literally 24 hours later at a college in South London they played their first date.
That appearance, four years ago this month, with no rehearsals and no money behind them was Britain`s first introduction to a band called Yes who were to go through self-inflicted poverty, enormous business hassles and four personnel changes before finally being accepted as a total entity.
It seems a long long time ago now. Up in Chris Squires` big breezy flat in London there`s an air of contented enthusiasm. Jon Anderson`s on the phone to the band`s manager, Chris`s wife is talking to Jon`s brother – back from Spain for a couple of weeks – and Motown`s golden oldies (picked up in the States) are blasting from the record player.
Outside in the crisp autumn afternoon sits Squires` dark blue Rolly Royce. Once the band tabbed “the group of `69” and then again “the group of `70” – Yes are finally enjoying the success that always eluded them on the grand scale. `69 – it turned out – wasn`t to be their year at all. Neither indeed was `70. Nothing was going to happen overnight for Yes.
For those two years they remained on the precipice of fame – not quite able to tip over the top. Chances came and went, and if it hadn`t been for the absolute belief and dedication of Squire and Anderson, if it hadn`t been for the hours of talking, the weeks of rehearsals, the search for ultimate perfection it`s doubtful that the band would have ever stuck it out.
For years it seemed they were just the little band round the corner. Available and hard working they always seemed to be around, yet something always happened to stop them making that early bid. They drew the people in and they gained respect from other musicians, but the real hard core commercial success that would have lifted them way off the ground – well they had to stick it out to get that.
They were not going to be any overnight miracles and maybe, just because of that, Yes are the kind of band they are today.
It`s understandable then that talking to the two founder members now you get this feeling that both Chris and Jon feel there`s still a long way to go. They`re very wary about sitting back and smiling at their achievements.
Their energy level is still so high it`s as though it`s only just been tapped. And all the best selling albums, headline appearances, Rolls Royces in the world aren`t going to change that.
We go back to that night at South London. It didn`t open any flood gates but it was the first pat on the back of encouragement they had ever got:
“We played `Midnight Hour` and a few 12-bar things and one number we`d vaguely rehearsed. It was total luck that we managed to get through the set”, says Anderson. It was Jon who was going to get the band to survive through the later rehearsal time that was to prove so invaluable to them. He`d borrowed £300 from a friend called John Roberts. He`d worked out that by paying each member of the band £5 a week they could survive and get themselves together for about 10 weeks:
“We`d had some vague chats about what we liked and enjoyed in music. At that time the Nice were getting very big around London and they were extremely good, very revolutionary and into arrangements. I think we were aware, having been with other bands, that you can throw a lot away simply by playing music for the sake of it. We knew it was better to sit down and work hard and arrange the music to our own specifications than dash headlong into work for the sake of surviving and earning money.”
Squire, Anderson, Bruford, Bailey and Kaye spent the time rehearsing at the Lucky Horeshoe cafe in the West End. Their aim was to come up with a set good enough for a residency at the Marquee – at that time the main stepping stone to getting a band off the ground in the London area.
Suddenly mid-way through rehearsals came their first set-back. Bailey decided to quit. It was, it turned out, simply a question of money. The stamina to survive through this bad patch simply wasn`t there. Bailey decided to turn his hand to promotion. “He just disheartened”, says Anderson now.
As luck would have it Squire again came up with an answer to the problem. He`d played for two years in a band called the Sin which also featured a guitarist called Pete Banks. Sin, remembered Squire, had also been into music based on strong arranging qualities. Immature stuff to be sure, but he felt Banks would fit in well with what Yes now aimed to do.
A week before their longed for date at the Marquee, Pete joined the band. Again reactions were going to be mixed. The band played elongated and fairly complex versions of well-known material – including “Eleanor Rigby”, “Every Little Thing” and some numbers from Anderson`s favourite album at the time – Fifth Dimension`s “Magic Garden”. Audiences through the Marquee and some 10 or 12 out of London dates over the next couple of weeks were confused:
“We were very enthusiastic about what we were doing”, says Squire. “But in general the audiences weren`t quite as enthusiastic as we were. We were doing all these gigs through people like Rocky Rovers – well-known promoter of dull gigs at £20 a time – just to keep us going.
“It was difficult getting through to audiences because we were so involved. It wasn`t the direct stuff they were used to, and sometimes it just wouldn`t come off. I suppose now those things would sound fairly banal, but we felt very excited because it was the way we wanted to go musically.”
Anderson, in particular, was feeling that for once things were going well. He was writing for the first time, and because the band were happy with their music he didn`t worry so much about the audiences reaction. They all lived together in Drayton Gardens, drove their own van, lugged their own equipment to gigs – yet the community spirit so important to a band was growing by the minute.
One night the band were about to clamber into bed at Drayton Gardens when the phone rang. It was around 1 a.m. and it turned out to be the call that finally got them their first real acknowledgment. It was from the manager of Blaises in Cromwell Road. Sly and the Family Stone had been booked for an appearance and – not a rare occurrence as it turned out – hadn`t flown in from the States.
Roy Flynn, at that time manager of Blaises and the Speakeasy, had a club full of top names from the music business and nobody to come on stage. Running around in a panic he`d bumped into Tony Stratton-Smith, then manager of the Nice. Stratton-Smith had told him there was this small band that were going to be very good. As they only lived round the corner and weren`t working much why didn`t Flynn give them a call?
“We had this very small-time equipment and we were still half asleep when we arrived”, remembered Squire. “We did the material we`d got together for the other dates, and included “Something`s Coming” from “West Side Story” which was a Pete Banks` idea. There were a lot of very heavy people down there that night – the Nice were all there and a lot of top business people.
“I think because we`d come in at the last minute and were this little band from round the corner they accepted us very readily and it went down better than any other gig we`d played up until then.”
Still the Blaises date wasn`t to be the opening of the flood gates. A few weeks later Bill Bruford decided he wanted to study economics – a three-year course. He left the band and enrolled at Leeds University. For the few dates that were booked by Roy Flynn (now the band`s manager following their appearance at his club), they brought in Tony O`Riley, a drummer who turned out to be not totally reliable.
“He just kept falling to pieces”, says Anderson. The band staggered on until – as fate would have it – they were booked to play a concert at Leeds University. Bruford apparently came along that night, took one look and decided economics could go by the board:
“Being an outsider looking in I think he suddenly realised what the band could do and missed it”, says Jon. “He came back with us for the Albert Hall date, went back to Leeds to sort things out and then re-joined permanently.”
The Albert Hall date was, in fact, Yes`s appearance at the Cream “farewell” concert. It was a plum date pulled off by Flynn, who knew the Cream and Robert Stigwood from his time at the Speakeasy. It was the first ever big concert date the band had played in their lives:
“We went on stage with 20 amp speakers and played this really amazing gig”, says Chris. “We really thought we`d made it that night. We were as nervous as hell but with 5,000 people clapping – well that was a very loud noise to us.
“It was funny because before Christmas that year we played about four Albert Halls in a row – one was for a Czech relief concert with Family – and everything seemed to be happening very fast. We did our first TV appearance around then too `Magpie` it was, at Christmas!”
Things were certainly picking up speed. Robert Stigwood offered them a huge contract worth thousands which they turned down out of loyalty to Flynn, and they got their much sought-after Marquee residency (“To a certain extent we had to bullshit John Gee a bit to get it”, says Squire disarmingly. “Suffering the pleasure of going round to his house and listening to Frank Sinatra records, saying how much we dug him”).
Yes`s following began to pick up momentum. By the Spring of 1969 they began to feel a little more secure in their music and Roy Flynn had signed them to Atlantic records. They were ready to cut their first album using some of the stage material plus group numbers like “Dear Father” and “Sweetness” and a number written by Squires and Bailey called “Beyond And Before”.
The eagerly awaited first recording session turned out to be something of a disaster:
“We`d got this eight-hour session booked and we just didn`t play one note of music”, says Jon. “We wanted a special organ to sound really incredible – like The Band got with their organ. So we`d ordered this special Hammond and we sat around waiting for it to arrive.
“Unfortunately that was the exact time that Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic boss) decided to drop in and see what his new band were up to. He spent six hours waiting with us before he decided to give up. In the end we had to record without the organ and add it on later.”
The entire sessions for Yes turned out to be slightly traumatic. And they pinpointed the band`s problems with recording. A new venture for them though it was, they had this vague idea of what they wanted the band to turn out like on the first album. In the end result the album was a total disappointment to them:
“We looked towards the Beatles and the Beach Boys who had really strong people producing them and felt that Yes needed that type of leader”, says Jon. “We felt we had enough music and ideas to warrant a very good producer. In the end we got a man who`d been a film dubbing editor and who didn`t know any more about production than we did.
“It`s a shame because I feel with a good producer the album would have been a lot more listenable to. Looking back it seems a shame that a young band can be manipulated in that way. It was a shambles and that`s the way the tracks came out”.
When the album came out the band sat back and waited for reaction. None came. Squire says that it was hardly promoted at all in Britain, certainly not at all in America. What they didn`t know was that despite that there were some American bands who`d got hold of copies and were doing Yes material on stage.
Still the band wouldn`t allow themselves to be disheartened…
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Ginger Baker, Johnny Nash, Wild Turkey, David Bowie, Linda Lewis, Osibisa, Lesley Duncan, Yes, Plainsong, Kenny Jones, Ian Carr, Mike O`Shea, Lou Reed, Bread.
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