June 29, 2015

I hear the echoes

You were gone
From all those lives
You left your mark upon

From the pen of a mid-30s Neil Peart came these sorrowful words, albeit, perhaps he might even admit—now, a little simplistic sounding for someone of his literary standards,—but in their simplicity, as with many otherwise 'simple' songs and song structures, lies a universal applicability.

The bell finally tolled for a man who more or less invented the upfront counterpoint lead-bass style and, probably more than any other, was known for his huge guitar tone: thick and woody, growling, yet toppy and zingy at the same time, a sound so fully embraced and earnestly copied by aspiring bass players with John Hall's finest maple and walnut slung over their shoulder. I'm no different, digging in with my fingers or a pick and wringing as much essence of string-meets-pickup as I can, partly because unlike him I don't have racks of valve glowingly expensive Ampeg and Marshall at my disposal. And I do have neighbours.

I heard the awful news at lunchtime today, the news that quite frankly none of us actually expected. Chris Squire, the big man—indeed the main man—of Yes, had died. Everyone…well I say everyone but in reality it was only a few who committed their thoughts, goodwill messages and snippets of performance to video tape – was behind the #playforsquire movement. Squire had been battling a variant of leukaemia since about May this year, and it seemed only natural to assume in this day and age of technological healthcare that nothing couldn't be beaten. Alas not.

And the bottom fell out of my world.

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I suppose I was a late developer. I didn't really know Yes as a unit until the mid-1990s; their big hit, Owner of a Lonely Heart, came out in 1983 and I was much too young then to know what music could sound like: the only singing I did was in church on a Sunday, and the only music I knew was choirs and organ. In the 1990s I built myself a bass guitar, and I listened to Rush: at the time, I only had a couple of their 1980s albums, with Geddy on Wal bass, but I was quite into MIDI files and exploring the rest of the catalogue. Strange songs like Xanadu and Natural Science… and then I remember reading a website called "The Rickenbacker Project", I think. It had some sound clips of various players. There was Geddy on Cygnus X-1, aggressive as hell, and there was Chris Squire from Yes. I probably still have the sound files on my old computer. Roundabout, that ascending riff in E-minor played super fast and super cleanly. Siberian Khatru, with its hyper-melodic growling bass line. And Hold Out Your Hand, which sounded like a Yes song to me, with a very loud, chunky and slightly distorted bass sound. I knew that it wasn't Jon Anderson singing; I decided at the time that it must have been that guy who replaced Jon Anderson on one album in the 1980s. What was his name, Trevor Rabin?

Finally in picking up a copy of Close to the Edge from my local friendly second-hand record shop I quickly discovered where those sound clips had come from. And although the internet in the mid-1990s was a pretty small and not-at-all parochial place, I found out enough that Hold Out Your Hand came from Chris Squire's mysterious solo album, Fish Out Of Water. It wasn't until a good while later, certainly some time after I bought my Rickenbacker, that I found a copy of that album in the same second-hand shop. I bought it immediately. Like it was to every other bass player the album to me was a heck of a statement. And there, too, was that voice: a slightly husky tenor of considerable range. So that's who was doing the singing!

And really the rest is history. I went to see Yes at the Playhouse in 2003, when Rick was back in the band, and it was one of the best concerts I've ever been to. I went to see Yes again when they played at the Usher Hall in 2009. I bought almost all the albums, some of the live shows on VHS and DVD, and on my bookshelf I have the splendid Perpetual Change.

But what for the band, now? Chris Squire was such an integral part that he cannot be replaced. Jon Davison looks and sounds a bit like Jon Anderson, and he has the big role, but he has his own take on it. Then take Tony Levin: he played bass on Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe which was four-fifths Yes – ! – and yet the album sounded rubbish. Admittedly some of that might have been Wakeman's godawful synth sounds of the time: thin and whooshy and penetrating, played frighteningly fast and ultimately incredibly dull. But Yes music is a product of a collective who aspired to be more than the sum of their parts, an ideal if you will, whose revolving door of musicians kept—and keeps—that spirit alive.

Rest in peace, Chris. Thoughts to his family, too: Scotty and Xilan—and of course Nikki, Carmen, Chandrika, Camille and Cameron.