Monday, July 06, 2015

Chris Squire 1948-2015. So long, and thanks for all, The Fish

One cold Saturday night in Autumn 1980, barely into my teens, I stood in the shabby shed called Deeside Leisure Centre, just over the border from home into North Wales. After what seemed like hours, the lights dimmed and Benjamin Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" heralded the appearance, among some giant fibreglass sculptures of plants on stage, of five men around the age of thirty. The acknowledged our applause and moved to their instruments. As the classical tape ended, the one on the right, tall, thin, with streaked hair, and wearing a glitter version of a teddy boy drape started off the group's performance by producing an elusive yet hypnotic repeated figure on his bass guitar. The rest of the band crashed in behind him, and the bass continued to wobble and pulse beneath, around, and above their solid beat.
Three hours later, I had witnessed the first of my couple of dozen Yes concerts, and my hearing was temporarily attenuated by the bass frequencies produced by the man on the right, especially during his eponymous showcase piece, The Fish, when I had actually felt my chest cavity resonate.
That man was Chris Squire. In the previous year, his partnership with Yes co-founder Jon Anderson had run its course, not for the last time, and he had assumed the mantle of de facto leader of the band.
Yes dissolved a few months after this tour, being reincarnated a few years later and have existed in some form ever since.
I still wasn't a fan. Not in the way I was a fan of Genesis, say, loving every moment of every album. I'd first heard them in 1978, via C90s from friends and then the first ever edition of BBC Radio One's Friday Rock Show which comprised a 1978 live gig. It was clever music, and I liked the science fiction album covers and avoidance, usually, of love songs. Prog rock's appeal to emotionally-constipated teenage boys is well-documented. But I didn't yet get what they were trying to do a lot of the time.
Still later, Yes fissioned, and Jon Anderson's half got as far as recording and touring. Chris Squire's half seemed to be taking their time. I went to see Jon Anderson's half and thought that this was quite a hard band to be a fan of. They kept reconfiguring, changing personnel, and not touring the UK.
I think I became a Yes fan one evening in February 1990, in a motel room in Norwalk, Connecticut. I was listening to a cassette of that first Friday Rock Show. I suddenly realised that this version of Yes was perfect, and that the band would never be perfect without Chris Squire. The lighter whimsy of the others needed his tougher weight underpinning them. Anderson's Mozart needed Squire's Wagner.
A miracle happened a year later. They patched up their differences and all toured together. I know I was a fan now because I went to see the same band play the same songs on two consecutive nights.
In Spring 1998, I hadn't seen them live for seven years. They'd been pissing around with line-ups again. But they were back now. I sat on the second row of Newcastle City Hall. They'd now entered the phase where they would bring back much-loved old songs that hadn't touched for years. I smiled so broadly that evening that my jaw ached afterwards. Chris Squire, on stage in front of me noticed this, and I knew that he's noticed. It established a connection of loyalty.
I met him a couple of times. Once, at a signing session with the rest of the band, and then a few years later at a fan-run meet-and-greet after a show in Edinburgh. I shook his enormous hand, and introduced him to Helen, who I would later marry. I mentioned that I'd introduced her to the music of Yes and that since our meeting the regular audience had increased by one. He suggested I sow my oats a bit and fill their concert stalls with my many girlfriends. Helen eventually saw the funny side. I think.
I've become less patient with the concert-going experience. People around me, it seems, are less respectful of the occasion. They seem to drink more, talk inappropriately, and create distractions with their mobile devices. Some of this is due to social mores changing, and, I acknowledge, much of it, for me, is that I stopped drinking ten years ago and feel other people's revelry more painfully. I made one of my grand all-or-nothing decisions this and vowed that 2015 would be my final year of concert-going.
Yes provided me with a perfect test case for my resolve, by announcing that in 2016 they would be touring not only Fragile from 1971, but also Drama, from 1980, my favourite Yes album, the one that's driven by Squire more than any other, and the one they were touring that cold night in 1980. I didn't waver. At first.
A month ago, Chris Squire announced he had a form of leukaemia, one which upon swift research didn't appear very survivable. I was very upset. The facts, that he was probably going to die some time this year, didn't seem to match my belief in his robust indefatigability.
I made a playlist, of Yes material that emphasised him, and also his one and only solo album which I prefer to several full band albums, and headed out for a three-hour marathon training run. "This is what I do now", I thought. "I make my own gigs, and enjoy the music by myself how I like." I smiled and cried a bit as I ran.
A week ago, he died. If you think that it's just that someone who made some records I liked in the past has died, and that it's a shame and no more, then you don't understand the immediacy and the connection. My social media feeds were swamped with people I know expressing the same sadness and loss as me. And professional musicians as well. And all his colleague and former colleagues from Yes. Yes are, remarkably carrying on, and it seems that this contingency was planned for, with one of the former members stepping in to perform his parts on stage.
We have to mark people's passing. It feels incomplete and unresolved if we don't. My own father was such a difficult bugger that there was no funeral, and I feel that it is those of us in his immediate family who have paid the price, whether or not we actually liked him, because we didn't have that ritual to follow.
I need a ritual, a marking, a ceremony. So that's why I deliberately broke my resolution and bought a ticket to see the surviving members of Yes next Spring. The show will happen in the month I turn fifty. I sang Happy Birthday to Chris at his own fiftieth birthday seventeen years ago.
I feel much much better having made this decision. It will be an emotional night, especially when Billy Sherwood plays "The Fish", Squire's instrumental piece with which he shared a nickname.
On my running playlist I included "It's Love" a very early live Yes track, which concludes with a joyous bass guitar and scat vocal exploration from Chris. As they wrap up, Jon credits him: "Chris, there. Rumbling away on bass."
Last week, Scotty, Chris' widow announced online that his cremation would take place that day, at 11pm BST, and that it would be a good time for anyone who felt like it to play their favourite piece. I played "Can You Imagine?" in which he seemed to muse on what lay beyond this life.
An hour or so later there was a summer storm over Edinburgh, with thunder and lightning waking up lots of people.
I will permit the fanciful part of myself the conceit that that was Chris, sound checking his new rig. It's a comforting fantasy.
"Chris, there. Rumbling away on bass."