There is nothing like the passing of a musical hero to put your own life and mortality into some greater perspective.
First, it was Freddie Mercury, whose passing on 24 November 1991 was not unexpected as I had received an early tip-off that he was HIV positive.
However, the suddenness of Chris Squire’s untimely death yesterday aged 67, just a month after the news was released that he had developed a rare form of leukaemia for which he was receiving treatment, is a shattering, unbearable blow. Again, this horrible disease has claimed another high profile victim.
At the moment, while still recoiling from this hideous news, I feel a huge hole has been torn out of my musical, cultural and spiritual fabric.
Apart from family and friends, musicians have always been my closest “allies” and with the demise of Chris Squire, it has suddenly become almost too personal.
Let me explain. I can still remember way back to 1971 and the first time I ever heard Yes. A male school friend very kindly loaned me a copy of Fragile to listen to; and at the tender age of 13, my life effectively changed forever.
The opening track Roundabout always has been and will be “my” song.
As I tried to articulate in a group review for DPRP in 2013, my impressions of this timeless song were:
“Nothing could prepare you for what happened next. What happened was Roundabout. That sustained keyboard chord followed by a sharp acoustic guitar note and a delicate melody, repeated and built upon as the keyboard swelled up again. Suddenly, there it was, that gorgeous jazzy melody line with Steve Howe’s elegant guitar and Chris Squire’s bass thundering along like a giant juggernaut. Jon Anderson’s voice arrived, soaring upwards into the ethers, singing lyrics touching on romance, nostalgia, the elementals and emotion.
“Forty-two years after its release, this mini-masterpiece is still possibly the best prog opener ever, as well as being a landmark song. Constructed in several short movements, it is a chance for each band member to shine, from Anderson’s clear, pure voice, to Wakeman’s sonorous keyboards, Howe’s mannered guitar flourishes, Bill Bruford’s impeccable rhythms and of course, Squire’s earth-moving bass patterns.”
Then, to end one of the most momentous albums of my entire life, there came Heart of the Sunrise:
“So far, side two had not quite caught alight the way side one had erupted…until now. As Squire’s bass goes full throttle punctuated by Wakeman’s spacey keys, we have arrived at Heart of the Sunrise, which rivals Roundabout for having one of the best Yes intros of all time. The floorboards quake and the room begins to spin as the song starts unwinding until it reaches a quiet plateau when Anderson’s voice at its most angelic comes in with “Love comes to you and you follow”.
“The whole piece paints a series of aural pictures, dense, complex and dramatic, that twist and turn like the wind with “so many around me”. It is a multi-faceted piece about alienation and trying to find your place in the world, armed with just your dreams. It catches you unawares when it goes from smooth to frenzied, Wakeman’s slightly schizoid keyboards coming to the fore and then Anderson changes vocal tempo for the fast “Straight light” passage. It builds and builds to a heart-rending climax, Anderson stretching his voice to hit the magical last notes on “city” before the whirlwind intro is revisited for the sudden ending.”
I shall quit here because I could talk at length about the magnificent albums that followed in quick succession but somehow, that would dilute the message as Fragile, with its gorgeous Roger Dean artwork and accompanying booklet providing pen portraits of all the band, was the gold standard so far as I was concerned.
For my part, the zeitgeist of the early 70s, musically, culturally and sartorially, was all about Yes. As a young teenage girl, it also had a lot to do with these five extraordinarily beautiful, long haired guys in their early 20s, attired in the obligatory cheesecloth shirts and loon pants, that left its indelible mark.
Then came an appearance on Top of the Pops performing Yours Is No Disgrace on the show’s album slot, Jon Anderson in shades and Squire, as I recall, shod in a pair of “poodle” boots, which signed, sealed and delivered it for me.
It is these early days which will stay with me forever, especially when by dint of my then tender age, I was not allowed to see them perform at Bournemouth Winter Gardens on the Tales From Topographic Oceans tour.
Instead, it was at the Gaumont Theatre in Southampton on the Relayer tour where I had my first live encounter with Yes, with another eight or nine times to follow afterwards. There would have been more, especially the Union tour, but you know how it is when life gets in the way.
But Union was incredibly important in other ways. It was The More We Live – Let Go, a Squire/Billy Sherwood song on the album, released in 1991, which practically saved my life. Back then, I was trapped in psychologically damaging marriage to a man purporting to be “spiritual”, but in fact, he was insidiously destroying my life and there was no obvious way out.
However, when I listened to the album, especially this song, on my car cassette player, the truth was revealed through lines like: “The spirit of imagination can lead us through the dark; The more we see, the more we try, the more we show.”
I cried the first few times after I heard it because through the profundity of the lyrics and the unbelievably beautiful melody, I had discovered a way out from being close to the edge of the abyss.
It is not just from a personal perspective either. His body of work and the influence he has had on so many of the current crop of bassists cannot be underestimated. I can think of at least a dozen bass players of my acquaintance who would cite Squire as being the main reason why they took up this most unfashionable of instruments.
We so desperately need more musical role models like him, because simply put, Squire made the bass guitar sexy. Previously, it was there primarily to anchor the harmonies and establish the beat. But in the hands of the extravagantly creative and theatrically extrovert Squire, it became a musical kaleidoscope for previously unheard of or un-thought about melody lines and sonic seismic shifts. The Rickenbacker 4001 bass in his huge hands became as iconic and seductive as a Stratocaster.
However, I must fast forward the story again and recall one of the most memorable of all their gigs. This was the 35th anniversary tour in 2004 when I caught up with the classic Yes line-up at Wembley Arena. This was the night they went semi-acoustic with a heart-stopping rendition of South Side of the Sky and an amazing bluesy version of Roundabout.
To my mind, that was the defining moment that Yes finally came of age in terms of their maturity and ability to reinvent their music almost on a whim.
The hiatus in 2008, resulting from Anderson’s near death experience, following respiratory failure, was a difficult one to understand. That Benoȋt David then Jon Davison stepped in to fill the vocalist slot did render me somewhat perplexed and confused at the time, but with hindsight, the show had to go on. It has to be said though the last two albums, Fly From Here and Heaven And Earth. have left me somewhat nonplussed to put it mildly.
But no matter: the memory now lingers on as we revisit Birmingham Symphony Hall on Sunday 4 May last year when they brought us The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in one glorious sitting.
It was an event to remember. The band augmented by singer Davison was palpably on fire as they delivered the soundtrack of the lives of most people attendant that night. It was as if the decades had rolled back and here we were again, wide-eyed innocent teenagers listening through our mega headphones in state of the art stereo to Starship Trooper, Siberian Khatru or Awaken once more.
That night, the Great Man was at the height of his powers, firing out salvo after salvo of thunderous basslines, one of the overriding definers of the Yes music – in stark contrast, it has to be said, to the high vibration vocal frequencies of the original singer and his two successors.
I never met Squire unfortunately: however, following the release of his delightful co-project, Squackett’s A Life Within A Day with Steve Hackett in 2012, I did conduct a joyous telephone interview with him for DPRP.
In typical Squire fashion, he misjudged the time difference between his home in Phoenix, Arizona and Winchester, United Kingdom, and called an hour late, only adding my already frazzled state. Then, when he did call, it took me ten minutes to steady my pen-holding, shorthand-taking hand!
But he was charming, affable and chuckled a lot, especially when I asked him about some of his sartorial successes and failures – with particular reference to the amazing “doctor’s outfit” he wore on the 90125 tour.
There is so very much more I could say about him but these are the initial thoughts which come under my personal “High the memory carry on, while the moments start to linger” file.
This is all about The Remembering of Chris Squire and his place not just at the zenith of the prog pantheon, but also in a very much wider musical context.
Our lives are now much darker places because of his passing, but this colossus of a musical lighthouse shone brightly for the best part of nearly 50 years for which we should be eternally thankful. We shall never see his like again, but his immortality is guaranteed.
My thoughts go out to his family, band members from all the Yes incarnations and the huge global community of Yes fans.
Acoustic Roundabout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=riE2xHDgODg
The More We Live – Let Go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ajxABx3Zn8
Squackett interview for DPRP – http://www.dprp.net/wp/interviews/?page_id=2587