The man who put the phone down on John Lennon!
Prog-rock legends YES mark their half century with a tour which brings them to the Brighton Centre on Wednesday, March 21.
Drummer Alan White has been with the band for all but the first four years.
“Bill Bruford was the original drummer for the first three albums, and I think he just got a bit bored,” Alan recalls. “He was more of a jazzer, and the band wanted to be a more rock ‘n’ roll version of the band, and I already had my own band that was very similar to that.
“I was sharing an apartment with their producer Eddie in London and Yes were rehearsing in a tiny little room in Shepherds Bush. I was tagging along with them and I was there when Bill decided to leave because he had a dinner plan, and so they were all left with their guitars around their necks saying ‘The drummer has gone!’ Eddie said ‘Alan can play that kind of stuff’, and I just jumped in, and I guess I left an impression. A few weeks later Bill left the band. I was playing with Joe Cocker at the time, and I got a call asking if I wanted to join.
“When they asked me, I said ‘Why don’t you give me three months to see I like it and you can have three months to see if you like me?’ I must have done something right. It is coming up to 47 years later now!
“They weren’t really established as a band at that time in America. They were just breaking ground in America, and they said to me that they had a tour in the next few days. I just had a few days to learn it all and then we were playing in front of 10,000 people in Dallas, Texas. It was a bit of a nightmare. I don’t think I ever had a serious rehearsal with them!”
But he has remained with them ever since. “There have been a few breaks where members have gone off. But really it has been quite amazing. It has been a long journey! There have been ups and downs, just as you would expect, but really mostly it has been very good. You get upset when people leave and you are wondering what you are going to do.”
But they have managed to keep going – thanks, Alan believes, to the music.
“Really I put the longevity down the music, the quality of the music, the fact that a lot of it is very anthemic.”
Before joining YES, Alan had been a member of the Plastic Ono Band with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
“I was 20 years old, and I just got a call from John Lennon. He saw me playing and liked it and wanted me to play. It was in Toronto in 1969, the first live performance since The Beatles split. It was quite shocking really when you think about it, but I just took it in my stride. I didn’t think it actually was John Lennon when he phoned up. I put the phone down… but then he phoned back.
“John was a really, really great guy to work with. He had a very, very positive direction for how he wanted to work and what he wanted to do musically and lyrically. He was a very interesting character, great to work with. He took me under his wing. He started to mentor me in a way. He said to me ‘I don’t know what you are doing Alan, but carry on doing it!”
As for the YES anniversary tour. YES [Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood] will feature not only many of the band’s classic hits but performances of sides 1 and 4 and an excerpt from Side 3 of their 1973 album Tales from Topographic Oceans, which was the first Yes album to top the UK album charts.
To coincide with their 50th Anniversary tour, YES put out Fly From Here - Return Trip featuring vocals by Trevor Horn, and a previously unreleased track with Steve Howe on lead vocals.
Fly From Here will be released on March 25 at their fan convention celebration at the London Palladium. The album is also available for pre-order at the band’s Pledge Music page:
YES is: -
• Steve Howe: guitars, backing vocals (1970 –1981, 1990–1992, 1995–present)
• Alan White: drums, percussion (1972 – present)
• Geoff Downes: keyboards (1980–1981, 2011–present)
• Billy Sherwood: guitar, backing vocals ((1994, 1997–2000), bass guitar, backing vocals (2015–present)
• Jon Davison: lead vocals, acoustic guitar (2012–present)