Friday, 3 July 2015
The Bruford Years
Chris and Bill made six albums together culminating in his solo album "Fish Out of Water", the latter was recorded three years after Bill had left Yes, an interesting statement about their artistic relationship.
They both have said see they saw their relationship as one created out of musical differences. What I see is a substantial meeting of musical minds both determined not to be shackled by the orthodox principles of the rock rhythm section. Once they really got up a head of steam and found their own vocabulary on a piece like "Long Distance Runaround" they made Yes sound like an electric string quartet. The rhythm and momentum of the piece comes from all the players short runs, staccato bursts and melodic interjections were as likely to come from Chris's Bass as Ricks keyboards. It gave the music a lightness, warmth and colour and sense of joy that can often be missing from a more sexually driven, angst ridden rock and roll perspective.
The great legacy of those first five albums from Yes is to take pleasure in the extra ordinary linear development of the bands music and none more so than the Bruford-Squire rhythm section. By the time they had arrived at the spring of 1972 they had reached that blessed place where restraint and space were as important as action. The outcome maybe highly sophisticated and demanding of the listener but the internal logic was as clear as a bell because fussy over complication had given way to highly sympathetic artistic choices. There final album together oozed a beautiful control, logic and symmetry which had a curious affect on their reputation in the long run.
Chris's death has offered many of us with a surprising insight into the high regard in which Yes and Chris are held, having travelled for a very long time with the notion that Yes represents some kind of establishment anti rock and roll stance. The reality is and always was quite different "Close To The Edge" may look very polite and well behaved from a distance but it is highly unorthodox and all of the players including Chris made provocative and obnoxious choices and this was carried through to Chris and Bills final album together.
"Fish Out of Water" may include flute, woodwind and a church organ but is mixed in with Chris's grinding churning unorthodox bass playing at turns pumping away giving momentum or offering a beautiful melodic figure. "Safe (Canon Song)" is haunting and cinematic but the three key set up runs from Chris where he takes the lead and stalks around like a giant four legged spider are audacious and a forerunner of so much playing from others in the years ahead.
I for one have taken huge pleasure from Chris's advocacy of his relationship with Bill in recent years. At the time Chris Welch said it was like Rolls quoting Royce and they certainly were the rolls royce of rhythm sections.
The White Fish Years.
Yes continued to expand with broad screen albums right up to the summer of 1977 but that clarity and punch of the earlier years was replaced with something more informal and warmer. Ironically as the band catapulted itself into the 80's with Geoff and Trevor the really noticeable quality of the Drama music was that Alan and Chris seemed at last to have developed their own form of clarity and controlled incisiveness that had characterised the first rhythm section. But the really glorious element of Chris's career from now on was his development into a much broader and rounded musician who was able to play with complete authority a huge range of styles and infuse whatever piece he was playing with his own musical personality. This I suspect is what is at the heart of his respect by his peers. The pop rock playing on "Owner of A Lonely Heart", "It Can Happen and "Big Generator" made you think he would have been quite capable of fitting in with "Duran Duran", "Rhythm of Love" a hard rock outfit. The ska influenced "Lightening Strikes', reggae of "The Messenger" and A.O.R. "The River" all work and largely because of the authentic playing of Chris. Through out this period from 1983 to 1999 there would always be something signature from Chris and I particularly liked the way his friend Billy Sherwood, with whom he made the Conspiracy albums, caught his playing on a piece like "New State of Mind"
Driven by Jon Anderson "Zappaesque" desire for left field musical adventures Chris's final album with Jon highlighted the other crucial element he brought to Yes his vocals whether singing in unison or harmony. Chris's contribution to "We Agree" is sublime. Indeed his vocal talent underwent something of a renaissance in the first decade of the new century recording "Swiss Choir" which is at its best when Chris sings the beautiful solos on "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "The Three Kings".
A Route To Ones Self.
Whilst the final years of his life will be remembered for his determination to bring the Yes experience to their fans without J. A. in attendance for me the most personal and interesting element was his belated decision to prepare a second solo album. The music was eventually used elsewhere but when you look at "The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be" and "Can't Stop The Rain Falling" these are highly personally statements from an older man capable of self awareness and self deprecation. I like to think that shows he had finally found happiness and some sort of groundedness within the crazy rock and roll lifestyle he inhabited. Certainly the vibe I picked up from my fellow travellers, whom new him much better than I, was that was the case.
On the 2011 tour in the UK he finished every concert by thanking us for our loyalty. Thank you Chris for yours it is treasured. Onward On The Silent Wings Of Freedom.