Friday, 11 January 2019

Chris Squire Tribute - A conspiracy of love.

I was sat directly in front of Billy Sherwood on the opening night of their UK in 2016. I remember vividly his reaction to his first public performance of "The Fish." It was a clear demonstration of his love for the big man.

This collection though is not overwhelmed by sentiment it is a very interesting insight into Squire's contribution to Yes outside of the famous "pieces" which have been their staple 'go to' selection for the majority of the years since 1972. As Billy is intimately acquainted with the music he also has chosen to offer a fresh narrative almost a musical commentary on the pieces in question. For me the project divides between :-

1) The first seven pieces concluding with Parallels.

2) The final five which are a mixture of extras and obligations with a further piece which fits the mould of the first seven. Track by Track then.

On the Silent Wings of Freedom  

The performance is built around Billy's Bass Guitar which storms, caress's and then drives the music to a conclusion. Billy repositions the Bass firmly in the era of 71/72. High grinding churning sounds but 'clean' a strong presence full of power but never bloated something which Chris was concerned about when they were recording the piece in 1978. There is nothing stogy about Billy's playing it flies. Jay offers a powerful orthodoxy on the drums supporting the Lead Bass work and the guitar is also highly sympathetic seemingly finding more of the top line melody. This evokes more accurately the energised spirituality of the piece which brings me to the most interesting additions, Jon Davison and Patrick Moraz. Jon like the guitar work captures the mystical energised pulse of the piece and in the middle syncopated section and wordless vocal, retains gravitas better than the original recording. Pat shows precisely why no other keyboard player is better at Yes doing Jazz. His insertions early on add enormously to the atmosphere of the music and his solo at the play out is unsurprisingly far more serious than the original and surprisingly in no way trade mark Moraz. Its not a screeching bending solo much more naturally rhythmic. A great start. 

Hold Out your Hand 

The two pieces which start Chris's solo album are great lost Yes performances. So offering something meaningful was a real challenge but in Steve Hogarth's vocal delivery and Larry Fasts Keys one has the answer. Steve makes you listen carefully to the piece again because of that curious way in which he intones a lyric and Larry's Key's are not only special in themselves but are mixed much higher giving the music a broader feel. Oddly the Cathedral Organ intro is not missed. Billy offers a huge dose of love at the end with the Close to The Edge quote that finished Safe and became part of the Close To The Edge played on the three albums tour. 

As someone who thoroughly enjoys classical and easy listening music I cannot relate to the angst in Prog Rock circles when non originals play or sing. Onward is a standard and it is perfectly suited to any good singer taking the piece and making it their own and Annie does just that. She reminds us this isn't a good piece of prog rock its a hugely communicative piece of music period and very moving. In the years ahead I can see all sorts of artists covering this and I am sure it would bring a smile to his face. 

South Side of the Sky  

When I noted the inclusion of this piece from the "Big Three" I was initially disappointed this has gone from being much neglected to much played live. Most of the live performances in the cold light of day don't match the revival from 2004. However I was pleasantly surprised because after a very precise rendition of the opening rock section David Sancious steps in and gives an object lesson in how to grab a piece of music by the scruff of the neck and own it. You could argue he saves it from being 'by the numbers' but that doesn't matter its great and reminds us of how Yes could sound when they mix the orthodox with the off the wall without going off into orbit and losing the plot. Nice rock vocal from Mr Sherwood. 

The Fish

This is an endlessly fascinating piece of music which his Bassness played around with for years so its entirely right that Billy should do the same. I love Sonya Christina's opening  vocal quote before Billy gets down to the Bass Guitar played a la 71/72 before a wonderful return of the vocal section. Billy has less three dimensional majesty in his playing than Chris but he has more playfulness in the shapes and figures. He sounds a little like the naughty boy playing with his favourite toy and bending it into odd but really clever shapes. 

The More We Live - Let Go 

This was a great left field choice. It is a kind of new yes old yes that they could have become but wisely Billy avoided given their anchored tribal fan base but its great to hear Steve Porcaro move the Yes field just a little toward the centre with a really nice guitar contribution from Steve Hackett. This is a great addition and far better than yet more revivals from 71/72. 


Unlike 'Hold Out Your Hand' the organ intro sounds trivial compared to the magnificent intro played by Rick in Vevey but once thats out the way we get the characteristic Bass Sounds of 71/72 applied to this '77 piece, great simpatico playing from the Guitar leaving more space and less toppy than the original but there is also another interesting narrative here. We get to listen to Davison/Sherwood in a controlled setting on a Yes  Song.

Billy's warmer voice shadows Jon's sweeter but narrow voice perfectly. I would not spill my coffee on the floor or have palpitations if these guys sang on new Yes music with this outcome. Technically the Unison Singing has a richer broader feel than the original. Please note that is not a comment about performance but production. 

Summary to date.

For me this piece ends the interesting part of the CD before we move into obligations and extras. 

Owner and Roundabout 

This could have had me heading for the move on button but for two things.

1) The completely bonkers mad cap performances from Nikki and Dweezil on Owner which remind us rock and roll should be fun. I just love Nikki's rasping energised delivery and Mr Zappa is as madly fluid and inventive as his father would have been.

2) Roundabout is a studio recording of the live arrangement with the middle section in, so its a romp and Ricks trade mark rolling keyboard inserts are wisely....just left out. Listening to I can see Chris curling his finger in the air in that curious way he developed and fans mimicked during the acapella section.

The Technical Divide and Comfortably Numb

A couple of extras from Billy's library showcasing the late sometimes very late Chris Squire. 

Don't Kill the Whale 

To be honest I hate this song and I have never understood any formation of the band playing it. However with Candice Night and Brian Auger involved its a nice exercise in a vaguely R & B feel but that Cetacei chant doesn't get any better for me.  

Billy and the players take the music entirely seriously and offer many new insights so one can form a new relationship with the familiar and also one or two surprises. 

The project also reminds us that after Relayer Chris, as he talked in interviews in 1976, wanted Yes to progress but not necessarily by making longer and longer pieces of music. Parallels, Freedom, Onward were potentially the beginning of a new kind of Yes more direct more rock and you could argue they did lead naturally to Drama and 90125 however odd that might sound.

So Billy has displayed his great affection for his mentor, the players have offered us fresh insights and in some cases improved on the originals, what more could one ask for? The fun of Owner took me by surprise but sends out an important message into the angst ridden community of Yes relax laugh a little more, we only come this way once as Chris and Peter would observe.

In listening terms if you are past Christmas and have put Swiss Choir away break out Fish Out of Water, A Day in the Life and this CD and remind yourself of an important part of Chris's legacy beyond Yes's most well known work.