I’m 70 now and I’m looking back down the years to Sunday 14th March 1971 – a dreary wet Sunday evening in Winter in Blackburn, Lancashire and I had a ticket to see Curved Air at St Georges Hall in the town. When I got there I was hugely disappointed to find that Curved Air, then at the height of their fame, had pulled out and had been replaced by another group. Was I going back home to watch the TV or was I going to whatever was on? I decided to go in as I was already there and sat at the left side of the auditorium and waited for the concert to start. An acoustic guitarist came on called Jonathan Swift and played a set which I don’t really remember. After a short break the lights went down and seemingly inappropriate music of excessive grandeur and loud too started to play - it was Thus Sprach Zarathustra which was the theme music to 2001 Space Odyssey (that’s history now). The music stopped replaced momentarily by silence and then all the spot and stage lights flashed on and this group exploded into the first song in blaze of light and sound. The song was Yours is No Disgrace and the group was Yes before they broke to success.
That night was more than a concert and there was another dimension – something which I have never experienced since. You will think I have gone mad but there was some sort of levitation – I felt higher than my seat at one point – can’t explain more than that.
Because they weren’t famous yet, I went onto the stage after the concert to have a look a Bill Bruford’s drums – nobody minded and I asked a few questions and they said to go behind the stage and ask Bruford which I did. He had just come out of the shower and I remember he told me that at my stage I didn’t need a drum kit – just a snare drum and to learn the basic rudiments of drumming as they are called. I was a little crestfallen and kept quiet about my large Premier kit with its double bass drums and panoply of cymbals.
All I can say is that if there is one night of my life I would like to relive it is that one. There was another dimension – no doubt about it – unmistakable.
I saw Yes again later than same year at Nelson Imperial in Nelson. I see it was 24th April 1971 and that time talked to Chris Squire the bass guitarist and Steve Howe the guitarist at the bar. I remember Chris Squire thought I was a journalist but I assured him I was not.
Over the last half century I have seen Yes about 15 times but no concert was like that first one. The next day I couldn’t get to Reidy’s music shop fast enough to buy The Yes Album, their third album, and I rushed home to play it on my mono Brush record player. When I sold all the records in 2017 I kept just two LP’s – that one and the Doors first album.
I first saw YES in 1971 in Blackburn which is why I'm writing. I was in a local band at the time and used to unofficially meet & greet the roadies when they arrived, this always led to a job for the gig as I knew my way around the maze of corridors and stairs, how the hall ran and where to obtain the best curries etc. It also meant that I didn't have to pay for a ticket that I couldn't afford and could see some top bands. There was plenty of grafting as there was no lift big enough to take equipment up to the main hall, just six flights of steps! Two of the roadies had very recently left the YES tour and the guy in charge, a very amicable Londoner called Lou, soon realised that with four Altec PA cabs measuring over six feet tall x four feet wide, that I would be an asset to his team of 2!! It was a brilliant day getting everything set up in time for the sound check and I spent a lot of it putting Bill Bruford's drum kit together, he tapped me on the shoulder as I was 'testing' it and asked if it was alright, I was 15 at the time and thought he was gonna kick my arse off the stage! My fear was unfounded as the band were all easy to get on with. The running joke was at Jon Anderson's expense, he's a local lad from just a few miles from Blackburn and his parents were coming to see him, he was running around like a headless chicken making sure that everything was just right for when they arrived (no sex, drugs or bad language). This prompted a string of profanities from all directions and raised Anderson's voice to a pitch unaudible to the human ear! Because of the staff shortage I was assigned to the balcony to run a bank of spotlights during the show, Lou had scribbled down a song list with some instructions but added that if in doubt improvise! The show went well, very well and the audience loved it. The sound was good and no-one complained about the lighting so I was well pleased, spending time with the band and crew and then getting paid for it, priceless. We packed the gear and were ready to leave by 1.30 am with Lou and his mate driving back South for the next night at Guildford. This is where I missed my calling in life, Lou said he would give me a lift home and as well as the numerous strings, drumsticks & skins that had all been saved from the bin by me as they were usable by our band, he gave me 5 quid for helping out and asked if I wanted a job on the tour. Not even taking into account the two girls (groupies from London who followed them around the country) that were squeezed into the cab of the truck and 'available', the offer was like a ticket to freedom!! A bit of channel hopping with gigs in the U.K. & Europe then the Summer tour of North America, I thought I was dreaming but like with most dreams I had a rude awakening! I was only 15 and too young to obtain a work permit abroad. One of life's fleeting moments but a treasure trove of memories, the only one missing is the memory of Jonathan Swift who played on the same bill. I remember the posters for the concert as I collected a few from the local college that I was supposed to be attending, sadly they lost me some years ago, but maybe the thoroughly enjoyable experience with YES has eclipsed him! I can remember everything from Lou's cockney 'faackeen 'ell' when he saw the flights of stairs to the roar of the audience as I pulsed a spotlight on the curtained entrance at the back of the stage waiting for their encore. It was a special night and a special time for the music that was still developing from the Underground, Progressive, Rock roots. I saw many bands this way but the YES gig was about the best.