45 years, 7 months and 9 days ago
Friday, October 28, 1977
Wembley, London, United Kingdom
James, DUBLIN, Ireland
Saturday, July 11, 2015 10:50 AM
It was a chilly autumn evening as I said goodbye to my family and set off excited for the ferry across the Irish Sea. In my pocket were my savings from my summer job and a ticket to see my heroes, Yes. It was a stormy sea crossing but arriving safely in London I found a budget hotel near the underground train line to Wembley.
I’d never encountered anything like it before. The stage was an altar in a great cathedral. Smoke lit by coloured lights billowed and a green laser streamed. During Close To The Edge the organ pealed so powerfully I felt it rise in the ground beneath my feet. Only once since then have I had that same sense of awe and wonder, when I visited Notre Dame in Paris. On both occasions I felt I had truly come home.
Seated on my left was a tall blond girl with a silver star painted on her forehead. After the encore we exchanged smiles, a fleeting recognition that something really special had been shared.
I was twenty years old.
This is the event that really flicked my ‘Yes switch’ on for good – or ill, depending on how you see things. Not only the first time I heard Yes live, but my first rock concert, too. Having been brought up devotedly on the classical repertoire, I’d barely contemplated any other kind of music until ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ opened my ears to a new sound world. So here I was, waiting for my friend Stuart Roberts outside the Empire Pool, Wembley. I’d overcome an initial disappointment with ‘Going For The One’. I’d scored a copy of the bootleg programme (without realising that it *was* a bootleg!). And I could hear Donovan’s voice ringing out of the arena. It was getting dark and cold – and I was growing anxious. Stuart had my ticket.
Thankfully, he arrived… attired in dubious Afghan coat, driving a second-hand Vanden Plas, accompanied by a couple of young women. One of them was a nurse, I believe. I wasn’t really paying attention. And so to my seat, located towards the back of the left-hand tier (crazily, I chucked out the ticket in a 1985 cleaning frenzy!). I pored over the (real) programme in anticipation. Then the arena darkened, the lights began to flicker behind the stage curtain, the noise of the crowd rang out, ‘Firebird’ built to a climax, and the band appeared in a blaze of light. I’ve been there on numerous occasions since, but this was the one that first brought my heart into my mouth. I knew that this concert was going to be something special.
The sound in ‘Parallels’ wasn’t great, as I recall, and the organ sound didn’t quite hack it for me. But Wakeman’s Moog solo blistered, the vocal harmonies in ‘Your Move’ glistened, and twenty minutes of ‘Close To The Edge’ took me to a different plane altogether. I’d never been so disarmed by a musical performance before. It was overwhelmingly powerful, but with moments of extraordinary tenderness and subtlety. Yes music at its finest.
The next few numbers floated by in a haze. But what really turned me inside out was ‘Awaken’. To some it’s an overblown cycle of fifths, I know. But to me, that evening, it was simply transcendent. The organ solo building to a tremendous delayed climax, then tapering off into the haunting vocal refrain and Howe’s brief, whimsical acoustic coda: it all left me drained and elated.
The stadium darkened again. Several minutes of cathartic applause and flickering lighters across the arena recalled Yes for an encore of ‘Disgrace’ and ‘Roundabout’. Then I was back into the crisp, cold night air. My ears were buzzing with the sound, and the memories seeped deep into me as our car ploughed back into the night. It had been one of the great concert experiences of my life.