Alan White has occupied the drum stool in Prog Rock legends Yes for 44 years and shows no signs of slowing down. Yes return to the UK to play their classic albums Drama and Fragile in their entirety. Mick Burgess caught up with Alan White to talk about the tour, how he joined the band and the loss of Chris Squire.
Your UK tour kicks off in a short while. Are you looking forward to playing here again?
Most definitely as we havenít played there for quite a while. Itíll be good to get back home again as my mother passed away a couple of years ago so I havenít really been back there that much so itíll be good to get back over with Yes.
On 29th April you play at Newcastle City Hall. Being a Chester-le-Street lad, thatís almost your hometown show. You must have played there a fair few times over the years?
Itíll be quite nostalgic for me to come back there. We have played there a couple of times recently with Yes but we played there many times in the í70s. Iíve also done a couple of shows with Lindisfarne at Christmas time. I just got up and sat in for a couple of numbers as theyíre mates of mine. I love playing at the City Hall. The atmosphere is great and the whole theatre is wonderful. They just donít make them like that anymore.
Will you be catching up with any old friends again while youíre here?
I was in touch with one of the lads who used to be in The Downbeats with me years ago. He wants to get the band together so we might get together sometime. It would be great seeing them again.
You now live in Newcastle, Washington but not our Newcastle. When did you move there?
Iíve been living in America for many years now. Iíve been married to my wife for 34 years in May and Iíve had a house in the Seattle area since then so itís been quite a while but I did come back quite often as I had a place in Oxford. As my kids got older they enjoyed it more and more in America so we moved to California but I still had my place in Seattle. When my kids grew up we consolidated over in Seattle and I have this nice place overlooking a lake.
It certainly beats the frozen North of England?
I always say when people grow up in the North of England, thereís nothing else to do on a cold night except practice the drums. It was cold and wet so Iíd practice all the time. I got my own set of drums and not long after Iíd got them I was playing in a band. Up until that time I was getting piano lessons from Mrs Thompson in the village.
What do you miss the most about the North East of England?
I used to like Newcastle Exhibition beer, that was my favourite drink but I think itís the people in general that I miss the most. I grew up around Ferryhill and it hasnít really changed that much but all the pit heaps have gone and have been replaced with grass but the people are still the same. I still see a couple of people I used to go to school with at Dean Bank School as a young kid. I had a request to come back to the school 2 or 3 years ago, where they wanted people whoíd gone on to be successful to come and do a talk to the kids. I wasnít able to do it back then but I think itíd be quite interesting so I might still do that in the future. Itíd be a lot of fun to go back and see what itís like now.
As a Northerner you must have a love of football?
My Dad was a big fan of Sunderland and I remember going to Roker Park when I was 9 or 10 years old. I remember being in the stand where there were no seats and I watched the whole match without ever touching the ground. None of the teams up in the North are doing too well at the moment. Thatís such a shame as the region deserves so much more as the fans are so passionate. I still get to watch matches occasionally on the television but havenít been to a game in quite some time.
When you first joined Yes in 1972 you only had 3 days to learn the set. Now thatís some baptism of fire. How did that first show go?
That was really unexpected. Iíd just finished doing a tour with Joe Cocker and I was heading home from that when I got a call asking me to join the band. I had a meeting with Chris Squire and Jon Anderson and they threatened to throw me out of the window if I didnít join. I was also in a band at the time with people mainly from the North East and we played a lot of music that was quite adventurous so I was quite prepared to a degree to tackle the music of Yes. On that first meeting I played some songs and they didnít really say anything until they were walking out of the door. They turned around and said that they had a gig on Monday in Texas, which was in 3 daysí time. At that time we were going to do Close To The Edge which had never been played on stage before. I only had 3 days but the show went quite well so I stayed for another 43 years.
The last time you played at the City Hall you performed not one, not two but three albums Going For The One, Close To The Edge and the Yes album in their entirety. That must have been quite some challenge performing those?
That was a really challenging tour for us to do but it was also really rewarding and the fans loved hearing those albums as some of the songs weíd never played live before so it was really enjoyable for everyone.
This time, youíre taking it a little easier and only doing Drama and Fragile. Why did you decide to pick these two for the full performance treatment?
We have done Fragile before in the last few years and that was very popular but weíve never actually done Drama. Weíve all been rehearsing Drama at the moment and weíve had a bit of a shock and have been thinking what the hell have we done. Thereís some pretty dynamic, fast playing on there so itís taken a bit of work to relearn some songs we havenít played in years.
Machine Messiah from Drama is a monster of a song. I imagine that one going down pretty well each night?
The way things are going, youíd better be on time for the show as that is looking like itíll be the first song of the night. It always goes down well and itís a big chunk of music and quite difficult to play but Iíve only got myself to blame for that as I wrote it. Weíve played Machine Messiah and Tempus Fugit, the first and last songs from the album, a fair few times but the two songs in the middle Does It Really Happen and Into The Lens havenít been played for years. I certainly know that Doesnít Really Happen hasnít been done since we made the album. We havenít actually done Run Through The Light since then either. Iíve been rehearsing here in my home studio every day going through all of the little bits from 35 years ago but Iím getting there.
What about the rest of the set? What else will you cover other than those two albums?
Weíll be discussing that when we do rehearsals in England closer to the date of the tour but I think Going For The One and Time and a Word could be in there too. We might also do Soon from the end section of Gates of Delirium from our Relayer album and Owner of A Lonely Heart which was a big hit for us.
You mentioned Owner of a Lonely Heart. The 90125 album, which that song was from, was quite a departure for Yes going into the 80s.
Trevor Rabin was a fantastic musician and heís been writing movie scores ever since heís been in Yes, heís just so talented. Back when Chris and I first met him we jammed together and everything just worked for all of us. He had a bunch of great songs which ended up becoming 90125. It was quite a change for the band, but it had started out as a project called Cinema so it wasnít originally intended to be Yes but when Jon Anderson heard the music he wanted to sing on it so there was nothing else we could call it then but Yes.
Since the last time we saw you in Newcastle we have sadly lost Chris Squire. That must have come as a shock?
It was a big shock, well not so much a shock as he hadnít been feeling that good for some time and he had a couple of other problems then all of a sudden this popped up. It didnít take long at all, it was only about 6 weeks after he told me and the band that he passed away. He told me on the phone that heíd need 6 weeks to get over it and heíd be back on the road with the band. I think they were on the verge of beating the leukaemia but his heart gave out.
Chris has been the only constant member of Yes over the years. It must seem really strange being on stage and not seeing him there with you?
Chris started the band and heís been there right through every different line up. He said to us regardless of what happened to him, we had to keep the band going.
As a drummer you and the bassist lay the foundations of the band. How did you and Chris interact as musicians together?
We played together for 43 years and we had an unwritten rule that we just knew what each other would be playing so Iíd be lying if I said itís not the same. Itís never going to be the same and I canít pretend it will be but the band is still playing really well and Billy Sherwood was Chrisís Number 1 fan and he knows pretty much every single thing that Chris ever did. Chris told me that we had to get a replacement and Billy was his first choice.
Billy has in fact quite a long history with the band dating back to the í90s. Did that close connection make the transition within the band as smooth as it could be under the circumstances?
Yes, Billy has been connected with Yes for over 20 years and Iíve worked with him on other projects over the years so Iíve known him quite some time. Thatís certainly made him coming into the band fairly seamless.
Your current line-up features singer Jon Davison who took over from David Benoit. He was only with you for one album. What happened there?
David didnít really fit the picture and didnít gel with the rest of the band. Thatís just my point of view. His voice was fine for a long time then it started to go. He just didnít work out so it was best for everyone to move on.
Your singers have the unenviable task of replacing original singer Jon Anderson. Where did you first come across Jon?
He actually sent a tape in that Chris heard. Chris seemed to like him so we invited him for an audition and he really fit in well both musically and on a personal level too. I donít remember auditioning anyone else. Working with Jon was one of the first things we did and that worked out so well that we didnít need to try anyone else.
Itís difficult for a new member to integrate into an established band. What did you do to help ease that process or did you just chuck him in at the deep end with some live shows?
Jon had been in a Yes tribute band so he knew our music very well so there wasnít much of a transition for him, he just seemed to fit in straight away.
In 2014 you released your latest album Heaven and Earth. That was your highest charting album in over two decades. That must have been great to hear?
Yes it was great and hard to believe that after so long we can still get our music into the charts. It was a lot of fun to make that record so itís nice that itís been so well received.
Youíve worked with John Lennon, George Harrison, Joe Cocker and Alan Price amongst many others. Who are you most proud of working with?
I would say that John Lennonís Imagine was the biggest thing that Iíd played on, it was the song of the Millennium. I am probably proudest of the Yes albums though as I get kids coming up to me at shows who rave about Yes songs so thatís great for me to hear. Albums like Relayer, Drama and Topographic Oceans have some pretty adventurous playing so Iím very proud to be a part of those albums.
You must have recorded dozens of albums over the years?
As well as all the time Iíve spent in Yes Iíve worked on numerous other albums with other artists. In a three year period when I was in London I must have done at least 50 albums. My full discography is on my website and every now and then when I look at it I think Iím sure I have done another album in there somewhere but I canít remember it. Iím sure itíll come back sometime or someone will fill in the gaps.
Is there any artist who youíd particularly like to work with if you had the chance?
Iím pretty lucky with who Iíve played with over the years. When Yes arenít on tour or working on a record I have my own band here in Seattle, called The White Band and we do occasional gigs and play a lot of Yes music and Lennon and stuff like that.
After your UK shows are over where do you head next?
We finish our UK tour at the Royal Albert Hall, which should be an incredible show, before heading over to Europe where weíll play in France, Belgium, Holland, Italy and a few shows in Germany. Newcastle is only the second show on this tour so thereíll be a lot more shows to do after we have played up there.
Yes Plot Summer Tour Behind ĎDrama,í ĎTopographic Oceansí LPs
Prog-rock veterans will perform entirety of 1980's 'Drama,' sides one and four of 1973's divisive 'Oceans' on American trek
BY RYAN REED
APRIL 11, 2016
Yes will perform the entirety of their 1980 album Drama, sides one and four of their 1973 double-LP Tales From Topographic Oceans and a selection of greatest hits on their upcoming American summer tour. The 25-date trek kicks off July 27th at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, Ohio and concludes September 4th in San Diego, California. Further dates and ticket information will be announced at the bandís website.
ďWe are proud to present the American public with forward-looking albums from the past,Ē guitarist Steve Howe said in a statement. ďPromoting Drama at Madison Square Garden on multi-nights was a career milestone in 1980, and we are especially looking forward to performing both the opening and closing sides to Topographic Oceans [ďThe Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn) and ďRitual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)Ē].Ē
These dates will mark Yesí first-ever full performances of Drama, a transitional album recorded with singer Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes, who Ė as New Wave act the Buggles Ė cemented their place in rock history with their lone 1979 hit, ďVideo Killed the Radio Star.Ē (That track later became the first music video ever played on MTV.)
Horn and Downes replaced two of the bandís most recognizable members (co-founder/frontman Jon Anderson and acclaimed keyboardist Rick Wakeman) for this one album, before quitting themselves. Horn reunited with the group as producer of 1983ís 90125; Downes re-joined the line-up in 2011.
Tales From Topographic Oceans, which found drummer Alan White replacing longtime percussionist Bill Bruford, remains one of Yesí most divisive albums: an 81-minute, four-song behemoth that polarized critics but nonetheless topped the UK charts, leading to a bold tour cycle in which the band played the whole track list on-stage.
Yes will perform both Drama and 1971 classic Fragile during a UK/European tour launching April 27th. The band has also scheduled another edition of their floating festival Cruise to the Edge for February 2017.
Yes 2016 American Tour Dates
July 27 Ė Columbus, OH @ Ohio State Fair July 30 Ė Atlantic City, NJ @Tropicana July 31 Ė Bethlehem, PA @Sands Event Center August 2 Ė Lewiston, NY @ Artpark August 4 Ė Lynn, MA @ Lynn Auditorium August 5 Ė Wallingford, CT @ Oakdale Theatre August 6 Ė Westbury, NY @ Theatre at Westbury August 9 Ė Staten Island, NY @ St. George Theatre August 10 Ė Englewood, NJ @ Bergen Performing Arts Center August 12 Ė Port Chester, NY @ The Capitol Theater August 13 Ė Morristown, NJ @ Morristown Performing Arts Center August 16 Ė Washington, DC @ Warner Theatre August 17 Ė Munhall, PA @ Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall August 19 Ė Sterling Heights, MI @ Freedom Hill Amphitheatre August 20 Ė Chicago, IL @ Copernicus Center August 21 Ė Milwaukee, WI @ Pabst Theater August 24 Ė Denver, CO @ Paramount Theatre August 26 Ė Anaheim, CA @ The Grove August 27 Ė Las Vegas, CO @ Las Vegas Events Center August 28 Ė Santa Barbara, CA @ Arlington Theatre August 30 Ė Los Angeles, CA @ Orpheum Theater August 31 Ė Saratoga, CA @ The Mountain Winery September 2 Ė Reno, NV @ Silver Legacy Casino September 3 Ė Paso Robles, CA @ Vina Robles Winery September 4 Ė San Diego, CA @ Humphreyís
Rhod Sharp - BBC Radio 5 Live
Friday, September 16, 2022 6:55 PM
BBC Radio 5 Live
Steve Howe interview with Rhod Sharp
13 April 2016
Steve Howe, in an unusually long interview, talks about YES and the forthcoming UK Tour, playing the Fragile & Drama albums.