Chris Squire died on 27th June 2015. He was being treated for Acute Erythroid Leukaemia in Phoenix, Arizona. A true giant of the bass, the prog genre has lost a formidable talent.
Chris Squire, Hammersmith Apollo, 17th November 2011
Chris Squire died last weekend aged 67, a couple of weeks after announcing that he was being treated for Acute Erythroid Leukaemia. A true giant of the bass and the last original member of Yes, the only one to have appeared on all the studio albums, he leaves an astounding sonic legacy and will be sorely missed; it was nice to read Jon Anderson’s tribute considering the way Anderson had been moved out of the group following his hospitalisation with acute respiratory failure in 2008 but he had some generous words for his co-founder of one of the most long-lasting and best-loved progressive rock acts: “I feel blessed to have created some wonderful, adventurous, music with him. We travelled a road less travelled and I'm so thankful that he climbed the musical mountains with me. Throughout everything, he was still my brother, and I'm so glad we were able to reconnect recently. I saw him in my meditation last night, and he was radiant. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.”
It didn’t take me long to work out he had a distinctive style and was by far the best bassist of all the bands I started off listening to. As someone who used to pick up musical instrument catalogues and check out guitar manufacturers and models it was a bit of a novelty to see him play a Rickenbacker 4001 when most of his contemporaries owned Fenders or occasionally a Gibson. The trebly sound and the harmonic and contrapuntal lines were something of a trademark that even in 1972 I recognised was one of the defining features of Yes. However, I believe Squire’s influence was diminished after the arrival of Steve Howe. The Yes Album was the beginning of the Yes breakthrough with all the material written by the members including four long compositions but the one track on the record that I think best represents Squire’s writing, I’ve Seen All Good People, is in my opinion the weakest track, with a structure that conforms more to normal rock. Roundabout from the next album Fragile is almost an exercise in setting out the template for Yes music that followed and was written by Anderson and Howe, despite the inclusion of two other extended-form pieces on the record, the heavy South Side of the Sky and the sublime Heart of the Sunrise, both of which were co-written by Squire. It’s the presence of Rick Wakeman that enables Yes to realise their full potential and though he isn’t given many writing credits, his ability to turn the ideas of the main composers into reality coupled with his embrace of keyboard technology and the potential to integrate their sounds into the band’s written material, launched the band to the forefront of symphonic prog.
Jumping forward a couple of years to the hiatus of 1975, Squire recorded the brilliant solo album Fish out of Water that I think has a feel closer to The Yes Album than any of the three studio albums which appeared between these two. It could be argued that there’s a sonic link between Fish out of Water and Going for the One because of the inclusion of Parallels in the latter which was based on material left over from the former. Certainly Parallels has a strong analogy with Hold Out Your Hand but it has been put through the Yes-machine and includes some clear, soaring guitar from Steve Howe; Fish out of Water is quite notable for its absence of guitar (you can pick out some 12 string electric from time to time) and absence of complex keyboard parts. It’s almost as though Squire has gone back to basics, the pipe organ from Barry Rose hints at Squire’s church music background and the Hammond, played by Patrick Moraz, is reminiscent of the uncluttered Yes of Tony Kaye. The orchestration, in lieu of multiple keyboard parts, is highly effective, especially the section at the beginning of Silently Falling where the wind instruments conjure images of leaves spiralling from trees in an autumn breeze. The orchestration, along with the piano, was provided by Squire’s old friend Andrew Pryce Jackman.
When you think of Yes lyrics you immediately think of Anderson flights of fancy and obscure images but it’s important to remember that Squire had the same outlook. He too writes about seeking higher attainment and cosmic harmony but tends to use language that is more grounded in the everyday. This attitude can also be found in the music, where Eastern influences come across in the multiple false endings of Safe (Canon Song). One of the minor surprises of Fish out of Water is the list of guest musicians. Alan White may have been unavailable, working on his own solo project and Squire was reunited with former band mate Bill Bruford on drums; the King Crimson connection is strengthened with the inclusion of Mel Collins on saxophones and Peter Sinfield who made suggestions for Safe; Canterbury stalwart Jimmy Hastings adds some beautiful flute. Squire’s voice is solid throughout and his multi-tracked harmony parts, reflecting the influences that shaped him as a musician, work really well. The worst thing about the album doesn’t relate to the music, which deserved a better sleeve. Brian Lane’s Polaroid of Squire is rather poor and the album would have looked much better had the 'stained-glass' fish picture, included as a full size poster in the original LP, been placed on the cover rather than the back. The poster graced my bedroom walls at home and as I moved around as a student and a young adult.
Rear cover image from Fish Out of Water - included in the original LP as a poster
I think that Chris Squire was able to influence the direction of the music once more when Anderson and Wakeman departed before Drama. There were a number of factors that came into play, outside the sphere of the musicians themselves that shaped Yes music. I’m no fan of 90125, Big Generator or Talk and I don’t often listen to Open Your Eyes or The Ladder. I’m ambivalent about the studio tracks on the two Keys to Ascension CDs but I do like Magnification, more than Fly from Here. The relationship between the band members around the time of Union can’t have helped the creative process and apart from The More We Live – Let Go I much prefer the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe tracks; I would have waited for Ever, on which Squire lends his vocals, harks back to the classic Yes sound. I guess I’m suggesting that in the Anderson-free Yes, Squire, through no fault of his own, was captaining the ship on a downward course. I never bought a copy of Heaven & Earth because the band moved away from creating innovative and challenging music. Fly from Here had provided a glimmer of old Yes with the multi-part title track but that’s because it was based on music conceived around the time of Drama. One problem I have with that particular album is that rightly or wrongly, I associate Squire with the decision to axe Oliver Wakeman from the line-up at that point.
Extrovert and often seen wearing stage gear as outlandish as anything Wakeman could come up with, including feather boas sticking out of thigh high boots for one outfit, Squire was quiet and thoughtful off stage and according to a friend who encountered Squire at a Rick Wakeman gig in Buxton, he was very pleasant to chat to. Squire’s remarkable talent of helping to flesh out Anderson’s sketchy visions, an incredible ability on the bass and an aptitude for harmony gained through his choirboy youth made him an irreplaceable member of Yes and a genuine prog luminary. The progressive rock world has lost a very gifted individual.
Christopher Russell Edward Squire b. 4th March 1948 d. 27th June 2015