23.4.14

MY ODD CONNECTION TO YES

The first time I saw Deep Purple was at the Plumpton Festival on the Sunday night of the August Bank Holiday, 1970, and they closed their set by setting fire to their amps, or at least Ritchie threw some lighter fuel over them, together with a match, and watched the fun. The stage crew quickly doused the flames but it was enough to cause an almighty row backstage, not least with Yes who were due to follow them.
         Setting aside the obvious, few groups remind me more of my years on Melody Maker than Yes, probably because of the enthusiasm of my colleague Chris Welch who did everything he could to boost their profile. Also, I had a slightly weird connection to them. In the summer of 1968, two years before I landed at MM, on holiday in London with my mate Chris Whincup, I watched Yes rehearsing in a basement beneath the Lucky Horseshoe, a restaurant in Shaftesbury Avenue. This came about because a character called John Roberts, a wealthy paper manufacturer who lived in Settle, in north west Yorkshire, had advanced them £500 and wanted us to check up on his investment.
         Roberts was well known on what passed for a music scene in nearby Skipton where I was brought up. Assumed by locals to be gay because he preferred the company of young men to men or women of his own age, he was really more sociable than predatory. He befriended many aspiring local rock musicians and those fans like me for whom rock was becoming more than just something to dance to at a party. A keen jazz fan, he made frequent visits to London to visit Ronnie Scott’s Club, and it was in the nearby La Chasse club that he met Jon Anderson who in early 1968 was working there as a washer up. Anderson told Roberts he used to sing with an Accrington group called The Warriors – a band Roberts was evidently familiar with – and about his new band Yes which needed finance; hence the £500 loan and my mission to check them out.
         Accompanied by my mate Chris, we went to the Lucky Horseshoe on John Roberts’ behalf, but apart from Jon Anderson the group had no idea who we were. We watched a while and chatted, and simply thought they sounded better than any band we’d ever heard in Yorkshire... such long numbers and very complex. I played guitar myself in a local band up in Skipton in those days, but this was way out of my league. It was incredibly loud and smoky down there but they seemed very professional and they were all very polite and friendly towards us. We were, after all, pals with someone who'd given them £500, no mean sum in 1968. 
         Two years later I was watching Yes on stage at Plumpton, following on from Deep Purple’s firestorm. I was impressed and over the next year or so renewed my acquaintanceship with them, but as their albums became more and more convoluted they began to bore me. In truth I didn’t write much about Yes on MM as Chris Welch monopolised them but I had an interesting brush with them in New York in February, 1974, when they played two nights at Madison Square Garden. That week Melody Maker celebrated their American success with a front-page story stating that the gross takings from the two Garden shows would exceed $200,000. Their bass player Chris Squire was less than happy that MM had chosen to ‘reveal’ Yes’ earnings and at a pre-show party in their hospitality suite at the Warwick Hotel he berated me over the story. 
         I responded by pointing out that anyone with a calculator could work out what they were grossing each night, simply by multiplying the average ticket price by the number of seats, but Squire seemed to think that we had exposed some dark secret. He didn’t like the idea of fans knowing how much money they made but there really wasn’t any secret about it, and I thought it a bit rich coming from him as he always seemed to me to the most money-conscious member of the band. The others didn’t care about the story at all, and neither did Brian Lane, their manager. Rick Wakeman certainly didn’t care and he joined in the argument on my side.
         The party ended in disarray when Harvey Goldsmith, the London-based promoter who promoted Yes’ UK concerts and who was visiting them in New York, was thrown fully clothed into a bath tub. It was Rick who instigated that. Harvey was all dressed up, ready to go to the Garden when suddenly Rick and some of the others in the room picked him up and threw him into a bath full of cold water. He was furious... really angry. He was soaked and had to change his clothes. Personally – after the row I’d just had with him – I’d have preferred to see Chris Squire dumped in the bath.
         More significantly, in July that same year, I took Harvey to see Bruce Springsteen at the Bottom Line in NY. I’d been telling Harvey how great he was and this was the first time Harvey saw Bruce. He went on to promote his UK concerts for the next two decades, including some whoppers at Wembley Stadium. 

3 comments:

  1. Is this referring to the (Whistlin' Willy) Whincup who had an award-winning hit album of country music in the late 60's?

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  2. I think this refers to the legendary North Yorkshire-born blues picker who enjoyed enormous success between 1968-70, with a dedicated following of fans from all corners of the North. Whincup/Winecup was often referred to by his nickname "Cuppa T" combining another moniker by which he was often addressed. Cuppa T apparently vanished into obscurity in the mid-70's, having in the meantime enjoyed close relationships with members of the UK aristocracy, The Who, namely Keith and John, Rod Stewart, Long John Baldry, Joe Cocker and PJ Probin (although he might not wish to be reminded of the latter). The latest news is that WW is living somewhere in Europe, but still tours the US regularly (incognito)and turns up occasionally for the odd impromptu concert in Vienna. More news on his wherabouts would be welcome.

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  3. Alas, I have to report that Whistlin' Willy did not survive a vicious attack from a pregnant alligator in Western Louisiana a couple of years ago. He died as he lived, whistling the tune to "On Ilka' Moor Baht 'At" as he was dragged into the swamp where his remains were never found, presumably eaten. R.I.P. Willy.

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