CHRIS SQUIRE R.I.P.
Very sad to hear of the passing of Chris Squire, bass player of the progressive rock ban YES, today.
Chris was a truly unique bass player. The word ‘unique’ is used a lot, these days, of course, but in Chris’s case, it’s undisputable. His bass playing style was a million miles away from the low-pitched thud of most bassists of the time. His bass guitar was wired up to make an incisive full-frequency range ‘clank’ that had the presence of an orchestra when he played on his own. Blended into the intricacies of the arrangements in his band’s music, it formed a massively strong backbone in both rhythm and pitch. As young musicians, we boys in Queen were huge fans of Yes. We had a loose connection with them, since Freddie had worked in Kensington Market alongside Tony Kaye, their original keyboard player. We regularly saw Yes playing around London in their very early days – when they were still playing covers, – among them a very impressive version of ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story. In these early days they were learning their harmony skills which later emerged strongly in their own compositions … like ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’, etc.
Chris was a founder member of the band along with singer Jon Anderson, and was a major writer and arranger as well as bassist. I saw the band many times all through their very convoluted history, but one early impression stick in my mind. I was on the Entertainments Committee of my college – Imperial College – and we booked them to play in our Great Hall just after they’d returned from a tour in the USA supporting Iron Butterfly. We were around in the hall when Yes were doing their soundcheck. At each side of the stage were the speakers of their PA … their amplification system. Now in those days, PA’s were usually made from a valve amplifier putting out about 200 watts in power (compare that with modern systems which pump out hundreds of thousands of watts). The amp would feed small cabinets which held some conventional loudspeakers – the kind that people had in their home radios and record players. The Yes system was shockingly different. It comprised massive square black boxes (known as ‘Bins’ – for the low frequencies) and large metal fan-shaped devices sitting on top (known as ‘Horns’). Our aws dropped. We’d never seen anything like it. We asked them later how this came about and they told us that this was the Iron Butterfly system, designed to put across one of the loudest bands in the world at that time. For Yes, it was not so much about being loud, as being clear. To put across multi-part harmonies on top of a loud rock band required a lot of spare power, or all that would come out would be distortion, since you were trying to make those delicate harmonies compete with the sound coming out of loud guitars and drums actually on stage, in the ‘backline’. For us this was vital information. We, as Queen, were planning to do exactly that … make vocal harmonies sit on top of a band sound that was going to be louder and more ‘heavy’ in content than Yes’s. So if this new kind of system worked, this was what we wanted. Of course there was one small snag … we had no money !!
But was all this sophistication going to solve every problem ? Chris Squire strolled on to the stage and picked up his already plugged-in Rickenbacker bass, and turned it up to do the check. But before he played a note, he frowned and said, in what seemed like a shocked tone (and the implication that this was in no way his problem): “There’s a buzz !” Immediately three or four guys rushed on from the wings and scurried around looking equally concerned.
Now to us, at the time, being beginners with no money and no gear, this seemed incredibly grand ! Couldn’t he sort out his own buzz ? What was this world where other people turned on your amp and plugged you in ? But as time went on, we realised this is more a matter of focus. As a performer you try to optimise your efforts as regards performing. You actually can’t do that if you’re worrying about the technical side of things as well. You pay other folks good money to do that … and if you don’t, you’re actually putting someone out of a job ! The whole touring team thing depends on everyone being a specialist in what they do, and that’s how you achieve excellence. It’s just one of the lessons we, Queen, learned from YES, and, very specially, the amazing and truly unique Chris Squire. I should probably mention that as a player he was a virtuoso; I think just about every bass player I know would confirm that view.
May he rest in peace and happiness, knowing he played a great part in changing Rock forever.
Sincere condolences to his family and friends, and the guys he pioneered wondrous harmony progressive faerie-inspired Rock with.
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