I was brought up in a musical household. Hang on, let me rephrase that. I was brought up in a ‘musical’ household. The most played records at home when I was nine years old were by Lena Martell, Glen Campbell and that South African bloke who whistled. It was an eclectic mix of unremitting horseshit.
And upstairs was no better. My sister went through all the fads from Donny Osmond to David Cassidy. No one threw a grenade at the television when the Bay City Rollers or David Essex came on. And the closest thing to edgy music was that peculiar instrumental at the end of Arrival by Abba.
For my sins I played football and sketched. My entire existence orbited around football: playing it (over on the ‘battling field’); reading about it (Shoot magazine); watching it (Match of the Day, Kick Off); ‘playing’ it (Subbuteo); living it. And this obsession had a spin-off interest. Stadium architecture.
Worlds collided in the summer of 1977. We had a heatwave. I bought the devil’s pencil on holiday in north Wales (because it had the number 777 on it, which in 1977 I thought must be an omen), and Emerson Lake and Palmer went to number 2 in the charts with Fanfare for the Common Man. Not only did I like the song, but the video was set in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Music and stadiums. Worlds collided.
But the moment came one evening, as the family settled before the fire for either Coronation Street or Emmerdale F***ing Farm, an advert came on the telly.
It began with an aerial shot of a vast stadium somewhere slowly filling up. Tinkly music drifted in the background. Then a blast of live rock music. . . . It stopped and the stadium reappeared, the tinkly music building. . . . Then another blast. The band were Yes. The advert, their album: Going for the One.
“I want that album,” I said.
“No, you don’t,” my sister said. She knew more about music than I did. She went to discos. “You won’t like Yes. They’re really weird.”
It was the emphasis on the word really that always stuck in my mind. I can hear it now. They’re really weird, like she knew something terrible, some forbidden knowledge that a twelve year old should be protected from. In hindsight, what she meant was Yes don’t record songs that are two and half minutes long and can be danced to.
I had the ELP single, but albums were beyond my pocket money. However, I had contacts. My friend Tucker was always in the know. He had two elder brothers, so he was sorted for everything. When he came around calling, he’d leave tins of Newcastle Brown hidden in the electricity sub-station at the bottom of the road. We’d sup up and then ride round the streets on our bikes shouting ‘the end is nigh.’
But apart from the Newcie Brown and the curry flavoured crisps, Tucker had something else. Going for the One. He made me a tape. It was a C30 cassette (youngsters reading this won’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but keep up.) The 30 in C30 was thirty minutes, which wasn’t long enough for the whole album, so for months I had to listen to Awaken as far as Rick Wakeman’s slot on the organ at St. Martin’s church in Vevey before the sound went awry and stopped.
At school, a Canadian maths teacher saw the album cover and noted “There’s a bare bum on it.” But by lending the album to me I got to hear the whole of Awaken. The whole of the album. The world of Yes opened up and Tucker was the portal.
Next came Close to the Edge. Three songs on one album. My sister was right. Yes were weird. I heard Tormato, Relayer, early Yes albums called Yes and . . . Yes II. And looming ahead of us, beyond even the pocket money of Tucker, was Tales from Topographic Oceans.
Wonderous Stories reached number 7 in the charts. Word spread. Yes were no longer an ugly three-letter word in the house that musical taste forgot. My sister never converted, but my mum and dad were almost sold. They actually mentioned it to a family friend called Jack who fancied my Aunty Marion and bought me a Subbuteo astro-turf pitch for Christmas.
“Do you like synthesiser music?” he asked me after being told all about Rick Wakeman recording Awaken at the church in Vevey.
“I’ve got a tape at home, you can have it. I’ll bring it next time I come round.”
I was intrigued. He didn’t say who it was by. Couldn’t remember. And he was true to his word. Next time he showed up he had the tape with him. Klaus Wunderlich and his Mighty Wurlitzer!
I was a grown up earning a wage before I bought Tales from Topographic Oceans. I was also about to swim in the sea that was heavy rock, and while I still hold Going for the One and Close to the Edge as two of the great albums of all time, I needed something heavier.
The heaviness took over. Iron Maiden and Dio and Saxon ultimately led to Metallica and Celtic Frost and Megadeth. But Yes were always there in the background. The first proper rock band I ever took an interest in. The first weird music I listened to. I had no idea how weird they were: eating curry during concerts, recording albums with artificial cows in the studio. An internationally succesful rock band with a lead singer from Accrington. How weird was that?
They were the foundation for my musical education. The rest that came before it was the shale and gritsone of the mud on which the foundation was built. I don’t know where Tucker is these days. You can still buy Newcastle Brown, but it’s brewed in Yorkshire now by Heineken. Yes are still going, but like some kind of quantum experiment weirdly existed for a while in two parallel forms.
And somewhere along the way I lost the tape by Klaus Wunderlich.