Monday, 6 July 2015

Chris Squire: Black Yes fans speak out

“The number of black people listening to Yes would astound you.”

Chris Squire. 1948-2015

I burst into tears when I heard that Yes bassist Chris Squire had died. Yes were such a big part of my life as a young man. And then I rediscovered them about ten years ago. I only really like a few prog bands, but Yes, in their first few albums, had the tunes. The Yes album, in my view, is a perfect album. 

But an interesting issue has risen following the news. The band have often been seen as a group for white suburban young men (I fitted into that category nicely in Hatfield in 1981). But a YouTube commentator says that black Yes fans have often been invisible and that it's a real issue. Paul Jenkins, a You Tuber from the USA, says: "Just as whites were stigmatized for listening to black music back then, we weren't supposed to listen to white music." Paul's happy for me to blog about this as he's keen for it to be aired as an issue. 

This blog is really just a copy-and-paste job, but I hope that I've fleshed out the most interesting comments by black Yes fans in the USA, reacting to the news of Chris's death, on this YouTube discussion

You see, I'm used to seeing no black, Asian or any non-white faces at prog rock gigs. At Christmas my brother-in-law bought me a souvenir book of Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979. There I am, aged 16, photographed on one of the pages. Along with pages and pages of white faces. 

I don't know what it's like for any Yes fans drawn from BAME communities here in the UK, but the YouTube discussion gives you an insight into feelings across the Pond. And it shouldn't be an issue: you like who you like. But, for these guys below, it is an issue. 

Paul continues: “As the good Lord as my witness, you Caucasian people have NO IDEA how many blacks listen to Yes. Seriously, the number would astound you. I think it's fitting that the gulf, however small it was between say, Weather Report and Emerson Lake and Palmer, has finally been seen, or at least heard to be non-existent. One of my favourite bands was Gentle Giant, and yes, I am black.”

And YouTuber rembeadgc says: “I grew up in the South in a predominately ‘black’ public school system in the latter part of the ‘Black Power’ and ‘Black Pride' eras. But I remember borrowing Fragile from a ‘white’ schoolmate and being transported to only God knows where when I really listened to Long Distance Runaround, Heart of the Sunrise and South Side of the Sky. My world had been forever altered. It was like an alternative universe all created by these musicians: Chris Squire, Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman. No offence meant to any of my atheist or agnostic friends out there, but Yes has always been one of the reasons I believe there is a God!”

And metamorphosis67 puts it in context with his experiences: "I'd been to many Yes concerts and you would see maybe 20 or 30 black people in an audience of ten thousand."

Paul Jenkins continues: “Sadly many Yes fans carry racial views that are completely antithetical to the spirit of the group. I'm black and a guitarist and learned my scales by sitting around with Close to the Edge for hours at a time trying to play things I didn't yet have the chops for. Yes is not just music to me; their music is like an old friend that I grew up with. RIP Chris Squire.”

You see, these guys are of a generation that was listening to Yes in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s not a new thing. They were listening at the same time that I was. And we all miss Chris.


  1. Thanks for this, Steve! As a long-time YES F.O.C. (fan of color; laugh), I can take the theme of your post further: I play PROG, sometimes, too... here's a rehearsal of a fairly proggy number of mine from last year:

  2. Thanks for this Cornelius. Listening now...Sounding good. Keep me updated on the band -

    1. Will do, Steve! (that's not the name of the band anymore but I'll keep you updated)