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Review: Yes, Newcastle City Hall

Prog rock supergroup Yes got a rapturous reception at Newcastle City Hall to hear them play classics from their back catalogue

****
Prog rock band Yes
Prog rock band Yes

Hidden away somewhere upstairs like a guilty secret is my vinyl copy of The Yes Album, probably sandwiched between something by Pink Floyd and Barclay James Harvest. It has been in retirement for a very long time.

I might have to get it out, though, and find another stylus for the old record player for this was one heck of a great gig.

It helped that I was sitting next to Grant and Fred, County Durham brothers who were at school with drummer Alan White, from Ferryhill, a long-serving member of Yes.

They introduced me to Gigi, Alan’s wife, and Grant said Awaken, from Going for the One, was the perfect thing to wind down to after a stressful day.

Alan’s mum, May, passed away last year and Gigi said they played the track Wonderous Stories (from the same album) at the funeral.

North East Yes fans have May to thank, apparently, for at least one gig in the region. May used to go to every one and was aghast when Newcastle was omitted from one tour itinerary. It was duly reinstated.

The hall was packed for this straight run-through of three Yes albums from the 1970s, performed with projections on a back screen and some coloured lights – nothing too gimmicky.

It began with Close to the Edge (1972), arguably the most hippy-trippy offering of a band that first saw light of day back in 1968 when many big bands had colours in their name - pink, tangerine, crimson. At least Yes didn’t add to that particular rainbow.

The projection of a figure in the lotus position (in the Roger Dean style reminiscent of the album covers) and the sight of singer Jon Davison with his Jesus hairstyle and string of bells did not immediately win me over. This, I thought, was going to be one long night.

But it went in a flash. The most obvious thing on display was marvellous and accomplished musicianship, notably from the evergreen Steve Howe who is not in Guitar Player magazine’s hall of fame for nothing.

At 67 he still sports the long hair, has an elfin figure and can still shake a leg. But the guitar playing can never have been better – he must have worked his way through a dozen different instruments in a masterclass it was a privilege to watch.

What is often forgotten about prog rockers – overshadowed from the late 1970s by the wham-bam punks – is that many of them really could play. This lot certainly could.

Next up was Going for the One (1977), with a bit of good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, and after the break came The Yes Album (1971), result, said bassist Chris Squire, of a summer spent holed up in a farmhouse in Devon.

With Geoff Downes on keyboards – always a vital Yes ingredient – and the American Davison stirring memories of original vocalist Jon Anderson, this was a polished and mesmerising performance.

So many highlights: Howe’s solo rendition of The Clap, Siberian Khartu from Close to the Edge and the hit from The Yes Album, I’ve Seen All Good People.

The capacity audience lapped it up, offering rapturous applause. Cries for an encore were rewarded with smiles and a thumping finale.

Prog rockers always had big ideas, taking inspiration from the cosmos, from Nature, from somewhere deep inside their heads.

You can laugh – many have – but this gig was a revelation, a reminder that this stuff didn’t once fill stadiums by accident. We heard music that merits its place on the concert circuit – that is often complex (some might say a bit pretentious on occasion) but, when played this well, still compelling. I bet Grant floated home to Ferryhill.

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