Yes were u we had our
JON ANDERSON found worldwide fame as the singer with progressive rock band Yes, the golden voice on hits like Owner Of A Lonely Heart and Roundabout. But the Accringtonborn former milkman once dreamed of entertaining crowds in a very different way.
“At school, all I cared about was football,” says Jon, 76. “Accrington
Stanley’s ground was just up the road from my school. I was a regular mascot and ball-boy at Peel Park when I was 11. I wanted to play for them. I wanted to play for England too…then we got kicked out of the league.”
The club resigned from the Football League in 1962, and were dissolved in 66, regenerating as today’s “Owd Reds” two years later. Jon jokes that only his 5ft 5in height kept him from football glory.
He seems like a mess of contradictions. On the one hand he insists he’s “a regular guy, a musician not a rock star” who still gets animated about the Premier League; on the other hand he’s a loveable eccentric who chants and meditates every day at his home in the hills near San Luis Obispo in central California.
Now this most irregular regular guy is telling me how he recorded a solo album more than 30 years ago and completely forgot about it.
1,000 Hands “started out as Uzlot,” he says – “that’s Accrington for Us Lot. I recorded it in Big Bear City with good old Brian Chatton from Bolton who played with my first band the Warriors.
“We had eight songs and I liked them but I had to go on tour with Yes and Brian had a tour with BB King so I said, ‘We’ll finish it later in the year’. Instead, it sat on 2in tapes in my garage for 26 years.”
Producer Michael Franklin contacted Jon out of the blue five years ago asking him to send him the tapes. “I said, ‘What tapes?’ ” Jon laughs.
The restoration process was worthy of a Hollywood handshake. “We had to put them in an oven and bake them at 400 degrees Fahrenheit,” he recalls. “Then you can only play them once or they fall apart. Michael transferred them to a computer.”
Jon’s Yes bandmates, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, played on the original recordings, and Franklin brought in more big-name guests including Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson (no relation), Chic Corea and Billy Cobham. “I couldn’t believe it. It was like Surprise, Surprise!” Jon laughs.
“I sent him a recording of me chanting over West African jungle sounds and he mixed it on his laptop on a flight from
Orlando to China…the sounds are very strong. The music is timeless!”
Showbiz was in Jon’s blood from birth. His Glaswegian father was in ENSA, performing as John Roy the Melody Boy; his mother Kathleen worked in a cotton mill. They were keen ballroom dancers.
He recalls: “I remember seeing Dad on stage when I was about two in a pushchair – he was wearing a kilt, he had a Hitler moustache, and was telling jokes and playing the harmonica.
“There was always a lot of music at home,” Jon adds, his accent shifting between working class Lancashire and laidback California, where he has lived since the mid-90s. “At nine I had a skiffle band, singing Lonnie Donegan songs. I played the washboard.”
When his father became ill, Jon and his older brother Tony stepped up. “Things got rough so I worked on the local farm.
I’d get up at 6.30 to help with milking, then go to school.”
He took to lessons like a rhino to tap-dancing. “I got into trouble. I got told off for singing too loud and messing around.” The phrase, “Anderson – stop that singing!” was heard frequently.
Jon left school at 15, becoming a milkman and then a lorry driver. “We sang Everly Brothers songs, me and my brother, when we were delivering milk. We saw The Beatles early in 1963.”
Their teenage band, the Warriors, covered Beatles songs. “We got screamed at in Edinburgh,” he smiles. “We made a wall of noise. We played Germany like they did too.”
Jon formed Yes with Chris Squire five years later when he was 21. The prog-rock band, with Rick Wakeman on keyboards, released huge, platinum-selling albums and played stadiums the world over.
IN 1977 YES sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden for seven consecutive nights – an unbeaten record. Their complex music was the perfect vehicle for Jon’s distinctive alto-tenor vocals and inscrutable lyrics. “Our music was unique,” he says. “We didn’t pander to record companies; we didn’t pander to radio. We had our own vision. I was into studying musical forms, creating musical structures. I was the MD.”
His nickname in the band was
Napoleon. But Jon says, “I just wanted us to develop, I knew we could stretch the musical imagination. There was a lot of great music around. King Crimson freaked me out, they were so good.”
Their third LP, 1971’s The Yes Album, was their first platinum-seller in the US. The follow-up, Fragile, went double platinum there and platinum here. Seven more Top Ten albums followed.
Jon didn’t read a book until 1972, and that was Finding The Third Eye by Vera Stanley Alder, based on Eastern religions and Western esotericism.
“It opened up my quest to understand,” he says. “We’re all spiritual beings, learning about the conversation we have with the divine. It’s not religion, it’s just a feeling of connection with Mother Earth. I feel like I’m constantly growing.
“Life is about finding your true self and the divine within.”
Given time, he’ll chat happily about “inter-dimensional energy” and numerology.
In 1980, Jon left Yes for the first time and teamed up with Greek synthesiser player Vangelis. “It was different musically,” he