Obituary: Chris Squire, musician

Highly regarded bass player with progressive rock band Yes, which he co-founded. Picture: AP
Highly regarded bass player with progressive rock band Yes, which he co-founded. Picture: AP
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Born: 4 March, 1948, in London. Died: 27 June, 2015, in Phoenix, Arizona, aged 67.

Chris Squire was one of the most highly regarded rock bassists of the late 20th century, most famous for his extensive time with the progressive rock group Yes, which he co-founded with vocalist Jon Anderson in 1968. Throughout the many incarnations of the band over a collective career which extends to this day, Squire was the only member to contribute to all 21 albums they released in four and a half decades.

He was ever-present during the group’s run of eight transatlantic critical and commercial hit records in the early 1970s, stretching from 1971’s The Yes Album to 1980’s Drama, taking in what is arguably acknowledged as their high point from this period, 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans.

Like contemporaries such as Genesis, Yes’s output in this era was influenced by fantasy and science fiction stylings, from their intricately designed, out-there record sleeves and stage shows to the hypnotically lengthy tracks which resembled free jazz as much as classic rock.

Squire’s attributes here might best be appreciated by seeking out footage of the group playing live at the time. This won’t indicate his strengths as a composer, of course, and will only begin to demonstrate that he could sing, as well.

Yet on stage, his bass playing was key to the sound of Yes, from the meaty, deep riffs which underpinned the more exotic noodlings of the rest of the band, to the dextrously effective lead parts which he would undertake.

Owning to a recording flaw on the title track of the second Yes album, 1970’s Time and a Word, his bass parts were rendered higher in the mix than intended. The band liked it, and continued to record with him in a prominent role.

For a group whose critical reputation among many younger listeners was nearly washed away entirely by the late 1970s’ explosion of punk and figures like Johnny Rotten’s avowed intention to tear down all that had gone before – most recently, and most opposite to the spirit of punk, prog – it’s perhaps a surprise to look back and see how ferociously energetic Squire and the rest of Yes’s live performances were.

On 1971’s Fragile Squire recorded a bass solo track entitled The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus), which would prove a feature of concerts from then on, often extending to more than ten largely improvised minutes in length.

Fish was Squire’s nickname, and it inspired the title of his 1975 solo record Fish Out of Water, one of two he recorded alongside 2007’s Chris Squire’s Swiss Choir. He and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett also released the album A Life Within a Day in 2012 as Squackett.

Despite the addition of Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes from the New Wave electropop group the Buggles in time for Drama in 1980, the changes in fashion seen over the few years previous caught up with Yes.

The group split for a year at the start of the 1980s, and when they returned with 1983’s 90125 album, it was in radically reimagined style. Although they didn’t quite achieve the enduring crossover success of fellow prog survivors Genesis, 90125’s lead single, the soft rock anthem Owner of a Lonely Heart, was a number one hit in the United States.

The follow-up albums Big Generator (1987) and Union (1991) saw top 20 placings and substantial sales on both sides of the Atlantic, while Yes have remained rare amongst groups of their vintage in that they’ve continued to make music around a core and long-settled line-up.

Anderson left permanently when the band split for four years in 2004, but until Squire’s death, he, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White – with a combined service in Yes of more than 100 years – were the core of the band. Last year’s 21st album Heaven & Earth was their most successful in two decades, a top 30 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born Christopher Russell Edward Squire in the London borough of Brent to a cabbie father and an estate agent mother, Squire joined the local church choir at the age of six and later sang with the choir at his school, Haberdashers’ Aske’s.

Inspired by the Beatles and the beat group revolution of the early 1960s, he quit school to work in a guitar shop, playing in proto-psychedelic bands like the Selfs, the Syn and Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, meeting Anderson at the start of 1968 and inviting him to join the latter.

Bonding over an unlikely shared love of Simon and Garfunkel (Yes covered the duo’s America for a single release in 1971), the pair gathered the first version of Yes together – it was original guitarist Peter Banks who suggested their collective name – and played their debut set, largely a bunch of covers by groups including the Beatles, Traffic and Buffalo Springfield, at the East Mersea Youth Camp in Essex in August 1968.

Squire announced in May that he had been diagnosed with acute erythroid leukaemia and would be taking a break from Yes while receiving treatment.

He died in his adopted home city of Phoenix, Arizona less than six weeks later, and is survived by his third wife Scotland and five children from his earlier marriages to Nikki and Melissa. “He always said he was Darth Vader to my Obi-Wan,” said Anderson. “I always thought of him as Christopher Robin to my Winnie the Pooh.” Rush bassist Geddy Lee called Squire “one of the greatest rock bassists of all time”.