Alan White, photo by Gottlieb Bros

Northern Powerhouse Drummer Alan White 1949 – 2022

by Geoff Ford

IT IS WITH DEEP SADNESS THAT YES HAVE ANNOUNCED ALAN WHITE, THEIR MUCH-LOVED DRUMMER AND FRIEND OF 50 YEARS, HAS PASSED AWAY, AGED 72, AFTER A SHORT ILLNESS.

The news has shocked and stunned the entire Yes family. Alan had been looking forward to the forthcoming UK Tour, to celebrating his own 50th Anniversary with Yes and that of their iconic ‘Close To The Edge’ album, where Alan’s journey with Yes began in July 1972.

He recently celebrated the 40th Anniversary of his marriage to his loving wife Gigi. Alan passes away, peacefully, at home.

Alan White was born in County Durham and began playing with local bands, aged 13, before making the move to London where he established his reputation working with Billy Fury and Alan Price. In 1969 he was invited to join John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band for the Live Peace in Toronto festival and White went on to play with Lennon on the classics Instant Karma and Imagine He also worked on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and had time with Ginger Baker’s Airforce and Steve Winwood.

Sharing a flat with Yes’ producer Eddie Offord, White was asked to join Yes when Bill Bruford left just before the Close To The Edge Tour in 1972. White would be to only Yes member to play on every Yes album up to, and including, The Quest in 2021.

Alan’s health has limited his time on stage in recent years. His close friend Jay Schellen has been taking on the lion’s share of drumming duties leaving Alan fit to make a welcome appearance towards the end of each performance. Jay will now be taking on drumming duties in Alan’s place.

Alan White was looking forward to celebrating his 50th anniversary on tour with Yes, photo Geoff Ford

Alan White joined Yes on 30th June 1972 with just days to learn the band’s repertoire before the start of a huge tour schedule. “Yes, I only had a few days,” Alan told me when we spoke last year. “That’s the story of my life, really, you get something offered to you and you think it’ll be half a year and you just jump in the deep end!

“The first gig was not too bad, the second one went downhill – and the third one – and, by the fourth I kind of had a handle on it. I took it in my stride like I did when I first played with Lennon, I didn’t know what to expect but I took the bull by the horns.

“I never imagined being on the scene for 50 years when I was a kid but the music’s challenging, it keeps you on your toes and we’ve been very successful over the years.

Reflecting on Alan White’s contribution to Yes, guitarist Steve Howe said: “Alan became our drummer and he did change the style. (Bass guitarist) Chris (Squire) talked about it sometimes and he’d say ‘You know, it’s not Bill, we have a new guy to develop,’ and when you listen to the drumming, say, on Drama (1980) you can see how the aspects of the drumming became more important in a different way to Bill. Bill always occupied the small, the very intricate and delicate but very powerful position. What Alan did, he brought a more regular style of drumming but it developed into a new drumming style for Yes of which Drama is a great example.”

Bass guitarist Billy Sherwood, who replaced the late Chris Squire added: “I’ve worked with Alan so much, I know all of his little tricks and ways to pull stuff out of it, and we have a great working relationship, in the studio, always have. We got really creative together, trying to bring as much out of the music as we could. It was fun.”

After postponing twice, because of Covid restrictions, Yes have already announced that, on the forthcoming tour, they would now be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of their iconic 1972 album Close To The Edge.

The tour line-up will feature Steve Howe (guitars), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Jon Davison (vocals), Billy Sherwood (bass guitar and backing vocals) with Jay Schellen (drums and percussion).

Following the release of The Yes Album and Fragile, in 1971, Yes released what is widely considered one of the most defining albums, not only for Yes but for the whole progressive movement. Close The Edge became an inspiration for their contemporaries and for successive generations of musicians.

“We reached a real high, doing Close To The Edge,” said Steve Howe. “We valued the musicianship, the artistic ideas and the vocalising that people bring and that’s why we’re still doing it, because it’s exciting to do! Close To The Edge was voted the most-proggy album possibly ever made. It was very experimental. We had already done 10-minute epics but with Close To The Edge we just took it a stage further and I’m very pleased we were brave enough to do that.”

The tour will feature Close To The Edge, performed in full, along with other classic tracks from Yes’ extensive catalogue.

Yes will dedicated the Close To The Edge Tour to Alan White.

A full performance of the Relayer album will now be featured in a future UK tour in The Album Series. European dates were recently announced for rescheduled dates in 2023.

Yes, Close To The Edge Tour

The 10 date UK and Eire tour includes the following Northern dates:

Friday 17 June, Manchester, Bridgewater Hall

Monday 20 June, Liverpool, Philharmonic Hall

Wednesday 22 June, York, Barbican

Sunday 26 June, Newcastle, O2 City Hall

All tickets remain valid for the rescheduled shows. For full details and to book tickets for all shows go to venue website or http://yesworld.com/live where you can also book Meet and Greets with the band.