Oliver Wakeman Photo

Oliver's Memories of Alan White

It was Thursday evening and my phone started ringing with a call from the Yes management. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence as they have been looking after me for a while as well. However, when you get the opening words of ‘We wanted to let you know before the press release comes out…’ you know it’s not going to be a call about something insignificant. 

 

That’s when I got the news that Alan White had passed away during the night. I knew that Alan had been suffering with his back and a few health issues but even though, I had the same feeling of disbelief I had when Chris Squire passed. 

 

I think it comes from having worked so closely with them both that you get to know these larger than life personalities and can’t imagine that they are no longer around at the end of a phone line or to say hi to when our paths next crossed. 

 

Anyway, I didn’t want to write this about the sad news of Alan’s passing but an opportunity to share some of my experiences of working and spending time with Alan when I was in the band from 08 - 11. 

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Contrary to belief, I didn’t grow up with the Yes guys coming around the house teaching me Roundabout from an early age…

 

Dad would often be away on tour and by the time I was 2, Dad had left the band. In ‘77 when he rejoined, I was 5 and in ‘78, Dad and Mum had split up and Dad was living in Switzerland and so I never saw him short of a few brief visits until he met Nina in the 80’s. So basically, I do not have any memories of any of the guys from that early period. 

 

The other stories I often write about working with Yes relate back to the time I spent l on tour with ABWH when my brother and I traveled around the US and spent time watching shows and going to the studio with them. However, as most people who have knowledge of the intricate goings ons in Yes will be aware, neither Chris nor Alan were involved in the ABWH project. 

 

When the two Yes camps merged to create the Union tour I did go to one of the shows in the UK and did get to meet Alan briefly but Chris was locked up in his dressing room. 

 

So fast forward about 17 years and I found myself in the enviable position of being asked to join the band!

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On arrival in Canada (where we were rehearsing and doing our first show) I was met at the airport by Paul Silveira who was the tour manager for the whole of the period I was in the band. Chris and his wife Scotty were at the airport but Alan was already at the hotel and so I didn’t really meet properly until we started the rehearsals. 

 

We were rehearsing in a large building and had the full stage set up and I finally met Alan properly. It was immediately apparent that he was (besides being ridiculously talented) an extremely easy going person. The overriding memory I have is when we moved into a smaller rehearsal space and I was desperately trying to get my head around the 3 1/2 hours worth of music we were making the set from (in just 2 weeks). Chris has just asked me to work up a piano arrangement for his new track Aliens and I was feeling a little overwhelmed. Chris, Steve and Alan had been playing the songs for about 30 years and Benoit had been singing a large part of the set in his tribute band but I was coming to all of the music completely new. 

 

I remember during a break, Alan making a point of noticing this and taking time to sit with me and tell me that I was doing great as he knew it was a lot to learn and absorb in such a short period of time. He reminded me he was in the same position when he joined and knew how daunting it could be. I immediately felt more settled and always thought it was a very kind gesture from one musician to another. 

 

I remember during one of the tours we were in Boston and (being a huge Frasier and Cheers fan) really wanted to see the famous bar. 

Alan said he would show me round Boston and we had a fantastic afternoon together and ended up in the recreated Cheers bar where we bumped into Tom Babsom (Tom the lawyer from Cheers) who was in the bar on a promotional visit. We had a great afternoon swapping tv and tour stories with each other and were rewarded with official Cheers staff T-shirts at the end of our afternoon by the bar staff!

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I always loved watching Alan play on stage and in particular always watched his solo from Astral Traveller from the side of the stage with Chris. Such a great player. 

 

When we came to recording the music that would appear on Fly From Here and From A Page, there were plenty of bits which Alan and I came up with together. Yes we’re not always great at following a rigid sound check routine but Alan would always go and check through his drums and I would always go and check all my keyboards. We would often just jam together for ages coming up with lots of ideas. This is where the ‘Army of Angels’ section for Into the Storm originally came from which I always really liked. 

 

I have a couple of CDs recorded from the sound desk of us just jamming away, I must have another listen at some point as there might be a couple of nuggets in there!

 

Later on, we all moved to Phoenix in the US for a writing session before Trevor Horn came on board. We rented a five bedroom house and would jam together in a local studio coming up with ideas (which was also where the intro of Into the Storm materialised). We would also record lots of demos in the lounge as well, adding to the arrangements we had all been working on. 

 

There was one day when I went to see Alan who was in the pool house with a little keyboard working through a long chord sequence idea he had. We sat together and between us worked on a few of my ideas and his chords to get it into a nice arrangement. I then worked on some melodies to go with the new arrangement. This piece became the intro and outro to the Gift of Love track. This was originally going to get cut and I fought to keep it in when we started recording in Beverly Hills. It all became a moot point when the band and I parted ways but I was determined it should be reinstated when I got the recordings back as it showed the dynamic in the writing and collaborative nature of that album. Alan’s drumming on the last minute of that track in particular gives me goose bumps everytime I hear it with all his great fills, just wonderful playing. 

 

When I finished putting together the ‘From a Page’ record, I sent Alan a copy and he sent me a lovely email back saying how much he liked the record and how happy he was to hear the music finally released. He also referred to Chris as Christopher which I always thought was quite touching. 

 

There are numerous other little stories from the times on tour but I think these few little insights into working with Alan hopefully give a window into the kindness he showed to a young musician joining the band and shows that he was at his happiest behind the drum kit knowing his family was always close by. 

 

I think if I’d realised just how much of the rich history of rock music Alan had been involved in I would have been in permanent awe but due to his calm and easy going nature, he never made you feel anything other than at ease. 

 

For that and the shared memories I can only say, thank you Alan and RIP. 

 

Oliver Wakeman

June 2022