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GONZO WEEKLY #143: Jon meets Billy Sherwood

I don't think I had ever come across the phenomenon of mass grieving until the autumn of 1997.

One Saturday in August of that year I had spent something like six hours together with Jan Scarff, a mate of mine, having our photographs taken. At the time I was seen as somewhat of an authority on the subject of UFOs. I wasn't of course, but had invented myself as such in order to earn enough money to pay for my exorbitantly expensive divorce, and also - I will admit with a mildly embarrassed blush - to meet cosmic minded chicks. I will confirm that both aims were successful. 

However, I digress as I so often do within my inky fingered scribblings. I was feeling particularly full of myself, because - for the first, and to date the only time - I had sold an article to the hallowed pages of The Times itself. We spent ages over this bloody photo session and were absolutely exhausted when we finished. As the photographer packed up his gear I joked. "how much do you want to bet that some member of the Royal Family has a car crash, and the bloody story never appears?"

Everybody laughed.

The next morning at about six o'clock I was fast asleep. The telephone rang. it was Jan.

"I think that you should switch on the television" he said, and then rang off.

I had never seen such an outpouring of public grief, with nine hour queues to sign the books if condolences, and piles of flowers and soft toys left outside churches, war memorials and other places of geomantic interest.

I got myself sacked by the BBC. There was a discussion on my regular Weird about the West show  about the conspiracy theories surrounding Diana's death. I chipped in that the only people to benefit were Interflora, and was promptly dismissed.

Five years later it all happened again with the demise of the Queen Mother, but this week I have noted something bizarrely similar.

Since I have been the editor of these hallowed pages, we have borne witness to the death of quite a few notable musicians who are of importance to people who are interested in the sort of music that we cover. The two most notable of these are perhaps Mick Farren and Daevid Allen, both of whom I knew personally, and the deaths of whom did hit me hard. The passing of both of these men was noted quite extensively in the mainstream press which was something that I found rather gratifying.

Earlier this year Chris Squire, the bass player and last remaining founding member of long term British prog rockers Yes announced:

“This will be the first time since the band formed in 1968 that Yes will have performed live without me,” says Chris Squire. “But the other guys and myself have agreed that Billy Sherwood will do an excellent job of covering my parts and the show as a whole will deliver the same Yes experience that our fans have come to expect over the years.”

Squire had been diagnosed with acute erythroid leukemia, and whilst everyone wrote that they were sure that he would recover soon, I privately thought that it would take a minor miracle to intervene in the aetiology of such a virulent strain of the disease. And sure enough, I was asleep one Sunday afternoon in June when Corinna woke me up to tell me that Chris Squire had died.

As I thought they would, the newspapers were full of tributes to Squire, and - because Yes were more famous than either Gong or The Deviants - there were more tributes to him in the papers than there had been to either Mick or Daevid. But time like an ever rolling stream bears all its rock and roll heroes away and the flow of tribute stories dried up.

Fast forward to the beginning of August, and Yes play their first gigs ever without Chris Squire. And the floodgates have opened. I was completely unprepared for the outpouring of emotional articles, tributes and blog posts which appeared. I had already been scheduled to do an interview with Billy Sherwood who has taken over bass duties with the band, and serendipitously it turned out that it happened on the day after their first gig.....


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