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47 Years Ago: Yes Play Their First Concert

Yes began their live career on a very inauspicious note, as they performed their first gig on Aug. 3, 1968, at the East Mersea Youth Camp in Essex.

The recently formed band had risen from the ashes of the Syn, one of many notable groups on the U.K. psychedelic scene. Their bassist and guitarist, Chris Squire and Peter Banks, respectively, formed a new band called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. In June 1968, Squire was introduced to singer Jon Anderson at a local night club. The two hit it off, and Anderson was invited to join the group.

Mabel Greer’s Toyshop did some gigs that combined soul, R&B and psychedelia with Anderson’s distinct vocal style as the band found its sound. They restructured by bringing in keyboardist Tony Kaye, who had previously been in a group called Bittersweet, and drummer extraordinaire Bill Bruford, whom they found via an ad in Melody Maker. Banks thought the band’s name was too cliche and suggested a new one: the simple, yet effective, Yes.

It came to pass that the newly christened group had only a week to prepare for their debut, so naturally they leaned heavily on cover songs, including tracks from the Beatles,Traffic, Buffalo Springfield and the 5th Dimension. “It is seldom mentioned that Yes basically began as a covers band, doing interpretations of other people’s material,” noted Banks in the Yes bio Close to the Edge. “But what covers they were, given the full Yes treatment! “We didn’t just rearrange a song — we celebrated it with much enthusiasm!”

“We were doing this at a time when most British rock groups were blues based and very much in a post-psychedelic, just-wanting-to-rock-out-man mode,” added Banks. Though their debut gig was somewhat underwhelming for the band and audience, this did not dampen the band’s spirits. A few days later, Yes were on more appropriate ground, performing a set at the Marquee club in London.

See Yes and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’70s

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