Alan White joined Yes as a 23-year-old having forged a reputation as one of the brightest young drummers around during the 1960s.
Still with the band as they prepare to embark on their latest UK tour – minus Messrs Anderson and Wakeman Snr – the tub thumper from County Durham talked exclusively to rushonrock about his home from home and all things music.
Check out the second part of a revealing chat with White tomorrow, when he lifts the lid on Yes’ new singer and a familiar name behind the keyboard.
rushonrock: So how did a lad from County Durham end up in Newcastle, WA?
Alan White: When I bought a house here the place wasn’t actually called Newcastle. It was called Renton and then three months after I moved here they changed the name! You can imagine how freaky that was. It’s a city on the other side of the lake from Seattle right next to Bellvue which is a nice part of town. Funnily enough Newcastle also used to be a mining community, like its namesake back home, and years and years ago the industry meant it was even bigger than Seattle. The only reason Seattle ultimately overtook Renton/Newcastle was because of the gold rush. Even before the name change the place has always been known as Newcastle to the locals. A few weeks ago they celebrated Newcastle Day and I played – it always makes me smile.
rushonrock: So are you part of a big community of expat Geordies then?
AW: You know I assume there must be one but I don’t know any other Geordies. But if you look back as far as the late 1800s and early 1900s you’ll find a lot of families settled here from the North East of England. There’s a celebration up in the woods, around two miles from my house, where everybody dresses up in the clothes from that era and celebrate Newcastle’s mining heritage. It’s very important to people here.
rushonrock: As a Ferryhill boy was it the love of coal which drew you to the area in the first place?
AW: Not really! The thing is I travel so much, and still do, with my job that I needed to put down some roots somewhere. There was a point where I had places in Oxford, London and Los Angeles and then I bought the house in Seattle. I had four houses on the go and in the end I had to decide on one to call the family home. My wife is from the area and her family all live close by so, in that respect, Newcastle was perfect as a base for her when I was away.
rushonrock: There’s even a Newcastle City Hall. Does it rock as hard as the original and best?
AW: It doesn’t rock at all to my knowledge. It’s a typical US city hall so it’s an administration centre rather than an entertainment venue. In played Newcastle in the summer but it was at the casino rather than the City Hall! It’s right next door to the police station and I walk past it most mornings with my two Jack Russell dogs.
rushonrock: Run through life as a would-be drummer in Ferryhill…
AW: I lived in Chester-le-Street until I was seven and then we moved to Ferryhill. When I was about 17 I left and headed for London and then went to Germany for three months playing as many as seven shows in one day. But that was a well trodden route back then and it was a great scene over there. In the early days I was in a band called the Downbeats from Spennymoor and I was only 13-years-old. I got a reputation for being the youngest drummer in the North East and there were a couple of newspaper articles written about me back in the day. I was playing working men’s clubs and still several years off being able to buy a drink. But it was a great grounding for a young kid. The Downbeats were pretty much a Beatles take-off band and it’s funny that I ended up working with John Lennon and George Harrison a few years down the line.
rushonrock: How excited are you about playing Newcastle City hall again?
AW: It will bring back a lot of nostalgia. Yes played there quite a few times in the 70s – we played with Lindisfarne on a few occasions. I had my own band and just before that I started playing with Joe Cocker.
* A version of this interview first appeared in this month’s issue of The Journal’s Culture Magazine, out earlier today and available throughout November.