On 25th August 2019 Alan White was interviewed by Jon Kirkman at the Beatles Week Convention which took place at The Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, UK. Among the things they spoke about were Alan’s involvement in the Plastic Ono Band and the recording of John Lennon’s “Imagine” album.
YES performed the song “Imagine” during The Royal Affair Tour of 2019 and it is available to stream NOW as the lead single from their forthcoming live album, The Royal Affair Tour: Live From Las Vegas, recorded live at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel, Friday 26th July 2019 and mixed by Billy Sherwood.
The Royal Affair Tour: Live From Las Vegas will be released 30th October 2019. Pre-order now at: https://YesBand.lnk.to/RoyalAffairWE
Listen to Alan’s interview and read the transcription below:
Jon Kirkman (JK): In the summer of 2019, YES embarked on an American tour entitled The Royal Affair. The live album from that tour is called “The Royal Affair Tour: Live From Las Vegas”. On that particular recording, the band performed a version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. “Why are YES covering a song by John Lennon?” I hear you ask. Well, Alan White, who is the drummer with YES was also a founder member of the Plastic Ono Band, and in 2019 it was the 50th anniversary of the Plastic Ono Band’s “Live Peace In Toronto” album, and of course, the concert from where that recording was made. It was also the 48th anniversary of the “Imagine” album, which Alan White also played on. In fact, he played on all but three of the original tracks on that particular album.
I caught up with Alan at the Beatles Week convention at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool in the summer of 2019, where he discussed his time with John Lennon. As you can hear, it’s a very busy afternoon at the convention, and Alan was due to give an interview in front of around 300 people later on in the afternoon. I started off by asking him then, did it seem like 50 years since he started his working relationship with John Lennon?
Alan White (AW): No, it doesn’t seem that long ago, but I’m glad that people recognise what we’ve been doing for years. It was the first time John had done a gig outside of the Beatles live, so he was really nervous. But it’s great to see people commemorating that album [Live Peace In Toronto 1969]. In fact, I just did a signing and I signed tons of them! It was an instant album. I mean, he says on the album we never played together before, and this was very true. We just hammered through the songs on the plane, heads down, and got into it.
JK: I was talking to Klaus Voormann recently and he said it was very last minute. Is that how you found out about it?
AW: Yeah, last minute. I just got a call out of the blue that said, “Do you want to come and play in Toronto? I’ve got a gig.” First of all, as you know, I didn’t think it was him. I thought it was somebody messing around with me! But really I just took the bull by the horns and jumped in the deep end, as it were. I put my head down and played, and so did Eric and Klaus because none of us had played together. I don’t think it’s that bad of an album considering we had no rehearsals
Allen Klein had set this up for John, and I really think he was scrambling to get a band together and put it on stage. But we did, and I personally think we kind of pulled it off. And as you can see because people want me to sign it all the time, we must have sold a bunch of records!
JK: Well, if you look at the film – and luckily it was filmed as well as recorded – you can see John getting more confidence as the set goes on.
AW: I said that. I did an interview the other day to that nature and I said, “Well, by the second or third song he was feeling better. He had confidence, and by that time he felt he had the audience in his hand.” Otherwise, I was just thinking he just was scared he’d get booed off. A lot of those songs were songs that bands played in general around the time. But I knew what the songs were. I just remember him being adamant about “Blue Suede Shoes” having an extra beat from Carl Perkins.
JK: I’m sure I’ve read this somewhere that one of your relatives said to you, “One day you’ll play with the Beatles.”
JK: That’s got to be a really weird thing! When you were on stage with John – or was it afterwards, maybe – had that crossed your mind and thought, Wow!?
AW: When I was about thirteen I was playing in little local bands where we used to do these small gigs. And I remembered that from day one, one day you’re going to be playing with the Beatles, and it stuck in my mind.
JK: Congratulations on the Royal Affair, a fabulous tour from what I’ve seen of everything. It’s so great to see YES doing so well because I think there’s been a lot of work that’s gone into the band over the last fifteen years.
AW: I tell you, YES work so hard on being extremely detailed about getting everything right and perfect. And it pays out over the years, it really does. And the band’s playing really, really good right now.
JK: Everybody knows you for YES, and of course, there’s the other side of it – you’re the drummer that played on Imagine, you played in the Plastic Ono Band, and it’s nice to have that contrast, I think, isn’t it?
AW: Oh, it is! YES is very complex music and some of the drumming I did on [“Imagine”] some of it’s quite difficult on the Lennon stuff. But the YES stuff takes a long time to work out, even to go back and play it again after all this time. I’ve got to really, as they say, get my P’s and Q’s right.
JK: How long after “All Things Must Pass” did you get involved in the “Imagine” sessions? Of course, that was outside London. That was at John’s home in Tittenhurst Park.
JK: How long was it after that? Again, there were some hangovers from the Beatles situation. Phil McDonald was engineering, George played on it, Klaus was there, and you were there as well. It seemed like a pretty tight unit.
AW: It was!
JK: There’s a very famous quote as well. Nicky Hopkins said, “John wanted me to play the piano and I said to him, ‘No, you need to play the piano on Imagine!’” And John wanted Nicky Hopkins to play. He said, “It goes like this.” You can see that in the film and Nicky’s going, “I think you should play that.”
AW: Oh, yeah.
JK: Did you ever think that he may decide to go out and do some gigs? He’d done a few gigs outside of the Beatles with doing the Live Peace and things.
AW: Yeah, but then he moved to New York and I kind of lost touch with him after that. Then he went through that whole immigration deal in New York and stuff.
JK: But you’re still in touch with Yoko. I remember you saying once when you were in Liverpool, funnily enough, “Oh, yeah, Imagine’s coming out again. I’ve got an invite.” She always looks after you, Yoko, doesn’t she?
AW: Yeah. She always remembers me. Well, I’m a Beatle now! I just did that YES tour, and they put a special film together with footage from that time. And we played “Imagine” on the YES tour, and they’d run it behind me. The first time I saw it, I turned around and went, “Who the hell is that guy?!” (laughs)
JK: You’ve just been celebrating, well, last year now, the fiftieth anniversary of YES, and you’ve been there this year, back in July, for forty-seven years of those fifty. So, congratulations on that, and congratulations on the Royal Affair Tour. It was very successful!