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The Rock Star and the ‘Priest’

How brothers Jon and Tony Anderson went in different directions

By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries, October 27, 2013

ISLE OF WIGHT, UK (ANS) – As the lead vocalist and creative force behind the British super group, Yes, Jon Anderson has undoubtedly one of the most recognizable voices in progressive rock.

Tony and Jon Anderson

Anderson was the author and a major creative influence behind the series of epics produced by the band, and his role in creating such complex pieces as “Close to the Edge,” “Awaken,” and especially “The Gates of Delirium” was central to the band’s success. Additionally, Anderson co-authored the group’s biggest hits, including “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Roundabout,” and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.”

Jon was born John Roy Anderson in Accrington, Lancashire, England, on October 25, 1944 to Albert and Kathleen Anderson, who were of Scottish (father) and Irish (mother) ancestry. Anderson dropped the “h” from his first name in 1970.

In 1962, Anderson joined The Warriors, where he and his brother Tony shared the role of vocalists. He then quit this band in 1967, released two solo singles in 1968 under the pseudonym Hans Christian Anderson, and then briefly sang for the band The Gun.

Jon Anderson performing

In March 1968, Anderson met bassist Chris Squire and joined him in a group called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, which included guitarist Peter Banks. He then went on to superstardom with Yes, when Anderson, Squire, Pete Banks, drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Tony Kaye, launched their eponymous debut album Yes, which was released in 1969.

Among the line-up changes were that Rick Wakeman replaced Kaye in 1971 and Alan White took over the drums from Bruford in 1972, while Steve Howe replaced Pete Banks.

During the years to come, which was now known as the classic period of Yes, Jon was a major creative force and band leader throughout the period (describing himself as the “team captain” and “catalyst;” nicknamed by his band mates “Napoleon” for his diminutive stature and leadership of the band) and is recognized as the main instigator of the series of epics produced by the “prog rock” band at the time.

Yes released 11 critically acclaimed albums (including one live album “Yessongs” and one early compilation “Yesterdays” between 1969 and 1979, including such classic titles as “Fragile” (which contained the band’s first hit “Roundabout”), “Close To The Edge”, “Tales From The Topographic Oceans”, “Relayer” and “Going For The One.”

For a time, Jon was also a member of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (sometimes referred to by the abbreviation ABWH) a project of Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, and guitarist Steve Howe (with Tony Levin on bass). Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe released one self-titled studio album in 1989 and a live recording from their immediately subsequent concert tour (advertised as “An Evening of Yes Music plus”) in 1993. In the meantime, Arista Records had co-opted the material they had written for their second studio album for a 1991 “Union” album of ABWH and members of the more recent Yes line-up around Chris Squire, who owned the rights to the name “Yes.”

Jon on stage with Rick Wakeman during one of their concerts

However, on May 13, 2008, Jon suffered a severe asthma attack which required a stay in hospital and that ended his time with Yes, but as he slowly recovered, and he continued with a solo career, and also did a series of concerts with his old friend, Rick Wakeman, who had by now also left the band.

At around the same time, his older brother, Tony, began moving in a completely different direction. He made a commitment to Jesus Christ, and eventually became an Elim Pentecostal Church minister on the beautiful Isle of Wight located off the British mainland – although Jon would tell people that Tony had become a “priest.”

I recently caught up with Tony and his wife Sue, for an interview for my “Front Page Radio” program on the KWVE Radio Network (www.kwve.com), and I began by asking him, about what his early life was like in the Accrington area of northern England.

“We come from a working class background,” he said. “My mum was a weaver in a cotton mill and my dad was a salesman. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had enough and we were a very happy family. I can remember the very cold winters – and in those days you could miss the summer on a day,” he added, talking about the unpredictable British weather.

I told Tony that because of my long friendship with former Yes keyboardist, Rick Wakeman, about whom I recently released a book called “Caped Crusader: Rick Wakeman in the 1970s”* – foreword by Sir Elton John – and during that time, I got to know his brother Jon quite well as we would often chat backstage, and he once told me that his parents had worked with the Accrington Stanley Social Club, which was linked to the local soccer team.

Mum and dad, who were both very easy with people worked behind the bar there,” he said. . They were fans of Accrington Stanley and Jon and I used to sell programs at the games.”

What led up to you working with Jon in music?

“It began when my parents, who, although they were working class, loved to dance and they were known locally as ‘Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ and so music was always in our household,” said Tony.

“Then came the fifties and during the following ten years, I heard lots of jazz from my elder brother Stuart who was a big band fan. So we heard lots of bands from America like Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington and many different types of jazz musicians and he’d be playing them on his record player.

“Following this came the Elvis Presley era, along with Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino. That music really turned me on and that’s when I longed to sing. At that time I was working on a farm and Jon used to work weekends with me. Jon and I always sang as kids together and Jon’s a natural harmonizer.

Elvis Presley performing

“I was very shy and I would never have gone for an audition, but a friend of mine was going for an audition with a local group called The Warriors, and he asked me for a lift on my motor bike to a local gig. Well, the moment I saw the microphones, drums and guitars, I knew I was home. One of the guys then asked me if I knew any Elvis numbers and I told him, ‘I know all of them. He’s my god! I had pictures of him all over the wall in the bedroom. So that’s when I joined them as a vocalist.

“A short time later, my friend dropped out of the band and the remaining members asked my younger brother, Jon, to join them, because he was such a great singer. We worked together and we did mainly covers, including Everly Brothers songs. We were a very popular band and worked the northern circuit of England for a couple of years supporting lots of American artists like The Byrds, Ike and Tina Turner, and Gene Vincent. We even played in The Cavern in Liverpool, the birthplace of The Beatles.”

Tony then revealed that although Jon went on to be a huge star with Yes, during that time, with The Warriors he was a lead singer and “Jon really just did the harmony.”

He went on to say, “I do remember one time when we were playing a Mecca Ballroom and Jon asked to do a solo song, and I remember that when he was singing on his own, he made such an impression especially to one of the managers who was looking after the band.

“Still, we could never have imagined that he was going to soar to such unimaginable stardom. The Warriors cut a record with Decca, we did a TV appearance, but we knew the band was never going to make it big and so I left as I was married and had children, so I went back to work for an engineering firm.

“Jon stayed for a time and took the group to Hamburg and that’s where the band eventually split up. Jon came back to London and went onto help form the super group, Yes, with Chris Squires and later Rick Wakeman joined them. I was amazed when I first heard him with Yes at a show at Leeds University. I honestly couldn’t believe how brilliant he was when we went to see them it was at Leeds University.

“Then Jon told me that Yes had been asked to support Cream at the Royal Albert Hall in a couple of weeks and the rest, as they say, is history.”
I then asked Tony if he had a Christian faith in his early days, and he replied, “We were sent to Sunday school and so I heard about Jesus but it was just like head knowledge. I was a bit of a tear away and certainly wasn’t a Christian at that time.”

So how did he finally make that commitment?

What happened was that I had an incredible experience of God’s love one night,” Tony said. “I found myself in a very difficult situation and I was absolutely terrified and I cried out to God to help me and amazingly, He came into the room I was in – and, at that moment, I was filled with light and love and peace and. I just wept because I knew that the Lord knew all the things I had done. It was like the Holy Spirit was showing me how much God loved me despite all the things I knew I’d done wrong.

Tony and Sue

“And then, about a year later I was playing with our band called Zebra in a club on the island of Majorca and during a break I was chatting with a guy in a bar. I said, ‘Are you enjoying the show?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but you’re not real, you guys, are you?’ I was quite affronted and I asked him what he meant. He then said, ‘Why don’t you give your life to Christ, Tony?’ I said, ‘Well, look at them in Ireland — the Protestants and Catholics – who just keep fighting each other,’ and he just simply said, ‘But what about you’?

“And that question rang true with me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. As I was driving back to the place where I was staying at – it was two or three o’clock in the morning — I just had to get out of the car and get on my knees. I said, ‘Lord I know You’re real and I just give my life to you whatever that means.’ I didn’t know anything about being born again or anything like that.”

But not long after this, came a terrible tragedy that almost destroyed his new-found faith and life.

“About a month later I came back to the room and found my wife had died in the shower,” said Tony. “When I discovered her body, I felt like a vase that had been dropped on a floor smashed to pieces. At that time, we didn’t know what had caused her death, but more recently, I’ve heard that there might have been a gas leak in that shower.

“When these things happen, you can’t reverse it. You just have to pick up life and carry on. And despite this terrible incident, I knew that God loved me and it was the beginning of a forty year walk with God.”

This eventually resulted in Tony becoming a Pastor in the Elim Pentecostal Church and taking over a church in the Isle of Wight.

With that, I turned my attention to his present wife, Sue, and asked her how she had met Tony, and she said, “Well that’s interesting because my marriage had fallen apart about fourteen years ago, and my husband decided he didn’t want me anymore, but he told me that he wanted somebody else.

“I was devastated and left with my three children, so I moved to the Isle of Wight where my mother still lived and where I had previously lived as a teenager. I had a great friend called Judy and she, because of my experience, knew I didn’t want to go to church as I felt disappointed, especially as because my husband was a Christian I didn’t understand how this could happen.

“I went through a lot of raw heartbreak because I was still in love with him and it was very difficult. Still, my friend kept phoning me week after week for about a year, asking me to come to church with her. That’s dedication and perseverance for you, isn’t it?”

Finally Sue said that she relented mainly because she had learned that the church used drama in some of its services and she had studied it at university.

“So I ended up going to the church and the pastor there was Tony,” she told me. “We didn’t fall in love immediately, especially as there was a bit of an age gap between us, but we just began to help each other. I started the drama club and began to get into church life. I saw that Tony was overwhelmed with the youth club and also with the people coming for the drama club, so I began to help him, and when he saw I was also getting overwhelmed, he helped me in return.

“We eventually discovered that we really liked each other — not in a romantic way – but we just got on well with each other. Then, one time, I was praying at home for, believe it or not, a wife for Tony, and it was really funny as I didn’t know that he was praying for a husband for me at the same time.

“You could almost feel God smiling,” she continued. “One day when I was reading the Word and trying to get some encouragement from it, I felt that the Lord told me to go out into the garden on that sunny day and take the Word of God with me, and as I prayed, He just showed me a picture of Tony and myself in wedding gear and I thought, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ And I heard God very clearly say to me, ‘I want you to marry Tony.’ And I said, ‘No, he’s my pastor. I can’t do that!’

The happy couple on their wedding day

“Still, I knew God wanted me to be obedient, but I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. My children have come from a broken marriage and are trying to find some sort of normality in their lives and they have settled here in the church’. I also thought that if I went and told Tony what the Lord had just told me, he was going to think that I was completely crazy.

“So for the next three or four days I kept saying to God that I couldn’t do this, but in the end He won. All I could hear in my mind was Tony’s voice and all I could see was Tony’s face and I began to realize that I was slowly falling in love with him. It was all the Lord’s doing because, although he was a lovely man, I had no intention of this happening. He also reminded me of the story of Ruth and Boaz and how Ruth had to go to him.

“So, in obedience, I took the bus one day and went up to see him and when I arrived, I asked Tony if I could see him ‘for a minute or so.’ I sat on one sofa and he sat on the other, and I explained what the Lord had told me and I thought he would there and then throw me out of the church. But he replied, as a good pastor does, ‘Thank you for sharing with me ‘and then added, ‘I’ll pray about it.’ And I said quietly to myself, ‘Lord, I’ve gone and done what you told me to do, now it’s up to You.’”

I then asked Tony what happened next.

He paused and the said, “After she had left, I just said, ‘Lord, I believe you’ve just sent me a wife.’ Sue then invited me round for a dinner and as I was driving there in the car, I suddenly felt like I was a teenager in love again and I knew that must be from the Lord. And so we’ve been happily married for ten years now. Heaven opened and we fell in love.”

Tony retired from that church some seven years ago and the two of them continue to minister as they share the Gospel and sing their songs to a wide variety of audiences.

“We both write songs and we’ve always loved worshiping the Lord and that’s the key to what we now do,” he said. “We go out speaking at different churches and often when we do, we take the songs that the Lord has given us to help support the Word that we’re sharing. Through all of this, I have learned that you never lose anything when you come to Jesus.

Tony smiled and then added, “I gave up the whole rock and roll business to follow Christ and yet, a few years ago, the Lord told me said quite plainly, ‘You’re going to form a rock band so you can go out to the pubs and clubs and sing about Me.’ So, we’ve been into prisons on the Isle of Wight and we sing at local pubs, community events and uphold the church outreaches… nothing big; we’re just so happy to get out there and sing.’”

I then asked Tony if, as he looked a little like his legendary brother, if people ever recognized him, and he replied, “Occasionally someone will say, ‘You remind me of someone’ and I tell them who that ‘someone’ might be. And also, through the years, I’d be at a cafe having a coffee and I’d be thinking about how I could share the gospel with someone and then one of Jon’s song will just come on the radio and I’ll say, ‘That’s my brother singing’. Then, I’ll tell them my story and it’s an opportunity to share about Jesus. Thank you Jon, for giving me that opportunity!

Tony and Sue cutting the wedding cake

“We love Jon so much and saw him a couple of years ago, as he was coming over to the UK and I e-mailed him in advance and said, ‘Jon, I always see you five minutes before you go on or five minutes after you’ve finished. How about a bit of quality time of reminiscing.’ And so we got together for about two hours the last time he was over and we talked about being on the farm and growing up. We just love each other to bits. When you’re as close as Jon and I are, nothing can separate us.”

I told Tony that I’d noticed that there’s quite a spiritual tone to his brother’s music these days.

“Yes, there is,” he replied. ‘He wrote a song called ‘Just One Man’ which is all about Jesus. He wrote it just after our sister Joy had died and he send me a message saying, ‘Tony. I’m sending you a lovely song about Jesus. You’ll love it.’ I’ve actually taken those words to a service or two because I said, ‘I just want to read you some beautiful words that my brother wrote.’ There are so many people praying for Jon and I do believe that he’s getting closer and closer to that time when he will say, ‘I am a Christian too.’”

As we came close to the end of the interview, I asked them, because they had both been through so much pain in their personal lives, what would they like to share with people who maybe have just had horrifying news and they didn’t know where to turn.

Tony said, “All I can say, my friend, is that God does love you. You may not understand what’s happening, but God sees the bigger picture, and if you just put your trust in him He will hold you; He will love you through the pain; and He will bring you to a brighter day.”

Sue then added, “Mine is sort of pretty similar really. I would say, as you cry out from the depths of pain that you are feeling and you feel your very life is being wrung from you; as you cry out; He does hear you because He looks at the heart and He listens to your heart cry. God will answer your prayers — as he has answered ours — and we are no more special than anybody else. He loves us all equally and He has no favorites. He just loves us so much that He lifts us up in his hands, and He will lift you up in his hands right up to his heart and He has the very best of everything to give to you.”

If you would like more information about the couple’s music ministry, just go to http://stopband.weebly.com/ and for more about Jon Anderson, go to: www.jonanderson.com/

I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview and also for my friend, Nic Caciappo, for helping to set it up for me.

*The purchase a copy of “Caped Crusader” just go to: http://www.amazon.com/CAPED-CRUSADER-Rick-Wakeman-1970s/dp/1908728302/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335474883&sr=1-1

See all ASSIST News articles at www.assistnews.net


Dan Wooding, 72, is an award-winning journalist who who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 50 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and he hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on the KWVE Radio Network in Southern California and which is also carried throughout the United States and around the world. He is the author of some 45 books, the latest of which is a novel about the life of Jesus through the eyes of his mother called “Mary: My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary”. (Click to order)

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

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