Monday, 31 August 2009

Asia set list poll

Asia have just played their last show of the year, but there are plans for new studio and live work in 2010. Since their reunion, touring has focused on their debut album, understandable given its their best-selling and most favourably received. The band have made a few changes to the set list along the way, notably introducing a few tracks from new album Phoenix, but it's still largely the same show. Come 2010, will that still work or do they need to vary the set list?

That was the question that motivated the latest WATN poll, what would you most like Asia to play live on their next tour? 80 of you voted. First off, 11 of you admitted to no interest in Asia (I presume others uninterested in the band didn't vote at all!).

So, out of the remaining 69... overwhelmingly (51%), you want new material to be played live, with 21 wanting more from Phoenix and 14 wanting the band to play material from their next album. The decision to play "legacy" material, songs from their previous bands, has gone down well and 15 (22%) of you want more.

Asia have something like 11.5 studio albums to their name, but the original line-up are only together on three of those, Asia, Alpha and Phoenix, and they've made clear they're not huge fans of Alpha. Even settling for just three of them together only adds Astra, half of Then & Now and bits of Aqua. This line-up has more band members in common with Drama or Wetton/Downes' iCon than it does with the many years John Payne was in the band. So, how should this Asia handle their back catalogue?

17% of you want later Wetton-era material played. That's 5 saying more from Alpha and 7, more from after Howe left the band (Astra, Then & Now). Just 3 (4%) wanted Payne-era material (and no-one selected the option saying they had no interest in this line-up and preferred the continuing Asia Featuring John Payne).

That leaves another 3 wanting the band to stick to the focus on Asia. And there was 1 vote for iCon material.

So, Asia, if you're listening, the people who read the Where Are They Now? site, who may be a bit more hardcore than much of the paying audience, but anyway... they'd like lots more new material live in 2010, but chuck in a few songs from Alpha, Astra and Then & Now too. (Me, I'd love "Rock and Roll Dream" and "Days Like These".)

The next poll is rather different. I report on the news page about all these guest appearances the Yes guys make, but does anyone care? Me, I'm liable to pick up all sorts of random stuff because Bill Bruford played on a track, or Trevor Horn produced it, but what about you?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Led Box: The Ultimate Tribute to Led Zeppelin

Billy Sherwood has been involved with a large number of tribute albums over the years, and has been honest that some of these were to pay the bills. Along the way, he's recruited an extensive set of guest appearances including multiple Yes men. Most recent was Abbey Road: A Tribute to the Beatles, and before that, the subject of today's blog, Led Box: The Ultimate Tribute to Led Zeppelin. 10 tracks here are produced by Sherwood, with other tracks by Bob Kulick and, on the US release, some recycled from an earlier tribute album.

The challenge for any tribute album is the inevitable comparison with the original work. When covering bands like Zeppelin or The Beatles, you not only have the originals but umpteen previous cover versions with which to compete. One approach is to stick close to the original form, but it can be hard to play the song better than the familiar original. At the other end of a spectrum, one can turn in a radical re-interpretation of the piece.

With much of Led Box, as with earlier Sherwood projects like Back Against the Wall (a tribute to Floyd's The Wall), Sherwood and guests mostly stick to faithful versions. I think that's a mistake. I like some tribute albums that are fairly close to the originals, like the Magna Carta Rush tribute Working Man, but by and large I prefer it when artists take songs in different directions. For example, Tales from Yesterday (Magna Carta's Yes tribute) has some strong, faithful covers, like Steve Howe and Annie Haslam doing "Turn of the Century", or Kevin Gilbert, Mike Keneally et al. doing "Siberian Khatru" (although the latter succeeds in part because of a fantastic twist in the middle). But many of the best tracks are radical reinterpretations ("Don't Kill the Whale", "Release, Release"). I'd recommend as a good model Encores Legends and Paradox, the 1999 Magna Carta tribute to ELP. (Lousy title, I know, but great album.) It's half arranged by Robert Berry and half by Trent Gardner, both working with various guests including Igor Khoroshev, Peter Banks, Geoff Downes, John Wetton, Pat Mastelotto and half of Dream Theater. Here is a project that really lets its guest musicians loose. Khoroshev and Mastelotto in particular shine. Similarly, in the realm of Led Zeppelin tributes I'd recommend Kashmir, the orchestral Zeppelin project by Jaz Coleman with Martin "Youth" Glover producing. Very different sound to Zeppelin, yet still distinctively Zeppelin. Perhaps it's that balance that's the secret: similar enough to evoke the original, different enough to stand on its own.

So that's a rather long preamble, but now back to Led Box. For me, the stand out track is "Black Dog" by Keith Emerson, with Sherwood and Alan White in support, and tribute band singer Michael White (no relation) on vocals. Given you can pick the album up fairly cheap, I'm tempted to say it's worth it for "Black Dog" alone. That's because it's distinctively Keith Emerson and distinctively "Black Dog". It's not a radically different reading of the song, but it's full of Emerson's personality. Likewise, it's Rick Wakeman's "Nobody Home" on Back Against the Wall that I return to because it's distinctively Wakeman. What's the point of having, say, Dweezil Zappa play "Stairway to Heaven" on Led Box if it doesn't sound like him?

Leave aside my difference of opinion over how to approach a tribute album, and there's perhaps a more fundamental problem for me with the Sherwood-led tracks here: the lacklustre performances. It's the Bob Kulick-led numbers on Led Box that work better. There's a spirited "Houses of the Holy" from Pat Travers, for example. In comparison, we've got three quarters of CIRCA: doing "All My Love" and it just sounds lifeless. This is Zeppelin: it's big, powerful, growling music and I hear no verve in most of the Sherwood-led renditions. I know these people can play with passion and emotion, but I'm not hearing it on these tracks.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Cambridge Rock Festival

We went to Cambridge Rock Festival on Sunday 9th August. Plaudits should go to the organisers for a pleasant affair. "Pleasant" may seem an odd word for a rock festival, but these days, gatherings like these with an emphasis on classic or prog rock, are family affairs with all ages present. The location was good, the food pretty good, the toilets OK. I spent a while in the obligatory juggling space. What you want from a festival experience. Of course, we'd come for the acts, and three in particular: Karnataka, Focus and Asia.

Karnataka are a relatively recent prog band. On keyboards is Gonzalo Carrera, who also plays with Whimwise and dB-Infusion and may be known to Yes fans for working with Peter Banks. Unfortunately, Karnataka didn't get to play. Some never-entirely-explained problem saw the schedule for the main stage re-arranged to allow more setting-up time. While Simon McBride (3rd billing for the evening) got moved to a second stage, Karnataka (4th billing) were just dropped, through no fault of their own. I met the band who were still seemed shell-shocked by the experience. I hope to see them somewhere else soon.

No Karnataka left a long gap between up'n'coming prog band Touchstone and old favourites Focus on the main stage, so we bagged a sweet spot in front of the mixing desk and ate festival food. Despite all that extra setting up time, when they started, Focus were plagued by microphone/monitor problems, and a broken guitar string. Still, that didn't stop them or us having a good time.

Yes fans complain about a band with only three 'classic' members, but Focus is down to founder Thijs van Leer plus drummer, Pierre van der Linden, with two new members. Long gone is guitarist Jan Akkerman. The two new players are very competent and the two Focus fans I was with, my partner and her Mum, were happy enough to see van Leer. Perhaps because he's the other 'classic' member explains why van der Linden got three drums solos, which is about three too many.

As a band I don't know so well, I was happy for Focus to play their greatest hits with only a little new music, yet the next act I know so well that I don't want the greatest hits and would rather have new material. This is, of course, what bands have to deal with, an audience mix of some casual listeners and some hardcore fans.

That next act, headlining and closing, were Asia. Again, the extra setting-up time earlier seemed to no avail as they were over half an hour late, but a festival in a field out of town doesn't have to worry about a curfew so much and the band played their full allotted time.

Of course, Asia were coming off the back of 24 North American dates supporting Yes, and Steve "the hardest working man in rock" Howe was coming from 24 dates playing with both bands, but there was no sign of tiredness in their performance. The set, which was professionally recorded, concentrated on the debut album, although we got two Phoenix pieces and "Fanfare for the Common Man". I was sorry not to hear "In the Court of the Crimon King" and "Video Killed the Radio Star", which I thought would have gone down well with the festival crowd.

It was a good show, but it was a good show I've seen twice before and I was conscious that they will need to start varying the set more to keep audiences interested in 2010. See the poll on the Where Are They Now? front page for your thoughts on that.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Skin & Wire

Skin and Wire: pianocircus featuring Bill Bruford play the music of Colin Riley, the last album of new music with Bruford given his retirement earlier this year, has just been released and is available at Bill Bruford's online store before a general release on 7 Sep. I interviewed Colin Riley about the project last year: you can read that interview here. I've not got the album yet, but I've been looking forward to this release since seeing the ensemble's first and only live outing in 2007.

The show was poorly advertised, possibly deliberately for what Riley described as an open rehearsal and Bruford as "under-rehearsed". The venue, upstairs at a private club, was swish. Yumi Hawa Cawkwell was taking photos. I keep bumping into Yumi at numerous Yes-related gigs around London, but she's also a great musician in her own right and has worked with pianocircus before, as well as Hugh Hopper and David Cross.

pianocircus did an opening set of a couple of minimalist pieces, before Bruford and Riley came on to a cramped stage. The music was... well, hard to describe, which isn't very helpful for you, dear reader! Fortunately, there are audio samples on both the collaboration's and the album's MySpace pages. The music was often marked by contrasts. Much seemed composed, but there were also clearly passages where Bruford could improvise. Parts were quite industrial, vaguely reminiscent of later King Crimson, but by and large the material was as far from, say, Yes or Earthworks as those two are from each other. This was Bruford coming into Riley's world rather than being much like anything he has done before. And not always doing so successfully: parts of the evening didn't work for me, and yet the whole was a fascinating experiment. Around the time of the show, Bruford (then aged 58) did an interview in which he asked, "Has anyone over 60, outside maybe of Picasso, really offered fresh directions?" Here was a fresh direction for his own career, in its early stages, but exciting. So I'm looking forward to hearing what happened next now the project has matured into an album release, and also saddened that the project has now been curtailed by Bruford's retirement.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Poll results: Best Yes-related album of first half of 2009

I wanted to make the Where Are They Now? site more interactive, so I've started running polls. First one's been up there a few weeks and has had 79 votes. It's on a fairly obvious topic for the site: what's been the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2009? And the results:

1. The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Live at Hampton Court Palace (Rick Wakeman): 25 votes
2. HQ (CIRCA:, w/ Sherwood, Kaye): 20 votes
3. Live In Milwaukee, 23rd April 2008 (Asia, w/ Howe, Downes): 16 votes
4=. 3 (iCon, w/ Downes): 6 votes
4=. Race to Witch Mountain OST (Trevor Rabin) [digital only release]: 6 votes
6=. Change of Space (Patrick Moraz): 1 vote
6=. Live in Tokyo Japan 12th May 2008 (Asia): 1 vote
6=. Overflow (CIRCA:, w/ Sherwood, Kaye) [digital only release]: 1 vote
6=. From Brush and Stone (Rick Wakeman & Gordon Giltrap): 1 vote
6=. Escala (Escala, w/ Horn): 1 vote
6=. Abbey Road: A Tribute to the Beatles (w/ Sherwood, Kaye, White, Downes): 1 vote
12=. Live in Barcelona 19th May 2008 (Asia): 0 votes
12=. Live In Sao Paulo, 23rd March 2008 (Asia): 0 votes

Calls for new material are commonplace on fan forums, yet the albums in first and third place are mostly about playing the old stuff. Henry VIII - Live gets 25 votes but From Brush to Stone gets just one. Asia's Live in Milwaukee gets 16 votes, while iCon's 3 gets 6. Wakeman's approach with the Henry VIII show is almost like the live version of a remastered re-release, complete with bonus tracks: is that what people want? Asia's Live In Milwaukee is all old material, recorded before they started including material from new album Phoenix. (Why was Live in Milwaukee so much more popular than the others in their Official Bootleg series? Because it was the only one recorded in the US maybe?) Do most fans prefer re-exploring the old songs to new material, or is the problem that the new material just isn't as good?

New material in the form of CIRCA: HQ was in second place, and that was my own choice. Concert Live kindly sent me the Wakeman release and it's nicely done, well put together, but I've never been as much of a fan of his work. I'll do a proper review of HQ at some point: I think the second half is stronger than the first, but certainly worth hearing with some great work in particular from Tony Kaye.

Squire's been calling Howe the hardest-working man in rock, but look at Geoff Downes' output too. Apart from the four Asia Official Bootlegs, there was the iCon album with John Wetton, and time to appear on Billy Sherwood's Beatles tribute.

I was surprised the Moraz album didn't do better. But what did you all think? Meanwhile, next poll is going to be on what you'd like Asia to be playing live as they go forwards.

Sunday, 2 August 2009


Hello and welcome to the new Bondegezou blog. I've got the website, the other website, the MySpace page, the Twitter account, the account, and the RSS feed, and I post regularly to, and, but still I felt the world wasn't getting enough of my musings on things Yes and prog related! :-)

Oh, and I've got the other blog, but that's for work stuff (work being health informatics).

Anyway, hope you enjoy what follows...