Friday, 31 December 2010

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the first half of 2010

And continuing a theme... the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2010, as voted by you.

1. Omega (Asia, w/ Howe, Downes): 55 (45%)
2. One Among the Living (Mystery, w/ David, O. Wakeman): 25 (20%)
3. Oneirology (Billy Sherwood): 11 (9%)
4. Past, Present and Future (Rick Wakeman): 6 (5%)
5= Shaman Mirror Medicine Tree (Rich Goodhart, w/ Anderson): 5 (4%)
5= Homebrew 4 (Steve Howe, w/ Downes): 5 (4%)
5= Emotion & Commotion (Jeff Beck, w/ Horn): 5 (4%)
8. Travelling (Steve Howe Trio): 4 (3%)
9. Palatza Delo Sports, Udine, Italy, March 19, 1974 (King Crimson, w/ Bruford): 2 (2%)
10= Once in a Blue Moon—The Lost Album (Rod Stewart, w/ Horn): 1 (1%)
10= San Diego State Univ, San Diego, CA, June 08, 1984 (King Crimson, w/ Bruford): 1 (1%)
10= Tarrant County Convention Centre, Fort Worth, TX, June 06, 1974 (King Crimson, w/ Bruford): 1 (1%)

There were 123 votes, including 2 invalid votes. There were no votes for two World Cup-related albums with some Horn production work or for Top Musicians Play Queen (w/ Sherwood).

A clear winner for Omega there, and interesting to see the album with the two newcomers, Benoît and Oliver, coming a good second. I think I voted for Travelling myself, although these days I think it's third placed Oneirology that I'd support.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the second half of 2009

Another catch-up on an older poll's result... I asked you all what was the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2009.

1= Steve Hackett: Out of the Tunnel's Mouth (w/ Squire)     18
1= Rick Wakeman: The Six Wives Of Henry VIII - Live At Hampton Court Palace [Eagle Rock release]     18
3. King Crimson: Live in Zurich, November 15, 1973 (w/ Bruford)     4
4= The Strawbs: Dancing to the Devil's Beat (w/ O. Wakeman)     3
4= Rick Wakeman: Always with You     3
4= Moraz-Bruford: In Tokyo     3
4= Trevor Rabin: G-Force OST     3
4= Eureka: Shackleton's Voyage (w/ Sherwood)     3
9= pianocircus feat. Bill Bruford play the music of Colin Riley: Skin & Wire     2
9= Jim Ladd's Headsets: Chapter 2: Sides (w/ Sherwood)     2
9= Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: Under the Covers, Vol. 2 (w/ Howe)     2
11= King Crimson: Community Theatre, Berkeley, CA, June 16, 1973 (w/ Bruford)     1
11= King Crimson: The Town Hall, New York, NY, June 03, 1995 (w/ Bruford)     1

Several Horn productions (for Aviv Geffen, Robbie Williams and Kid Harpoon), several further archival live Crimson releases, Sherwood's An All-Star Salute to Christmas and Jerusalem's Escalator received no votes.

The voting was dominated by two albums and ended in a dead heat. The initial Concert Live release of Rick's Hampton Court show won the poll for the first half of 2009, and the subsequent general release Eagle Rock version ties here. Rick Wakeman's model of how to celebrate the past clearly worked for fans. The other leading album was Steve Hackett's Out of the Tunnel's Mouth, featuring Chris Squire on the opening two tracks -- a good omen for the Squackett album now finished and expected in 2011?

Personally, I think you're all wrong! Skin & Wire, Bruford's final studio recording, stood out for me in its experimentalism and the quality of playing. Not perhaps an easy album at first, but one that rewards repeated listening.

A poll for the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2010 will be on the main site soon. How will key releases like Anderson/Wakeman's The Living Tree, Yoso's debut, Elements, fare?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Poll: Best previously unreleased Yes song to come out in the '00s?

Catching up on some older poll results... I asked you all what was the best, previously unreleased Yes song to be officially released in the last decade. There were 119 votes, and the results were...

The Big Medley [on The Word is Live]     26
We Can Fly from Here [on The Word is Live]     23
Some are Born [on expanded Tormato]     11
Golden Age [on expanded Drama]     10
Richard [on In a Word]     6
Countryside [on expanded Tormato]     6
It's Over [on expanded 90125]     6
(Have We Really Got to) Go Through This [on expanded Drama and The Word is Live]     5
It's Love [on The Word is Live]     4
Vevey (Revisited) [on expanded Going for the One]     3
Days [on expanded Tormato]     3
Everybody's Song [on expanded Tormato]     3
Children of the Light: Lightning [on Keystudio]     2
You Can be Saved [on expanded Tormato]     2
High [on expanded Tormato]     2
Song No. 4 (Satellite) [on expanded Drama]     2
Picasso [on expanded Tormato]     1
In the Tower [on expanded Drama]     1
Friend of a Friend [on expanded Drama]     1
Hello Chicago [on The Word is Live]     1
invalid vote...     1

"Tango", "Never Done Before" and "Crossfire", all from In a Word, received no votes. Apart from the medley, the most popular individual song was "We Can Fly from Here", so it's interesting that the current band are planning to record a version of this for the new album.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Anderson Wakeman Project 360 at IndigO2, London, 15 Nov 2010

I'd expected the Anderson Wakeman Project 360 to be pretty similar to their 2006 tour.

It wasn't.

Based on this performance, Anderson's voice has not recovered. I have only the utmost sympathy for what he went through in 2008 and I hope his voice does continue to recover, but right now, it hasn't. I've described before the nasal quality you hear with Anderson's voice on The Living Tree and Survival & Other Stories, and that was present, but more apparent was when Anderson would slip into a throaty rasp. He is still distinctively Jon and his pitch control is fine. His mid-range is reasonable, particularly on the songs he knows well, but he struggles on some of the higher and lower notes. He has no sustain, and erratic volume control, often no volume. In the second of two one-hour sets, they had turned the volume of his microphone way up, which helped but had the effect that you could hear his sibilants hissing. This was the last show of his longest tour since his 2008 health problems, so perhaps he was better earlier in the tour; some reviews suggest so. However, I can't imagine Jon, with this voice, making it through even one Yes show.

Plenty have commented on Anderson's guitar playing. He's pretty poor, and while that sort of works in his one man show, it was often a distraction here. But I expected decent playing from Wakeman and he was dropping notes and demonstrated no fluidity.

This relaxed approach, Wakeman's cheap-sounding synths and Anderson's basic guitar playing, worked some of the time. Songs like "Time and a Word" (an odd mishmash of styles that surprisingly worked, their enthusiasm coming through) or "Wonderous Stories" suited the format, but others, like an abbreviated "Starship Trooper" and a lacklustre "Yours is No Disgrace", did not work at all for me. We got a horrible, dirty mush of electronic keyboard sounds that sucked any potential out of "Turn of the Century" and "Soon", whereas the clear piano setting for Wakeman's synth for "The Meeting" was much better. The performance made me appreciate what a wonderful instrument the grand piano is! On just piano in 2006, Wakeman was able to conjure up the majesty of the great Yes pieces, but on two electronic keyboards here, we got too many cheesy burps and tinkly notes.

The set list seems to reflect Jon's choices with its similarity to his solo sets. Thus, the oddity of so many songs that Wakeman didn't play on originally ("Sweet Dreams", "Time and a Word", "Yours is No Disgrace", "Starship Trooper", "Soon", "Owner of a Lonely Heart"). Anderson "royally screwed up" (his words) "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and they had to re-start it.

The epic feel and dynamics of the classic Yes songs, that the pair surprised me by capturing on their 2006 tour, was largely lost in these karaoke versions. The exception was a great "South Side of the Sky" (barring some poor keyboard sound choices in Wakeman's closing solo) and perhaps parts of "And You and I". Much more than 2006, the absence of the other three Yesmen was very apparent.

The new songs were close to the album versions, and the same praise and criticism applies. "Morning Star" was an up-tempo highlight. Anderson's explanations of his lyrics was interesting, although they sometimes only seemed to emphasise how little work had gone into some of the material, like his description of the random numbers in "23/34/11". (So, if it's 23 days, 24 hours and 11 minutes, isn't that actually 24 days and 11 minutes?) Anderson seems to feel an instant response matters more than working on something.

The humour, the shtick, mostly worked. There was a certain welcoming bonhomie, like a friendly club act. The pair dealt well with an annoying heckler in the first set. Some of the jokes were quite funny, although one was appalling. Jon, on occasion, seemed uncomfortable at the bawdiness, and sometimes just rather lost.

Compare the Steve Howe Trio, another reduced line-up playing plenty of Yes covers. The Trio breathes new life into the music, Howe attacks the music with more vigour than in Yes, new angles emerge. Not like here, not like this night. This was two old men relaxing on a big fluffy cushion of nostalgia. The Anderson Wakeman Project 360 felt like an epilogue, a winding down. The audience cheered and applauded the pair for what they'd done in the past, but there was little in the evening's performance to warrant the reaction they got, or the high ticket price.

There are those who criticise the current Yes, saying that seeing Yes in a reduced state, without Jon, playing to smaller crowds, the slower tempos, is damaging the legacy. I've argued against that view before but find myself more understanding of it as a certain melancholy descended on me in the Anderson Wakeman show. This is a pale imitation of what they once achieved, even compared to 2006: Jon's voice gone, both of them playing poorly, songs stripped of their magnificence. There were highlights, and we had a pleasant evening out, but this was a huge disappointment.

(For those of you awaiting my review of Survival & Other Stories, it will be along soon!)

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Living Tree, by Anderson/Wakeman

That was Monday night. Tuesday night, I was at a work do, but my friend Simon Barrow brought me back copies of The Living Tree (by Anderson/Wakeman) and Survival and Other Stories (by Jon Anderson and a suite of collaborators). Both are on sale at dates on the Anderson Wakeman Project 360 tour (no, no-one knows why it's called "Project 360"), but general release is not expected for some months.

We've had a few digital singles, a few guest appearances and a lorry load of online samples, but these are the first two full-length albums from Anderson since his acute respiratory failure and other health problems in 2008, and thus also the first since his departure from Yes. The Living Tree has had to carry huge expectations, for many it has had a totemic status, representing everything missing from the current Yes line-up. In comparison, Survival and Other Stories snuck under the radar and was not expected on this tour.

So, first up, The Living Tree. I've only had this album a short time, but some preliminary thoughts follow. Anderson and Wakeman toured as an acoustic duo in 2006 with some new material and began work on an album, but that stalled for some years. Now, a new tour and this eventual album release. The music was recorded over recent months by Wakeman in England, while Anderson recorded his vocals while on the road during his latest solo tour. Until recently, plans for this album included some of those Yes numbers, but the actual release is 9 new songs, a fairly short album in modern terms at under 43 minutes. (Well, some were new in 2006 but not released before now.)

This is a CD where you get what it says on the cover. This is not a Yes album by another name. It is just Anderson on vocals and Wakeman on piano and occasional synths. It's a stripped back format that puts Anderson's voice and Wakeman's piano playing on display, exposed. If you liked their duo performance of "The Meeting" during the 2004 Yes tour, if you liked their 2006 tour, you'll like this.

Highlights for me are the pairing of "Morning Star" and "House of Freedom" at the beginning of the album and "Anyway and Always", one of the 2006 pieces. Although the album all consists of fairly short pieces (most 4-6 minutes long), the likes of "Morning Star" and "House of Freedom" are still structured like a classic prog number, with contrasting moods over the course of each piece. With mostly just vocals and piano, the pair still manage to achieve the dynamism of a larger instrumentation. Yet it's sometimes difficult to escape the feeling that these pieces would benefit from a larger band, or, to be blunt, from being Yes songs. The occasional poor choice of keyboard sounds, like some particularly cheesy ones in "House of Freedom", only strengthens that response.

The only weak song for me is "Forever", a trite love song with an obvious arrangement. But generally, and to my surprise, it is Rick's piano playing and compositions that make this work rather than, and sometimes despite of, Jon's singing and lyrics.

Let's start with the lyrics. Anderson is often accused of being too explicit in his modern lyrics compared to the expressive, if not always comprehensible, convolutions of rearranged livers in the 1970s. The same criticism will re-emerge here. The lyrics are also often very spiritual, appealing if you share Anderson's faith opinions, but possibly off-putting otherwise. One might interpret "Just One Man", the album closer, to be a Christian song about Jesus. It would not sound out of place on a Christian rock album. But any interpretation must be viewed in the context of Anderson's syncretism (cf. "Big Buddha Song" on Survival and Other Stories) and his devotion to religious guru Audrey Kitagawa. [UPDATE: On tour, Anderson has been explaining that "Just One Man" is about Jesus and Muhammad and Buddha.] Anderson thanks Kitagawa in the liner notes here (and on Survival and Other Stories) and the title track appears to be a paean to her.

Having said the lyrics are more obvious, I have to ask what is "23/24/11" about? No idea there. [UPDATE: Also on tour, Anderson has said the song is about about a soldier in Afghanistan who has 23 days, 24 hours and 11 minutes left to the end of his tour.]

The keystone to any project like this is Anderson's voice. This is mostly the Jon we know and love, but his voice often sounds fragile, weak or rough around the edges. My first thought was that this reflects the problems he has had with singing since his acute respiratory failure in 2008. Yet reports from many recent concerts have suggested Anderson is often singing strongly these days. When I listened to Survival and Other Stories, which seems to have been recorded before The Living Tree, the mystery deepened as his voice is much stronger there too. I wonder whether the fragility of Anderson's vocals here does not represent what he is capable of, but is rather to do with what seems to have been a rushed recording process done without using a proper studio?

Listening to The Living Tree and Survival and Other Stories (of which more later), one change to Anderson's vocals that crosses both of them is a more nasal quality. Listen to "House of Freedom", "Anyway and Always", "Forever" or "Just One Man" and it sounds like Anderson has a bit of a cold and a congested nose.

The final track, "Just One Man", has a completely different vocal sound to the rest of The Living Tree. This song alone was not written by Wakeman, but by Jeremy Cubert. It also appears in a different version on Survival and Other Stories, performed by Cubert and others. I wonder whether it is actually the same vocal track on both performances? The comparison between the two versions of the song is interesting, because the larger band on the Survival and Other Stories version, with 'soundscape' by Christophe Lebled, orchestration by Ryan Fraley and viola by Daniel Reinker, works better, I suggest, than Wakeman alone. One is again left with the impression that while the material here is good, it could have been great with more musicians involved.

Likewise, with "House of Freedom", it's a lovely song, a nice composition, well-structured by Wakeman, and Anderson's lyrics work well with the music. Yet the vocals and some of the keyboard sounds mean the piece does not live up to its potential. More musicians, a better production, a bigger production, would these have realised that potential that bubbles under the surface of The Living Tree?

Leaving such hypotheticals aside, this is a good album, one of the best releases we have had from either musician for over a decade. It is the best Wakeman album I have heard in a long time, and I only don't say "the best" about Anderson because of Survival and Other Stories... but that will be covered in the next blog post.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Yoso at the Jazz Cafe, 11 Oct 2010

It's been a busy few days with Yoso and the Anderson Wakeman Project 360 both playing London a day apart. I saw the Yoso show. I'm seeing Anderson Wakeman at the end of their tour, so did not catch the 12 October show, but a friend picked up for me the two new albums on sale at gigs: Jon Anderson's Survival and Other Stories and the Anderson/Wakeman album The Living Tree. More on those later.

Yoso, on the final date of their tour, put on a strong and enjoyable show. My partner and I briefly met the band beforehand and they all seemed in good spirits. We had opted to sit upstairs at the Jazz Café with food, including a very good sage and butternut squash risotto (complete with deep-fried sage leaves - yum), so I had a great view of Tony Kaye in particular and the rest of the band, except for Scott Connor on drums, largely hidden behind a speaker. Also upstairs were Keith Emerson and Asia manager, Martin Darvill, although whether for some particular reason or just a good night out, I could not fathom. Turnout seemed a bit disappointing to me, perhaps somewhere around 120 in total, but the crowd were enthusiastic. [Update: Yoso report they sold out the venue, which would be 350. I wonder whether, what with it being a school night, a number had left before the end.]

Yoso put on a long and packed set. The Yoso material worked well live, often better than on the CD. The live atmosphere suits the material's rousing, anthemic nature. "To Seek the Truth" was the surprise standout, as a piece that had not attracted my attention in studio form. However, the Yoso pieces did not attract the same level of dextrous playing as elsewhere in the set and the highlights for me were (predictably?) the Yes numbers, particularly the medley of early Yes pieces/"Cinema", a showcase for Kaye's playing. Similarly, compared to some straightforward right-hand keyboard solos on the Yoso songs, it was great to hear and see Kaye's playing on the opening of "Changes". An extended "Open Your Eyes" also worked very well, although the new, middle section in "Owner of a Lonely Heart" seemed a bit pointless.

We also got an acoustic solo from Bruhns, a nice Howe-like piece entitled "First Light", and a lengthy rhythm section feature with a good drum solo from Connor followed by Sherwood's bass feature, which had some great moments. Billy's bass playing was strong throughout and he was on good from with his vocals. Connor drummed well. Bruhns coped well with the range of guitar styles covered (Rabin, Howe, Banks, Lukather) and kept the tempo up through numbers which Steve Howe often plays that bit more slowly these days.

Kimball was an exuberant frontman, belting out numbers as if he had to fill a whole auditorium rather than a small room, and handling the occasional technical problem with humour. He also played keys on several numbers, particularly the Toto pieces. However, at times his vocals were the weak element. The lowest spot of the show came with their second number, Toto's "Girl Goodbye", with Kimball off-key and a boring rock sound that did not fit the venue. But the other Toto songs were better, and I spent much of the next day humming "Hold the Line"! That was for me perhaps the other big mistake. "Hold the Line" should have been the encore. Instead, we got "Louisiana Blues", an uninteresting 12-bar blues song that struggled to stay on course despite its simplicity.

In all, a great night. Sadly, we couldn't stay to hang out with everyone afterwards. Now the tour has ended, it's a bit late to recommend you catch a show, but hopefully we will see the band back in action soon.

Set list (as far as I remember it): "Yoso", "Girl Goodbye", "Hold On", "New Revolution", "Yes Medley" (with "Looking Around", "Harold Land", "Every Little Thing", "Survival", "Something's Coming", Yours is No Disgrace", "Starship Trooper", "Cinema"), "Where You'll Stay", "Open Your Eyes", "First Light", "Africa", "Changes", "Walk Away", "Burn Down the Mission" (Kimball solo), "Owner of a Lonely Heart", drum solo, bass feature, "Path to Your Heart", "Rosanna", "To Seek the Truth", "Hold the Line", "Roundabout"; encore: Kimball piano/"Louisana Blues".

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Yes vs. The Living Tree

It's been an exciting week for Yes fans. Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman have begun their joint tour, and their album The Living Tree is expected any day now; multiple tracks can already be previewed online (see here). Meanwhile, Yes have gathered in Los Angeles to record their new album, with Trevor Horn producing.

These two projects, while both hugely anticipated, sit either side of the fault line in Yes fandom. Their first album is a defining moment for the new Yes line-up, while those critical of Howe/Squire/White's decision to move on with David and Wakeman jnr. have The Living Tree as a rallying cry. Comparisons between the two albums are inevitable.

While we await the chance to actually hear both, what struck me is that the two albums are being made in very different ways. Anderson/Wakeman have adopted what one might call a very agile, or (depending on your perspective) a very cheap, approach. There's just the two of them on the album and they weren't ever together in the studio. Rick recorded his parts in England, while Jon... Jon wasn't even in a studio, recording his vocals while on the road touring. Contrast that with Yes's more traditional approach: the whole band together, with a producer, in a fully-equipped studio (see here for details).

Other comparisons spring to mind. The two albums have a very different relationship to the Yes back catalogue. The Living Tree is expected to have a number of re-recordings of old Yes classics. [UPDATE: In the end, those plans were abandoned and the album is all new material.] The new Yes album is expected to have one re-recording of a rather obscure old Yes number ("We Can Fly from Here", played live on the Drama tour but never released as a studio recording by Yes). The new Yes album is expected to have a Roger Dean cover, while The Living Tree has a somewhat Roger Dean-esque cover.

Here's to both albums being available in the shops and a proper comparison of the music being possible!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Why will Yoso make a fraction of the amount CIRCA: did on each CD sold?

Having been around for over a year, and already on their fourth drummer(!), Yoso's debut album, Elements, is now available for pre-order. Release comes in July, the exact date depending on format and where you live.

It seems the delay has been, in part, because the band sought a different business model than its predecessor (and ongoing sibling) band, CIRCA:. While CIRCA: self-released material, but have had to largely abandoned live work, Yoso are aiming at a bigger market, with a CD released through a regular record company (Frontiers Records, who also have Asia on their books), and a tour planned.

As such, this is an appropriate time to direct you to this entry from the fantastic Information is Beautiful blog. It illustrates how a band might get ~80% of the sale price of a self-released CD, but a mere 3-10% on a standard retail CD. And forget being an artist and making money from Spotify or plays!

So why not always self-release? Because a record label and selling through mainstream retailers means you can reach a much bigger market. But you need at least 8 times as many sales to make the same amount of money. Thus, the difficult decision for a band like Yoso.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

New Jon Anderson interviews

There's a couple of new Jon Anderson interviews accompanying his short solo tour. The MusicStreetJournal one has this fantastic quote that may, or may not, explain many a pet cat's behaviour in the garden: "Flowers – we give flowers as a gift – for love, for remembrance, for harmony. And flowers have three components: They smell, like a perfume, they color, and they also make sound. But, you know we’re not cats, so we can’t hear it. But, they do make a sound. And it’s been pretty well proven on many levels…."

What's particularly interesting about that interview and a local US newspaper one is that Anderson's attitude to Yes continuing without him appears to have mellowed from a few months back. Whereas previously he was saying he was fit and ready to re-join the band, now he talks about not being capable of doing the sort of big tours Yes are doing: "Those guys [Howe/Squire/White] like to be on the road, they're like journeymen. I'm not like that. My body would never be able to do what they do. I can't do four or five shows a week, or all this hotel travelling. My body just wouldn't take it." And he appears more accepting of this: "I had to let the past go. I had to just let go of the band. Let go of that energy that I’ve been working with for many, many years. Now I’m working on a new sort of energy".

Anderson also makes a couple of tangential comments about his final period with Yes and writing music: "About four years ago I just put in an ad on my website: "Musicians Wanted" because I wasn't getting much feedback from my close people, which was the band. So I thought, "hey I'll just reach out to people who want to work with me." And then, talking about large-scale pieces: "They're exciting to do, because they are like climbing mountains. And I used to drag the band up the mountain half the time, and sometimes a couple would stay with me all the way. And of late it just became "Well, if you want to do that, Jon, you're going to have to do it by yourself.""

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

ABW... R?

Online fan discussion continues to be dominated by Rick Wakeman's announcement of a project with Trevor Rabin and other ex-Yesmen. Wakeman seems to have confirmed Jon Anderson as the third man, as widely predicted. Now, the March 2010 issue of Classic Rock Presents... Prog claims Bill Bruford will come out of retirement as the fourth member of this group.

I like Prog magazine, but my gut feeling is they're wrong. It would be a dramatic volte face for Bruford, who has so firmly retired and who has so often made clear a complete lack of desire to ever re-join Yes. That said, it wouldn't be the most surprising turn of events in the story of Yes...

[18 Mar update: Bruford has now denied his involvement.]

The possibility of ABWR has seen comparisons drawn to the original ABWH, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, the rival Yes line-up formed in 1989. The pull of the historical parallels is so strong that fans seem almost to presume that the bass player will be Tony Levin (or Jeff Berlin) again, that Bruford will play electronic drums again, that there will be a tour of Yes music plus again and an almost inevitable new Union with the current Yes line-up.

Stop! Do not be taken in by these fantasies. ABWH was 21 years ago. 21 years is as long as the time between Yes's first album, Yes, and ABWH! We're in a completely different context now and there's little reason to expect this to unfold in a similar way. I wouldn't be surprised to see Anderson and R. Wakeman back on stage with Howe/Squire/White at some point - the nostalgia will always exert a powerful gravitational pull - but I expect an ABWR, or AWR, in 2011 to be a very different beast to ABWH in 1989. Let's wait for a new story to unfold rather than trying to force it into the shape of an old one.


Friday, 5 March 2010

First half of 2010

In January-June 2010...

Musician : gigs played or announced : albums announced

Trevor Horn : 1 gig : 1 album
Jon Anderson: 5 gigs : 0 albums
Rick Wakeman: 11 gigs: 1 album (but it is 3 CDs)
Steve Howe: 67 gigs : 2 albums

Steve Howe is playing more than one gig every 3 days in the first half of this year!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Is May a possible date for recording a new Yes album?

I see Alan White is doing the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp in London at the end of May. Nothing odd about that, you might imagine, what with Alan having done multiple previous Camps in the States.

But London is a bit further to travel than previous Camps. Might Alan be over in the UK for anything else around that time? Chris Squire is based in London now, and Steve Howe and Oliver Wakeman are both in the south of England. It would make sense to record a new Yes album in the UK. Squire has talked of recording in March-May. They'll need to work around Howe's touring plans (with his Trio in March and with Asia in April/May), but could plans be firming up? Could Alan be doubling up a stay in the UK to do both the camp and record with Yes?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Yesmen together outside Yes

Apparently, on last Saturday’s Rick’s Place (Rick Wakeman’s radio show on Planet Rock), Rick announced that he is working on an album with Trevor Rabin and two, as yet unnamed, other ex-Yesmen. Cue furious speculation at about what this might be and the identity of the two others. Billy Sherwood posted a non-committal message that would seem to imply he wasn’t involved. If I had to guess, I’d say the other two will be Jon Anderson and Tony Levin (whether you consider him an ex-Yesman or not), but we know so little, it could be almost anyone.

Perhaps more important than who the other two Yesmen might be is the question of what this project is going to be. Is this basically a solo album with guest appearances, or is this a full-blown collaboration? What many want is a rival Yes, a second ABWH. Given Rabin and Wakeman both seem averse to large-scale touring and given both appear to remain committed to their many other works, I get the impression that we’re not looking at the genesis of a rival Yes band.

So, presuming reports are accurate and this project comes to fruition, what might four Yesmen working together sound like? The Yesmen have often worked with each other outside the band: e.g. Asia, The Buggles, CIRCA:, Moraz/Bruford, White, Turbulence, 1984 and so on. Three Yesmen working together is less common, but there are still a fair few examples: Ramshackled, Fish Out of Water, Adventures in Modern Recording, Conspiracy, In the U.K., Criminal Record, All to Bring You Morning, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, Esquire, Jabberwocky and more.

But four or more Yesmen on an album, we’re down to a fairly short list. I can think of 13.

1. ABWH (1989) – of course! I almost didn’t include it here as I just think of it as a Yes album
2. The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Rick Wakeman, 1973) – Wakeman, Squire, Howe and Bruford together on “Catherine of Aragon” plus White on other tracks
3. Beginnings (Steve Howe, 1975) – Howe, White and Moraz together on three tracks, plus Bruford on others
4. The Steve Howe Album (Steve Howe, 1979) – Howe, Bruford and Moraz on “All’s a Chord” plus White on other tracks
5. The Classical Connection II (Rick Wakeman, 1992) – includes a Six Wives era recording called “Farandol” with Squire, Howe and Bruford
6. Tales from Yesterday (various artists, 1995) – Howe, Sherwood, Banks and Moraz appear, but all on separate tracks
7. Pigs & Pyramids—An All Star Lineup Performing the Songs of Pink Floyd (various artists co-organised by Sherwood, 2002) – Sherwood, Squire and White together on “Comfortably Numb” plus Kaye and Levin on other tracks
8. Back Against the Wall (various artists organised by Sherwood, 2005) – recycles “Comfortably Numb” and Kaye’s track from Pigs & Pyramids, plus new appearances from Sherwood, Levin, White, Wakeman, Howe and Downes, but mostly apart (“Hey You” unites Sherwood, Downes and White)
9. Return to the Dark Side of the Moon: A Tribute to Pink Floyd (various artists organised by Sherwood, 2006) –Kaye, White, Wakeman, Howe, Bruford, Banks, Downes and Levin all guest but often separately: “Speak to Me” unites Kaye and White with Sherwood producing; “The Great Gig in the Sky” unites Sherwood, Howe and Wakeman; “Money” unites Sherwood, Bruford and Levin (seemingly recorded entirely separately); “Eclipse” unites Kaye and Banks with Sherwood producing
10. CIRCA: 2007 (2007) – Sherwood, Kaye, White and writing contributions from Rabin
11. From Here to Infinity (Jim Ladd’s Headsets, 2007) – includes a cover of “Starship Trooper” organised by Sherwood with him, Kaye, Wakeman, White and Howe all performing
12. Led Box: The Ultimate Tribute to Led Zeppelin (various artists co-organised by Sherwood, 2008) – Sherwood, White and Kaye are all on “All of My Love”, with Wakeman and Downes appearing on other tracks
13. Abbey Road: A Tribute to The Beatles (various artists co-organised by Sherwood, 2009) – with Sherwood/White/Kaye on “Get Back” and Sherwood/White/Downes on “Let It Be”

Most of these don’t actually have the four Yesmen playing together and there’s no guarantee that this new Wakeman/Rabin project won’t be the same, with just scattered guest appearances. When do we actually get four Yesmen together on the same track? Apart from ABWH, there’s “Catherine of Aragon”, “Farandol”, “Lost Symphony”, “Beginnings”, “Will o’ the Wisp”, “All’s a Chord” and “Starship Trooper” (2007 cover), plus CIRCA:’s “Don’t Let Go” and “Look Inside” if including Rabin’s writing contribution.

I like all those albums (some more than others) as I like most of the albums with three Yesmen, but there’s clearly a huge variation between them. With some, additional Yesmen make guest appearances that amount to little more than curios. Others are good, but just completely different from Yes. And then sometimes, there is something of the Yes magic and an almost-Yes piece emerges. That list of 9 individual pieces with 4+ Yesmen would make a pretty good lost Yes album.

In terms of who’s most collaborative, across the 13 albums listed, White is on 10 (confirming his reputation as being easy to work with), Howe 9, Sherwood 8, Wakeman & Kaye 7 each, Bruford 6, Squire & Downes 4 each, Moraz & Levin 3 each, Banks 2, and Anderson & Rabin 1 each.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

2010: A preview

Yes have just begun their February tour leg and we're into the second month of 2010. So what will the year bring?

Plans for the first half of the year are becoming clearer. Chris Squire has finished recording for his collaboration with Steve Hackett, with Hackett expected to complete work on the album this month. Steve Howe, likewise, appears to have finished recording for the new Asia album, Omega, with Wetton and Downes completing work on it also this month for a release in April. No release date has been given for 'Squackett' but around April seems plausible.

Yes, as I said, are back on tour, and that takes up most of February. There has been much fan angst about when they might record their promised new album. Howe is busy most of March touring with his Trio (and we can make a guess that an expected live release will come out around the same time) and then he's back touring with Asia April-May and July-August. We know Asia are taking time off from September (with Wetton talking of doing a solo album then), so the fear was any significant progress on a Yes album would be delayed until then. However, in a couple of recent interviews, Squire has said that they have been individually working on ideas after his, Howe and O. Wakeman's preliminary meeting in October 2009, and that they will start serious work, seemingly studio work, in March, straight after February touring. In one interview, he talked of taking "a good shot at it" in March/April/May and a possible release before the end of the year.

This clearly clashes with some of Howe's touring commitments. That said, Howe does not need to be present at every day of recording. There's not much of March free, but his announced Asia commitments are not until near the end of April. Depending on what further Asia touring is announced, he may also have more than a month between Japanese and North American dates. That could mean an album is finished before summer gets going, leaving the latter half of the year for Yes to tour in support. On the other hand, it is perhaps wise not to be too optimistic about progress: Howe has previously described Squire as speaking too early on plans.

If Yes are busy through the first half of the year, that ties up White, David and O. Wakeman too. If there are breaks in activity... well, David has talked of a new Mystery album, while O. Wakeman has a backlog of solo projects and other collaborations. There have been hints of some kind of re-launch for the White band, who have been mostly inactive since their 2006 debut.

Away from the current band members, Rick Wakeman has announced some solo dates for the year. He's had two recent new release (Always with You and the 3CD Past, Present and Future), but live work remains focused on nostalgia and he continues to try to organise big extravaganzas like last year's The Six Wives of Henry VIII at Hampton Court.

Yoso, albeit not with that name, was to have begun at the beginning of 2009 with the planned Bobby Kimball/CIRCA: tour of Italy, cancelled at the last minute. The band gestated through most of 2009, but an album is now recorded and expected early this year, and three lives dates were played with the obligatory DVD also expected early this year. Sherwood is optimistic about substantial touring, a breakthrough CIRCA: never managed.

Some indications of the long-awaited new Trevor Rabin solo album emerged last year. Will it finally come to fruition in 2010? Can we detect a slight slowing down in his film score work, which would fit with solo album activity?

2010 will be the first year without a new Bill Bruford release and the second year of his retirement. Futher lectures have already been announced, as have further re-releases.

The biggest question mark over what 2010 might bring is around Jon Anderson. Talk last year of a possible reconciliation with Yes did not last long, but it remains a possibility. Rick Wakeman has talked of doing a US tour of his duo show with Anderson and an album release, which has been on hold since 2006.

Following a band closely, one comes to a conclusion that musical talent is not enough. Any act or solo artist needs more than talent, more than the music, to be able to reach a substantial audience. For example, while I think Peter Banks retains the talent, I am not expecting him to do much in 2010 given these last few years he has struggled to find a context in which he is able to play to an audience, live or on record.

Is Jon Anderson in a similar position? Multiple collaborations keep popping up on MySpace and the occasional new solo piece appears as a digital single or bonus track, but the major statement album that fans want, like the long-awaited Zamran sequel to Olias..., remains elusive. Other projects get mentioned and never appear; for example, the Dream Dancing collaboration with Fritz Heede was expected on Voiceprint in 2009 but appears caught in limbo, as do further volumes in The Lost Tapes series.

The music business is in a poor state at present, with sales dropping year on year and still few effective models for the digital age. The music business also remains largely hostile to prog. Are those conditions and, of course, Anderson's own health problems holding him back? On the other hand, occasional grumbles from his numerous online collaborators suggest perhaps the lack of releases has more to do with Anderson's temperament.

What Anderson has released of late has been pretty poor to my ears. "Music is God" and "Never Ever", both available on iTunes, are some of his worst work for me. Yet some recent collaborations appearing on Facebook and elsewhere sound much stronger, and the flurry of activity around these perhaps suggests that 2010 will finally see some major projects appear.


Monday, 1 February 2010

Constructing a lost Yes album of the '00s

We were having a discussion on about whether one might construct a lost Yes album of the last decade by considering the best solo and other band work by the Yesmen. So, here's a suggestion, all available to buy digitally on for a total of $8.71. Most of these pieces were never intended for Yes, it isn't a "lost album" in that sense, it's just a bit of fun of what perhaps might have been.

1. Where Do We Go from Here? (4:21) [from Dream and Variations by Don Harper's Oceana Orchestra; featuring Trevor Rabin]
2. Wish I'd Known All Along (4:05) [from Phoenix by Asia; written by Howe]
3. Buddha Song (6:09) [from Live from La La Land by Jon Anderson; once intended to be recorded by Yes on The Ultimate Yes]
4. City of Dreams (9:38) [from Syndestructible by The Syn; co-written by Squire]
5. Ghost in the Mirror (4:37) [from Silent Nation by Asia; co-written by Geoff Downes/John Payne/Billy Sherwood]
6. Beyond the Void (9:06) [from Retro 2 by Rick Wakeman]
7. The Golden Mean (2:50) [from Motif Vol 1 by Steve Howe]
8. Lonesome Trail (6:38) [from Conspiracy by Chris Squire & Billy Sherwood]
9. Starship Trooper (8:36) [from Rock Infinity, a re-named version of the abortive Jim Ladd's Headsets album From Here to Infinity made before Chapter 1: Alone Out Here; this track is credited to Mickey Thomas, but also features Billy Sherwood, Steve Howe, Alan White, Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye]

I think the song titles nicely suggest a theme of yearning, which is how Yes fans often felt in the decade...

And here's a UK version using (total £6.51), with one substitution given different availabilities in the two countries:

1. Where Do We Go from Here? (4:21) [from Dream and Variations by Don Harper's Oceana Orchestra; featuring Trevor Rabin]
2. Wish I'd Known All Along (4:05) [from Phoenix by Asia; written by Howe]
3. Buddha Song (6:09) [from Live from La La Land by Jon Anderson; once intended to be recorded by Yes on The Ultimate Yes]
4. 1/2 a World Away (5:47) [from The Unknown by Conspiracy]
5. Ghost in the Mirror (4:37) [from Silent Nation by Asia; co-written by Geoff Downes/John Payne/Billy Sherwood]
6. Beyond the Void (9:06) [from Retro 2 by Rick Wakeman]
7. The Golden Mean (2:50) [from Motif Vol 1 by Steve Howe]
8. Lonesome Trail (6:38) [from Conspiracy by Chris Squire & Billy Sherwood]
9. Starship Trooper (8:36) [from Rock Infinity, by Mickey Thomas with Billy Sherwood, Steve Howe, Alan White, Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye]


Poll: Best new Yes song of the '00s

I asked you to vote on the best new Yes song of last decade and, after 150 votes, the results were very clear:

In the Presence of: 67 votes (45%)
Magnification: 22 votes (15%)
Give Love Each Day: 21 votes (14%)
Dreamtime: 15 votes (10%)
We Agree: 7 votes (5%)
Can You Imagine: 6 votes (4%)
Time is Time: 4 votes (3%)
Aliens are Only Us from the Future: 3 votes (2%)
Show Me: 3 votes (2%)
Spirit of Survival: 1 vote (1%)
Other answer (Homeworld, which was from the previous decade): 1 vote (1%)

So, with a band setting out to write a new album without Jon Anderson, it is perhaps reassuring that by far the most popular piece of the last decade originated from Alan White. On the other hand, in the next two places are "Magnification" and "Give Love Each Day", both of which seem to have been from Anderson originally. Only two Magnification tracks got no votes at all (Howe's "Soft as a Dove"; and the shot at airplay, "Don't Go").

As remarked previously, the tragedy of the noughties is that there was just the one new Yes album. However, a smattering of further '00s Yes songs did emerge. Not that these were very popular! "Show Me" (on the US version of The Ultimate Yes) and the 2008 live piece "Aliens are Only Us from the Future" (now destined for the Squackett project) got 3 votes apiece, and I suspect some of those for "Aliens…" were joke responses judging by the online reaction to the song.

While the '00s didn't bring much in the way of new Yes material, the archives were flung open by a series of released on Rhino: In a Word: Yes, The Word is Live and the expanded and remastered re-releases. I count about 23 Yes pieces that were not previously officially available that came out last decade, and several of these hadn't even been bootlegged before. So, that's our next poll: which was your favourite?

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Poll results: Desire for a new album

2010 holds the promise of a new Yes album, but the exact timetable the band have in mind remains unclear. It's been eight and a quarter years since the last new album, Magnification. The longest gap between Yes albums before was half that (between 90125 and Big Generator). So the most recent Where Are They Now? poll asked when people wanted a new album.

The results were clear: 188 out of 273 (69%) said the sooner, the better. Another 13 (5%) said the first half of 2010, while 5 (2%) said the second half of 2010. No-one picked the option after 2010.

So, that's three quarters of respondents supporting an album this year, and sooner rather than later. The main alternate view was the 39 (14%) who supported the option 'Never: they should get back Jon Anderson or disband'. That compares to the quarter of respondents in the last poll who felt this line-up shouldn't be called Yes at all.

24 (9%) went with 'Whenever they feel they're ready'. 3 voters said 'Never: they should just keep touring', and there was 1 'other' response.

The replacement poll is the first in a series looking back at the last decade. We begin asking what was your favourite new Yes piece of the decade. That there's only 15 songs to choose from probably explains the above feelings!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Poll results: Is this Yes?

Happy new year! The last few months of last year saw some strong condemnation from Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman towards the current line-up of Yes that has continued without them. I ran a poll on the site to see what you, dear readers, made of the competing claims.

Option 1 was Chris Squire's now well-known quote that "This is Yes". Option 3 was a quote from Rick in which he claims Jon "does not think it is Yes unless Rick Wakeman and himself are in that band". So that leaves an option 2 for any other views, the obvious one being that you need Anderson but not R. Wakeman.

The results... "This is Yes" got 199 votes (74%); other (e.g. Jon essential, but Rick isn't) got 38 votes (14%); Jon and Rick essential got 27 votes (10%). 3 votes put their support of the current line-up as Yes as being dependent on new material, and 1 vote was ambiguous.

So, at least those Yes fans who come to Where Are They Now? are mostly accepting that this is indeed Yes. I don't presume those votes to mean they're all happy with what has come to pass, but they're not questioning the basic use of the name. On the other hand, a significant minority remain opposed. To lose a quarter of your fan base is a difficult position for a band as they embark on a new year...