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?