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.


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