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.

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