Thursday, 29 December 2011

Prog's critics' choices

Yes fandom remains riven by the issue of Benoît David replacing Jon Anderson. The same debate sits like a black hole, dragging other discussions off course. So I find it interesting to step back sometimes and see how the prog music community more generally views the band's and the musicians' output.

The last issue of 2011 of Classic Rock Presents... Prog includes their annual Critics' Choice selection of the 20 best albums of the last 12 months, as voted on by the magazines' contributors. The winner is Opeth's Heritage but Yes's Fly from Here comes in 5th, with Steve Hackett's Beyond the Shrouded Horizon (with Chris Squire guesting and a couple of tracks co-credited to Steve Howe) coming 7th. Blackfield's Welcome to My DNA, with one track produced by Trevor Horn, is 11th. Steven Wilson's Grace for Drowning, with Tony Levin appearing, was the #2 album.

Rick Wakeman writes for the magazine, which has championed the planned Anderson/Wakeman/Rabin collaboration. However, nothing by Anderson or Wakeman makes their overall top 20. But the 21 contributors' individual top 20s are also listed, and we see appearances there by Anderson/Wakeman's The Living Tree and Jon Anderson's Survival & Other Stories, as well as the Jakszyk/Fripp/Collins album A Scarcity of Miracles (with Levin), Levin Torn White, John Wetton's Raised in Captivity (with Billy Sherwood, Tony Kaye and Geoff Downes) and Mars Hollow's The World in Front of Me (produced by Sherwood).

The King Crimson reissue series, obviously including multiple albums with Bill Bruford, was in the top 10 reissues list, while "Union Live" was in the top 10 DVDs.

The issue also includes glowing reviews of Steve Howe's Time and Yes's recent London show, and a more ambivalent review of In the Present - Live from Lyon.

Steve Howe's Time

It's been a joyfully busy time for Yes-related releases. Highlights include the aggressive Levin Torn White, Chris Squire appearing on Steve Hackett's Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, and Jon's epic of a digital single, "Open". The latest release is Time, Steve Howe's new solo album, now out in Europe, although a domestic release in the States only comes in 2012.

Time doesn't have multiple Yesmen on board, there are no epics, no big-name prog collaborators, even the cover is rather bland. Yet this may be some of the most beautiful music Steve Howe has ever recorded.

While Hackett's Beyond the Shrouded Horizon is a vibrant mish-mash of different styles (and includes some tracks co-crediting Howe as composer, presumably Hackett recycling GTR ideas), Howe has a tradition of very focused projects. In some ways, Time follows on from Natural Timbre, but while Natural Timbre was about acoustic playing, Time sees Howe working with a small orchestral ensemble. Rock and orchestra isn't a new thing. Yes did it on Magnification, Jon Anderson uses a string ensemble on "Open", and Howe fans will remember "Beginnings" on the album of the same name.

But this isn't a rock + orchestra album. Howe is much more integrated into a classical sound. Yet nor is this a classical guitar album. Howe kicks off the album with an interpretation of Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (Aria)" (a mid-20th century piece combining a Bach-esque approach to Brazilian music) that he plays on steel guitar. Within the album's focus, there is variation. Sometimes the guitar is to the fore, but then there's a piece like "Orange" with Howe's banjo as the base and the orchestral instruments rotating the lead, while Joyce's "Purification" has some jazzier playing by Howe.

While Howe does play classical or acoustic guitar on about half the album, what shines through is a certain Steve-Howe-ness to all the playing. Credit must absolutely also go to Paul K. Joyce for the arrangements and how he complements Howe's guitar work. Joyce also plays keyboards, occasionally inserting an almost Wendy-Carlos-esque sound choice.

Joyce is best known for writing "Can We Fix It?", the theme song to Bob the Builder (which reached #1 in the UK and Australia in 2000). However, he has also done more orchestral music. There's a moment in "The Explorer" where the brass plays with the guitar -- spine-chilling. It's this attention to detail and a melodic and harmonic richness that makes Time stand out. There's an autumnal feel to much of the music, but different emotions are expressed, like with the jaunty "Orange".

Possibly the best Yes-related release of the year. Details, liner notes and samples all available at .

Friday, 18 November 2011

Yes, 17 November 2011, Hammersmith Apollo

This isn't a full review, because mostly everything I said about the band's first UK date in Cambridge (see last blog post) applies here, their last UK date.

Overall, I think it was a slightly better performance, although with seats in the circle to the sides rather than being at the front, not quite as fun an experience! The new material in the set seemed to have benefitted from having had longer to bed-in. The slight tentativeness I described in Cambridge was gone, with "Life on a Film Set" and "Into the Storm", in particular, that little bit tighter. This was the best "Into the Storm" I've heard across these two shows and several boots.

This was a longer set than in Cambridge, a 2.75 hour run time (including an interval, at the venue's request). They played all of the rehearsed songs except "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and re-arranged the order to suit playing two sets (although in a different way to in Brighton): intro music: "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra", "Yours is No Disgrace", "Tempus Fugit", "I've Seen All Good People", "Life on a Film Set", "And You and I", Howe solo ("Solitaire", "Trambone"), "Heart of the Sunrise", interval, "Fly from Here", "Wonderous Stories", "Into the Storm", "Machine Messiah", "Starship Trooper", encore: "Roundabout". This gave the first set a big ending in "Heart of the Sunrise", but required the courage to open the second set with the full "Fly from Here" suite. It paid off with a positive audience reaction, although the biggest response was for "Wonderous Stories" and I was also chuffed at the very strong support for "Machine Messiah".

"Machine Messiah" was the one song we hadn't heard in Cambridge and a personal favourite, so I was very happy to hear it. That said, I wonder whether it has suffered from not being played every night, because there were a few flubs earlier on in the piece, due to Downes I think. Otherwise, performances were strong all round, with "Roundabout" (and Downes' playing on it) an unexpected highpoint. Squire was clear, focused and in good voice (and had his mum in the audience). White, full of energy. Howe, reliable as ever. David was better than in Cambridge, although still the occasional weak spot. The long note in the transition in the middle of "Life on a Film Set" still eludes him. And I still don't like how the band use "Starship Trooper: Würm" like "All Good People", as a place to set indvidual solos. I don't mind individual solos; I'm just a purist about how they should approach "Würm"!

So, great set, great performances, band are confident and appear to be still improving. I look forward to seeing reviews of the rest of the tour as it travels eastwards through Europe.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Yes, 8 Nov 2011, Cambridge Corn Exchange

Toe carefully strapped (see last blog post), I attended the first date on the British leg of Yes's European tour in Cambridge. (Squire introduced it as the first date on their English leg, only for Howe to offer a friendly correction of 'British'.)

Their first UK date, and only the fourth date of the whole tour, revealed a Yes totally different from the shambolic beginnings to their US summer tour, or even from their last visit to the UK two years ago. Tonight was a band firing on all cylinders, happy with each other, and hungry to perform. They were tight, well rehearsed, and all five delivered.

Whereas Howe had been the focal point in 2009, now the whole band were working as a unit. Squire was more focused and his singing was great. White didn't tire and the live environment showed off his drumming on the new material. Downes was comfortable, bringing his own style to the old material. David was in great voice: there were a couple of high notes he didn't quite reach, but ironically all on the new material. But I'm going to start talking about the set list, so look away now if you're avoiding spoilers...

While collecting the tickets for the evening, the venue's poor sound insulation meant I could hear the soundcheck. The piece they were playing set the scene for the show later that evening: "Into the Storm". Compared to 2008-10 and accusations of being a tribute band, when they were playing sets where often only two of the band had played on the original songs, the current line-up now are putting their own material out there, and more broadly breaking away from only the pattern of selections from The Yes Album/Fragile/Close to the Edge + "Owner of a Lonely Heart". They are also doing something many fans have long asked for: they are changing the set from night to night. Having played everything at their extra long debut show, each show since has seen different songs rotated in and out, and a willingness to sometimes omit the old warhorses that seemed permanently glued on. "Into the Storm" had been omitted at the previous show in Spain, and I took its soundcheck appearance as a good sign it would be played that evening. The soundcheck continued with the overture and first two parts of "Fly from Here", before rounding off with "Yours is No Disgrace". But what of the actual show?

Set: "Yours is No Disgrace", "Tempus Fugit", "I've Seen All Good People", "Life on a Film Set", "And You and I", Howe solo ("Solitaire", "Clap"), "Fly from Here" (whole suite), "Wonderous Stories", "Into the Storm", "Heart of the Sunrise", "Starship Trooper"; encore: "Roundabout". In other words, that's most of the new album, all except "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be" and "Hour of Need". Compared to the opening European night, we had no "Machine Messiah" or "Owner of a Lonely Heart".

The new material worked and met a good audience reaction. The Cambridge Corn Exchange is a cosy venue (capacity 1800, sold out tonight) with most of the audience standing, and there was a good atmosphere. Some tentativeness by the band was apparent: for example, I could see Howe counting down the changes in "Life on a Film Set". But the full "Fly from Here", in particular, blossomed live. "Into the Storm" was less successful for me: it got too loud, a problem with "Würm" as well, although being right at the front, that may have been a problem with my location rather than the playing. (I could feel the air displaced by the bass notes, we were that close to the speakers.) "Solitaire" also came alive, and Howe's solo spot also delivered a vigorous rendition of "Clap", Howe's happiness apparent.

The new songs were placed in the middle of the set, with standards as bookends. "Yours is No Disgrace" worked well as an opener. I've seen Yes so often warm up over their first song, but the band were up to speed from the beginning tonight. "Wonderous Stories" was a pleasant return to the set and Downes, who has a short solo at the beginning, was able to express his style of playing. He was also hot on "Roundabout". "Roundabout" and particularly "Heart of the Sunrise" at the end of the set had seemed tempting songs to skip if my toe began throbbing, but I was glad I stayed, with great performances of both. "Heart of the Sunrise" shone despite its familiarity.

Less successful was "Starship Trooper". While "Disillusion" was strong, I could do without Squire's posturing in "Würm", although should anyone accuse me of being a killjoy, I enjoyed Downes' keytar excursion! Some reviewers have also criticised David's 'Dad dancing', but I liked it: he was enjoying the music, and conveying that enjoyment to the audience.

Met many other fans at the show, familiar faces like Brian, TB, Yumi and Malcolm, as well as new souls like Joey. Big hello to all.

In all, this is Yes back playing how they can. I know London at the end of the UK leg is already sold out, so if you haven't already got tickets, act soon.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The curse returns

February 2000: Yes were touring in support of The Ladder and played two shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I had tickets for both. After the first show, I went on to a friend's party and got mugged while waiting for a train. So, if you search around on Facebook, you can see a picture of me at the second show with a huge black eye.

Ah, well. These things happen, I thought.

The next Yes tour, the Masterworks tour, wasn't coming to Europe, so I and a friend decided to fly out to the US east coast. We were planning to see three shows and meet up with some friends we'd made online, like the infamous Steven Sullivan and Jeff Hunnicutt.We began with the 23 July Nissan Pavilion show, then the fantastic and infamous 25 July Virginia Beach show. Down the coast for Raleigh on 27 July, then it was on a train to get to Charlotte for the next day. We met some other fans on the train and we were offered a list to the venue that evening.

There we are, five of us in the car, just leaving the motel, when BANG. Another car had slammed into us as we were turning. Everyone staggered out of the car, checking to see how everyone else was. Lots of calls of "I'm OK", lots of consequent relief... except for me, who was still sitting there, too winded to say anything. I eventually climb out and it's obvious I'm not OK. Fortunately, we were one block from an emergency room and I was soon patched up, but we missed the show! And, unfortunately, my shoulder was in pieces and that took four years of pain and two operations to be repaired.

So, one misfortunate on the way from a Yes show. Then another misfortune on the way to a Yes show. Come December 2001 and the Magnification tour and I was a bit worried that something would happen during the show, maybe a lighting rig falling on me or something. But nothing untoward happened; the curse appeared broken.

Further happy shows followed: 2003, 2004, 2009.

And now it's 2011. I've got tickets for Cambridge tomorrow and London later in the tour. Both were nearly sold out. I could only get a standing ticket for Cambridge. But that's fine. It's not like I can't stand for two and a half hours.

Except, guess what? I broke my toe yesterday. I tripped going upstairs. A hairline crack of the proximal phalange of the right toe. A pretty trivial bone to break. It's not going to stop me working or anything. Except, you know, if I was planning to stand for two and a half hours in a crowded concert hall 48 hours later. That might not be a good idea.

The curse returns.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Buggles, 25 Oct 2011

The British Music Experience is a museum of popular music in Britain, housed in the cavernous O2 Dome. They host various special events and, at fairly short notice, this, the latest Buggles show was announced. I say “the latest Buggles show” as if they happen all the time. This is only the second time the band has played a full set. Apart from promo appearances back in the day, usually mimed, the band’s only played live 3 times before this!

The BME’s performance zone is fairly small and wasn’t full. I’d estimate less than 200 in the audience. The band performed to more last year paying very high price tickets raising money for charity. Tickets tonight were cheap, so my guess is that the audience size reflects the minimal advertising and short time between announcement and performance. Not that I believe this show was about making money. Since late 2006, Horn has been doing occasional live shows, initially as The Producers with Lol Crème (guitar and vocals), Steve Lipson (guitar), Chris Braide (vocals and keyboards) and Ash Soan (drums). As he said tonight, he gets bored being in the studio all the time and likes to get on stage occasionally.

The evening began with an initial Q&A sessions with Horn and Downes. The BME curator hosted and asked the initial questions, before throwing it open to the audience. Horn and Downes described how they met: Downes auditioned to be the keyboardist for Tina Charles, for whom Horn was musical director. Horn picked Downes because he liked his shoes apparently! The pair described how they bonded as two Northerners in London.

Discussion moved on to The Buggles. Horn said he has always regretted the name and that they should have called themselves something like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (cue audience laughter). Horn talked about the vision for the band, not one he seriously thought would ever happen, of a giant computer in a basement creating music and how The Buggles would be one of the bands the machine would produce. He described how he and Bruce Woolley were inspired by Kratfwerk, and how “Video Killed the Radio Star” was specifically inspired by a JG Ballard short story. An audience question made the comparison with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, who present themselves as a fictional cartoon band, and Horn said the original intention for The Buggles had been similar (to the point where Island’s Chris Blackwell was surprised to find them prepping for a TV show).

The pair talked about making the first album and wanting everything to sound automated, although a drum machine was the only actual computerisation available. Given the recording equipment of the time, they needed multiple takes of “Video Killed the Radio Star” to get it just right, as if played by machines. Horn described sessions with him, Downes and Paul Robinson (drums) in the recording studio and Hans Zimmer behind the recording desk. [Edit: Zimmer was in the audience.] After the success of “Video…”, they faced the need to rapidly record a whole album, in between ongoing promo work for the first single. While the host was effusive in praise for The Age of Plastic, Horn was more humble, saying he felt the album had three good singles. Asked how difficult it was to follow up such a big debut hit, Horn said that it was basically impossible: no album could live up to “Video…”. Horn also talked about the plan for a new vocabulary of pop lyrics, avoiding all love songs, but that he was, in retrospect, uncertain that those ideas stretched to two albums. He also said that Downes had been the main composer and himself, the main lyricist in the band.

Other stories followed. Horn described their surprise at the success of “Video Killed the Radio Star” and how, at short notice, they found themselves miming to the track in France. Horn had never had to do that before, but he said it was fairly difficult to make mistakes while miming!

Why didn’t they tour, the host asked. Because by then they had joined Yes. Horn, warmly, described joining Yes as “absurd”. He described the fear in having “to be Jon Anderson” live and how nothing in his production career since has been as scary. Asked about the second album and Downes’ early departure, Downes explained that he got the offer to join Asia.

An audience member said he had given up hoping for a third Buggles album, which received a smiling but emphatic “Good” from Horn, but he asked about Fly from Here. Downes told the familiar story of how the initial plan had only been for Horn to do one song, “We Can Fly from Here”, for which Horn then wanted Downes, but then Horn was “railroaded” (Downes’ word) into doing the album. Horn, blushing, seemed almost embarrassed at the turn of events. He talked about how the band in 1980 had had their eccentricities and issues, but that this time they were “just so nice” that he ended up doing all of the album. There wasn’t any explanation as to why Horn was given such creative input though.

Everyone left the stage and there was a short break before the show proper. Horn introduced the show saying they were in an “apt setting” for these songs, “a museum”. Horn and Downes were front centre and front stage right respectively, wearing traditional silver jackets. Downes had a pair of stacked keyboards and a couple of laptops. Behind Horn was Paul Robinson on drums, then the back row continued to stage left with Lol Crème (guitars), Steve Lipson (guitar) and a second keyboardist in Julian Hinton. They opened with “I am a Camera”, although this was only for a few lines before going into an instrumental version of “Two Tribes”. Next was “Video Killed the Radio Star”, from which the band were joined by three young women (Kirsten, Holly and Kate) who provided backing vocals, dancing and an explosion of glamour next to the old men!

The rest of the set was “Living in the Plastic Age”, “Slave to the Rhythm”, “Elstree”, “Rubber Bullets”, “Space Oddity”, “Johnny on the Monorail”, “Check It Out”. As with last year’s Buggles show, Alison Moyet guested for “Slave to the Rhythm”. She looked great and provided the right Grace Jones-esque growl to the vocals, although she did seem to miss a verse, much to her embarrassment, although Horn was relaxed about it. Crème took lead vocals on “Rubber Bullets”, having said he can’t sing high enough to do “Donna” any more! Unfortunately he was mixed a bit too low.

“Check It Out” was the lead single from the debut album by Trinidadian hip hop artist Nicki Minaj. The song, done with of the Black Eyed Peas, samples extensively from “Video Killed the Radio Star”. So, at the 2010 charity show, the Buggles thought they would return the favour and cover it themselves. This was, of course, a preposterous idea – a bunch of white men in their 50s and 60s covering a sexy young rap song – and they knew it. The performance (available on YouTube) was rough, but the audience got the joke. Yet tonight the performance was much smoother. Kirsten, Holly and Kate took Nicki Minaj’s lead vocal, with Horn doing’s part. It’s a preposterous idea, and yet they pulled it off. My partner said that they didn’t get Minaj’s timing quite right, but that’s a quibble. Because “Video…” acts as a core of “Check It Out” and with the three girls covering Minaj, the performance actually works as a piece of music, not simply as a joke, although when Horn takes’s rap, it is an act replete with post-modern irony.

Overall, with Chris Braide’s departure, there seems to have been an elision of The Producers and The Buggles. The set was mostly a cut-down version of last year’s show, but also fairly close to the early Producers sets. However, the band seemed more confident and slicker than those previous shows. That isn’t a criticism of the prior Producers line-up: the line-up and set tonight were clearly built on the foundation of those Producers shows.

Horn still has a somewhat nervous stage presence, avoiding eye contact with the audience, often even closing his eyes while singing, but he appears to have become more comfortable taking the lead role. While Braide was the main vocalist in The Producers, Horn was singing at the front here for everything except “Slave to the Rhythm” and “Rubber Bullets”. And he was singing great. The brief “I am a Camera” opening and “Space Oddity” were particularly strong. His bass playing was distinctive too, particularly on “Two Tribes”.

The band as a whole played great, bar minor fluffs from Crème and Moyet. The new boys to the line-up, Downes and Robinson, fit right in. Downes owns the Buggles pieces in a way that Braide didn’t and contributed fine on the non-Buggles material. Robinson was a precise and powerful drummer, and I preferred his work to Ash Soan’s. Lipson clearly enjoys “Two Tribes”.

The addition of the three glamorous backing singers worked really well. They were suitably rehearsed, provided useful backing vocals on The Buggles material and key parts on “Check It Out” and “Rubber Bullets”. They also gave the band a visual focus that gave this show a sheen absent from the low key, few-blokes-having-some-fun of The Producers early on. In fact, I felt rather sorry for Downes, so often the melodic core of the music, but the largely male audience were largely fixated on the gyrating hips stage left than Downes’ playing stage right!

The compere after the show said the band “will be back on the road next year”, although Horn in the Q&A had commented on his live work these days being about “twice a year”, so I expect any further Buggles/Producers dates will continue at that rate.

I’ve been spoilt. I’ve now seen The Buggles live three times, plus several Producers shows. I would love to see some more variation in the set and I missed having the new material we got in later Producers shows. But that’s a minor thing: the band played their 9-song set fantastically. Over the last 5 years, they’ve evolved into a tight live unit playing a set of classic songs.

Edit: Downes' tweeted this picture of the band. That's, left to right, Hinton, Lipson and Robinson on the back row, and then the men on the front row are Downes, Crème and Horn, with the girls and their perfect teeth in between.

Digital delights: Jon Anderson's "Open"; Tony Kaye's "End of Innocence"

Lots of excitement in online Yes fandom around yesterday's release of a 21 minute epic by Jon Anderson, "Open", available to buy on etc. I've not heard either yet, but, actually, I'm more excited by the new 46 minute epic "End of Innocence" by Tony Kaye that he's put up for free on YouTube:

Edit: I've had a first listen through of "End of Innocence". It's a largely instrumental work, with a short vocal part by Daniela Torchia (Tony's wife). It sounds as if it's all done by Kaye on synths, but he's often imitating an orchestra. Overall, I think it's a good piece of music and will, once again, demonstrate how underappreciated Kaye is by many fans!

It is an overtly political piece, supporting a model of US military intervention overseas as something that brings democracy and freedom to people around the world, and linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda. Personally, I would question aspects of that as a political position, but that doesn't stop me enjoying "End of Innocence" as a piece of music. It's less forthright in its politics than, say, Conspiracy's "The Unknown", another musical response to 9/11.

Edit 2: I've now also heard "Open". First impressions... Thumbs up from me. A step up from Survival & Other Stories or The Living Tree; this is Anderson's best work of the last few years. It's partly orchestral, the composition harks back to Anderson's late 1970s work like on Olias or Tormato. However, his vocals are still fragile. It's easy to recognise this as a post-2008 performance. The lyrics are less noteworthy, typical of his recent work.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Big Poll: What was the best studio album of the last 12 months featuring multiple Yes men?

I wasn't certain whether to run this poll. This is a Yes fan site, so you would kinda expect a Yes album to easily defeat non-Yes albums. Why bother having the vote? But what exactly is and is not a Yes album remains contentious for some, with Fly from Here sporting only 60% (Howe/Squire/White) of what we call the classic line-up and The Living Tree, of course, featuring the other 40% (Anderson/Wakeman). So perhaps we should expect 60% of the vote for Fly from Here and 40% for The Living Tree?

But if I was going to have a poll of Fly from Here vs. The Living Tree, it seemed unfair to overlook other "spin-offs" involving multiple Yesmen, so, with a one year time frame, that adds CIRCA: (Kaye/Sherwood). And the final wildcard, released (most places) about the same time as Fly from Here and on the same label, is John Wetton's Raised in Captivity, which Wetton made in close collaboration with Sherwood and which features guest appearnaces from Kaye again and from Geoff Downes.

So, four albums, one labelled Yes, but three infused with the Yes spirit, and all four featuring multiple Yesmen: that seems like a fair poll on a Yes fan site. There seems no a priori reason why the album that says Yes on the cover would necessarily win against this competition.

The poll was clearly popular with a total of 170 187 votes. [Edit: The poll stayed up longer than intended, so I give the final results below.] And the result?

Yes: Fly from Here -- 163 (87%)
Anderson & Wakeman: The Living Tree -- 18 (10%)
CIRCA: And So On -- 4 (2%)
John Wetton: Raised in Captivity -- 2 (1%)

That appears like a comprehensive victory for Fly from Here. Some do prefer The Living Tree, but they're in a quite small minority. CIRCA: and Raised in Captivity avoid the embarrassment of getting zero votes, but this result doesn't suggest they've made much impact on Yes fans.

The Living Tree
won the poll of best Yes-related album of the second half of 2010, and albums by Anderson and Wakeman have done well in those polls, so it's not that The Living Tree is unloved (or that Anderson/Wakeman fans have deserted the website), but Fly from Here does appear to have bested it.

With The Living Tree In Concert Part One due next month and the Anderson/Wakeman/Rabin project still on the horizon, we'll see how they do against other big Yes-related projects (like Levin Torn White, Squackett, Rabin's Jackaranda, Howe's Time and a new Mystery album) in future polls.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the first half of 2011

74 votes in total for our latest poll.

1. Jon Anderson: Survival & Other Stories - 46 (62%)
2. Asia: Live at the London Forum (w/ Howe, Downes) - 9 (12%)
3= Blackfield: Welcome to My DNA (w/ Horn) - 6 (8%)
3= Trevor Rabin: I am Number Four - 6 (8%)
5= Mars Hollow: World in Front of Me (w/ Sherwood) - 3 (4%)
5= any of various King Crimson archival releases (w/ Bruford) - 3 (4%)
7. Jonathan Elias: Prayer Cycle 2: Path to Zero (w/ Anderson) - 1 (1%)
8= David Mark Pearce: StrangeAng3ls (w/ O. Wakeman) - 0
8= dB-Infusion: Muso & Proud (w/ Banks) - 0
8= Ant-Bee: Electronic Church Muzik (w/ Banks) - 0

I nearly didn't include Survival & Other Stories in this poll as it first had a limited release last year (and, indeed, came second in the poll for the second half of 2010). This general release through Gonzo was trailed as having additional tracks and being remixed, but in the end, seems to have been identical to the prior version. Still, with nearly 2/3 of the total vote, it comprehensively trounced the alternatives.

A distant second place was another of Asia's beat-the-boot-like live releases. I was at the show in question, notable because the shows before and after had to be cancelled because Howe had a back problem, not that you can tell from the great performance.

I'd like to say that some of the lower scoring albums here are very good and well worth getting. I discussed Muso & Proud and Electronic Church Muzik in a recent blog post. Prayer Cycle 2: Path to Zero is another strong release from Jonathan Elias, which I think successfully charts a midway between the more accessible and political American River and the more ethereal first The Prayer Cycle album. The album I voted for, however, was Mars Hollow's The World in Front of Me, produced by Billy Sherwood, a great new prog album that recalls the likes of Yes and ELP, but very much has its own style too.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Current Yesmen all busy

It's now clear that Yes have discussed, at least in general terms, recording a follow-up album to Fly from Here, but it is also clear that any new album is unlikely before 2013. However, that doesn't mean they are resting on their laurels. Quite the contrary, all of the current band have significant projects in the pipeline.

We know the Chris Squire/Steve Hackett, or 'Squackett', album is in the can, although we await release details. Meanwhile, Squire guests on Hackett's next solo album, Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, due at the end of September. Squire is on three tracks of the regular CD, including a 12 minute piece, and two more tracks on a limited edition bonus CD.

Steve Howe has been trailing a major solo project for later this year, although he's been tight-lipped on details. One report has him signed to Warner Classics. With a major label involved, expect some significant promo in due course.

Most imminently, due next week (as I type), is the Levin - Torn - White instrumental album. Samples released so far are intriguing as to what this power trio can deliver.

Benoît David, meanwhile, is finishing up [beginning] recording on the next Mystery release. A release in early 2012 now looks most likely. Lead composer, Michel St-Père, has trailed a possible 19 minute epic on the album.

Geoff Downes does not appear to have a new release quite as soon as bandmates, but there are plans for the 30th anniversary of Asia's debut album next year, and he's also involved with Trevor Horn's The Producers project (possibly now re-titled Us).

So, that could be 7 major releases over the next 12 months, enough to keep us busy until Yes return to the studio.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

2 new guest appearances by Peter Banks

We don't hear enough from Peter Banks. It's been a while since we've had a significant project from him. Plans for a tour with Ambrosia were, unfortunately, put on indefinite hold as Banks has some health problems. However, this year has seen two releases with guest appearances by Banks, so good vibes to Pete and let me tell you about Muso & Proud and Electronic Church Muzik.

The more recent was the dB-Infusion album, Muso & Proud. Banks provides a tasteful solo on one track, "Midnight Blues", although I think the track as a whole is surpassed by several others on this great fusion album. The band is headed by Daniel Berdichevsky and also features keyboardist Gonzalo Carrera, formerly of Karnataka. Also guesting on the album is Soft Machine's John Etheridge, of whom Banks himself is a huge fan. I saw both Banks and Etheridge guesting live with the band a few years ago, and Pete was full of praise for Etheridge's work. Further guests include Hugh McDowell, formerly of ELO and who's been working with Asia and iCon, and Steve Hackett's brother John on flute. (John appears on Steve's Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, due later this month and with Chris Squire guesting.) Muso & Proud can be ordered online here and can also heard there on streaming audio.

You may have seen a lot of Jon Anderson interviews recently. Well, that's because he's got a new promoter, Billy James, who's been doing a great job organising them. Billy's also now doing promo for CIRCA: and Jeff Berlin. You may remember the name in connection with Peter Banks because Billy co-wrote Pete's autobiography "Beyond & Before". Well, Billy also performs himself under the name Ant-Bee and, earlier in the year, released Electronic Church Muzik, with Banks appearing on two pieces. Billy kindly sent me a copy of the album and I can recommend it.

There are plenty of further guests on the album, including Daevid Allen and Jan Akkerman (formerly of Focus and appeared on The Two Sides of Peter Banks back in 1973), but most notable are the multiple former members of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, namely Napoleon Murphy Brock, Don Preston, Bunk & Buzz Gardner, James 'Motorhead' Sherwood and the late Jimmy Carl Black. Zappa is a good starting point for describing this album: Ant-Bee has a similar mix of avant-garde music and humour, but what makes him distinct is a collage approach with multiple short tracks glueing together the album and connecting together longer pieces (Banks used a not dissimilar approach on his Can I Play You Something? release). The many guests are often given free reign on these longer tracks, as is the case with "Endless Journey", a spacey piece of around 6 minutes by Banks recalling his 1990s solo work to an extent. His other appearance is "The Guff", a short piece also with Gong's Gilli Smyth.

Not connected, but another album I'd like to mention while I'm here is The Winter Tree, the debut album from this new band that emerged out of Magus. Andrew Laitres of the band sent me a copy of the album and it's a nice affair, comparable to Camel in style, perhaps.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Forthcoming projects with multiple Yesmen

It's now a month or two since the release of Fly from Here and the band are on a break from the supporting tour. The other project that's had everyone excited, the Anderson/Wakeman/Rabin collaboration, is still some way off. But don't imagine that we're in some kind of lull when it comes to Yes-related news as there's a whole bunch of projects featuring multiple people connected to the band.

Due in a few weeks is Levin - Torn - White, an instrumental power trio consisting of Alan White, Tony Levin and David Torn. Torn and Levin previously worked together with Bill Bruford, but this new combo has taken many people by surprise. A preview teaser video is on YouTube and worth checking out. More here.

And in October the Anderson Wakeman tour comes to North America with 14 dates in the north-east US and Quebec. I was pretty disappointed when they played the UK last year, so I hope this tour goes better. A live album from the UK tour is also expected soon, although we await a specific release date.

Billy Sherwood remains as busy ever. The latest CIRCA: album with Tony Kaye, And So On, is now available through the band's website. Sherwood is also involved with Sonic Elements, a progressive rock project connected to the music software company Sonic Reality. The project, led by Dave Kerzner, involves both covers and original material. There is a preview of a piece called "Trifecta" here, which features Sherwood (bass, guitars) and Kerzner (keys) playing to a drum track from one of Sonic Reality's libraries. But the drum track is Rush's Neil Peart playing "Tom Sawyer", so "Trifecta" is a new piece of music built around a familiar drum track. Kerzner has said the project will also include some Yes covers involving Sherwood and "several other ex-members of Yes", but who has not yet been announced.

Last, but not least, due at some point this year is William Shatner's Searching for Major Tom, featuring both Steve Howe and Patrick Moraz, albeit on different tracks. Details here.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Raised in Captivity, by John Wetton

Raised in Captivity is the new solo album from John Wetton, made in close cooperation with Billy Sherwood. Wetton and Sherwood co-wrote and performed most of the album between them, but there's also a gaggle of guest stars. (These include Tony Kaye, which puts Wetton's tally of Yesmen he's worked with up to 11: Banks, Bruford, Kaye, Howe, Wakeman, White, Downes, Horn, Rabin, Sherwood and Khoroshev.) In recent years, Wetton has been reinvigorated after past health problems and he came to this album after the successful Asia and UK reunions. Sherwood is a self-professed fan of Wetton's work, particularly UK, and has also been busy on multiple projects these last few years, including CIRCA: and several solo albums. It looked like the right ingredients for a strong album.

Despite Wetton's recent reunion with UK and the appearance of guests like Robert Fripp, Wetton has not returned to the more progressive stylings of King Crimson and UK. Stylistically, Raised in Captivity is in keeping with Asia or Battle Lines, but with Sherwoodisms thrown into the mix. I expected that and was looking forward to this album. I was bitterly disappointed. Too much of this album is uninteresting, generic and forgettable. Take the opener, "Lost for Words", it perhaps shows the best combination of Sherwood's and Wetton's styles. With its catchy melody and fun wordplay, is a nice starter to this album, but 3 minutes into its 5 minute duration, I grow bored of it. There's just not enough meat. The same is true elsewhere. Like "Goodbye Elsinore", a nice enough song, but it outstays its welcome past Steve Hackett's solo. And these are not long pieces, so something's not right if I'm getting bored halfway through them! The diminutive "Steffi's Ring" is the only piece that doesn't outstay its welcome.

At least "Lost for Words" and "Goodbye Elsinore" begin OK. There are other pieces here that are just deathly dull. I struggle to imagine that anyone in 6 months time, even Wetton or Sherwood, will be able to remember such throwaways as "New Star Rising" or "Don't Misunderstand Me". At least the latter has a cute middle eight, but the former is just so bland. Other songs feel like repeats: "The Last Night of My Life" is a bad "An Extraordinary Life" (from Asia's Phoenix), "The Human Condition" is a poor "Information Overload" (on CIRCA: 2007).

John Wetton has long been known for his vocals and as time marches on and many of his peers have had problems with their voices (e.g. Jon Anderson, Ian Anderson), Wetton's voice has stood out even more. So it's somewhat disappointing that I don't feel he's been produced very well on this album, precisely where his vocals should be front and centre. Particularly on a piece like "Mighty Rivers", a duet with Anneke van Giersbergen that should be all about the vocals, Wetton's vocals don't sound as good as they do on the likes of Omega.

I guess most reading this blog are familiar with Sherwood's work in Yes/CIRCA:/World Trade/Conspiracy/Yoso/solo etc. His contributions here are distinctive, but at some point he crosses the line between distinctive and cliché. In particular, Sherwood's drumming style tires rapidly. He has recognisable fills, but he uses them everywhere. The comparisons with Asia are most obvious and while Sherwood is a talented musician in many ways, he's not as good a drummer as Carl Palmer, or as good an electric guitarist as Steve Howe. You can't help thinking that had the album been recorded by a band, say the recent UK line-up with Jobson/Machacek/Minnemann, then it would have been much stronger.

I've mentioned some of the guests already. Their contributions are variable. Steve Morse's solo on "Lost for Words" is disappointing. Hackett's in "Goodbye Elsinore" better. Jobson's violin on "The Devil and the Opera House" is one of the highlights of the whole album and makes you weep that he's largely turned his back on studio work. Palmer-James' words on the same piece add a nice variety in lyrical style. Yet, broadly, many of the guest appearances feel tacked on, most notable of all being the Fripp Soundscape used to bookend the title track. It's nice, but it has nothing to do with the piece it frames.

Sherwood has said, "John is incredibly prolific and fast... I can relate to that and so we created the template of the entire record within the 1st 10 days of working together. [...] We spent 30 ish days together working every single day with the exception of the day I had to go to the L.A. NAMM show. Everyday we worked we moved forward..." In his Classic Rock Presents... Prog interview about the album, Wetton likewise makes the contrast with the long and expensive process of making Battle Lines. I'm glad they worked well together and the speedy production must have helped keep the budget manageable, but the problem is the end result sounds like it was put together that quickly. If this was a set of demos, I could perhaps approach them with some optimism. "Take those ideas. Drop those ones, they're not working. Now record it with a proper band." As a finished album, there are bits and pieces I like, with "Lost for Words", "The Devil...", "Steffi's Ring" and "Goodbye Elsinore" the strongest, but not one song works for me all the way through. Little of it is actively off-putting (except perhaps "We Stay Together"), but so much of it is is superficial and unmemorable.

I re-listened to Battle Lines and Caught in the Crossfire for a comparison. 24 hours after Caught in the Crossfire, I was still humming "Turn on the radio..." I can't get 24 minutes into Raised in Captivity before wanting to listen to something else.

If there is a note of ire in my review it's not because I think poorly of Wetton and Sherwood. Quite the opposite: they've both done better, which is why Raised in Captivity is so disappointing. If you want some good work from Sherwood, I recommend his last solo album, Oneirology. For Wetton, there's a wealth of options: Asia's Omega is a good album, while fans of his 1970s work should get Ultimate Zero Live. And for an archival release, anyone who likes Red or UK should consider the recent DGM download of 1977 rehearsal sessions by Fripp, Wetton and Mahavishnu Orchestra's Michael Walden: see here.

In the interests of giving a right to reply, I point you to a thread on I mentioned my dislike of the album there and Sherwood offered a rebuttal here (scroll up for my prior comments). [3 Sep EDIT: Link now fixed.]

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Poll: Best track on Fly from Here

And our latest poll results, for your favourite track on Fly from Here, are as follows. There were 124 votes:

"Into the Storm" 30   24%
"Fly From Here Pt II - Sad Night at the Airfield"   25   20%
"Fly From Here Pt I - We Can Fly" 16   13%
"The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be" 14   11%
"Hour of Need" 11   9%
"Life on a Film Set" 10   8%
"Fly From Here Pt III - Madman at the Screens" 8   6%
"Fly From Here - Overture" 3   2%
"Fly From Here Pt IV - Bumpy Ride" 3   2%
"Fly From Here Pt V - We Can Fly Reprise" 3   2%
"Solitaire" 1   1%

So, perhaps no surprise that "Into the Storm", picked out as a highlight in so many reviews, has come out top with about a quarter of the total vote, although cumulatively the "Fly from Here" suite amassed about half the total vote (61 votes; 49%).

The one piece so far played live, the single "We Can Fly", comes in third with 13% of the vote, beaten by Part II. Surprisingly, "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be" came fourth, despite having attracted some criticism in reviews.

I can't remember now whether I voted myself for "Hour of Need" or "Fly from Here - Overture"!

Friday, 24 June 2011

What should Yes play live in July?

Results to a quickie poll on the main site, I asked what should be the focus for the forthcoming Yes tour, and your answers (82 votes in total) were:

Play songs from the new album, Fly from Here: 46.3 votes
Play more from Drama: 12.3
Play neglected pieces from the late 1990s/2000s: 8.5
Play neglected pieces from the 1970s: 6.8
Play neglected pieces from the YesWest era: 4
Play neglected pieces from the Banks era: 1
Play the 'greatest hits': 1
More solo spots for each band member: 1

So, that's pretty conclusive. Some reports have suggested a focus on Fly from Here and Drama, which will please fans. However, in a recent Billboard interview, Squire described the tour with Styx as, "more of a summer shed, rock 'n' roll-y tour and we'll have to obviously play Yes songs people are familiar with and squeeze it all into 90 minutes." He did add, "Later on [referring to the European leg] we'll hopefully go into a format where we have a longer playing time, so we'll be presenting more of the new album."

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Fly from Here released (in Japan at least)

Fly from Here, the new Yes album, is now out, at least in Japan. European release is due 1 July and US/Canada follows 12 July. (German site reportedly already have the album available digitally, but in Germany only.)

The Japanese release has a bonus track of a longer version of "Hour of Need". At 6:46, it's more than twice as long as the regular 3:07 version. Fans outside Japan will have to decide for themselves whether it's worth paying the extra for an import copy for that additional three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of music! (I remember buying Keystudio solely to hear the otherwise unavailable "Lightning", Wakeman's intro to "Children of Light", and that's less than a minute long, so I'm in no position to pass judgement.) I've yet to hear the longer version myself.

Several retailers (e.g. CD Universe, HMV Japan) are reporting that the Japanese release has a second bonus track, described as "a rare track, which was going to be included in the album "DRAMA."" This is not the case. They are mistaken; possibly it's a garbled reference to the title track. There's just the "full-length" version of "Hour of Need".

The first reviews of the album, aside from my own one (available here) that is, are beginning to appear and I expect we'll also see a range of interviews with the band members to accompany promotional efforts. Sales indicators seem reasonably good so far, with the album as high as #50 at (US), #98 at (Japan), #56 at and #26 at (Canada).

And, of course, the US tour begins in a few weeks and Downes' live return to the band. There's a poll on the website front page asking what you think the set list should focus on.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Did Anderson and Wakeman give permission for the new Yes line-up?

Wherever there is online discussion about the new Yes album, arguments about Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman’s absence are not far behind. The fateful decision in 2008 by Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White to continue Yes without them won’t go away. Every time the band or Anderson are interviewed, the same questions come up… and judging by comparisons with Genesis, the same questions will go on being asked for decades.

Much has been made of Anderson’s comment that only White contacted him immediately after his acute respiratory failure, yet it’s the communication a few months later, when Howe/Squire/White were putting together the new line-up, that are more significant. Squire has always insisted that they had Anderson’s blessing, but this seemed at odds with criticisms by both Anderson and Wakeman.

Two recent interviews show that Howe/Squire/White were in contact with both Anderson and Wakeman, and suggest both Anderson and Wakeman gave explicit permission for the new band.

Rick Wakeman was interviewed recently by Anil Prasad in his Innerviews series. It’s another great interview from Anil, reaching parts other interviewers do not. In it, Wakeman discussed how he was approached by Howe/Squire/White in 2008:
“Chris Squire called me up and I said “I will not play in the band if Jon isn’t singing.” Then Chris said to me “Who would you recommend to do it?” [Rick describes recommending Oliver] I’m not being critical. What anybody wants to do, they can do. But when I’m asked, I will explain my feelings.”

Here’s Anderson talking to Planet Rock, explaining his criticism at the time of the 2008 tour:

"The problem was [that] they weren't telling anyone that I was not in the band and they weren't advertising Yes as Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White, which is what we agreed upon if they wanted to go out there. I actually gave them my blessing and said 'If you want to go out there, you've got to make a living. I'm just not ready at this time to do that kind of touring.'
"Then they found a singer that sounds like me […] I thought, well, that's what they wanna do. It's not what I call in my heart what Yes is all about but that's what they wanted to do so I had to say something. "

So, Howe/Squire/White were in contact with both Anderson and Wakeman. Anderson describes an agreement, albeit with conditions. Wakeman hints at giving permission too, although at other times he’s had the same complaint as Anderson, that Yes haven’t been clear enough about their line-up.  But, contrary to these complaints, all the touring in 2008 was explicitly billed as “Steve Howe, Chris Squire & Alan White of Yes”. The switch to just “Yes” came in 2009.

It appears that Anderson and Wakeman, while they may not like the course taken by Howe/Squire/White, were both asked and both gave their permission.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Riding a Tiger – A Review of Fly from Here

I have been fortunate to hear a friend’s review copy of Yes’s new album, Fly from Here. Do you want the short version of this review? Purr purr purr.

Armies of angels are starting to fall”

What to expect? It’s been ten years since the last studio album from Yes, Magnification. Ten years before that was Union, ten years before Union was Drama, ten years before Drama was Time and a Word. If Yes changed so much over those previous intervals, what can we expect now with Fly from Here?

Fly from Here is also only the second time that Yes has released an album without Jon Anderson, arguably the central songwriter in the band’s history as well as a most distinctive vocalist. The decision to continue without Anderson in 2008 was hugely controversial and online spaces still rage with the debate.

On tour with Asia in May, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes said Fly from Here was like a cross between Close to the Edge and 90125. Close to the Edge, perhaps Yes’s greatest album, possibly even the greatest progressive rock album of all. 90125, the band’s most commercially successful release and a whole new sound. A cross between them? Talk about shooting high. Well, I don’t think Fly from Here is remotely like a cross between Close to the Edge and 90125.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. In an interview in the first quarter of this year, Howe said, “I don’t think [the album]’s very predictable. I think people are going to go, “Ouch! Ooh!,” in surprise.” Steve Howe is right.


In a good way.

As stupid now as were at first”

It will sound like Drama, that’s what a lot of people have said, and the band encouraged those comparisons. It doesn’t, mostly. There are points of comparison. “Into the Storm” has something of the same quality. Parts of the title track too. But I think Fly from Here is closer to the album the band would have made after Drama had they stayed together. We’ve got “We Can Fly from Here”, which we know was intended for that project. We’ve got a second Buggles demo: “Life on a Film Set” is “Riding a Tide”, a c. 1981 demo, one of the bonus tracks on the 2010 re-release of The Buggles' Adventures in Modern Recording. But “Fly from Here” and “Life on a Film Set” don’t sound like Drama; they sound like a development from Drama.

With Jon Anderson gone and Trevor Horn brought in, some critics have prejudicially disparaged Fly from Here as a Trevor Horn album with Yes as a backing band. There are moments that perhaps point in that direction. A Horn/Downes vision of Yes predominates on a song like “Life on a Film Set”. This works fine for me. When Adventures in Modern Recording was re-released and everybody focused on the two-part demo of “We Can Fly from Here”, I remember raving about “Riding a Tide” and saying it sounded very Yessy, so it’s no surprise I like it here too.

“Fly from Here” has become a 23-minute epic, but the way it’s constructed isn’t like “Gates of Delirium” or “The Revealing Science of God”. There’s an explicit “Overture”, not something Yes has done before. It reminds me, to make an odd comparison, of the Trevor Horn-produced album Tenement Symphony by Marc Almond. To go through the epic in detail, after the overture is “Part I We Can Fly”: this is pretty much the song as we know it. “Part II Sad Night at the Airfield” is based on the demo “Part 2” on Adventures in Modern Recording, although it has been developed and extended. “Part III Madman at the Screens” is a variation on the secondary theme introduced in the latter half of “Part II”. “Part IV Bumpy Ride” introduces a new theme, but also re-visits an additional theme introduced latterly in “Part III”. Then “Part V We Can Fly Reprise” is, as the title says, a reprise of the “We Can Fly” main theme as the big finale. The Overture and Parts I and II could stand as separate pieces: indeed, they could have been on the album separated by other tracks, as Horn did with the two parts of the “We Can Fly from Here” demo on Adventures in Modern Recording. Parts III, IV and V then run together more and are less free-standing.

From some other part of me”

But there’s another side to this album (terminology that seems appropriate for the first Yes album to be released on LP in some while). This is not the third Buggles album. On songs like “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be”, “Hour of Need” and “Into the Storm”, and even within the title epic (e.g., “Part IV Bumpy Ride”), there’s a sound, a quality, that is all about Chris Squire, Steve Howe and, indeed, Benoît David.

But not always quite how you expect.

By the way, to respond to some online speculation based on the song titles. No, “Hour of Need” has nothing to do with the piece of the same name on Steve Howe's Spectrum, as far as I can tell. But, yes, “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be” is something of a ballad.

Somewhere a fire is breaking out”

Chris Hosford, a.k.a. Frumious B, a well-known online fan, suggested Fly from Here would be all instrumental fireworks, like on Drama, but without the core songwriting ability Anderson brought. It’s not. It’s almost the opposite of that. There are some great songs here, and the band have often held back on the fireworks.

Given Howe has complained about how his guitar parts were withheld or removed from albums like Magnification, Union and ABWH, I too thought Fly from Here would be like Drama or The Yes Album, drenched in Howe’s guitar playing. But it’s not. He’s there, he’s distinctive, he has solos, but the music is left alone when needed, by all the instrumentalists. There’s space and sparseness when needed. Howe uses a lot of acoustic and steel guitar; he almost does bluegrass on “Hour of Need”. There’s less cheesegrater.

Remember what has been achieved”

The Yes cheesegrater is an analogy the band invented. Consider Drama as an example: it’s the idea of how these basic songs from The Buggles and Squire went through the cheesegrater and became Yessified. A process that’s also happened to many Jon Anderson songs on other albums. But Fly from Here does something more subtle. “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be”, “Life on a Film Set” and “Hour of Need” haven’t been through a grater. They represent a multiplicity of different visions for Yes, yet with a continuity of sound as well. This continuity isn't as crude as a cheesegrater. They have been infused in a water bath like a Heston Blumenthal pudding. They, I suggest, represent where Chris Squire and Steve Howe are as composers today and where the whole band are as performers.

While one song has been turned into an epic, you’ve then got “Hour of Need” that, contrary to its name, is the shortest piece on the album at 3:07 (although a longer version is included as a bonus track on the Japanese release). “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be” and “Life on a Film Set” are 5 minutes apiece. “Hour of Need” feels like a much longer piece: it’s got the ingredients, I've not heard the extended version, but it’s easy to imagine earlier incarnations of Yes stretching “Hour of Need” and these other songs to 7, 8, 12-minute pieces with filigrees and reprises, but on Fly from Here, they are compact jewels. Although I’d be happy for them to have gone on longer myself!

I’m guessing “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be” is going to be similar to Squackett. The song dates back to 2006/7 and writing sessions for a Chris Squire solo album. The album as such has been abandoned, with much of the material migrating to the Squackett project. That explains the contribution of Gerard Johnson, who was involved with these sessions, having previously been in The Syn with Squire, and before that a collaborator of Peter Banks'. Simon Sessler contributed to the lyrics.

That’s when I start to be the man you’ve always seen in me”

There are more familiar Yesisms here too. There’s a jaunty angularity in “Into the Storm” and “Bumpy Ride” that remind me of Tormato. The use of contrasting vocal sections, again notable on “Into the Storm”, is very Yes, as Squire takes a prominent second vocalist role.

There are also comparisons possible with Asia with similarities to some of Howe’s compositions for the band like “Wish I’d Known All Along” or “Through My Veins”, although Howe opts for more Yessy lyrics on “Hour of Need” compared to the relationship angst of his Asia songs. Howe and Downes’ instrumental interplay here reminds me of recent Asia (e.g. “Wish I’d Known All Along” again). Downes came in last to this project, replacing Oliver Wakeman half way through the album sessions, but his stamp is on this album and there are so many places were you can’t imagine Oliver Wakeman’s style working. Albeit largely through recycled Buggles material, Downes is more prominent in the writing credits than Yes's keyboardists usually are. And this is some of Downes’ best work. So often just what the music needs, not more or less. Occasionally, there's a bit of a 1970s style, a bit Jeff Wayne or ELO, that style of keyboard playing.

Bits of Wakeman's work have been used in the final mix, but what is unclear. There's a short keyboard solo on “Hour of Need” which might be him. In fact, “Hour of Need” is probably the piece where it's easiest to imagine a Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman version.

There’s no-one sleeping, no-one awake”

I’ve not discussed the lyrics yet. Some feared the band would try to ape Anderson’s lyrical style. They haven’t. The lyrics and indeed vocal melodies are very different to what Anderson would do. They are, in some ways, quite un-Yes-like, more so than even Drama’s, yet they still encapsulate some familiar themes of positivity and striving for betterment, pleas for a better world through personal action. I think Howe's lyrical influence one can hear in songs like “Birthright”, “Spirit of Survival” or chunks of Tales from Topographic Oceans comes through on “Hour of Need”. There’s a romantic and humanist element from Squire on “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be”. That humanist strand to Yes’s lyrics, which Stuart Chambers discussed at some length in his book “Yes: An Endless Dream”, comes through in “Into the Storm” as well. There’s also a narrative style that I presume comes from Horn in “Fly from Here”. There’s another influence though, references to angels and heaven, not in a religious way, but a mythopoeic one. And there’s some clever wordplay, some arresting lines, although there are also points where the lyrics are weaker, like the rhyming in “Hour of Need”.

In the dark / While the obvious isn't clear”

A special note about “Life on a Film Set”, as I’ve used its line “Riding a tiger” to title this review. If Panthers are fans of Drama, I say we continue the big cat metaphor and fans of Fly from Here have to be tigers. But I’m also wondering about the abortive Greg Lake/Geoff Downes collaboration in 1988 called Ride the Tiger: did Downes name it after this song?

Something not so superficial / Like something I can really do without”

Some also feared that David’s vocals would ape Anderson’s. David’s role in Yes before now has been to fill Anderson’s shoes and how he sings Anderson’s Yes songs is not how he sings in Mystery. Again, fear not. David is not imitating Anderson here at all. In places, he’s singing parts Horn first did and that influence comes through with the staccato fashion Horn sometimes has (see “Life on a Film Set”), but David sings these parts better than Horn. Mostly this is David singing as himself, as he does in Mystery. In fact, better than he does in Mystery, this is great work from David.

There’s also lots of harmony, and a fair amount of lead, vocals from Squire. This is used in contrasting sections effectively on pieces like “Into the Storm”. There was uncertainty about whether Horn might have any vocal role: he doesn’t take any leads, but I think I can hear him in the backing vocals, at least on “Fly from Here”.

There’s lots I haven’t mentioned. What about Alan White? This is not an album full of in-your-face drumming. There isn’t anything like the intro to “Changes”. But there’s plenty of nice drumming throughout and rhythmic ideas. “Solitaire”, Howe’s acoustic solo. It’s a nice acoustic solo, what you’d expect from Howe, fits on the album. The production... The production is, of course, impeccable. Everything is clear, multiple layers of music. What one would expect from Horn. I could say more about “The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be”, how it’s almost almost Fleetwood Mac-ish.

I want to be the one who’s always there beside you / But we both must face the dawn / Alone”

In detail, it’s not what I expected, it’s not hugely like this or that prior Yes album. Broadly, it’s uplifting, it’s positive, it’s memorable, it’s what Yes music should be. It’s got those dramatic, instrumental moments: “Fly from Here Part V: We Can Fly Reprise” and a moment in “Part III Madman at the Screens” kill me. And the same for some vocal sections, like the “Armies of angels...” section in “Into the Storm”.

It’s an album worth immersing oneself in. Much of it on first and second listen was odd, confusing and even off-putting. It took me a few listens, but all the pieces grab me now. I’ve been going around humming them. I love it.

Lonely eyes watch as the moon shines down”

There is no Jon Anderson on this album. Even Drama has echoes from Anderson’s influence. There is nothing here that has anything to do with him. OK, there’s a vocal line in “Hour of Need” which maybe is a bit Anderson-ish, but that’s it. Yes music has been made of so many components and obviously nearly all Yes fans are going to be fans of what Jon brought to the table, so some are, I’m sure, going to find out how much they miss him with Fly from Here. But this is a new Yes. This is, despite the use of two 30-year old songs, an album about Yes in 2011. I don’t think you can love this album without accepting that.

To finish, let’s put this is some context. In my opinion, and I’m sure you’re all going to have your own opinions soon enough, but for me... OK, it’s not as good as the average Yes album in the 1971-1981 period, but then little is. But this is better than the average Yes album in the 1991-2001 period. (Of course, that’s a period with a couple of albums that really drag the average down!) I think it’s a better album than Anderson/Wakeman’s The Living Tree, Jon Anderson’s Survival and Other Stories, Asia’s Omega, CIRCA: 2007, Mystery’s One Among the Living, The Syn’s Big Sky, White’s White and John Wetton’s Raised in Captivity, and most of those are good albums. If this was a brand new band, with no history, I’d be looking forward to their next album.

So, now they’ve got back into the album habit, let’s hope their next album is soon and not another 10 year wait!

Full release details, album credits and links to samples are on the news page, as you’d expect.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fly from Captivity

Fevered excitement is the order of the day online with Yes's new album Fly from Here so close, and new details emerging very day. I've just put track times up on the news site and below. There's a great high resolution image of Dean's album cover here where you can really see the detail, like the two panthers in the trees. Speaking of panthers, I'm hearing the first few comments from people who have heard the album: it's like Drama, and it's not like Drama...

But let's not overlook some other Yes-related projects coming out shortly. After a great debut album, Mars Hollow are shortly to release their second album, produced by Billy Sherwood — more on that in due course. And then there's John Wetton's Raised in Captivity, produced/mixed/co-written/co-performed by Sherwood and out at the same time as Fly from Here. Frontiers have released three snippets of the album (see on the news site under Sherwood) and that distinctive Sherwood sound can be heard, suggesting this is perhaps as much a "John Wetton & Billy Sherwood" album as a John Wetton solo album.

Fly from Here
side A:
1. Fly From Here - Overture (1:54)
2. Fly From Here Pt I - We Can Fly (6:01)
3. Fly From Here Pt II - Sad Night at the Airfield (6:42)
4. Fly From Here Pt III - Madman at the Screens (5:17)
5. Fly From Here Pt IV - Bumpy Ride (2:15)
6. Fly From Here Pt V - We Can Fly Reprise (1:48)

side B:
7. The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be (5:13)
8. Life on a Film Set (5:12)
9. Hour of Need (3:08)
10. Solitaire (3:30) [Howe solo]
11. Into the Storm (6:54)

Monday, 16 May 2011

Yes vs. AWR - timelines

When people talk about the possible Anderson Wakeman Rabin album and the competition this alt-Yes offers to Fly from Here, they tend to stress how we can enjoy both and this is not a contest. And they're right. But, you know, it's much more fun to look at it as a contest! I thought it would be interesting to look at timelines.

The new Yes as we know it was announced in September 2008 (although the idea of Yes moving on without Anderson was mooted as early as June 2008 in the initial panicked reaction to Anderson's ill health). That same month, the idea of doing an album at some point is mentioned in interviews. We'll take September 2008 as the starting date.

The idea of Anderson Wakeman Rabin, or Anderson Bruford Wakeman Rabin as the initial plan was, dates back to February 2010. Wakeman, without naming names, first described the project and plans for an album that month.

But it's one thing to moot doing an album at some point. That's not the same as really starting work. Of course, musicians are of always writing and often use older ideas, so this is difficult to assess. Still, let's try to identify when we first see serious and collaborative work towards an album. For Yes, that would seem to be September 2009 when Squire, Howe and O. Wakeman gathered to exchange ideas specifically for a new album. With AWR, it would appear to be January 2011, when Anderson first says that he and Wakeman have written material for the project (whereas his 2010 interviews talk of writing in the future). So, this first step took 12 months for Yes and 11 months for AWR.

For Yes, recording sessions began in October 2010, another 13 months on. Recording finished in February 2011 (3 months more) and the album was mastered in May 2011 for a June 2011 release. Presuming that happens to plan, that's 3 months from recording finished, 6 months from recording beginning, 19 months from joint writing beginning, 31 months from the project beginning.

AWR started later. To stay one month ahead of Yes, they need to start recording by February 2012 and aim for a September 2012 release. OK then, clock ticking...

Friday, 13 May 2011


Comicoperando is a tribute to Robert Wyatt led by musicians who have worked with him over the years. The project began early last year and has featured the likes of Richard Sinclair and Gilad Atzmon, but there is a short tour this year with a sextet of Dagmar Krause (lead vocals), Annie Whitehead (trombone, backing vocals), Karen Mantler (Hammond B3, lead vocals, harmonica), Michel Delville (guitar, vocals), John Edwards (double bass, vocals) and Chris Cutler (drums). Given such talent brought together, it was disappointing that the Queen Elizabeth Hall was only about half full, around 450 people, at their London show last night (12 May 2011).

The band seemed unconfident, apologetic and occasionally under-rehearsed (Krause notably missed a couple of cues). However, by and large, their performance was rich, tight and strong, and their apologies unnecessary.

The real fireworks for me came from the rhythm section, Cutler’s fluid drumming and Edwards’ complex bass playing. Whitehead’s trombone was the dominant lead instrument, working well with Krause’s and Mantler’s vocals, although I felt Delville’s duet vocals on “Just as You Are” were weak.

Dagmar Krause, of course, has a very distinctive voice, and Robert Wyatt, of course, has a very distinctive voice, so it was a surprise how well Krause’s vocals suited Wyatt’s songs. Krause was powerful and strident on “Out of the Blue” and “Gloria Gloom”, but emotional and intimate on “Alifib”. Mantler’s light, delicate vocal style offered a nice contrast on pieces like “Life is Sheep” and “The United States of Amnesia”. However, sometimes the vocals did not cut through the music well enough for the lyrics to be distinguished, a shame when dealing with Wyatt’s work.

The set spanned Wyatt’s career. Highlights for me were the playing on “The British Road”, the power of “Out of the Blue” and, of course, getting to hear old favourites like “Sea Song”. The show was a tad short, but I resisted the temptation to call out for “The Song of Investment Capital Overseas” as an extra encore!

Set (not in this order):
September the Ninth (written by Robert Wyatt / Alfreda Benge) - vocals Krause
Alliance (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Mantler
Beware (Karen Mantler) - vocals Mantler & Krause
Gloria Gloom (Bill MacCormick / Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
The British Road (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Mantler
Maryan (Robert Wyatt / Philip Catherine) - vocals Mantler & Krause
Just as You Are (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause & Delville
Life is Sheep (Karen Mantler) - vocals Mantler
Alifib (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
Sea Song (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
Little Red Riding Hood (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause & Mantler
Out of the Blue (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
The United States of Amnesia (Robert Wyatt) - vocals Mantler
Memories (Hugh Hopper / Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause
encore: Soup Song (Brian Hopper / Robert Wyatt) - vocals Krause & Mantler