Wednesday, 27 July 2016

We care about names, so we will always argue about names

Dom Lawson's online article for Prog, “Is It Time For Yes To Call It Quits?”, asks whether Yes should stop calling themselves “Yes”. It has attracted some furore, but while it has a higher profile, the content is no different to dozens of online messages in recent years. I've been in the resultant online arguments. I've waged those battles for years, even decades. I'm not going to repeat myself here: I'm still interested in what the current Yes are doing, as I am in what Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman come up with.

The point I would like to make instead is that all such articles miss the central tension in what they are saying, which comes because we care about names. “Yes” is not just three letters. We are invested in the band name and what it means to us.

Changes in band line ups are more common than not. While a few bands are very stable in their personnel – Rush being the obvious exemplar – most bands undergo change. Some more often, some less often. Genesis, Gong, Soft Machine, Marillion, Camel, King Crimson, Caravan, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Renaissance, It Bites, Wishbone Ash, Asia... the list goes on, all with significant turnover. However, the problem really comes when a band gets older and becomes reliant on nostalgic set lists that much of the performing line up never played on in the first place. Yes changed 60% of the band from the recording sessions for Time and a Word to those for Yessongs, a mere 2 years later, but the band went on creating new classics. Today, the band perform old classics with only Steve Howe having a connection to some of the old material – at least while Alan White is recovering from back surgery! Yes are hardly alone in this. Only one person playing on the original applies to portions of the set lists played by King Crimson, Renaissance and Caravan too. Gong play material recorded decades before any of them joined the band.

As a result, we hear these arguments that the band should no longer call itself Yes (or Gong or Soft Machine or whatever). They should use something else. “Steve Howe and Friends”? A common rebuttal is simply to that is to say: 'Well, if you do not want to see this line up, then don't. If you're not interested, don't be. But why spoil the fun for those who are still interested?' The reason why this argument falls on deaf ears is because we place so much value in the band name. It is totemic. We care, therefore we cannot simply disengage. People care, so they cannot stand to see the band name (in their eyes) traduced. But – and this is the central irony that people keep missing – that is exactly why the name goes on being used. Because we care. Because the line up with that name sell many more tickets than the exact same line up playing the exact same music would under a different name.

We care, so the name has commercial value, and so it goes on being used. We care, so we complain about how the name is used. It's two sides of the same coin, inseparable. The reason we care about who uses the name ensures situations where the people using the name perhaps shouldn't. (Although I'm fine with the current Yes being "Yes".)

We say the band name should depend on the people, that 'it's not band X without A, B or C', but then we go on focusing on whoever has the band name rather than what A, B and/or C do under some other name. If as fans we stopped worrying about what name was used and really focused on line up and performance, then the band names would lose commercial value, and line ups wouldn't worry about performing under a different moniker.


  1. You explain both sides of the narrative beautifully. Put simply because fans are anchored in a name it has commercial value that generates a certain power which fans then argue over. I understand the draw of brand but it does not seduce me and therefore I focus on the movie or the music, rely on my instincts and react accordingly to new movies and music. What I saw in my time on discussion boards is not only people being drawn to arguments about authenticity but it extends into their reaction to the only thing that matters the outcome. I believe based on my listening skills that Jon Anderson has lost the bottom 25% of his voice which makes him sound shrill and wearing that would be true whether he was on vocal duty for Yes or ARW. I think Jon Davison is less comfortable with the Drama material and I noted that he was double tracked by Geoff in certain sections towards the end of the UK tour to avoid a certain lack of depth in his voice. I did not enjoy large sections of IOK and the middle section of H & E is weak and lacks the kind of statement a new line up should be making. You and I both know that kind of dispassionate observation is almost entirely absent I do not mind that but the loser are the fans themselves in the end their focus on the power of brand loyalty leaves them incapable of giving themselves permission to be honest with their reactions, indeed they are so lost in this matter they probably do not realise. Glad your around Henry and a thoughtful article.

    1. What is in a name indeed !

      but I believe it is more than a name or even membership its but also the music a couple of examples:

      1. The 90125 lineup had the name YES but it wasn't YES music as people knew it from the classic period, many people 'left' that YES because of the music and not the name or membership [which had 3 original members]

      2. ABWH likewise had the membership, music somewhat closer to the classic music than 90125 but like now with ARW [same mgmt] didn't have the name

    2. The 90125 project is a perfect example of why being anchored in a name and certain personalties is an artistically false premise. For me its one of three CD's since 1980 which I enjoy as a compete project but it has less to do with what I fell in love with than Bill's "Feels Good To Me" and Jon & Vangelis "Private Collection" which fulfil some of the promise of "Close To The Edge".

      You can pursue this hankering after line ups further and quickly realise its built on sand. The so called "Classic Lineup" made "Oceans" and "Tormato" both flawed, the triumvirate of Anderson Howe Squire, core Yes for many, made "Open Your Eyes".

      Whereas Both "Talk" and "Fly From Here" are very interesting CD's with something fresh to add to the legacy but are dismissed simply on the grounds of who is missing.

      We then come to ARW who have never recorded a single song together. To go out without there own special music, means Rick will spend an hour playing Trevor's music which is not built for his style of keyboard playing and Trevor will spend an hour playing lines that have been the cornerstone of Yes's live performances since 2008. None of it has an ounce of intellectual coherence. All of these movements are driven by a desire to return to some imagined golden era and relive a past which has gone rather than remaining open minded to the vast amount of music that can stimulate a continued growth and development of our own musical enquiry which helps keep some perspective on the fact that a happy and contented team are flying the Yes flag and providing a good deal of pleasure to those who care to keep an open mind.

  2. I read a comment on a certain forum some weeks back, that suggested, perhaps humourously, that Yes could let ARW use the name this year, while Howe, Downes & co. tour as Asia, since the current lineup has no original Yes members but has half the original Asia in it. Tongue in cheek though it certainly was, it caused me to think of "Yes" and "Asia" (as well as Foreigner, Grand Funk, etc) as show titles rather than bands, and the players as the casts rather than members.

    1. Half the original members of Asia + Schellen was in the band + Sherwood worked on their album Silent Nation!

  3. This was an interesting read Henry. I think that with so many previous Yes members still active the authenticity debate is likely to continue unbounded as multiple member options offer many line-up permutations. As has already been said I don't think this situation is unique to Yes, or a bad thing. Pete Frame's Rock Family Trees books contain many examples of bands metamorphosing over their lifetimes. That said many Yes fans seem to fall into one of two camps. Personally I love all Yes related music and have seen the band often on their UK/ European tours in the various line ups since 1975. I now have tickets for the upcoming ARW gig (though strangely I felt rather disloyal to the current Yes when I bought them). I shall also go to see Steve Howe on his solo autumn tour and have seen umpteen Wakeman permutations both solo and with others. So for me anything Yes goes. Maybe the best way forward is to follow the example of Barclay James Harvest, where two separate entities use the name depending whether it is John Lees version of the band or Les Holroyd's. One obvious (though unlikely)solution is to return to the Union concept and have a band consisting of past alumni. This would also allows for many a fantasy set list!