Saturday, 3 November 2018

REV: Trevor Horn Reimagines the Eighties Feat. The Sarm Orchestra, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 2 Nov 2018

Trevor Horn, a potted career summary: fronts The Buggles, fronts Yes, is so traumatised by the latter experience he sticks to producing from then on, produces everyone who is anyone... and that's where many people think the story ends. But in recent years, Horn the performer, the live performer, has re-emerged. The Producers begin small and build, release an album, morph into the Trevor Horn Band, play bigger shows, Horn does his first album under his own name (The Reflection Wave One—Original Soundtrack). And now in 2018, we've had Fly from Here—Return Trip, a tour with Dire Straits Legacy, and this new project...

Go back a bit... The Producers played covers, the group picking songs they like, like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, as well as from their own careers. They soon began writing their own material (released as Made in Basing Street), but perhaps that element of covering songs they liked never went away and now sees fruition of its own, because a new album Trevor Horn Reimagines the Eighties sees Horn interpret a set of songs, more of which he didn't work on than he did (nine to three). The album is released February 2019; the debut single “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, is out digitally; and we have this sold out show at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall (capacity 916).

The set was a mix of the standard Trevor Horn Band (and Producers before that) repertoire and new album material, heavy on the string arrangements, with a bit of the Dire Straits Legacy set at the end (I believe four of the band members were off for a Dire Straits Legacy date in Finland the next day).

The band:
Backline from stage right to left:
Alan Clark: Hammond, keys
Steve Ferrone: drums
Cameron Gower Poole: samples, percussion
8-piece string section (which I think was with Q Strings, Paloma Deike, Jess Cox, Amy Stanford, Laura Stanford, Miriam Wakeling)

Frontline from stage right to left:
Kate Holmes: vocals
Izzy Chase: vocals
Phil Palmer: lead guitar
Lol Crème: guitar, vocals, keys, bass
Trevor Horn: bass, vocals
Simon Bloor: lead guitar, keys
Julian Hinton: keys, conductor

Front of house sound: Tim Weidner
Organisation: Joel Peters

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” intro, string section only
“Two Tribes”, Ryan Molloy lead vocals
“Video Killed the Radio Star”with “Check It Out” insert, Horn lead vocals
“Dancing in the Dark”, Kate Holmes lead vocals
“Different for Girls”, Steve Hogarth lead vocals
“Ashes to Ashes”, Steve Hogarth lead vocals
“Rubber Bullets”, Lol Crème lead vocals, no strings
“All the Things She Said”, Izzy Chase/Holmes lead vocals, Crème second bass, no strings
“Slave to the Rhythm”, Chase/Matt Cardle lead vocals
“The Power of Love”, Cardle lead vocals
“Living in the Plastic Age”, Horn lead vocals
“What's Love Got to Do With It?”, Molloy lead vocals
“Take on Me”, Horn/Molloy/Cardle lead vocals
“Cry”, Molloy lead vocals, no strings
“Blue Monday”, Jimmie Wood lead vocals, harmonica
“Brothers in Arms”, Horn lead vocals, Mick MacNeil accordion
“Girls on Film”, Chase/Holmes lead vocals
“I'm Not in Love”, Cardle lead vocals, Crème keys
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, Molloy lead vocals
“Owner of a Lonely Heart”, Horn lead vocals, Crème bass, Cardle additional backing vocals
“Relax”, Molloy lead vocals
“Money for Nothing”, Molloy lead vocals, Wood harmonica

Perhaps under-rehearsed in places, as Horn acknowledged at one point, it was an eclectic set, with a range of singers, some more dominant in their temporary role as front man – like Hogarth gesticulating through “Ashes to Ashes” or Molloy bouncing all over the stage – while others, like Chase and Holmes, were more restrained. Those different styles, of the original songs and of the performers, meant there were different highs and lows for different people in the audience. Chatting afterwards, opinions varied on Molloy, songs were recognised or not.

For me, highlights were a heartfelt “The Power of Love”, Hogarth channelling Bowie for “Ashes to Ashes”, a weird “Blue Monday”, and a rousing “Relax”. On the other hand, “Brothers in Arms” were the strings-based, ballad arrangement failed for me, and “Take on Me” was a nice idea, but hard to pull off (and with some technical problems with feedback at the start). I've heard them tighter as Producers, with 5 rather than 18-20 on stage. At times, Clark and Poole had little to do; at others, it was Crème who seemed not to be doing much strumming his guitar. But Horn likes playing live in a big group. It was an audacious set list. They covered all of the new album, with the live integration of strings and rock band, often challenging, largely going well. And they re-arranged some of the older Trevor Horn Band material too.

The string section were excellent throughout. The surprise vocal star for me was Holmes, great in both lead and backing roles. Palmer is always solid on the guitar. I miss Ash Soan on drums, however, with Ferrone too aggressive in his playing in places.

To go through the evening in more detail... Support came in the form of a 6-song set by singer-songwriter Nathan Ball, accompanied by a second guitarist. Ball explained how he had gotten the call asking him to play only the night before. All a bit samey for me, with “Just Say Something” the best number.

After an intriguing opening string arrangement, the headliners kicked off with a Trevor Horn Band favourite in “Two Tribes”. It took a few songs to get the mix right, at least where I was sitting to the edge of the auditorium. Molloy's vocals were nearly inaudible at first. It also took a few songs for the band to settle,with a somewhat stilted “Video Killed the Radio Star” following.

The first full piece from the new album was “Dancing in the Dark”, which exemplifies the album's approach. The song has been re-arranged as a ballad, mainly performed on strings and bass guitar, with a gender swap for the lead vocals. Then into a second and third album track with Marillion's Steve Hogarth doing “Different for Girls”. He'd done this before at the band's July show and, while Hogarth is an engaging performer, the arrangement does little for me. But the show really took off for Hogarth's second song, “Ashes to Ashes” (done by Seal on the album).

Horn introducing a song

Leaving the eighties and without the string section were “Rubber Bullets” and “All the Things She Said”, two Trevor Horn Band standards, both polished, with good vocals from Holmes and Chase.

“Slave to the Rhythm” is also a Trevor Horn Band regular. Horn explained that they had tried the new album version in rehearsals (it's sung by Rumer on the album), but that it didn't completely work live, so they came up with a mix of the new and usual arrangements. In practice, this meant a strings-heavy first half sung by Chase, seguing into the usual funky version, but with vocals shared between Chase and Matt Cardle.

Former X-Factor winner Cardle sings regularly with the Trevor Horn Band. One of the highlights of the show for me was his “The Power of Love”. This was a new arrangement compared to past shows, using the string section, presumably matching the new album's version. Next up we got a solid performance of “Plastic Age”, again with added strings. Molloy was back for “What's Love Got to Do With It?”. He wasn't always as strong a frontman as Cardle or Hogarth, and I felt his performance too theatrical here. Writing that, it seems an odd thing to say given how Tina Turner does the original, but Molloy had better songs in the evening.

Horn introduced the next number, explaining how it “seemed like a good idea after a couple of joints and a few pints of beer”. He imagined Il Divo doing “Take on Me”, but they weren't available, so it was Horn, Molloy and Cardle 'doing' Il Divo doing “Take on Me”, with additional vocals form Holmes and Chase, Hinton on piano, and the string section.

Horn announced the next track, saying, “If I go up to Manchester, I'll be lynched.” Yes, it was a version of “Blue Monday”, all driving strings and techno rhythms, with Jimmie Wood growling through the vocal (after missing a cue).

There was a false start for “I'm Not in Love” as Crème's keyboard didn't work, but once they had re-started, this was a familiar performance for a song long in their set.

Horn having teased that the band would play an excerpt from “Gates of Delirium” next, it was of course time for “Owner”. Horn had a jacket brought out that he claimed he hadn't worn since being in Yes, and he explained that, as he'd written a verse of the song, he had the right to sing it! In the past, Chris Braide or Cardle has sung “Owner”, but I believe Horn first sung it himself at the band's private gig in July. He was fine on the song, but he was better on his own Buggles material. Clark then Palmer took the solo.

Back for a third Frankie Goes to Hollywood song and Molloy prowled all over the stage during an energetic performance of “Relax”. Horn then explained that there were too many of them to leave the stage and come back for an encore, so we would have to pretend that had happened. The night then ended with “Money for Nothing”, another high energy performance, Palmer enjoying playing the classic riff.

From L-R: Cardle, Holmes, ?, Chase, Clark, Palmer, Ferrone, Horn, Crème, Wood, Molloy, Gower Poole, Bloor, string section with Hinton behind

Merchandise was just T-shirts and mugs. The show was being filmed, with multiple cameras, although I don't know for what purpose.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

REV: Steve Howe, The Albany, Deptford, 31 Oct 2018

On a cold Hallowe'en, Steve Howe performed his only solo show of 2018. He had given freely of his time to help raise funds for the Ed Renshaw Music Award, set up in memory of guitarist Edward Renshaw, who died in 2011. The charity is supported by Peter Conway Management, who manage Howe's solo career. They support a number of young musicians each year, financially, through mentoring and other support.

The Albany is a lovely venue in Deptford. The audience was around 120-150 in size. Most of the front row were familiar Yes fans (hi everyone): I don't know how many of the rest of the audience were there for Howe or to support the An Evening for Ed series.

The first set consisted of three award winners, all singer-songwriters, each playing three songs. The first, and most impressive, was Jay Johnson, who won the award two years ago and has gone on to bigger things. He performed "Bliss", "Vanity" and "The Void" (the latter two are on his EP The Dark Matters). His was a lively performance with intriguing lyrics. Also impressive was Sasha Thomas, one of this year's four winners. Finally, after two performers on acoustic guitar, we had Jack Patchett on electric guitar, another of this year's winners.

After an interval was the main event. Howe was in good spirits, chatting between pieces. He began on the Martin MC38 Steve Howe edition guitar, playing "In the Course of the Day", "Bareback", Chet Atkins' "Trambone", "Masquerade", excerpt from "Provence", and "Cactus Boogie". He then switched to Spanish guitar for the 2nd movement of Vivaldi's lute concerto in D and "The Little Galliard".

Next up was "Leaves of Green", which he also sang, but only after a long introduction in which he, lightheartedly, noted how Yes only did one concept album, yet a member, not named, criticised it while going on to do eight concept albums of his own. He also talked about how much he loved London and the UK, where Yes did all their music until they "scarpered to LA" in the eighties.

Next came "Classical Gas", which he wished he'd written himself. This was followed by "Corkscrew"; Howe mentioned he first wrote this back in 1970, although it was only first released on 1991's Turbulence. He then started talking about his second album with Yes, carefully noting this was Yes's fourth album, they having done two before he joined, "which I love very, very much," he said, particularly Time and a Word. He then moved on to talk about how they each had a solo piece on Fragile, which led to an impromptu performance of "5% for Nothing" and snippets of "The Fish" and "We Have Heaven", and even an attempt to sing "Cans & Brahms". But of course this was all a prelude to "Mood for a Day".

 Back to the Martin acoustic, he played "Solitaire" after an intro talking about Fly from Here with a shout-out for Trevor Horn. Next came "To be Over", a piece that Yes haven't played for many years, as Howe subsequently explained. But they will "change some of that next year", so that sounds like confirmation of Relayer in the set, except he then continued "maybe not that song but" something else that's not been played in a long time. So does that mean not Relayer next year, or rather some but not all of it?
Howe then talked about tragedy, alluding to the death of his son Virgil, but also about others who had suffered loss, like Geoff Downes, who lost a daughter, and the mother of Ed Renshaw. He then played "Second Initial", written for Virgil. The set finished with "Clap".

An encore consisted of an abbreviated "Roundabout", Howe also singing, and then, for me the highlight of the evening, a fiery performance of "Sketches in the Sun". Howe thanked Ric French, doing FOH sound, and it was off to the train and the tube to gawp at people's fancy dress costumes.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Interview with Andrew Booker of Peter Banks's Harmony in Diversity, Tim Bowness and Sanguine Hum

Drummer Andrew Booker was one third of Harmony in Diversity with Peter Banks and bassist Nick Cottam. He currently plays in Tim Bowness's solo band and on associated projects, and has also worked with Sanguine Hum. Andrew kindly answered some questions for me about Harmony in Diversity's The Complete Recordings and some of his other work. Background on The Complete Recordings can be read on the news site here and there's a video sampler of the album by Andrew here.
How did you and Nick Cottam come to meet Pete? And how did the idea for the trio with him develop?
We all originally met in 1996. I met Peter and Nick independently after making my Ahead mini-album. The three of us met up for a jam with Gerard Johnson (St Etienne keyboardist) towards the end of that year, but nothing else happened between the three of us together until summer 2004. I had been in bands with Nick the whole time, and he and I had formed a bass and drums duo called Pulse Engine. I bumped into Peter at the Royal Festival Hall, and invited him to a Pulse Engine gig the following week. I knew he’d like it, and I suspected this might be a good way into working with him. Up until then I’d only ever listened to records and drunk brandy in his living room or gone to gigs with him, and had then lost touch with him completely for about three years. He was very impressed with Pulse Engine, and we were all keen for him to start adding some guitar. We invited him to join us for our next gig, and that was the beginning.
We now have this 6 CD release imminent: can you talk through what the different sessions were that led to this material?
The entire package is a condensation of everything we recorded, at least everything that we can reasonably access without spending a lot of money recovering old ADAT tapes that we are sure have nothing useful on them, i.e. they are of attempts to rehearse things, rather than improvise. The sessions were just our normal band activities. In the early days we were trying to learn Pulse Engine material, then we set about improvising, interspersed with the occasional attempt to learn a couple of Peter’s things (like "Knights", from his Two Sides album). We seldom did anything without recording it. Even if we weren’t trying to make an album, it was always good to record just to capture good ideas to develop later, plus recording was easy because I was mostly using electronic drums. We used ADAT tapes for multitrack some of the time, but it was quite cumbersome to do so, so we often just put stuff down onto minidiscs.
CD 1—Struggles Discontinued: where do these come from?
There’s quite a mixture on here. It was the last disc to be made, and only came about because we had all sorts of spare bits and offcuts. Some of it comes from jams recorded to ADAT, where I took the best bits of Peter’s playing (actually most of it) and either looped up drums and bass, or recorded new parts entirely. That makes this record something of an odd-one-out in the set as it’s the only one where we recorded new parts (except for some vocal bits I added to Try Again). Besides the ADAT material, there are some rearrangements of live sections that didn’t make it onto Hitting The Fans [Live], again with new bass and drum parts. Plus there’s a duo piece with a very long and ridiculous title ("On the 6th Attempt…") that Peter and I made after compiling What Is This? onto which I got Nick to add some bass. In a couple of cases I used drum parts that I had leftover from other things. For example, the freeform drumming on the two "Harmogeny" pieces is actually a spare take from one of my youtube videos called "Free As In Fall".
CD 2—What is This? I understand there are 2005 sessions with just you and Banks. There was talk of splitting the band into a set of three duos...?
Yep, What Is This? is the duo album I made with Peter. The aim was to release What Is This? at the time. I’m not sure why we didn’t, but it’s likely to have been a combination of (a) Peter wanting to add more guitar parts to it, (b) trying to find a decent label via which to release it, which was shelved by (c) Nick enrolling us into the 3-Of-The-Essence gigs with The David Cross Band and Nick May’s Whimwise.

I did find more duo recordings from later in the year after we’d put the album together. The one good piece I found is on Struggles Discontinued, as is the one to which Nick added a bass part. It has some pretty electric playing on it by Peter. The rest seems to be just rehearsing stuff, and didn’t having anything like the pizazz.
CD4—Try Again: where do these come from?
Most of it comes from minidiscs from one session on 28 September 2004. I’ve long forgotten it of course, but it seems to have been a good evening. It makes up the bulk of this album, plus there’s something on Trying from that session as well ["Sods at Odds"]. I say a good one, the trouble was that most of the material needed some serious editing to turn it into music. Trying was an album we had to make fairly quickly in time to sell at the 3-Of-The-Essence gigs, therefore any candidate material had to have as few duff sections as possible. The pieces on Try Again were a lot of work, but worth it I think. There’s a lot of variety on there, and they show that we were quite an inventive unit.
CD5—Hitting the Fans (Live): Is this still you or over to Speight?
All me, it’s stuff from the first four trio gigs, namely Peter’s guest appearance with Pulse Engine in October 2004, the gig at the Klinker on 3 June 2005, and the first two 3-Of-The-Essence gigs in March 2006. Sadly the third wasn’t recorded, a shame because it was my favourite by a long way. Although it looks like we’re billing this as the (only) live disc in the set, there’s also live material on Struggles Discontinued (tracks 2 and 6) and Trying (track 5 plus the bonus track 6), and Nick made Spontaneous Creation largely out of live recordings from the David Speight era.
You were re-visiting material that you hadn't heard for some years. What were your feelings on coming back to it?
Generally good ones, I’m happy to say. For me and Nick, a significant element of the Pulse Engine workflow had been capturing jams onto tape, and then putting the tapes away. We felt that music preserved in this way had a magical wine-like property of maturing, as if we would enjoy it more the longer we left it. That ethos definitely carried over into Harmony In Diversity. I had put all my minidiscs in a box and left them there, and for many years after my swift departure I had no intention of ever going back to them. Having eventually dug the discs out again to make this record, I definitely feel a lot more positive about the material than I did at the time, or for years afterwards. At least from the studio sessions, anyway! Once I’d got past all the boring technical stuff, I started to really enjoy working on the Try Again material and turn it into end results that I can listen to now with pleasure and some fondness for that period. As for Struggles Discontinued, I really love it and had great time putting it together. Whereas working through the originals for Trying Again required diligence, the ADAT-sourced material for Struggles Discontinued meant I could be a lot more brutal with it. That was gratifying in a different way: the luxury of being able to use only the best of what we recorded. Anything crap was cut. Anything low-yield I probably also cut.
What did you do to the material to turn it into a release? How much is this edited or processed compared to the original recordings?
A lot. The only thing we left completely alone was Trying (besides the remaster, though even then it gets a bonus track). I rebuilt What Is This? Completely. The pieces are (mostly) composed from the same recorded sections but I did all the edits again, being a bit better at it these days than I was then. Track 4 is a new version, it has a section that is not in the original, and vice versa. Nick’s Spontaneous Creation album was a lot of work for him at time, even then he went back and made several updates for this release. For the rest: extensive listening back through old material and editing down into some semblance of musical form. I didn’t really use too many effects or treatment, at least not with with later efforts, though the opening to Try Again ("Prelusion") is a bit of a knob-twiddler. I have, I’m not ashamed to say, allowed myself some hefty reams of artistic license in doubling up and looping bits where the source material was stereo minidisc, to thicken the sound or improve the structure. I genuinely think Peter would have liked the result. I still remember him raving about the first Fatboy Slim and DJ Shadow albums at the time. I sort of think of Try Again as HiD does Fatboy Slim. When it came to the ADAT-based stuff on Struggles Discontinued, I kept a lot of guitar soloing, kept a few good bass and drum loops to build up the form and slung out the rest. I applied new drum parts liberally, and even a few synth embellishments here and there, whatever helped make another record that I would want to listen to.
You joined Sanguine Hum for their second studio album, The Weight of the World. How did you get involved with the band, and can you talk about your role in the band?
Their original drummer Paul Mallyon left, and Carl Glover suggested they try me. Carl knew me from the No-Man live band (he also did the graphic design for the HiD Complete Recordings). The Hummies found an old web page, probably a decade old now, where I’d posted some recordings of my polyrhythmic practice patterns, mixing 3s and 5s, or 3s and 7s and so on, all in a way that was right up their alley, so they sensed I’d be a good fit. I got them to send me some songs to learn, which was a week’s work in just figuring out the arrangements on paper, never mind learning how to play the stuff. Then we met up, and got on really well. They immediately enlisted me for their warm-up gig in London and then the RoSfest date. I saw my role as helping their band continue and helping them realise their vision, something they had in spades by the way: they had at least three albums demoed. That was a major attraction for me: being able to muscle-up on some nice difficult drumming without having to agonise for months on end over collaborative songwriting. Their music seemed intensely prepared, yet I was more-or-less free to play how I saw fit - they didn’t expect me to exactly mimic what Paul had done. There were a few bits of their catalogue where I had to toe the line, for example "Diving Bell". I probably practiced that song more than any other Hum piece. After the RoSfest date, then came the Weight Of The World recording. Matt Baber (keyboardist) had specced out the drum parts, so I was following his guidance, sometimes doing pretty much exactly what he wanted (for example as on "From The Ground Up"), otherwise coming up with what I felt sounded good. The clattering roto-tom on "System For Solution" was my shout, as were "In Code" and "Day Of Release". I absolutely loved playing those two things live. "Day Of Release" was powerful but with a really relaxed groove that was a great way to start a live set. "In Code" was very complicated, full of twists and turns and very little repetition, yet once I knew my way around that piece I never got lost in it. Much easier than playing 512 bars of the same thing.
You are not on the next Sanguine Hum album, but are there plans for you to be involved again in the future?
I don’t know of any plans. Then again I’m not really sure what the band will do next. I know in theory there is a final installment to their epic Buttered Cat series. If they approached me again I would be keen, but I have no expectations of that happening. While they’ve got Paul back in the frame, they don’t need me. I still keep in touch with Matt, though. He is prolific in his own solo work, and continues to send me awesome things. It was nice to involve him in the Piko Cloud Booker live show last year with his piano and electronics set.
Another recent album you played on that got strong reviews was Tim Bowness' Lost in the Ghost Light. Can you talk about that session? Did you have much leeway in what you played?
So, this is the third of three solo Tim albums that I’ve been on, and comes in at #2 in the pecking order of how much I enjoyed being involved! #1 was the album before it, Stupid Things That Mean The World, and as with that one, I recorded all my drum parts in my practice room in South Woodford. As far as I could tell, the bulk of the source material for LITGL had come from Stephen Bennett, and was mostly a body of work I already knew, because he had intended it for another Henry Fool album. Also for the most part he was the one soliciting me for drum parts. I recorded lots of drums for several pieces, but in many cases either the material was dropped, or I was dropped. In the end I’m only on four things, and two of those were from the STTMTW sessions ("Nowhere Good To Go" and "Kill The Pain"). I like to feel that I have leeway with Tim, I did on STTMTW at any rate, but on this record I probably didn’t. I either persevered with my ideas (e.g. on "You Wanted To Be Seen") or gave up ("You’ll Be The Silence", which went to Hux Nettermalm). For "Nowhere Good To Go", which I think was the first thing I recorded for the previous album, I just played what I thought fitted the demo, and it sounded really nice just with Stephen’s keyboards and no orchestral overlays. The toms outro came instinctively. I like how the drums can enhance the atmosphere of a piece a great deal by shutting up with all the cymbals and swishiness, and giving the more subtle elements of other instruments some space. For "Kill The Pain", I dug out my Bill Bruford Discipline-era influence and went for the kind of rototom clatter that I used to love messing about with, playing a drum on all four limbs, and tuned the rototoms and the snare pretty much to the key of the song. Pity we’ve never played it live, it would be terrific. For the last track, "Distant Summers", Stephen had come up with the original song structure, and said he wanted it in the style of "The Great Electric Teenage Dream" from STTMTW. I banged away at various takes, handed over something respectable, and Tim just couldn’t get into the song at all. So he re-assembled it as a jazz piece with some demo GarageBand drums and got Ian Anderson to do a flute solo in the middle. I then had a really nice time putting some jazz drumming onto it. My original takes were therefore now spare. They happened to be exactly the tempo and feel (once shifted by a beat or so) of "Everything Ends In Nothing" (from Struggles Discontinued). So on they went.
Can I jump back to another favourite of mine, Henry Fool's Men Singing? How was this album made?
One day of improvised ensemble playing, and about 8 years of editing and adding of auxiliary bits and pieces. A lot in common with The Harmony In Diversity Complete Recordings, then! The recording day was in a barn in Lenwade in Norfolk, either in the summer of 2005 or 2006, I have pretty much forgotten it. It was an improvisation session with Tim Bowness, Mike Bearpark, Stephen Bennett, Peter Chilvers and Myke Clifford - essentially Tim’s live band with one swap-out (Myke instead of Pete Morgan). Apparently we recorded about five hours of material. Some of it I do actually remember playing, e.g. the funk groove of "Man Singing". Relatively soon after, within a year or so, Tim had taken one of the decent sections and turned it into a song called "Schoolyard Ghosts". With a lot of re-arrangement by Steven Wilson it became "Mixtaped" on the No-Man album Schoolyard Ghosts from 2008. We now always play "Mixtaped" in Tim’s live band. His original version turned up as a bit of an anomaly on his Memories Of Machines album, mixed by Steven. I really like it, and it’s worth a listen if only to hear what the drums should have sounded like on Men Singing. Besides that track, I didn’t tune in much to what Tim and Stephen were doing with the material. I occasionally heard they were working on it, by way of a few mixes here and there from Stephen, but in general progress seemed to be slow. For me, the penny didn’t drop that the album was a thing until they were just about to release it. Suddenly I found out Jarrod Gosling (who now does Tim’s artwork) and Phil Manzanera had contributed parts. I still cannot believe they pushed it out the door with that boxy mono drum sound. I mean, guys, come on.
You recently formed Piko Cloud Booker with guitarist Cameron Piko (of Montresor) and bassist/violinist Gaz Cloud (of Cloud & Owl). Is there any more news on this project?
Not much from me! My main interest these days is in playing live. Cameron moved back to Australia last year, so that put an end to any gigging prospects for the foreseeable future. Plus, the vast Harmony In Diversity Complete Recordings effort was soaking up quite a bit of my time, so I stepped out. I’d happily step back in again if it led to gigs. Anyway, Cameron is prolific, he’s always writing stuff, so I expect we’ll all be hearing from him soon one way or another.

My thanks to Andrew for being easy to interview. You can follow Andrew's work at his Facebook page here. You can buy The Complete Recordings by Peter Banks's Harmony in Diversity here.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2018?

I closed this poll a bit early because the news site is taking a short summer break, so just 43 votes, but the results had mostly stabilised.

1. Peter Banks: Be Well, Be Safe, Be Lucky... The Anthology (w/ Kaye, Sherwood): 17 votes (40%)
2. The Sea Within: The Sea Within (w/ Anderson): 12 votes (28%)
3= John Holden: Capture Light (w/ Sherwood, O Wakeman): 6 votes (14%)
3= Moraz & Friends: Random Kingdom: 6 votes (14%)
5. Rick Wakeman: Live Portraits: 2 votes (5%)
6. Derek Smalls: Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing) (w/ R Wakeman): 0 votes (0%)

A good win for the Pete Banks anthology, which included a number of previously unreleased tracks. Definitely a recommended release and at a budget price. I am also enjoying the runner-up, The Sea Within, with Tom Brislin teaming up with Roine Stolt, Marco Minnemann and others, plus a brief guest vocal from Anderson. I actually voted for equal third placed Capture Light, John Holden's great debut album, which I've talked about previously.

I've not heard Random Kingdom, although it has had good reviews. It wasn't a great result for Rick Wakeman. Live Portraits is an oddly low-key release that hasn't received much attention, despite the big marketing push for Piano Portraits and Piano Odyssey. The Spinal Tap spin-off album from 'Derek Smalls' (actor Harry Shearer) I have heard and is pretty good for what is meant to be comedy.

All in all, while fewer releases than either half of 2017, a strong set of releases. Let's see what the rest of the year brings. My three tips for the period so far would be Harmony in Diversity's The Complete Recordings, the debut album from Kilty Town (Wakeman guests) and the Trevor Horn project, The Eighties Reimagined.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Yes 50th anniversary Soho plaque

On 3 August 1968, Yes played their first show under that name, having evolved from a succession of Mabel Greer's Toyshop line-ups. Before that first show, they hired a basement room under The Lucky Horseshoe Café in Soho (now the Wildwood restaurant) and it was from there they set off for their debut.

50 years later, Bill Bruford returned to that room to unveil a plaque on the wall commemorating the event, organised by David Watkinson with YesWorld. About 40 of us gathered to celebrate the moment, including David, Chris Squire's brother and sister (the latter of whom was there on 3 August 1968), journalist and long-time Yes supporter Chris Welch, Yes book author Simon Barrow, Yes Music Podcast's Kevin Mulryne, and many fans, including one who started following the band when they were still Mabel Greer's!

(l.-r. Simon Barrow, Bill Bruford, Chris Squire's brother, Chris Welch)

After a few minutes while everyone tried to cool down, David began proceedings.

(l.-r. Kevin Mulryne filming, Bill Bruford, David Watkinson, Squire's brother and sister, Chris Welch)

Squire's brother spoke first, telling the Jimi Hendrix anecdote, and asked all to raise a glass to Chris Squire and to Peter Banks. His sister said a few words next, followed by Chris Welch, who talked about how he was introduced to the band.

Next, Bruford talked about those beginnings, rehearsing in the room in a fug of cigarette smoke, the bass drum filling up with empty cigarette packets. And the many disagreements! In one row, Squire asked Bruford how long he had been a professional musician: Bruford said one year, to which Squire pointed out he had been doing it for three years, which seemed a lot at the time! Bruford then took a few questions from the audience and it was on to the unveiling.

Bruford talked to fans afterwards, before leaving, while the rest of us retired for a pleasant lunch, to chat about the issues of the day ("Fragile", can Yes continue forever, why do some Yes fans get to aggressive online).

The art in the restaurant had some odd hints of the venue's significance...

("The Heart of the Sunset" was a popular 1920s piece by Horatio Nicholls. I wonder whether it was an influence when naming "Heart of the Sunrise".)

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1989?

83 of you voted in the latest year poll, for the best Yes-related release of 1989. (Of course, ABWH came out that year, but I just count that as Yes! So it wasn't in the poll.) That leaves:

1. Trevor Rabin: Can't Look Away (w/ White): 35 votes, 42%
2. World Trade: World Trade (w/ Sherwood, Squire): 16 votes, 19%
3. Bill Bruford's Earthworks: Dig?: 11 votes, 13%
4. Paul McCartney: Flowers in the Dirt (w/ Horn): 8 votes, 10%
5. Jonathan Elias: Requiem for the Americas—Songs from the Lost World (w/ Anderson): 6 votes, 7%
6= Bonham: The Disregard of Timekeeping (w/ Rabin): 2 votes, 2%
6= Rick Wakeman: Sea Airs: 2 votes, 2%
8. Steve Howe: Guitar Player: 1 vote, 1%

There were 2 'other' votes for ABWH, and no votes for Simple Minds' Street Fighting Years (w/ Horn), The Moody Blues' Greatest Hits (which included new material w/ Moraz), Bunny Brunel's Momentum (w/ Moraz), Kazumi Watanabe's Kilowatt (w/ Moraz) or Rick Wakeman's Zodiaque.

A good result for Trevor Rabin, taking a clear first, plus sixth equal. A bad result for Patrick Moraz, on three albums this year, but none received any votes. I'm surprised World Trade didn't win: I thought it was a fan favourite.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1988?

Another bumper year for Yes-related releases, with Steve Howe in particular busy while not in a major band project of his own. But the prize goes instead to Jon Anderson:

1. Jon Anderson: In the City of Angels, 27 votes (35%)
2. Billy Currie with Steve Howe: Transportation, 9 votes (12%)
3= Kazumi Watanabe: The Spice of Life Too (w/ Bruford), 7 votes (9%)
3= Animal Logic: Animal Logic (w/ Howe), 7 votes (9%)
5. Steve Howe/Paul Sutin: Seraphim, 5 votes (6%)
6= Pet Shop Boys: Introspective (w/ Horn), 4 votes (5%)
6= various artists: Guitar Speak (w/ Howe), 4 votes (5%)
6= Toto: The Seventh One (w/ Anderson), 4 votes (5%)
9= Rick Wakeman: Time Machine, 3 votes (4%)
9= The Moody Blues: Sur la Mer (w/ Moraz), 3 votes (4%)
9= various artists: Night of the Guitar Live! (w/ Howe), 3 votes (4%)
12= Act: Laughter, Tears and Rage (w/ Horn), 1 vote (1%)
12= Gary Wright: Who I Am (w/ White), 1 vote (1%)

There were no votes for Rick Wakeman's A Suite of Gods,The Mint Juleps' Power of Six (produced by Horn), Andy Leek's Say Something (with a bit of session work from Howe) or Plain Clothes Soundtrack (an obscure early Billy Sherwood appearance).

Out of 78 votes in total, all of Howe's appearances together get 28 votes to 31 votes for Anderson's two, but In the City of Angels is the clear winner here. I've always liked it, but it is an attempt by Anderson at a mainstream pop sound. I voted for Introspective, a classic Horn production.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of 1987?

What was the best Yes-related album of 1987? 67 of you expressed a preference...

1. Bill Bruford's Earthworks: Earthworks, 21 votes (31%)
2. Geoff Downes: The Light Program, 14 votes (21%)
3. Esquire: Esquire (w/ Squire, Horn, White), 9 votes (13%)
4. Wetton/Manzanera: Wetton/Manzanera, a.k.a. One World (w/ White), 8 votes (12%)
5. David Torn: Cloud About Mercury (w/ Bruford), 7 votes (10%)
6. Rick Wakeman: The Gospels, 3 votes (4%)
7. Gowan: Great Dirty World (w/ Anderson), 2 votes (3%)
8= The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam: Go Between (w/ Bruford), 1 vote (1%)
8= Kazumi Watanabe: The Spice of Life (w/ Bruford), 1 vote (1%)
8= Marc Jordan: Talking Through Pictures (w/ Rabin), 1 vote (1%)

There were no votes for Lisa Hartman's 'Til My Heart Stops (with Rabin) or Rick Wakeman's The Family Album, famous for being the origin of ABWH's "The Meeting".

A busy year for Bruford with three strong albums, but it's the Earthworks debut that wins. Downes' The Light Program comes second, which cheered me as I often think it's an overlooked release.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Interview with John Holden

John Holden's album Capture Light is out later in March. John talked to me about the making of the album and working with guests like Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman and Joe Payne.

How did you come to make this album? What were you doing before?

I have always loved music. As a child I would pick up a ¾ size acoustic guitar and plonk away. I had no idea what scales were or what tuning was. But I enjoyed myself even if my siblings weren’t too impressed.

In my late teens I formed a little band and even at that point I was more interested in writing my own songs than performing other people's songs. This was possibly because I liked progressive music and some of it was really hard to master. As work, marriage and mortgages came along the musician inside was forgotten and the instruments sold. This I think is a common tale.

In more recent times I decided that I wanted to make music again but not just as a hobby. I wanted to produce something that (if I were the listener) I would enjoy and ultimately be prepared to buy. I bought some nice guitars, got a keyboard and invested in some recording equipment. I then spent a while just learning all the new technologies and getting my fingers to move again on keys and frets. Fortunately my day job meant that I was working from home a lot more which freed up a lot of time that I could devote to my music.

In early 2014 I was approached by a friend of my wife who was looking for some music to accompany her yoga classes. The brief was "One hour's worth of music. Each piece ten minutes long... and not typical "ambient/boring music"." This helped give me a focus and it was a great learning experience. After completing this project I felt it was time to step things up.

I decided I wanted to write songs rather than just instrumentals and it quickly became apparent that I would need to use "proper" singers as my voice is just not good enough. Luckily I had a friend who was a professional singer and she kindly agreed to add vocals to my demos. This transformed how I wrote as I always wanted my music to be a combination of good instrumentation and strong vocals parts.

Two years later I have managed to produce an album's worth of material. 

What do you want to say with your music? 
That's a good question! They tell you "write about what you know", well that is easier said than done. At first I struggled to find subjects that grabbed me. To be honest my early attempts felt... contrived. I slowly developed a style that worked for me. I have enjoyed writing story songs more and more. I have a love of history and places and that also inspires me. I think my songs work best when I can use both the music and the lyrics to help transport the listener. The hardest thing is to try to capture a strong emotion. When that happens it all seems to come together.

Hopefully my music has a positive attitude. I would also say that there are probably a lot of people out there who are very musical who could do a similar thing to me. I therefore encourage folk to give it a try. Prog is the new punk! lol 

How did you attract an array of guest artists? 
I got some tunes together and sent them to a producer whose work I really admire. He works with a lot of progressive musicians so he understands the genre as much as anyone. His response to the songs was honest and brutal. After feeling sorry for myself I went back and read the email again. There were some comments that were positive but the truth was that my playing and production were simply not good enough. At that point I scrapped the originals and started again. I am pleased to say these received a much better response.

Once I had some decent demos I then decided that the addition of some extra talent would raise the project to a higher level. I realised that "splendid isolation" was not going to make the best music, it was just holding me back!

In spring 2016 I spotted a Facebook post from Billy Sherwood saying how much he "enjoyed helping artists realise their dreams". So I messaged him and we got chatting. Initially I wanted his skills as a producer as I wanted to see what my material would sound like when professionally mixed.

After hearing the demo I had sent, he said that he liked the song and would be happy to work on it. I was surprised and a little bit delighted.

I suggested that if there were any elements that needed strengthening to let me know. A few days later I received an email with a 1st mix which sounded great and in addition a fantastic new guitar solo which was just what the track needed.

Not long after we met while YES where touring the UK and agreed we should work on some more tunes.

Having got Billy on-board I gained a lot of confidence and then sought out other musicians who I thought would be a good fit for the songs. I am sure that because Billy was involved it helped give some credibility to my music when approaching other people. Of course with each addition of talent it made the next approach easier. A snowball effect! So I will always be grateful to him as it opened lots of doors. 

What was the process of working with Billy Sherwood and Oliver Wakeman like? 
Billy was very generous. Remember at that time I was completely naïve about a lot of the technicalities of production. I had never sent "stems" (whatever they were?!). So all aspects were steep learning curves. Billy is a workaholic- he never stops. Also he is based in California so there were lots of conversations on the internet and some on Skype. But he knows prog music inside out so we had lots of common ground.

Oliver was so professional and friendly. I had emailed him in early 2017 to see if he was interested in working on a song. This was the first time that I had failed get a reply. (Or so I thought. He had replied but somehow I had missed his message). A few months later I was working on the song "Capture Light". I knew it needed a real piano on it. So I was considering who to approach. That same day I had a follow up message from Oliver asking if I was still looking for some keyboard work. Talk about perfect timing!

I sent him an mp3 of the tune and he then came back saying he really liked the song and requested chord charts. He was very proactive in trying to deliver exactly what I wanted. I remember him asking "You have a 3rd as the bass note. Are you looking for a Dm diminished"? So he likes to work out every phrase before recording. But what a player! His work was just amazing. I immediately asked him to do another two songs. 

How much did you direct what you wanted? How much could you respond to what they did? 
So I think Oliver comes from a classically trained position and Billy is a more instinctive player. Both are amazing musicians. I have the ability to isolate their individual tracks and hear every subtlety. Astounding technique. Both were keen to deliver exactly what I wanted. For some elements I would say "replicate that part as it is". But generally I find the best thing is not to be overly prescriptive and allow musicians to contribute fully. They have all this talent why not utilise it?!

For these guys there was very little that had to be redone maybe a slight change of a phrase or sometimes I would be inspired by what they had done and ask them to add some new elements or colours. I would sometimes alter things in the tracks provided when doing the final arrangement. However I always send the musicians a copy for approval, it is my music but it is their reputation.

I must admit it did get a bit surreal at times. With Billy we had a session where I was giving feedback to a mix and offering suggestions. A few weeks earlier I had been a total fan attending a YES gig!

And I got a call recently from Oliver making sure things were going ok.

Top musicians and top people. 

The album includes a number of 'story songs', like the title track about the rivalry between Titian and Tintoretto, or another about Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. How did these come about? Were these events you already knew about, or did you discover them while thinking about the album? Did you feel you had to research them carefully? 
I generally write all the music first and then add lyrics. By the time I got to do the last 3 tunes I found that my method had changed a little. I would come up with some basic musical ideas and then wait to see what "images" that sparked off in my mind". I would eventually come up with a concept which I would then use to steer the composition and then the lyrics. This method I found gave me better results and it was more natural for writing lyrics. I found that if I did some research it added a "richness" or "depth" to the songs.

"One Race": This was triggered from the drum pattern - an odd mix of military snare and a sense of motion. I liked it. The movement became running, running became Olympics, then the word 'Race', the different meanings of the word race and then I remembered Jesse Owens. Did my research and it seemed a perfect fit.

I had just completed the first draft of lyrics for "One Race" when I discovered there was a film being released called "Race" about Jesse Owens. I did consider changing the subject matter but in the end I thought "sod it... I got here 1st" lol.

"Capture Light": I love Venice - my favourite city. So I wanted to do a song inspired by it.

The original idea was about a photographer attempting to capture the magical light of the city. I then thought it might be interesting to have him investigate how the old masters did this in paint. Artists like Canaletto, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. So I did my research... Then I found the story of the feud. I felt this a stronger idea so the photographer was pushed into the grand canal and I could now set the story in the 16th century!

"Tears from the Sun": The origins of this were in a 12 minute orchestral piece that I was working on as the project started. It was called "Valhalla", inspired by the Viking crossing of the Atlantic. I did not think the music overall was strong enough, however there were elements and themes that I felt I could use. I had come up with the opening part of "Tears" and I thought it sounded quite cinematic and when I decided to put the bird noise on it gave me an image of a central American jungle. When I coupled that idea with sea travel the two things morphed into the story of the conquistadors. Again to personalise the story I wanted to show the story from the young priest who sees the whole thing unravel.

So as they say in the films "inspired by true events". I enjoyed the research and it helped me add colours and textures of detail. But I did not feel I had to stick 100% to fact. 

I also noticed that all three 'story songs' had Joe Payne on vocals. Is there something about Joe's voice that lends itself to this narrative form? 
The last 3 songs I wrote were (in chronological order): "One Race", "Capture Light", "Tears from the Sun".

Having got Joe to do "One Race" (and him being pleased with the result) I just wanted to continue to work with his voice. "Capture Light" was well underway and I had a guide vocal from Julie [Gater]. At the same time I was also starting to work with Oliver Wakeman and wanted him to play on "Capture" and what was to become "Tears".

"Capture Light" is very demanding vocally (try singing along and you will find out - lol) and I knew Joe could handle the range. Also he has the ability to add emotion which I was certainly looking for. So really having the chance to use Joe as a vocalist was a no brainer! 

Thanks to John Holden for being interviewed.