Monday 18 December 2023

2023 in review: Yes, solo projects and more

I wanted to look back on 2023, a surprisingly busy year for Yes, its current and past members. But I wanted to do something different, so I thought to review the Yes members/alumni on four dimensions: workload, nostalgia, commercial success, and quality.

Some rules first. I'm just looking at new releases. I'm not considering archival releases here. I'm only considering active Yes members and alumni. Bruford has retired from musical performance. He did play on one song at the John Wetton tribute show, but that's all, so I'm not covering him. Tony Kaye is semi-retired. He is reportedly working on a new Circa album, but he's released nothing this year and done no live shows, so I’ve omitted him. Igor Khoroshev, last we knew, remains active doing sessions, but I’ve not seen anything from him this year, so he’s also excluded.

This is just looking at 2023, a snapshot. A musician may surprise us with their 2024 output, or be resting on their laurels after a successful 2022.


For workload or productivity, I'm considering live shows and releases.

Album releases in a year aren’t the best indicator of productivity in a year given the lead times to release. For example, Downes released Celestial Songs this year, but recording was completed in April 2022, with the release delayed. Likewise, Rabin released Rio, but he had been working on that for some years. He did very little work on it in 2023. Others (e.g., Oliver Wakeman, Jon Anderson) have been working on recordings this year that won't be out until later. Nonetheless, releases are the easiest thing to count, so that's what I've counted!


A recurrent discussion around older acts is the tension between playing the old songs and making new music. Thus, I suggest a nostalgia quotient. This is based on two factors. Firstly, did live set lists focus on old songs or new material. Secondly, did the artist release new material, or at least new versions of old material, or nothing at all. 


We sometimes pay little attention to commercial success. It can even be seen as shameful, a distraction from true art! And if you like an album or show, why does it matter how many other people do? Except it does matter. At least, if not enough other people like something, there won't be another album or tour.

I would like to consider album and ticket sales, but those are rarely available. We don't get data on album sales, but we can look at chart statistics, if the album charted. Likewise, we don't see ticket sales data, but we can at least track the size of venues booked.


This is, of course, wholly subjective, but I'm going to give you my opinions. You may have your own, of course. 

OK, everyone clear what we're doing? Then let's start. 

WORKLOAD, approximately from least to most

Patrick Moraz: 1 show, no material released. Moraz played a solo show at ProgStock 2023.

Oliver Wakeman: 1 show, 3 songs released. Oliver organised and played at the Other Coronation Concert with his dad Rick. He appears on 2 tracks of Carrie Martin's Evergreen and the "Lost in the Wild Wood" single by Rodney Matthews and Friends. I don't think this reflects a lack of work ethic on Oliver's part. He has recorded a new album, out in the new year, and I expect his live schedule reflects a lack of opportunity! He is not as well established a musician as others on this list. I suspect he would have been happy to play dozens of shows this year, but he’s not getting those kinds of offers.

Jon Anderson: 24 shows, 2 songs released. Anderson had two tours this year, a US leg with the Band Geeks (12 dates) and a European tour with the Paul Green Rock Academy (11 dates). There was also the Chagall student show, making 24 dates in total, but three different set lists. He had no album releases, but he did share some songs on social media. I think there were two new in the year: "We Are We Are" and "Realization Morning Temple". It appears he has been working on new recordings, on 1000 Hands: Chapter Two earlier in the year and an album with the Geeks later in the year, but I'm not counting chickens that haven't hatched yet.

Rick Wakeman: ~28 shows, 3 songs released. I'm counting A Gallery of the Imagination as a late 2022 release as it was available on a limited scale in 2022, albeit general release only came this year. In terms of 2023 releases, he's just got a few guest appearances: one track each with Ann-Margret, on Meddle Reimagined, and with the Fusion Syndicate. In terms of live work, he played two nights with the English Rock Ensemble (with different sets). He had one-off shows in April, May, July and November, and two in December, and appeared at the John Wetton tribute show. He had a US solo tour with 17 dates + a cruise appearance.

Jay Schellen: 27 shows, 1 album released. Schellen played 26 dates on Yes's tour (excluding the two cancelled shows) and played on Yes's Mirror to the Sky. He also appeared at the John Wetton tribute show.

Trevor Rabin: no shows, ~2 albums and 1 additional song released. Rabin released Rio this year. There was also National Treasure: Edge of History (Original Series Soundtrack) released back in January. That contains 30 tracks: 15 are credited to Rabin and 1 to Rabin and Paul Linford. He also did the theme tune for "Digman" and some string arrangements for a Joe Bonamassa live show in August. You can debate how to weight releases versus live shows in this list. Rabin is top 3 in releases for the year, but at the bottom for live work. One can also account for musician's roles in a project, e.g. Rabin doing almost everything on Rio, versus Schellen just drumming on Mirror to the Sky.

Billy Sherwood: 27 shows, 1 album and an additional 6 songs released. Sherwood's tally tracks Schellen's but with the addition of some guest appearances: 3 tracks on Kurt Michaels' Stones from the Garden, two standalone tracks with Cameron Carpenter, and 1 track on Laughing Stock's Songs for the Future.

Steve Howe: 26 dates, 2 albums released (plus a remix album). As well as his work in Yes, Howe also released Motif, Volume 2. While I'm not including archival releases, Howe did also lead on the Tomorrow release, Permanent Dream, that involved substantial remixing.

Jon Davison: ~61 shows, 1 album and an additional 3 songs released. As well as work with Yes, Davison also toured (33 dates + cruise) and recorded (2 tracks on Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn) with father-in-law John Lodge. He also guested on 1 track of Anyone's Miracles in the Nothingness. So, over twice as many live dates as anyone else yet in our list. You can see why he wrote "Circles of Time" now.

Trevor Horn: ~68 shows, 1 album and a production collection of sounds released. [EDIT: In a Jan 2024 interview, Horn says he did 80 shows in 2023.] Surprisingly, the busiest live player among the Yes members is Trevor Horn, the guy who gave up live performance after being in Yes. He did 28 North American dates as The Buggles opening for Seal and then playing with Seal as musical director and bassist. That was followed by 13 European dates with Seal, but no Buggles. There were also 39 dates with Dire Straits Legacy scattered over the year, which I think were all with Horn, but I'm not 100% certain of that, as the line-up can vary from show to show. (Horn is not on 2024 DSL live shows.) Horn also had a live TV appearance in Sep in Italy. He released Echoes – Ancient & Modern and there was also the 45Gb+ Jupiter production collection from Spitfire Audio.

Geoff Downes: 27 shows, 3 albums + 2 additional songs released. Downes played with Yes and co-organised the John Wetton tribute show. He was on Mirror to the Sky, he had another Downes Braide Association album in Celestial Songs, and he produced The Cold Blooded Hearts' The Cold Light of Day, on which he also performed on all but 3 tracks. He also did a song with Aaron Emerson and 1 track on Meddle Reimagined. So he didn't play as many live shows as Davison or Horn, but given 3 album releases in a year, I am declaring him the busiest Yes member of the year.

In terms of do-we-count-them-as-former-members, a note also for Tom Brislin, who played 52 shows with Kansas this year, although he wasn’t on any releases.

Tony Levin played 22 dates with Peter Gabriel and performed on his new album i/o. He has 5 Levin Brothers shows in Dec. He had 23 dates with Stick Men over the year and they also released a new live album. He was on 1 track of MEMEmusic by Unquiet Music Ltd. There appears to have been session work with various others (Tina Arena, Tania Doko, Marco Machera), but I've not checked the details. So, that's 50 dates and 2+ albums.

NOSTALGIA, approximately from most to least

Patrick Moraz: very nostalgic. I haven't seen a full set list for his one show, but it seems to have been familiar material.

Trevor Horn: very nostalgic. His live work was all old material. His album consists of covers.

Jon Anderson: very nostalgic. His live sets consisted purely of old material, although a few of the Rock Academy arrangements were newer. The Chagall show was a premiere, albeit all of the material dates back a varying number of years.

Rick Wakeman: very nostalgic. His live work mostly consisted of old material, although the US tour included one piece from A Gallery of the Imagination. 2/3 of his recorded work were covers, but he co-wrote a new piece, "IO", for The Fusion Syndicate.

Jon Davison: fairly nostalgic. On the anti-nostalgia side, he's got Mirror to the Sky and a song with Anyone, but the live Yes sets were mostly old material, and his 2023 work with John Lodge, live and studio, was all old material, although there may be new Lodge material coming.

Steve Howe: fairly nostalgic. Yes released a new album, but on most nights only played 1 song from it. Motif, Volume 2 includes 4 new pieces, but the rest of it is re-interpreting older songs, while the Tomorrow release was all remixing old songs.

Jay Schellen: middling. Live Yes (nostalgic) versus new Yes album (anti-nostalgic).

Billy Sherwood: fairly anti-nostalgic. Same as Schellen, except with a few more recorded tracks of new material.

Oliver Wakeman: fairly anti-nostalgic. I haven't seen a full set list for his one show, but I believe it was mostly familiar material. However, he has also been on releases of new material.

Geoff Downes: fairly anti-nostalgic. While his live sets were nostalgic, being involved in three albums of new material puts him high on this list.

Trevor Rabin: very anti-nostalgic. Almost everything Rabin did this year was new material.

COMMERCIAL SUCCESS, approximately from least to most

Based on what chart data I could find, I think the albums go in a decreasing order of sales as follows: Mirror to the Sky > Echoes – Ancient & Modern > Rio > A Gallery of the Imagination > Celestial Songs, and then maybe Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn and Permanent Dream, with others not troubling any charts. In terms of touring, I think Horn's tours with Seal and DSL probably constitute the most ticket sales when combined, then Yes and John Lodge are maybe about equal, followed by Anderson, and then R Wakeman. So, overall, my ranking of commercial success, from lowest to highest, would be…

Moraz, O Wakeman: nothing of note.

Jon Anderson: Both tours were relatively short, which affects total ticket sales. Venues with the Geeks were of moderate size. Those with the kids seemed to have been bigger. But no releases for sale limits his commercial success.

Rick Wakeman: I think Wakeman was playing to smaller audiences than Anderson or Yes in the US. Gallery didn't make the main UK album chart when it received its general release in 2023, but it was #11 on the UK Progressive albums chart, #18 on the indie chart, #37 on the physical albums chart, #39 on the album sales chart, and #97 on the paid download chart. It made #35 on the UK iTunes chart.

Trevor Rabin: Rio made #52 in Switzerland and #90 in Germany. It didn't make the main chart in the UK, but was #7 on the UK Progressive albums chart, #19 on the physical albums chart, #16 on the album sales chart, #52 on the paid download chart, and #5 on the rock & metal chart. It was also on various iTunes charts: US #24, UK #30, Australia #51, Germany #52, Canada #53.

Trevor Horn: Horn was the musical director for a significant tour by Seal, with good audience sizes in Europe and North America. Dire Straits Legacy also play surprisingly big venues. Horn also got an Italian TV appearance. Echoes made #81 in UK. It also made #47 in Germany and #68 in Austria. It was also on various iTunes charts: Brazil #3, Italy #8, UK & Germany #11, Australia #12, US #85. In addition, "Relax" made #81 and "Steppin' Out" #65 on Spanish iTunes, while "Slave to the Rhythm" made #51 in Italy and #63 in Germany.

Billy Sherwood & Jay Schellen: Both Sherwood's and Schellen's notable sales were just from Yes. Mirror to the Sky charted around the world: Switzerland #9, Germany #12, Japan #24, UK #30, Hungary #31, Portugal #35, Austria #53, Wallonia (Belgium) #55, Italy #61, Poland #62, Netherlands #84, Flanders (Belgium) #93, France and Spain #99. It did not make the main US chart, but was #4 in rock & metal and #22 in sales. It was also on various iTunes charts: Spain #3, Brazil #7, UK #10, Canada #13, US #17, Germany #18, Italy #19, Australia #23, France #36. Yes played to good audience sizes in the US. 

Jon Davison: As well as his work in Yes, Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn made #42 on Italian iTunes.

Steve Howe: As well as Yes, Tomorrow's Permanent Dream made #16 in the UK independent album breakers chart (albums of the week by an artist who has not yet reached the Top 40). It was also at #55 on French iTunes.

Geoff Downes: As well as Yes, Celestial Songs made #27 on the UK indie chart, #60 on the physical albums chart, #63 on the album sales chart, and #7 on the rock & metal chart. It did not chart on iTunes.

Among not quite Yes alumni, Tony Levin stands out. Peter Gabriel's i/o went #1 in the UK and #99 in the US. It was also top ten in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. The tour, meanwhile, was in very large venues. You would think that would win, but, no, former ABWH keyboardist Matt Clifford was the runaway success of the year as he played on The Rolling Stones' Hackney Diamonds, which made #1 in the UK, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. It made #3 in the US. It has gone Gold in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Austria. It was the best-selling album of the year in Germany.


Of the various projects mentioned above, my favourite was Mirror to the Sky. Was it the best album? Was it consistently good? Maybe not, but it's the album that has stayed with me the most. My next favourite project, as I am always a Trevor Horn fanboy, was Echoes – Ancient & Modern. I'd put Rio third: I think it is a really strong album, possibly in some sense better than the previous two. Horn is 'cheating' because his album is built around a bunch of pre-existing great songs, whereas Rabin wrote his material. But if you asked me which album I'd rather listen to right now, Echoes or Rio, I would choose Echoes.

I am enjoying Celestial Songs: it's not clicked with me in the same way as Halcyon Hymns, but it's still a good one, so I'll put it fourth. Those are my standouts. Of the rest, National Treasure: Edge of History is not bad for a score album. The Cold Light of Day is a surprisingly good rock album, certainly the best album by a football player I've listened to. I like Motif, Volume 2, it does exactly what you would expect, no more, no less. I'll go with Cold Light fifth, Motif 2 sixth and National Treasure seventh.

In terms of the various guest appearances, Miracles in the Nothingness, Songs for the Future etc., nothing really jumped out at me, not that I have heard everything. Maybe "One of These Days" with Downes on Meddle Reimagined is the best of the lot.

I thought A Gallery of the Imagination was terrible, but if I'm counting it as a 2022 album, I can't blame Wakeman for it here! Days of Future Passed – My Sojourn was unimpressive.

In terms of live work, I loved the Jon Anderson + Paul Green Rock Academy show I saw. I was in the wrong country for the Geeks tour, but the recordings I heard were great. Likewise, Yes were playing the wrong continent for me this year, but I enjoyed the boot I heard and loved them last year. I saw the Seal show in the UK and had a great night, and I enjoyed listening to recordings of The Buggles set from the US. I also loved the stream for the John Wetton tribute show.

Put that all together and I think my personal ranking would be: Anderson (best live work), Horn (me = fanboy), Howe (for leading on Mirror to the Sky and Motif 2 is solid), Rabin (great work in Rio and not bad score output), Downes (3 albums and they are all good), Schellen, Sherwood, Davison, R Wakeman. (Insufficient data for Moraz and O Wakeman.)

In all, a great year for Yes-related music. I'm loving this late flowering of Trevor Horn's career. I hope he can get back to new music and not just nostalgia, but it appears he is constrained by record label interest and they want the nostalgia. Jon Anderson's recorded output was disappointing, hopefully 2024 will rectify that, but he has been performing fantastically. I am full of praise for Trevor Rabin's 2023. My highlight is a very enjoyable Yes album, but Downes and Howe deserve praise for so much work beyond that as well.

Rick Wakeman works hard, but it's been a while since he's done much of interest to me. Patrick Moraz does little and it's been a while since he's done much of interest to me. I hope we hear more from Oliver Wakeman and from Khoroshev in 2024.

Possible highlights for 2024? It is both exciting and somewhat worrying that Anderson has several projects that could be released next year: an album with the Geeks, 1000 Hands: Chapter Two, Zamran (or part one, at least). Maybe a bit more focus on finishing projects wouldn't go amiss? I look forward to seeing Yes live. I wonder how work on a new album is getting on? A new Circa album could be interesting. Might we get the new John Lodge project with Davison and Downes? Could the hinted-at Dave Kerzner/Jon Davison project come to fruition? Horn is touring with his band, but also, it appears, with a reunited Producers. Horn has said he's got another solo album recorded. Braide says another DBA album is already written.

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