Sunday, 8 January 2023

2022 in review and the Prog Readers’ Poll

Obviously, overshadowing everything, 2022 is the year that Alan White died. We will all remember him and the streamed Seattle tribute concert was a lovely memorial.

2022 marked a return to touring after the pandemic, with live shows by Yes, Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, and the Trevor Horn Band, as well as the Jazz Sabbath tour with Adam Wakeman and Dylan Howe, and Dave Kerzner's All Star Prog Band with Sherwood. 2022 was perhaps a quieter year for Yes-related releases. But we did get albums from the Prog Collective and Arc of Life, from Rick Wakeman, and from Virgil & Steve Howe, plus some notable guest appearances including Sherwood and Davison on Dave Kerzner's The Traveler, both also on Lobate Scarp's You Have It All, and Wakeman and Downes on Fernando Perdomo's Frost soundtrack. There was the usual array of Cleopatra tribute records and Zorbonauts releases. I think there are two guest appearances that I feel deserved a bit more attention: David Paich's Forgotten Toys, which has a song with the late Michael Sherwood and a brief appearance by Billy; and Clint Bahr's Puzzlebox, including a piece posthumously incorporating a Pete Banks solo.

I think it can be interesting to try to step outside of our Yes fan perspective and consider how the broader world sees the music we love. In terms of audience reach, the most successful Yes-related music of 2022 must be Carly Rae Jepsen's album The Loneliest Time, which made the top 20 in the UK, Canada & US. Trevor Rabin plays guitar on the track "Talking to Yourself" (#91 on the UK iTunes chart by itself), presumably invited in by his son, who co-wrote/produced it. Or maybe it's Rabin's music for the Disney+ show National Treasure: Edge of History?

Yes-related music rarely challenges for the big awards, but Brad Mehldau's Jacob's Ladder, including a re-interpretation of "Starship Trooper", has been nominated in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category for the 2023 Grammys. (This is slightly confusing as it is not entirely instrumental, with significant vocals in places.)

One interesting measure of success is Prog magazines Readers' Poll, which Yes members have done well in before. The results for 2022 are perhaps disappointing.

In the Band, Male Vocalist, Guitarist, Album and Drummer categories, nothing Yes related. (Apart from Yes remixer Steve Wilson, who did very well, with Porcupine Tree winning Best Band and 2nd in Best Album, while Wilson is 8th in Best Male Vocalist.) Lobate Scarp were 9th in Best Unsigned Band. Adam Wakeman came 7th in Best Keyboardist.

Best Bassist has Tony Levin at #2 and Lee Pomeroy at #8. In the Best Reissue category, Bruford does well, with King Crimson's Discipline/Beat/Three of a Perfect Pair coming 8th and his compilation Making a Song and Dance at #9.

Cruise to the Edge came 5th in Best Event, but this was the first cruise without Yes themselves and Billy Sherwood was the only Yes member performing. Cropredy, at which the Trevor Horn Band headlined one night, was 7th.

So, no Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe or Geoff Downes. No specific mention of Billy Sherwood or Jon Davison, although perhaps they can take a little credit for helping Lobate Scarp to 9th best Unsigned Band. The long-retired Bill Bruford is the only Yes member who comes out of that seeming relevant. Congrats to the do-we-count-them-as-alumni Levin and Pomeroy. Compare someone like Steve Hackett, of the same generation as Yes, who has often collaborated with Yes members: he won best Guitarist and best Event (for his Foxtrot at 50 tour).

I wonder whether the Poll has a UK bias. The magazine is available outside the UK, but I think the readership is mainly British. Maybe the more US-based acts (Sherwood, Kerzner, Perdomo, Glass Hammer) suffer accordingly.

Will the 2023 Readers' Poll look different? Between probable Yes, Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Trevor Rabin, and DBA albums, hopefully so.

Friday, 30 December 2022

Looking ahead to 2023

Steve Howe likes to run a tight ship with Yes: no leaks. But enough has come out to say we expect a new Yes album in 2023, with Howe, Downes, Sherwood and Davison, with White having recorded drum parts before he passed away, with Joyce and the FAMES orchestra back. Rumour has it out in the first half of the year. Presumably they will want it out before or not too long after touring begins on 7 May 2023. This will be the long-awaited, many-times-delayed Relayer tour. European dates from Portugal through to the UK have been announced and the tour is then expected to move to North America and maybe Japan.

Meanwhile, Jon Anderson also has a new album and tour due in 2023. Producer Michael Franklin was planning to finish recording for 1000 Hands: Chapter Two in December 2022; they’re aiming for an April 2023 release in time for Jon’s US tour with the Band Geeks in April/May 2023 playing Yes classics. Album guests are expected to include Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin.

Also due is the new Downes Braide Association album, Celestial Songs. This was finished back in April 2022; a release date of March 2023 is rumoured. Downes also leads Asia, who had a tour planned in late 2022 with Carl Palmer, Billy Sherwood and Marc Bonilla. This was to be with the Alan Parsons Project, but Parsons has had health problems, causing delays. What happens next is unclear, but it appears Asia are keen to tour some time in 2023.

There’s a pattern here. Yes will have a new album, but the tour will focus on an old one, Relayer (1974). Anderson will have a new solo album, but tour focusing on old Yes songs. Promo hasn’t mentioned anything from later than 1977. Downes has a new album with Chris Braide, but plans to tour with Asia, focusing on Asia (1982) and possibly Alpha (1983). That’s the world we live in. Ageing rock musicians make more money touring the old songs than they do from recording new ones. Yes will probably play a song or two from their new album and Anderson might include something new, but audiences want the classic tunes. Rick Wakeman’s new album, A Gallery of the Imagination, has already been on sale on his Christmas tour dates; it receives a full release in 2023. But, likewise, his sets focus on the 1970s.

In just the last few days, we’ve had news about Trevor Rabin’s new solo album, expected some time in 2023 and entitled Rio. He’s talked of a rock album with vocals, so something more in the style of Can’t Look Away than Jacaranda. In terms of former band members releasing solo albums, we also have Oliver Wakeman saying Anam Cara is due this year.

I expect those to be the big events of the year. Most of those are expected earlier rather than later in the year; we will have to wait and see what late 2023 brings. I’m sure there will be plenty more Yes-related releases, but what is less clear.

Trevor Horn has a body of material, strange covers done in collaboration with musicians from Tori Amos to Toyah Willcox, from Rick Astley to Robert Fripp, but it is unclear if he has a record deal or a release date.

Billy Sherwood is always busy. I’m sure we’ll get plenty from him. Both he and ARW’s Lee Pomeroy may be on Dave Kerzner and Fernando Perdomo’s multi-disc Genesis tribute. Jon Davison may be guesting on United Progressive Fraternity’s Planetary Overload Part 2: Hope. Steve Howe will probably give us Homebrew 8.

Schellen has mentioned a possible archival Badfinger release with him and Kaye. Michael Franklin has mentioned a possible archival live Patrick Moraz release. There may be a Jazz Sabbath live release from the 2022 tour, with Adam Wakeman and Dylan Howe in the line-up, plus dad Rick guesting. We should get more archival releases from Rick Wakeman’s Caped Crusader Collector Club.

Cleopatra Records will undoubtedly have some all-star tribute with a couple of Yes members. There should be one or more Zorbonauts releases with Downes. Downes has also produced an album by Gareth Ainsworth and The Cold Blooded Hearts that might be out in 2023.

In the less certain but possible category, we could have a third In Continuum studio album with Davison. Maybe a John Lodge project with Davison and Downes? Maybe the Rick Wakeman/Tim Rice/Alfie Boe project?

What are you looking forward to in 2023?

Monday, 8 August 2022

Poll: What was the best Yes-related release of the first half of 2022?

 I asked you what was the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2022 and 104 of you answered. Thanks, all! The result was not close.

1. Asia: Asia in Asia: Live at the Budokan Arena, 1983 (w/ Downes, Howe) - 87 votes (84%)

2. Oliver Wakeman: Collaborations (w/ Howe) - 14 votes (13%)

3. Prog Collective: Songs We were Taught (w/ Sherwood, Downes, Davison, Moraz) - 2 votes (2%)

4. Lobate Scarp: You Have It All (w/ Sherwood, Davison) - 1 vote (1%)

There were no votes for Clint Bahr's Puzzlebox (using a posthumous Banks guitar part), Clannad's In a Lifetime (The Immersive Collection) (with Horn) or Deckchair Poets' Be My Pillow (with Downes). I also erred and missed out including Zebras Don't Smoke's Inflatable Noise (with Downes), although I doubt it would have fared much better than the Deckchair Poets release by the same team. I also chose not to include the second Caped Crusader Collector Club release, The Silly Programme, as it was comedy rather than music. I again don't imagine it would've troubled the rankings.

There were not a lot of Yes-related releases in this period. Still, I had expected a bit more competition to the Asia release. But, no, Asia's second line-up swept all before it.

Voters came from 10 countries: most of you voting were in the US, with the UK in second place. Also represented were Germany, Canada, Spain, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Saturday, 26 February 2022

Poll: What was the best Yes-related release of the second half of 2021?

I asked you what was the best Yes-related album of the second half of 2021? (As with all in this series of polls, I'm excluding actual Yes releases, so no The Quest.) 60 of you voted, and the results were...

1. Steve Howe: Homebrew 7, 35% (21 votes)

2. various artists: Animals Reimagined – A Tribute to Pink Floyd (w/ Wakeman R, Moraz, Sherwood, Davison), 28% (17 votes)

3. John Lodge: The Royal Affair and After (w/ Davison), 17% (10 votes)

4. George Harrison: All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Edition (w/ White), 12% (7 votes)

5= David Minasian: Random Dreams: The Very Best of David Minasian Vol. 1 (w/ Sherwood), 2% (1 vote)

5= Etta James: The Montreux Years (w/ Wakeman R), 2% (1 vote)

5= Jake Shimabukuro: Jake & Friends (w/ Anderson), 2% (1 vote)

5= Robby Steinhardt: Not in Kansas Anymore (w/ Moraz), 2% (1 vote)

5= Rick Wakeman: She - Music from the Original Soundtrack and More, 2% (1 vote)

There were no votes for Anyone's In Humanity (with Davison) or the multi-artist release myndstream Collection, Vol. 1 (with R Wakeman).

A good win for Howe's Homebrew 7, the first Homebrew release to be (mostly) material not otherwise released, rather than the usual alternative and early versions. But a good second place for Animals Reimagined, the latest of many Pink Floyd tribute albums from Cleopatra Records. Maybe the slightly new approach is working for them? I thought the prior release, Still Wish You were Here, was better, but it only came 4th with 5% of the votes in its poll. Maybe Animals Reimagined faced weaker competition?

Sunday, 16 January 2022

Poll: Best track on The Quest

 I left this poll up a while and you voted in numbers, 288 of you. And the results were...

1. "The Ice Bridge" - 23%, 66 votes

2. "Sister Sleeping Soul" - 21%, 60 votes

3. "A Living Island" - 11%, 32 votes

4. "Leave Well Alone" - 10%, 29 votes

5. "Dare to Know" - 9%, 26 votes

6. "The Western Edge" - 8%, 22 votes

7. "Minus the Man" - 6%, 17 votes

8. "Music to My Ears" - 4%, 12 votes

9= "Damaged World" - 3%, 9 votes

9= "Mystery Tour" - 3%, 9 votes

11. "Future Memories" - 2%, 6 votes

It seems it was InsideOut who picked "The Ice Bridge" as the first single, so good choice there, but also InsideOut who put "Sister Sleeping Soul" on the second disc, a sort of relegation, yet it came second on this poll. That said, the other "bonus disc" tracks are down at the end.

Poor "Future Memories" - it doesn't deserve to be bottom! I can't remember now, but I think voted for "Leave Well Alone", unless I went for "Dare to Know"... They work as the core of the album for me.

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Poll: What was the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2021?

I asked you what was the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2021. There were 115 votes, which were as follows:

1. Downes Braide Association: Halcyon Hymns - 44% (50 votes)

2. Arc of Life: Arc of Life (w/ Davison, Sherwood) - 20% (23 votes)

? Mike Tiano: CreƩtisvan (w/ Sherwood) - 15% (17 votes)

3. Jon Anderson: Sunlight - 6% (7 votes)

4. A Tribute to Pink Floyd – Still Wish You Were Here (w/ Downes, R Wakeman, Moraz) - 5% (6 votes)

5. Rick Wakeman: Return to the Centre of the Earth deluxe box set - 4% (5 votes)

6. Nolan & Wakeman: Tales by Gaslight (w/ O Wakeman, R Wakeman, previously released material w/ Banks) - 3% (4 votes)

7. Fear Factory: Aggression Continuum (w/ Khoroshev) - 2% (2 votes)

8. Beth Patterson: Singles (w/ Sherwood) - 1% (1 vote)

There were no votes for Deckchair Poets' The Crop Circlers' Guide to Abstract Expressionism (w/ Downes), Badfinger's No Matter What – Revisiting the Hits (w/ R Wakeman) or John Holden & Friends' charity album Together Apart (w/ O Wakeman). All 17 votes for CreĆ©tisvan came in a clump in the last 2 days of the poll and mostly from just two IP addresses, so I don't think that represents an organic expression of feeling.

A clear win for Halcyon Hymns with over double the votes of the second place Arc of Life. Sunlight does well considering it was rapidly withdrawn from release!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

First thoughts on The Quest

 InsideOut kindly sent me a copy of the new Yes album, The Quest. I presume, reader, you've heard "The Ice Bridge" and, to let you know where I am coming from, I enjoy it. I don't want to give away spoilers to the rest of the album. It's an album where it's nice to go in cold. Tracks like "Dare to Know" and "Leave Well Alone" have twists and turns that are worth hearing without knowing where they are going, while "Mystery Tour" is worth encountering fresh for the lyrics. But should curiosity overcome you...

This is proper headphones in a darkened room music; it's not going down the gym music. The first half is strong. Tracks 1-5 make for a good Yes album that can stand up to comparison with other Yes releases of the last 30 years. I'm sure opinions will be divided, because they always are, but these are interesting compositions, full of 'Yessy' arrangements, including lovely use of orchestra. The core of the album for me are the two big Howe compositions, "Dare to Know" and "Leave Well Alone", that combine dynamic arrangements, harmony vocals and esoteric lyrics in an effective way. At 6-8 minutes, they are not long by Yes standards, but they still take you on a journey. They feel like only Yes could have recorded them. The decision to add orchestra has paid off, adding an extra dimension.

Interleaved with those two are the Sherwood/Davison co-writes. Sherwood's songwriting is familiar from his solo albums and many other projects, and we've been introduced to the pair's writing in Arc of Life. "Minus the Man" and "The Western Edge" are recognisably from the same pen, yet benefit from Howe's production and the performance of the whole band and orchestra. I like the chaos of "The Western Edge", but it is the second shortest song on the album and I wished it had space (that's a joke you'll get when you hear the album) to go somewhere more.

I am guessing the latter half of the album will be more controversial. I enjoy "Future Memories" and "A Living Island", but they show a more romantic and lyrical side to Davison's writing. I loved "It was All We Knew" on Heaven & Earth, but many people said, while they enjoyed the song, it didn't belong on a Yes album. I can see the same complaints may arise here (not that I agree). "A Living Island" is interesting as a disc closer, travelling to unexpected places as it goes on, a bit yacht rock, a bit Queen, with a waving-lighters-in-the-air-at-the-end-of-a-gig vibe.

The bonus disc is just that. This is b-side material, nice to have as extras. "Damaged World", with a Howe lead vocal, is the strongest. "Mystery Tour", the weakest.

People felt Heaven & Earth was compartmentalised, Davison working with each other member, but the band not coming together to make an "Into the Storm". With the band divided by a pandemic, there's a worry of the same again. And it does still feel compartmentalised to a degree. This is the Howe song, this is the Sherwood song, this is the Davison song. There isn't a "Homeworld" here. But you do hear a band supporting each other. Sherwood's bass elevates "Leave Well Alone", while Howe's guitar lifts "The Western Edge". Downes and White do a nice intro for "Music to My Ears". "Future Memories" is Davison's but wouldn't be the same without Howe's input.

Overall, The Quest doesn't sound a lot like any prior Yes album while also being the sort of thing only Yes would do. It's a sincere album: this is who they are. They're not trying to have a hit single, or doing an 18 minute epic because the label wants one. A Yes without Squire or Anderson was always going to be a difficult sell. It won't heal divisions in Yes fandom (nothing could). The single LP version of the album, the first six tracks, might make for a stronger experience. But it is an album I am enjoying, and an album that finds new things to say after a 50+ year career.