Geir Myklebust has transcribed Howard Fielding's interview with Steve Howe the day after one of the three YES concert appearances in Bristol during the Spring 1975 European Tour. The interview article appeared in the May 17, 1975 issue of Sounds.
Stabilized by their Swiss replacement for the seemingly indispensible Rick Wakeman, a nervy Yes have cracked into yet another album of epic proportions. Will Relayer click with their suspicious critics?
FOR MONTHS the split had seemed inevitable. Rick Wakeman, the keyboard colossus of Yes, had always been a social outsider with the rest of the band, of course, a beer drinking meat-eater in a group of vegetarians. But the rumors that he would shortly quit the world famous band had come and gone for years, with Rick denying them again and again. Then came the seventh Yes album, Tales from Topographic Oceans. As critics on both sides of the Atlantic slagged the vinyl victim toward the end of 1973, Rick privately and then publicly admitted his own personal disappointment in the disc. Finally, obviously out-numbered when it came to voting on group policy and musical direction, and obviously successful as a solo artist with his own Journey To The Centre Of The Earth LP, Rick Wakeman resigned from Yes in the first days of June, 1974.
Anglo-American musical circles were immediately thrown into a tizzy, despite the fact that Wakeman's departure had long been predicted because the six year-old English band was of incalculable importance to the musical scene of the mid-seventies. Despite the critical letdown of the Topographic LP, they were considered the foremost of progressive rock bands, and for two years running had been voted Top Group in Britain's prestigious Melody Maker Poll. Yes has always had a volatile history of shifting personnel though, and their new album on Atlantic Records, Relayer, proves they've weathered their latest emergency with customary style. After initial speculation that they'd be joined by a Greek keyboardist, Yes finally took on a Swiss musician, Patrick Moraz, and the choice seems to have panned out. "Patrick's a very talented man," lead singer and composer Jon Anderson told Circus Magazine in his London home just prior to the release of the new album and their American tour. "He's given us a new solidarity of morale, and we're all enjoying each other very much. He's been incredibly helpful just by reassuring us of each other."
Soho roots: Certainly by now Jon Anderson should know a good addition to the band when he sees one. Along with bassist Chris Squire, he's the only member of the group who's been there since the beginning. Anderson and Squire founded the experimental band shortly after meeting at a Soho club called La Chasse in October of 1968. Within two months, they'd created enough of a following to merit a place at the bottom of the bill for the farewell concert of the legendary Cream at Royal Albert Hall that December. It was an historic event, though the audience at the time may not have known it — a shift in musical styles that was soon to make itself felt all over the music scene, away from blues-influenced improvisations toward more intricate, classically influenced experiments.
By the summer of the following year, the aggregation was judged good enough to put out their first album, titled simply Yes,and by the end of the year the demand for their live appearances had spread from Ireland to Switzerland and the rest of the Continent. In June of 1970 though, Yes' earliest major shakeup occurred, and it turned out to be one of their most fortunate. Deserted by their lead guitarist, Squire and Anderson enlisted Steve Howe as a replacement, and future albums were soon to show that Howe's songwriting abilities when matched with Anderson's were at least as important as his stringbending talents. Picking up two assets for the price of one, Yes' first great personnel emergency was solved with aplomb.
Wakeman alliance: Following a second album which was released in 1970, Time and a Word, the two year-old group made 1971 one of the most vital and eventful years in their entire history. They put out The Yes Album, toured America in March, and later shipped Fragile to an increasingly Yes-conscious audience. An equally important factor in their rise to public notice though, was the addition of Rick Wakeman to their lineup. Wakeman already had no small reputation of his own, chiefly for his inventive playing with the Strawbs, but also for session work with David Bowie and Cat Stevens among others. Just as Mick Ronson's union with Mott the Hoople several years later was seen as a linking of independent powers, so Wakeman's decision to join Yes focussed even more attention on the two parties than they would have enjoyed separately.
The next major upheaval for the Yes-men came in 1972, the year of Close To The Edge, when veteran drummer Bill Bruford left to join Robert Fripp's King Crimson. Wakeman has since remarked that the passing of Bruford was the first step in his increasing disorientation with the band's musical direction. Despite the alteration in the Yes sound though, all were relieved by the quick assimilation of Alan White, who supposedly took over Bruford's drumming assignment only three days before the group's second United States tour. The jaunt developed into a worldwide sweep which embraced the Far East, and the hardworking musicians also ground out the huge, triple-disced Yessongs LP. Then came the unsettling Tales From Topographic Oceans venture which left the world's most widely respected band with a shakey reputation — and without a keyboard and synthesizer expert.
Topographic trauma: "We haven't had one good review," Anderson admitted at one point, and then he elaborated, "We're not trying to play games with people, but there is the possibility we have been trying too hard." Such statements made many observers anticipate Yes's eighth album would be simpler and more direct, maybe even artistically withdrawing into a collection of more conventional songs. But Anderson soon put a stop to that kind of speculation. "You see, to us Topographic wasn't that complicated. Steve and I had a basic cobweb of ideas and we filled them. We actually had a lot more music than we finished up putting on the record."
Now, with the added stability and comraderie offered by fledgling member Moraz, Anderson and team have come up with Relayer, and it's obvious the composer's grand musical ambitions haven't toned down much in scale. "Just after Topographic I wanted to do an album relating to War and Peace," the visionary vocalist confided to Circus Magazine as he discussed the new album which took 3½ months to make. That concept now is confined to all of Side One, though, a mammoth epic titled 'Gates of Delerium'. "It's a war song, a battle scene, but it's not to explain war or denounce it, really," Anderson said with his characteristically understated social concern. "It's an emotional description with the slight feeling at the end of 'do we have to go through this forever?' There's a prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future."
'Delerium' drama: 'Gates of Delerium' opens the LP with sparkling stellar or water sounds and soon moves into a grand, confidently striding passage complemented by the vocal exhortation to "Kill them, Give them as they give us." The battle scene is introduced by Steve Howe's guitar, the sword of rock, and as the pace quickens there are no more vocals. Crashing cymbals and taped effects complete with background boomings form a modern jazzlike cacophony which becomes increasingly more disturbing. Then the battle begins to wind down with a weary but strong grace, illustrated by guitar lines repeatedly pouring down the track. The instruments settle into a quiet, languid, ghostly, echoing drift which is sweetly restful, and then Anderson's vocals take over, only to float out into peaceful silence.
Side Two opens with 'Sound Chaser' which has lots of energetic piano ripples and drum rolls indicating a very quick pursuit. "When you make music, you're creating," Jon noted, "you're choosing the feeling of something. We all combined on it together and it has that aggressive, searching feeling. Steve wrote a dynamic solo piece in the middle."
The other cut sharing the second side of this album of three songs is 'To Be Over'. "It's strong in content, but mellow in overall attitude," Anderson offered, discussing the lyrical quality.
"It's about how you should look after yourself when things go wrong. Steve and I wrote the introduction, Steve wrote a very beautiful drifting lament — he's got into using a steel guitar — I wrote the lyrics, and we all did the finale." Jon's lyrics relate to dreams, with comforting lines like: "Do not suffer through the game of chance," and "Think it over, time will heal your fear." The song's lush orchestration also features a bouncing, light keyboard piece by Moraz, and finishes off with bells which sound like a towerful of church chimes ringing in unison. "After everything, we'll surrender to death and we'll be loved," Anderson said, summing up as his two year-old son Damian climbed into his lap.
"We wrote two more songs, but didn't have time to record them," Jon said, revealing the same surplus situation they faced upon completion of Topographic. "One is absolutely crazy and intricate."
Peace after the battle: Yes' November and December tour of the U.S. covered a gruelling 30 cities in 34 days, a nearly impossible pace which Anderson seems to enjoy. "A lot of the dates are places we didn't hit on the last two tours," he said. "We try to work every day, it's good for the body to carry a physical routine through to the end. And a day off while you're on the road really isn't a day off anyway."
With the new album and tour completed, Anderson is taking an extended holiday during which he may do some writing, though the man himself contends, "When I go on holiday, I do nothing!" Which isn't literally true. A film freak, Anderson often video-tapes Sunday afternoon movies on BBC-TV. (He's presently collecting Jimmy Cagney films, his favorite being Each Dawn I Die.) And for physical activity, he plays football (soccer) with Yes United, though he hasn't had much time to play with them recently. "We've never won a match yet," he admitted of the singularly unfortunate team, "but last April we nearly beat a German team of promoters."
Although Steve and Chris as well as Jon are talking vaguely about recording solo albums, Anderson acknowledges "You never can tell," and their 1975 schedule would seem to make the independent action tough to squeeze in. They're scheduled to perform concerts in Australia, New Zealand, Tokyo and Brazil in the coming year, and that takes precedence. "Besides," grinned Anderson, looking forward to visiting the South American nation which is the home of the world's greatest soccer star, "I just want to meet Pele."