Trevor Horn, music producer, songwriter, musician and singer chats with Kevin Cooper about joining Yes in 1980, the death of Chris Squire, Yes’ album Fly From Here – Return Trip featuring Horn and joining Yes on stage at The London Palladium and The Paris Olympia.
Trevor Horn, CBE, is an English music producer, songwriter, musician and singer. He has produced commercially successful songs and albums for numerous British and international artists. He won a Grammy Award for producing Kiss From A Rose by Seal.
As a musician, he has had chart success with the bands Yes, The Buggles and Art of Noise. He also owns a significant stake in the recording company ZTT Records, Sarm Studios and a music publishing company, Perfect Songs. The three are combined under the corporate umbrella of SPZ. In 2010 he received the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.
Horn worked with Yes on and off as a producer, including working on their 1983 album 90125 and the hit single Owner Of A Lonely Heart. He returned to work with Yes again, producing 2011’s Fly From Here, which featured the band members who appeared on Drama; Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes with Benoit David on lead vocals and Horn in the role of producer.
This year Yes will release a remixed version of the album Fly From Here – Return Trip, featuring the Drama line-up complete with new lead vocals by Trevor Horn, to coincide with their 50th Anniversary celebrations. The album has developed into a labour of love for all involved and the new vocals were recorded over the past two years amidst other commitments.
Horn began re-recording the lead vocals the day after he guested with Yes at The Royal Albert Hall in 2016 and within 24 hours the rest of the band had joined him in the studio. In addition to re-mixing parts of the album, Horn has added personal liner notes and the sleeve design features the painting by Roger Dean which was originally used on the inside of the 2011 edition.
Whilst preparing to join Yes on stage at The London Palladium he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Trevor how are you today?
I’m not too bad Kevin thank you, how are you?
I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
It’s my pleasure, thank you for being interested in what I am up to.
And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
I can’t complain (laughter). If I am totally honest with you then I would have to say that I am still a little tired as I have recently got back from America but apart from that I’m fine thanks.
During a recent interview I asked the same question and the reply was ‘well I am on the right side of the grass so I really shouldn’t complain’ (laughter).
(Laughter) what a great reply, I will have to remember that.
Before we talk about the remix album Fly From Here – Return Trip which you have been heavily involved with, can we talk about the original album which was released back in 2011?
Of course, sure.
As the producer of the album, were you happy with it?
Well, when you say was I happy with it, what I will say is that I did the best that I could with it. Back in 2011 I personally thought that the band were playing well, but for me, the main difficulty was getting the then new vocalist Benoit David’s vocals to sound just how I wanted them to sound. The problem was that English wasn’t his native language and when someone is singing in a foreign language it is sometimes quite hard to get the pronunciation right so that took a lot of time.
That shouldn’t have been a problem with the album this time around as I am led to believe that a certain Trevor Horn has re-recorded all of the vocals, is that correct?
(Laughter) yes that is perfectly correct. This time I was able to spend more time mixing the tracks because my voice is totally different to Benoit’s. My voice is harder and I found that it cuts through a lot more than Benoit’s voice ever did. So it allowed me to mix the tracks in a different way plus I was able to rewrite a couple of bits too.
Back in 2011 the fans gave the album quite a hard time upon its release. Did that play any part in your thinking regarding remixing the album?
No, not really. Back in 2011 that didn’t seem to be a problem because you are always bound to get a mixed review especially when it was not Jon Anderson and it was not the totally original band. So no, that didn’t affect it really, and I didn’t think about the record for quite a long time. It was only after I had got up to sing with the band at The Royal Albert Hall and Alan White said to me “why don’t you re-do the vocals on Fly From Here” which made me think ‘yes, why not’. The one thing that did sway my decision was that when I started working on the album I was working with the same personnel as I had worked with back in 1980 on the Drama album. So I just thought ‘yes, why not’ and that is why I did it.
And now that it is all finished, what is your honest opinion of the new album?
That’s easy, I honestly do think that it is better.
So just how much does it differ from the original?
(Laughter) all that I will say is that it is kind of different. Yes, it’s different (laughter). It’s pretty hard for me to tell you just how different the new album is from the original. There are a couple of songs which I feel came out better than they did before; Hour Of Need being one of them.
And from your personal point of view, producing, singing and playing on the album, did it feel good to be that involved once again?
Err, yes, no, well yes; I have to say that there were times when I actually did enjoy doing it. I had a whole album on which I replaced all of the original vocals, all the lead vocals together with Benoit’s harmony vocals. I have to say that it took me a little time but in general, yes it was good fun.
Just how difficult for you as a producer is it to make a new album sound fresh whilst still staying loyal to the original?
Well to begin with we had to mix the album again because my voice was now all over it together with my harmonies. So I took the opportunity to re-write a couple of the tracks, rather than just remixing them. So in that way I feel that the new album is refreshing.
The album will be released tomorrow, Sunday 25th March, are you looking forward to getting it out there finally after spending almost two years working on it?
Yes I am, I truly can’t wait for the fans to hear it and also to see their reaction to what we have done with the album.
You will be playing with the band tonight and tomorrow night at The London Palladium and also at the Paris Olympia. Are you looking forward to getting back out on stage with the guys?
Yes I am, I really am but let’s not get carried away as I am only singing one song.
Do you think that the purist Yes fans will enjoy the album? I ask that question because as you know there is disharmony between certain members of the band and that is why we are faced with two different versions of the band touring as we speak.
What can I say; this is always the way with human beings isn’t it, they fall out and stuff happens. I am sure that there will be at some point in the future where it will be as many of the original members from the classic band as is possible. I have to say that it is sad in one way and I know that Steve’s (Howe) version of the band, which includes Steve, Alan (White) and Geoff (Downes) make a real effort to sort of be playing the real Yes songs in the real Yes way. On the other hand I have no idea as to whether or not the other version of the band including Jon (Anderson) Rick (Wakeman) and Trevor (Rabin) are being as true to the original recordings or not. I don’t know as I haven’t seen their show so perhaps you can tell me better.
I have now seen both shows in the past few months and I have to say that, in my opinion, Yes including Steve, Alan and Geoff are more for the purists whilst Yes including Jon, Rick and Trevor are more pop driven, let’s say. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. They are both totally different shows. In Steve’s band you have still got Alan together with the excitement of that rhythm section. Steve is totally unique, and I think that they make a real effort to play the music in a proper way.
After seeing him in Birmingham just a few days ago I have to say that Steve’s playing simply gets better.
I have to say that Steve is incredible. What amazes me is that people forget that Steve was voted Best Overall Guitarist in Guitar Player magazine five years in a row, 1977 to 1981. Don’t forget that he was also the first rock guitar player inducted into the Guitar Player Hall Of Fame. Steve is a very unique and a very talented guy.
What I will say is that there are two different shows playing to two different audiences, why not just go along and enjoy it for what it is.
Exactly. What you have to remember is that fifty years is a very long time. Politics will, I’m sure, rear its ugly head at some point during that time as in all walks of life.
Taking on board the fact that Yes now have two distinct sets of fans, putting you firmly on the spot, do you think that both sets of fans will like the album?
(Laughter) I honestly don’t know. I think that anybody who liked Drama will like the new album. Although obviously the new album is not Drama because everyone is a lot older, and it was recorded at a very different time but yes, I honestly feel that the people who liked Drama will like it.
From a musician’s point of view, just how much of a loss is Chris (Squire)?
Chris was quite exceptional, a real one-off because he had a way of playing the bass which has to be said was quite extraordinary. If you think about bass guitar players, I don’t think that anybody played as many interesting licks as Chris Squire over his career (laughter). Some guys are quite unique, take the guy from The Stranglers, Jean-Jacques Burnel if you think of their single Peaches, but that was just the one single. However, when you listen to Yes, I can count five Yes albums straight off which I think are really good. Not only was Chris a very unusual bass player, he was also a brilliant harmony singer. He could play the bass, play his bass peddles and sing harmonies all at the same time, which is really quite something.
I have never been able to master singing and playing the bass pedals at the same time not in the way that Chris could (laughter). He was like a one-man onslaught. Having said that I think that Billy Sherwood does a very good job because he plays it more like Chris used to play it. For me it is very odd hearing Yes when somebody doesn’t play Chris’ bass parts right. For me being a bass player, that was one of the reasons that I loved Yes because I had never heard anyone play the bass like that before. If you had stood in a room with Steve, Alan and Chris playing together like Geoff and I did when we both joined the band back in 1980, they were just incredible.
I had never heard anything like it. Sometimes I would say to Chris “just how the hell do you work out what you are doing there” and he once said to me “it’s easy, we are playing in the seventh, we are just catching the offbeat on beat three on the first bar and then five on the second bar and then there is a three eight bar” and I just looked at him and said “forget it” (laughter). He had totally lost me and I am notorious for making the simple things complicated. When you are the singer you can jump all over it because it is my experience that singers never really know what is going on, they just sing and we fit it over whatever is happening (laughter). However, when there is a bass there, you have to know exactly what is going on.
You mention joining the band back in 1980, just how did it feel to be asked to step in and fill Jon Anderson’s shoes?
(Laughter) well firstly there was no call, I just happened to spend an evening with Chris Squire which really was a landmark for me because I had been such a huge fan of his and the band for many years. I had just had a hit record with The Buggles which as you will be aware was Video Killed The Radio Star and after you have had a hit record then everyone suddenly wants to know you. Anyway Geoff and I went down to Virginia Water to spend some time with Chris and I always remember his kids were outside waiting for us to arrive so that they could ask us for our autographs. Whilst we were there I sang Chris Fly From Here which I had written and thought that it might work for Yes.
Chris then said “why don’t you come down to rehearsals and run through it with us” and I immediately asked him if Jon was going to be there and would he be happy to learn the song. At that point Chris became very vague about Jon and what he failed to tell me at the time was that Jon and Rick had left the band after there had been a huge bust-up. Anyway, Geoff and I went down to the rehearsals where we were duped into performing Fly From Here (laughter). I have to be honest and say that the whole thing felt so surreal but I loved the way that the band played. Being close-up to them, it all felt so amazing (laughter).
Hearing the song in the rehearsal room felt amazing and during the course of the day we learnt that both Jon and Rick had left and then Chris asked Geoff and I if we would join the band. I just thought ‘Jesus I don’t know about that’ simply because I never really saw myself as a singer (laughter). Anyway, as you know I did join the band and it really was an amazing experience. I had a year of it, we made an album, we toured but I was at that point thirty years old and I had never been the lead vocalist in a band. So in all honesty it was a bit of a trip for me. Before Geoff and I joined the band, they had already booked forty-four shows. I was okay at the beginning but towards the end of the tour I was totally exhausted.
I suddenly realised that this was not necessarily the way that I was going to spend the rest of my career. But having said that, the experience of playing three nights at Madison Square Garden in New York plus having the opportunity to work with Chris, Steve and Alan really did give me the chance to learn quite a bit about harmonies. Chris was really great when it came to harmonies. Being with Yes for that period of time I think made me fearless. Once you have played three nights at Madison Square Garden then you really are not going to be that frightened about anything.
Whenever you think of Yes you automatically think of Roger Dean’s artwork, it’s absolutely fantastic. I would love to spend a day inside his head to see exactly where he goes (laughter).
Yes, it’s lovely isn’t it, and I totally agree, just where does he go (laughter).
I first became aware of his work back in 1971 when I bought a copy of Motown Chartbusters Vol. 6.
Roger did a cover for Motown did he, well I never knew that.
Yes he did and it is fantastic.
I will have to go and take a look at that sometime later today. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.
I recently interviewed Seal and I said that, in my opinion, whenever the two of you get to work together, something special happens just like whenever Burt Bacharach gets to work with Dionne Warwick. Would you agree with that?
What can I say, when Seal and I first met, one of the main things that we had in common was that our favourite record was Walk On By by Dionne Warwick. So as you can no doubt imagine, I am always a little jumpy and wary about comparing myself to anybody like that. But I have to say that is very kind of you. If you look at the songs that Burt Bacharach has written over the years, the man is a genius. In my opinion he is without doubt one of the best songwriters ever really.
I will be asking you this question shortly because I ask everyone who I get to interview. I always ask “what was the last song or piece of music that made you cry” and when I asked Mr Bacharach he replied “that’s easy young man, it was The Stranglers cover of Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By”. I said “did it really move you that much” to which he replied “no, it was crap” (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) god, I love that man, I just love Burt Bacharach. How funny is that (laughter). You have actually reminded me of something, I was once in the rehearsal room with a bunch of executive type French people back in the 1970s together with a guy called Frank Alamo who was a really famous French singer. God knows how it happened but I found myself playing the bass on a session for him and so I had got a band together. We were all gathered together in a rehearsal room and in the next room there was a Punk band and they were recording a version of Downtown, the old Petula Clark song. It was like a really badly recorded wall of sound with them all singing ‘daaaaaan taaaaaan’ (laughter).
The French musical director turned to me and said “what is this music, it is horrible” (laughter). It was very hard for us to continue as Alamo was a ballad singer and this fucking Punk band were so loud (laughter). It was almost impossible for us to ignore it so you have just reminded me of that bad memory; what can I say but poor old Burt (laughter). So let me warn you, if you do ask me that question then the answer will be an interesting one (laughter).
Now is your chance to dispel an urban myth. I was recently speaking to Norman Watt-Roy (Ian Dury, The Blockheads, Wilko Johnson) and he informs me that you had him in the studio all day and most of the night recording the bass for Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album Welcome To The Pleasuredome and that you only paid him twenty-five pounds. Is that correct?
Yes its true (laughter). Having said that I don’t think that it was twenty-five quid; I wouldn’t have paid Norman that much (laughter). I actually saw Norman not that long ago and despite his recent health scare he is still going strong. Norman is a lovely bass player, he always was. That bass part that Norman plays on Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is one of the all-time great bass parts.
You recorded Video Killed The Radio Star back in 1979 when video was all the rage and it did in fact help to sell records. However, fast forward to 2018 when the method in which we consume our music, streaming and downloads has drastically changed, do you feel that the rock/pop video is a dying thing?
No not at all. In actually fact I think in a strange way video can still have the same sort of impact. However, video will never have the same cultural impact. Back in the 1980s it was all so very new and everyone was interested. I actually think in a funny sort of way that video actually did kill off the radio star for a while but then the radio star is back and I think that video has taken second place to it in levels of importance. Talking of urban myths have you ever read Hammer Of The Gods by Stephen Davis?
Unfortunately not. That’s the unauthorised biography of Led Zeppelin and more importantly John Bonham isn’t it?
Yes, that’s the one. I like you had never read it but for some reason I picked it up and started to read it last week. I was reading it and I came across the most blatantly untrue statement in it; it was so untrue that it almost gave me a shock. The writer claims that sometime after John Bonham passed away he still had influence from beyond the grave because Frankie Goes To Hollywood used some of John Bonham’s drumming on their single Relax (laughter). They claim that it was the engineer over in New York who had done this and there are actually a whole two paragraphs about it. It is total nonsense.
I happen to know the guy who programmed the drums on Relax because it was me (laughter). I know myself slightly better than most people and it was most definitely me and I can say with hand on heart that there were no John Bonham loops. What frightened me was that people will read this garbage and believe that it is true. You have to be so very careful what you believe and what you do. I most definitely think that John was an interesting character and I personally don’t think that anyone has ever played the drums in quite the same way as he did.
I take that on board but I have to say that Jason his son is a fantastic drummer.
Yes he is, I will agree with you on that. Chris was on the supporting bill when Led Zeppelin reformed for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena in London back in 2017. After the show I asked him “how were they” and he said to me “they were great, Jason has really got it down now and it really did make a difference”.
Jason plays with Glenn Hughes in California Breed and Black Country Communion.
Yes he does, but I also have to say that Ringo Starr’s son Zac is a terrific drummer too.
Yes he is but he just looks strange now that he has dyed his hair blonde (laughter).
(Laughter) I first saw him drumming with The Who a few years ago now.
Well the two gigs where you would always see Zac drumming would have been with The Who and also Oasis when they were still together.
Oh really. Well I remember watching The Who and thinking ‘my god who is that drummer, he’s good’.
Right we have come to that part of the interview so here goes. What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry (laughter).
I have to be honest with you and say that there are a couple of Seal tracks that I have to be careful with whenever I am listening to them. They remind me of past times so I really do have to be careful. I saw Seal a few days ago and what you have to remember is that I made six albums with him. He was so funny, he has such a great sense of humour, he and I like The Goon Show, together with all of the old 1950s radio shows and stuff like that. What you most probably do not know about Seal is that he really is a great impersonator. He is a great guy and we have done some really good stuff together.
One last question then I will let you go; just what is next for Trevor Horn?
Well I have got an album that should be coming out towards the end of this year, which hopefully will be called The Eighties Reimagined. It is a covers album of eighties songs using different people in different ways. That should be fun for me to do.
On that note Trevor let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. You take care and have a great time tonight with Steve and the boys.
Thanks Kevin, it’s been really lovely talking to you. I hope to see you soon. Bye for now.
Exclusive: Heart of the Singer – An Exclusive Interview With Jon Davison of Yes
In the spring of 2012, Jon Davison stepped out onto a stage in Auckland, New Zealand to perform his first show as the singer in progressive rock band Yes. Benoît David, the band’s frontman since 2008, had developed vocal issues similar to those that had affected Yes’ original lead singer Jon Anderson years earlier, and had to step away from the role. Enter Davison, whose longtime friend, Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters, had recommended the singer to Yes bassist Chris Squire. Fans who might have worried about yet another vocalist entering the band needn’t have worried. Unlike David, a good singer but one who was reaching to the upper register of his voice emulate Anderson’s vocals, Davison is a natural tenor; his voice soars when he sings Yesmusic. You might even argue that he was born to be the band’s singer.
I’ve met Jon a few times over the years, always in the context of me as a fan. The first time was at Massey Hall in Toronto in 2013 while the band was on the first North American leg of their Three Album show. I paid to be upfront and do the whole Meet and Greet experience, mainly so I could have a moment to compliment Jon on the work he was doing. It’s not easy being a new guy in an established band, especially one with fans that you might call “prickly’. What I noticed about Davison was that he was all smiles to those of us gathered in the back.
Jon was just as warm and friendly the next year, when I saw him backstage in Oshawa, Ontario and Hamilton, Ontario, when the band returned on a new leg of the tour. I was a guest of keyboardist Geoff Downes both evenings, which was a surreal experience for a guy who had grown up on Yes; suddenly I was on their guest list – what a blessing. The Hamilton show was especially memorable for me, for good and bad reasons. I was extremely sick with a headache, and the music from Close to the Edge and Going for the One was pretty damn psychedelic as my head throbbed, on the verge of a migraine. The show was also the last I would see with my bass hero, Chris Squire. That evening, I had brought with me a copy of Time and a Word, the gorgeous hardcover book that my friend Jon Kirkman had written about the band. The members of Yes had yet to see it, Jon told me, and he asked if I could share it with them. Backstage was busy, as the guys were getting ready to do the Meet and Greet portion of their night. However, Jon Davison saw I had the book and asked if he could look through it. I remember that he was enthused to flip through the pages; and again, that smile.
Our most recent meeting was just a few weeks ago, as Yes’s 50th Anniversary Tour rolled into the Fox Theater in Detroit. That show was the closest to Toronto, so I did the four-hour drive, having once again bought a Meet and Greet package. The concert itself was phenomenal – drummer Jay Schellen, who played the bulk of the show, was outstanding, while guitarist Steve Howe smiled more than I’ve ever seen him smile in 20 years. Alan White, who’s myriad health issues had left me concerned for his future, played so well for the last fifty minutes of the set, I couldn’t believe that he’d been ailing not long ago. Geoff Downes covered the gamut of keyboard sounds, as he played music originated not just by him, but also by four previous players (yes, I’m including Igor Khoroshev). Bassist Billy Sherwood reaffirmed why his mentor Chris Squire made the absolute best decision possible when he bequeathed him his role in Yes. Original member Tony Kaye appeared for the encores, laying down his classic organ parts.
And then there was Jon Davison. I hadn’t seen Yes since 2014, and his growth as frontman has been exceptional. He plays various percussion instruments throughout the show, while also helping cover acoustic rhythm guitar parts. His voice has only gotten stronger to my ears. After the show, during the Meet and Greet, where I admittedly got to be a fanboy with Tony Kaye (my favourite Yes keyboardist, followed in close second by Geoff Downes), I had a moment with Jon Davison, where I told him, “You’re my singer, man. Thanks for keeping the music alive.”
For those fans who believe that a band is not a band unless certain members are there, I hear you. But it’s a fight or discussion nobody will win. For me, Yes has always been the sum of its parts (except when I thought it wasn’t, and I was wrong); this era, which began in 2012 and, though mutated, continues on strongly, even in the shadow of Chris Squire’s passing, is the ultimate Yes. They can play anything and everything from the catalogue. This is in part because of Steve Howe’s leadership, the band’s willingness to work hard and honor their past, and ultimately, the abilities of Jon Davison, who has moved from substitute to frontman, while remaining true to himself.
I’ve wanted to interview Jon Davison for years, and it seems that now, as Yes celebrates their 50th anniversary and he stands in a role he’s made own, is the perfect time.
Andy Burns: So, I saw you a few weeks ago in Detroit, and I probably fanboyed out a bit, because I got to tell you that you are my singer. The group can do anything they want to do with you in the band.
Jon Davison: So, YOU were that guy (laughing).
Andy Burns: I was that guy, and I meant it. And so the first thing that I wanted to ask was, when did you feel like you were the singer in Yes? Was it a gradual thing?
Jon Davison: I figured from the moment I joined Yes that as long as I kept performance quality as my primary focal point, my ultimate goal, I’d know soon enough whether or not I was cut out for the role. So far, I feel I’ve met with success. Obviously the vast majority of Yes fans feel the same. That is really the only criteria I’ve allowed to define me as the singer of Yes. Otherwise, I don’t need to be the singer of Yes to have fame, recognition, or for any other egotistical motivation.
Andy Burns: I was at the first North American gig you did with the band in Orillia, Ontario, back in July 2012 and I thought then, and I’ve thought at every subsequent show that I’ve seen, is that that is the real and genuine you on stage. That you’re not trying to replace anyone, you get to be you. Is that a fair observation?
Jon Davison: Yeah, it is. And thank you for that. I’m glad that comes across. I’m forever in the shadow of Jon Anderson. However, that’s not a bad shadow to be in, depending on how you look at it. I have such a love for the music and I deeply relate to it. Also, I just happen to have been physically blessed with a counter tenor vocal range required for Yes vocals. So, I try and get the ego out of the way and let these two aspects guide my personal style of performing.
Andy Burns: I saw you in Detroit in June, and it was the first time I’d seen the band since Chris Squire had passed away. And Chris is my musical hero. Seeing this show, I was blown away at how good it was. Not that I’ve ever seen a bad show, but for me to enjoy it so much without Chris, it’s a testament to what this unit has been able to establish. How has the tour been going for you personally?
Jon Davison: Personally, I feel like I’m reaching this point where my singing technique is getting fine-tuned. As I’ve gained more and more experience, I’m reaching a personally satisfying plateau as a vocalist. Then, in turn, the band is really united and playing so cohesively. Just like with any particular line-up in the band’s history, new members bring in a fresh perspective. Which reminds me, that is exactly what Jay Schellen is currently doing for Yes as one of its drummers.
Andy Burns: I’ll tell you what I told Billy when we talked last year. The Topographic Drama tour didn’t come to Toronto, the closest show was Buffalo, and I skipped it, because it bothered me that Alan wasn’t going to be there. And then I heard Topographic Drama and I realized what a mistake I’d made, because Jay plays so well. It’s my biggest mistake as a Yes fan, and I told Jay that in Detroit. He’s a phenomenal drummer.
Jon Davison: He really is. He slipped perfectly into the family fold without incident. In fact, he’s a significant character in backstory of the Yes family tree. When he first moved from Albuquerque to Los Angeles in his early 20s, one of the first musicians he met was Tony Kaye.
Andy Burns: I had no idea.
Jon Davison: Jay was in Badfinger with Tony; he worked with Billy and Chris Squire in Conspiracy. He’s known Alan White for decades; he of course worked with Geoff Downes in Asia. It’s been great getting to know him and he’s now a good friend. Again, what a talent and perfect fit for Yes.
Andy Burns: I wanted to ask you about a couple specific songs you’ve been doing on the 50th Anniversary tour. ‘Nine Voices’ is a hidden gem. Had you performed it with the band before? It’s not really a standard.
Jon Davison: We first performed it with this currant lineup, (minus Jay) on the 2015 Cruise to the Edge. That was the first time I’d ever sung it.
Andy Burns: What about ‘We Can Fly From Here’ – which is from a top five Yes album for me (Fly From Here). Have you guys changed up how you approach – is it closer to the version found on Fly From Here – Return Trip, or close to the way you initially sang it back in 2012?
Jon Davison: A bit of both, really. I’d say we’re doing more of the vocal arrangements from the latest release.
Andy Burns: When you see a song like that come up in the set list, do you look forward to performing it? Is it a challenge?
Jon Davison: Every song has its unique challenges. I’ve always liked the song and it’s a pleasure to sing as it emphasizes a different shade of Yes. Drama has also been fun to perform and offers the same challenge. There’s a different vocal personality required for these tunes which I find really refreshing.
Andy Burns: Do you relate differently to those pieces of music, to songs like ‘Fly From Here’ or even ‘Nine Voices?’
Jon Davison: Yeah, I do. These songs reveal a different shade of the band, yet I relate to them the same as they’re still within the Yes arena.
Andy Burns: I mentioned earlier that I was in the audience when you and Geoff Downes as members of the band performed ‘Awaken’ for the first time outside of Toronto back in 2012. And I always thought of that song as a very Rick Wakeman/Jon Anderson song, but I told Geoff that night, you guys managed to make it you own, and have ever since. How do you approach that song, and what are you earliest memories of hearing it?
Jon Davison: That’s a interesting question. Of all the songs, ‘Awaken’ is the the one I can associate the most memories with. I was probably 18 or 19 when I was discovering spirituality, meditation, and vegetarianism. I was simultaneously listening to the Going for the One album everyday. I have memories of watching the sunset over the ocean and listening to that majestic piece of music. I guess in some way I was manifesting to the universe what was to come. That song has always been with me. Sometimes when I sing ‘Awaken’ onstage, I have to hold back the tears as it brings back so many memories. There’s such a strong, nostalgic component to hearing a song. To be able to sing it onstage is very emotional. We actually performed it for a couple of years as part of the Album Series. You mentioned seeing it performed back then?
Andy Burns: Yeah, at a place outside of Toronto called Casino Rama. It was a one off, Canadian date to kick of the Summer 2012 tour…
Jon Davison: I totally remember that casino. It’s out in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by beautiful countryside. I recall that very show, the first time I had ever performed ‘Awaken’.
Andy Burns: In the gorgeous Yes 50 program/book that the Gottlieb Brothers put together, Steve Howe talks about the band is hopefully heading into a recording studio at some point where you guys can live and work on new music. How are you preparing for that?
Jon Davison: I’m always picking up a guitar. In fact, when I’m on tour, a good way for me to wind down at the end of the night is to sit up in bed and play my little travel guitar. This process serves as a bridge from being all wound up from performing to a more meditative, sleepy state. As a result, I’m quite creative on the road. I guess it’s because after being onstage where you have to be so on point and at the top of your game, there’s a lot of residual creativity that can be channeled. I’m always gathering ideas; spontaneous snippets that I make quick recordings of. I never want to develop something too much on my own. I’d rather leave a lot of open room for band collaboration.
Andy Burns: That’s how it was with Heaven and Earth, wasn’t it? You went to the various members and collaborated that way?
Jon Davison: Exactly. We were so busy touring that year however, and I don’t think we dedicated enough time to fully developing the album. In the early years, Yes spent at least 6 months writing and recording in the studio. There were huge budgets for that kind of lifestyle recording, and consequently the material had time to properly develop to its utmost potential. By comparison, Heaven and Earth was rushed together because of budget and time constraints. It’s surprising when I occasionally talk to people who say it’s one of their favorites.
Andy Burns: I love the record. I loved it when it came out. It’s a regular listen for me. There’s a lot of beauty on that record.
Jon Davison: Oh, cool. I’m looking forward to working with the guys again in the studio having learned so much from the first time around. I really think the next Yes album is going to be monumental, especially now that Billy Sherwood’s in the fold again. He’s such a creative force and wonderful to collaborate with.
Andy Burns: Are there any songs from the Yes catalogue that you haven’t sung yet that you’d like to sing?
Jon Davison: Good question. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is doing the entire Relayer album.
Andy Burns: I’m getting the sense that that is in the cards at some point.
Jon Davison: I’d like to bring to the stage all of Tormato and Relayer and make the ‘70s Album Series a complete thing. Beyond that, some of the ‘80s and ‘90s material. There’s a song from the Union album, ‘The More We Live – Let Go’.
Andy Burns: Oh, that’s such a great song! That would be great.
Jon Davison: Wouldn’t that be a great live song?
Andy Burns: You should talk to Steve and get him to agree to that (laughs). It’s a beautiful song.
Jon Davison: I was a teenager when I was first getting into Yes. Before I discovered the back catalogue, my first exposure to their music was 90125 and Big Generator. I have wonderful memories and sentimental association with those records. The Big Generator tour was the first I ever saw and I’d really love to sing ‘Shoot High, Aim Low’…
Andy Burns: I was just going to say! You do the Jon part, Billy does the Trevor part. That would be killer.
Jon Davison: I’m glad you agree. I’ll put in a good word for us (laughs.)
Andy Burns: My final question for you –can you give me your favourite Chris Squire moment from your time in the band?
Jon Davison: Wow. There are so many. There are wonderful memories of our hang time together and how we could always make each other laugh. I always loved harmonizing vocals with him. There are fond memories of many exciting stage moments. I clearly remember what a great performer Chris was. It didn’t matter what kind of day he may have had, he never brought his personal struggles to the stage. He was an absolute professional. He knew the fans expected a certain level of prowess and showmanship, and he always rose to the occasion.
Thanks to Jon Davison for his time, and Bari Lieberman for helping make this interview happen. Follow all things Yes at yesworld.com.
Andy Burns is the Editorial Manager for SiriusXM Canada, and has been the Editor-In-Chief of the pop culture website Biff Bam Pop! since its inception in 2008. Andy's book, Wrapped In Plastic: Twin Peaks, was published in 2015 by ECW Press. His second, This Dark Chest of Wonders: 40 Years of Stephen King's The Stand, was published by Cemetery Dance in 2018 and was followed in 2021 by The Art and Making of The Stand, which chronicled the creation of the Paramount+/Amazon Prime series for Titan Books.
The longest-serving line-up of the prog behemoths (Anderson, Howe, Squire, White, Wakeman) captured in 2003 on their 35th anniversary tour, twice, in unexpurgated form (all of 256 minutes).
The first, a 17-song set, from Birmingham, replicates highlights from their then-recent Magnification, interspersed with catalogue classics, amid a stripped-down lighting show that reflects studious renditions of the likes of opener Siberian Khatru, Long Distance Runaround, the overly familiar Howe solo, The Clap, and lesser-lauded Show Me.
Highlights include the lap-steel/keyboard zephyrs rising over rhythmic cumulonimbus of And You And I, the madrigal Don’t Kill The Whale, renaissance roundelays of South Side Of The Sky and scintillating Awaken (one of three tracks on the second disc). Oddly, each player is interviewed between most songs in various settings – backstage, on a swaying boat – with some recollections informative, others banal, amid occasional bonus annoying pixellation.
The second, a 10-song Glastonbury set repeats much of the former in abridged form, in a daytime slot on the One World Stage – hardly the most conducive to showcasing Yes’ stage splendours. The production is further affected by someone in the video mixing suite playing with buttons, to flip the screen into a revolving graphic and superimpose images, as per Magnification, apparently taking it as an instruction.
Diehard fans may not be put off, but, like some in the crowd at Worthy Farm, others may ask just what the heck is happening?
"As Prog prepares to bestow the ultimate accolade on Steve Howe, the veteran guitarist talks us through the highs and lows of his incredible career, from the UFO underground to world domination with Yes and Asia."
You know Yes. They’ve been together and releasing music since 1968. Look up Progressive Rock and you will see Yes. Keyboardist Geoff Downes joined Yes in 1980 with singer/bassist/producer Trevor Horn after Yes bassist Chris Squire heard the Buggles. After releasing Drama the band split in 1981. Downes started Asia with Steve Howe, John Wetton and Carl Palmer, creating such hits as Heat of the Moment and Only Time Will Tell, as well as two albums with The Buggles. Downes rejoined Yes in 1990 and has wrote and performed with the band ever since.
This June and July Yes will be touring the States in celebration of 50 years of classic, progressive rock’n’roll, of blowing minds with their fantastical, inspirational compositions that have inspired generations of musicians and fans alike. They’ve been inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, have sold millions of records and toured the globe many times over.
You know the songs: Roundabout, Close To The Edge, Yours Is No Disgrace, Long Distance Runaround, I’ve Seen All Good People, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, It Can Happen, And You And I, Astral Traveller, Siberian Khatru, Starship Trooper, Time And A Word, Tempus Fugit, Leave It. Songs that have made rock radio, songs that have defined progressive, classic rock, songs that have taken your mind and heart to fantastical, magical and spiritual places. And you know the Roger Dean art that has graced almost all of Yes’ studio and live releases.
Yes has included in their ranks such musician’s musicians as Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Tony Kaye, Peter Banks, Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Alan White and Rick Wakeman, with Geoff Downes, Trevor Horn, Trevor Rabin, Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman, Benoit David, Patrick Moraz and Jon Davison. There have been various combinations of past and present members releasing albums and touring. But Yes is bigger than any one member.
While preparing for Yes’ 50th Anniversary tour I had the pleasure of speaking with keyboardist and songwriter Geoff Downes about his other famous bands The Buggles and Asia, as well as his most recent side-project Downes Braide Association and what has kept Yes vital for so many years.
Are you getting ready for the tour? Yeah, I think it’s coming together really well. We all do our homework before we get out there. It takes the random aspect out of it and we just get on with it. I think with this particular tour, focusing on the 50th Anniversary aspect of it, it’s really important we put together something for the fans as much as anything else.
You have some special guests for this tour. We’ve got Tony Kaye with us for this whole tour. He won’t be playing the whole set, he’ll be playing alot of the songs he was involved in. Which is from the very beginning. So it will be great having Tony on board, I’ve done some stuff with him before. We’ve got Patrick Moraz (keyboardist on Relayer, 1974) on a few select dates as well. We have a plethora of Yes keyboard players on this tour. We’re working on getting a couple of other people along at some point. We’ll just have to see how it maps out.
How have you and Tony worked out your parts on the songs he’s playing on? We play some songs together, some he plays on his own. We worked it out quite well. We’ve done it before, we did the Cruise to the Edge (rooms already selling out for the 2019 cruise.) in February and that worked out really well. It’s going to be a bit of fun, I think. It’s nice for the fans to see the original members.
The more, the merrier. I think it is important to get as many people as possible to celebrate the anniversary. We’re making that a priority this time around. It’s important for the fans that have been with us that long.
I was watching some of your early videos, of The Buggles and Heat of the Moment. Oh, God, yeah. Those were the days.
What was also interesting was that I watched you with The Buggles from 2004 when you performed Video Killed The Radio Star live for the first time ever, for the Prince’s Trust Charity show. That was a pretty monumental occasion. The future king of England was there as well, so we got to say hello to him and that was really cool. The songs are still something I do with Trevor occasionally, though we haven’t done it for a few years now. But we did get back together again, working together and we still do bits and pieces ever since. It’s nice to know we are still in touch and still making music together.
You’ve reached so many lives too, with with a full band, string section, Trevor Horn and original performers on the song. It was an amazing show, it was quite an extravaganza. The great thing was to get back with the guys at that point. Not just Trevor but with the people that played on the original Buggles stuff and meeting up with the Yes guys was a real bonus as well, getting on stage and playing with and Chris (Squire, Yes bassist) and Alan (White, Yes drummer) again.
Chris is missed. Very much so. He was a larger-than-life character in many ways. When you think about it he was very much the foundation of the band. I know Jon Anderson had a huge role with the songwriting and the vocals but Chris was a very stable influence throughout. I think he played on every Yes album. It’s quite an amazing testimony to his music that the band is still going.
I read that he was basically the one that got you and Trevor Horn into Yes. He was very institutional in that. I think he saw something in us, that we would be a good fit. He had a vision of taking Yes into the 80’s and I think he knew they couldn’t just count on doing what they were doing, but that there had to be a reinvention. I think we were sort of the ideal pairing to come in with the fact that we had a lot of modern keyboard sounds and we had very contemporary production ideas, everything really appealed to Chris. A lot of the fans didn’t understand while a couple of pop guys would come and join their revered band. Having said that, once they heard the music and what we were doing, the way Yes were going, they were a little bit more appreciative of the fact that there was a change and it was going to be something different.
I was listening to Drama and Allan’s getting a workout, everything is uptempo, the band sounded hungry. I think because we were the young guys, the new guys, the other guys worked extra hard to try and make it work. I think that is what you’re pointing out, the energy that is on the Drama album is that the rhythm section is on fire and Steve’s guitar parts are incredible. I think they started to up their game considerably for that very reason.
You also redid 2011’s Fly From Here with Trevor Horn on vocals. (Trevor produced the album and co-wrote it with Downes.) That worked out really well. Trevor did a fantastic job on that. It was something that I never thought of. You do an album and you think ‘That’s it’ and then you move on. But Trevor had this thing in his head that because a lot of the material on that album had been written by the two of us I suppose he wanted to give his stamp on it. So he kind of ran off with the project and came back to us and said “What do you think of this?” I said ‘Wow, this is incredible,’ the way that he’d reworked it and reworked all the vocals. With respect to Benoit (Davis, vocals on Fly From Here), but this was Trevor’s music and I think that was the reason he wanted to do it.
While listening to Drama I realized Trevor was singing, not Jon. His voice is close. He’s done a few stand-ups with us in the European tour we just did. He did a couple of London shows and Paris as well. He’s still great, he’s still got the enthusiasm for it. We’re all getting along so it’s good to know someone who still has that enthusiasm.
From the time you joined Yes to now, what is it that keeps you excited and challenged? I think it is because the music is quite demanding. Well, very demanding, really. You really have to concentrate. It’s such a great catalogue of music and it’s a joy to play it because it’s very original, it’s unusual. It’s wonderful music to play.
Hearing a song, I’ll get choked up, even if I’ve heard it 50 times. I think that is the beauty of Yes’ music, why it’s lasted as long as it has, is because it has an emotional effect on people.
Were you at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony? Yes, I was. They had a limit on how may people they’d let in, I think there’s been 20-odd members of Yes over the years, so I don’t think they were in the market for 20 members onstage. I think it was fair enough they selected the people who had probably the most influence on Yes over the years. So that was OK.
It must’ve felt pretty good knowing you’ve been involved in that history. It feels great, it was long overdue.
Tell us about the Downes Braide Association. That’s a project I’ve been involved in in recent years. Chris is a great writer and we hit it off straight-away and decided to get writing together. It was a really good combination, I think. He’s a very talented guy, very bright and we enjoy working together. It’s a nice project to be involved in.
Did you get to come out to his studio? I did, I think he lived near Bel Air at one point, that’s when he first moved (to California). We were working in his studio at home. He’s moved to a larger place since then.
He’s produced some contemporary acts but also has people like Marc Almond, Andy Partridge and Kate Pierson guesting on the new album. It must be nice to have that outlet. We’re actually doing our first gig, in England in September, so that will be fun.
What words do you have for those youngsters out there learning piano or keyboards? It’s a shame that in the UK the Arts have been forsaken. Quite a lot of funding has been pulled away from the Arts and I think it’s a great shame because learning an instrument is an important aspect of education. Music is a very important part of peoples’ lives. There should be more people taking up a guitar or keyboard or trumpet or whatever. I think it’s important to learn an instrument because it’s like learning languages, it’s a whole different world. I think that everyone is effected by music in some degree. I hope that young people do take up the instruments and start feeling the love of music.
What song would you suggest to learn? Radio Killed the Video Star would be an interesting one. Probably Close To the Edge. That would take some time to figure out.
Fly From Here – Return Trip is available from PledgeMusic. The #YES50 Tour is this June and July.