Mission Improbable - They've survived countless changes of fashion, years of critical contempt, musical and personal differences de luxe. For legal reasons they can't even call themselves Yes. Yet Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe have re-formed and are once more delighting American audiences with their complex time signatures and cosmic visions. "We're on this beautiful search," they tell Phil Sutcliffe. "It can't end.."
"I'm a musician." He's Jon Anderson of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe, just arrived at Rickey's Hyatt Hotel. Palo Alto, and making for the outdoor pool even before he's checked into his room.
I'm an artist." He leans forward, pointing assertively. "I'm 44, I'm half-way through my career and I'm still trying to discover the art of making good music that will last at lease, well.. longer than two months anyway." Losing track for a moment, he runs both hands through his mop of streaked hair. "So much music these days is computerized, sommuterised, satirized businesswised."
No questions have been asked thus far but, like an ace striker, the co-founder of Yes is showing sharp anticipation. "We have always gone for far-searching musical ideas. Sometimes they're a bit overblown - which is only natural because we don't know the way, we haven't been schooled and it can get a bit haywire, but 80 per cent of the time we're right on it, there's no question. Did you find those swimming trunks for me, mate?" he says to a passing roadie. Remarkably, Anderson still speaks - and sings - with an accent from Accrinton, Lance, where he grew up. In fact, he registers in American hotels as "Mr. Accrington Stanly".
Right, Jon. What...?
"And lyrically I'd say the same thing. It's a learning process. Becoming a poet lyricist, or whatever, that I tend to think I am, it takes time to bring that out, it takes maturity. So the lyrical content is occasionally a little bit over your head. But I know exactly what I mean. When I'm singing Heart Of The Sunrise (from Fragile, 1971) I know exactly what I'm talking about. "Love comes to you and you follow,' It's the spirit of love within and you follow that spirit of love, you dream it and you make it become a reality."
He stands up, drops hi track-wilt bottoms and slips his trunks on, content to let the tail of his T-shirt apologizes for an apparent lack of underwear.
"And 'the heart of the sunrise' is an incredible energy, but I tend to think there's a more unifying level, a more spiritual level, a more cosmic level to it and having actually found and witnessed one or two extra dimensions on this planet I know for a fact it ain't just a ball of fire so the heart of the sunrise is something that energizes the within of the beings which we are. We are all the same, we are human functional beings with a soul with is all one. You understand that. We call that God. You understand that." he insists. "I'm going to take a dip, I won't be five seconds."
He removes his shades and his top and says he'd prefer it if no pictures were taken. He looks very well but he carries the appropriate set of wrinkles and half a stone of flab over the waistband.
Emerging swiftly as promised, he stretches out on a lounger. "I should get a bit of sun. We're on TV tonight." He smiles. "All that was a sort of defense mechanism by the way. Don't question me about my lyrics! You know, Our music is what it is! It might not seem really cool for me to think of myself as an artist, some journalist might say. Who the fuck does he think he is? Well, they can say what they like about us, make-out we're aging money-grabbing, psychedelic dinosuaric, popflaho-hippo...Rock 'n' roll can't accept anyone 'pontificating". But I don't pontificate. I'm just on this beautiful search. It can't end, because there's the known, the unknown and the unknowable!" And it's a knowing grin he's grinning. He's enjoyed this. "That's life! Whoo!"
"If you never liked Yes, you'll hate this band." said Brian Lane in January this year. The manager of Yes throughout the '70s, he was announcing the (near) reunion after 17 years of, arguably, the band's classic line-up. ABWH - but minus Chris Squire and, crucially, minus the brand name, still in the hands of the combo lately left by Anderson and led by the co-founding, ever-present, extremely tall bassman.
If Lane's line was a tease, he must have known that more serious passions would soon be aroused. In June ABWH announced that their show, opening with 32 dates in America, was entitled "An Evening Of Yes Music Plus..." and that their stage set and album sleeve had been designed by Roger Dean, whose swords, sorcery and surrealism art work had become the band's visual identity from Fragile onwards (a minor oddity is that Dean's hallmark Yes logo has been in mothballs for years because it's owned by Steve Howe and Brian Lane).
Yes went to war, under the terms of a 1984 partnership agreement between Squire, Tony Kaye (keyboards, Yes member '68-'71 and '82-present), Trevor Rabin (guitar, vocals, '82-present), Alan White (drums, '72 to present) and Anderson (who had since left the band and formed ABWH, but is still legally a member of the partnership, though clearly outvoted on this score!). The agreement laid down that internal disputes would be subject to arbitration by a California court, so Yes took out an injunction claiming that: 1) ABWH had "wrongfully converted" the band's name and that they were "creating confusion in the minds of the public over which group is the real Yes": 2) the partnership agreement barred anyone leaving the line-up from using the name Yes, even from describing himself as "a former Yes member": 3) a "particularly sneaking and obnoxious ABWH press release mentioning Yes and Dean was causing Yes 'irreparable harm".
In July the L.A. Judge threw the injunction out. This implied that, as long as ABWH doesn't actually say they are Yes, all's fair. Momentarily it seemed that peace had a chance. As Anderson says, mildly enough. "I'd love to use the name Yes, because it would bring a log more people into our project. But then we can't disregard the fact that there are other people using it, and that's the way we're living it"
However, there may yes be another twist to the story. Lane claims that the '87-'88 Yes Big Generator tour of America was a relative failure leaving the Yes partnership "technically insolvent" and that is must therefore be dissolved and debts paid off. If this agreement succeeds, for a legal instant at least, there would be no Yes - an opportunity for, say a realignment".
The fans tell the musicians how much they hate it and whish they could sort it out like the good friends they always seemed. The musicians view the whole affair with distaste but, inevitably they participate. The case continues.
When, in 1968, six and a half feet of Chris Squire met five and a half feet of Jon Anderson at a Soho club call La Chasse, worlds collided. Nothing cosmic about it, though, Squire, 19, was a middle-class Londoner a year or so out of Haberdusher's Ashe's public school with one short-lived band behind him (The Syn, who included Pete Banks on guitar and recorded for Deram). Conversrsely, Anderson, 23, cam from a harsher end of what even Accrngton had to offer and had already been in a working band for five years.
"When my dad was 32, he got ill." says Anderson. "He was confined to bed and a wheelchair after that, so we had to rally round and work from an early age. Me and my brother, Tony did a milk round for a local farmer, only we had to go to the field, catch the cows and milk them first. That's when we started singing together. Everlys, Buddy Holly. When I was 10 I played washboard in The Little Jon Skiffle Group and a big later Tony dragged me into The Warriors.
They wore gold lame jackets - "We used to do Goldfinger. I sounded just like Shirley Bussey. Probably still do" - and followed the "Beatle trail" around Europe navigating by the light of "mind-expanding drugs". When he bumped into Squire he was a beat group veteran, but ready for something completely different. As they talked about bands like Vanilla Fudge. The Nice, Family, and Fifth Dimmension's Magic Garden album they realized that, astonish ally enough, they had common ground.
Not that this piece of musical territory was theirs alone, of course. By the late '60s pop had evolved into rock. The players had come a long way technically and wanted to explore new territory which they described as "art rock", "progressive", "pro-classical" or "fusion", To a degree, this meant that proving or appreciating cleverness was more fun than fun. Fans and critics alike were preoccupied with frowning deliberations of technique, speed, very long songs and improbabic time signatures. They were keen to call favorite players "virtuosos".
Anderson and Squire themselves were impressed by Keith Emerson's classical keyboard adventuentures of The Nice album (September, '67), while their peers sharing the same ethos and influenciencing one another including King Crimson (debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. November, '69) and Genesis (Genesis To Revelations. March, '69).
After a few months, with Banks, calling themselves Mabel Greer's Toy Shop, they recruited Tony Kaye, and ex-Tonbridge public school jazz fanatic Bill Bruford on drums (he'd just lost his first job in the Savoy Brown Blues Band after three days because he insisted on playing Dust My Broom in 6/8 time). Yes was born and this line-up passed several landmarks, opening for Cream's farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall (November, '68); a prestigious Marquee residency; a record deal with Atlantic and their first two albums, Yes ('69) and Time And A Word ('70) which when to Number 45 in Britain).
But then the Yes pattern of constant change asserted itself. Two more musicians with the required "eclectic" backgrounds and inspirations were drawn in - Steve Howe on guitar, a graduate of various bands including Tomorrow and Bodast, and, following The Yes Album ('71), Rick Wakeman, former student at the Royal College Of Music, a member of The Strawbs and session prodigy for Bowie, Cat Stevens, T. Rex and Elton John. The outcome was Fragile, with the American hit single Roundabout, and Close To The Edge ('72). Worldwide, they sold truck-loads and created the legend.
Always complicated, sometimes brilliant, near-anonymous as stage personalities - give or take a silver cape - Yes were characterized by Dean's otherworldly designs and Anderson's airily uplifting lyrics. Fans regarded them with awe - a view shared by the band themselves, according to Bruford. "I was insufferable when we started out," he says. "I knew everything about music, and so did everyone else in the band. Image. so much knowledge contained in one Transit van? Then, a bit later, there was a lot of, "Simon & Garfunkel took 10 weeks to record the Bridge Over Troubled Water album, did they? Well, we'll take three months on Close To The Edge then."
Still, reunited, ABWH do regard Yes's opening chapters with affection and enduring respect. "Close To The Edge had a sense of discovery for us - and presumably for the people who bought it," says Bruford. "I'm sure it sounds trite now but in those days it was quite a big deal. Rock musicians hadn't been capable of an arrangement of any kind of complexity at all. But now I find it's fundamentally good music, its form, its shape are timeless."
Wakeman is equally comfortable with his music from that period, but would probably pass a cold flannel over the brows of its more fevered and evangelistic supporters. "the truth is some people can't live without it and some people can't stand it." he says. "It's always been like that. I can quite understand anyone not liking it and I wouldn't think of trying to correct them - it's like trying to convert a Jew to Catholicism.
As soon as Close To The Edge was finished Bruford quit, lured by the staunchly left-field experimentation of Robert Fripp and King Crimson. For a devout pie-and-a-pint man, Wakeman put up with all the après-gig queds for macrobiotic nosh well enough, but what he couldn't stomach was the Anderson-Howe "epic" Tales From Topographic Oceans. "We had enough material for one album but we felt we had to do the double," he says. "Yes was heading towards avant-garde jazz-rock and I had nothing to offer there." He confirmed his departure on May 8, 1974, a date he remembers precisely because it coincided with Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, his second solo album, going to Number 1 in Britain.
As it turned out, his replacement Patrick Moraz didn't quite hit it off with Anderson and Wakeman was back within a couple of years helping Yes sustain their career as big-time stadium rockers through Going For The One ('77) and Tormato ('78). For a time they carried it off with some style - no matter what the punks said about them. But it was becoming more difficult to keep the faith within the band.
"In December '79, between session in the studio, Jon and I were sitting in a little cafe in Paris," Wakeman recalls. "We looked at one another and said, This isn't our band, is it? It's not what Yes should be. And we both decided to leave. When I went back to my house in Montreaux I knew it was all over, what the 70's had been to me."
And soon, it seemed, the band were facing the some somber truth. While Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, later of Buggles and the bubblegum hit Video Killed The Radio Star, took a brave shot a covering for Anderson and Wakeman on the Drama album and subsequent world tour, people were starting to refer to the line-up as 'the false Yes' and the long-term members lost hear. In April, '81 Yes announced that they were an ex-band.
In the circumstances it was easy to believe. The funny thing was that it turned out to be wrong. Squire and White tried to form an old-fashioned super group with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. They rehearsed, shrugged, and gave it up as a bad job. They got in touch with South African hard rocker Trevor Rabin and the long-lost Tony Kaye (last seen in '71, disappearing into the bargain-bin-bound Badger). Calling themselves Cinema, they recorded most of an album. But record company executive advised, quite strenuously, that something was missing - so they ran Jon Anderson and called themselves Yes (despite his hits with Vangelis, Anderson says he had been missing the band terribly). From the compromise and unpromising beginnings emerged one of the rock's more startling comebacks.
Trevor Horn, a short-lived and uneasy member of Yes, proved a brilliant producer for them (he was to transfer his talents to ABC's Lexicon Of Love album, Malcolm McLaren's Duck Rock and the initial Frankie Goes To Hollywood hits). His dazzling single mix of Owner Of A Lonely Heart - an American Number 1 in January '84, something unheard of in their previous career - propelled the 90125 album to multi-platinum, a virtual reincarnation.
But for Anderson and Squire, such happiness was never likely to remain unalloyed. Recoding the follow up album, The Big Generator, was a grindingly slow process and the two principles found they were no longer compatible. Squire says Anderson couldn't handle - "band democracy" and suffered from Lead Singer's Disease. Anderson cheerily agrees, but argues it was never the less. "Napoleon. The hippy with the iron hand. That's was they used to call me, though I think I'm more of a sergeant-major now," he says. "I like having Lead Singer's Disease. I have to let the other know I'm listening. Yes were making me feel like a sideman and I'll never be a sideman for anyone. Mind, I do love Chris and will work with him again but for years he's been late for everything. Rehearsals started at two and he'd never be there until five. It was driving everyone crazy. So I rang him and he said, This is a divorce then." and I said, It's got to be, Chris you're just not handling your friends very well, are you?"
Loathing Los Angeles after three year there, Anderson took off for the small Greek island of Hydra to write and consider his next move.
When Anderson made his three phone calls last autumn, he caught Bruford, Wakeman & Howe on the hop, involved in diverse projects, involved in their families - Anderson portrays his own marriage and relationship with his three children as holding together on a rather absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder basis as he tends to freewheel around the globe with his home in a suitcase.
Bruford is 41, married with three kids and comfortably established in the Surrey hills. Virally fit, in his stage hear he flashes the muscularly shoulders of a middle-weight boxer. Since Yes he has ran parallel careers as sticks start of the studio with the likes of Crimson, Genesis and UK, and cottage industrialist leading his own jazz groups which make out on worldwide album sales of 50,000 a shot. The latest edition is Earthworks, which includes Django Bates and Ian Ballany from Loose Tubes.
"I didn't have anything to do with Yes after I left." he says. "To this day I've never heard Topographic Oceans, nor any of the subsequent LPs. But I have always kept in touch with Jon - our children used to go to each other's parties and so on. I've been very happy with my music in the '80s. When I work for other people I'm professional, reasonable, a thousand ideas. I could open a little shop, Good Things On Drums, delivered with style and panache, always punctual. Then there's the Earthworks me - an active member of Percussive Arts Society, working to get electronic kits taken seriously. Without sponsorship too! That's my contribution.
Howe, 42, who lives in South Denton with his second wife and three of his four children, has taken the alternative route to the traditional Keith Richards rock 'n' roller book - health foods, rather than drug abuse. He's unique is having enjoyed and even greater commercial success after leaving Yes. In '81 while Squire and White were floundering, he joined Geoff Downes, John Weyton (ex-King Crimson) and Carl Parlmer (ex-ELP) to form Asia and saw their first album of sublime radio rock, reveled and ignored in Britain, to the American charts for eight weeks. This proved to be their high water mark, and Howe's public profile has since subdued through the short-lived GTR with Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis) and the wholly obscure Nerotrend. Nonetheless, Anderson found him well setup and embroiled in sessions, knocking out New Age albums for a Miles Copeland enterprise, and working on a third solo album backed by Bruford and Billy Currie (ex-Ultravox).
Wakeman, 40, father of five, lives on the Isle of Man with his wife, known to the media as "former Page Three girl Nina Carter." He's teetotal now, so the modest paunch must be courtesy of home cooking rather than the erst-while best butter and brandy. He is the only one who has seen really hard times in the Yes aftermath, though, fortunately for the self-esteem, he had hauled himself well clear of the mire before Anderson invited him back into the big league. Reminiscing about his extravaganza of the mid '70s - giant inflatable dinosaurs in the Crystal Palace lake for Journey To The Center Of The Earth and King Arthur on ice - he says, "Churchill would have said they were my finest hours! Great fun. You could say I had delusion of grandeur but, well, I love Busby Berkely. Not to mention along with Six Wives Of Henry VIII, they did about 15 million albums."
But the shows cost him a fortune as did his much-publicized business mogul pretensions - at one time he owned 11 companied including a musical instrument factory and a firm that hired out his fleet of Rollers. "Then I had a couple of expensive divorces, musically I fell out of favor, I had serous tax problems, and by the time I moved back to England in '81, I'd waved goodbye to everything. All I had left was a suitcase and a quid. The only options I could see were to make my way to New York and get work there, or stay at home and drink myself to death."
That he took neither exit he credits to support from the improbable combination of an accountant friend, Nina Carter and God. Returning to the straightforward Christianity of the childhood - the phrase "born again" makes him wince - he gave up the booze, began to pay off his debts thought sensible deployment of the royalties that still flowed in from his back catalog, and set about recording new material economically for a now specialist audience - around 50,000 a throw, like Brufords - still eager to hear from a somewhat chastened wizard of the keyboards. "I've just finished my twenty-fourth solo album and they're are two more in the pipeline, would you believe?" He says.
Old hands, none them jumped up and down yelling "Yo! Let's go!" the moment they go the call. They arranged to meet and Anderson readily agreed to important matter like equal shares for all and, at Brufords insistence, no invite for Chris Squire. Then, after a trial run in a Paris rehearsal studio, they all agreed it just might work.
Unusually, the ABWH show opens with the stars' solo spots. It's oddly touching. Seventeen years on, Anderson's gentle singing, Howe's old acoustic party pieces, the modest crescendos from Wakeman and Bruford have ceased to be bombastic displays for the worshipful. They are warm and welcoming and that's how the audience in the elegant amphitheater at Palo Alto and, for the last night of the tour, on the grass in a crude open air arena at Sacramento respond to them. Songs from the new, if rather Fragile, album elicits friendly applause, while for the classics, of course, it's ecstasy. Submerged in billows of dry ice, Anderson tells the crowd they're wonderful, the band's energy is their energy, a refection, a circle, kind of magic. Everyone seems pleased to go along with that.
Backstage, amid a lot of handshaking and see-you-in-Europe, ABWH wind down separately in their dressing rooms. Wakeman stows his electric kettle and his packet of PG Tips in a tote bag. Howe says it's been good, but home crowds in October will know he's really getting off if he loosens up enough to pull a favorite stunt that just didn't happen in the States. He demonstrate, "You drop the neck like this, get your left leg right up over it - playing all the time, right- then, you get going!" And he's off across the room, hopping, one leg cocked like a can-can girls - with an air guitar, that is.
Soon they gather at the minibuses for the short drive back to the hotel. They have done fair to excellent business in 10-20,000 seaters across America, but former airs and graces are consigned to find memory. Two minibuses for $70 a day each instead of five limos for $3,000 a day. Rooms not suites, Scheduled flights, not private jets (though Howe chooses to drive his own car everywhere so that he can "discover America", rather than miss it as usual). Nobody complains. Arithmetic is no longer the mysterious irrelevance it once was.
In the long term each of them has agreed to give six months a year to ABWH and Anderson is quite serene on the subject of fresh material. "I have musical dreams," he says. But soon he's talking about another dream he's had, the ultimate Yes gig, featuring everyone who's ever been in the band, a week in home-from-home Philadelphia and a week in London. His blathe optimisms overlooks Squire's avowal that there is "no chance" of him playing in a band led by Anderson, and Brufords aversion to Squire, and who knows what other mutual loathing's. On the other hand, Anderson didn't get where he is today, halfway through his career, by kowtowing to po-faced practically at every turn.
There's a Walkman with a tape of the band's new single, I'm Alive, being passed around. The joke is that it was a two-minute album track and the record company asked them to lengthen it so that is could stand a chance of airplay. "I can't believe it, man," says Anderson grinning. "It's the first time in the history of modern science".
What's the story with Tony Levin? Tonight's Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe concert featured Jeff Berlin on bass, reading charts (written out music) for most of the show. I actually missed Tony more than I missed Chris Squire, although Jeff really shone in spots, notably "Heart of the Sunrise".
Set list was pretty similar to what others have posted. We didn't get "Yours is No Disgrace" (being played as a last encore at some shows). We also didn't get the Tony Levin/Bill Bruford duet (for obvious reasons).
It was a great show - well worth the bucks. The coolest thing was that they were really appearing to have a great time - especially Anderson and Wakeman. It was very nice to see, and quite encouraging that there might be a future for this group.
Those of you who don't know who Jeff Berlin is - he's got several fusion albums of his own, and played for a few years in Bill Bruford's band Bruford. He was also the bass player on Patrick Moraz' _i_. He's a great, great player, but he did appear to be somewhat unfamiliar with the material. My assumption is that Tony Levin is ill, and I'm guessing that he might have written out the bass charts - it often sounded like what Tony might play on the Yes material.