As YES play one of the most prestigious concerts in their career, at Madison Square Garden, New York, this week both their British and American fans can feel proud of the band that has given them so much fine music.
In a world of uncertain values, Yes have never failed to pursue high musical ideals. Without ever utilising the machinations of mere publicity they have achieved massive success, and more importantly, wide acceptance for a unique brand of music they have spent five years developing, polishing and honing to a rare brilliance.
They can sell out concerts, like Madison, without advertising, and their newest most advanced work Tales From Topographic Oceans, went gold as soon as it was released.
But it has been a hard won success, dependent on their dedication, work and sheer musicianship.
Yes are one of those rare bands that combine undisputed technical ability with an emotional approach that stems from mind and body.
And that has been their goal since the earliest days, despite the many changes that have affected them.
Yes today can still have their disagreements, and hard fought discussions on policy. But Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire and Alan White are a solid team, who have huge potential still not fully realised, even in the wake of a major work like the four-sided Topographic Oceans.
This week Steve Howe talks about the controversy that surrounded the launch of Topographic and its affects on the band, the origin of the work, and Yes's future plans.
STEVE WAS relaxing at his Hampstead, London home, surrounded by his collection of guitars. Here he has a musical workshop where new ideas and songs can be put down on tape, adding his own synthesiser and drums to basic vocal and guitar tracks. One day he'd like to record a solo album, and that may well be achieved this year.
"We got on a nice groove on our last English tour, especially towards the end, and maybe it would have done us a lot of good if we had gone back to London to do some more concerts after the Rainbow appearances. I think we are going to do that in the spring anyway. It helps a lot to give people time to get used to our music – difficult as it is sometimes.
"Lots of people I'm affected by have either grown up with the album or heard the many rough mixes, and then when they heard the end product they were pleased and happy. Or else they went to the Rainbow where there was a peculiar atmosphere because it built up like that with the pressure.
"But I personally had a good time. I think we all had a good time anyway. The last two nights were different again. You really should have come and seen us, because every group, is different on different nights.
"On some nights you do feel the tension of people listening who are not your usual record buying audince. It's always hard playing to London anyway.
"If you get through to them, it's all right. But you don't always. You don't always win over people and that did deter a certain part of this group, because his friends seemed to feel that things weren't right. I think by the end of the tour we proved the value of the set.
"It's really hard to put a good show together, and Yes always have to go in a certain direction at a certain time.
"Maybe we have to play 'Close To The Edge', so that we can zoom up to things, and that is our mirror. But that increases our set by another twenty minutes. In terms of putting a red hot show together, I can dig that, but being Yes – there are certain things we have to play.
"We have to stick out for what we believe in, even to the extant of not making it easier on the audience
"Oh yeah, of course there was discussion within the band about the set we did in England. There always is discussion. And the nicest thing about it is it comes up in serious discussion about the music we should be playing, and the musical incentive is the final factor in making a decision.
"We don't deny an audience reaction is what we are there for, but sometimes the decisions about policy have to be at our cost.
"I agree there is a lot of our music that fans have not heard much in England. And we'd like to do a lot more odd gigs. Not setting up a tour but doing random one-nighters. This is another thing Yes will try.
"We've tried different kinds of working – tight schedules, then laying back with Topographic Oceans giving ourselves a lot of time, and maybe we'll try this random approach. We disappear for a month, then suddenly do one-nighters, without the whole charade, almost of a tour.
"On that last tour we had tremendous receptions everywhere, and each night we seemed to capture one of the pieces of Topographic more than another.
"The minute you count it in, you determine an awful lot of things, like the mood and the whole feel. So our first problem was not playing it at the right speed.
"We have to be absolutely confident about the time. Even after rehearsals you think you know it pretty well, and Jon will start the vocals...'Dawn of light lying between a silence,' and if it's a little bit down, it's not right. And if it's too fast, people will say: 'We'll I can't play this bit.' We try to get a compromise.
"Another thing is projecting the various pieces in the right way, and at first we found we were overplaying side one and two. They should be quiet in comparison to three and four. They are gentle but should be bright, and not too laid back.
"And we were playing three too fast. There are certain cues that we have and if somebody misses them and isn't watching, then maybe a section will drag on for too long.
"It's a complicated piece to play overall so that's why an encouraging audience is heaven sent to us, because if you get an inquisitive audience at that time, even doubtful, then it is much harder, because the vibrations affect us. I'm very satisfied with the piece because I'm very close to it and involved in this particular period.
"For me it came about differently from how other people have talked about it. I've heard Chris and Rick talk about it, and for me that isn't how it came about at all.
"I don't mind a different attitude because we're different people and we see it differently. But there was a different sense of involvement in it.
"When we were in the studio, towards the end of the album, we were seeing a flower opening, and some of us had a different insight into what we were expecting out of it, possibly, or just how dynamic we could get it.
"Before that it was a kind of interesting conversation that Jon and I have been having for some time, originally just about writing songs together. Then Jon came to me and we started organising the songs, not just to be linked, but so they worked for Jon's story.
"When we were working on side two, which was possibly the hardest track to get, because it was one of the furthest things away from Yes, I felt a great sense of involvement in the songs, because there was Jon pushing various ideas at me, and I had in my mind the various things I'd do on this album with his songs.
"ON THE OTHER albums it had always been much more a case that I was going to venture into my possibilities as a guitarist in it.
"On this album I felt I took on a particular role because I thought it was more relevant to this piece of music than just random ideas on guitar. There was a lot of thought put into it. As a guitarist, I felt I'd done some things I liked.
"But there were certain things I hadn't done.
"On side one, I played electric guitar, two I played acoustic, three I play a lot of steel and four was back into electric, hopefully covering certain things I'm capable of.
"Because I was closest in the creation of this music I knew what I wanted to play. Now Rick was forever open to play anything he liked. I'd play something of mine, and he could play something of his and we'd exchange ideas. But Rick had a tricky job because...possibly because I was thinking in terms of the guitar doing various things, he had a kind of cotton wool effect about the album, he had to pack it all in, you see, with the added dynamics, where and when the song demanded.
"We did a lot of music we didn't use on the finished album. If we'd kept it on, it would all have been longer, which would have meant another album really. But we thought that wasn't practical. We just tried to be selective."
Didn't that give Rick less opportunity to play? "No – it didn't give me that feeling. I felt I had a role to play in it you see. We really sweated to get it right, and it left me feeling fulfilled. It gets overlooked how much we all contribute to Yes. We all get individual praise, and it's all great. And there's no kind of cribbing about who wrote what."
As it was so personal to Steve, was he hurt by criticisms of the work? "It hurt me at first – but not really. The only criticism that hurts me is when people don't use good words.
"I read one review of Rick's concert that contained a whole paragraph of total drivel. It said that Rick's albums were much more valid than Yes's albums, which he wrote off as total rubbish, and said Rick's were far more a step in the right direction.
"Then in, the next paragraph, he completely wrote off Yes in a very harsh way and asked if Rick would leave, y'know? Criticism, when it's constructive is good. I don't like snidey remarks.
"When we first got the reviews of the album, it hit us at a time when it made the heaviness of it much heavier, because of the doubts which weren't in Jon and I and Chris and Alan
"Rick had this doubt and people were telling him things we didn't agree with at all. But then, next night, you go on stage and play it to the people, and experience their applause, and you think, well it can't be bad.
"Rick had a lot of trouble working into Topographic Oceans, not playing it, but mixing it. Consequently, when it came to the tour, he didn't have full knowledge of the whole line.
"I can't say Rick let himself down, but he let a lot of other people down, possibly only because he didn't quite get the concept quick enough.
"Regardless of pressures and whatever people might say, you just have to believe in it. And the outcome is that we're in America, just raring to go again."
JON ANDERSON singer supreme
LIKE A ROCK, Jon is the cornerstone of Yes, with great strength hidden behind his deceptively mild manners. Well perhaps not deceptive, because Jon is mild, gentle, but wise enough in the ways of the world to get a juggernaut like Yes off the ground and keep it running – from strength to strength. Sometimes Jon is forced into making momentous decisions, but he won't flinch from what he sees as the right path. He's not a trained musician, and will only pluck at the guitar to help his songwriting. Yet somehow he'll convey his ideas to the men who make up one of the most technical gifted rock bands ever to emerge from Britain. Good taste and a pursuit of the higher meanings to life are part of the make-up and drive of this remarkable man who arrived wide-eyed and determined to succeed from Accrington in London, back in 1968. Jon formed Yes wth Chris Squire, just after he left a group called Gun. They met up with Peter Banks, who was on guitar wtih Chris in Syn and asked Bill Bruford to join them on drums, the latter quitting Leeds University in the process. As singer and writer of many of their songs, Jon never attempted to dominate the band on stage. Part of the band's appeal lay in their vocal harmonies, Jon blending his distinctive voice, sometimes frail, sometimes rasping, with Chris, Peter, and later Steve Howe. Anderson has always allowed the band full rein of expression, to the point where they have sometimes been described as his instrument. In the quest to understand the world, humanity and himself, Jon has become a great reader, delving into the histories of lost civilisations and ancient religions. Nowhere is this influence more strongly reflected than in the Tales From The Topographic Oceans.
RICK WAKEMAN keyboard giant
UNCLE RICK, as he is known to friends and family alike sometimes seems larger than life. A brilliant, classically trained pianist, Rick has taken to the world of electric keyboards with cheerful abandon. While it sometimes seems the synthesiser was invented for him, he romps around Hammond organs, Mellotrons, harpischords and electric pianos that are stacked around him like a fortress. Even with this formidable array, there is no missing Wakeman on stage, golden hair flowing almost to his waist, invariably clad in a dramatic cloak that gives him the appearance of musical wizard. Rick has a huge appetite for life and its pleasures. But they are simple ones – beer, darts and good company. And his capacity for work is expressed not only in the immense contribution he has made to Yes's music and the band's popularity since he joined in August 1971, but in his own projects like the hit solo album Six Wives Of Henry VIII and the recent triumphant London concert "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth." He is busy developing his writing to add to his talents as an exciting stage entertainer. Humour is never far absent from Rick's work, but he is deadly serious when it comes to composition and expanding his career. After his early years as a prolific session man (he once worked with David Bowie), and later as a vital member of The Strawbs, Rick is now in the happy position of being able to contribute both to Yes and develop his own projects. A warm hearted man who does a lot of unpublicised work for children's charities, Rick likes to share his happiness with others. And the esteem in which Wakeman is held by fans is emphasised by his victory in last year's Melody Maker Poll – when he was voted the world's top keyboard player.
CHRIS SQUIRE bass battery
SOLID AS a rock and a tower of power. Chris bestrides his battery of bass guitars like a colossus. A founder member of the band and nicknamed "The Fish," (from the days when Yes shared an apartment. Chris spent longer than his share of time in the bath), Chris has been instrumental (sic) in helping to create the distinctive Yes sound. Right from the start of the band he used the bass with care and intelligence, adding to the melody lines and extending its role beyond being an addition to the drums. He also developed a distinctive, hard, edgy sound, primarily influenced by Jack Bruce and John Entwistle. Apart from his bass guitar playing (and recently he has added a jumbo sized acoustic bass to his range of instruments), Chris is one of the main voices in the Yes vocal front-line, and has also co-written many of Yes's most popular arrangements with Jon. Born in London, Chris is a self-taught musician and his first group was the Syn. The lead guitarist with them was Peter Banks and both of them helped Jon to form Yes' first line-up. Tall and quietly spoken, Chris takes life at a slightly slower pace than most people, and can be a calming influence during the band's occasional blow-ups or crises. Chris and wife Nicki live with their two children in Berkshire, not far from Elton John.
ALAN WHITE drum king
BORN IN County Durham, Alan, the percussion giant still retains his Northern accent that seems as musical as his approach to the drums. When Bill Bruford quit the band to join King Crimson, it seemed nobody else could fill one of rock's most demanding drum chairs Bill left just after the completion of Close To The Edge, one of their most successful albums, and Alan had to learn the arrangements and go out on the road on a major tour in a matter of days. He did the job amazingly well, and today it seems hard to believe he hasn't always been with them. He has been playing drums since the age of 13 and came to prominence with John Lennon in the Plastic Ono Band. But before that he had worked prolifically in the studios and with many short-lived bands like Happy Magazine, Balls, Ginger Baker's Airforce, and with singer Graham Bell. Alan has a powerful attacking style that was originally devoted to laidback rock and roll, but has blossomed in the hothouse atmosphere of Yes. A close friend of Eddie Offord, the Yes sound man, Eddie recommended Alan to Jon Anderson after Bill Bruford made his shock decision to quit. The drummer shares Steve Howe's interest in health food, and they run a food store in London.
STEVE HOWE guitar wizard
ONE OF BRITAIN'S finest guitarists, Steve was self-taught but has an approach to the instrument that is classical in concept. Just the way he holds a guitar shows his respect and love for the instrument. When he replaced Peter Banks back in 1970, he was already held in esteem on the "underground," in the sense that he played with many fine groups, which gained the respect of a coterie of fans and fellow musicians. He worked with groups like The Syndicate, Inn Crowd, Tomorrow and his own band Bodast before teaming up with Yes at a time when they were going through a crisis. Many thought Yes had split up, but it was to be the start of a new era for the band. Steve's tremendous ability and flair gave the band renewed confidence and opened up many doors for them. His work on The Yes Album, signalled their breakthrough at home and abroad. His guitar playing is not merely fast and fluent, but encompasses a wide range of ideas in which tones and different kinds of attack blend. It sometimes overlooked that Steve also makes a major contribution to the writing and singing, while in recent years he has added a synthesiser to his battery of guitars. Quietly spoken, intelligent, and good looking, Steve is the antithesis of the standard image of the rock and roll guitarist. He lives with his wife and son Dylan, in Hampstead with a collection of twenty guitars. He hopes to record a solo album in the coming year, if he can get time away from Yes's strenuous schedule. With Alan White he runs a health food shop, and adheres firmly to the principlies of a heathly diet.
Saturday, February 23, 2013 10:45 AM
Even though I had been following YES since Fragile, this was my first YES concert. My Dad bought tickets for my birthday, bless his soul. I wore a red suede long coat to it. I went with my best friend and older brother. I have one sole memory of the concert - the blue metallic light flickering off Wakeman's cape during his "Remembering" solos. Over time I have grown to love TFTO, where it is now my favorite YES recording.
I was very luck to get some tickets from a friend for this show. This show was added on after the Tuesday show was sold out. What a surprise when, as we walked down the center isle, we realized that our seats were in the fourth row!! A magnificent show!!! Whoever has said that Topographic Oceans live was boring is NUTS!!!! I can still feel the fog from the dry ice surrounding us in our seats. In interviews done in Melody Maker after the tour was over, the band stated that this particular show, on this particular night, was their best performance EVER! EVER!! As I said, I was very lucky.
There are complete 'Rememberings' from the Madison Square Garde Feb 18 1974 show out there. I've owned this boot in several forms over the years since the late '70s. Bought my first one on 'Type I' cassette tape from a shady-looking character lurking outside a U.K. (Bruford/Holdsworth edition) concert. It had the complete Remembering. Then I got it on LP ('The Affirmatives') in the late 80's, and the end of Remembering was missing. Both of these versions were about a half pitch high/fast as well. So I used a variable speed turntable and a graphic equalizer to make my own, 'corrected' version. Then, about six months ago, I scored a fine low-gen copy of the show from a friend on AMY -- and of course, it had the end of Remembering, *and* was at the correct speed, *and* sounded better than any I had. After all these years, I had no idea 'the original master' was still out there..somewhere.
When I saw the tour at Madison Sq Garden--Rick seemed to get really lost in the spacey solo [during the 'The Remembering'] -and couldn't find a way out---this was during his drinking period (beer bottles on the mellotron)--so I just chalked it up to that---at the time I loved side one and two of tales so much--what did I care if the solo went on for twenty minutes!