Saturday, 10 September 2016

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the first half of 2016

Our latest poll was on the best Yes-related album of the first half of 2016. If you've been reading the forums and seen the reaction it's had, there's no surprise here: an overwhelming victory for Invention of Knowledge from Anderson/Stolt. It snuck up on us unexpectedly and there it was, the return to form for Jon Anderson we'd been waiting for. Wakeman's latest classic album re-recording came second. With 69 votes in total, the full results:

1. Anderson/Stolt: Invention of Knowledge 57 (83%)
2. Rick Wakeman: The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table [2016 version] 8 12%
3= The Samurai of Prog: Lost and Found (w/ Davison) 1 (1%)
3= Jerusalem: Cooler Than Antarctica (w/ Downes) 1 (1%)

And so no votes for Oakes and Smith's Between the Earth and the Sky (w/ Anderson), Scott Walton's Wandering Soul or Rome Pro(G)ject: II — Of Fate and Glory (both w/ Sherwood), or Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here Symphonic or Michael Livesley & Brainwashing House's Vivian Stanshall's Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (both w/ Wakeman). Some good albums there, but unlucky to hit tough competition.


There were 2 other votes: one for 'none of the above' (seems a bit harsh!) and one for CIRCA:'s Valley of the Windmill, which is a good album, but came out just a few days into the second half of the year, so you'll be able to vote on it in a later poll.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Interview with Julian Colbeck

As we await Anderson Rabin Wakeman, perhaps it's a good time to re-visit their spiritual predecessor, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. When ABWH played live, they had an additional guitarist and keyboardist. (ARW talked about a similar arrangement and even announced Gary Cambra for the touring band, although they are now working as a quintet with just bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Lou Molino.)

Julian Colbeck, who was that second keyboardist on the ABWH tour, kindly agreed to do an interview with me. Colbeck has plenty more to his career than his time in the Yes orbit: we also talked about his work with Steve Hackett and with Charlie. But we started with ABWH:

Can you talk me through how you got the job in ABWH?
In 1989 I was being managed by Pete Smith who was also ABWH's tour manager. Right before rehearsals were due to begin, Matt Clifford, who had played keys on the ABWH album, announced he was going to join the Stones on their Steel Wheels tour. This was interpreted as a bit of a slap in the face for ABWH (which it wasn’t, but..) and so they needed another keyboard player pretty quickly. I went up to see Jon [Anderson] in London, played a bit of piano for him in his living room, and was offered the gig. Next stop, go say hi to [manager] Brian Lane. Yikes!

How did you work out the arrangements between you and Rick [Wakeman]?
Essentially Rick plays and played all the ‘signature’ parts - solos, refrains etc. - and I played all the ‘orchestrated’ parts. Put even more simply, Rick plays all his bits and I played whatever was left; stuff that even an octopus like Rick couldn’t manage.

What was the mood within the band? Did the band and crew just consider this to be the real Yes?
The mood was generally good and there was a general acceptance of this being as real a ‘Yes’ as could feasibly have been formed in the past couple of decades. That said, everyone had their own dressing room (Jon had a wigwam that got carted around with us and to which no one ever wanted to get summoned) but as I recall, Bill [Bruford] and Rick spent most of their time with Tony [Levin], Milton [McDonald, second guitarist] and myself in the band dressing room. Steve [Howe] kept himself to himself but was never less than charming and civilized. OK, and weird, but in a nice way. 

What happened after the tour? And what's the story behind the French sessions that led to Watching the Flags That Fly [released as part of Jon Anderson's The Lost Tapes collection in 2006]? Who else was involved in the sessions?
The Opio sessions were designed as pre-production for the next ABWH album, which morphed into Union. Everyone was invited. No one came. Just Jon, myself, an orchestrator called Mike Marshall who Jon was also writing an orchestral piece with, and two crew. One of the crew, Rick’s keyboard tech Stuart Sawney, played guitar whenever guitar was needed that neither Jon nor I could hack. In particular, Stu plays the lovely solo on After The Rain [released as "After the Storm"].

Which songs did you co-write?
Some songs Jon had sketches of beforehand, some were my ideas that Jon and I fleshed out together. I’d say it was about 50/50, possibly 60/40 in Jon’s favor. I actually loved writing with Jon. It was inspirational, if challenging. I remember him being pissed off he couldn’t sing into a Roland MC-500 MIDI sequencer. Everything was recorded onto ADAT but none of it was ever intended (so far as I was concerned anyhow) as releasable material; just ideas and demos.

Then what happened – how did you hear that ABWH had merged back into Yes?
After the final ABWH tour, Jonathan Elias had come on the scene and ‘ABWH’ sort of ballooned into Union, which, so far as I’m aware, was a nightmare for which the word clusterfuck must surely have been coined. I was not involved in its recording in any way but one song I had had a hand in writing of (Take The Water… to somewhere, who knows?) made it to the album. I was neither credited nor paid. After ABWH I think I started work with Steve Hackett so quickly lost track of where the Yes guys were at or what they were doing. I certainly had no idea that ‘Watching The Flags’ would ever be heard of again and was utterly gobsmacked when one day it just sort of landed on my doorstep as a ‘record’. To be honest, I was appalled, even though some of the songs were good and some of the arrangements interesting. These were demos; not intended for public consumption.

[Colbeck also said that he cleared up songwriting and royalties for Watching the Flags That Fly with Anderson after the release.]

You then returned for Symphonic Music of Yes: what are your memories of that session?
Symphonic Music of Yes… ummm, not entirely glowing memories. At the time everyone was mad at Rick (who knows why this particular time) so they needed a keyboard player and so I obliged. It was produced by my chum Alan Parsons, so that was nice, but the music and sessions themselves I recall as being somewhat stressful and I didn’t (and don’t) like the album.

You did some further sessions with both Howe and Bruford: can you tell me about them?
These were much more fun. I worked with Steve and his son Dylan and we recorded all sorts of interesting things like Walk Don’t Run and who knows what else. With Bill, we did some music for TV. Again, this was great fun. Lord knows what happened to the music from either session.

You worked for several years with Steve Hackett: what did that period mean for you?
Working with Steve was always a joy. I did all manner of projects and things from live shows to live recorded gigs (Time Lapse - that band only ever played that one gig!), to duos, writing, you name it.

I've read that it was during the Japanese performances released as The Tokyo Tapes that you decided to retire from live performance. What brought about that decision?
 I simply looked around on stage during the final show and saw a bunch of old men - including if not especially, me. I was 44 at the time. Now I look back on those shows and see a bunch of young men. Life is funny like that.

You also worked on Captain Crash vs The Zzorg Women, Chapters 5 &6 [a sequel to Flash Fearless Versus the Zorg Women, Parts 5 & 6], by Steve Hammond and Dave Pierce: tell me more!?
Yeesh! Yes, well that was along time ago, 1980 or thereabouts. I’d known the four writers in London in the early 1970s and had spent many a happy and stoned evening at their houses when the material was being written. In 1980 I left the band Charlie, with whom I’d made a bunch of albums, and moved to LA with Rick Jones and Dave Pierce. We moved in with the unfortunate Steve Hammond (one of the other four writers) and were happy to be supported by Steve’s long-suffering wife Sandy as we routined and rehearsed ‘Crash’. Crash ran for a month or so in a fleapit equity-waiver theater on Santa Monica Blvd but was an amazing experience with an amazing cast. I was the musical director and played keys. The cast was essentially seven gorgeous young LA actresses, three of the four writers, and Lewis Arquette, dad of the little blond Arquette girls who’d come in many nights and watch their dad perform. One night the sleezebag director surreptitiously recorded the show and that’s the album you can hear today. I never even knew anything had been recorded until I was given a copy of the album twenty years later. The music business really makes you go all warm and fuzzy, and so often too.

I'm curious about the Charlie reunion in 2009: what's the story behind that?
2009 Charlie album was essentially a Terry Thomas solo album but on which I played some keys so Terry ended up feeling it merited being released under the name of Charlie. Terry sent me stems and I recorded my parts in my own studio and sent them back to him. That’s it, really. It was and is a really good album but unless we could somehow release it under the name of the Foo Fighters, it stood about as much chance of selling or being played as I do of representing Colombia at free-form ice dancing at the next Winter Olympics.

There is an even newer Charlie album, Elysium, on which I actually played rather more keys and on which I think Martin Smith, a Charlie founder member and current player in ELO or something, also played. It too is a really good and solid album with some killer tracks. I loved playing ‘live’ on this; no sequencing, no auto correct, just me sitting at an acoustic piano, a Rhodes, or a B3 and playing shit. Well, not shit, I hope, but just playing. As for its chances of success, see above but switch Colombia for Pluto.

Do you have any more plans to work with Charlie?
I’d actually love to. Steve Gadd (the other Steve Gadd drummer) sadly died of cancer two years ago and the album is dedicated to him. I nearly died of cancer this past year too but since I still seem to be around I could be persuaded to come out of retirement, should we be able to be convinced that anyone would be interested in listening to us. Now I’m ‘so much’ older, I actually couldn’t give so much of a fuck about being an old man on stage. I wouldn’t have to look at me, the audience would, so that’s their problem.

Thanks to Julian for his cooperation.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

New Yes tribes

Nearly two decades ago, I put together a guide to the different factions in Yes fandom as part of the FAQ for alt.music.yes. Debates between fans of classic Yes, Troopers, and of YesWest, Generators, had raged online through the eighties and nineties. But after Rabin and Kaye left the band after Talk, and with the classic line-up (more or less) reunited, those debates slowly faded into the background.

But more recent developments have seen Yes fandom returning to that same level of fractiousness. However, this time the old rivalries have been disrupted. A new band following the ABWH playbook unites Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman, crossing the old Trooper/Generator division, while as I type the Yes line up on tour has only one classic member (Alan White is recovering from back surgery).

So, we need a new vocabulary to describe the new debates, to separate those who are excited by ARW from those who champion Heaven & Earth. Here's my suggestion...

New Panthers: this tribe obviously welcome the return of Geoff Downes, hearing Drama played live and welcome any involvement by Trevor Horn. They love Fly from Here, but may have any opinion on Heaven & Earth (but usually like "Subway Walls"). Howe/White/Downes represents the core of a classic Yes line-up to a Panther, so New Panthers don't see any issue with the validity of a current Yes based around this trio. Favourite albums: Fly from Here, Drama, Made in Basing Street

Believers: they defend Heaven & Earth and I've named them after the album's opening track, but also because they believe in the eternal Yes, a band continuing on for many years, long after any classic members depart. These are the people who want a future Yes with, for example, Sherwood, Davison, Schellen and Haun. They accept an argument built on continuity, a ship of Theseus approach. Favourite albums: Heaven & Earth, Fly from Here, Citizen, anything by CIRCA:

Generators: an old tribe reborn, joyful at the return of Trevor Rabin to non-soundtrack music in Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman, a rebirth for a side of Yes long neglected by the official band. Favourite albums: Jacaranda, 90125, Talk

Inventioneers: these love Jon Anderson and they point to Invention of Knowledge, "Open", the Anderson Ponty Band etc. as the future. They support Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman of course, but are more vehement in their condemnation of recent history, of a Yes that "betrayed" Anderson. Favourite albums: Invention of Knowledge, Better Late than Never

Troopers: now fall into two kinds. Pessimists bemoan all current options and focus their interest on archival releases. Favourite albums: Progeny, Panegyric deluxe editions. Optimists meanwhile hope for a new union or a reformation of as much of the classic line up as possible: Anderson, Wakeman, Howe and White together again. Favourite tour: Union.

YesWholes: continue to support all Yes variants, including spin offs. They also hope for a new union but want a more inclusive one with Rabin, Sherwood, Downes, Davison etc.

Is that enough? Do we need to add Journeymen for those focused on Wakeman's work, or Spiralisers for the faction yearning for Tom Brislin's return? Tell me in the comments below.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

We care about names, so we will always argue about names

Dom Lawson's online article for Prog, “Is It Time For Yes To Call It Quits?”, asks whether Yes should stop calling themselves “Yes”. It has attracted some furore, but while it has a higher profile, the content is no different to dozens of online messages in recent years. I've been in the resultant online arguments. I've waged those battles for years, even decades. I'm not going to repeat myself here: I'm still interested in what the current Yes are doing, as I am in what Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman come up with.

The point I would like to make instead is that all such articles miss the central tension in what they are saying, which comes because we care about names. “Yes” is not just three letters. We are invested in the band name and what it means to us.

Changes in band line ups are more common than not. While a few bands are very stable in their personnel – Rush being the obvious exemplar – most bands undergo change. Some more often, some less often. Genesis, Gong, Soft Machine, Marillion, Camel, King Crimson, Caravan, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Renaissance, It Bites, Wishbone Ash, Asia... the list goes on, all with significant turnover. However, the problem really comes when a band gets older and becomes reliant on nostalgic set lists that much of the performing line up never played on in the first place. Yes changed 60% of the band from the recording sessions for Time and a Word to those for Yessongs, a mere 2 years later, but the band went on creating new classics. Today, the band perform old classics with only Steve Howe having a connection to some of the old material – at least while Alan White is recovering from back surgery! Yes are hardly alone in this. Only one person playing on the original applies to portions of the set lists played by King Crimson, Renaissance and Caravan too. Gong play material recorded decades before any of them joined the band.

As a result, we hear these arguments that the band should no longer call itself Yes (or Gong or Soft Machine or whatever). They should use something else. “Steve Howe and Friends”? A common rebuttal is simply to that is to say: 'Well, if you do not want to see this line up, then don't. If you're not interested, don't be. But why spoil the fun for those who are still interested?' The reason why this argument falls on deaf ears is because we place so much value in the band name. It is totemic. We care, therefore we cannot simply disengage. People care, so they cannot stand to see the band name (in their eyes) traduced. But – and this is the central irony that people keep missing – that is exactly why the name goes on being used. Because we care. Because the line up with that name sell many more tickets than the exact same line up playing the exact same music would under a different name.

We care, so the name has commercial value, and so it goes on being used. We care, so we complain about how the name is used. It's two sides of the same coin, inseparable. The reason we care about who uses the name ensures situations where the people using the name perhaps shouldn't. (Although I'm fine with the current Yes being "Yes".)

We say the band name should depend on the people, that 'it's not band X without A, B or C', but then we go on focusing on whoever has the band name rather than what A, B and/or C do under some other name. If as fans we stopped worrying about what name was used and really focused on line up and performance, then the band names would lose commercial value, and line ups wouldn't worry about performing under a different moniker.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Poll: Best Yes-related album of the second half of 2015

Our latest poll covered the Yes-related albums of the second half of 2015, which included one day in November with three such releases (Suburban Ghosts, 7 and Citizen). The results are:

1. Anderson Ponty Band: Better Late Than Never, 29 (51%)
2. Billy Sherwood: Citizen (w/ Squire, Downes, Moraz, Kaye, Davison, Wakeman), 13 (23%)
3. Downes Braide Association: Suburban Ghosts, 8 (14%)
4. King Crimson: THRAK BOX (w/ Bruford), 2 (4%)
5= Greg Lake & Geoff Downes: Ride the Tiger, 1 (2%)
5= King Crimson: The Elements of King Crimson (w/ Bruford), 1 (2%)
5= Seal: 7 (w/ Horn), 1 (2%)
5= Deckchair Poets: Searchin' for a Lemon Squeezer (w/ Downes), 1 (2%)
5=  Trevor Rabin & Paul Linford: 12 Monkeys – Original Television Soundtrack, 1 (2%)
10= Billy Sherwood: Archived, 0
10= Billy Sherwood: Collection, 0
10= XNA: Westernology: The Outlaw and the Sioux (w/ Sherwood), 0

A clear 1, 2, 3, with Jon Anderson's most significant release for some years winning, a good sign for the Anderson/Stolt album due shortly and an Anderson Rabin Wakeman album probably now due in 2017.

Personally, I voted for 7, a wonderful album from Horn and Seal, and Suburban Ghosts would have been my second choice.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The central ontological question: Are ARW Yes?

With an aggressive promotional campaign laying claim to the Yes legacy, and implicitly dismissing the current owners of that name, Anderson, Rabin & Wakeman have poured gasoline on the long-rumbling question of legitimacy and who counts as Yes. Three famous past members of the band, including a founding member, looks impressive when the continuity-Yes boast only two famous members and no co-founders.

Not that I believe the question can be answered with simple maths. I'm up for anything and look forward to music by both bands. Indeed, I think the entire question is ultimately fruitless. But that isn't going to stop it dominating fan discourse!

So, if you will indulge me, I thought it would be interesting to look at this argument in some different ways. This is not to try to answer the question, but to discuss what it means. I'd like to start with asking which band, ARW or official Yes, have most claim over the back catalogue.

Yes, Time and a Word: while Yes are playing "Time and a Word" live and Howe has a connection to the album he toured behind when he first joined the band, given ARW have Anderson on these albums and Yes have no-one, two wins to ARW.

The Yes Album: But with Howe joining, it's now one all when it comes to the line-up. Still, The Yes Album is more Anderson's album than Howe's, so I'm going to call this for ARW as well.

Fragile, Close to the Edge: With Wakeman joining, it's now 2-1 to ARW, although the tour for Close to the Edge brings us back to two all.

Tales from Topographic Oceans: Two people from ARW to two people from Yes, Anderson and Howe the two chief architects of the project. A draw.

Relayer: With Wakeman gone, this is the current Yes's first win, although there's an argument that side A should go to ARW and side B to Yes.

Going for the One, Tormato: But with Wakeman back, I'll call these two draws.

Drama: From 2-2 to 3-0. Current Yes is Drama Yes.

90125, Big Generator and (to take it out of order) Talk: But the Yes line-up merry-go-round keeps turning and YesWest saw Anderson and Rabin versus White. Another three albums for ARW.

ABWH: The last contender for the Yes name, a 2-1 advantage wins it for ARW.

Union: Here is an album with three members of ARW and three members of Yes on it, although Sherwood's only on one track, White and Rabin only a handful but White with no writing credits, Howe and Wakeman about tied for their contributions, and Anderson the dominant personality, so I'll give this to ARW.

Keys to Ascension, Keys to Ascension 2: In terms of performers, it's 2-2 again, but with Sherwood producing, that tips the balance in Yes's favour on Keys to Ascension 2. I'll call Keys to Ascension a draw: Sherwood was just mixing and Anderson is more dominant in the writing of the music.

Open Your Eyes, The Ladder: With Wakeman gone and Sherwood joining fully, it's Howe/Sherwood/White versus Anderson. Yes win.

Magnification: Even with Sherwood gone, Yes retain a 2-1 advantage. Although we could call The Ultimate Yes bonus disc a draw.

Fly from Here, Heaven & Earth: Obvious.

So, tallying that up:

ARW: Yes, Time and a Word, The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, 90125, Big Generator, ABWH, Union, Talk (9 albums + ABWH)


Yes: Relayer, Drama, Keys to Ascension 2, Open Your Eyes, The Ladder, Magnification, Fly from Here, Heaven & Earth (8 albums)


draw: Tales from Topographic Oceans, Going for the One, Tormato, Keys to Ascension, The Ultimate Yes bonus disc (3 full albums and 2 part-albums)

ARW are ahead on number of albums, and Yes's album wins tend to be later and less popular releases. You can see why ARW and many fans feel they have a strong claim on the identity.

Then again, the thing about ARW is that the three never recorded together in Yes. There isn't a single Yes recording with all three of ARW and, thus, where they were the majority of the band at the time. Then again, that's true for current-Yes when it comes to any of the 1970s recordings. Neither band does better than 40% of any 1970s Yes line-up. Although Yes can say that their current members were a majority of the band that did Drama, Open Your Eyes, Fly from Here and Heaven & Earth.

Of course, these are only some ways of looking at it. Official Yes do better if you consider Yessongs and Yesshows. The band with the name have the direct line of descent, and Chris Squire's blessing. They also have longevity in the band on their side. The four people who have been in Yes for the longest time have been Squire, White, Anderson and Howe, in that order I think... it's close and I haven't checked the maths there. Downes' second period in the band is now longer than any stint Wakeman did in the band, and that may be true for Davison's tenure too.

What of these things matter? Or do none of them matter? If ARW blow us away with their album and tour, or conversely if they flop, that renders other distinctions moot.

What do you think? Comments below if anyone wants to wade in...

Monday, 2 May 2016

Anderson interweaving for ARW

Do you remember this from Jon Anderson, talking about the Anderson Ponty Band in a 2014 interview before their first show:
You don’t want all the songs sounding the same. I put them together in sections so that they’re 15-minute works: a well-known Jean-Luc piece, a new piece, and then a well-known Yes piece. And then the other way around [...] that’s what’s very good for a musician: the journey of performance. Sometimes the audience really enjoys the journey rather than every four or five minutes us stopping [...] I want to go on a little journey [...] After “Listening,” it goes into Amharic music, which is from Ethiopia
What we finally got did not really match that vision, being a more conventional series of songs.

And do you remember Anderson's "Open", released online 2011? That quoted a number of older compositions, notably using a theme from "New Language".

OK, now listen to this fascinating new radio interview with Jon from KVOI's Daily Double: you want the 26 April show. One of the interviewers says that, prior to the broadcast, Anderson had said that a particular Yes piece might be played in the Anderson Rabin Wakeman set. I'll not mention which, because spoilers, but it doesn't matter which for what follows. You see, Anderson interjects:
No, no, no, parts of it will work with this new piece that Rick sent over that I've been working on. I'm thinking, how to work on vignettes, so, er, this track will be going along […] jump into [the afore-not-mentioned Yes piece] […] then back into the next part of this new movement. […] We have the right to go in and out of our older music, into the newer music and interweave them, and, er, just see how it works.
And then they ask him what Yes pieces he wants to play with ARW:
Definitely [another piece, name removed coz spoilers] […] and we'll do the same thing. We're going to use a vignette of the main section towards the end and then go into the original song and then that will lead us into a new song. I think that's what we're going to try and do. We're going to try and balance out, so that we're not only presenting the music in a fresh way, but also in a very creative way.
The idea for a journey using sections of music for the Anderson Ponty Band, the re-appearance of themes in "Open", and now this quote. One could also consider the way "Mind Drive" was played live by Yes in 2004. It seems to me that Anderson is circling around an idea for how to present, interweaved, old and new music together... perhaps inspired by his interest in long-form pieces (compare Invention of Knowledge) and his recent listening experiences with Sibelius and Mahler?

Will it work, and will it be what fans want? The re-use of themes in "Open" attracted some criticism and the idea did not seem to come together for the Anderson Ponty Band, but live, with Anderson Rabin Wakeman, maybe this will go down better. Some liked the 2004 split "Mind Drive", although others didn't, and CIRCA: "Chronological Journey" was very popular.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. And, as always, all the latest ARW news on the website.