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 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.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

What are you most looking forward to this year?

What are you most looking forward to this year, asked our latest poll. With Anderson Rabin Wakeman becoming a reality, the winner seemed obvious beforehand. Indeed, I was curious if anything else got any votes! So, with 95 votes:

1. Anderson Rabin Wakeman: 48 votes, 51%
2. Anderson/Stolt: 14 votes, 15%
3. Yes touring: 11 votes, 12%
4= More archival or remixed Yes: 5 votes, 5%
4= Asia return: 5 votes, 5%
6. King Crimson touring: 3 votes, 3%
7= Steve Howe Trio releases: 2 votes, 2%
7= Buggles reunion: 2 votes, 2%
7= World Trade reunion: 2 votes, 2%
7= Re-recording of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur: 2 votes, 2%
11. More Anderson Ponty Band: 1 votes, 1%
12. New CIRCA: album: 0 votes, 0%

In the end, I was kind of surprised that ARW "only" just got over 50%, and that Anderson/Stolt did so well, coming 2nd. Big votes of confidence for Anderson's new found focus, pushing the line-up with the band name into 3rd... although the poll was before news of the other reunion with ex-members, i.e. Trevor Horn guesting at two UK shows shortly.

The possibility of archival Yes was 4th equal: I thought it might do better, but I suppose we're in limbo, with rumours of possibilities in the pipeline, like a Panegyric expanded Tales, but nothing actually on the schedules. Asia completed the top 5, with Wetton thankfully doing well in his cancer treatment.

I voted for The Buggles reunion, of course! How can you not be excited about The Buggles reunion?!

Let me know what you voted for, or whether your views have now changed, in the comments below.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

King Crimson, Live in Toronto, an alternative review

Quick thoughts on the new King Crimson live album, Live in Toronto, a 2015 recording by the new septet, playing a set ranging from “The Court of the Crimson King” to some new material. This isn't a bad album, but it is a long way from being a great album. The five albums I got before this one happened to be:

Delta Saxophone Quartet with Gwilym Simcock: Crimson! (a mostly covers album of Crimson pieces)
The Morgaua Quartet: Atom Heart Mother is on the Edge (a Japanese string quartet doing prog pieces, including “Red” and “Peace-Fallen Angel including Epitaph”)
Eddie Jobson: Four Decades
UK: Curtain Call
Zakir Hussain: Making Music

... and they're all better.

The latest incarnation of King Crimson has abandoned the band's usual approach and gone for the nostalgia market that dominates the prog rock scene, a market the band have already targeted with umpteen mega-deluxe collectors' edition re-releases. In that context, after several bank-account-busting box sets, this release is value for money, a 2CD release for just £10.

Some Crim fans have argued that it's not nostalgia because of magic reasons to do with Crimson being different. I understand why bands focus on nostalgia. There's nothing wrong with nostalgia. The set/track list offers your 'greatest hits', so to speak, of King Crimson, save for skipping over the 1980s. These are good picks.

There is a little bit of new material. Ignoring the filler, like the intro soundscape, the new pieces amount to just “Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind”/“Meltdown”. Classic bands are in a bind: dismissed as nostalgia if they don't play new pieces, but criticised when the new pieces aren't up to scratch. Well, yes, the same applies here: “Radical Action...” is generic, Crimson-by-numbers. “Meltdown” is the better piece and a chance for Jakszyk to bring something of himself to the role. It mixes a bit of Jakszyk's style with a Crimson sound. But it also feels a bit unfinished. “Meltdown” could be compared to UKZ's “Radiation”, but the latter is the better piece of music and a better piece of Crimson music.

We do get two new drum trio pieces as well, but neither does all that much with the format. “Banshee Legs Bell Hassle” is over before its begun. “Hell Hounds of Krim” bores. Compare One, the album by Pete Lockett's Network of Sparks feat. Bill Bruford, for what a multi-percussion piece can do.

By the way, the ever more boastful and grandiose titles, like “Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind” and “Hell Hounds of Krim”, ring ever more hollow when paired with below-average offerings!

But the core problem with this recording is a certain stilted, lumpen quality to the performance. Just in places, but enough that I spent as much time remembering better versions of these songs than coming back to these versions. It's the Wetton-era material that seems to suffer most, like “Red” and “Easy Money”, both lacking bite (compare Wetton and Jobson on Curtain Call), although “Level Five” also drags. Some have suggested this is a result of the band using a click track and the challenges of keeping the three drummers in sync. If that is the case, it wasn't a price worth paying.

The inclusion of three percussionists and of Collins does add a distinct flavour to the affair and they are sometimes used well, like as on parts of “Larks 1” and “Red”. Collins is good on “Starless”. Yet despite the unusual line-up, the material is not radically re-worked: compare what the Delta Saxophone Quartet + Simcock do, or The Morgaua Quartet.

The band are best on the material from the first four albums, a reminder at this time of what Greg Lake could do, but why not just crack out your old 21st Century Schizoid Band albums if you want to hear Collins and Jaksyzk play those classics?

What the band does well is give a sense of unity to the diverse Crimson back catalogue. There is this almost steampunk sound the line-up brings across piece, uniting the likes of “Larks 1”, “Pictures of a City” and “VROOOM”. At best, we get some solid performances: “The ConstruKction of Light” and “The Letters/Sailor's Tale” stood out for me.

If the unity of the band, a certain crispness, is missing, the individuals play well when considered separately. Jakszyk sings well. I'd single out Levin for praise, and why he isn't allowed a greater role in coming up with new material, I don't know.

A great jazz musician once said that music is a reflection of who and where you are. If that is the case, then this King Crimson is about Fripp's comfort. Nothing here challenges our idea of what Crimson can be... which thus means it misses the whole point of being King Crimson.

I am reacting against some overly hagiographic reviews of the album and have written more of negatives than positives. This isn't a bad album. You get some classic Crimson played by some classic Crimson members (plus a fine substitute). If you want a more radical deconstruction of old Crimson numbers, I do recommend the Delta Saxophone Quartet's Crimson! If you want some '70s classics played with more fire, Four Decades and Curtain Call are now available at a reasonable price on iTunes after an earlier Japanese physical release.