Tag Archives: Yes

I wonder you can troll indie hipsters by taking the dullest bits from Yes’ infamous “Tales From Topographic Oceans” and telling them it’s the new post-rock act everyone is talking about?

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Now Playing – September 2013 edition

Some of the records I’ve been listening to over the past couple of days. 2013 has been a great year for new music, but here I’ve revisited some old and sometimes overlooked classics.

Marillion – This Strange Engine

Their live sets in recent years have often drawn heavily from this album, but it’s the first time I’ve given the whole album a listen for a long time. One thing that struck me was how much it resembles their more recent work, despite being a decade and a half old. When it came out it was a bit a departure for them, with more emphasis on atmospherics and textures, and drew mixed reactions. But in retrospect, a lot of their current sound has its roots in this album.

Touchstone – Discordant Dreams

Touchstone’s first full-length album shows just how far they’ve progressed since they started out. I’d forgotten that Rob Cottingham sang most of the lead vocals back in the early days with Kim singing harmonies – It was only from “Wintercoast” onwards that Kim took over as the band’s main lead singer.

Yes – Drama

The announcement that Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes from pop duo The Buggles were to replace Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman made heads explode when announced all those years ago. But thirty years on this is an album that stands the test of time far better than its unfocussed and directionless precessor “Tormato”. I think it’s fair to say that without “Drama” there would have been no Yes three decades later.

Black Sabbath – Seventh Star

Tony Iommi and former Deep Purple singer Glenn Hughes made this collaboration with a bunch of session players after the ill-fated Ian Gillan-fronted Sabbath fell apart. It was never really intended as a Black Sabbath record, and lacks the doom-laden melodrama associated with the Sabbath name. But taken on its own merits it’s an excellent blues-metal hybrid, with both Iommi and Hughes on top form.

Rush – Roll the Bones

I was never that big a fan of Rush’s “Synthesiser period” and found their late 80s output a little bloodless and sterile. Their first release of the 1990s represented a back-to-basics power trio approach with Alex Lifeson’s guitar in the centre of the mix where it belonged.  All very welcome for me, even if the rather heavier following album “Counterparts” remains my favourite Rush disc of the past two decades.

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Chris Squire – The Simon Cowell of Prog?

Sometimes it’s not always evil record labels who behave badly towards others. Fans of Yes know how singer Benoit David stepped aside due to voice problems, and his temporary replacement Jon Davidson of Glass Hammer became permanent.

Benoit David’s press release does give the impression he’s been treated rather shabbily.

I was then pleased to learn that Jon Davison would be my replacement as he is an accomplished musician with a fine voice.

I subsequently learnt, from a band member’s interview, that I had officially left Yes and that my departure was permanent.

Now, I did like “Fly From Here”, and even gave it a favourable review. But now they’re giving every impression that they’re in it solely for the money.

I nearly went to see them at the Hammersmith Odeon last November. But the date clashed with The Heather Findlay Band at The Brook in Southampton the same night. Despite having tickets for two other dates of Heather’s tour, I decided I’d rather see a band playing for the love of music than a bunch of has-beens who were only interesting in topping up their pension funds.

I think I made the right decision. When it comes to art vs. commerce, Chris Squire is on the same side as Simon Cowell.

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Top Ten Songs of 2011

We’ve had my ten top albums of the year, here’s my top ten songs. Not being a fan of top-40 style singles, almost all of these are album tracks – in fact there’s only one single on the entire list.

As is usual for this sort of thing, it’s a completely personal and subjective list. But I’d much rather listen to any of these than any X-factor bollocks, and so should you. So there!

10: Yes – Fly From Here
The title track of Yes’ most recent album saw the “Drama” team of Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn return with a much-expanded version of what started life as an unrecorded Buggles song. I suppose calling a five-part prog-rock epic taking up half an album a “song” is cheating, but I’m setting the rules here, and this is certainly the best thing Yes have recorded for years.

9: Journey – Edge of the Moment
One of the standout songs from “Eclipse”, this classy hard rocker is a great example of the other side of Journey’s music from the radio-friendly ballads.

8: Blood Ceremony – Daughter of the Sun
The ten-minute epic that closes track of their second album “Living With the Ancients” is a great example of why I’ve described them as sounding like Black Sabbath fronted by Angela Gordon, with it’s combination of bewitching flute and doom-laden guitar.

7: Mostly Autumn – Questioning Eyes
It’s not a completely new song (It originally appeared on Breathing Space’s 2008 album “Below the Radar”), but the powerful live version on “Still Beautiful” rises to even greater heights. It shows the extent to which Olivia Sparnenn has grown as a vocalist in the past three years.

6: Mastodon – The Sparrow
The multi-layered ballad with it’s rich harmonies is my clear favourite from “The Hunter”. Probably because it’s the most prog thing on the album.

5: Liam Davison – Heading Home
Liam’s long-awaited solo album “A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels” was one of the surprises of 2011, a well-crafted album with a very capable supporting cast. This song is a standout with it’s wonderful interplay between Liam’s soaring lead guitar, Iain Jennings’ swirling Hammond organ and Paul Teasdale’s propulsive bass riff.

4: Panic Room – O Holy Night
A welcome and unexpected end-of-year surprise was this spine-tingling version of the traditional carol released as a free Christmas download from their website.

3: Heather Findlay – Seven
Heather’s solo EP “The Phoenix Suite” took quite a few listens to fully appreciate, and once the record finally clicked, this atmospheric and brooding number became the firm favourite.

2: Opeth – Folklore
The dramatic closing section on this song with the galloping bass riff has to be one of the most exciting pieces of music I’ve heard all year.

1: Steven Wilson – Raider II
Another lengthy prog epic is my “song” of the year. With its swirling Mellotron and spiralling sax and flute it sounds like a cross between 70s King Crimson and Canterbury-scene jazz-rock dragged into the 21st century, and the heaviest sections are the bits without guitars. Amazing piece of music.

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Yes – Fly From Here

Yes are just about the last of the major-league 70s prog-rock bands still standing. While ELP still play the occasional festival headliner, and Roger Waters has recently been touring the Pink Floyd classic The Wall, Yes are just about the only one of the really big bands still putting out new material.

It’s probably best not to dwell on the politics behind some of the recent lineup changes. First we saw Jon Anderson replaced by Benoît David, recruited from a Yes tribute band. The, with Trevor Horn as producer, we saw Oliver Wakeman sacked in favour of Asia and Buggles keyboard player Geoff Downes, a member of Yes for 1980′s underrated “Drama” album. It’s better to judge them on the quaility of the actual music.

As might be expected with Trevor Horn in the producer’s chair, this album is closer to the streamlined, commercial Yes of the 1980s than than an attempt to recapture the sound of their 70s heyday, more “90125″ than “Fragile”. Benoît David acquits himself splendidly on vocals. Yes, he’s a soundalike, recruited for his ability to reproduce Anderson’s distinctive style live on the band’s extensive back catalogue. But those choirboy-on-acid lead vocals are an important part of what makes Yes sound like Yes, and he nails it perfectly. Steve Howe is also on great form on guitar, his style in it’s way just as distinctive. Despite his age he’s very much still got it.

The 25-minute title track, largely written by Horn and Downes, forms the heart of the album. Full of big soaring melodies, rich harmonies and repeated motifs it’s a prog epic with pop sensibilities, although Steve Howe’s spiralling Zappa-like “Bumpy Ride” section should keep diehard prog-heads happy. There’s definitely something of “Drama” about the whole piece, which given the writers shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

The rest of the album is a bit of a mix. High points are “Life on a Film Set”, another Horn/Downes number in a similar vein to the title track, and the anthemic full band composition “Into The Storm”, which closes the album. “The Man You Always Wanted to Be” comes over rather pedestrian to start with but picks up in the second half. But the weakest numbers, “Hour of Need”, and Howe’s pleasant but unremarkable instrumental “Solitaire” do come over as little more than filler. Which is perhaps the album’s weakness – an album with running time of an LP-length 48 minutes shouldn’t need padding out with substandard material.

So no, this album doesn’t reach the heights of their classic 70 and 80s albums. Neither does it quite match have the creativity and energy of the best of the current generation of progressive rock bands. But despite it’s flaws it’s still a strong album, far superior to the last couple of very forgettable albums they did with Jon Anderson. Time will tell if they have the courage to feature the album as heavily in the live set in their next tour as they really should, but this album is evidence that Yes are far from a spent force.

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Yes, Manchester MEN Arena, 19-Jun-2004

The announcement the Pink Floyd have finally called it a day leaves Yes as just about the last ones standing of the big prog-rock bands from the 1970s. They’ve gone through so many lineup changes over the years that they’ve become something of a soap opera; I’ve lost count of how many times Rick Wakeman has left and rejoined. Fortunately he’s back with them for this tour.

The sound was superb; I’ve never been to show at the MEN Arena before; but I’ve suffered bad sound in enormodomes; Wembley Arena in London was particularly horrible. But this time they got the sound balance just about right, and the twiddly bits (of which there were a great many) weren’t lost in the echoes.

The band were on top form musically; especially Steve Howe. As I overheard on the tram on the way home “A bunch of granddads can show younger bands something”.

The set predictably drew heavily from the band’s 70s heyday, although later material wasn’t neglected entirely. With such an extensive back catalogue they can’t play everyone’s favourites, but most of the standards were there. I won’t give you a song-by-song account; the setlist seemed identical to Scott’s account, except there was only time for one encore, so unfortunately we didn’t get “Soon”.

“Mind Drive”, from 1996′s “Keys to Ascension II” was just awesome. It always was the standout song from their patchy 90s’ and 00s’ albums; Live, this epic is close to being the high point of the show.

“South Side of the Sky” always reminds me somehow of Lovecraft’s “The Mountains of Madness”, and this was reinforced by the inflatable Roger Dean scenery. The thing suspended above the band looked more than bit like the plush shoggoths I’ve seen on sale. In fact, the whole stage set looked disturbingly cthulhoid.

The acoustic set immediately after the interval showed some interesting reworkings of older songs, and Rick Wakeman on the grand piano was especially good in this section of the show. “Roundabout” works surprising well as a Chicago blues number. Likewise “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, with a wonderful piano solo replacing the original guitar solo, and dramatic piano chords replacing those cheesy 80s synths.

While I’ve never been a great fan of “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, the percussion section of set closer “Ritual” was pretty spectacular, with Chris Squire and Jon Anderson joining Alan White on percussion accompanied by synthesised swooshes from Wakeman.

“Starship Trooper” is the only possible encore, and it didn’t disappoint. Overall, a superb show, and proof that, even if recent albums have been patchy, they’re very far from being a spent force live.

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