Yes - at 50
By Pete Clemons
Rock band ‘Yes’ have recently entered their 50th year in existence. And to celebrate this remarkable achievement a major tour has been planned for 2018 that, as is normally the case for a Yes tour, will be pulling into Birmingham during March 2018.
And to be clear, this tour will be the current Yes line up of guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, Geoff Downes on keyboards, Billy Sherwood on bass and vocalist Jon Davison. And not that which is also currently active and includes founder Yes member Jon Anderson along with Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin who toured recently under the moniker of ARW.
I mentioned that it is a remarkable achievement, and the above paragraph, is an indicator as to why. Because, as I recall it all and for as long as I have followed Yes, the whole history of the band has been a succession of change. Tour after tour, particularly highlighted in the more recent years, it has been a story of recrimination and change.
That said and putting all of the instability aside, there is no denying, that the one common denominator with Yes is that they have created some of the most ambitious, imaginative and ingeniously memorable music ever produced. And despite all the infighting the band itself has the most incredibly loyal fan base that turn out gig after gig regardless of the personnel involved.
The actual 50th anniversary for Yes will be during August 2018 as it was during August 1968 that Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Peter Banks, Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford first took to the stage under the name of Yes.
Their debut album was released just over a year later and immediately the signs of complex tunes were evident. July 1970 saw the release of the bands second album ‘Time and a Word’. But this time it was clear that the talents of the, by now, primary song writer, Jon Anderson were surfacing. However, no sooner had ‘Time and a Word’ been released than Peter Banks had left to be replaced by Steve Howe.
A trio of albums followed that would define Yes for the rest of their career. ‘The Yes Album’, ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’. For the latter two releases the flamboyant Rick Wakeman had replaced Tony Kaye who had left the band during August 1971. And by the time ‘Close to the Edge’ was completed Bill Bruford had left to join King Crimson and was replaced by Alan White.
From the late 1960s the touring schedule for Yes was relentless. Especially, after they had broken into America. And what made their albums all the more remarkable was that they were recorded in between huge tours. A good proportion of these tours in support of ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’ were recorded and this was marked by the release, in May 1973, of the epic triple album ‘Yessongs’.
The hectic touring continued over the course of the next two studio albums, the grandiose ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ a double album of just four tracks and ‘Relayer’. Between these albums and after the ‘Topographic Oceans’ tour Rick Wakeman famously quit the band after apparently deciding that it wasn’t going in the direction he would have liked it to. His replacement on ‘Relayer’ was Patrick Moraz.
There then followed a relative period of calm for the band, as far as Yes albums were concerned. Despite the band still touring, the individual members effectively went their own separate ways in order to complete solo albums. A compilation of early work called ‘Yesterdays’ was released during 1975 though.
Late 1976 saw Yes, with Rick Wakeman back in the fold; regroup for the recording of the ‘Going for the One’ album released during 1977. The same line up also completed the ‘Tormato’ in 1978. And the time taken to tour both of these albums wrapped up the 1970s for the band. These two albums also saw the Yes gain their first real single successes in the UK with ‘Wondrous Stories’ and ‘Don’t Kill the Whale’.
The beginning of the 1980s did not fare well for Yes as a major split appeared that resulted in Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman leaving the band. They were replaced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes who had just had a hit of their own via a song called ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ by a band called Buggles. Yes disbanded soon after this period with Steve Howe and Geoff Downes moving on to form rock band Asia.
In the meantime Chris Squire had resumed work with Alan White and had hooked up with South African guitarist Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye. With songs written for a band called Cinema the band realised that they had not got a distinctive enough vocalist. So in came Jon Anderson, who had been back in contact with Chris Squire. A new album ‘90125’ was released in 1983 along with the unveiling of a whole new Yes. A second album with this line up followed in 1987 called ‘The Big Generator’ and both releases were huge, particularly in the U.S.
1988 saw Jon Anderson leave Yes once more, this time to form Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe. AWBH along with bass player Tony Levin released an album of new material and toured the world with ‘An Evening of Yes Music plus’. With Yes still a working band the use of the Yes name was causing legal issues. During sessions for a second AWBH album, and despite misgivings from various band members, both camps merged. A resulting album ‘Union’ and a huge tour was set for 1991/92 that involved eight prominent members of Yes playing concerts ‘in the round’ where the stage was set up centrally in the auditorium with the audience surrounding it.
A Trevor Rabin dominated Yes album ‘Talk’ followed in 1994 soon after which Rabin himself left the band. 1996 saw Yes relocate to California where the line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and White performed several shows. From these gigs and along with additional studio sessions of new material a double album ‘Keys to Ascension’ was released. It had been the first time that this quintet had performed together since 1979 and it came with much public approval. So popular, in fact, that a second volume appeared during 1997.
The decade finished with a couple of studio album that included long-time Yes collaborator and producer Billy Sherwood and introduced the Yes world to Russian keyboard player Igor Khoroshev.
The new millennium opened with the line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, White and Khoroshev completing a masterworks tour. The tour, however, concluded with Khoroshev being dismissed from the band. The remaining quartet recorded the album ‘Magnification’ during 2001 and supported it with a symphonic tour of North America and Europe.
2004 saw the band begin a five year hiatus. However during that time Jon Anderson suffered a severe asthma attack during 2008 which resulted in him effectively being left behind when the rest of the band were eager to get Yes up and running again. Since ‘Magnification’ Yes have recorded just two studios albums. ‘Fly From Home’ featuring vocalist Benoit David released 2011 and ‘Heaven and Hell’ in 2014 with Jon Davison on vocals. And sadly, Chris Squire passed away during June 2015.
Written above is a fairly concise and brief overview of the history of Yes and who knows what the future holds for this amazing band. Various band members did regroup, albeit briefly, earlier this year when Yes were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. Whether or not they will do so on stage together again remains to be seen. But at least the music can be celebrated on their separate tours.