Beyond and Behind The Scenes: Andy Burns talks to Jon Kirkman, Executive Producer of Yes’ Union:Live

On Monday I wrote about the new Yes 2 DVD/2 CD release Union: Live, more than 7 hours of audio and video from the legendary prog rock band’s 1991 reunion tour. This footage had been floating around in various bootleg circles for years, but this new release is the first time anything from the Union tour has been officially sanctioned and approved by the band.

Through the magic of Facebook and, I managed to touch base with Jon Kirkman, who worked as the Executive Producer for Yes’ Union: Live. Seeing as how this set was literally 20 years in the making, I wanted to find out what went into its creation. Jon was kind enough to answer some questions via email, giving Yes fans and music fans generally a real insight into what goes into putting a package like this together.

Andy Burns: In doing some research I see you’ve had a pretty diverse background in the music business – can you give me a bit of a rundown of how you got your start?

Jon Kirkman: Oh yes I have done all sorts of things and worked with a great many major names in the music business in the last thirty five years. My start in the music business goes back to when I was at school with my best friend of almost fifty years Rob. We had a band and Rob had the chance to join another band that eventually went on to get a recording contract under the name Buster. At the time we were both 18 so it was a big deal, as was the record deal which was with RCA records. For us, the band being signed to the same label as David Bowie was a massive thing!!! I started as the bands roadie and went on to become their tour manager and day to day personal assistant.

Anyway the band had one hit single in the UK and massive success in Germany Japan and Australia with hit singles and gold albums and awards. The band actually played the Budokan on Christmas day 1977. I recently did the interviews for the Japanese documentary film celebrating the reissue of the band’s albums in Japan after thirty years.

After that I worked for many other bands and went into radio as a radio presenter which I first did in 1978 when I was twenty. Since then I have worked for many radio stations and a couple of TV companies and film companies and that quite naturally developed into researching stuff and writing sleeve notes for albums. I am listed in the AMG website if anyone wants to see just a few of the artists I have written sleeve notes for. I have had other jobs over the years as well, including working on a building site and a various record shops and recording studios. Quite diverse really.

Andy Burns: How did you wind up working on the Yes Union Live project?

Jon Kirkman: I do lots of work as a freelancer for many companies including a company called Voiceprint and a company now called Gonzo. I suggested the idea following my work on the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe DVD/CD An Evening of Yes Music Plus and also a couple of Yes DVD’s entitled “The Lost Broadcasts” and “Rock of The Seventies”. Rob Ayling and I talked about it and he said he had a contact with the owner of the original (Shoreline) film. Once he said that I was off. I came up with the idea of putting together some sort of Union package which initially was only going to be the full show on DVD and CD. However, when dealing with the owners of the copyright material we found that only the edited version existed so I then started to think about bonus material. This was sometime in early 2009 and negotiations went on for a very long time and all this time Rob and I were looking how to swell the contents and add bonus material. Once we did that we had to submit our plan and suggested contents to the owner of the original film and at their request the bonus material ended up on the second DVD. Their stipulation was that the Shoreline show was a stand alone show on the first disc.

Andy Burns: What were your original goals when you started working on it – did you envision something larger or smaller than what it ultimately became?

Jon Kirkman: Well as I said in the previous answer, my original aim was to get the original film out and add the edited bits back in. Technology has moved forward quite a lot since the original release twenty years ago so you are able to get more content into a package now. However, in this instance all we had was the edited version of the film so I then started to look for bonus material. The problem then was to see if the owner of the copyright material would agree. Obviously the band also had to “sign off” on this and they all had to do this as well so that was quite daunting. When you reissue something the precedent has already been set as it has been out before. With new or bonus material you have to negotiate with the owners of the copyright material and also get the performers to “sign off” their performance, thereby giving permission to release the material.

Andy Burns: Yes fans know that the Shoreline Amphitheatre portion of the DVD had been released briefly in Japan years ago – can you offer any insight as to why the show was never released anywhere else before now?

Jon Kirkman: I have no idea why this has not been released before. The fact that the band didn’t own the film may have had something to do with it, but also maybe the fact that you would be dealing with around nine or ten people, maybe more if you include the various managements, and maybe that would put off various companies. Other than that I have no idea so I could only speculate. It does seem rather strange because Yes are a massively popular band and the Union tour was also a massively successful tour so the audience who would want to buy such a release would certainly be there. So that it has taken so long is one of life’s great mysteries.

Andy Burns: You’re credited as Executive Producer of the set – what did that role specifically entail?

Jon Kirkman: My role involved putting the initial idea to the record company and then that would be submitted to the holder of the copyrighted film and then I found the bonus material and put the whole package together. We then had to submit these ideas to the owner of the original film and when they said that was ok we then had to get the band to sign off on the bonus material and also the reissue of the original film. This did take a very very long time as you can imagine and there were a couple of occasions where we had to change the order of the bonus material. We originally wanted to put a photo gallery on the bonus DVD but when we were asked to include the bonus material on only the second DVD we had to change our mind about including the gallery because there wouldn’t have been the space. I felt it more important to get as much audio and visual material on there in terms of film rather than photos.

I have worked on this project for almost two years and was working on adding stuff right up until October of this year and Rob Ayling was working right up to the last minute dealing with the owner of the film, the pressing plant, Mark Wilkinson, who did the artwork and Roger Dean, who also had to be consulted so it was just as full on for Rob as it was for me. I didn’t work every day but certainly there was a lot to pull together and there were weeks when I was working 7 days a week finding and getting approval for various things like audio and film footage and then artwork and layout. We then had to get Roger Dean’s approval on the artwork, so you can see there were many people who had to be considered in this project and rightly so.

Andy Burns: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that it took about year to put the project together – in your experience, is that a typical amount of time for a project like this or was this shorter than usual? Longer?

Jon Kirkman: As I said in the previous answer this project took just under two years to put together from the original idea to actually do it to holding the finished package in my hand. Usually things like this don’t take that long. However. when you are dealing with Yes and the fact that this was the 8 man line up there is a lot to consider. I am not saying that Yes are difficult to deal with because they aren’t. I have always found working with Yes incredibly easy to be honest, but they have various management set ups there, both for the band as solo artists so the negotiating by necessity does take longer. We also had to deal with the owner of the film who was based in America so things had to go backwards and forwards across the Atlantic.

Rob Ayling also had to travel and deal with the owners on a regular basis so a lot of hard work and air miles were involved. Then there was the artwork that had to be coordinated. Also more importantly, I wanted to put together the sort of package that I would want to buy myself as a fan, seeing as I am a huge Yes fan and have been for about forty years. Your average Yes fan, if indeed there is such a thing, would be very surprised at what actually goes into putting a release like this out. There are so many different things to consider from artistic through to legal obligations. It isn’t just shoved out.

Andy Burns: Were there any particular hurdles you had to overcome in completing Union: Live?

Jon Kirkman: No major hurdles really. The brief was to do the best job we could and I think we did that. The only real change was that the original Shoreline film had to be on its own on one disc; other than that it was just a matter of getting the rest of the bonus material approved.

Andy Burns: One of the things about Union: Live I like most about the set is that the second DVD features two bootleg concerts – the first show of the tour and then one a month later in Denver. While some may have issues that the footage isn’t pristine in either audio or video quality, having watched both shows I feel that the historical value more than makes up for those issues, especially when I see the band interacting together and seemingly enjoying themselves. Why the decision to include these shows? Was it difficult to get sign-off on their inclusion?

Jon Kirkman: As a fan I love that sort of stuff and I am a sucker for all these deluxe editions and special anniversary editions that come out, so as a Yes fan I wanted to put together something that I would want to buy if I wasn’t involved in putting this together. You do have to balance the fact that the footage in some instances is not pristine but you balance that with the fact, as you said, that it is historic and therefore important to be included. I mean footage of the Beatles at the Cavern is not pristine footage in terms of quality but it is historic and of immense interest and value. That is the stance we took with this film. It will probably never happen again so the historical importance played a big part.

There was no real problem in getting the material signed off, as the person who owned the Shoreline footage actually owned all the footage shot on the tour. Unfortunately, as in many cases, not just with Yes, over the years people lose footage or it is not filed correctly and things get lost. So what we had was the original edited film and a few mixes of songs that weren’t included originally, I think. The rest, I had to trawl around and then get and then get approval for. I think that people saw how passionate I was about this project and I think they appreciated that.

Andy Burns: What was the process in securing the extras that are part of the package – the backstage passes, the tour program, and the alternate mixes?

Jon Kirkman: The original idea was to include a replica of the tour programme so that was quite easy to acquire but the passes I think were sourced by one of the band or the original promoter of the tour although I am not sure which one! LOL! Sorry!

The 5.1 mixes were already in the possession of the owner of the film and the other bonus audio tracks I found. Having found them I did have to get the owner of the film to ok them. There was quite a bit of audio material really, so we included the tracks I thought were best to include. There would have been enough though for at least three albums worth of audio material and believe me every show was different; the band didn’t just run through the set on automatic. They really seemed to enjoy this particular tour and the performances were amazing. We did find some more audio although the set had been put to bed at that point. There is a lot of material out there though.

Andy Burns: Clearly to work on a project like Union: Live, you have to be a fan of Yes. On that note, what are you favourite moments on the set?

Jon Kirkman: I am a huge Yes fan and have been for many years. I have given stuff to both Chris Squire and Rick Wakeman and Geoff Downes over the years and have seen probably more Yes footage than anyone in the band even LOL!

If I am honest I love the fact that these musicians seemed to love working together and looked as though they were having a great time on the film. My favourite moment from the original Shoreline set is the opening of the Firebird Suite into Yours Is No Disgrace. I think it is because it is the expectation and the excitement that I am seeing something really unique here. It is the same excitement and expectation I experienced when I saw this concert in London. The film is very evocative for me and I suspect many others too. I do love Yours Is No Disgrace as a song though, as well. From the bootleg performances I love Soon from Pensacola and Shock To The System from Denver.

Andy Burns: What are you working on next?

Jon Kirkman: I am working on two releases. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe’s debut album in extended and deluxe format. I am also working on an Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe live CD from Birmingham. There will be a visual element involved with this release as well and I am happy that the fans will like this as the half hour of footage has never been seen before and comes from one of the band members. The full show has also never been released officially before.

I am also looking at some material from the “Yes West” era but of course not all of these projects save for the two ABWH releases will come out. It is just a case of coming up with ideas and then presenting stuff to the band or managements and seeing if they want it out. i think there will always be an audience for Yes music.

I must say that despite the fact that I have had a big hand in all these releases, including the Yes Union package, none of this could have been possible without the vision and dedication to these projects by Rob Ayling. He has put himself out repeatedly for these projects and never moaned or complained when I have come up with another extra piece of footage or audio to add and also had another idea for the package so Rob is the unsung hero of these releases really

Andy Burns: And finally, do you have a favourite Yes line-up?

Jon Kirkman: I think there is something special about all the line ups of Yes. If push came to shove I would say the line up that recorded Tales From Topographic Oceans, Going For The One, Tormato and Keys To Ascension but I also really love the Drama album and line up. I might say I am really looking forward to the new album from Yes. I suppose really I just love the band and depending on the day my mood changes! Today will be a Drama day but tomorrow it will no doubt be a Going For the One day.

Thanks to Jon Kirkman for his time and insight into Yes’ Union: Live. You can purchase the limited edition set here.

2 Replies to “Beyond and Behind The Scenes: Andy Burns talks to Jon Kirkman, Executive Producer of Yes’ Union:Live”

  1. Thanks for your efforts in putting this thing together Jon – so much time and effort is surely worth it. The passion for Yes definitely comes through. Nice work on the interview Andy. It reads like a fascinating case study on putting together archival footage.

  2. This was very interesting. Thanks to both of you. I will keep an eye out for the favorite parts of those shows.

    I got into Yes right after 1991, so I just missed this tour.
    Thanks for all the hard work!
    As a fan, I am very happy.

    What happened to the printing on the back, top of the case? The lettering is all messed up on my DVD/CD set. (the part with the band members names and roles)

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