A new album from a classic group can often be problematic – nobody sells albums anymore, especially bands of an older ilk who are faced with an aging fan base that solely wants to hear the hits of yesteryear delivered live. Try as I might to convince someone that the Rolling Stones A Bigger Bang was a solid addition to their catalogue, or that The Who’s Endless Wire was a consistently strong piece of art, there’s a good shot it will fall on deaf ears. The same can be said for prog rock masters Yes, who, in 2011, put out Fly From Here, an album I consider to be their best since 1980’s Drama. Some of their unrelentingly vocal fan base may agree with, while others would take the absence of founding member and lead singer Jon Anderson as reason enough to dismiss that effort.
If that’s the case, there’s no way I’ll be able to convince you that the band’s latest album, Heaven and Earth, is even better than Fly From Here. Or that, in my humble opinion, Yes has delivered a modern masterpiece.
Progressive rock giants Yes are currently touring across Canada with their 3 album tour, playing their classics Close To The Edge, Going For The One and The Yes Album (in that order). Reviews have been stellar, and the band is on fire (you can read my review of last year’s Toronto show here). In the meantime, the group have announced a summer tour of the U.S. along with their new album, Heaven and Earth, the first to feature new vocalist Jon Davison and second in a row to include keyboardist Geoff Downes.
Downes has got to be one of the hardest working men in music today. Along with his commitment to Yes, he and his colleagues in Asia have just release their new album, Gravitas, a memorable collection of songs that once again highlight the special songwriting tandem of Downes and bassist John Wetton. Geoff was kind enough to talk to us via email about Asia, Gravitas, being on the road with Yes and much more.
Andy Burns: Thanks for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop again, Geoff! 2014 is already shaping up to be a big year for you – the new Asia album Gravitas is about to drop, you’re continuing the Yes Three Album tour, and there’s a new Yes album in the pipe. First question – how do you manage your time?
Geoff Downes: This year is particularly hectic, and it’s a credit to the management teams of both Yes & Asia for managing my time in this regard. Despite the tough schedule, it’s really exciting for me to have the two albums coming out, and of course performing on the tours as well. I think I can adapt to each band fairly quickly, but this year will certainly raise a few challenges.
Andy Burns: The new Asia album, Gravitas, is big and bold and confident, which is great considering you have a new, young guitarist in the band. How did you discover Sam Coulson?
Geoff Downes: I think it’s a very strong album, and both John & myself are really pleased with the way our compositions turned out. It’s always something of an unknown area when we start writing an album, but eventually the bits all start to fall into place. Having Sam (who was recommended to us) on board has also helped really bring the project to life.
“Biff Bam Pop, right. You were in the front row tonight. Are you going to review the show?”
So asked Geoff Downes, keyboardist for legendary progressive rock band Yes when I reintroduced myself at the band’s meet and greet following their sold out performance at Massey Hall Thursday, April 11th. Last summer, Geoff and I had met at the band’s summer tour opener after he and I had conducted an email interview about the band. I told him I would indeed be writing about this stop on Yes’ three album tour, where the group was performing their classic albums The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety. This was the first time the band was attempting something like this since the early 70’s, when they toured their double album Tales From Topographic Oceans. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one that is paying off nicely for the group. Shows have been selling out and reviews have been positive.
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Can a band that’s been around more than 40 years really hit the heights of yesteryear?
In the case of Yes, the answer is…well, you know.
Last night in Rama, Ontario, the band (one of my favourites) kicked off their summer tour, which also serves as a North American introduction to their new lead singer, Jon Davison, who has some pretty big shoes to fill. Did he do it? Find out after the jump?
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For over 20 years I’ve been a diehard Yes fan. If you’re a regular reader of Biff Bam Pop, you probably know this, since we’ve featured the band on many occasions. But today marks a first for the site – an interview with Geoff Downes, the bands current keyboardist, who first played on Yes’ fan favourite album Drama back in 1980 and who rejoined the group in 2011 for their most recent studio release, Fly From Here. With a pedigree that includes being a founding member of both The Buggles and Asia, Downes is one of rocks greatest keyboard players. From a completely biased fan standpoint, he also happens to be my second favourite Yes keyboardist of all time, only topped by original member Tony Kaye (I’m sure Downes would agree he’s in great company). This being the case, I’m thrilled that Geoff was able to answer some questions via email for Biff Bam Pop in this exclusive interview. Yes kicks off their summer tour tomorrow with a show at Casino Rama in Rama, Ontario, their first Ontario show in nearly four years, their first since Downes rejoined the band, as well as their first in the area with new singer Jon Davison. I’ll let you know how the show is on Wednesday; in the meantime, enjoy my chat with Geoff Downes about Yes, touring, Asia and more!