2017 has been a banner year for Yes fans, with the group finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after far too a long a wait. While there has been some band turmoil, with two factions touring at the same time, the legacy group featuring Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes, Jon Davison and Billy Sherwood have let their music do the talking, with their Yestival tour that has seen the group on the road with Carl Palmer’s ELP Experience and Todd Rundgren.
Yes, joined this time out with second drummer and Steve Howe’s son Dylan, has been playing music from the first decade of the band’s existence, beginning with their self-titled 1969 debut through 1980’s Drama. As the online videos and fan raves can attest, the band is delivering on all fronts. As Yes make their way north for Canadian dates, and on the heels of the Yes 50 European Tour announcement that also sees the band preparing a new live album and more, I had the chance to talk to keyboardist Geoff Downes about the state of the band, and his own experiences touring with Asia alongside Journey earlier this summer, which came not long after the passing of Asia founding member/bassist/singer John Wetton.
Andy Burns: You guys have been on the road for Yestival. How’s it been going?
Geoff Downes: Yeah, it’s going really good. The audience response has been really nice.
Andy Burns: You were on a pretty extensive tour with Asia opening for Journey before regrouping with Yes. How was that tour for you? I would think a little bittersweet.
Geoff Downes: Yeah, we had lost John (Wetton) earlier this year, and that was a real blow to all of us. We had committed to the tour even while John was ill, we were all hoping that he would make a recovery, but sadly that didn’t happen. I think it was important to go out and do that tour, we had a really great opportunity to get Asia’s music out into the open, and that’s what John would have wanted. We did a nice tribute to John in the show, and we were very well received by the Journey fans. It was just very sad that John wasn’t there to share that with us.
Andy Burns: Bringing Billy Sherwood into the Asia fold as bassist and vocalist, that was at John’s request? Read the rest of this entry
In 1991, I was a 14-year-old kid who had become obsessed with progressive rock. I (regrettably) passed on seeing Yes on their massive Union tour, telling a friend I only knew “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” but not long after they came through Toronto I became a fan. They set me on the road to exploring the sounds of bands not willing to fit any sort of straight format.
Which brought me to King Crimson. Talking about a band that never fit a format – they couldn’t fit a mold, no matter how hard someone may have tried to fit them in to one. King Crimson’s 1969 debut album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, may be the definitive artifact of early progressive rock – esoteric lyrics, long suites, complex time changes – but the band never repeated that effort. Instead, they’d change line-ups and sounds, usually in whatever way guitarist/band mastermind Robert Fripp would choose. Following 1974’s Red (power-trio KC), the band went on hiatus until 1981’s Discipline, which would feature Fripp and returning drummer Bill Bruford working alongside bassist/stick player Tony Levin and guitarist Adrian Belew in a new Crimson iteration.
Which brings us to On (and off) The Road, the glorious new King Crimson box set that captures the band in all its 1980s goodness.
Every year I try to highlight some cool progressive rock offerings for our readers, and this year is no exception. For those of us that love the genre, 2015 was a fairly heady time, as one of the most influential artists in prog passed away.
As a huge fan of Yes, the loss of bassist Chris Squire hit me hard. My first bass was an imitation Rickenbacker, which I discovered not long after purchasing it that it was Squire’s bass of choice. The Fish, as he was known to fans, passed away this spring after a brief battle with a rare form of leukaemia. The band carries on, though, with Squire’s longtime friend and former Yesman Billy Sherwood ably filling his shoes on tour.
Prior to Squire’s passing, two live offerings from Yes were released in 2015. The first, Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two, is a massive offering of 7 complete shows from 1972, the band’s first tour with drummer Alan White, and done in support of their fifth album, the genre-defining Close To The Edge. The shows are virtually identical in song selection, so this is a release that is really tailor-made for die-hards willing to listen closely for the minutia – a change in phrasing, a variation in solo. The band is on fire, mind you – literally, going for the one each and every night. Read the rest of this entry
Biff Bam Pop Exclusive: Andy Burns talks to Jon Anderson about Yes, the Anderson Ponty Band, Chris Squire and more
As longtime Biff Bam Pop readers are aware, I’m a huge Yes fan. Over the years we’ve had reviews of the various recordings from the group, along with multiple interviews with the band’s current keyboardist Geoff Downes and former lead singer Benoit David. This past Friday saw the release of a new album from founding member and one of rock’s most revered vocalists, Jon Anderson. Better Late Than Never is the first collaboration between Anderson and heralded violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, who has worked with Frank Zappa, Return To Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Together, the Anderson Ponty Band have created new music, while also reinterpreting material from both musician’s legendary catalogues.
To talk to the man who laid the foundation of progressive rock beside Yes bassist Chris Squire…well, as you can imagine, it was a very exciting opportunity for yours truly.
You’ll be able to hear the entire conversation between myself and Jon Anderson in November with the second instalment of the Biff Bam Podcast; in the meantime, here are a few choice selections from our chat. Enjoy!
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.
Thirty years into a band’s career is hardly the point where one would expect to find adventurous songwriting and career
defining songs, however that is exactly what Marillion have done with their 17th studio album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made. Arriving four years after their last proper studio album, Happiness Is The Road, STCBM took time to fully develop. Due to their solid business model and early adaptation to internet/online based marketing Marillion have developed the ability to work within their own timeframe, never rushing quality for the purpose of meeting release dates. In fact the album was to have been released prior to the band’s North American tour in 2012 but recording was still ongoing at the time. They are perfectionists when it comes to their craft and on this album it shows in all its glory.
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.
While they may not have made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it was still a very big year for progressive rock icons Yes. The band hit the road with singer Jon Davison for their critically acclaimed and commercially successful Three Album Tour, playing classics The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety. You know your humble Editor-In-Chief loves the band, and it seems that lots of Biff Bam Poppers do as well. So this gift guide entry is for the prog rock fan in your life, since there were three very cool Yes products released recently that will make any Yeshead happy.
The first comes from the fine folks at Panegyric Recordings. Working with remix/surround sound master, Steven Wilson, the label has reissued Yes’ genre-defining Close To The Edge in a definitive edition, with a remixed cd and either DVD or Blu-ray Surround Sound version, each with multiple versions of the album. As someone who has owned multiple copies of CTTE over the years, I feel totally comfortable in telling you that this is indeed the DEFINITIVE edition. The surround sound mix offers so many treats to discerning ears; but you don’t have to a longtime fan to appreciate the recording. I played the title track for fellow BBP writer JP Fallavollita, who hadn’t heard the song before, and he was literally blown away by what was coming out of the speakers. The packaging is also definitive, approximating a vinyl replica, complete with Roger Dean album art. Whether you’re buying this for someone who hasn’t listening to Yes before, or you’re giving it to the completist in your life, they will not be disappointed.
“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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