PROG rock innovators YES are about to undertake a tour of the UK, and not only are they celebrating a new live album, but they are also commemorating a very special anniversary.
2018 is the band’s 50th anniversary and comes just 12 months after the band was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
The band, formed by Jon Anderson and the late Chris Squire in 1968, has been responsible for some of the definitive Prog Rock albums, such as Close To The Edge, Fragile and Relayer, and for this celebration they are planning something special.
The current line-up consists of guitarist Steve Howe (originally joined in 1970), drummer Alan White (1972 — and has been ever-present since), keyboard player Geoff Downes (1980), Billy Sherwood on bass (1994) and vocalist Jon Davidson (2012).
Steve Howe says this about the tour: “We want to mark this anniversary with a tour that encompasses some of our best loved work — we want to play things we enjoy, maybe songs we haven't done in a while.”
The band has had a lot to put up with over the last couple of years: the death of original bassist Chris Squire, Alan White’s back problems, that has seen him deputised a few times, and the recent tragic death of Steve Howe’s son.
“Well, Alan’s a lot better,” says Geoff, who was educated in Stockport. “We all wish it hadn't happened but we are prepared to carry on.”
The latest live album was released back in November and was recorded on last years’ American tour. The set was made up of the album Drama in its’ entirety (the first YES album Geoff played on) and most of the epic Tales From Topographic Oceans, and it is this album that will feature heavily on the tour.
As well as many of the band's greatest songs, such as And You And I, Roundabout, and Time And A Word, they plan to play sides one and four and excerpts from side three of the Topographic Oceans album.
Geoff explains why they are playing this: “The fact is that we haven't done Topographic Oceans in Europe before, although we have done it in the States.
“We thought it would be a worthwhile celebration. It’s a Holy Grail album for YES fans and we have some stunning staging thanks to Roger Dean based on the original designs.”
(Roger Dean is the artist behind the iconic YES album covers and lavish stage presentations.)
In his time in the band, Geoff says there has been many highlights, as he tell me.
“Yeah, quite a few; especially the Drama album. I was very much a part of that. I think it’s a great thing. And when I came back to the band in 2011 after some years away doing other projects such as Asia, it was a great comeback for me.”
And of course, the music of YES is special. “It’s a unique type of music and it's also the way the band approach the arrangements. It’s very much a musicians’ band and has lots of different elements. Plus Jon Anderson and Chris Squire had a dual vocal that was a signature sound.
“Everyone in the history of the band has made a contribution.”
Back in the day, YES tours were quite rare, but they seem to be touring constantly these days. Geoff has an explanation.
“I think a lot of it is down to the fact that we’re doing albums in their entirety which makes it more interesting for us and the fans. It means that we are doing tracks that haven’t been played live before. All this helps to perpetuate the touring, there’s always an appetite for it and it’s a lot of fun.
“We’re very lucky to have Jon Davidson singing, he has such a great voice that we can play all the songs in the original key.”
Regards the actual set-list and apart from Topographic Ocean, Geoff has this to say.
“The best of the set is based on YES’ history and it’ll be a value for money show.”
Some of the songs aren’t easy and he also has a few favourites, as he tells me.
“I have to say that And You And I is one of the greatest YES pieces of all time, it’s what YES music is all about.
“Yet, some of it is a real challenge. But I always like playing the stuff I was involved with, like Machine Messiah from the Drama’ album.”
Plans for Geoff’s future include working with an old colleague.
“That’s right, myself and Trevor Horn are trying to carry on with Buggles. We’re kicking around a few ideas and we hope to release something.
“It’s great working with Trevor again and it’s nice that we’ve kept in touch.”
And for YES?
“We’re hoping to do some new YES material. We’ve been a bit preoccupied with the 50th anniversary, but there’s time for a new YES album pretty soon. It’s important that we present new music.”
But in the meantime, we have the UK tour to savour.
“Yeah absolutely,” Geoff concludes. “We’re all very much looking forward to it. It needs to be celebrated — it’s a bit extra-special.”
YES, will be bringing their 50th anniversary tour to the City Hall, Sheffield, on Wednesday March 14
Tickets are available from the box office and all the usual agencies.