Yes to play three classic albums at Birmingham Symphony Hall
British prog rock legends Yes will play three classic albums in their entirety at Birmingham Symphony Hall next May. Ian Harvey talks to keyboard player Geoff Downes.
It's becoming something of a musical rite of passage these days for bands to run through a whole album in concert.
Bruce Springsteen played all of Born To Run at Coventry's Ricoh Arena on his Wrecking Ball tour, while The Who have been performing the whole of their classic double album Quadrophenia.
But three albums? Who the heck would play three of their albums in their entirety on tour?
The answer is British prog rock giants Yes, that's who.
The band will be playing three classic albums, The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety on their British tour which calls in at Birmingham Symphony Hall on Sunday, May 4, 2014.
It's a tour which has been selling out all over the world but which had British fans wondering for some time if it would ever hit these shores.
Keyboard player Geoff Downes says trying out the tour first in America helped prove that the concept was a winner.
"America is a big area for Yes and so it was worthwhile doing that first and seeing how the American fans came back to appreciate it. It has been really well received. Sticking to the running order of those three iconic albums is what has really endeared the fans to it. So I think the British fans will really enjoy it.
"It's nice that we are able to take this into the UK and Europe because obviously they feel a bit left out in the proceedings. It's going to be good fun."
Downes, who has had two periods in Yes, remembers listening to their early albums as a student.
"I was a fan myself. During my A-levels I was listening to Time And A Word and when I went to college The Yes Album and Fragile and Close to The Edge came out, so I was very tuned in to the early albums as a fan.
"The Yes Album for me is the one that really hit home because it had all the dynamics, with Yours Is No Disgrace and I've Seen All Good People. It's a very 'up' album and Yes's music has always been about that. It's a very positive name and it's a very positive album."
Downes explains how the choice of the albums was made and why another of their classic albums, Fragile, didn't make it into the mix.
"If we'd gone for it chronologically then it would have been The Yes Album, Fragile and Close To The Edge. But we've been playing quite a few tracks from Going For The One prior to this tour and I think we felt it's a very deeply musical album.
"I think The Yes Album was the defining album when (guitarist) Steve Howe joined and obviously Close To The Edge is an album that no Yes fan would overlook from that era because it's a groundbreaking, milestone album.
"Fragile is made up of more solo pieces and cameo appearances, although there are a couple of really long tracks on there. But Going For The One had much more of a band period at that time.
"It's a very musical album, it's almost like classical music. (Original singer) Jon Anderson's writing on that was absolutely unbelievable as was Steve's. It had commercial songs on there as well, like Wondrous Stories and Going For The One, almost pop. If you look at the album as a whole and then you finish with a piece like Awaken, a monumental epic, it's a great album to do in its entirety."
He adds: "I think they're very 'up' albums, there's a lot of positivity, not only in the lyric side of things but also in the power of the music. There are a lot of big major chord progressions that are very uplifting. Fans remember when they bought those albums, probably when they were students in bedsits with the Yes posters everywhere. They were the backdrops to those student years and it's carried on from there. I think it's something that people don't forget."
So, with months on the road touring the same show, how do the band members keep it fresh and interesting for themselves?
"Sometimes we rotate the orders," explains Downes. "Generally we start with Close to The Edge and then we can rotate the others.
"I certainly try to remain as close to the original recordings as possible. That's what people remember, that's what people want to hear. They don't want to see somebody jamming and reinventing these pieces that they remember and love.
"I don't copy the solos note for note because that would be almost a keyboard karaoke. The guys give me a little bit of space to put my own stamp on things, but certainly the core parts and the arranged parts it's very important to stay as tight to the original as possible. These guys, it's almost a sixth sense to them to remember all the parts."
One notable change on this tour is that British fans will get to see Yes's new singer Jon Davison for the first time since he joined in February 2012, after previous singer Benoit David had to leave because of a respiratory illness.
"Jon's a fabulous singer," says Downes. "Benoit was very good and did a good job with the band but I think that when Jon joined he brought a different angle to the proceedings really. He has to be faithful to Jon Anderson's melodies but not actually try to be a total carbon copy with the pronunciation of the words and stuff like that.
"He was originally suggested around the time we were looking for another vocalist when Benoit joined but I think they'd already made that decision. He was suggested by the drummer of the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins, who's a personal friend of (bassist) Chris Squire who Jon was at school with in Orange County in California.
"So when Benoit had his vocal problems and he couldn't really continue any more, all eyes went back to Jon and he walked in the room in the studio in Los Angeles and everyone just said 'Wow'. It was incredible.
"He really does do justice to the songs and he's a big Yes fan himself. He was in a Yes tribute band called Roundabout, so he knew the music inside out, which was a huge bonus. He's a very humble guy but when he gets on stage he takes the bull by the horns and I think in the past year since he joined the band has really got extra life."
Now Downes finds himself and the rest of the band looking to the future very positively.
"I think that having done these three albums we pretty much feel we could do any part of Yes's history now, should we decide to do that, and go out with three different albums, which would be an interesting concept. Maybe do Fragile, Drama and Relayer or something, or maybe some of the more recent stuff that Yes has done on the 80s and 90s period. There's a lot of scope there."
- Yes play Symphony hall, Birmingham, on Sunday, May 4, 2014. Tickets cost £37.50 plus transaction fees.
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