In April progressive rock titans YES will embark upon a 10 date UK tour.
YES will be treating to their fans to an airing of their classic albums Drama and Fragile in full, in addition to tracks from throughout their career which has spanned almost fifty years. National Rock Review recently caught up with the band’s legendary keyboard player Geoff Downes to talk about their forthcoming tour, the possibility of a new Asia album and his plans for the rest of 2016.
NRR: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it.
So you are about to embark upon a UK tour with YES starting in April, where the band are going to be playing their seminal albums Fragile and Drama in full. Are you looking forward to hitting the road across the UK once again?
Downes: We are actually. I think it’s an interesting concept that we’ve been doing for the last few years of playing albums in their entirety and I think it seems to go down very well with the fans of the band because they kind of get to hear the albums as they were originally conceived. You know in today’s kind of music scene where people just sort of cherry pick tracks from their albums and that kind of thing, I think it’s quite nice that people do get to hear them in the way they were originally conceived.
NRR: So what made you decide that now, after such a long time it was the right time to revisit those two specific albums?
Downes: Well I think that both albums have got a kind of significant part in YES’s evolution you know. The Fragile album was a defining album because that brought in Wakeman to the proceedings. I think you know YES took on a whole new chapter at that point, they got into much more in-depth tracks and they had some huge sort of tracks with a lot of different dynamics in them. That album is something that we actually did in the States last year but it’s not something that we’ve done for some time though, not in the UK.
Of course, the Drama album is significant not just from my own standpoint but for Alan and Steve, because that was the album that really propelled YES into the 80’s and was kind of a turning point in YES’s career then. So I think the two albums are really quite in different ways quite significant to YES’s history.
NRR: Out of those two albums, which is your favourite track to perform live and why?
Downes: I think probably “Machine Messiah” from the Drama album, which is as close as that version of YES got to playing epic pieces and so it was a kind of a very transitional period, whilst still maintaining some of those classic 70’s arrangements moving into more of a kind of technological age you know. So that in many ways summed up that particular album for me, it’s a very exciting piece to play and it’s very demanding as well.
NRR: Obviously with the recent passing of Chris Squire it must have been a very difficult decision to continue the band without Chris?
Downes: Yeah, it’s not been easy you know. Chris was such an integral part of YES from the very beginning and obviously, we were all very, very saddened when that happened last year. When he got ill, it was his wish that YES’s music would carry on and I think that he was very much institutional in suggesting that Billy Sherwood took his place, albeit on a temporary basis so we thought at the time. But he obviously took a turn for the worse for it when Chris got really ill and passed away last June. But you know we do carry on, we’ve got the legacy of YES and Billy did a great job coming in and really paying as much due respect to Chris as possible.
NRR: We are very much looking forward to your show at Newcastle City Hall on 29th April. Obviously, you’ve played in Newcastle many times throughout your career. Do you have any memorable moments from performing in the city?
Downes: Yeah, I think when we did the original Drama tour back in 1980, I think we did Newcastle City Hall then. They seem to be a very, very partisan crowd. I think maybe it’s significant that Alan White is from Newcastle as well and Trevor Horn is a Durham guy, so there’s sort of quite a lot of connections with the Newcastle area.
NRR: Obviously YES are one of the most influential bands in prog-rock and have influenced a lot of bands, but if you could choose any artist to cover one of your songs, which band and song would you choose?
Downes: Well I think it’s a tough question. I think that you know none of the new progressive rock bands that have come through unless you heard Dream Theatre a while ago do a version of “Machine Messiah” and it was really, really good. The Foo Fighters did a version of “Roundabout” which is pretty good.
You know I mean, I think that YES’s music goes beyond just being kind of a progressive rock band you know I think that the songs and the playing styles have touched a lot of other bands that you might not have even considered being part of that.
NRR: Are there any plans to record a new YES studio album anytime soon?
Downes: Well it’s always on the horizon. I think that one of the reasons why YES has had such a terrific career with longevity is the fact that you know there’s always been a new chapter to open up and I think that’s one of the reasons why I think YES has kept evolving throughout the years, is that depending on who else is in the band or the players at any given time the music, some new music has come into the fray and that’s helped shape and propel the band forwards. So I think that you know at some stage that will be something that will come off and I think you know yes the band will look and it and say yes let’s do that.
NRR: Do you have any plans to get Asia back off the ground again this year?
Downes: Well I’ve been working with John on some material since last year actually. John’s been sick for the last year or so now and has been having some fairly extensive medical treatment. In between that we’ve been putting together some songs that we hope sooner or later we will actually go into the studio and do another Asia album.
NRR: Besides Asia and YES, you released the DBA (Downes Braide Association) album “Suburban Ghosts”. Could you tell us a little bit about that album and the inspiration behind it?
Downes: Yeah, well I met Chris Braide actually who is a pretty well-established songwriter, he lives out in LA now, he works with all of the kind of mainstream pop acts. He did some stuff with Trevor Horn on the Producers album and I got to know him through that. He said that he had always been a big admirer of The Buggles and wanted to maybe put together some ideas. So we had a bit of spare time one January a couple of years ago and we got together and started throwing these ideas about. We’ve done two albums now and very much stuff that we like to do. You know I’ve always had a foot in pop music and it’s a very interesting project too because he’s such a talented guy and I always get a thrill out of working with him.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of 2016?
Downes: Well I think once we get this tour in Europe done, there will probably be a summer tour in the U.S. Then hopefully I will come back and do some Asia stuff with John and record another album with him. Then I think we are going to Japan with YES towards the end of November, so this year is kind of full up already. So I’m hoping to have a weeks holiday somewhere (laughing).
NRR: That’s great, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us we really appreciate it. We are very much looking forward to seeing you at Newcastle City Hall on the 29th April.
Downes: I look forward to it.