Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, Jon Davison, Alan White and Billy Sherwood
With over 50 million records sold during their meteoric musical career, these Grammy award-winning recording artists were finally inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame in April this year.
In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, guitarist and inspirational band leader Steve Howe reveals the band’s 50th-anniversary plans. He also discusses the history of this most successful of British bands.
Steve remembers the day that he joined the band in 1968 which set him on a musical adventure that he is still enjoying.
Steve recalls: “My audition was in Barnes and we played together, it clicked and I was off with them. It wasn’t the end of the struggling, though. But we kept improving ourselves and then our album Fragile took off.”
I guess early records at home by Les Paul, Tennessee Ford with Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant on steel and guitar along with UK bands such as The Shadows
Fragile is a certified platinum-selling album and firm fan favourite that initially displayed Steve’s range of guitar styles and jazz tones.
Howe reveals his early inspirations: “I guess early records at home by Les Paul, Tennessee Ford with Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant on steel and guitar along with UK bands such as The Shadows. My styles really opened up when I got some Chet Atkins records. My brother Philip and sister Stella liked jazz, so I listened to Kenny Burrell and Tal Farlow. I also saw the legendary jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery at Ronnie Scott’s club when I was 16 years old.”
Yes’ live sets and songs can be both epic and musically involving. This requires high levels of concentration during live performances and is something that still doesn’t come easily to the band.
Steve opens: “Of course not if it was easy…it’s a constant development of reaching deeper into the Yes catalogue and working out how best to perform it. We want to keep as much of the original recordings layout with an awareness that we are onstage.”
Yes’ live sets and songs can be both epic and musically involving
With the passing away of the original founding member and bassist Chris Squire in 2015, it would have been understandable if the band had decided to call it a day.
But with the determination of his fellow band members drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoffrey Downes and singer Jon Davison to continue, clearly this was never an option.
Steve has many fond memories of Chris SquirHe said: “In the early days we played together on a Bass Odyssey as part of the A Venture song on the Yes album in 1971, which we both enjoyed a lot. Chris was always last to get his part in but it was always worth the wait. He took care of the bass department like no other. I liked the rare times when it was just us talking and sharing ideas but this didn’t happen often enough, alas.”
Squire suggested that musician Billy Sherwood be the right person to take over the bass duties in the band. This role is something that Billy has made his own on their recent North American tour.
Howe agrees: “Billy has adapted in his own way and if anyone knows the bass department then that person is Billy. Also, Chris’s vocal parts were vital to us so Billy’s hands and vocal chords are really full on when we play.”
With a UK tour announced for early 2018 and a live album about to be released, Steve is candid as to what the band’s fans can expect by way of celebrating their 50th milestone.
Steve said: “We want to mark this anniversary with a tour that encompasses some of our best-loved work. We want to play things that we enjoy and songs that we haven’t done for a while. The UK will hear us play side 1 and 4, and an excerpt from side 3, of the seminal Tales From Topographic Oceans album. We shall expand the setlist from there drawing from our recent list of one song drawn from each of our first ten albums.”
Howe further adds: “Setlists for the summer 2018 USA tour are currently being discussed. As to new music coming from the band? well, you never can tell…”
Topographic Drama consists of music taken from two distinctly different periods
With the focus being on the soon to be released live album Topographic Drama, consisting of music taken from two distinctly different periods in the band’s history, surely it must be a challenge to play live?
Steve answers: “No, we don’t find it difficult. They’re not very similar recordings, yet they sit very well together. That is why we have released them on this recording from our most recent tour.”
Howe is an incredibly busy onstage musician as he constantly changes the guitars that he plays and the sound effects that he utilises to create that unique Yes sound. He is rigorous in his own preparation for touring as he discloses.
He said: “It’s somewhat second nature. I begin by lightly preparing myself one month before and I then get down to the details one week prior to our first rehearsal. The sounds are then programmed with Steve Burnett. We then develop the recorded guitar sound in my Line 6 Helix pedalboard where all the guitar tones and effects are generated.”
Howe is an incredibly busy onstage musician as he constantly changes the guitars
With a lush and immense back catalogue from which to choose the songs to play live, the band could be forgiven for being overwhelmed by too much choice.
It’s worth remembering that Yes had a golden run of platinum and number 1 albums with Fragile, Close To The Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans and Going For The One.
But Steve has his own current favourites.
He suggests: “This changes and is not a set fact. Saying that Close To The Edge is, sure enough, demanding but beautiful and the Drama album is excellent to play. There are other songs and albums we haven’t played that appeal immensely too.”
With a 10 date UK tour booked in early 2018 and a career-defining double live cd set to be released, there is plenty of ongoing activity for both the band and fans to celebrate this remarkable milestone.
Yes have a 10 date UK tour booked in early 2018
TOPOGRAPHIC DRAMA – LIVE ACROSS AMERICA will be available on 24th November as a double-CD and a triple-LP on Rhino Records.
Both versions feature detailed cover art designed by the band’s longtime collaborator Roger Dean.
MARCH 2018 (UK & Europe)
Tues 13th Bristol Colston Hall
Weds 14th Sheffield City Hall
Fri 16th Glasgow SEC Armadillo
Sat 17th Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Sun 18th Gateshead Sage
Tues 20th Birmingham Symphony Hall
Weds 21st Brighton Centre
Fri 23rd Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Sat 24th London Palladium
Sun 25th London Palladium