ProgBlog

Welcome to the ProgBlog

 

Regarded as a prog metal classic, Dream Theater's Metropolis pt.2: Scenes from a Memory is now 20 years old

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Mar 19 2017 10:50PM

Brighton is a progressive city, including the constituency of the only Green Party MP in the UK. Under normal circumstances, much less than an hour away from Croydon by train with a regular scheduled service without changes, it boasts good coffee shops, good pubs, countless record stores selling both new and second-hand CDs and vinyl, and some excellent musical instrument shops. The University of Sussex is located just outside Brighton so it’s fitting that there are also a number of venues for live music. The Brighton Centre entertains political parties, record fairs and all sorts of other things including scientific meetings (I was there for the joint British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics/European Federation for Immunogenetics congress in 1995) but, more pertinently, I went to see Yes performing Yes Symphonic at the Brighton Centre in 2001.



The Komedia is an all standing venue not unlike the Electric Ballroom in Camden or the old Astoria in Charing Cross Road, with a high ceiling giving the impression of a large space. My two visits there were both for Steve Hackett gigs, in 2010 and 2012, pre-dating the Genesis Revisited tours but both very enjoyable featuring a range of material from his repertoire.



Straying outside of the run-of-the-mill progressive rock fare, I’ve also been to see Pat Metheney and the Esbjorn Svensson Trio in Brighton, at the rather impressive Brighton Dome. This Grade I listed building has a history going back over 200 years during which time it’s been a stable block, a temporary hospital, a roller skating rink and, in the words of the Dome’s website but a description I’m not going to argue with, now the south coast's leading multi-arts venue.






The Dome was commissioned by the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) and built between 1803 and 1808. His taste for flamboyant fashions and outlandish architecture is well documented, as was his predilection for mistresses. He used to stay at a small lodging house on Old Steine but alterations and additions to these lodgings meant that the original stables needed to be replaced so the Prince commissioned architect William Porden to draw up plans for a vast new stable block and riding house. The new stables could be viewed as an Oriental version of the Pantheon in Rome, devoted to George's love of horsemanship; the five-year build incorporated 61 stalls, 38 for hunters and other saddle horses and 23 for coach horses, and cost the not inconsequential sum of £54,783, almost bankrupting the Prince in the process so that his father, the King, had to appeal to Parliament to clear the debt.

The exterior of the Dome was inspired by the great Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque) in Delhi, as there was a widespread interest in all things Indian at the time, whereas the interior was influenced by the design of the Paris Corn Exchange, whose segmented glass ceiling was copied in the original dome construction. The dimensions of the domed roof (24m in diameter, 20m high) made it one of the largest constructions of its type in the world and there were severe doubts about its stability once the scaffolding had been removed, though Porden himself had absolute faith in the engineering. The dimensions of the riding house (54m x 18m), with a 10m high unsupported roof were also ambitious, incurring significant delays searching for sufficiently large single spans of roof timber.

Compared to the new stables and riding house, the Regent’s Marine Pavilion made relatively poor accommodation, so he undertook the task of converting his modest dwelling into the much grander Royal Pavilion. An underground passage, still in existence, was built between the stables and the Royal Pavilion. It was said that the tunnel was built so that the Prince could move undetected between the Palace and the stables in order to meet his mistress Maria Fitzherbert but by the time of its completion, George had fallen out with Mrs Fitzherbert.

Queen Victoria, the Prince’s niece, disliked Brighton and the Royal Pavilion Estate so the town bought the stable building in 1850 for use as a cavalry barracks up until 1864. Its interior was remodelled by architect Philip Lockwood before reopening in 1867 as a concert and assembly hall, holding 2500 people. The riding house was also restored and opened as the new Corn Exchange in 1868; a market was held every Thursday until December 1914 when the building was repurposed as a military hospital. Between December 1914 and February 1916 over 4000 wounded Indian soldiers were nursed at the makeshift hospitals set up inside the buildings of the Royal Pavilion estate, which included three operating theatres, one installed inside Brighton Dome itself. The India Gate, on the south side of the Pavilion Gardens, added in 1921, was a gift from the people of India to commemorate their fallen soldiers.

The concert hall and Corn Exchange both underwent further alteration between 1934 and 1935. The Concert Hall was transformed into the venue that exists today by architect Robert Atkinson, including the period art deco styling.

A new period of renovation began in 1999 using a combination of Lottery funding, the support of Brighton & Hove City Council and a host of individual, corporate and trust and foundation supporters. Reopened in 2002, the Concert Hall now has a seating capacity of 1800, much improved sight lines, and upgraded acoustics. Looking down on the stalls from the circle reminds me of some of the seating at the Royal Albert Hall, where rows become oddly truncated due to the curvature of the auditorium; looking up at the ceiling also reveals some fine architectural detail and overall, I’d rate it as a fantastic venue.



I was there again last Wednesday (March 15th) to see Anderson Rabin Wakeman (ARW) performing an evening of Yes music and more, having arrived in Brighton by train with my brother Richard and successfully completed a rendezvous with my friend Jim Knipe. We ate at one of Brighton’s many gastropubs, The Dorset Bar in North Street (recommended), opposite the bright red and yellow Guitar, Amp and Keyboard Centre and a five minute stroll from the Dome. If this isn’t the first time you’ve read the blog, you’ll be aware that 80s Yes is not really my cup of tea and that 90125, Big Generator and Talk are only associated with progressive rock through their historical connections; so why did I go? The opportunity to hear Jon Anderson sing was a major factor and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his last two mini-tours with Rick Wakeman; including Lee Pomeroy in the band was also a positive move (his rendition of The Fish was truly remarkable, earning him a huge round of applause) and though I’d never heard, or heard of Louis Molino III, he turned out to be an excellent drummer.


It was inevitable that the set would contain a hefty dose of 80s material but I felt that these pieces would be outweighed by tracks like And You And I, Awaken, Heart of the Sunrise and Perpetual Change; with four songs from 90125 (one of them, Cinema, being instrumental and another, Changes, being my favourite track from that album) and only one song from Big Generator (Rhythm of Love), plus the Yes-West Lift Me Up from Union, it really wasn’t too bad a trade-off. The audience response, somewhat surprisingly given that Owner of a Lonely Heart and 90125 gained a whole new audience for the band, was not as enthusiastic for the Rabin-period music. Was this the Brighton effect? I acknowledge that Trevor Rabin’s involvement with the group ensured their continued survival but, fine guitarist that he undoubtedly is, his writing style is not classic-Yes, which is why the Rabin-Squire-White group was originally called Cinema. The songs presented by that trio had far more mainstream construction and content, lacking spiritual depth and sonic diversity, and that’s what came across on Wednesday night. The early Yes material varies dramatically within each number, demonstrating the best use of long-form and it’s far more thoughtful, head-music, if you like, rather than acceding to the demands of a record company for songs that had a wider, baser, appeal. This tendency towards guitar-sound homogeneity was even noticeable in the old material but the musicianship and writing carried the day. Awaken was the highlight for me, rearranged with a really spaced-out middle section featuring some brilliant keyboard work. It was obvious that considerable effort had gone into all the arrangements though I wasn’t convinced by their reworking of Long Distance Runaround.


The show was very, very good and the Brighton Dome made it slightly more memorable than going to the Hammersmith Apollo. They have really gelled as a group; while Anderson, sporting what seemed like some sort of support on his left hand, worked through his announcements, the band provided a short synopsis of what they were about to play laced with quotations from other Yes material, including On the Silent Wings of Freedom and a theme from Tales and demonstrated an obvious pleasure for what they were doing. YES!










By ProgBlog, Nov 20 2016 08:22PM

I’m currently dipping in and out of Time and a Word – The Yes Story by Martin Popoff and thought that this latest piece of writing about the band, which includes thoughts on Heaven and Earth from 2014 and covers Chris Squire’s death from leukaemia last year, might help me work out where I stand on an issue that’s been raging for some time, spilling over on to the letters and comments pages of Prog magazine, concerning the validity of calling Yes ‘Yes’ and whether or not it is time to call an end to the venerable institution. In keeping with the progressive rock genre, debate on this particular subject has attracted opinion from all parts of the spectrum.

I’m not over-impressed by the book because it seems to me as though it’s been put together with minimum effort. I don’t doubt Popoff’s appreciation of the music and it can’t be denied that he’s a successful music writer but, not being a fan of the particular idiom he’s most closely associated with, I’ve not knowingly read anything else that he’s penned and I’m therefore not really qualified to comment on how much work was involved. What I can say is that you can’t compare Time and a Word to something almost academic like Bill Martin’s Music of Yes – Structure and Vision in Progressive Rock or even Chris Welch’s more mainstream journalist/fan account Close to the Edge – The Story of Yes, both of which I did enjoy. Perhaps the closest work to Time and a Word is The Extraordinary World of Yes by Alan Farley because of the concise coverage of each album, information that could as easily be obtained from the album sleeve notes, rather than any in-depth musicological, sociological or philosophical analysis, though Farley does add a soupçon of personal perspective. Popoff includes some odd little asides to his Yes timeline which is primarily comprised of portions of his interviews with the main protagonists; I’m not at all sure why the release of Rush’s 2112 on April 1st 1976 warrants a mention, other than to indicate it’s a poor joke, though there’s slightly more rationale to announcing the eponymous debut from The Clash on 8th April 1977, three months before the end of the self-imposed studio Yes album hiatus, highlighting a radical shift in the musical landscape over the intervening two and a bit years.




Though the advancement of time since the beginning of the progressive rock era affects all bands that fall under this umbrella, a span lasting on for almost 50 years, there have only been two deaths within the Yes camp and it’s only the loss of Chris Squire, however much Peter Banks originally helped to craft the early Yes style, that has really had an impact on the group. This is largely because Squire was the only original member remaining at the time of his death and the only member to have contributed to every studio album but he was as much integral to the Yes sound as any other musician who hopped on or off the Yes roundabout, for his vocal harmony work as well as the punchy, treble-rich bass work. Yet, when I saw the Yes performance at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the way Billy Sherwood reproduced Squire’s lines and stunned by the way Sherwood had adopted his mentor’s stage mannerisms, from his footwork to the handling of his instrument.




This highlights one of the major issues. There’s no doubt that there are other musicians of an appropriate calibre to play the music, as the whole album performances show. The last two tours, one with Squire and one without, have been about the recreation of recorded music in a fairly true-to-original fashion, down to the detail of the track running order, which coincidentally allows us to measure individual member’s performance against the original release. On the 2016 tour, featuring Fragile and Drama, it was only Steve Howe who had been represented on the earlier studio album. Howe, Alan White and Geoff Downes had all played on Drama; on the 2014 tour of The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going for the One, it was only Howe and Squire representing the line-up of the first two albums, and Howe, Squire and White from the personnel responsible for Going for the One.




So, despite my enjoyment of the gig I went to see in London, the latest tour was carried out without any original members; does that make them some kind of tribute act? Well no, not in my opinion. There are two strands to my thinking: Firstly, that Howe was one of the individuals making up the first of two ‘classic’ line-ups which starred Bill Bruford on drums and Rick Wakeman on keyboards and was responsible for Fragile and Close to the Edge. His appearance on The Yes Album marked a qualitative improvement in group composition and his playing style opened up a more symphonic sound but I think it was possibly his personal outlook and the way he fitted in to (what was going to become) the Yes philosophy added something unquantifiable but positive to the group. Furthermore, the replacement of Bruford by Alan White created the second classic line-up which lasted four incarnations but the revolving door of personnel changes was accepted by fans, at least on record, even including the Drama-Yes of Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn which only revealed a degree of disillusionment amongst those who went to see them play live when the tour hit the UK. This suggests to me that as long as there is the spirit of Yes in a group of players, it can still be called ‘Yes’.

That the cracks in support were appearing as the genre reached the end its golden era is in part down to changes within the music business itself but Yes had showed that they could change guitarists and keyboard players without adversely affecting their appeal; unfortunately when they replaced Jon Anderson, who many even now regard as the voice of Yes, support was less forthcoming. It’s of note is that following his departure from Yes, Anderson embarked upon a successful collaboration with Vangelis and it was, arguably, Anderson’s involvement with the Squire, White and Trevor Rabin Cinema project which guaranteed that band success as the 1980s Yes.

That particular version of the group was hugely successful but they alienated some of the original core support, including me. I blame the industry, manipulating output to maximise commercial gain, curtailing artist creativity and resulting in music which hasn’t aged very well, compared to the timelessness of Close to the Edge and the reappraisal of Tales from Topographic Oceans as a major piece of recorded work by a rock band. This brings me to the second major issue: The quality of the new material.

I’ve previously argued that the substance of the 80s material was more mainstream, hence the greater commercial appeal in a world that was becoming more self-centred with less time and inclination to think expansively. Any attempt to recapture the cosmic nature of early 70s Yes music, by an ever expanding Yes family which had itself become more fractious and cut-throat, was never likely to amount to much, though the keyboard-light Magnification came quite close for me. I’ve never been too happy with the long-form studio pieces on Keys to Ascension and part of this is down to what I feel is the unsuccessful blend of cosmic and worthy social commentary; part is down to the unsatisfactory keyboard sounds. I believe the best modern material is the Fly From Here suite which was actually composed during the Drama years, such that the concept of Yes music has to conform to certain structural and thematic forms, many of which have been abandoned along the way.

This brings me to the conclusion that it is fine for Yes to continue for the time being, playing material which represents the early phase of the group, as long as there’s someone from that era to carry the torch. I’ve outgrown my belief that Anderson has to be in Yes; I don’t doubt White’s contribution to the sound and equally, I can’t question Sherwood’s fit but I think that if Howe had to drop out for some reason, there would be no purpose in carrying on. I don’t mind if there’s no new material, I’ll continue to go and see the band if there are no more line-up changes and they continue to play the classic early 70s material. Roll on Tales! Roll on Relayer!









By ProgBlog, Sep 14 2014 10:18PM

The eponymous Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe album has just been repackaged in a Roger Dean illustrated box, 25 years after its original release. There’s also been a re-release of Songs from Tsonga, the 35th anniversary tour video which originally came out only 10 years ago. These retrospectives are hot on the heels of a new Yes album, Heaven & Earth; a reader’s poll for Prog magazine that named Close to the Edge the best prog album; and also the release of the most recent Steven Wilson remix of a classic Yes album, The Yes Album.

AWBH contrasts widely with the contemporaneous Yes and I believe a reflection on their relative merits is helpful in understanding the enigma of Yes magic. My personal interest in the band goes back to 1972 and the release of Close to the Edge. This was the first album I ever listened to, having previously heard and watched nothing other than the groups on BBC TV’s Top of the Pops, and it’s fair to say that it changed my life. Checking out the previous releases of the band was an obvious step and this resulted in the acquisition of Fragile, The Yes Album and then in late 1973, new release Tales from Topographic Oceans. Relayer had been added to the collection before I bought the retrospective compilation Yesterdays in 1975. At this stage I was able to formulate a view of Yes music that has remained pretty much unchanged to the present day, and one that seems to be shared with a large number of Yes fans: Close to the Edge is not only the best Yes album, it is the best album, period. Fragile contains some of the most revolutionary pieces of music for the time and is an obvious stepping stone to the perfection of their next release. This was possible because of the integration of Rick Wakeman into the group because his proficiency on keyboards was matched by his willingness to broaden the sonic palette required by the vision of the band. I’ve previously written that I regard Tales as something of a misunderstood masterpiece and that only Yes in 1973 could have attempted to undertake something as different, as brave as that. One of the great unknowns is what Tales would have sounded like with Bill Bruford because, though Alan White performs admirably on Tales, I don’t believe he’s in the same class as Bruford. The qualitative difference between pre-Wakeman and Wakeman-Yes is evident when you compare The Yes Album and Fragile and the relationship between the two is similar to that between Fragile and Close to the Edge; The Yes Album is more adventurous than its two predecessors with four original long-form compositions making up the bulk of the album, but the sounds available were limited to piano, organ and, for the first time on material by Yes, a little bit of Moog. Until I bought Yesterdays I hadn’t heard Peter Banks’ guitar and though I find it effective and fitting for the early Yes material, the diversity of styles and sounds and the song-writing ability introduced by Steve Howe, was a key to the transformation of a good band into something unimaginably good.

The musical progress came hand-in-hand with personnel changes. It often seemed as though the ambition of Jon Anderson was a driver for the required change though the replacement of Bruford was a decision forced upon the band by the drummer, as he went off to challenge himself in the 1972 incarnation of King Crimson. Wakeman’s dissatisfaction with Tales and his solo success prompted him to jump ship but his replacement, Patrick Moraz, further demonstrated the internal tension and inherent instability of the group when he only managed to stay for one studio album, the excellent jazz-rock inflected Relayer.

The rise of punk and changes to the industry itself had an effect on the music produced by the band for their subsequent release which included the surprise return of Wakeman. Though the urgency of the title track showed that they had taken note of punk, the release of Wonderous Stories as a single was a nod to a more business-oriented record label. Yet they still included the stunning, almost side-long Awaken; another contender for best prog track, ever. Though the Going for the One line-up remained intact for the recording of their ninth studio album, Tormato, the results were rather confused and the product was incoherent, despite containing some good ideas. I went to see them play live for the first time on this tour and was pretty much blown away with the set, the musicianship and the ‘in-the-round’ presentation. The lack of an external producer was one reason why Tormato wasn’t such a complete or polished recording and this was addressed by the arrival of Roy Thomas Baker as producer for sessions that were meant to contribute to the follow-up. This didn’t work out and, along with the formation of new song writing partnerships, contributed to the departure of both Anderson and Wakeman.

The Drama album contains some good material and is well played but... But was this Yes? Keyboard and vocal duties had been taken up by novelty pop act The Buggles, Geoffrey Downes and Trevor Horn respectively. I bought the album, even quite liked it, but I didn’t go to see them when they played at the Lewisham Odeon, close to where I was living, in December 1980. The demise of this incarnation set the scene for two versions of Yes: Chris Squire and Alan White retained the band’s name, once more calling themselves Yes when Jon Anderson belatedly joined the Cinema project that also featured Tony Kaye and Trevor Rabin, releasing 90125 in 1983. This split Yes fans; the sound was very contemporary and the song writing was dominated by Rabin to the exclusion of the long-form, complex and cosmic. I was one of those who didn’t like the new-look Yes. The line-up lasted for another album before Anderson quit once more, seeking to recreate the classic Yes spirit. He drafted in Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford and Bruford brought along bassist/stick player Tony Levin. Their only album was released in 1989 and featured some material that was structurally similar to Tormato plus other multi-part compositions. The sound was modern but the spirit and concept were classic Yes. The real Yes were in hiatus at the time and were stirred into legal action to prevent ABWH from using references to the band name Yes. I’d been to see 90125 performed live in 1984 but I much preferred ABWH in 1989, seeing Bruford playing material he’d originally performed on album. More record company interference affected the mixing of the album, with none of the band members present at the final mix. It’s to be hoped that the reissue has addressed what Steve Howe described as being ‘guitar-light’. The album was no side-project. It was four musicians who had come back together to create something that they knew the fans were missing. Sadly, industry intervention ruined the follow-up project and ABWH were absorbed into Yes for the Union album and tour.

Yes seem to find it difficult to maintain a stable line-up but frequently revert to recycling past members. My last purchase was Fly from Here, which unsurprisingly harkens back to Drama-era Yes because Geoff Downes was brought in to replace Oliver Wakeman and the title track, a multi-part suite, was originally conceived during the Drama period. It’s unlikely that they’ll ever produce another Close to the Edge unless Anderson is brought back into the fold. There’s no longer any magic on record but the classic three album tour, which I saw at the Royal Albert Hall, was brilliantly received by the fans. We don’t want song-based albums, we want challenging side-long suites with analogue instrumentation and musical tension and contrast with soaring, uplifting themes. I think it’s time for another ABWH.


fb The blogs twitter logo HRH Prog 4 Line Up (F+B) Keith Emerson at the Barbican My Own Time