Yes please! Prog legends return to Manchester

By Liam Barnes

They’ve seen all good people, and now it’s your move.

Yes, one of the greatest progressive rock bands of all time, embark on the British leg of their European tour this month, arriving at the Manchester Apollo on 13 November.

Forty-three years after their founding and a decade after their last release of new songs, the band released their 20th studio album, Fly From Here, to fan approval and critical acclaim in June this year.

Founding guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire are still going strong alongside long-time drummer Alan White, and after extensive preparations in Portugal the veteran proggers are ready to embark on another tour.

Discussing the new album, guitar legend Howe said it was a fusion of the classic early 70s Yes with more modern sounds, amalgamating their signature symphonic soundscapes with different styles and approaches.

“It’s very interesting how this album and band have been so well received,” he said. “We’ve had a much more positive reaction than for anything we’ve done in a while.”

The new album will feature prominently in the new set list, and Howe – one of only three guitarists in Guitar Magazine’s ‘Gallery of Greats’ – spoke of his excitement for the tour.

Reflecting the varied styles and vast successes of the band, the shows will feature classic tracks such as ‘Yours is No Disgrace’ and ‘Roundabout’ alongside songs from Fly From Here and their 80s commercial peak.

“It’s all going well – we’ve played a little of the new album in America and now we want to play a bit more and mix it with some of the old songs from the 70s,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to playing more of it.”

Speaking about his memories of playing in Manchester, Howe added: “In the 60s I used to come up and play Manchester a lot, and we’ve always had a good relationship with the fans – this is an area with a lot of enthusiasm and people let themselves go and have a good time. They always show you a lot of appreciation, and that’s great for us.”

Fly From Here, clad in trademark Roger Dean artwork, is the first album to feature Canadian vocalist Benoit David – once a member of Yes tribute band Close to the Edge – and, as only the second Yes LP not to feature iconic singer Jon Anderson (after 1980’s Drama), Howe was full of praise for the newest member’s contributions.

“We’ve been very lucky,” he said. “He’s toured with us for a few years now, and the opportunity for Benoit to come in with the energy we needed for new material has helped us as much as it has helped him.”

He added: “Benoit has all the things he needs to bring to the band and he doesn’t act like the big ‘I Am’ – he knows all the songs, brings his own ideas and fits in really well.”

The album also features ex-Buggles members Geoff Downes on keyboards (replacing Oliver Wakeman, son of legendary former member Rick) and Trevor Horn as producer, a role he filled on 90125¸ the smash-hit album which revitalised Yes’ career and saw the single ‘Owner of A Lonely Heart’ top the American singles charts.

“Having Trevor on board was very useful – there’s a nice roundness and quality to the sound, and when this record came out it did resonate with fans as well as we hoped,” said Howe. “It’s great to have Geoff back as well; he brings something else to the band.”

Yes may be notorious for their frequent personnel changes, but Howe was keen for this current version to remain, saying: “You can fantasise about other line-ups, but this is what we have now, and we want it to continue.”

Despite selling over 30 million albums worldwide, making them one of Britain’s biggest-selling bands ever, Yes have like their prog contemporaries often come in for criticism from the native music press.

“And people wonder why we got to America a lot!” joked Howe. “I’ve had it with Asia [the hugely successful 80s supergroup featuring Howe, Downes and fellow prog legends Carl Palmer and John Wetton] too, so I’m used to it, but the fans’ support does validate us a bit.”

Yes – and progressive rock as a whole – may now be far from mainstream music coverage, and many of the giants of the genre are no longer around, but as sold-out shows from Rush and Roger Waters earlier this year showed a loyal group of fans have continued to support gigs and keep the music alive.

“There’s something about our music that’s very interesting and unusual, and it appeals to a lot of people,” said Howe. “It’s amazing to think we’re one of the last original bands around.”

Having been close to the edge on a few occasions, the band now seems to have found the keys to ascension once more.

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