By Mac McDonald, 1 March 2013, The Herald Monterey County
It took him 30 years, but keyboardist Geoff Downes is back with the British progressive rock band Yes and excited to begin the band’s spring North American tour, which includes a concert in Monterey on Sunday, March 10, at the Golden State Theatre.
For this tour Yes will play three albums each night for the first time in entirety: “The Yes Album” (1971) “Close to the Edge” (1972) and “Going for the One” (1977).
Downes, who helped write much of Yes’ new album, “Fly From Here,” joins longtime Yes members Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass), Alan White (drums) and new vocalist Jon Davison in the current lineup of the band.
When asked how he was feeling on the verge of the tour — apprehensive, nervous, excited? — Downes said all of the above.
“A mixture of all of those because it’s quite a formidable concert to play all three albums back to back,” he said in a phone call from his home in South Wales. “It’s been on my mind, I’m looking at it professionally, but one side of me is very excited about it because this is something the fans are really going to love. It’s a big challenge to me personally, but I don’t think one should shy away from the big stage and the challenges life puts before you.”
The tour was almost derailed before it even started because of a death in Downes’ family.
Alexandra, the youngest of two daughters of Downes and former Norwegian model Wenche Steen, died in mid-February, just two weeks before the band was to set off on the tour.
The only comment from Downes came on his website shortly after her death: “I am deeply grateful for all the messages of sympathy and support we have received following the tragic death of my beloved and irreplaceable youngest daughter.
“I will be honoring all professional commitments, but in the meantime I humbly request that my family, my loved ones and I be afforded privacy and time in which we can grieve and be as one with our thoughts.”
His latest post says only: “I appreciate the condolences sent to the special address. I will not be commenting further. The Yes tour begins on March 1. See you on the road.”
(The interview for this story was conducted with Downes about a week before her passing.)
Downes, who joined Yes for one album and tour in 1980 with Trevor Horn, his partner in The Buggles (which had a pop hit in 1979 with “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first song played on MTV when it hit the airwaves), left the group after a year, but rejoined the band in 2011 after more than 30 years away.
When Horn, who had become a sought-after producer, was asked to produce Yes’ new album in 2011, Downes got involved.
“It was largely when Trevor Horn got back into producing an album with Yes and I had written some material with Trevor and Yes was recording it,” said Downes about how he came back to Yes. “They thought it would be a good idea if I came back and at least record those tracks with them. And then they said ‘If you’re playing on these tracks why don’t you play on the whole album?’ So it kind of morphed me back in there again and I’ve been there ever since. It’s been very exciting times.”
Downes was asked what the thought process was in selecting those three albums from the band’s extensive catalog.
“I think ‘The Yes Album’ is the one that really forged them as an act and put them into fame and ‘Close to the Edge’ was really very much their defining album,” said Downes, who recorded the album “Drama” when with the band the first time. “I think we’ve been playing quite a bit of stuff from ‘Going for the One’ on recent tours, so we thought it would be nice to add that material and do that album as well. I think it’s going to be a very interesting show for the fans to see all three albums live.”
After Yes broke up briefly in 1981, Downes and Horn parted ways as well. But it wasn’t as if Downes was just whiling away the time after he left Yes.
Downes joined with Yes guitarist, bassist/vocalist John Wetton (from King Crimson) and drummer Carl Palmer (from Emerson, Lake & Palmer) to form the supergroup Asia.
That band was a huge hit in 1982 with its debut album and the hit songs “Heat of the Moment,” “Only Time Will Tell” and “Sole Survivor.” The album remained at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts for a then-record nine consecutive weeks.
Downes recorded and toured with Asia for many years after that, but also did some solo work with musicians such as Glenn Hughes, Greg Lake, Yes drummer White, Asia’s singer Wetton and most recently with Chris Braide under the name DBA (Downes Braide Association). They released the album, “Pictures of You” in 2012 on Plane Groovy Records.
But for now Downes has put aside his solo projects and touring with Asia (which has a tour scheduled later this year) to concentrate on Yes.
“At the moment it’s all about Yes and I’m very focused on it and I want to remain focused on it,” he said. “They’re really great guys to work with and the band really sounds like Yes. You look at the amazing history of the band and the amazing music that they’ve played for 45 years, there’s a not a lot of bands that can still say they’re still going and still making new music after 45 years. It’s a great privilege for me to be involved with Yes and I’m going to give it 100percent.”
Bassist Squire formed Yes in 1968 with singer Jon Anderson, guitarist Peter Banks, drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Tony Kaye, playing a mix of original material and cover versions by other artists.
Shortly after, Banks left, followed by Kaye, replaced by Howe and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Yes hit its creative peak during the early ’70s with that lineup, producing what many believe are the band’s greatest albums, “The Yes Album,” “Fragile” (both in 1971), “Close to the Edge” (1972), “Tales from Topographic Oceans “(1973), “Relayer” (1974) and “Going for the One” (1977).
Yes became one of the most successful and influential progressive rock bands in history, combining virtuosic musicianship, almost suite-like classical song structures, complex arrangements, mystical lyrics and three-part vocal harmonies.
The song “Roundabout” from “Fragile” is considered a rock classic and is the second highest charting single for Yes, topped only by the No. 1 hit from 1983, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
Yes continued to tour and record since then, its path marked by Byzantine changes in its lineup, with members leaving then returning to the band, then leaving again only to return years later. In all, 18 musicians have been a part of Yes since 1968.
When asked how the band has changed or evolved over the years, Downes said musically, the band remains very much the same, despite the numerous change in personnel.
“I think principally it’s the same, but obviously when you have different musicians it creates a different whole and different challenges,” he said. “But in the case of Yes I don’t think it’s a bad thing because it shows they are capable of redefining themselves and adding new chapters to the book, so I see it very much as an ongoing thing. The good thing about Yes is that it continues to evolve, people come and go and make their contributions and I think it’s very valid.”
With the Yes tour, the Asia tour later this year and all his solo projects, it doesn’t look like Downes, who will be 61 in August, is retiring any time soon.
“It’ll be a couple more years before I get my golf clubs out and head to Monterey for a round of golf,” he said laughing.
If you go
·What: Yes in concert
·Where: Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey
·When: 8p.m. Sunday, March 10; doors open at 7p.m.
·Tickets: $70 and $85 plus service charge, available at Ticketmaster.com, at the theater box office or at 324-4571
·Learn more: goldenstatetheatre.com, www.yesworld.com