Small Acts of Kindness
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2003 Anil Prasad.
In these turbulent times, art espousing the benefits of small acts of human kindness are welcome indeed. That idea is the focus of guitarist Steve Howe’s new solo album Skyline.
“People are usually nice to each other, but not always. I guess that’s because we fail to keep the highest goals in our sights at all times,” Howe told Innerviews. “The music on Skyline tries to put forth small acts of human kindness as a suggestion. When you do something for somebody, when you help somebody, when you advise, when you console, when you cheer up somebody, the next physical stage is holding your hand out. You physically do something for them that helps them out, even if it’s just that assistance. It can be a cuddle, a hug or any sort of affection. It’s what parents do for their children because of their great love. I wanted the music to convey those ideas. I believe music should be beautiful. I wanted to try and paint beautiful sounds with my music and create a soothing feeling for the listener. I hope the music has a kind service to provide.”
Skyline is the most meditative record Howe has released to date. Also featuring keyboardist and percussionist Paul Sutin, the album is a melodic, ambient affair with nods to the progressive rock, classical and jazz realms.
“The new album is a departure, a change — a new shift, if you like,” said Howe. “I haven’t made records like this before. My other records have a lot of guitar-isms that are strong, as well as stuff that is rocking, but most of the records I like are very relaxing. I didn’t over-design the music, but I definitely wanted to fulfill the intent of it being smooth and relaxing, and passing that enjoyment onto the listener.”
Howe’s other recent release Masterpiece Guitars also has a specific intent. The duo project created with jazz guitarist Martin Taylor was designed to showcase an array of more than 60 guitars from the collection of the late Scott Chinery. Chinery was a devoted collector of rare and vintage American guitars who amassed more than 1,000 instruments. To accomplish its mission, the duo chose to record standards such as “Moon River” and “Blue Bossa,” in addition to several kinetic originals.
Of course, Howe is best known for his role as lead guitarist for Yes. He’s served with the group off-and-on during the past four decades. Howe has experienced intense highs and lows with the band — from its stadium-filling, multi-platinum peak in the ‘70s to the myriad line-up changes and politics of the late ‘80s and ‘90s. The group currently exists in its most popular, classic incarnation, featuring Howe along with Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White.
Howe provided Innerviews with many insights into the making of Skyline and Masterpiece Guitars, as well as a glimpse into the inner workings of Yes.
Does Skyline serve as a statement about the turbulent times in which we live?
I sometimes have a different view to some of the musicians I work with about my responsibilities as a musician. I don’t feel compelled to get up and say “Oh, this is horrible” and “Those people are wrong and these people are right.” In a way, who am I to do that? Who are these people that know so much that they can tell everybody else that they’re wrong? If it were that clear cut, it would be easy. We could then simply say “We have a dilemma of right and wrong.” So, no, this isn’t the record that reflects September 11. It was conceived prior to that. In a way, that’s not a bad thing. There will be art that comes after September 11 that isn’t a response to it, but rather, a predecessor to it. Maybe it reminds one that without the hope of peace, there’s not much to be hopeful about. Peace is so essential to the future.
I’m not in any way underestimating the tragedy of September 11, but other tragedies like AIDS have also altered my consciousness. I do like to write music that is deeply affected by those things, but not on the surface. During interviews, I like to put my opinion forward, but I’m not a big soapbox guy. I did once write a song called “Blinded by science” that was a put-down about food additives, but I hate the bandwagon feeling of people saying “Oh dear, my new album has some songs very blatantly about September 11.”
I have to admit that the mood and reality of Europe were only a few steps away while I was recording Skyline. I wrote 12 songs and one of them was called “Hour of need.” It says that during the hour of need we need to strengthen our communication.
Describe your working relationship with Paul Sutin.
We have an arrangement I like very much. Previously, I worked with Paul on a record called Voyages which was a joint Steve Howe and Paul Sutin record. Prior to that, I did Paul’s record called Seraphim in the late ‘80s. Skyline is a Steve Howe record and I’ve used Paul as my accompanist on eight tracks and I do the other four pieces myself. We looked at the writing stance he had and the ideas we were going to map out together. The working relationship is quite unusual in that Paul writes music and takes it so far and then he’ll look to me to take it further. I’m drawing quite a bit from his writing and he’s leaving a lot for me to complete. It’s like a little picture. Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to have a huge five-or-six minute structure to redesign and pick out anything I don’t want and put in other things that I do. It’s a genuine writing relationship, but not one where you start with nothing.
Contrast working in a duo versus a group such as Yes.
They are very different. Within a duo — and what was so great about early Yes and what Yes needs to recapture — is you have tremendous freedom to go off more in a direction as one person. You create a balance. Some tracks lean towards someone’s writing more than another’s. One guy brings in one piece and another person brings another one in. There’s a dualism. The only time this is similar to a group is when two of the group’s members write together and bring a song into the group, like the Anderson/Howe songs we used to do. We would actually do a lot of the construction and then bring the song into the group and try to get the others to play it with the conviction that it is a good song. But usually with Yes, we quite often have written in the collective sense where everybody’s got something and trying to find bits which fit together. Though that’s fun and creative, it doesn’t allow any single person to see out their dream, which you can do in a duo.
In a duo, you can have one song leaning one way with one guy taking control, but the other guy is happy because he can take the lead on another track. I guess that’s the basic formula for a couple of guys writing in a band too. With Yes, everybody wants to write, so everybody kind of throws things into the center. Without a producer, it’s very, very difficult to get a record everybody is happy with at the end of it. [laughs] The producer is there to balance it and get the record to be a bit like everybody wants it. For that reason, hopefully it’s a better record. But if the producer doesn’t think that’s the way to go, he’ll steer it more his way or the singer’s way or the guitarist’s way — whichever way is more in the money or has the clarity of making a great record that’s going to sell millions of copies. [laughs]
Creating the running order for Skyline proved somewhat thorny. Describe the process of coming up with an ideal album sequence.
When you are preparing a record, you can invent a running order quite early on or later on as I do it. And what can happen is you walk out of the studio one day completely convinced that the running order is a right one. You’re happy you’ve got the flow. But it doesn’t take much outside input to make you question it. Then the doubts come in. I react to input from people like my wife, my manager and the engineer. But I only invite their input once I’m in doubt. If I’m really, really sure, the best thing to do is keep being sure, because a running order can become very problematic.
For instance, there can be something about going from track three to four that you don’t like. Perhaps it’s in the same key or tempo. There’s something wrong, so you move it and inadvertently start an avalanche. Now, another track doesn’t fit so well somewhere else. Skyline took an extra ounce from me in this regard. Other albums like Natural Timbre weren’t quite so difficult to track.
Another thing to consider is If you’ve just come out of a hairy rocker and go into another hairy rocker, yeah that’s okay. But for the third piece, maybe you’ve got to cool it off a bit and show a twist. There’s a sequencing plan or formulation that’s a bit like making a movie. You don’t want to go to a movie and start by seeing the end — the guy walking off into the sunset happily with his wife. Like a movie, a record needs a sense of drama. Some people maybe don’t think it’s as important as I do. But I think it’s a very important finishing touch. Tracks should be allocated by their importance in the feeling of flow at a certain time.
With Skyline, the beauty of it was I was never saying “Let’s put a heavy track before a laid back track,” because it’s all laid back. I had enough tracks that were very casual and non-chalant, yet confident. So, I had to pattern those tracks at a slower pace — a half-pace.
Skyline’s artwork features some of your own photography. Are there any parallels between your interests in photography and music?
The one similarity that comes to mind is just looking around and seeing nature looking amazing. It’s something I want to capture. Those types of pictures relate quite closely to my sense of improvising, when I’m in an environment that I want to expand and expound upon in a sequence or structure. I’ll be playing a tune and then I’ll want to color the tune. I like weirdness in photographs. I like them to be a little surreal. I like them to have something that’s a little not quite right, like so many of my pictures.
If my photos aren’t about nature, they’re about something being wrong. [laughs] For instance, there’s a roundabout in England in which there was a lorry turned over on its side. I’ve got a picture of it. When you look at it, you know there’s something wrong immediately, but you don’t quite understand it at first because you tend not to see lorries turned on their side. [laughs] So, I like the surprise, the wildness, the obscure elements of photography. It’s a bit like what rock and roll is even after 50 years. We’re still redesigning rock and roll a sense. There’s a weirdness associated with my rock and roll sense. It’s my more secretly wild side and it fuels Yes a great deal.
Take me through the making of Masterpiece Guitars.
The project came about through Scott Chinery, a recently-deceased gentleman. Masterpiece Guitars features his collection, one that had nearly 1,000 guitars. He wanted a book of his own similar to my book The Steve Howe Guitar Collection. He got Tony Bacon, who helped me with my book to do a book for him. While he was doing the book, we got closer to a good idea about recording his guitars. I suggested to him that Martin [Taylor] and I collaborate with Martin doing most of the playing and me doing all of the production, guesting on some tracks and doing some solo tracks. Working with Martin is a joy. He’s a remarkable player and a warm person. We also knew each other. I’d already produced his album Artistry as well in the mid-‘90s. Scott thought it was a great idea and it turned out to be a really nice, little package.
So, we worked out how to do it. The day before the session started, we booked two weeks in a Pennsylvania studio and moved the guitars there from New Jersey in a truck with security. How we achieved the selection was based on what Tony Bacon was going to feature in the book — the cream of the guitars. We used different guitars for different period tunes. We knew that on the new tunes and compositions, we could more or less choose our guitars as long as we pinned down the standards and what guitars needed to be used for them. We ended up choosing 50-60 guitars and went to the studio — with a repairman there at all times. Every guitar was detailed, restrung and cleaned up. For two weeks, Martin and I sat there inventing this album and coming up with the tunes.
I helped choose most of the album and Martin had a fair bit of input into what he preferred and what he didn’t want to do. It went very on course. During that two weeks, we recorded everything but “Blue Bossa,” which we did during another two-day session. Martin helped invent the vehicle for the tune which was something we could play for six-and-a-half minutes and feature roughly 20 guitars doing 16 bars each. It was a mathematical plan that came up.
Scott was very happy with all of the tracks. He was very intuitive and skillful about the spotting of his guitars on various recordings which was amazing. Scott kind of sat on the album for some time. There wasn’t a market opportunity to release it the way we wanted. We thought it was a very valuable and important record. We played it for some jazz labels and missed a few opportunities, but it eventually started to come together for release this year. It’s been a long time coming. Sadly, Scott passed away. He was a very big guy. I don’t know what happened to him exactly.
Scott’s collection is now governed by his wife Cathy. We’re going to try and keep it alive. We think this is an important record. One of the criteria Scott wanted us to achieve was a good piece of music, not just a vehicle for demonstrating guitars. We wanted excitement, emotion, romance and all the moods music can have. Martin and I went for that instinctively.
You’ve been prolific as a solo artist since the early ‘90s. How do you look back on the last decade or so as a body of work?
I look at each album as an individual painting. They represent a big chunk of my energy and each has specific colors, flavors, looks and styles. I hope that through the ‘90s and beyond, I’m getting better at making records that hang together. Beginnings and Grand Scheme of Things didn’t hang together at all, they were just everything I could do at any one time. [laughs] They were like jamborees or carnivals of Steve Howe music.
I like the ones that were fun to do, the ones that have a style. I don’t judge them by their quality of style or their stylistic-ness. I don’t want them to be so easily dated. My best records are not easy to date. You won’t be able to say “Oh, because you’ve got drums like that, it was made then.” I try not to be terribly trendy, but not out of sync. I enjoy the breadth of the writing experience, because funnily enough, it wasn’t long after I started playing guitar that I really made my mind up that I was not just going to play guitar, but write music. So, that became a parallel challenge. It gives me a lot of satisfaction.
So, yeah, I like that body of work. I like its clarity. As opposed to some of the group work, with my solo work, you can stand back and really see what I do. You can see what kind of guy I am. I’m a guitarist. I play the bloody guitar. What do you think I do? [laughs] Thankfully, it’s a lot of fun.
You’re known as Yes’ most outspoken public critic when the band does something that goes against your leanings. Do you use public forums as a sort of megaphone that potentially has an influence on the group?
Slightly, yes. I think I also do it to reflect my frustrations about them maybe not listening to me enough. I guess there’s no point in saying that to them through the media because I talk to them every week. But I guess it’s not relevant to talk about old matters every day with Yes. However, in interviews, of course I do this. I talk about whether or not I liked Open Yours Eyes or Magnification. These issues don’t come up much in the group because they’re retrospective. I suppose it’s reasonably good that we take that approach to keep the band going, rather than squabbling about what went wrong in the past. At the end of the day, you do have to write things off sometimes.
Yeah, if I’m questioned about something and I’m feeling a bit mouthy, I say things. But more than that, I try to state things a little more accurately and talk about things not only in terms of my occasional personal disappointments, but also from what I have to gain from being very honest with our fan base and people I respect about what Yes is supposed to be living up to. I guess that fuels me.
People ought to know if I’ve had some reservations. I’m happy to say that now Rick’s back, I have a lot less. [laughs] Rick being with the band makes a lot of difference to me, but yeah, there’s been some struggle. Having another guitarist in the band who didn’t really have a big reason to be there isn’t cruel to Billy [Sherwood] for me to say. I like Billy. He’s a lovely, lovely guy and I know The Ladder was quite good and an enjoyable CD. I guess I want to be as critical as I am because without that, I’d be believing my own publicity. I live in England, which is a very realistic country. There’s no padding here. People don’t stroke me. I don’t walk into a coffee shop and have people say “Ooh, it’s Steve Howe from Yes! How nice to see you!” No, people just go “Oh, it’s that dude. It’s that guy.” I think that keeps me really close to the ground. It’s a balancing factor.
When talking about Yes, I can’t be unbiased. I can say that I do need more space sometimes to clarify where I stand on things. The Homebrew series of CDs is really a mouthpiece for my writing too. Hopefully, Homebrew Volume Three will come along later this year. The Homebrew discs have ideas which were developed by the band and you can kind of really see what I do, as opposed to the blanket credits in Yes, which we’re not going to be doing anymore. The blanket statement “This album was written by Yes” frustrated me. That’s why volume one of Homebrew really goes into the ABWH stuff. ABWH was another blanket writing credit where you couldn’t see what anybody wrote. So, when I did Homebrew, I put on a whole series of tracks that were the basis for quite a lot of the ABWH stuff.
I don’t expect very many people to be interested, but you can listen to Homebrew and see where my direction affects Yes. I like that clarification and understanding. I’m an artist that likes to be understood. There are blanket thoughts like “Jon writes all the lyrics for Yes” and at times he has done that, but other times he hasn’t. Those things made me want to try and gain some ground. I don’t think it’s purely ego. I’ll tell you what I think it is — it’s recognition for what I actually do. I’m not interested in getting recognition for something I didn’t do. I don’t want songwriting credits for songs I didn’t write and this is something that goes on. But there again, this is something that’s supposed to create smoothness in the group and less drive to get any one specific song out there.
There’s an awful lot of complicated balancing acts going on in groups. I’ve given you a few seeds and self-acknowledgements here. I sometimes regret being a bit mouthy about the guys, but they probably don’t read it anyway. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. These are only my convictions about what Yes is. It’s less flexible than my convictions about myself. I can go off and do country picking guitar. I can play rock and roll. I can play Skyline stuff. I can do whatever I please. But Yes has a duty. Yes has a function. It has a role and a reputation and it doesn’t always quite get there. The reasons aren’t stupid ones, but they’re not impossible to solve. It takes a lot of self-control, sharing and appreciation to make Yes records as integral, highly arranged and exploitive of what we are.
I was quite surprised by the alternate mix of “Fist of Fire” by ABWH [Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe] on the new Yes In A Word boxed set. I didn’t know the ABWH material was so compromised.
When I’m not visible at the mix, guitars get lost completely. With “Fist of Fire,” I thought it was ridiculous, because I’m not even that loud on the [boxed set] mix. My presence is important. It’s called ABWH, thank you very much! I don’t need to be on every track, but my presence has to be felt in a balanced way. This is when some of my struggles start.
The second Asia record was the first really big problem I encountered about mixing, but nobody in the group liked it either. GTR was not really mixed the way Steve Hackett and I wanted. It was a bit too wet and soggy. I was around during the GTR mixes, but not during the second Asia record. And then ABWH, which had so much of my writing in it, got mixed without me.
The first Asia record reeks of me being there — of everybody being there. When everybody is there and the producer is working with everybody, you get a great finished product. But when some schmuck decides they can do everything themselves and doesn’t need the band who’s written and played the music, that’s ridiculous. “Don’t need them! We’re just going to mix that without them!” I reckon the band should have a lot of input. And when I don’t get input, I usually don’t like the record. That happened on ABWH. I thought the guitar mixing was very bad. I was available to be part of it, but I wasn’t invited. Those things annoy me.
Maybe I shouldn’t be voicing my disappointment too much because it’s over. But with “Fist of Fire,” there you are. There’s more of that stuff. I’ve got a lot of other mixes that show I was rocking and rolling, and going nuts a lot more than is audible. So, that is disappointing, because I know my sound needs projection to carry. You can’t put Steve Howe in the background and say “Oh, that’s just as good.” You’ve got to hear me in context and at times, this is why Yes was great, because you heard the bass and guitar throughout — it was a clarity of mixing.
The marketing hype at the time of the ABWH release stated the record was something true to the vision of the four of you.
No, it was very much Jon’s vision. We were in agreement with that. We agreed that Jon was masterminding it. He was taking my songs and then running off with everybody’s things. He was concocting it. If it had more of a group sensibility about the mix, it may have lived up to the standard you described more closely.
There was a quote from you in Guitar Shop a few years ago I found intriguing. You said “I saw a picture the other day that almost made me cry. It was a photo of Jon, Chris and I singing onstage around 1971-72 and you could see that we were tight, harmonizing and creating together. We were the artistic nucleus of Yes, no matter whether we had Bill and Tony or Alan and Patrick. It reminded me of a time when we were all leading Yes.” How does that contrast with the way the band works today?
I think underneath it all, we would like to get back to where we were, but not to repeat ourselves. We want to be able to get into the flow and create in the way that we used to. It’s like chasing a childhood dream, because were comparatively childlike then. Each album has been shifting a little bit. With The Ladder, we brought into play an idea that we get together, write together and come up with these songs, work on them and mix them. We had a long rehearsal period like we used to do on Fragile and Close to the Edge. For The Yes Album, we rehearsed for about two months. We rehearsed about six weeks to do Topographic. Sometimes people would get fed up with these periods and think we didn’t need them and that in fact we can just go into the studio and create, which is what we did with Magnification. For that record, we just went out to the studio and started recording stuff, then went back to the material and re-recorded all that material. That’s one way of doing it, if you get things off-and-running and put everything on tape, like people like to do now.
In the old days, it had to be done much more via rehearsal and in the mind or on somebody’s cassette or quarter-inch Revox reel. It had to be quite simply demoed and then updated in the studio. Of course, now you can go about it — excuse the expression — ass about face as we say in England. You can start at the bottom and work upwards instead of starting at the top and working down because of ProTools. You can take the intro off and stick it at the end and nobody will every know. There’s so much rearranging that can happen. The temptation is to record what you think you want and then spend weeks changing it to what you now know you want. Due to a lack of technology in the early days, you had to really be able to just go in and play a bunch. Overdubs were still overdubs and things were still fixed though. Separation was always vital. If you wanted to take something out or increase or decrease it, without separation, you had no control. Lessons like that haven’t been learned very easily. Those lessons don’t seem to be remembered, but the basic criteria of good recording hasn’t changed. The aftermath has changed.
Many long-time Yes listeners believe the studio material on Keys to Ascension 2 contains some of the strongest output the band released during the past two decades. Why has the group largely ignored that material in the live context?
The situation was disappointing to us. The Keys to Ascension packages weren’t what people wanted. Therefore, the new songs on Volume One got lost. Then, the 45 minutes of new stuff on Volume Two — which was quite substantial — got lost too. But that material eventually came out on Keystudio, which is a nicer package of studio material from that period. Having said that, you are so right. The most unfortunate part is we mostly didn’t play any of it onstage. The media and charts didn’t react in a massive way, so we got little sense of feedback until a bit later. We eventually realized that “Mind Drive” in particular was being heralded and requested by the fan base. I’ve recently made it known that there is a feeling among the fans that we don’t pay enough to respect to what was great about our ’90s recordings. I think we should reinvestigate that material. The Keystudio material is challenging. It’s not easy pickings. These aren’t tunes you just strum along to while sitting on your backside. They’re very much works of craft and arrangement and were well-conceived. There’s a lot of mood and dynamics in there.
We’ve been very focused on Magnification and the idea of having an orchestra, along with the retrospective orchestrations of old songs. That’s kept us a little bit away from considering the pieces from Keystudio. It’d be incredibly easy to pick up on that now because Rick is back. Although he wasn’t ever present in the studio at the time we made that material — he was only giving us a smaller commitment at that time — his input was still important.
Wakeman claimed some of his contributions were left off Keys to Ascension 2 because of bad feelings regarding his subsequent departure from the group.
I think it’s fair to say we worked with everything he gave us, but it was constructed by us without Rick. So, obviously his role was never going to be as big as if he had been there all that month when we were recording it. It was no sour grapes. Rick only had so much time and he could only do so many keyboards. I think the ones that were recorded are very nicely audible. But I’ll leave a margin of gap to reinvestigate that. Certainly, his Moog and feature work was all very well heard. He really didn’t have much to do with the background work as we’d done a lot of it ourselves.
Tell me about your involvement in the recent Rhino Yes reissues.
If you can imagine months of weekly and biweekly calls where we’re talking about tapes and songs Yes has not released, you’ll have some idea. We were talking about the In A Word boxed set, then the live boxed set, then the reissues. I’ve been constantly involved in different facets of providing tapes. I have 50 tapes ready to ship now and we’re already a long way down the line. There’s been a lot of research. Bill Inglot at Rhino is very thorough and likes to get the best version. My tape library has been compared to what they call finished masters at Atlantic. So, they want to see if in fact what I have is better. Occasionally it has been. I’m just happy to be of service. I’m a polling point you can call to ask “What kind of tapes do you have for this year?” I’ve always collected tapes. Way back in 1967, I was handed a tape of the group Tomorrow in concert. Eventually, I released that 30 years later in 1997 on a record called Tomorrow: The 50 Minute Technicolor Dream. That live recording was very exciting.
For 30 years, I’ve kept tapes on quarter inch and on cassette — everything I could get my hands on. So, I’m a useful source for tapes, particularly for archive stuff that wasn’t released and rehearsal stuff. I’ve got tapes of Yes playing songs you’ve never heard. There’s a couple of things from the Paris tapes on the boxed set, but there’s a whole lot of stuff Yes don’t really want to release because it’s not that great. There are no “Close to the Edges” that we’ve recorded but didn’t release. Everybody’s got our major works, but there’s some fun stuff and things that are really hilarious and should be considered. I haven’t got the guys to see the funny side of it yet.
How do you look back at the making of The Yes Album?
That’s when I first joined the band. I was pretty much all over the place and was thrilled to be in the band. I had “Clap” and they liked it and said “Let’s put it on the record.” I thought “Well, that’s a great move!” [laughs] I had only just joined the band and suddenly I have a solo on my first record with them! I thought that was nice. What mostly sticks in my mind is working on things like “Starship Trooper,” “Yours is No Disgrace” and “Perpetual Change.” Those were songs we went into the studio knowing really well. “Starship Trooper” was slightly reinvented in the studio, if not introduced in the studio. “South Side of the Sky” was never played onstage until we recorded it, and then, only a few times over the next few decades.
The Yes Album was my golden opportunity. Tony Kaye was a great Hammond player and provided great support playing for me. I was very much more the instrumentalist because I had more room and because Tony was doing a great job doing what he was doing. It did allow me an awful lot of moments on that record. There were many great moments to inject my style. It was a very happy, but challenging period. Yes was almost scuppered into non-existence on a couple of occasions then. Once because of a manager and once because Atlantic almost dropped the band. But when The Yes Album came out, it raced up the charts and they weren’t thinking about that any longer. [laughs]
You recently said Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and yourself were disappointed with the way the Union tour was set-up. My understanding was that although the album was disastrous, the tour was largely considered a success.
The tour started incredibly well. It had periods of being what everybody wanted, particularly when we played England and during the first American tour. It was a very present thing. It was about satisfying everybody and indeed, there was a feeling of satisfaction. But there were other legs which were much more problematic during which people were falling out or were bugged by what I was doing and they had to understand why I was bugged in the first place. [laughs]
I found it difficult to share “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Sometimes a guitar solo I invented became what I do, then what Trevor [Rabin] does. I should have seen a better light of that maybe, but sometimes I didn’t necessarily like where he went with that song. I didn’t like him to — dare I say — trash it by going over the top with wacky, out there guitar, when in fact “Yours Is No Disgrace” was never about that. So, things were easier when they were closer to everybody’s center and there was less spotlight stealing and less way out stuff.
I would say the tour started with the right temperament and lost it in Europe. Then we went to England and everyone was as good as gold and we did some of the best shows of the tour. Then we went back to America and seemed to lose it again. What I mean by losing it is though it was great to see, if one of us wasn’t looking happy, we were struggling.
The ABWH guys didn’t think we were always going to be onstage, but the other guys really had this idea that they weren’t going to leave the stage. They thought they were going to be there all night. So, that’s what I mean when I talk about it as being disappointing. No-one every left the stage except for me when I left during “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” I feel loads of people should have left the stage. People should have been popping off, having a cup of tea, then coming back to give the show air, light and space. It should have featured one line-up, then featured another one. Why should I be there playing “Changes?” What can I do? What? Strum an acoustic guitar? What’s the point? But I did it.
To this day, you don’t exactly look thrilled playing “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” when it’s called for.
I guess I’m always going to have a problem about it to some extent. But I’ve tried to work on it and tried to be friendly and group-like.
You had a plan to make a follow-up record to Union that involved all eight members in an equitable way. What was it and why didn’t it pan out?
I had a plan, but I didn’t think of it. I helped to make an attempt to present it to the band, but it was basically an idea that came from Arista. Roy Lott [Arista’s General Manager at the time] said “You guys are nuts. You’re always playing together.” He said to me “There should be a song with three of you on, then a song with two of you on, then a song with five of you on, then a song with eight of you on. Those are the contrasts that will make an even better record than Union.” So, I went to the guys and said “This makes sense. When we did Union, it was a bit like two camps. This makes it more camps, but there will be more interaction. We don’t have to play on each other’s music all the time.” But nobody liked the idea.
What’s next for Yes?
We have Japanese and Australian dates coming up in September. And then, we may start a record together with Rick, assuming we’ve got all the pieces in place and know what the hell we’re doing. [laughs] There are always things to resolve and plan. I’m a great believer in plans. You have to be prepared to change the plans sometimes, but you have to have them. Plans are what ideas are made of.