Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe - ABWHAnderson's stay in Greece in the summer of 1988 can be considered a turning point in his career since it coincided with a growing realisation that the way forward was not a return (both musically and emotionally) to Los Angeles. "I'd recorded three albums there and discovered things that altered my whole perception of the world we live in", he explains in the tour-book. Returning to London, Anderson contacted Steve Howe, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman.
On meeting up with Steve Howe, the first piece he played Anderson was the chorus of what would become "Long Lost Brother of Mine"... very appropriate. In fact this track was a song originally written by Howe and Geoff Downes for Asia, but for some reasons it never made it.
Bill Bruford, for his own reasons, was also was enthusiastic about the project. "As we talked the ideas through, Bill embellished our musical thoughts via his new, computerised kit. The sounds were amazing", Anderson recalls. In fact, Bruford has always been ambiguous about the project, and although he is very friendly on the band in the promotional video "The Big Dream", that has been shot - he explains Jon is very open-minded to his electronic percussion - he has been more critical and honest on his reasons to join the project in more recent interviews: "You get paid tons there, much too much, and it's great. And the reason it's great is because the money allows you to do all sorts of things, like selecting radio mikes for Earthworks or buying rehearsal time or buying studio time. Musicians often are going to be working in two spheres. To survive you're going to have to work in a couple of places, if you're not working in studio music, you're working in movie music or jingles and then jazz is what you do with that money and that's very much my case. There's no doubt that ABWH and Yes have turned into a financial bonanza for me, which is absolutely great. There's no musical future in it from my point of view, it's regressive music, it's historical stuff. But once in awhile I think a musician is allowed to go on vacation, and to make everyone very happy, playing all the stuff they all want them to play from twenty years ago, but it's nothing that I would give up my day job for!" Nevertheless, it was Bruford who suggested that if this group was to do the right thing, his rhythm-section-colleague from King Crimson, Tony Levin, should be included to play bass.
Wakeman wasn't very enthusiast about the project as well in the beginning. In the Dutch SI-magazine, he explained it was a set-up, in which manager Brian Lane played a very important role in this. He convinced Wakeman to contact Jon and the latter managed to convince Wakeman with his enthusiasm. Wakeman also revealed that one of the reasons to join the project was the frustration Anderson uttered on the current Yes-music. He really seemed unhappy with the results of the work on the Big Generator-recordings. Knowing that he and Anderson had left Yes together in 1980 this would be their chance on a musical 'revenge'.
As said above, 'Brother Of Mine' was one of the first songs brought in by Steve Howe, who also was responsible for 'Order Of The Universe' and 'Birthright', which was still on the shelves from second (and never officially released) second GTR album. Hence the mentioning of Max Bacon in the credits.
Howe also delivered ingredients for 'Quartet', especially the first part, 'I Wanna Learn'. 'I Wanna Learn About You' originally was an acoustic love-song Howe wrote for his wife. It is unknown if the original version will ever see the light of day, although Howe has made hints in that direction.
'Let's Pretend' on the other hand was brought in by Jon. It is the result of his stay on the Island of Hydra in Greece in the summer of '88, where he had been working with Vangelis. Rumours mention Vangelis as the 'real' keyboardplayer on the track, but even if that's true many overdubs have been made on this ballad. Whatever the truth is, Vangelis is not mentioned as one of the players on the album, unlike some others. Of course there is Tony Levin, famous and loved for his work with King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, and many others. But also Matt Clifford and Milton McDonald are present as musicians.
It is very likely that they have played most of the keyboard and guitar-parts on the originals of most songs. Jon always explained extra musicians were needed to create a fuller sound and to give a helping hand on stage, but personally I think this is a lie. You don't need extra musicians to make a studio-album,... unless some persons are absent. It is very obvious that especially Wakeman wasn't involved in the project at an early stage. Someone else is e.g. credited (as songwriter) for the second part ('She gives me love') of 'Quartet' and in some song I really miss some typical Wakeman-trademarks. I am also of the opinion that most of the programmed drums were in place before Bruford was involved. The fact that Bruford plays electronic drums as well only makes it easier to mask the cheating. Most of the album has been constructed by Anderson, who was in the middle of the project, right where he wanted to be, in the position behind the controls. As he told SI Magazine in September 1989, Anderson had received tapes with various ideas from the various members (he also mentioned Wakeman, but I doubt that because the album is unlike anything Wakeman was writing at that moment) and compiled a musical framework from that material. A very powerful position, I'd say, and Anderson confirmed that he was the one in charge: "I don't have to be the boss, but in this situation (ABWH, red) I am. And you know what I do with it, I give certain people their own responsibility, in order to have some fun myself. I don't want to be the boss, but I do want to be in charge, in order to employ others. 'Cause that's what a good boss does, since you're a diplomat. You're saying: 'I want to hear this', or: 'I want to help you with that..'."
From this point it would take two sessions to refine the songs and to work them out into genuine tracks. The band moved to the region of Paris, where the very weird Teakbois was born. Anderson has explained that its origin is a Creole cafe, where a band was playing Cassave-music. The character of this song is Bobby Dread, to whom the subtitle 'The Life and Times Of Bobby Dread' is referring. In reality this Bobby Dread is none other than Anderson himself, who used this name for hotels when on tour. Especially Rick Wakeman really got mad when recording this very un-Yes-like Caribbean song.
This only shows no rules were made for any set lengths or musical styles for the songs and, as a result, the group emerged from Paris having synthesised such different 'feels' and 'styles' as 'Teakbois' and 'Order of The Universe' and with over an hour of music to record. Interestingly, once the material had been brought together in Paris, the sequence of songs took on a natural order of their own and that stayed in place (from 'Themes' to 'Let's Pretend') right through, according to the tour-book.
The next stop was the Island of Montserrat, in the Caribbean. In January 1989 this was the place where Tony Levin joined Bill Bruford in recording the master takes. On this island the aforementioned video was showed. It features the band playing cricket, working in the studio and telling nice stories about each other. It also has some nice video-clips [see left], including the one where all the bandmembers are painted like aboriginals. Jon wanted to express his sympathy for this people, who are also the main subject in Birthright, which is about British nuclear tests in in Australia. The funniest thing to see in this video is the recording of the vocals on 'The order Of The Universe', but the most interesting is the way Anderson is instructing Wakeman and Bruford. It really seems as if they haven't been part of the project until then. Rick Wakeman is reading music from sheet paper and even remarks: "I wonder what he's gonna let me play today..." You suddenly understand why Anderson is nicknamed 'Napoleon' by the other members. Jeff Berlin put it this way: "Jon Anderson likes to do things in a certain way and often if you made eyecontact with him he'd suddenly jump into his leader mode and give you an instruction. So Bill said: 'Just don't make ayecontact with him'." And indeed it's strange to see Anderson instructing Bruford how to play drums. Quite a revealing video and regrettably it's not available anymore.
Only six weeks later, with all the music down on tape, the group was ready to ask Steve Thompson and Mike Barbiero to put the final mixes together in Bearsville, with Jon at their right hand. According to the tour-book ten days of hard studio work were needed, but Anderson also mentioned four weeks which is extremely long when you consider the 6 weeks recording took.
For the cover-art Roger Dean was approached. He delivered on of his finest works ever, called 'Blue Desert' [see below]. In addition he designed a full alphabet of characters. This is the only lettering [see right] of which he did that and it turns up every now and then on albums, websites, etc. Of course the many different characters were necessary, since the album would 'simply' be titled 'Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe'. This, as a result of the fact that Chris Squire, as the only remaining founder of the group, owned the name 'Yes'. Wakeman once remarked that he thought the combination of names sounded too much as a collective of lawyers, and knowing what trouble they had over the rights he was pretty close! Nevertheless, the bandmembers talked about their compositions as 'Yes-music' and hence the tour would be titled 'An Evening Of Yes-music Plus...'
Steve Howe, in conversation with Jon Anderson, once asked, "When do you think we'll become a group?" His reply was, "As soon as we step on stage together."
And thus it happened... As Anderson states in the tour-book: "Musically, I always think of our songs as stage songs, relating to a show. And there is only one person who is able to realise the visual dream from album cover to staging." The great reunion of ideas was completed with Roger Dean agreeing to work on all aspects of design for the Group. Dean, famous for his wildly imaginative pieces of art which have graced most of the previous YES album covers, even flew in from Spain to Arista's New York headquarters for a marathon signing session in which he signed some 5000 souvenir poster that featured the new album's art. After 15 straight hours of signing, Dean then flew back. The last time he had signed a piece of art (Topographic Oceans), the piece sold for $56,000. Roger's brother, Martyn, has been utilising Roger's creations for the group's stage show, which was really incredible and featured the latest techniques in both lights and sounds.
The live line-up included, besides Tony Levin, Milton MacDonald and Julian Colbeck on guitars and keyboards respectively. Although Yes had worked with extra musicians before (they had some hidden downstairs during the 90125-tour), I still think it's a crazy idea. However it worked out fine, as the 2-CD 'An Evening Of Yes-music Plus' proves. Although it doesn't feature all tracks played during that tour (Starship Trooper is left off, for example) it gives a nice impression of the resurrection of a legend, with Close To The Edge, Heart of the Sunrise and Roudabout performed by an almost classic line-up. The concert started off with four solo-parts, including an acoustic version of 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart' by Anderson accompanied by MacDonald (not by Howe!). To start a concert with this kind of ego-tripping.... gives food for thoughts.
During the ABWH tour Tony Levin fell ill and they needed a replacement right away and Jeff Berlin, who had played with Bill Bruford on one of his solo-project, was recruted. As Berlin recalls: "I could to a Yes set in two days because I've spent years transcribing lines and music and playing them on the bass to the degree that I could hear a part and instantly play it without any rehearsal. If I knew the music in my head it would come out on my instrument. I knew a lot of those Yes tunes, I knew "Close To The Edge" it was in there somewhere. I knew "Heart of the Sunrise" somewhere. So I would listen to these records to remind me of what was there and therefore I could play them that night without any rehearsal. But there were songs I'd never heard before, even a couple of Yes songs that I wasn't a hundred percent familiar with and some of that new Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, Sacco and Vanzetti music. So I put headphones and just wrote out the charts on Sunday and Monday night. Wednesday we were rehearsing and Thursday I was on the gig. Now if I didn't have the background and experience I probably would never have been able to do a Yes show in two days. These guys were rehearsing for six to eight weeks." Jeff Berlin had the ungrateful task to fill the shoes of not only Tony Levin, but also Chris Squire's: "Chris Squire who is not a soloist, did a little line in some tune and it was not what you'd call the best bass playing he ever did on record and they asked me to learn it note for note. So I did, but on the second night I said, "I can't play this, it's awful!" And this is coming from, arguably one of the greatest stylists in rock bass. I admire Chris, I always have, I just don't think the man can solo. He just a little four bar something and I elected to ignore the request of my leaders and played what I wanted. No one argued with me and so I just kept at it."
It is for this reason that the live-CD [see Dean-cover above] of this tour features Berlin, and not Levin, although this is nowhere to be found in the booklet of this cheap, but musically great release.
After the very successful album and the world tour, plans were made for a second album, which was to be called "Dialogue". Several boots have been released featuring songs with names like 'She Walks Away', 'It Must Be Love', 'Shot In The Dark', 'Make Believe', 'Touch Me Heaven', 'To The Stars', well... very Anderson-like, to be short. I cannot tell if any of these tracks have been released in different formats, but probably these recording will be just as rare (and interesting!) as the post-Tormato Paris-sessions from 1979.
However Jon decided he wanted to be on the 'other' Yes-album as well... and as a result the two projects (Squire's and Dialogue) were made into one...Union (or Onion as Wakeman calls it). But that's a different (long) story. Another tour followed after which Howe and Bruford called it a day. Bruford explained: "I was extremely underemployed. What can I tell you? Eight musicians all playing the same... I mean, there's no need for eight people. So if the music requires just a little bit of icing on thecake from me, then that's what it gets. There's nothing else I can do, if Alan's going to do what Alan does, which is very fine and well and good. There's no need for two of us really, so I adopted the role of an electronic percussion player." Although Wakeman still wanted to be part of Yes, it wasn't to happen. After two year the re-union of Anderson with his 70's-mates Bruford, Wakeman and Howe was to the end and he was back with the Big Generator line-up which he left frustrated 4 years before. Apparently Anderson couldn't control everything.....
• SI-magazines (1989 - 1990)
• the ABWH tour-book
• several interviews on Notes From The Edge
• Pictures by: Els van Zessen