Interview with Steve Howe (Yes/Asia)

UK Prog Rock legends YES have recently toured The States playing three of their classic albums in their entirety and it’s heading to the UK next year.  Mick Burgess chatted with Yes guitarist, Steve Howe, about this ambitious project, his split with Asia and more.

You’ve just announced your latest UK tour in April of next year. Are you looking forward to getting back home to play for your UK fans?

We’re on the road around the world an awful lot at the moment and we’re very much looking forward to playing some shows over in the UK next year. It’s been well over two years since we last played there so yes, we’re looking forward to it.

Many bands have played shows featuring a whole album in its entirety. You will be doing three, The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One. What made you decide to undertake such an ambitious tour?

We needed to do things a bit differently. We didn’t just want to go on stage and play a song from this album then a song from the album. This is how we’ve always played since 1973 when we did something like this before so it’s almost like the 40th anniversary of that idea which is to play a complete album. We thought about doing two and playing a few songs from our other records but then we talked about doing three and it just seemed to be such a good idea. This way you’ll buy a ticket and know every song you’re going to hear.

Why did you pick those three albums in particular?

We just felt that these three albums deserved to be done on stage. They each have different challenges and qualities and give a good representation of the band. Going For The One has different sorts of challenges with some lighter sides such as “Turn of the Century” and “Wondrous Stories” and also has the Rock sides with “Parallels” and “Going For The One” itself and also the more serial approach to a song with “Awaken” so there’s a moving palette in the music that creates different colours and each of the albums work so well together in the show.

You’ve done this on your recent American shows. How did the fans react to it?

We did it in South America as well. It’s gone down really well and the tickets sold very well as soon as it was announced. We knew we’d changed the game a little for ourselves by being more creative and the fans have really responded so well to the idea.

There must be a fair few of those songs that you haven’t played in years if ever. Were there any that you initially had trouble remembering how to play?

Not really although there was some detail here and there that we had to work on but the overall shape was still there. We have been playing many of the songs on and off over the years but there were a couple like “Perpetual Change” we haven’t played that many times so it’s good to revisit those again.

Doing three full albums must take up a fair chunk of your show. Is there space for any tracks from any other albums? Maybe “Machine Messiah” from Drama?

We’ll do the three full albums in the main show then we’ll come on and do an encore that ‘s often “Roundabout” but we may change it around but we don’t really feel that we need to do much more as we’ve already covered so much ground during the show. Three albums plus “Roundabout” is quite a lot of music.

Yes have always put on a great production to go with the music. What do you have lined up for this tour?

We’ll have projections and lights but it will be quite frugal in a way. We’ve never wanted to distract the audience with other stuff but we do start the show with a particular pattern of events. I say it will be simple but effective.

Your current line-up features yourself, Chris Squire as always, Alan White, Geoff Downes and new singer Jon Davison. He sounds like a real find. Where did you first come across Jon?

Paul, our tour manager, knew of him and suggested we check him out. We had other people to look at as well but we knew straight away that Jon was really right for us. In no time he’d jumped aboard and we headed down to Australia. How he managed to do that in such a short space of time I’ll never know but he was fantastic. It was a difficult time when we realised that our previous singer, Benoit was going to be unable to carry on and we had a tour booked but we were lucky to have found Jon and have him able to fit in so quickly. It’s worked out really well for us.

You play in Newcastle on 3rd May. That’s not far from where Alan White was born in Ferryhill. When you’re up here will he be your tour guide for the day and show you the sights of the North?

I’ve been up in Newcastle so many times over the years and know my way around well so I don’t need Alan as a tour guide. Sometimes on tour we’ll go and have a look around and do something other times we’ll just stay around the hotel or the venue. I always enjoy coming up here though and I also did a lot of solo gigs in South Shields in the ’90’s so I know this area well.

It’s been a couple of years since your last album Fly From Here. How far are you on with new material?

We haven’t really had any time to get very far with anything and we’re not in any kind of hurry to do this. We may have some time later this year to start the preparatory work on new material but it may be some time before we have anything to release. I have spent some time in my studio earlier this year and have done some writing and can pull out some material and Geoff can do the same but we haven’t worked on anything together as yet.

Fly From Here was produced by your former singer and Frankie Goes To Hollywood producer Trevor Horn. What did he bring to the recording process?

Quite a lot really. We were heading in one direction but when he started to do more than just record the band he brought in songs and Trevor helped us expand the music and develop the songs further and we ended up getting a really good album.

You’ve recently left Asia. Was it getting just too difficult to balance the demands of being in Yes and in Asia?

I’d been in Asia and Yes at the same time for four years and it was hard for me to do it for another year. I felt that I’d been stretched and squeezed and that I needed to look at it. It didn’t mean that I wanted to do less work as I was doing a solo tour and a tour with my Trio but they are more simplistic tours and relaxing and can do those on my terms. It was hard to see another year of pushing and pulling. That’s what happens when you’re in a band with other members who also have ideas and plans that they want to explore.

Did you feel that Asia gave you a different outlet to Yes in that you could play shorter, maybe more commercial songs?

When me and John Wetton first sat down together in the studio we just blared away. I wish we’d recorded some of that. I guess we were just checking each other out. We started writing songs together like “One Step Closer” and I put some ideas into his songs “Without You” and “Cutting It Fine”. We spent a few days together to see if we had something and actually Simon Phillips from Toto did some work with us at the start. That didn’t quite work out due to scheduling conflicts but then we got Carl Palmer involved and Geoff Downes. Little did I know at the time that one of the song writing relationships that became so important was that with John and Geoff. In a way it was a perfectly designed group. It was a band that grew together naturally and gave us all a different outlet to the other bands we had been in. The reunion with the original line-up lasted almost 7 years which is much longer than we were originally together.

Is the door open for you to play together in the future?

I don’t know. I never say never. It’s only been 6 months since I left Asia and I wouldn’t want to take on any obligations at the moment but you never know in the future.

You also worked with Steve Hackett from Genesis in GTR and released one album which cracked the American Top 20. Why did you not release a follow up to that record?

It just didn’t really work out between us at that time and we decided to move on and do other things.

There’s some demos going around for a supposed second album. Had you actually started work on the second album or were there some leftovers from the first album sessions?

There were various recordings made at different levels of GTR that didn’t have Steve Hackett in it. There were a few line ups that recorded some things. Some had a tenuous connection with the band and put them out under the heading that they were actually GTR demos but they weren’t. In fact there’s some takes that had nothing to do with me, Steve Hackett or Phil Spalding. I think Steve has gone on record as saying he’s not on any of the recordings. I have tapes here myself that were done but not used by the label that we created at the time and as far as I know, nobody has heard those and they’ll be part of a future project along with some other recordings that I have.

Not many people realise that you appeared on Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasure Dome album. What parts did you play on that?

On their first album I did a guitar solo on “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome” and on “Two Tribes” Trevor Horn dared me to play the bass parts which I did. That was such an energetic, powerful song. Years later I asked him if he used any of my parts. He said that it was made up of a few people’s versions so I think I played part of it great and he liked that then someone else played another part better so he used that and mixed a few parts together into the final song. So there’s lots of people’s contributions to that song. I loved Trevor’s tight, punchy production that he did with Frankie and Propaganda as well. They were great sounding records that still sound good today.

Did you play on the follow up, Liverpool too?

I did. I played on four tracks on that album and think that it’s such an underrated album. There’s some great songs on there.

You also played the Flamenco solo on Queens No.1 hit “Innuendo”. How did you become involved with that?

Brian had his shot with it and had done what he’d wanted to do with it but thought that someone else could race about with it and add some excitement to those structures. They jokingly said that I could do a bit of Paco De Lucia with it. I could see what they were after so I did some improvising and they loved it. I was so proud to be on that record. Innuendo was such a wonderful album and had so many big songs on it.

With a new album and tour to look forward to, what else have you got in the pipeline in the future?

I’ve just done 10 dates around England in the arts centres which was nice. I come back with the Trio in September doing dates around the UK. It’ll be a nice easy going tour. We’re reinventing the Trio to an extent. Around half of it will be like how we were but there’s a new branch coming out that’s been developing in our writing and recording so we’ll bring some of that into our live shows. We’ll also have a new album out towards the end of the year. The Trio will be quite active again and I wanted that after two or three years of inactivity. I’ve also just released the Homebrew 5 album which is a collection of some ideas I’ve been working on over the years including the demos I recorded with Spectrum. My last solo album Time was a very nice album to make with an orchestra and I’d like to think about making another volume of that soon which may be music that I’ve done but reinterpreted in a new way and some new music too. Next year will be busy with Yes so I’ll try to fit in as much as possible.

The Steve Howe Trio tour the UK in September 2013

and Yes tour the UK in April/May 2014


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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