JON ANDERSON on 50 Years of YES

JON ANDERSON (Live at The Barbican, York, U.K., June 13, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Jon Anderson formed YES 50 years ago and spent most of his career in the band establishing them as one of the biggest Progressive Rock bands on the planet. Ill health forced him out of the band he founded but Anderson picked himself up and worked hard to regain his fitness by touring hard as a solo singer. He recently reconnected with former YES members Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin and decided to put together his own version of YES who are on the road celebrating their 50th anniversary. Mick Burgess called up Anderson ahead of his UK shows to chat about the tour, working with Wakeman and Rabin again and staking his claim to the YES name.

In June you’re over for some UK shows. Are you looking forward to it?

Oh yes. We’ve always loved performing which is why we started the band in the first place. We love making music and it’s amazing that we’re still together making great music.

The tour is a celebration of 50 years of Yes. How do you plan to mark such a milestone in your career?

I think we just want to play as good as we can and put on a great show. That was the whole reason for putting Yes together in the first place. We just want to make great music and give the audience an amazing event.

There’s a lot of albums and a lot of songs to cover. How have you gone about choosing the setlist?

It’s just one of those things when you’re in rehearsal and if the song doesn’t feel good then we move onto something else. We tried to do Starship Trooper last year and for some reason it just didn’t work. Rick just mentioned that the other day and suggested we try it again but with a better ending. I won’t tell you how it worked out this time, you’ll have to wait and see. We’ll be rehearsing together for a couple of weeks before playing some shows in Germany. Then we come over to the UK and by then, we’ll know what we are doing. We will probably do a couple of new songs that we have been working on together.

How long will your show last?

We’ll be on stage for around two hours. We’re aren’t as young as we used to be but we think we should have plenty of time to do the songs people want to hear.

Yes are renowned for their impressive stage shows. What do you have lined up for this tour?

We’ll be concentrating on the music. If you look around there’s some incredible shows out there with projections, lighting and special effects. We’re just going to go out and play and that’s what we do best. We just can’t keep up with these huge, futuristic visualisations. When you perform songs like Heart of The Sunrise, Rhythm Of Love and Awaken, which is an amazing piece of music, you don’t need all of the big effects, we just want to let people enjoy the music without any distractions.

You will be playing at the City Hall in Newcastle on 12th June. You’ve played there many times over the years. What are your memories of playing up here?

It’s an amazing place to play and we always love doing shows at the City Hall. When we first played there it was with The Who, Small Faces when Rod Stewart was with them and Arthur Brown with his flaming hat. I remember it vividly, as Pete Townsend spoke to me. I used to work in a bar up from the Marquee Club so I’d seen him many times and Pete came up to me and said hello. I was thinking, oh, Pete Townsend is speaking to me. He said that he was going to do an album about a blind, deaf and dumb guy called Tommy. I thought he was mad and then six months later this unbelievable album came out and the rest is history so he talked to me about Tommy at the Newcastle City Hall.

It must be quite a while since the last time. Can you remember when that was?

It must be well over 20 years, maybe closer to 30. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun.

Will 2018 be spent mainly touring?

We’ll be doing 10 or 11 shows and then some over in The States. They wanted us to do a three-month tour in The States and we said that was crazy, we just can’t do that at our age and anyway, we want to get on with our new album, so we need time to work on that

Will you be releasing any special products like a boxed set to celebrate your anniversary?

I’d suggested putting out the best live recordings of Yes over the years with Warners. I did a compilation for them featuring songs recorded all over the world and picked out all of the best versions of all of the great songs and they turned around and said it was going to cost so much money to get licensing that they wouldn’t be doing it. I wish they’d told me that a few months ago before I’d done all of the work pulling it all together. They said they were just going to put another best of album but we already have several of those. I wanted to do something a bit different but the label just didn’t want to do it which was a shame. We will however be putting out a live show that we did in Manchester last year which Trevor Rabin is producing and it sounds great and that will be our homage to Yes. We do songs from way, way back right through to the modern era of the band.

One person who unfortunately won’t be able to celebrate with you is Chris Squire who was an ever-present member until his death 2 years ago. What did Chris mean to you as a musician and on a personal level?

He was definitely the best bass player in the world and a brilliant showman. Without Chris I wouldn’t have been doing what I’m doing now. He had such a dry sense of humour and was a bit crazy but aren’t we all.

Alongside you on the tour is Rick Wakeman, who is the definitive keyboard player in Yes and guitarist Trevor Rabin who played on the modern era Yes albums including the huge hit 90125. It’s almost like you have Rick from the old days, Trevor from the new and you are the constant link that bridges both eras?

Most people think of Rick from the classic ’70’s era of Yes whereas Trevor brought the band a more modern sound in the 80’s and was a huge success and I was in both versions so it’s great to be able to bring us all together to play again. Rick had never played with Trevor before until the Union tour in 1991 and they got on so well but life moves on, so when Trevor said he wanted to stop doing film scores for a while and he wanted to tour I got in touch with Rick and he said yes straight away.

Other than Rick and Trevor who else is on this tour?

We have Lou Molino on the drums who has played with Trevor for a long time and Lee Pomeroy on bass.

Was Bill Bruford ever in the frame to join you?

When we met at the Hall of Fame ceremony I asked Bill if he’d come on tour with us but he’d said he’d given it up. I said that drummers never give up, but he said he was too busy teaching now. Bill is such a sweetheart and an amazing man.

At what point did you start working with Rick and Trevor again?

It was a few years back and it was such a great feeling to be playing together after so long. We had the best time together and it feels good to be doing it again. Trevor has been doing music for a Broadway show as well as film soundtracks and I’ve been working on an album called 1000 Hands that I started 28 years ago and Rick has always been busy with his thing so getting us all together took some time but here we are and it’s sounding great.

You originally billed the band as Anderson Rabin Wakeman or ARW for short but then you added the YES name. Is this your way of staking your claim to the name?

I owned the name and Chris Squire and Alan White owned the name. His wife said that when Chris leaves us maybe we could use the name. We said that the year we got into the Hall of Fame we’d be out there as Yes in front of one million people around the world so why didn’t we use the name. We used the addition of featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman to differentiate us from the other Yes.

Did you have any problems with the version of Yes featuring Steve Howe and Alan White?

They’ve been really cool about it. It’s never been a problem. I had a conversation with the other guys and just said to them to let people know who’s in the band as I keep getting phone calls about me playing somewhere but I’m not in your band, so please tell people who’s in the band so they don’t expect to see me.

As it’s the 50th anniversary of YES, was there ever any chance that both sides could have reconciled their differences and toured together?

If that happens, you’ll be the first person I’ll call. You never know what will happen.

You are a founding member of YES. Were you disappointed when you had your health issues back in 2008 that the band continued without you?

It was one of those things and I had to go to hospital for an operation. By the time it was finished I wanted to go back out onto the road. I just went out in a car with my wife and an acoustic guitar and I really grew emotionally and strengthwise so after a year I was feeling I could get back in the band but Chris said, maybe next year. I said I was ready to re-join but they wanted to move on with somebody else. I was obviously disappointed about that as I felt that I was ready but I ended up doing my own thing and went down to South America where the fans are pretty wild. There were 3000 people at the shows and I was just standing there with my guitar and they’d sing along. It was so much fun. I realised that just me, my wife and my guitar was much more fun than having to traipse around with a bunch of crazy people.

What about the immediate future? Have you started writing new material with Rick and Trevor?

We have about an hours’ worth of new music written and we want to make a new album and just do something radically different. Trevor said he’d like to use a full orchestra and choir for it, like a film score. That would be the dream. We’ve actually done some recording that we’ll use for the beginning of the show. There’s no song titles as yet but you will find out in time.

When can we expect the new album to come out?

It’s all down to timing. We had a plan to do this big thing down in London earlier this year but it didn’t quite come off but we are looking to do something big, crazy and wonderful next spring so maybe the record will come out sometime after that.

You mentioned your solo album 1000 Hands. How is that coming along?

I had tapes lying around in my garage that I’d been working on for years and I got this great producer and said that I really wanted people who I’d met with throughout my life to play on it. I’ve got Ian Anderson, Billy Cobham, Jean Luc Ponti, Chick Corea involved. I got all of these people to play on the record and it sounds like it was made last week. Some of the recordings go back years but we have upgraded them and improved them over the years but the songs still sounded great. I’ve written 3 or 4 new songs to go with it and I’ve just done some videos for it in Orlando. It was a lot of fun to do. The album is out in the summer and I’m very excited about it.

One of your most successful collaborations was with Vangelis which yielded the big hit I’ll Find My Way Home. Have you stayed in touch with him over the years?

I’ll be doing that on my solo tour along with State of Independence. A lot of people love those songs that I did with Vangelis. He’s not very well these days. I was in touch with him a while back and was going to go over to Greece last year but he was very poorly and he doesn’t play very much now. He was my mentor and taught me how to be a musician and I bless the day that I met him.

What about Anderson/Stolt. Do you have plans to work with Roine Stolt from The Flower Kings again?

We are working on another one. It took two years to do the first so it’ll be at least another year to finish the second one so I will get it out late next year.

For 2018 is your main focus on the YES tour and album or do you have time to fit in any other projects?

I’ve been working on recordings of the great Yes music using midi files to produce Yes with some teenagers singing all of the songs. It sounds unbelievable. The purists won’t like it which is OK but this is to introduce Yes to young people of the 21st century with very cosmic sounds. I hear Chris’s bass every day as I’m doing some mixing at the moment. I think we’re going to call it 21st Century Yes and we’ll be doing visuals for it as well. We’ll probably release it on the internet on YouTube or something so people can just find it and watch it. Next year I’ll do a solo tour with a full orchestra and choir doing 1000 Hands and my ’70’s solo album Olias Sunhillow. I’m working on half a dozen projects, so I’m keeping very busy.

Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman’s UK tour starts at Newcastle City Hall on 12th June.

Photos By Deborah Anderson


  • 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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  1. Jon: you are an Angel on Earth and we love you. Please come down to New Zealand with Rick, Trevor and the guys.

  2. Jon, I love Yes music! My first show was April of 73′ in Nashville. I was 16. You and Steve were probably in the early stages of Tales if I have my time line right. Words cannot express the thankfulness I have for you and all the music of Yes. Cannot wait until your next Nashville visit! God bless you and yours, Rick

  3. Jon, I was hooked after first concert in St. Paul Minnesota in 1975, what a show and incredible stage. Was so glad to see you again for Union tour and many times in between including last September at Treasure Island Casino. By the way, Three Ships is by far, our favorite Christmas album. What a gift!

  4. Thank You, Jon, for the love and rainbows. You are an angel, and I will always Love You! Ritual still makes me cry sometimes, even after all these years! Love, Sheila. ( I am sheyes)!

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