By Howard Whitman
Through all of the partings and reunions, there has been at least one YES in existence for 50 years now. The current — and official — YES lineup, now led by longtime guitarist Steve Howe, is celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary this summer with an innovative tour that features the return of founding keyboardist Tony Kaye, who guests with the current band consisting of YES veterans drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, vocalist Jon Davison, bassist Billy Sherwood (who replaced founding bassist Chris Squire in 2015 following the latter’s passing from leukemia). Drummer Jay Schellen will be augmenting White.
Goldmine recently spoke with Howe about what to expect on this special tour, as well as other events planned around this outing…
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on the 50th anniversary of YES. What can we expect on this commemorative tour?
STEVE HOWE: We kept the set list a secret until we did our first show and then it’s on the internet. We’ve got a two-part show unless we’re playing in a casino, then it’s an hour and a half spot. But generally, we do the longer show. It’s not like last year when we did a song from each of the 10 first albums—this year we’re just making a big selection across different albums that we think are stepping stones across YES’ career and demonstrate the detail of the music.
GM: Would you call this a “greatest hits” show?
SH: No. This is for fans, it’s not about greatest hits. I don’t think YES have many “greatest hits” and that would be a short show. Queen and Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones, they’ve got endless amounts of singles. Yes is not a singles band; we’re an album band.
GM: Does this show span the entire history of the group from early days to present?
SH: I don’t think we’ve attempted to do that. That would be a very long show, a couple of nights of shows. We just touch on things and think about what would be surprising and pleasant, and also what we can play and what we know, so there’s a mixture of the known things and the unknown.
GM: Tony Kaye has returned for this tour. What’s his role in the show?
SH: Tony’s been a friend over the years, and he powered our original sound. When you think about our first three albums, keyboards are very dominant. He was a great guy to give me a stable position when I joined YES [in 1970]. We always got on—we did some crazy things together and had a good laugh. He managed to come back in before in the 1980s and be part of the “90125” lineup; he held his own. He was on the Union tour. We talked about how at one of the shows we’ll feature a guest appearance by [1974–76 YES keyboardist] Patrick Moraz—the guys who we feel understand us and we understand them. We could invite Trevor Horn, we’ve done shows with him. [Note: Trevor Horn will join YES in Philadelphia for their July 20 and 21 shows and U.S. Fan Convention.] We have an open heart to the music, assuming we get on. Tony is the epitome of that, and we love him, so he’s guesting on this tour. We’re not projecting any further involvement, but you never know, there might be something more we do. Certainly, the touring has become an opportunity this year to demonstrate what the heart and soul of Yes is: It’s the music.
GM: I see Jay Schellen is back in the fold on this tour as well. How is the show broken up with his and Alan’s participation?
SH: Alan’s been through some things and drumming is a very tiring, taxing thing. I don’t know if a lot of older drummers really still play. We’re delighted that Alan’s comfortably hanging in, but to do the whole show? Maybe it’s too much for him. So we can lighten the load for him, and Jay came back. My son Dylan did it last year, before we had a disaster, which upset the apple cart in other ways, with me losing my son Virgil. Jay’s absolutely on stable footing to work this show with Alan and keep the harmony alive and keep the music in the pocket. It always has something to do with Alan because, although he joined (in 1972) after me, his role in the group with Chris, of course, was fundamentally a big role. He never left the band after all those years. So, to help Alan through this period and to make it great for him, he comes on a little later in the show. That’s how we’re doing it.
GM: Jay has a deep history with Billy Sherwood as well.
SH: Absolutely. Jay kicks off the show and then we build toward Alan coming on. But they’ve both had a long history with Billy, and Billy’s had a long history with YES! He was fully fledged again before Chris passed away. Chris was expecting a long recuperation and Billy agreed to come back and stand in for him, and that’s not the way it went. But we were pleased at least that Chris had given his blessing. Billy’s a very logical person to be doing this. One might’ve thought we would have needed two people to fill in for all of the work that Chris did. But Billy’s brilliant and always loved Chris and his music, and is entrenched in learning and understanding that.
GM: I’m based in the Philadelphia area. You have a special event coming up here in July (Saturday, July 21), a fan convention you’re calling the YES Fan Fest. What can you tell us about that?
SH: That’s right. We’ve got two shows, and like what we recently did in London, on the second one we give over the afternoon to the fans and they have a sort of conference or call it what you like, a “Yestival.” We’re delighted; [YES cover artist] Roger Dean’s going to be there, Patrick Moraz is going to be there, with Tony Kaye and the whole lot of us. We’ll be lurking about and trying to see just what it means to people. YES has been going 50 years—it’s a heck of a long time, and it’s not without its breaks, but its breaks are never longer than three years—although when you think that the 90125 lineup only made two albums in 10 years, that’s pretty weird. But 90125 rang a lot of bells. I think there are all sorts of things that are going to happen.
TO READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW WITH STEVE HOWE — ON THE LEGACY OF THE BAND YES —PICK UP THE OCTOBER ISSUE OF GOLDMINE, ON BARNES & NOBLE AND BOOKS A MILLION NEWSSTANDS IN SEPTEMBER.