Notes From the Edge
Conversation with
Rick Wakeman
nfte #263

MIKE TIANO: Let's go back... way back. You just finished recording KEYS TO ASCENSION; you've done the Tower Records gig. This classic lineup of the band was back together, and there was even a tour planned. What happened?

RICK WAKEMAN: Well, there wasn't a tour planned. That's really where it went wrong. At that particular time, Yes were managed by a guy called John Brewer back in England. We came over, we did KEYS TO ASCENSION, and there was certainly management problems at the time. Left Bank hadn't come onto the scene then, and the album was finished. I came back to England, and spoke to the management there in England, because I had a tour planned for myself, and I said what's the schedule, what's the deal for the Yes situation, and management said, we're not sure yet, but it's going to be a little bit later. I said well, I've been offered a tour--because they didn't manage me--and I had the tour June, July or whatever it was, which was through the agency in London, and they said, yeah, that'll be fine.

So I went ahead and booked the tour, heard nothing from anybody or was told about anything, and then I came over here to do a charity that I'm involved with here in America. I came over to do four or five church shows with choirs and things, and it was while I was in Orange County, I did an evening, and afterward loads of people came up with stuff to sign and things, which was nice, and one guy came up and he had a ticket--a Yes ticket for a concert and said, "Can you sign this--looking forward to seeing you in Kansas," or whatever. I said "Pardon?" I looked at the date, and I actually for some bizarre reason knew where I was on my tour on that date, and I said, "That's not possible--I'm in wherever," and he said "Oh." So, then a few more other people came up and they said, "Looking forward to seeing you in such-n-such," and I thought, what's going on here. So I phoned up management in London, and they said, "Oh no no no, don't worry about it." I thought this was really strange, because it happened again. So I got a hold of Alan, and Alan said to me, "Oh, well we've sort of got new management now and they're booking the tour," and I thought "Nobody's spoken to me; nobody's spoken to me at all and I've got a tour booked." Alan said "Well, can you not cancel it?" I said "Well, no I've signed the contract." I'd get sued--you sign a contract, it's a legally binding thing, I'm stuck with it.

So basically that was it. I came back to England and did my tour, and Yes went off and did their tour, and that was it. Without going into long details, it turned out that Left Bank had tried to contact me through the old management in England, and had been fobbed off with some quite unbelievable stories--I mean I've only just found half of this out, so I didn't know anything about [it]...and it really is very sad, really, because I'm sure that had Left Bank been able to get a hold of me [it might have been different], which would have been possible had they not been sent down erroneous routes, which were for whatever reason they were sent down--which I hasten to add had nothing to do with the band over here--so what happened was by the end of that year, Yes had trotted off in a direction. I never heard anything from anybody; John Brewer's management disappeared entirely from the scene whatsoever, and I never spoke to him at all, and so I suppose to some extent I thought, "Well, ok." So I got on with life, and Yes got on with life.

So it was sort of a weird situation, because I didn't so much as leave as situations created by shall we say third parties known and unknown, which transpired to a situation--where I found myself doing one thing and the band found itself doing another thing, because I checked with the management in the London office, which were the only management I knew of--obviously before I had booked anything, and was given an all clear, which I should have never been given, if you know what I mean, but at that time it was too late. It's really strange because from ABWH when I joined up with Bill, Jon, and Steve, in a strange way if you look at the situation I haven't left since then, because at the end of ABWH it became the UNION Yes tour; then at the end of the UNION tour, the Yes management at the time, which was Tony Dimitriades' management, decided that the band would continue but without Steve and myself, because of the nature of who originally owned the name or something, it was something completely ridiculous.

So Steve and I, we always were told this may well be the case because that's how the management there viewed everything, and obviously Bill as well. So at the end of the UNION thing, it sort of continued but Bill, Steve, and myself found ourselves subject to requirements, not by the band, but by their management at that particular time. Then back for KEYS TO ASCENSION, and then as I said again because of just bizarre circumstances and various things that happened, found myself in a similar sort of position for a second time, so in a strange way, I sort of I didn't leave, I haven't left since (laughs) back in 1980 with Jon, in a strange way because when I came back...

MOT: You just took a hiatus basically.

RW: Well, it was through management that has just made some extremely strange decisions--that have not been good for either the band or the individuals or the Yes fans, and you look back at the history of Yes, and I think that whilst I think there isn't any member of the band that wouldn't hold their hand up and say Yes is a difficult band to manage, because of the nature of the beast, it's certainly... I mean obviously I can't speak for Left Bank, because I only just met the people but they have seemed to have done an excellent job for the last five years, but I can speak prior to that, is that there have been some really bad mismatches, shall we say--that's the best way I can put it, which have not helped Yes or the situation.

Having said all of that, you can look at it the other way around that if all those strange things hadn't happened, then I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you now, and I think the band is strong. I've really enjoyed the last week--ten days; I mean the band is playing really good, and I've enjoyed playing very much, and probably equipment-wise, because of the nature of technology. As years go by for the keyboard player, you are always more and more better equipped to play Yes stuff all the time because of the nature of beast, which is great. The one good thing about periods away in the past, when you're working with other people and you're doing other things, is you gain new experiences, which means you can bring new things into a situation, which is always healthy.

You know, you can look at the whole thing in two ways: you can either look on the down side of things--oh, this went wrong, that should never have happened, this happened, that should never have been said, that should never have been done--you can go down that route, and if you go down that route, you get absolutely nowhere. All you do is you send everything down into a real retrograde situation. What you do is you look at everything and go, OK, what's the positive things that you can move forward and do, and if you go down that route, then you can only go forward. You can't go back, because you can't change any of the bad decisions that were made. You can't change any of the mistakes that were made; you can't change any of the things. I mean, you can look at them and go, what do I think.

For example, I look back and think that KEYS TO ASCENSION was a great idea, but when Yes records and when Yes does anything, it needs to be in, I think, a future-forwarding, state of the art situation, and when I look back... I thought it was a good stepping stone. I really did, and I always looked upon KEYS TO ASCENSION the same way as the first ABWH album, as a stepping stone--"Ah, here we go, OK. We're now moving towards the next set of stepping stones." I think KEYS TO ASCENSION could have been, now looking back, that much more had strong management been in place then, and we recorded in a studio befitting of what Yes should be recording in, because Yes has always pushed its recordings to the limit or always has tried to in the past, and with no disrespect to where we recorded KEYS TO ASCENSION, we were not in a studio where we could push limitations of, "Ah, let's do this and this and that and that." But having said that, it was still a good stepping stone for the band at that time, I think.

Yes went through this sort of management and because there'd been ABWH, because there'd been the Yes side of things and the UNION side of things, there just seemed to be managers and agents everywhere, and my personal opinion--and this is only an opinion--was that a lot of decisions where made on behalf of the band that the band didn't make, and that were not in the best interests of the band. Certainly at the end of the UNION tour, and I say this again, this is an opinion, this is not fact, my opinion is that the management there at the time thought, "Great, Yes has built up a lot of respect... the UNION tour was a great tour, had built a lot of respect, that's great--built up a fan base. Everything's really good again; everything's great. It doesn't matter who does the album, because that's fine, everybody will buy it now." And that's not right. That's not how things work.

MOT: You don't think it more of a commercial consideration, in that 90125 was such a big hit for Yes, that certain people said, "Hey, let's get that version of Yes back together and create an album, maybe we'll have another 90125?"

RW: I don't think so, because there's two ways of looking at it. You can say, yeah, that's true, 90125 was an extremely important album, it saved the band, to many extents. The ABWH tour was a great tour, and when the two units merged to form the UNION tour, probably the strongest elements were from the ABWH side of things of the two units being put together. So in essence, to remove that unit at the end of it was a bit strange. I think you're dead right, but I think the commercial side was purely financial... personally what I would have thought was there probably wasn't a way where in truth where there could have been an eight piece album, because the UNION album was, as it was, was pretty dreadful. Actually that's not fair, it was very dreadful. In fact I don't even class it as a Yes album, because the only person that wasn't on was Bill Clinton playing saxophone... I mean the prat, so-called producer just had all of his friends on it; it was just a joke. It's a joke.

MOT: Yeah, I have to agree. It started out strong; I "Would Have Waited Forever" and "Shock To The System" kind of carried it forward, but after that it just did not sound like Yes.

RW: Well the problem was I played loads and loads of things, which went on Cuebase or whatever it was we were using at the time, and then because we were rehearsing on up to the tour, we made the fatal mistake of leaving people in the studio who said, "Ha, I'm going to change that; I'll change all these sounds." and I know I can speak on behalf, I think I'm sure Steve wouldn't mind, we listened to some of it and Steve said, "I didn't play that; I didn't do that!" Everybody listens to different things on a Yes [album]. I listen for the overall sound... and I'm going, "I know Steve did this; where's that gone? Where is it; who's that?" (Laughs) It was just a joke; it was an absolute joke. I mean, saved by the tour, which was a tremendous tour, an interesting tour and a tremendous tour. I don't know what the answer was after that, but the solution that the management took, I think was wrong. I mean that's a personal opinion; I'm not just saying it because it excluded Steve and myself and Bill, but I think it was wrong.

MOT: As far as UNION goes, it's really ironic; as you were saying, ABWH was a stronger unit than the Yes West guys were, but Yes West really fared great on UNION. I mean, ABWH got screwed.

RW: Oh yeah, yeah, that's true. Oh absolutely. But that's the whole history and the story of Yes you know. I must admit I looked at the UNION tour... I think Steve and I knew full well that at the end of it that the Yes management over here were using the situation to build up their own situation, and I mean I think we were both aware of that. I looked upon the UNION tour as something I was going to thoroughly enjoy and I'll make the most of, by enjoying it and having fun and playing it, which was exactly what I did, and to this day, it is still to this moment sitting here, the most enjoyable tour I've ever done. I mean my only regret is that I couldn't sit down in the audience and watch it. And it was an important part of Yes history--a very important part of Yes history. I mean, there are certain stepping stones in Yes' history, and I'm not talking about when there's changes being made. It's interesting you mentioned 90125--very, very important part of Yes' history. If that album had stiffed, there's a fair chance there wouldn't be a Yes out there today--very fair chance. In a strange way, Jon getting frustrated and coming up forming ABWH... I mean ABWH was a very, very important part of the whole Yes band.

MOT: It all provided a bit of continuity.

RW: Yeah--and I like a lot of 90125, I really do. I wish I had played on it; it was great. An album I'm not particularly fond of but will be another stepping stone for this group was DRAMA, because if Chris hadn't kept the whole thing together at that particular time, again there wouldn't be a Yes to move onto the 90125 version--I mean there's lots of really important stepping stones, and it's interesting I know when I read all of the different books on Yes, I haven't yet read one that's really understood some of the catalystic elements that have kept Yes alive. When I say kept Yes alive, it sounds like it's been on a life support machine, which it hasn't, but certainly in the eye of where it always should of been and reasons that have just kept giving it that little nudge, some by accident and some by design...

One of the things that's always been difficult for Yes I think is that it's because it's so music-orientated, because its life is just all about making music and producing music, that it has been in the past very vulnerable to exploitation of a business kind, and that at the end of the day has made the band suffer. There's a old adage from years ago that some absolute idiot said, "Oh, you make your best music when you're broke and lying in the gutter and you've got nothing. That's when all the great songs come out." What a pile of crap that is! You make your best music when you don't have to worry about what's happening with the band, what's happening with your equipment, what's happening with music, what's happening with your family, what's happening with your life, what's happening with the bank--that's when you can go, "I want to make some music today. I'm going to write some music"--when you've got nothing else to cloud the issue. You can think and go off into the fantasy world--that's when you write the best music, and Yes is not always been given the chance to do that. But the interesting point is the times when Yes has probably come up with some of its strongest stuff is when it's been in that position or close to that position, and I think it's important that Yes is in that position again to do it, which is now proven that rock 'n roll has nothing to do with age or how old you are, it's just a matter of what you produce.

MOT: The press notwithstanding.

RW: Yeah, and Yes is a prime example of that, and it's interesting to come away and to come back in and listen.

MOT: Before we jump too far forward to the present day, I want to ask you about MAGNIFICATION. There was a rumor that you were asked to orchestrate that album. Can you talk about that?

RW: No, I was never asked to. I would have loved to; I'd loved to have done it. No, I was never asked. I heard rumors that it was being done, and I thought it was great, because it was always a logical step for Yes, and without trying to give an egotistical answer, I always felt that the best qualified person to do the orchestrations for Yes was me, because I knew how everybody worked, how everybody played, and the intricacies of how Steve plays and how Steve works, and the same with Alan and the same with Chris, and it's not so much an orchestrator coming in and looking at the notes they play, but it's knowing how the guys think and how they work. I bought the album when it came out, and I liked a lot of the songs very much, because there was some good melodies and some nice things going on, and you look at it two ways--I mean, nothing wrong with the orchestrations that were done--I would have orchestrated much more, much, much more than there was there, rather than what I call orchestrations around the songs. I personally would have used the orchestra almost being part of the band, imagine they were a part of the band and play accordingly. But having said that, there's nothing wrong with the orchestrations that were done. I just would have loved to have done them (laughs), but that's life, isn't it, really.

It was a good album, there's some good stuff on MAGNIFICATION, and I suppose to some extent... just to scoot back to the past, for example when I left after TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS and I heard RELAYER, I was actually pleased they did RELAYER the way that it turned out, because I listened to RELAYER and I thought there is no way I could have contributed to that album, because musically that's not on my wavelength at all, so I was really pleased. I know it sounds stupid, but I was really pleased how RELAYER came out, because that was the direction the band was moving, and I'm really pleased, because I had definitely made a right decision, because I couldn't have contributed anything to RELAYER. If however the next album after TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS had been GOING FOR THE ONE, I would have been extremely pissed off (laughs), because I can understand that direction, you know what I mean?

So MAGNIFICATION, I understood exactly what the band was doing, where they were going, but on some of the songs what I would have done... I mean, I don't know how it was done, I suspect the songs were written and recorded and then the orchestrations were done afterwards. What I would have done listening to the songs, I would have recommended a few changes, if I'd have been part and parcel of lengthening certain sections, shortening certain other sections in order to make features, particularly Steve with the orchestra with some of the things he was playing which I think could have been great fun. But you can pick another ten different orchestrators, all say completely different things about the same thing, the fact is that it's a good album, and I suppose it's an element of frustration on my part that comes a period of time when Yes worked with an orchestra, which is my forte in life and I wasn't there (laughs), and that's not was my fault.

MOT: Do you find that now that you're will playing some of the songs on MAGNIFICATION on the current tour that you'll get your chance to orchestrate it the way you'd like to, or do you feel you have to stick pretty much to the arrangements as written?

RW: Well, there are no keyboard parts really as such, so what I've done is I've taken the orchestral score and I've made a keyboard part up from the orchestral score, and where possible, I've based what I'm doing around that, and that's my starting point. As the tour develops and as I get to know the music better--because there is a difference between knowing the music from listening to it and knowing the music playing it--and as I get to know the music better playing it, then as time goes on, I'll be able to add this and that, and I'll be able to put this and that in, because I'll be able to hear things like, "I can't do that." you start to really get to know the intricacies what everybody else does, and the only way you can do that is by playing it. There's no quick solution to that; you can look at the score, listen to music until you're blue in the face. You get out there and play it and things will change things all the way around.

At the moment I've done a really complicated keyboard score based around the orchestration, which is a nightmare to read, but it's the only way it can be done (laughs), and I'll build it from there, because it is important that that it keeps the flavor of what it is, keeps the flavor of what the music is. Especially like the title track, "Magnification", and "Deeper" as well. So it's interesting, and probably to preempt your next question, I'm very happy to play. I've never been one that's precious and say I'll only play on tracks that I've worked on. I've never been like that; I enjoy playing other bits. I enjoy playing all kinds of music.

MOT: Actually, that question's been asked so much I wasn't going to go there, but thanks for throwing that in. So, backing up just a little, how did your reinvolvement with Yes come about?

RW: I suppose the best thing is that the most honest answers people give you--if somebody asks you a very direct question straight away, like "Would you like to have a cup of coffee?" [you don't] go "I'll think about it," but if you answer straight away "Yeah, I'd love a cup," that's, more often than not, the most honest answer you can give and exactly what your feelings are. And I suppose we can go back to 1999, we have a program in England, which was originally an American program called "This Is Your Life", they don't have it anymore over in America, where they catch you with a book and surprise you and bring all the guests in and the such. Well, they did me in England for "This Is Your Life", and I'm on the program, and there are lots of lovely people. Howard Keel came over, and it was really nice.

And then Yes came on by satellite from Los Angeles, which was great, it was a little short spot, Jon said "have a lovely day" and "great and congratulations", and Alan said the same, and Fishy said the same... they all said a little bit, then Steve said "have a great day, congratulations", that sort of thing, and he said, "You know we've made some great music and played some great stuff together in the past. It would be really nice if we could do it again in the future." And I went, "Yeah it really would," and I thought about that after, and without thinking I immediately said "God, I really would," and you start to think about that sort of thing, and I thought "Well, I wonder if I'll get a call or anything like that" or whether that was it, but that was it. Nothing ever came of it, but it stuck in my brain. It stayed in my brain a lot.

And then two other situations happened. Yes were over doing a tour, prior to the night I think it was THE LADDER tour, and there was a problem... there was a potential problem with Igor not being able to get in, and again Alan called me up, because he was the first to arrive in England, and he said, "Hey, we've got a problem, would you fancy coming in and doing a couple of the shows?" Now as it happened, I would have done them, but I was filming--I mean of all things I have a sort of bizarre life in England, and I was hosting a comedy series, and we were filming 80-odd shows for some strips--amazingly enough mostly with American comedians, which is quite strange, so I couldn't do it. As it turned out Adam my son went up and played "Starship Trooper" with them and had great fun, and Igor got in so it all worked out. So that was the end of that little episode.

And then last year, I got a call from Eagle Vision to say to me that Yes was going to do a video of the orchestra on the MAGNIFICATION tour, and they were going to film it in Amsterdam, and would I fancy going over and guesting and playing with them, and my initial answer straight away, I said, "Yeah, I'd love to do that." If I had said "Um, I don't know I'll think about... " then you know that it's not right. The mere fact that I said "Yeah, I'd love to do that," was interesting looking back as to how I felt. My next question was "Great, when is it," and they tell me the date, and I said I'm in Costa Rica--I was on tour. I said there was no way... obviously I'm in Central America; there is no way I can do. I said any other day you can do, if we can find a day, I'd love to, but for whatever reason--contractual or whatever, the Amsterdam date was the only date that they were going to film and the only one that could be done. So, again that went by again.

So there have been lots of little catalystic elements all the way along the line where you could say the could have beens, things could have happened. And then, I'm involved with a DVD company called Classic Pictures that ships to studios in the UK who are in fact the leading classic rock DVD makers probably in the world at the moment. They are excellent; and the big boss there, a guy called Robert Grafalo, came over to California to meet with Alan Kovak of Left Bank with a view to filming whatever Yes' next tour would be, and he came over for a part of other business because he deals with all Warner's and Universal's stuff as well. So he was over here--nothing to do with me but having these meetings... met with Alan Kovak, came back to England, and I was over in England and Robert called me up and said, come over to his offices, his studios, and he said "I would like to have a word with you," and I said all right.

So I went over and sat down, he poured a cup of coffee, and again he's got nothing to do with my looking after or anything like that, we're just friends, and I said, "You saw Yes' management," and he said yeah and I said, "Did you see any of the guys?: and he said, "No, no just spoke to the manager," and I said, "All right." And he said "Would you ever consider going back?" And again this is called the instant answer, and I said, "Well, I'd love to actually," I said, "I do miss it, especially at the moment I think the band's playing nice and I think there's certainly a way of the band moving forward," which is what this band should always do.

But I said it's unlikely to happen, I think; I don't know what they're going to do, and he said "Well, I think they're looking at where to go... the management is looking at where to go, and your name cropped up a few times, and I suppose I've been asked to test the water so to speak." and I said (laughs) "Well that's possible'... interestingly enough I said because of the Amsterdam situation, and well I went right back along the line--right back to when Steve made the really nice comments on the "This Is Your Life" thing. I said for whatever reasons it's taken this long... I suppose it's all down to timing, isn't it really, whatever the time is right, and I said "Yeah, I'd like to," and he said he'll just make a little call and then motor on from there or whatever, and basically that was what was done...

I sat and thought very carefully about it... I'm not one for going backwards. I'm always one for going forwards, but what I did do for a little bit, I actually sat down with a piece of paper and I went backwards to reasons and situations as why things had gone pear-shaped, in what should have done in the past, and I thought OK, I've got to make sure that--because I don't know Left Bank, I don't know the management--I really want to really make sure that certainly from my side of things, that nothing can happen where similar sort of miscommunications, comedy of errors, whatever you might like to call it, can happen again, because otherwise it can all happen all over again, you know what I mean (laughing)? That was something I really wanted to avoid.

So one of the most important things then was to find out what the plan was, and look at all the things, because I had stuff booked up into 2003, was to basically get rid of it, or put a lot of the stuff on hold and various things, and I had a series of recordings and things that I was involved with. I had been involved with an album with Dave Cousins from The Strawbs, I was doing an album with the English Channel Choir, and I had my own prog rock album with the English Rock Ensemble, which were all due to be out over the next year and a half, and we had studio time booked for all of the things, and I thought, OK, even though they're not going to be released for bits in periods of time, I've got to get them all finished and done. I've got to bring everything forward. Concerts and things that I had booked, either I brought them forward, or we managed to postpone or put onto hold or cancel or whatever. The only two things that I was unable to move was a charity event that I'm involved with for handicapped kids, which was what I just had gone back to England and come back, which was fine; it's done, and my oldest boy's wedding on September 6th, which obviously, Oliver--

MOT: Congratulations.

RW: That's Oliver--he's getting married. He's 30 years old. So carefully I went back to the Yes management and said OK. I initially gave them the list of everything that I'd got, and I said I'm going to not just try and move some, I'm going to move everything. And the only two things at the end of the day that I couldn't move was the charity for the kids, because I would lose the money and lose the sponsorships, so they were fine, and they said well as long as you don't mind flying back and forth (laughs), and I said, that's fine. My cost, my expense, and obviously my son's wedding, but that was in a period of time where we're not going to be working anyway, so that was fine. Everything else--all the other promoters and people I deal with my band, they were fine; they said no problem, you just tell us when. You've given us plenty and plenty of warning, so you can slide in that whenever.

The situation with the recordings--we just went mad; we just burnt midnight oil in the studio to get everything done so that the people who needed it have got it way in advance so that's all finished. And basically the situation what I've dealt with, with Left Bank and Alan Kovak, with who I've had very much the same conversation as I have with you in a strange way, and it was quite interesting because he did quite a bit of research and found out that he'd been told, to put it bluntly, he'd been led up some extremely erroneous paths over the KEYS TO ASCENSION business, which he did a bit of checking up recently more rather than at the time, and found out quite a few---anyway to avoid all of these situations, what I said to him, I said, look, I'm not going to book or do anything until you tell me what's cast in stone here and here, and then, for example, anything that I do on my own--because I like to work, I said If there's a month off or six, I'm the same as Jon, Jon likes to go and play, Steve likes to go off and do his own, I said I like to work; I mean I love to play golf, but I'm not going to go play golf for six weeks. I want to make music; I want to play with people. I want to do things.

But the priority situation is the Yes situation, so basically if [management] say to me, "Well, we've got five weeks there--definitely got five," so OK, I want to do this, this, and this, and this; I'm going to run it by you. What do you think? And I said if you think "Yeah, that'll be good, we can slot that in there and do that and at the same time, that would be great," I said I'm quite happy to run it through your office so there can be absolutely 100% no confusions about who's doing what, where, when, and how, and I said, "I won't do anything. If you said to me, 'Don't do anything there because we might just stick something in there,' that's fine by me." But as long as the old communication thing keeps going all the time, and there's already a three year plan on the table, which I hope will turn into a five year and then continue on from there, but this is the first time that I've ever seen a long term plan from a management.

OK, yeah, I know things will change; we're going to do Southeast Asia there, whatever we're going to do, then that's going to be put aside for recording, yeah, I appreciate the things are going to move by a month, a week here... yeah. But you've got to start from somewhere, and the fact that there's actually a long-term strategy, if that's the correct word, or shall we say long-term plan is on paper, that's great, because that means that you can see what's trying to be achieved, and yeah, OK, if that moves there and that swaps with that in that spot that's fine.

I mean, already with this tour--this tour originally was going to start in Europe. This year was going to be basically European, then coming to America later in the year. Now, it's changed, it's changed around. Europe's going to be next year, that's fine. That's not a problem at all. But the interesting thing is unless there had been a strategy to start with that said, oh, we're going to start in Europe, you can't change it to start in America, do you know what I mean? The fact is it's much easier to start with a piece of paper that's got lots of things written on it then start with a piece of paper that's got nothing written on it.

I had personal, strong views about how I perceive Yes as a fan; I've said all the time when I've been in the band and not been in the band, people forget sometimes when maybe I'm a bit outspoken, but no more outspoken than anybody else in the band, it's because I'm a fan. I'm entitled--if you're a fan, you're entitled to say, "I like that a lot more than I like that," and "I enjoy that a lot more than I like that," and "I like this lineup better than this lineup," when he fact of life is that for some inexplicable reason--I mean wonderful reason but inexplicable--this particular lineup, the sum of five people adds up to more than five. This particular five, if you add one plus one plus one plus one plus one, it sort of ends up with eight or nine, there's very few bands who if I look in the past where that happens. Probably, and this is probably bad analogy, the Beatles is a classic example of that. You put together those particular four, and the sum total was eight again--eight or nine, and there's a sort of a remarkable telepathy that goes on for this particular [lineup], which is phenomenal really, and I think to a lot of extent the serious Yes fans probably recognize that before we did in a strange way. I don't know; I might be wrong.

MOT: In an earlier conversation, you spoke about family.

RW: What, families in regards to the band?

MOT: Yes, right.

RW: Yeah, I mean I've used the word family before. One of the questions I get most asked when I haven't been part of the band and what's going on is "Do you mind being asked about Yes?" Of course I don't mind being asked about Yes, It's a major part of my life. I've always said it's a strange thing; even when I'm not there, you're there. There's nothing you can do about it; whether you like it or not, you're there, and it's never worried me, because there is a sort of a family situation. The difficulty with families is that because families are very close, it needs to be carefully looked after. I mean, the good thing is, contrary to loads of myths floating around, there's never been any--not with this particular lineup or the lineups that I've been in--there's never been any particular of what I call splits or violent arguments or anything like that. Yeah, there's been heated discussions on what should go on musically, but no more heated than in any other business, shall we say, of somebody saying, "That really should be black; no that should be... "

See the problem is, one of the things that makes Yes successful is that music is based on colors--it's like painting with colors, and in the Yes paint palate, there is no gray. There can't be a gray, so there will be heated discussions over whether something is black or white, which in most bands will come out gray. In Yes, it will come out probably half black and half white, which is what makes Yes what it is. In order to make that work, yes, of course there has to be serious and genuine heated discussions of various things, which often has been misconstrued the wrong way. But Yes is certainly a family that is hard to infiltrate. It doesn't have a big turnaround of crew; it doesn't have a big turnaround--not really a big turnaround--of how it works musically, and there's a sort of an understanding of how it works.

MOT: What was it like when you got back together with the other four musicians, and you're all together, and you started playing--

RW: This time around?

MOT: --can you share that? Yes.

RW: Yeah, it's really bizarre, because it doesn't feel remotely unnatural. it doesn't feel like "Oh, I haven't done this for six years." Yeah, I mean you're rusty, because you can only brush up so much at home playing with the records and with the equipment setup, and the only way to do it is you play, because there's no other way to do it. But it was already strange, I mean I arrived a day before because my equipment came over and I wanted to sort a few things out and get new sounds and things and ideas together for the pieces. There'd been so many set lists bandied about what was going to be played. I mean if we had played everything that was on the various set lists that we all put forward, the show would have been nine and a half hours long.

I think we've got a good mixture of everything... everybody's got a few pieces they would have liked to have got on that haven't got on, and everybody's probably got the odd piece that perhaps they wouldn't have chosen over something else, but the good thing about this band is that once a piece is decided to play, everybody will give it their absolute all to make it the best. And if you do that, you can actually get more out of the piece if you do that. You really get more out of it.

It's never been a secret that TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS was never my favorite Yes album. But I get a lot out of playing "Revealing", because I've found ways of playing it, I've found ways of putting in new things and putting in other sounds in different things I didn't have before, which I actually would have probably liked to have had at the time of the recording which would have been quite nice. But by doing that and genuinely wanting to make the very best of how the keyboard department can deal with that piece, what I've tried to do from the keyboard's point of view is to obviously more orchestral. And especially this time around with some of the things I've got, I'm really pleased.

I think I've seen in taking the keyboard area another stage, so I got a buzz out of that, because it's helps. I know that's the same with everybody and the attitude for all the different pieces and things that they do. Without naming a title there's a piece in there that Steve would have chosen something else over rather than play it, but Steve, because of the nature of what he is, will make sure with the way he's doing and the way he's playing it, that he'll have that 110% in that piece.

In other words, there is nobody in this band, whatever the piece of music might be, who's going to go, "I didn't really want to play this song; I'm not going to take much interest in it," and that's what makes this band strong, because it has respect for the music, and I think that there's a respect for the other members of the band, and because of that, that makes it work.

So I came in a day early to work on the various pieces, and I was down for four hours every day before everybody else was, so that once we decided what we're going to do. Especially with a lot of the new stuff, and to make up parts from the orchestra parts, for example for "Magnification" that didn't exist, was not an easy task to do. I was prepared for when they came down for them to hear some things they would expect to hear, and perhaps hear some things they wouldn't expect to hear that they go, "Oh yeah, that's great; yeah that's good," and that's how the band works. And the first day that we played, (laughs) it was really strange, it was like we'd played last week, which was really very nice. I mean, I've spoken to Steve quite a few times on the phone, and I'd spoken to Alan on the phone a few times, and Chris had been over in England for his brother's fiftieth birthday or whatever, and I had gone along to that party, so Chris and I had spent some time together in London, so it wasn't like we hadn't actually sort of seen each other at all.

I suppose if there'd been an outsider looking in, they might thought it was a bit strange that I was there that particular morning when everybody was arriving and Jon came in and said "Morning, Wakeup," "Morning, Jon," and it was just like we had coffee the night before, and I suppose that's what makes it like the family that it is. It's very hard to infiltrate, and it's very hard to understand the workings of this band unless you're actually in it, and that's what makes it what it is.

MOT: What did Jon call you? "Wakeup"?

RW: Wakeup, yeah. Jon always used to called me Wakeup.

MOT: Let's carry on with the topic of sounds, because I found that intriguing in terms of revisiting these old songs. Did you feel encouraged to retain those old sounds as they were on the albums, or did you want to kind of move forward and maybe bring a fresh perspective to them?

RW: There's two ways of looking at it. If it's a sound that is so fantastic that it can't [be recreated]--like some of the Mini-Moog sounds which nobody's every been able to recreate with any instrument, digital or otherwise--then you put a Mini-Moog up there, and you use it and you play it. Things like the Mellotron--there are certain Mellotron sounds that I've got sampled that I use within some of my other sounds that I do, but there are so many great string sounds now that I use some of the Mellotron sounds within it. If you can improve on sounds, you improve on them. I mean things are really clever now, for example within in "Heart Of The Sunrise" with all of the string runs and things I've built in a way of doing little harp passages in between, which are not in your face things, but they're little nuances that if you listen very carefully, you'd hear; you just add and take things forward, which are things I would have done at the time had they been available to do to me, but they weren't, but are available now, and the keyboard department's unique in that, there are always new things coming on.

As long as you don't use things for the sake of using them--"Ah look, look what that does, I've got to find somewhere of using that." You know, you don't do that, but you use technology if it's going to improve what you can do. I used to carry a grand piano around, now there are fantastic digital pianos. I don't need to carry a grand piano around so I'd be crazy to carry a grand piano around. Guitar sort of things are slightly different, because there are obviously certain guitars that are unique to the way were created and what they've done, and unlike a keyboard, which has got 3,000 presets and possibilities and things to do, guitars are very individualistic in the way they work. Some of the keyboard department's really interesting--you know, things you can do.

But a major problem I have with keyboards is that I've put together a new rig specifically for this tour, and there is a certain amount of automation that happens when you're playing a piece. And it was really quite funny yesterday, we just ran through "Roundabout", just a shortened version just to decide, which I can play blindfolded, naked in a middle of a field. But the thing you can't change is that you automatically find yourself moving to the position of wherever the keyboard was that you played it the last time you played it, you'll find yourself going, "Ah, oh," and it's not whatever that keyboard was, as you move your right hand over "Ah, that's over there now," so that's the hardest thing is moving to different positions. "Heart Of The Sunrise" is another classic example, it was getting the new automation in that the order of keyboards that you played in and where they were are no longer where they were, and it's really funny how the brain will recall that, and make you stand in completely the wrong position. So that's hard, which again only the more times you play the stuff, that the new automation, shall we say, comes into play.

MOT: You have a lot of keyboards on this tour.

RW: Well, there's ten actual keyboards and then there's I think three or four rack mounts, something like that.

MOT: Do you have all these keyboards for different sounds simultaneously? Basically, you have to have a lot of keyboards so you can cover the wide range of sounds for the songs being played, as opposed to having one and having to switch presets sounds really fast?

RW: Well, it's not possible to switch some of the presets and things real fast; if you want to get into that; for example, if you take some of the pieces, like for "Magnification", I've got violin sections, I've got bass sections, I've got pizzicato sections, I've got marimba sections, I've got flute sections, there's piano sections, and some of them will play in combinations. There is no human way that you can preset to get all of the combinations, because half of it happens while you're playing, so there might be flute and marimbas, then there's going to be strings and marimbas, so the only way you can do it is to have them all preset on the instruments that you want, and you just learn a way to go from there to there, and there is no other way of doing it, whatever anybody might tell you. It can't be done any other way, except if you want to go into the realms of compromise and start spitting keyboards up and say having those little two octaves for marimbas and that little bit there for that, and that's the cop-out route. Yeah, you can do it like that, but it wouldn't be very good; it wouldn't work.

I sat with Stuart [Sawney, his keyboard tech] back in my studio in North London, and we went through all of the possibilities of pieces we were likely to do. We literally started with one keyboard and said "OK, if we just have one keyboard, right, let's take this piece, and only this sound and that sound and that sound, and this from that and this from that. OK, we're definitely going to need another keyboard there." And we got to what we've got set up now, and that was the rig that would do the job.

The rig was built to do the job, and I would do the same on any Yes tour or anyone of my tours. Whatever I was doing, you look over the music you're playing, and then you build the rig that will do the job. Steve... to some extent you can almost say the same thing--you can say to Steve, "Do you need to take twelve guitars, two different pedal steels, four different acoustics... ?" The answer is yes, to create the sounds and to do the things that he knows is important to the Yes show. Yes, certainly Steve could stand there, probably if you gave him the Stratocaster and said, "Ok, can you do the show on this?," if it was an absolute must, in the same way that if I was given a Hammond organ or piano, yeah, we'd do a show, but it wouldn't be what it should be.

MOT: Wouldn't be the same.

RW: It wouldn't be the same... when a mechanic turns up to mend your television or the plumber turns to mend your sink, he doesn't come with a toolbox with one tool in it. He comes in with... equipped for whatever he might find or whatever he might need. Music's exactly the same; it's exactly the same. There is nothing there that is redundant.

MOT: Let's talk briefly about the songs. What are the specific songs that you were excited to revisit or the ones in your mind and saying, "Yeah, I'd like to make sure these get on the set list, whether they get voted for unanimously or not, they're something I'd really like to play," and which songs were those?

RW: Well, "Heart Of The Sunrise"... I mean, when anybody asks me what prog rock is about or whatever you'd like to call it--symphonic rock, prog rock, or whatever--could I play them something or give them an example, I'd play "Heart Of The Sunrise" and "Awaken", because to me, those I think sums up what it's all about. I mean, obviously you could pick others as well, you can pick "Close To The Edge" and probably a few other ones, but those two hopefully answer the questions.

I just think "Awaken" is a beautifully structured piece of music and is very moving. It always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I'm listening to it, so I pushed for that. I was aware that it's been played on tours recently so I didn't know whether or how everybody would feel about playing it, but everybody really wants to play it. It's almost become an internal anthem as much as an external anthem for the band to some extent. "Heart Of The Sunrise", because I just think is a classic piece of music, so when those two all got voted in by everybody as well, I was a pretty happy bunny from word go from then.

MOT: "Heart Of The Sunrise" is very important in that it was on FRAGILE, and this is the 30th anniversary of FRAGILE.

RW: Yeah! I never really thought of that, but you're dead right.

MOT: Carrying that forward, this is the 30th anniversary of this particular lineup. Alan joined the band about this time.

RW: We did FRAGILE... oh, you're right. FRAGILE in '71... dead right, '72. You're absolutely... yeah, because we did CLOSE TO THE EDGE in '72, and TOPOGRAPHIC in '73, so yeah, right... I never thought about that. Yeah, then there was a few other things... "South Side Of The Sky", we'd never really done live.

MOT: And that's carried forward; that's another thing. Here's a song that the band has never done properly. They've attempted abridged versions.

RW: Yes, that's right.

MOT: And, 30 years on, this version of the band is going to be playing that song really for the first time.

RW: Yeah, well that was one piece that was a nightmare. I mean, not a nightmare because I didn't want to do it. I mean I really wanted to do "South Side Of The Sky", because it was always a great piece, but the whole middle section came about in the studio when we recorded it, we recorded the first bit, and then literally I was sitting down at the piano, and I was just playing, and it was Chris who said, "That's, yeah that's nice, that would be great for an interlude of the things before you can come back into the piece again." So, I just played, and then... I only did it once in the studio, and then Fishy added a few things, and Steve added a couple of things, and that was it, and we never ever did the middle section on stage--ever. Never ever ever, and none of the vocals, you know, the (sings middle section vocal) "Da da da da da da"--never ever done. So I have ever in my life played it once, and that was in 1971.

When I listen to it back--normally you listen to things back, the things that you've done, there's a sort of a recall in your brain that says "This is what you did." But because this was a complete one off at the time in the studio, I hadn't got a clue I hadn't got a clue, and it was a weird thing. I spent a day trying to work out what I played, and I kept getting close, but not close enough, and I knew because this part was so exposed, that if it wasn't exactly right, then there's going to be somebody who's going to tell me, which is a nightmare--absolutely. Robbie [Eagle], who's involved with a lot of the programming things, one of the crew, a real nice guy, a good piano player as well and has got a good ear, I said I said, "Robbie, what do you reckon this is?," and we couldn't get it between us, and there's about five of us trying to work out what the hell it was that I had played, and in the end, I gave up. I virtually gave up and said "OK, this is close, this is close, this will work, it will have to be a development. This is what it is."

And then it was really weird. We came and played it, and without thinking, it was that weird recall thing that happens, I played it--note for note, exactly as it was, and it was really bizarre. And I shouted at Stuart, my keyboard tech, who always carries manuscript paper with him, we just stopped, and I said "We're going to wait; I'm going to write this down (laughs) " so I wrote it down and I gave it to him and said, "Right." We've got this little keyboard bible book, which is of all the little things that sometimes you can't remember that's down there, so it's now logged in the book forever. So "South Side Of The Sky" was really nice to do and pumps along.

"Revealing" was interesting. I whilst I as I have said before, I have my feelings about TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, "Revealing" is certainly, for me, far and away the strongest piece on the album--far and far and far away, and because of the nature of keyboards and as they are, it's a piece that gives me a chance to improve upon from what I did initially. And if you go into the piece of music with the attitude where how can I take it more forward from where I did before, then you can get a lot out of it, and I'm getting a lot out of playing it. I'm enjoying playing it very much, because I'm getting things out it and sounds that, to me, I never could get before, and I'm going, "Hey, that's a buzz," you know what I mean, and I think it also helps everybody else perhaps, and it lifts the piece and things up and that as well.

"America" is fun to play; America's always been fun to play. I've had a mental problem with "America", is that I've never really ever associated it as a Yes piece. It's a real off the wall piece of music, and it works, and it's actually great fun to play, and I enjoy playing it, but I've always mentally struggled with it. It's so left field that, for Yes to do and Yes to play.

MOT: Do you remember when "America" was recorded? Was it during the FRAGILE sessions?

RW: I think it was the CLOSE TO THE EDGE sessions as against the FRAGILE sessions. I think it was done on the CLOSE TO THE EDGE sessions. I can't 100% remember. It was done at Advision Studios.

MOT: There is some question as to whether it's you or Tony Kaye on there.

RW: No, it's me.

MOT: It's all you, there's not little bits of Tony?

RW: No, it's me. No, it was me who did it. It wasn't Tony, who wasn't involved in it at all. The problem was, what happened was at that time, I mean I hadn't played particularly very well on it or I didn't play enough on it really I suppose, because it came about, Atlantic wanted it for a sampler that they were doing, that's what it was done for originally, an Atlantic sampler. It had Zeppelin on it, and all these various pieces.


RW: That's right, and suddenly we had to do it. They wanted a piece from Yes, so I remember arriving at the studios, and the band, we had what we had, which was the pieces that we had done, and somebody suggested to us, "Well, we can try "America". we've never recorded that." Now, I had never played it; we'd never done it on stage. I had only heard the band do it once, and that was when the Strawbs supported Yes in a place called Hull in 1970, and only ever heard it the once. So it's a typical, complicated Yes arrangement, the way that it's done, and there wasn't time for me to learn the arrangement, so what I did, I was just hastily listening to some old cassette recording that they had, working up and doing it bit by bit, which is never a satisfactory way to play any piece of music. But having said that, I enjoyed playing it, and it's good fun to play, but psychologically I've always found it difficult to associate it as a Yes piece of music. It's a good Yes arrangement, and it's great. I enjoy playing it. I don't dislike it, let's put it that way. [Steve Howe elaborates on "America" in an upcoming issue of NFTE.]

MOT: It does appear on the some of the early set lists from the first tour with Alan, the CLOSE TO THE EDGE tour. So you did attempt it back then.

RW: Yeah, we played it back then, and it was bloody nightmare on stage, because there was quite a lot of Mellotron, and Mellotrons, they were so difficult to behave themselves on stage. I mean they were worse than naughty boys; they were just escaped convicts. They just had minds of their own and never did what you asked them to do, and because that involved the Mellotrons a lot, you used to just tear your hair out--you really did tear your hair out. I mean, most of the other pieces you could survive and have a chance to nurture them along, but for that piece it was a killer (laughs). I mean, now it's fine; it's great, because with the keyboard setup and things you've got now, you don't have those worries about when I hit this note, is it going to be anywhere remotely in tune, in another key, on another planet; or is it not going to do anything at all or is it going to catch fire? Are the bits going to come out the back? Those days are long since gone.

So I enjoy playing "America", and it's fun in the set. It's a fun thing to play in the set. The two tracks from MAGNIFICATION are fun to play, because that's like a challenge to look at a piece of music which has, in essence, no keyboard parts whatsoever and to be thrown an orchestral score and say, "Well, find something to do," it's good fun. I mean, I like things like that; that's good, and that's going to be the basis of where I start with those pieces, because I've worked out parts from the orchestral score which have become what I call now my keyboard part, but I would like to think by the end of the tour, that will have expanded so it will be the orchestra plus whatever I've thrown into it as well, so that's enjoyable along the way.

I mean, there isn't anything that--I mean "Siberian Khatru", it's just great fun...

MOT: "Don't Kill the Whale"?

RW: "Don't Kill the Whale", I wanted to do that, and I threw that in. The interesting thing is, people have been throwing things in and throwing things about, and no one's been going, "Oh, I don't want to do that, oh, I don't want to this," but there's been none of that. Everybody's been looking at everything and going, "Yeah--that's interesting." We haven't rehearsed "the Whale" yet, but that's liable to trot in [it did]. I think everybody's looking at it and thinking, "Well, that would be fun to do. Ah, that would be nice to do that"... I mean there's going to be a few surprises. Jon's got a lovely new little song, which I'm going to do with him, and then there will be not so much solo sections, as... there will be solo sections, but not quite as they have been done before. I mean, I can see "Fish" combining new ideas with bits of "Silent Wings Of Freedom" and things thrown in, with Alan. I'm splitting some of my bits out in order to do things that I like doing, which is like mood-setting into pieces, so rather than there being silence and things there would be like maybe a minute of the setting into it, then the piece will appear.

I think it's going to be like a wall of pictures--a bit like going around an art gallery to some extent, except that instead of looking at one picture and then going onto the next picture, there all sort of somehow all joined together all the way around. I mean, it's a fun set; I think to be honest Yes will always have the impossible task as there will always be somebody who says "I wish they'd played this; I wish they played that." Yes has got so much and so much choice; there is a no win situation, and I think that the best that you can always do is to try and put in things that will appease most or a lot of the people. Throw in a few surprises, which is always a good [thing], a few little things that people perhaps wouldn't expect, and that's really what you can do.

I mean, I've seen choices and things on various websites saying what people would like to hear, and it's impossible. The end of the day, yes, of course you listen to what people [say] but at the end of the day you have to sit down and say, OK, we're the ones putting the set together. Yes, we have everybody in mind and what they would like to hear; it's going to be impossible to play what everybody would like to hear, so let's try and do something that everybody's going to go and say, "Yeah, I would have liked them to play that, but I'm glad they played that, and that was great that they played that, and maybe they'll play that next time around," type of thing, because it is a no win situation.

I had lunch with Pete Townsend before the Who tour in England... I saw him, we were in the same restaurant and we were chatting away. We were talking about it, Pete said, "What are you going to play?" I said, "We've got so many set lists bandied about," and he said "We've got the same problem." He said "Do you do all of TOMMY, half of TOMMY, none of TOMMY, bits of TOMMY (laughs)..." I mean, they've thrown in "The Kids Are Alright" for this tour, which they haven't done for years. At the end of the day, you make decisions, and you stick by them, and you try and produce a balanced production that, to be brutally honest, we've got to enjoy it as well, because if you're not enjoying it on stage, then how the hell can you expect people out in the front to enjoy it. So you've got to put it all together that you get a buzz out of playing it all as well.

MOT: Yeah, that's the hardest thing you communicate to the fans is that as much as they want to hear a particular song and they hear, "Well, it's not working for the band for whatever reason," it's like, "Well why not? They can make it work."

RW: it's a situation where pieces feel right when everybody's playing it.  The set sort of developed during rehearsals, and we've been playing pieces. What we're doing at the end of the day is saying, "Hey, what does everybody fancy playing tomorrow," and somebody will say "Well, how about like the orchestral side of things, let's do "Magnification" and something else tomorrow," because I can work on those parts. I can come back here work in the room and then go back and work on the instruments, so that when everybody comes in, and then we play them again, and going, "Yeah, that works. Let's move it on from there."

To be brutally honest with you, if all the long term strategies and plans work as they should do, and there's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't work, as for whatever there's no reason why it shouldn't work on a long term basis, then the only thing I can say to everybody is that yeah, it's always going to be impossible to play everything that everybody wants to hear, but there is a very good chance over the next three, four years that you will. But it's not all going to come in the same tour and the same shows, so if you don't hear a certain piece this time around, there's a really good chance you'll hear it next time around.

Notes From the Edge #263

The entire contents of this interview are
Copyright © 2002, Mike Tiano

Special thanks to Jen Gaudette, Robin Kauffman, and Paul Secord
This conversation was conducted on July 14, 2002

© 2002 Notes From the Edge