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Yes (© Glenn Gottlieb)

Yes – a bittersweet experience

Today’s music industry, playing full albums live, and the late Chris Squire: Geoff Downes of prog-rock band Yes talks to Sam Bennett
"If that’s the way it goes, that’s the way it goes. But if you’re asking me what I really think about what’s coming out today, I think a lot of it is recycled."

“We might have had a couple of fallings out along the way but we’re still here and we’re still happy to work together,” Geoff Downes tells me ahead of the Yes 2016 UK tour, for which the band will play albums ‘Fragile’ and ‘Drama’ in their entirety, something Geoff never thought he’d be doing while listening to Yes’ ‘Time and a Word’ album as an A-level student.

Steve Howe and Jon Davison (© Glenn Gottlieb)


Playing two full albums is apparently welcomed by fans. “When they first got into these albums,” Downes says, “they really appreciated how they were put together. When fans hear them complete and in sequence rather than a greatest hits package, it’s something they can really relate to because that’s the way they originally got into the music.”

Supposing though you weren’t a diehard Yes fan knowledgeable of each song on these albums, you’re there for the hits, for what you know…

“It’s not just the two albums,” the musician reassures. “We do another seven or eight songs that people will be much more familiar with. It’s a mixture really.”

Geoff joined Yes in 1980, as did Trevor Horn, with whom Geoff had already enjoyed musical success as The Buggles – the group responsible for 1979 hit ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. I wondered what Geoff’s musicianship stems from, his choirmaster and organist dad perhaps?

“He didn’t push me into it,” Geoff says of his father. “But I think when something is present around you, you get drawn into it. I was very interested in singing and choirs, it did rub off on me and I enjoyed that. I think that was the start of my musical career really.”

A graduate of Leeds School of Music, Geoff recalls the time every student bedsit had a Yes poster on the wall. But what about the impact they are having today? Can their sound be detected in contemporary artists?

“Quite a lot of it has been copied by neo-prog bands,” Geoff claims. “But in terms of current artists I don’t really hear too much that sounds like it’s influenced by progressive rock music. People sample King Crimson and all kinds of things, but it’s not really an influence as such.”

The performer did not display any precious attitude towards the state of the music industry today though.

“I’ve got a laissez-faire opinion about it,” he tells me. “But I think you’d be hard pressed to say the song writing of today is as good as in the 60s, 70s and 80s. And I think nowadays nobody’s really pushing any boundaries, they’re just getting up and singing songs that have generally already been done. If that’s the way it goes, that’s the way it goes. But if you’re asking me what I really think about what’s coming out today, I think a lot of it is recycled.”

The UK tour will arrive at New Theatre Oxford on 9th May, the next night it concludes at the Royal Albert Hall. Then it’s on to other parts of Europe. The UK and Europe tour will end not long before the one year anniversary of Yes co-founder Chris Squire’s death. An event that turns the tour into what Geoff calls “a bittersweet experience”.

He says: “Chris’ contribution to Yes was enormous. I think he was on every single album and did every show. The legacy of his music carries on. We have done an American tour since he died, and we pay a tribute to him."

- Sam Bennett

Yes come to the New Theatre Oxford on 9th May.

Tickets can be purchased from the New Theatre box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or visit www.atgtickets.com/oxford (phone and internet bookings subject to booking/transaction fee. Calls are charged at 7p per minute, plus your phone company's access charge.). For bookings of 10 or more, or for Equal Access bookings, please 0844 871 3040.


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