Pete Clemons on the enduring genius of Yes and Jon Anderson
Telegraph contributor analyses an incredible turn of fortunes for iconic musician.
Jon Anderson has suffered his fair share of knocks and setbacks over recent years but the signs are, he is fit once more, he is rejovinated artistically, he is fired up and he is back on tour again that will showcase the music of the band he jointly formed, Yes.
Difficulties began during 2008 when Jon suffered an asthma attack that led a respiratory illness that, in turn, hampered his vocal abilities. Add to that, he later, had to undergo a procedure to correct a sinus issue.
This resulted in the band that he co-founded in 1968, Yes, leaving Jon Anderson behind. He was fired in 2008 and was replaced by a Canadian Benoit David who had been, amongst other things, vocalist of a Yes tribute band.
Benoit David, himself, then had to leave the band through illness and was subsequently replaced by American vocalist Jon Davison who, at one time, had also been a member of Yes tribute band.
As such, Jon Anderson’s last real association with Yes was when he appeared with them on their 35th anniversary tour of 2004. Soon after this tour though, I do remember him participating in a tour with formr Yes keyboard player Rick Wakeman during 2006. And since then, of course, Chris Squire, another of the co-founders of Yes, passed away during June 2015.
So it is fair to say that it has been a torrid few years for the band, which is now a shadow of its former self, and the one that achieved all of those past glories. Having said that though the band are still touring to packed houses.
The resurgence of Jon Anderson as I remember it, although I am sure that other significant events happened along the way, began during 2010 with another tour with Rick Wakeman. The pair, as they had done in 2006, performed stripped back versions of Yes songs and shared anecdotes. They also recorded an album of original material called ‘The Living Tree’.
The album itself was a resounding success. It contained rearrangements of classic Yes material such as ‘Wonderous Stories’ and ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ as well as original, jointly written, compositions.
And now in 2016 Jon Anderson, along with Swedish guitarist and one time member of The Flower Kings Ronnie Stolt have created a very special album titled ‘Invention of Knowledge’.
Jon Anderson had this to say: “Music is always the driving force in my life...working with such a wonderful musician as Roine Stolt made the creation of this album very unique, we are very excited with the release of 'Invention of Knowledge'."
Roine Stolt adds: “It is not aiming at being new Yes music; just new music, modern and classical, rock and ethno, tribal and orchestrated, grooving and floating. Hopefully in the true spirit of “progressive” - leaning forward, surprising and also comforting with familiar run-arounds. We’ve been “inventing” as we go along - Jon is an endless source of new ideas. We’ve been bouncing ideas back and forth for months and as a result there are probably dozens of versions of these songs. It’s been a very interesting and rewarding time and the result is just insanely detailed.”
On top of all this Anderson and Wakeman begin to tour again later this year. This time, however, they are joined by Trevor Rabin who appeared on Yes albums like ‘90125’, ‘Big Generator’ and ‘Union’. Together, they are promising an evening of Yes music and more.
The tour reaches the U.K. in 2017 and hits Birmingham in March. However it still remains to be seen if Anderson and Stolt are to tour ‘Invention of Knowledge’. I am guessing that the success of the album has even taken them by surprise.
It has to be said that the music of Yes is not for everyone. It tends to draw on classical influences to flesh out elaborate arrangements. As such it does require perseverance by the listener. I have read Yes music described as ‘technically dazzling but generally overblown and an often pretentious school of rock’.
Even Rick Wakeman had to leave the band, during 1974, after the release of the ‘Tales of Topographic Oceans’ album. Amongst the reasons cited for the departure was that he simply did not enjoy the album. But for those with the patience to listen to such music they will discover delights within it. And this latest release by Anderson and Stolt is sure to evoke similar feelings.
At the insistence and blessing of bass player Chris Squire, Yes continue to tour in his absence. The rest of the band certainly seems to be doing the business with regard to upholding his wishes. But will Jon Anderson ever return to the Yes family? Personally, and given the results of his recent work, I cannot think of a reason why. But I have read that Jon himself would have no problem burying the hatchet and let bygones be bygones if the moment was right, a special occasion, for example. But for now, all I foresee are great days ahead for Jon. This is indeed an incredible turn of fortunes for him.