How Yes ruled the 1970s

Chris Squire (1948 - 2015) performing with English progressive rock band Yes, at Madison Square Garden, New York, 5th August 1977
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Trevor Horn is a polite, mild-mannered gentleman, but he’s revving up here. “The thing is… it always gets on my tits when people slag off Yes. They have no idea how good they are!” The man who joined Yes for just one eventful year in 1980 and subsequently returned intermittently as their producer is warming to his theme. “I still listen to things like Close To The Edge and The Gates Of Delirium… no one’s come close to anything like that. And I know people who like punk get all angry about it… The only thing I can think is it’s a kind of inverted snobbery. A lot of those Yes songs are absolute classics, where music feels like it’s going somewhere, progressing, with optimism. I don’t think anyone will write or play music like that again.”

Yes formed 44 years ago. Their story is in many ways one of – to quote the title of an early anthem – perpetual change. Every time one of their heads is cut off, like a hydra they grow at least two more.

“Yes being Yes, we carry on, like a chameleon, jumping up in different shades and shapes,” muses drummer Alan White, who has been a fixture since 1972, and has probably found it useful to be ‘easy-going’ on several occasions during his time with the band. “It’s an interesting adventure. For everybody, it’s a very challenging band to be in. Every night. Everyone has to be right on it or else the whole thing falls to pieces.”

Yes have sold around 50 million albums. They pioneered 70s progressive and symphonic rock, and dominated 80s stadium pop-rock. They’ve faltered, but they bounced back in different guise more times than Silvio Berlusconi, changed personnel as frequently as most of us change socks, and somehow, through it all, survived. Last year’s Fly From Here was their best-received and most successful album in a decade and a half.

What constitutes their golden years may vary depending on your age. Most would hail the exploratory, boundary-warping work of their prog pomp, where lengthy, fantastically played numbers with jazz and classical influences, inspired by scriptures and Yogi and astral travel and Herman Hesse, routinely took their albums to No.1. Others might cite the slicker 80s brand, when Trevor Horn and others upgraded the band to embrace technology and hooks, and they sold bucketloads of albums.

All fun and games for Yes in 1977

All fun and games for Yes in 1977 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Few would dare to claim that Yes have been fashionable in some while, yet fewer would deny that they were unique. Their wondrous narrative is convoluted and circuitous, often dramatic, sometimes comical, always unpredictable; their determination to keep on ploughing their individual, idiosyncratic furrow is almost heroic. The fact that Yes, close to the edge on so many occasions, endure in 2012 is an affirmation of their spirit and value.

“Does nothing surprise me any more?” says guitarist Steve Howe. “I wish it wouldn’t! Unfortunately, more unusual, dreadful, peculiar situations come up all the time. I don’t think Yes will ever get as streamlined, sensible, organised as most of the other things I do. It’s this big, lumbering, massive, historical, multi-accountant-lawyer-manager beast. It’s like a coral reef. This little coral grows up, and before it knows it, everybody’s come and lived in there. The coral is now fully inhabited. That’s what Yes is like. And lots of it is wonderful.”

“From my point of view,” says bassist and founder member Chris Squire, “I’ve been fortunate to experience working with and learning from so many different people under the same umbrella.”

Squire is now the only member of Yes who has always been in the band, the first and last man standing. “I know where the bodies are buried,” he chuckles. He and singer Jon Anderson formed the group, and their on-off bond is at the root of most Yes splits and reunions. Perhaps if Anderson is the idealist, the dreamer, Squire is the pragmatist. One of the pair wanted to always take it further and higher; the other has kept it grounded, and kept it going.

“You know,” says Anderson, “a lot of young people are now listening to that early music and saying: ‘What the hell is this? It’s pretty wild! It’s out there, but it’s still great.’ It wasn’t easy… but at least we tried that music. We gave it our best. And survived.”

It all began in 1968, when Squire met Anderson at La Chasse club in London’s Wardour Street. The bassist’s band The Syn had just split up, and he was “dabbling around” in a group called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. The manager of La Chasse had seen the group at the nearby Marquee club and introduced Squire to Anderson, who was working at the bar in La Chasse.

Peter Banks, far right, the man who said Yes

Peter Banks, far right, the man who said Yes (Image credit: Getty Images)

“We talked about music, and we realised we were both fans of Simon And Garfunkel, and that album of Jimmy Webb songs by The 5th Dimension, The Magic Garden,” says Squire. “We both liked big American vocals and harmonies. We thought, wouldn’t it be great to have something that blended great vocals and great instrumentalists? That was our blueprint for Yes.”

Anderson and Squire may have had their differences in recent years, but the singer’s recollection concurs. “Within a week we’d started rehearsing with Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. I kept saying: ‘This is ridiculous. We have to get a shorter name.’ Through time we got a lucky break or two, got the other guys in, and some money to rehearse properly, and started doing our own gigs.”

The “other guys” were keyboard player Tony Kaye, drummer Bill Bruford and guitarist Peter Banks. It was the latter who came up with the name Yes.

“I said: ‘Get a hat, put names in, and make them short,’” Anderson says. “I wrote down ‘Life’. Chris wrote down ‘World’. Peter put ‘Yes’. And we thought Yes was good. It’s pretty instant. And that was it.”

On their first night of collaborating, Squire recalls, at his flat in Kensington, the two of them had written Sweetness, which would appear on the band’s first album, Yes. “Off to an auspicious start.”

But the band’s early gigs were, by necessity, heavy on cover versions. “We’d play [Wilson Pickett’s soul classic] The Midnight Hour for an hour,” Anderson laughs. “We only had half a dozen songs, so we’d do a couple of 5th Dimension songs, even a Supremes song at one point, but we slowed things down. You changed the music around, you didn’t stick to copying. That’s what helped the band develop. We became a live band, a good band. To go into a studio and record was an amazing feeling. The cherry on top.”

“I always think the first gig was in Basingstoke,” ponders Squire, “but it could’ve been in Essex. Y’know, little-known clubs out of town, for very little money. Yes, The Midnight Hour was a staple, because everyone knew it. I seem to remember Bill had just joined us and it was a safe bet. We used to rehearse in the basement of a cafe in Shaftesbury Avenue, which was pretty dank, but the owner was a nice bloke and he let us keep our equipment there. And unload it down the stairs from the van after a gig at 3am. We definitely did those must-do things any struggling band did. At one point we managed to get a roadie, Michael Tait – who now owns the company which does every major stadium in America for every major act. Armed with Michael and a couple of lights, we started to progress.”

Astral Travellers, Yes in early 1970 before Steve Howe joined the band

Astral Travellers, Yes in early 1970 before Steve Howe joined the band (Image credit: Getty Images)

Was there a point where you could feel it was all about to take off? Perhaps when the Marquee residency led to supporting Cream at the Royal Albert Hall in November 1968?

“It wasn’t anything that sudden. We got signed to Atlantic in early ’69, and Ahmet [Ertegun, Atlantic Records founder] personally signed us. Obviously that was great. But we knew nothing about the music business. And neither did our manager at the time, who was one Roy Flynn, manager of the Speakeasy club. He came to us and said: ‘You’ll never guess what, guys. The owner of Atlantic wants to sign you for 20 albums!’ We went: ‘Wow! God! He must really love us!’ Not realising, of course, that he wanted to sign us for 20 albums for tuppence ha’penny [laughs]. So we spent the next 10 years slowly upgrading our deal. But that was our beginnings.”

Yes found their feet, and began to make headway. In 1969 they recorded their self-titled album, psychedelic pop that included radically energised Beatles and Byrds covers (“Style, taste and subtlety”, Lester Bangs wrote in Rolling Stone). Then in 1970 came Time And A Word which, perhaps inspired by similarly lofty works by Deep Purple and The Nice, fused the psych-rock with an orchestra.

“I loved being in the studio, I would sleep in there,” enthuses Anderson. “I was into the whole adventure of recording. I was listening then to all kinds of deep, crazy people. Not just the pop classics now, but also long-form classical music – Sibelius, Stravinsky, electronic and indigenous music too. I used to buy records from Africa and Indonesia. This DJ, Jeff Dexter, gave me an album of monkey chants and other stuff from Bali, just before I started in Yes. So I was always trying to make the band do different things – because our musicians were damned good! I didn’t want the guitar player to just ramble. We’d structure things so that every night was a good night. So when we did something like Yours Is No Disgrace, everybody knew where it was going. It was a designed idea.”

Yes toured Scandinavia with the Small Faces, which proves they were still a rock band. They then decided to perform with a 20-piece orchestra at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. “Jon and I were both big classical music fans,” says Squire. The orchestral arrangements on Time And A Word induced an ambitious promotional choice. It was early days for a band to attempt such a show, and Squire remembers having “dressing-room coat racks with microphones dangling off them” above the violinists. “Real Heath Robinson stuff. But I remember the excitement of the night. And of course we all thought we were making it big-time.”

And with the first hint of significant success came the first signs that the personnel side of Yes was going to be unstable, even volatile. Peter Banks left after Time And A Word. “Because he didn’t like the orchestra,” says Squire. “Steve Howe [ex-Tomorrow] came in… and I don’t think he liked the orchestra either. Guitarists have a thing about them: they’re not that keen on a violinist stealing their thunder.”

Howe, the laconic, professorial type, who has left and re-joined Yes twice but proven to be as important to the band’s sound as anybody, was on board in time to play on 1971’s The Yes Album, which introduced perennial Yes classics such as I’ve Seen All Good People, Yours Is No Disgrace and Starship Trooper. On this record songs were stretched, twisted, examined until they broke out of their space and worked on multiple levels. Howe has described the album as “post-psychedelia”. Thanks to a postal strike in early 71, for a month the UK charts were compiled from sales at Richard Branson’s first Virgin record store in Oxford Street. Slightly dubiously, Yes had their first No.1 album.

“By the time the strike ended, we had a bona fide No.1, because everybody had read that it was No.1 and so all the provinces had gone out and bought it as well,” laughs Squire. It did well in America too.

The Yes Album started a new plane for Yes, where we were completely original, not doing other writers’ songs but creating our own music,” says Anderson. “I wanted that when I joined. I said: ‘Isn’t it time Yes did the whole thing?’ They all felt the same. That became one of the key strengths.”

Meanwhile, an inability to retain the same lineup became a recurring weakness. Keyboard player Tony Kaye wasn’t keen on emerging technology, such as synthesisers. There were personal problems, too. “We toured the States supporting Jethro Tull,” Squire says, “and Tony and Steve weren’t getting on as well as they should be. So I made the move to ask Rick Wakeman if he wanted to join. He was very in demand at the time, as a member of Strawbs and as a busy session player with everyone from Bowie to Elton, but he decided to go with us.”

“We auditioned Rick in the studios in Mayfair,” Howe remembers. “We knew he was going to work; it was a formality. He was very colourful and brought in more textures. Just like I relish all the different things you can do with guitars, he enjoyed all-round music knowledge. He’d say: ‘That’s called a recapitulation.’ We didn’t know. He was an immense help to our construction work. Everyone became very creative. There was plenty of interaction, genuine musical chemistry. It was happening. That Yes was the quintessential 70s line-up.”

"It's in what time signature?" Howe and Wakeman working on Fragile at Advision Studios in 1971

"It's in what time signature?" Howe and Wakeman working on Fragile at Advision Studios in 1971 (Image credit: Getty Images)

In 1971, prog rock broke big, with landmark releases by Pink Floyd, Genesis, ELP and Caravan. November that year saw the release of Fragile, the first Yes album with a Roger Dean-illustrated sleeve. It was a Top 10 hit in both the UK and US. Solo showcases for the musicians served as interludes between the now-honed big numbers.

The Yes Album was pretty good, and in fact its momentum meant the US release of Fragile was delayed. But when it came out it was like we’d turned up the heat,” says Howe.

Squire adds: “I don’t really have favourites, but that one does resound. It allowed us to unlock the door to success.”

Drummer Bill Bruford, who is wry, articulate, and less afraid of saying something that might have him treading on others’ toes than most, said last year: “Viewed from today’s perspective of over-computerised, cosmetically enhanced, processed auto-pop, Fragile sounds like the real thing. And, strangely, people like the real thing.”

“Of course, we hated that single edit of [opening track] Roundabout when the label played it to us in New York,” reflects Squire. “But we went with it, and it did broaden Yes’s popularity. We were all set up to tour America after that.”

The bassist also admits that the band felt under real pressure for the first time then. “We realised we were really in the game. We were getting used to what was expected of us if we wanted to carry on building this band.”

“There was so much harmony within the band,” says a more positive Anderson. “We were getting successful, but it hadn’t gone to our heads. We were all committed to making adventurous music. We had so much potential! I was able to sort of direct the band. I was like a conductor. As they were learning a section, I’d be on to the next, trying to figure out, okay, where do we go now? It was a very friendly, open discussion every time we got in the studio. There was never just one way to go.”

Wakeman, "I’d be left for a few hours to come up with as many different chord progressions as possible. It was nice."

Wakeman, "I’d be left for a few hours to come up with as many different chord progressions as possible. It was nice." (Image credit: Getty Images)

Howe: “With Jon and I teaming up as writers, it always helped when two people said: ‘We’ve got a song.’ If one person goes: ‘I’ve got a song,’ then there’s a lot more scepticism. The other members will think, is there room for me here? Can this be a collaborative experience, or are we just going to play the song like you wrote it and that’s the end of it? Because that’s not so satisfying. Yes was very much about inventive arrangement. God knows where some of that stuff came from. But we balanced it all. Nobody felt left out. That was the key – everyone felt persuaded to give, to share. The pendulum was swinging nicely. We wanted to be an original, exciting, demanding group, so when we were pushing that envelope we were pushing it pretty hard.”

“It was a very happy time, a wonderful era,” recalls Rick Wakeman, citing Bruford as being “brilliant at reining everybody in. We’d all bring along bits of the jigsaw, then between us slot the pieces in. In a strange way, gluing it together became my job at rehearsals. Bill said: ‘You studied orchestration, we didn’t.’ I was thrilled though. I’d be left for a few hours to come up with as many different chord progressions as possible. It was nice. That was one area where there were no arguments.

“We rehearsed in Mayfair above a, shall we say, place of ill repute, and I was initially bemused by the number of ladies in fur coats wandering about, at the height of summer. The crew disappeared every now and again.”

“Sessions were slow,” Bruford remembers, “and I was an impatient lad. Making music by committee is not my preferred option – you usually get a camel when you’re designing a horse. Jon usually got his own way. But sometimes you all swing together, despite yourselves. Roundabout was the hit that opened the floodgates, though in retrospect I see Heart Of The Sunrise as the winner track. On Five Per Cent For Nothing I offered a cheap shot at the outgoing manager, for which I apologise. We didn’t play happy families, but we were all genuinely interested in getting the best album, sound, ideas; in being the best band.”

“We were opening a door that not many people had tried to go through,” says Anderson.

Howe: “There was a burst of sensing that we could go off on our limb and make a name for ourselves as this thing called Yes.”

And yet the nature of its triumph lay the seeds of future ego clashes. “I don’t think we’ll ever have another record like that,” Howe said in 2005. “Which is a terrible waste. Because I never wanted Yes to get into a mould… That technique of featuring the band and the individual all on one record was probably why we were so happy.”

Roger Dean, Wakeman: "He's our George Martin"

Roger Dean, Wakeman: "He's our George Martin" (Image credit: Getty Images)

Fragile also introduced the art of Roger Dean and his now iconic Yes logo, initiating what has become a proud tradition and fanning the flames of the music’s mystique and other-worldliness. Wakeman reckons Howe found him, and calls Dean “our George Martin. He gave us another element.”

“A lot of things we endorsed in the early years were good choices,” a smiling Howe offers. “He’s been great for continuity. I take a little credit myself for helping Roger feel involved in projects.”

“I wanted him to visualise what the music looks like,” says Anderson. “He came back with this beautiful world. I said: ‘Perfect!’”

If Fragile put Yes on the brink of huge success and fame, then the follow-up, 1972’s Close To The Edge, pushed them right into it. Often declared the greatest progressive album of all time, it saw the band develop an album around a single epic centrepiece track and a complex, cryptic theme.

The spiritually inclined Anderson was inspired by Herman Hesse’s book Siddartha, in which Hesse’s character awakes close to the edge of a river. Bruford, more earthily, has claimed he came up with the title to describe the fractious state of the band. “Close To The Edge was ambitious, but very well-thought out,” says Squire. “We had a clear vision of what it was to be. Siberian Khatru and And You And I have become Yes classics too.”

Asked whether the 19-minute title track is the band’s pinnacle, Anderson laughs: “It felt more like 24 hours, playing it! It was endless, especially on stage.”

The band premiered it at Crystal Palace, where they shared a bill with Elton John and jazz-rock fusion pioneers the Mahavishnu Orchestra. A crowd of thousands sat on the grass in the sunshine. According to Anderson, halfway through Yes’s set, the crowd began “talking, mumbling, and I was frightened that we’d lost them. But at the end they all stood up.

“They’d actually gone with us. Over the years, with the dry ice, all the visuals, it became an incredible theatrical work on stage.”

Garden party, Yes at Crystal Palace Bowl in 1972

Garden party, Yes at Crystal Palace Bowl in 1972 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Anderson felt he’d made a “breakthrough” in forging lyrics that “matched my feelings about the spiritual path. We all take it, in so many different forms, trying to understand why we live and so on. All I was thinking about was: close to the edge of realisation. It was an awakening. There was this air of, here we are at the beginning of the 70s, waking up to our real need for some sort of connection to the divine energy that surrounds us. It came from The Beatles, too, that learning-to-meditate period. We worked hard on that; endless studio time. It’s sometimes wild and furious, and sometimes simple and beautiful. It’s about creation. It’s magical.”

“Even if we’d just done Close To The Edge and then stopped, I think we’d still be talking about it today,” says Steve Howe.

Close To The Edge marked Bruford’s first departure from the band. He left to join King Crimson after the album was completed, believing it was as fine an album as Yes could ever make.

“I left Yes for the money. I knew I was going to get paid too much,” he quipped in 2001. “That’s when the problems start. Once you get paid, what follows next is repetition.”

Days before Yes were to embark on an extensive US tour, drummer Alan White, who had played with the Plastic Ono Band, George Harrison and Joe Cocker, received a call and was informed that Yes had a problem, and asked whether he would be available to step in and replace Bruford at short notice. Having accepted, it meant he had to learn the epic Close To The Edge – and the rest – in double-quick time.

For White, it was a case of being thrown in very much at the deep end. “I’d never had a full rehearsal with them,” he recalls, “and then suddenly I had three days: as they walked out of the door, they said: ‘Oh, by the way, we forgot to tell you – we’ve got a gig on Monday.’

“So a very nervous drummer went on stage in Dallas in front of 10,000 people who were hoping he’d get it right. A baptism of fire. Yes were on the cusp of playing big, big auditoria, so it was great, but nerve-racking. First gig, I got most things right, actually. Second gig, better; third was better still. I was tuned in to it.”

“Chris and Jon asked me to join the band. I’d been learning odd time signatures as I had my own band that was tuned in to that anyway. So I said: ‘How about you give me three months, and I give you three months, and if we match up, and our styles match up, we’ll know this thing works.’ July 2012 was my 40th anniversary in the band, so I guess it worked.”

Bringing Tales From Topographic Oceans to life at The Rainbow

Bringing Tales From Topographic Oceans to life at The Rainbow (Image credit: Getty Images)

By 1973, Yes were massive. There was a triple live album and concert film (both titled Yessongs), and the magnitude of their endeavours was matched by the size of their sales figures. And the band were about to get even bigger. Released in December 1973, Tales From Topographic Oceans was a concept album – inspired by Anderson’s interpretation of four Shastric scriptures from Autobiography Of A Yogi by Paramahansa Yoganand – with just one track on each of its four sides on vinyl. It divided fans and critics.

“Maybe we got a bit too ambitious,” says Chris Squire, who worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during sessions for the album. “It definitely left a few people mystified. Anyone who’d enjoyed stuff like Roundabout wondered why we’d choose to do something so left-field. But, in retrospect, I think the fact that we went that far enabled the band to have as long a career as we’ve had, because people looked on us as risk-takers.

“We were building our audience all the time in the States, on an ascendant path, so after this album we were regarded as having some kind of integrity. That contributed to Yes still being a viable project.”

“We all knew where we were going with it,” muses Anderson. “It’s just that it was such a momentous idea that it grew maybe too difficult for one or two of the guys that were helping to make it happen. A lot of energy wasn’t on the same track some of the time. Although much later, when Rick and Steve had both rejoined the band, around ’94-’95, we found that performing some of the pieces was still intoxicating. It was exhilarating to find that music still worked 20 years on. It’s wild to perform.

“I was doing a TV spot for Donovan in LA recently, and a crew member came over and said: ‘Mr Anderson, I want to thank you so much for Tales From Topographic Oceans.’ I gave him a big hug and said: ‘You have no idea how much that means to me.’ Because it was a difficult time. But at least we tried it.”

Not everyone was as happy with the album. Rick Wakeman, who left Yes after the 1973-4 tour, has criticised the album as having too much padding, and in 2003 said that people either love or hate that album, “and I don’t love it”.

With Swiss virtuoso and early Minimoog devotee Patrick Moraz installed as Wakeman’s replacement (Greek synth kingpin Vangelis and Roxy Music keyboard player Eddie Jobson had been considered), Yes unveiled their seventh album, Relayer (arguably Roger Dean’s finest hour) in 1974. This is the one to play to people who claim 70s Yes were boring. It doesn’t stop doing exciting things with sound. Sometimes it gallops, sometimes it floats. Again, a whole side was taken up by one track, this time the 22-minute The Gates Of Delirium. According to Anderson, the track was partly inspired by Tolstoy’s War And Peace.

“It was a combination of that, which I was reading, and Stravinsky’s Rites Of Spring,” he says. “I had this idea of war-like music, how we’re still so tribal in going to war yet never come out of it feeling great. It’s a very destructive energy. Then eventually you emerge from it – that’s the light at the end of the tunnel in the ‘Soon, oh soon the light’ section. I’d also been into this electronic music, or ‘concrete music’, by Ilhan Mimaroglu, Wings Of The Delirious Demon. It was so frightening. I wanted that – to frighten myself and the band and the audience with music that was weird and wild and crazy, so they’d feel a little fear but then see the light at the end. And feel the beautiful joy of the light opening up. And feel… saved.”

To get the sounds they wanted, Moraz used prototype synthesisers; Anderson and White used discarded car parts as percussion. “I’d get soundtracks of kings and swords, all this, and throw it in the middle of the mix,” says the singer. “Steve and Chris would shout: ‘You’re ruining it!’ I’d say: ‘No! I want a real battle. I want swords clashing, people screaming!’ They thought I was crazy.”

By now, the epic scale of the tours Yes were doing was taking its toll, even though the band’s commercial clout hadn’t diminished.

“By 76 we did a summer US tour that was pretty much all stadiums,” recalls Squire. “Very fortunately, we also had Peter Frampton second on the bill, just as Frampton Comes Alive became huge. That was a year of record-breaking crowds like nobody had seen before. At the JFK stadium in Philadelphia we had a 130,000-strong paying audience, I think the biggest ever there.”

In his recent autobiography Le Freak, Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers recalls sitting next to Squire in the VIP section of a Paul McCartney show at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the 80s. “Do you think we should play here one day?” the Yes man asked Rodgers. His reply was that he had witnessed Yes play there many times in the 70s and early 80s.

“Ah, Nile called me to check that for his book,” Squire says. “I said: ‘No. What were you on, Nile? Of course I remembered I’d played Madison Square Garden!’ I think he got a bit confused. Doesn’t matter. Made his book more interesting. But yeah, of course there was hedonism in the 70s. I mean, there was so much of it going on. That was quite a big era for everyone getting high. And it was a lot of fun too.”

Anderson going for it at Wembley in 1977, "Awaken was the pinnacle of the 70s for me"

Anderson going for it at Wembley in 1977, "Awaken was the pinnacle of the 70s for me" (Image credit: Getty Images)

Yes took an extended break to scratch the itches of solo activity (most of the members’ solo albums went well, but may have subtly loosened the ties that bound). They regrouped just as punk took off, and Yes and their like were labelled obsolete. Patrick Moraz’s time in the band came to an end soon after, partly as a result of his increasing “rock star behaviour, like missing rehearsals”. In typically convoluted Yes fashion, his replacement was the man he himself had replaced – Rick Wakeman. He returned on a negotiated ‘session’ basis, saying he was enticed by the strength of the material.

Still, expectations weren’t high for 1977’s Going For The One. It was expected to nosedive in the new regime of fury-as-fashion. Instead it went to No.1 and, incredibly, gave them a Top 10 single with the incorrectly spelled Wonderous Stories. The title track kicked as much ass as Yes are ever going to, with Howe’s guitars on fire. It also included the epic dreamscape Awaken, which many members of the band consider to be up there with Close To The Edge as their finest hour. Well, 15 minutes.

Awaken was the pinnacle of the 70s for me,” Anderson enthuses. “It was the greatest energy of music that I’ve been involved in. I love it to death. After the success of Wonderous Stories, though, I was pressed by people to write more like that. Listen, I wrote that about my children one morning when I woke up and saw them sleeping. It happens when it happens. You never know it’s going to be a commercial success. People wanted more sales, wanted more songs that were three minutes and 33 seconds.”

“We made Going For The One in Montreux after that big US stadium tour,” says Squire, also acknowledging the intrusion of further tensions. “We realised we’d been advised to record in Switzerland for tax purposes. Things were all getting a bit foreign to a bunch of guys who were musicians, not financiers. With that and all the touring, things were hard to get used to. In England there was punk, and that took the press’s imagination. Bands like Yes and Genesis were given this ‘dinosaur’ tag. But over in the States, where we were doing these huge shows, you wouldn’t have known anything about that; they weren’t so obsessed with it. Everything was on the up and up for us.”

Going For The One had been an unanticipated triumph. Its successor, 1978’s Tormato, on the other hand, didn’t triumph at all. It fell between several stools – rock, new-age wafting, blasts of technology – and failed to gel. It would turn out to be Wakeman’s last Yes album for 13 years and Anderson’s last for four.

Both were worried about the band’s direction – or directionlessness – and felt trapped in the album-tour-album-tour cycle. They pined for the more fantastical, exploratory Yes, while the others were warming to a heavier, more contemporary sound. “That was a weird one,” muses Squire. “It wasn’t easy for Rick, I remember. He didn’t have his heart in that one.”

The band's stage set-up for their run of shows at Madison Square Garden in 1978. which Chris Squire absolutely remembers playing

The band's stage set-up for their run of shows at Madison Square Garden in 1978. which Chris Squire absolutely remembers playing (Image credit: Getty Images)

Anderson is even less kind to it. “What was it called again? We threw tomatoes at ourselves before the audiences could. That was us trying to be pop stars, y’know? What the hell for? We were a great bunch of musicians! And we weren’t punks. We’d been punks – listen to the early BBC recordings and the first albums. We’d moved forward since, exhilaratingly. So… the implosion came.”

The ‘implosion’ brought about the demise of 70s Yes. Anderson describes it as “simply down to outside influences, pushing one or two guys, saying: ‘You should be writing hits, making more money. Jon’s a little crazy over there. What’s he doing?’ That’s been the case over the years with the band. It infiltrates the band and everyone loses it…

“I left in 1980 because they brought in a producer who was worse than anybody in the band for going out and partying. That’s why the next album never got made, in Paris, because there was too much partying. And then Alan broke his ankle going roller-blading or whatever it’s called, and that was the end of the sessions. There was so much money and energy wasted for four months. I just said: ‘That’s it, I’m going to live in the South of France and write and record and just do something different.’ I was so upset.”

Chris Squire’s recollection is slightly different. “In 79 we all went to Paris – once again because of tax implications, and I don’t think we ever saved a penny by going to all these exotic, expensive places – with Roy Thomas Baker to work on a new album.

“It was actually going pretty well – we had some interesting stuff. We’d be there five days a week then pop back over to England for weekends. Alan and his girlfriend decided to stay in Paris one weekend, and he went out with Richard Branson to a roller-disco, as it was then called, and broke his foot. We couldn’t carry on without a drummer, so that brought everything to an end. After that, things fell apart, to an extent. After the ’79 tour, Jon and Rick went their own ways.”

“Unfortunately that’s true,” sighs White. “It’s something I shouldn’t have been doing, rollerskating with Branson. It was an indoor rink in the daytime, a nightclub at night. We’d had a bottle of wine and were fighting over the skates, because there was only one pair and we both had the same size feet. I got them first, went about 10 or 12 yards and fell over. He then had a go, fell on his back and slipped a disc. So we both hobbled out of there. When I tried to go to bed I couldn’t get my cowboy boot off and I realised it was bad.”

Anderson and Wakeman finally turn their back on Yes

Anderson and Wakeman finally turn their back on Yes (Image credit: Getty Images)

“When things get away from music and become business, I wanna get out of there,” Anderson reflects today. “I’ve done it three times now. It’s just something in my nature. If you’re chasing that gold at the end of the rainbow, you may as well go to Vegas. For me, Yes was all about the adventure of music, not making a living. The adventure itself will create great things.”

Did Yes’s great adventures stall fatally with the exit of key players? Of course not. The 80s would see the indomitable band rise up once again. Maybe video killed the radio star, but they couldn’t rewind – they’d gone too far.

This article originally appeared in Classic Rock 175.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.