Trevor Rabin hadn’t played live for almost 20 years when he stepped onstage in Orlando, Florida on October 4, 2016. The guitarist was nervous – surprisingly so for such a seasoned pro – and was wondering what the evening might hold. He was up there with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, two musicians whose careers had been inextricably linked with his own over the past three and a half decades as both members of Yes and individual artists in their own right.
The three of them had reconvened earlier in the year under the name ARW in order to revisit their collective past and, hopefully, map out a shining new future. For Rabin, who had built a career as a successful movie soundtrack composer, this was a welcome return to the world in which he had made his name. “The minute I got onstage it felt like I was back home,” the South Africa-born guitarist says today.
By the end of the show, he and Wakeman had embarked on a spontaneous walkabout around the crowd, ending up at the mixing desk, something that would become a ritual at subsequent shows. “The first time we went out, it wasn’t planned,” says Rabin. “We just kind of did it. And then we thought, ‘This is great, let’s do it again!’ It turned into a little bit of fun at the end, to go up to the sound guy and pinch his bum.”
That The Band Formerly Known As ARW’s debut tour was going to be a ringing success was never really in doubt, but few expected it to be quite as well received as it was. For the three men involved, who have subsequently renamed themselves Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin And Rick Wakeman, it’s a vindication of the wisdom of sticking to your musical guns and proof that the world can never have too many bands called Yes.
“It’s interesting that in Europe, progressive music is very important,” says Anderson, speaking from his home in California. “Over in America, you’ve got your stalwarts, but it’s not a big part of the business. The music business is more geared towards the early 60s model of pop and money. Which is cool, that’s okay. But progressive music has always been around, and we’re part of that game.”
Still, it’s been a long time coming. The roots stretch back to Yes’ grand – and infamous – merger for 1991’s Union album and tour. That was the only time Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman have appeared together on the same album (and even then, many of Wakeman’s keyboard parts were reportedly overdubbed by producer Jonathan Elias).
“There are a lot of Yes fans who, for a long time, had been saying, ‘Are you and Trevor going to do anything?’” says Wakeman. “That’s the line-up that never existed. Nothing against Steve [Howe] or any of those other guys, but I think people want to know what might have been. So we tried to make it reality.”
It would be nearly two decades before they picked up that conversation. The trio first began talking about working together in 2011, but it would still be several more years before the talk became reality. It begs the question: with hindsight, do they wish they’d done it sooner?
“You can only do it when you can do it,” says Anderson. “And that’s when everybody’s available. We’re all busy, but Trevor was so busy. I’d been down to see Trevor working on a couple of movies to see how it all worked, and it was just unbelievable, the amount of energy it takes for him to write a score. And that was his 39th movie.”
“One of the things that you can’t prepare for is timing,” says Wakeman. “When is the right time to do something? If we knew that, we’d all be multi-millionaires.”
Unsurprisingly, it was the death of Yes bassist and driving force Chris Squire in June 2015 that provided the catalyst to turn talk into action.
“The timing made itself when Chris died,” says Wakeman. “None of us are spring chickens any more. We all got on the phone to each other and went, ‘Right, we’re not immortal, we should do this now.’ That was the key moment, and I think it turned out to be exactly the right time.”
For Jon Anderson, Squire’s death made him reconsider his own relationship with the band he co-founded. As with many things Yes‑related, the singer’s departure in 2008 was complicated and chaotic.
“In some ways, I got very close to Chris again at the end,” says Anderson. “We started the band, and my feeling was that eventually I would be in Yes again, because I never left Yes – they decided to do their thing when I was very sick. And so I just felt there was going to be a time when this was going to be called Yes.”
Anderson admits that his 2016 album Invention Of Knowledge, released with Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings, was his attempt to reclaim the Yes sound and draw out a potential roadmap for his new band’s sound.
“That album was very much Yes style in my mind,” he says. “Trevor loved that album so much. He said, ‘You understand where Yes should be going in the future.’ That’s when we decided to go on the road.”
For Rabin, this was an opportunity to reconnect with his musical roots. “It’s funny, once I really started getting into film, I thought, ‘I love doing this, I really don’t miss the other thing,’” he says. “But then I did start missing it. I thought, ‘God, I haven’t played for so long. When am I going to play again?’ That kind of led to it.”
Wakeman says the trio went into this endeavour with a game plan: to recreate the essence of Yes without making a carbon copy. According to the keyboard player, they also laid down some rules right at the beginning.
“One of them was that if you were playing a piece that you weren’t on originally, what you would do is imagine what you’d have done if you’d been in the band at the time,” he says. “Was there any preciousness? No, none at all. Quite the opposite in fact. I think we livened the songs up a bit with the things we added. I’d like to think we gave them a different lease of life.”
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Given the fractiousness that has partly defined Yes over the course of their long career, there was the potential for friction.
“We were together in rehearsals for quite a long time,” says Wakeman. “There were little tweaks here and there. But I can put my hand on my heart and say there was never a moment where somebody said, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ That was another rule – if somebody said, ‘I really don’t want to do that,’ then it wasn’t even considered.”
When the tour got underway in Orlando, the band – the three former Yes men plus bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Louis Molino III – quickly slotted into the groove. As anyone who saw it can vouch, there seemed to be genuine joy emanating from the stage – and not just in Wakeman and Rabin’s bum-pinching antics.
“It was like a miracle,” Anderson says. “It was just like being back in Yes for me. I’m in my 70s, and to be up on stage performing with a great band, that was just magical. Rick is obviously an extraordinary, talented artist, and Trevor, coming out of 15 or so years doing film scores, played guitar like I’ve never heard guitar played. It’s like all-powerful. When he went for solos, he was going crazy every night.”
Wakeman is quick to shine the spotlight on Pomeroy and Molino, two men he says are as integral to the band as the three veteran members.
“It may have been called ARW, but it certainly is a five-piece band,” says Wakeman. “Lou and Lee are equally as important musically, and put so much work into it. Lee knows more about Yes than all of us put together. He doesn’t just know his parts – Chris’ parts – he knows everybody else’s parts as well, annoying little bugger that he is. We call him The Oracle, because he just knows everything.”
Whether Pomeroy foresaw the band’s name change is another matter. Just two days after Yes were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, ARW announced that they would now be calling themselves Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin And Rick Wakeman. It’s under that name that they’re embarking on a US tour this autumn – and it’s under that name that they’ll be releasing a new album in 2018. Talk to the three of them today and they each have slightly different views of where things are at with regard to new music right now.
“Yes, we are working on new music,” confirms Wakeman. “We’ve discussed it a lot, we’ve been throwing ideas backwards and forwards, there’s pieces we’ve been working on that have been flying from Jon to Trev or from Trev to me. We have got a lot of stuff that we want to look at, that we want to dissect. There’s a couple of wonderful basic songs that need ARW-ifying, or Yes-ifying, however you want to put it. But the truth of the matter is that the best way to get the music actually sorted and done is if you’re all sitting in a room together.”
“We’ve written quite a lot of music,” says Anderson. “We haven’t finished any of the songs yet, but we’ve easily got over an hour’s worth of musical ideas.”
“We haven’t done anything yet because we’re not quite there,” says Rabin. “We had quite a bit of stuff which we were close to being ready to release. I listened to it on my iPhone and thought, ‘Ah, there’s a couple of things that are missing on it.’ So it’s taken a bit of a back seat. I don’t want it to sound too clean and contrived and polished. I want it to be a little edgy. So we’ll go back and get it right. We don’t want to rush it.”
All three are similarly cagey on exactly what the new music will sound like. For Rabin, at least, there’s little point in retreading old ground.
“There’s absolutely no desire to repeat what we’ve done in the past,” he says. “We’re not listening to our old stuff and saying, ‘We’re missing a bit of that sensibility or emotion in the song – we need to add some Yes‑y stuff.’ That makes me cringe.”
“The plan is, for about three weeks at the end of January and into February 2018, we’re all going to sit in the jolly old same room, like we used to do years ago, look at all the bits of the musical jigsaw we have and try to put them in a semblance of order,” says Wakeman. “Then I’ll come back here, Trev will go into his studio and Jon will go in his. We’ll have a template of what to work for, rather than just flying in the dark.”
And can we expect a new album by the end of 2018?
“Oh, I would like to think by summertime we’ll have something special,” says Wakeman. “There is one amazing idea that’s floating around, and if we can pull that off, it will be brilliant.”
Amazing how? Musically? Visually?
“Let’s just say the whole thing will be pretty epic if we pull it off,” he says.
Of course, 2018 is a huge year for both versions of Yes. It marks the 50th anniversary of the band. Just as the other incarnation are holding their cards close to their chests, so the Anderson/Rabin/Wakeman line-up are being equally cagey, though the singer promises the band’s golden jubilee won’t go unmarked.
“We’re planning really, really adventurous and wonderful stuff,” says Anderson. “I can honestly hear it. We have all the music for it and, God willing, it’s going to happen. We’re trying to figure out the best way of getting the music out there to the people, instead of having to go through the business. Music is easy but the business is a bitch.”
See www.yesfeaturingarw.com for more information and tour dates.
The night Jon Davison met Jon Anderson.
Hard to believe, but true: Jon Davison and Jon Anderson had never crossed paths until April 7, 2017, when they met at a hotel in LA on the night of Yes’ induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. It wasn’t quite the seismic clash of parallel worlds that fans might imagine. “No,” says Jon Davison. “I’m not sure he knew who I was! It was really noisy. I just approached him as a fan and wanted to thank him. Because I don’t feel any rivalry or intimidation. I consider him in a whole different class than myself. And he’s a hero of mine. So I just thanked him for all the inspiration and being so instrumental in bringing me to what I do today.
“He was very warm,” Davison adds. “But I don’t sense that he could understand amidst the noise that I was the other singer! I almost enjoyed it better that way – it was a fan having a moment to thank his hero.”
Anderson confirms Davison’s take on this meeting of Yes men. “I honestly had no idea,” he says. “He never introduced himself. It was only when he went away that I thought, ‘There’s something about that guy that’s kind of strange.’ Then I said to my wife, ‘I think that guy’s the singer with the other band.’ And thought, ‘Why didn’t he tell me who he was?’ Because then I could have said, ‘Well done,’ because he performs the songs and lyrics I wrote, and he does a good job.”
Despite that, the encounter was entirely at odds with all the rivalry and factionalism. “When I looked in his eyes, there was harmony and I could relate to him soul for soul,” Davison says. “I felt inspired. There’s so much discord and people get so heated online and fans get so ugly, which is so unfortunate when you consider the all-embracing message in Yes’ music and lyrics.”
Davison recently declared on Facebook that he would like to record an album with Anderson. “That statement,” he explains, “was meant to be the antithesis of the general mindset of these people who get so nasty. That’s what I’d like to happen. To create a really unifying message, a bridge between the two camps and all the fanbases. If Jon and I could do an album together, we could rise above all the pettiness.”