The rocky road to Trade's third album Unify

a press shot of trade

Dateline: 1984, and the four members of Lodgic are rehearsing in Los Angeles, unaware that their lives are about to change forever. “Toto were in the room next door and suddenly Jeff Porcaro [drums] came running in, so everyone froze because, well, it was Jeff Porcaro,” laughs Billy Sherwood at the memory. “We feared the worst when Jeff ran straight back out again but he returned with [fellow Toto members] David Paich and Steve Porcaro, who said that they loved us.”

At a time when Toto were still among the world’s biggest bands, Paich and Steve Porcaro took Lodgic under their wings, hooking them up with A&M Records and producing an album called Nomadic Sands. But for bassist/lead vocalist Sherwood and keyboardist Guy Allison, reinvention as World Trade would be necessary for genuine fireworks to fly, and even then, genuine recognition was limited.

As we all know, Sherwood later figured in three different eras of Yes’ history, where he currently remains after being hand-picked by Chris Squire to be the late bassist’s own successor, while years afterwards, Patrick Moraz selected Allison as the second keyboardist in The Moody Blues.

But until Sherwood broke the news two years ago via Prog that World Trade were working on an “incredible” reunion album, the band’s name appeared doomed to forever remain lost as some tragic pub trivia question. This, then, is their story.

The first and definitive line-up – the one that’s back together again – was completed in 1988 by guitarist Bruce Gowdy and drummer Mark T Williams. The former had been with Stone Fury, the band that gave the world Lenny Wolf of Kingdom Come fame. Meanwhile, Williams had multi-instrumental abilities and, as the son of legendary movie composer John and brother of Toto singer Joseph, he brought his own particular pedigree.

The quartet were signed to PolyGram by Gentle Giant singer-turned-label executive Derek Shulman in what Sherwood calls “a huge deal”, which was appropriate as GG had been a huge influence on World Trade. However, as so frequently happens, Shulman quickly moved on to become president of Atco, leaving the band without support in the boardroom. Let’s face it, though, the very idea of a prog band obtaining a major label deal in 1989 now seems unlikely in the first place.

“I suppose so,” says Billy, “but although World Trade still painted within those lines in that we also dealt in fairly commercial songs of four, five or six minutes in duration, and until Derek moved on we were really rocking; our record was outselling Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and Trevor Rabin’s album Can’t Look Away. But I certainly don’t blame Derek at all for what happened. In fact, he was the one that introduced me to the Yes camp, so he became an integral part of my world.”

Produced by Keith Olsen, World Trade was a fantastic album of clashing contrasts, its lush, ambitious arrangements coloured by razor‑sharp melodies. Though their back-up system would prove flawed, the band really were onto something very special. Sherwood chuckles when reminded of his own words in a biography for potential reviewers in which he claimed that the music “forms a link between select virtuoso bands of the past (Genesis/King Crimson/Yes/Pink Floyd) and the future of progressive rock”.

“What a grandiose statement, especially considering how young I was,” he grins. “Those names were the wells from which I have always drawn, and each band member was extremely capable within their craft. I still think we were pushing forward with a new idea of how prog could be interpreted and the debut album remains unique in its own way. It’s stood up after all these years – you could pop it on right now and it’s still interesting and entertaining to listen to.”

Lyrically, too, World Trade were making bold statements. The same record label biog saw Sherwood declare: “We don’t want to jam anything down people’s throats but the time is right to express positive feelings. We want world peace and together we can achieve it. It’s that simple.”

“Nothing’s really changed, has it?” he now sighs deeply. “When we named the band World Trade, 911 and all these [terrorist-related atrocities] hadn’t taken place. Considering the tragedies we’ve witnessed, it’s kind of creepy that we ended up being called that, but I’ve always paid a lot of attention to what’s going on in this planet.”

Once the sales dried up, a six-year gap would separate debut album World Trade and a second effort, Euphoria, which featured a certain Christopher Squire on bass and backing vocals on two tracks. By this point, Sherwood had already co-written for Yes and toured with them as an additional guitarist for the Talk album. If you like Big Generator-era Yes, with a smidgen of It Bites, it’s well worth checking out. However, the similarities between the two groups were all too obvious, and Euphoria surfaced via a relatively small label, Magna Carta, ensuring that it didn’t get pushed.

“We still called the band World Trade but Euphoria wasn’t made in the same way as the debut,” Sherwood reveals. “At the time everybody was really busy with various different projects and I suppose it’s a bit of hotchpotch, whereas with the debut we had been laser-focused.”

And as if the band’s main point of influence wasn’t already transparent enough, the presence of Squire was a dead giveaway.

“Oh God, I’ve been hearing that I sounded too much like Yes all the way down the line until I actually joined Yes!” Sherwood guffaws. “I was right on target the whole time.”

After World Trade broke up in ’95, Gowdy and Allison went on to form Unruly Child, an AOR band whose self-titled debut is now retrospectively considered iconic, though in much the same way as World Trade’s own equivalent now remains closeted in the drawer marked ‘cult favourite’. There are one or two parallels between the two groups – first and foremost, Frontiers Records resurrected the careers of both, but there was always a strong melodic rock undercurrent to World Trade.

“Harmony is extremely important to me, and as a matter of fact I sang so hard on that first World Trade record that I ended up in the hospital,” Sherwood chuckles. “So you could say that I love melody to the point of hurting myself.”

The notion of a World Trade reunion had been around since the mid-2000s but when Frontiers produced their chequebook there was a single important principle to agree on. “It needed to be the opposite of what we had done with Euphoria,” Sherwood comments. “Were we to do it, everyone had to commit to being the best that we could possibly be – just like the first album. And luckily our schedules parted, like watching clouds disperse on a bright, sunny day.”

Poetic metaphor aside, the overwhelming criticism of the resulting record, Unify, is that it’s simply too one-paced, the title track a rare example of stepping out of first gear.

“Those are the tempos that old musicians write at,” he responds, laughing. “We’re not as bright as we once were, but we still try. You could also say it of Pink Floyd so it is what it is. The more people listen to it, the more they’ll find, but on first play I tend to agree with you.”

Doubts also remain as to whether World Trade are melodic rock enough for AOR fans, and not proggy enough for the alternative camp.

“I’ve always occupied that no-man’s land,” Sherwood admits. “Even among the diehard proggers we were too commercial to be considered prog, but I don’t worry too much about labels and somehow I’ve ended up in the premier prog band of all time. And now, regrettably, thanks to John Wetton dying, I’ve also become the lead singer [and bassist] of Asia. If I listened to haters, I’d have stopped after the first Lodgic record.”

Sherwood admits to some uncertainty as to whether World Trade will tour again. He hasn’t abandoned hope of playing some solo shows for his solo album Citizen, he’s on the road in North America with Yes until late September and of course there are also those new commitments with Asia. Two years on, although the first tour he did was “super emotional”, Sherwood has become a little more comfortable with the role inherited within Yes.

“It was like going to a summer home in that I’d been there before,” he states. “I knew all the characters, but standing in that spot [once occupied by Squire] wiped me out.”

Sherwood admits he’s “still trying to process” finding himself onstage with Asia. “Much like the situation with Chris, who we knew wanted his band to carry on, I produced John Wetton’s last solo album [Raised In Captivity, 2011] and, as I understand, John was insistent that I should do this,” he says. “Getting that call was a bit like lightning striking twice and now I find myself in two of my favourite bands. The arena tour [with Asia] has been very successful, and there’s a dialogue within the band to keep things moving. I’ve no doubt you’ll see more, unless there are things that I don’t know.”

_ Unify is available now via Frontiers Records. See www.frontiers.it for more._

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