Steve Howe/Bodast - Anthology 2/Towards Utopia album reviews

Second retrospective explores Steve Howe as team player

Steve Howe - Anthology 2 album artwork

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With Steve Howe’s son Dylan now joining Yes on tour to drum beside Alan White, the guitarist stands surely as the keystone of this incarnation of the band. His playing has defined the Yes sound as much as any other contribution. Yet this second anthology from his illustrious career seeks out lesser-known nooks and crannies. Fair enough – there are plenty of Yes collections already.

Fresh insight into Howe’s innovative 50-year career.

The first anthology, released in 2015, drew from Howe’s solo work. This – subtitled Groups & Collaborations – cherry-picks from his creations within ensembles. So there’s relatively little Yes: Roundabout and Tempus Fugit exemplify the golden eras, plus there are a few non-canonical choices, best of which is Hour Of Need from Fly From Here. There’s also the delicate Montreux’s Theme, a Going For The One out-take.

Generally, the three-disc, 56-track set – with a Roger Dean cover, naturally – shines a light on slightly off-piste nuggets. Let’s qualify that – Asia and GTR aren’t exactly unknowns. From the former, Heat Of The Moment and One Step Closer display that tighter, less free-form version of progressive rock that the group stand for, while Howe and Steve Hackett, as GTR, share guitar duties ever so politely. It’s in the formative 60s selections that some might find fresh insight into the ongoing threads of Howe’s innovative 50-year career. His style is already unique in The Syndicats and The In Crowd, even when the material is, at heart, conventional rock’n’roll.

When Tomorrow comes along, with My White Bicycle, he’s pedalling more wildly, pushing those sounds closer to the, er, edge. It’s fascinating to hear him stretch the strings to his will on what we’d now consider primitive equipment, like hearing Yes unplugged. Then there’s Bodast (more on which shortly), an evolutionary leap forward in technique.

Disc three gathers oddities and collaborations with everyone from Billy Currie to Annie Haslam. OK, his sessions for Lou Reed, Queen and Frankie Goes To Hollywood aren’t included, but even saying that emphasises how extraordinary his output has been. There’s Fish’s cover of Time And A Word, sidebar work with Paul Sutin and Oliver Wakeman, and unreleased tracks with GTR’s Max Bacon.

The prize here is several unreleased recordings with early ally Keith West, capturing the elusive, haunted optimism of their time. Returning to Bodast (née Canto), their 1969 material – produced by West – is remastered and expanded and stands up well. Howe recycled their riffs for Starship Trooper and South Side Of The Sky, and their seeds here sound scratchy but urgent. Across all these rangy recordings, there’s more than enough Howe to wow.

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.