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Classic Artists: Yes
Label: DVD UK ( http://classicartistsonline.com/yes_synopsis.html)
Length:  2 DVDs – 210 + 140 mins

“Their definitive fully authorised story in a 2 disc deluxe set” - it's not very snappy, but it's almost the title (on both the spine and the front). And why not? That's just what it is, and because it's authorised nearly everyone joins in. This superb release features interviews with the 'classic' line-ups (Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, Howe, Squire and White) plus others including original guitarist Peter Banks, Buggles team Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, co-progger Keith Emerson and record company personnel.

In well-laid out chapters with interviews linked by narrator and ex-Melody Maker journalist Chris Welch, who has authored a book on the band, disc one tells the whole story in well-paced sequence. Most fans know plenty about the band because you can hardly half-like Yes. You are either disinterested or fascinated. 

A little surprisingly it begins with the church, as that's where Squire's choral experience got him started in music and where the emphasis on Yes's strong vocal harmonies also has its roots. But there were plenty of other influences and it was almost miraculous that they came up with a band sound at all, given the influences they had to blend together, such as Sibelius, Coltrane, the Beach Boys and TV themes. They started as a covers band, working with music as diverse as Vanilla Fudge, Westside Story and the Beatles, but extending and re-arranging them. Banks comments in the DVD, “If people couldn’t recognise what the song was, I felt a happy man.”

Their early career moved quite fast, and included almost being a house band at the Speakeasy and the Royal Albert Hall, where they supported acts like Jimi Hendrix. Much of the storytelling is shared with the extra members of the band, such as long-time producer Eddie Offord and key technician Mike Tait, as well as collaborators like the Dean brothers. Many of these played their part in making the band unique and claim that they were at the forefront of a host of developments, such as pedal boards, digital recording and re-defining the roles of producer and band.

Before long before the heavy management style that Anderson wielded with Squire and the “revolving door policy” of staffing came to the fore – anyone who was not as good as a potential replacement could be out before they knew it. So out went Peter Banks, the only one interviewed who seems a little bitter about the way things have turned out (although wunderkind Trevor Rabin is given virtually no first-hand presence and Steve Howe seems to gloat a little over returning to replace him).

Hearing the whole story in one go shows how significant some of the line-up changes were, especially by those outside of the classic core. If the Buggles boys had not updated their sound, Yes may have died in the 'eighties; and Trevor Rabin's almost accidental “Owner of a Lonely Heart” became their biggest single success.

There is so much information that everyone will learn something and several little gems appear: we learn that Squire was probably nicknamed Fish because he was always in the bath in their shared house; that the riff for “Yours is no Disgrace” came from _Fabian of the Yard_; We can visualise Chris Squire standing in Rick Wakeman’s front garden, calling up to him through a first floor window, trying to get him to join the band; and we hear about how the group resolved some tensions. For making one album two of the band wanted to record in the country while two others preferred the city. As Alan White was sitting on the fence they ended up using a city studio with hay bales imported to make it feel like a farm.

Towards the end we hear about the lessons that they learned. When Steve Howe felt that he had been ignored in creating Talk, he finally understood how Wakeman had felt when Topographics was being composed. The end is only spoiled by a rather engineered set of questions about why Yes are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It would have been good hear from Tony Kaye and Patrick Moraz, but there is little omitted from the story as told. It is a winding tale of partnerships more than friendships (“Five individuals brought together for one thing alone” according to Wakeman), with many wounds healed over time. 

Disc two has extended interviews with many of the main players, adding perspectives that may have spoilt the flow in the DVD proper. Anderson comes across as being enthusiastic and eloquent (especially after the bumbling style of Chris Squire) and reveals a little of the eastern spirituality behind _Close to the Edge_ and _Topographics_. Wakeman's faith is not touched on here, but as a renowned raconteur his is the most enjoyable piece, covering his breaking into music and the long-term influence that working with David Bowie has had on his career. The section even ends with Keith Emerson revealing how he tried to poach Howe and Squire for his own band at different times and how he received an approach to join Yes.

This second disc also includes nearly half an hour of rehearsal footage from 1996, covering tracks like “Long Distance Runaround,” predictably “Roundabout” and even “America.” It also has a small range of promo videos - not the sort of thing that Yes has majored on. There is a fine video of “Wonderous Stories,” an out of sync “Tempus Fugit” and a peculiarly 80's-styled “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” The disc ends with a concise photo gallery organised into sections on concerts, backstage and memorabilia.

This excellent overview of the band is brilliantly edited and Yes fans will find it fascinating. At well over five hours, it is great value too. 

(This is one of a series of Classic Artists, along with Cream, Sabbath, Hendrix and the Moody Blues.)

Derek Walker 

Main DVD:  (only losing a tock for having too little live footage)
Bonus Disc: 
                                                                                        
 
 
 


 

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