Interview With Geoff Downes by John Wenlock-Smith

The release of the first new material from Yes since ‘Heaven and Earth’ has been a long time in coming. During that time there have been many changes to the world of Yes, most notably the sad death of Chris Squire in 2016. There has also been the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc with most people’s plans, a situation that Yes have also been affected by. Here’s what Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes had to say about this period.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day Geoff, thanks fore making time to talk with me, how have you been keeping during this time?

Geoff Downes (GD): I’ve not been too bad, I’ve managed to keep myself active. We recorded this new album remotely with Alan (White) and Billy (Sherwood) in the US, Jon (Davidson) in the Caribbean and Steve (Howe) and myself here in the UK, it’s a nice way of working I find.

JWS: Results Seem to be positive, you seem to bring out the best in each other somehow?

GD: Yes, I think it does, it also gives you the chance to sit back and look at it all. We’ve had to do that with this Yes album and I think that we’ve learnt quite a lot by doing it that way. It’s a different approach but, at the same time, it can be creative as well.

JWS: It getting interesting reviews (the album), isn’t it?

GD: Yes, obviously the days of the band being in the studio for months locked away doesn’t really exist these days, as they did in the ’70’s. It’s been difficult with having the rhythm section in California, they were sending us files to review on a regular basis. But, of course, we’re not alone in that we were all locked down for months on end and we’ve had to adapt and respond to that as best as we could. Without the benefit of being able to play any live shows it has put people on a different route forward. It meant taking a more flexible approach to things really.

JWS: I spoke to Steve Hackett recently and he was saying a similar thing, he has had to adjust to a new approach to his music, but at least he is able to go out on tour again now.

GD: Yes, I had an email from Steve asking if I wanted to see him in Cardiff tThe nearest place to where I am in Chepstow) but he was saying I can’t see you though, we do the show and move the whole bubble onwards. So I didn’t get to see him this time, but I’ve seen his show many times at various stages. He always puts on a great show. He really puts a lot into his shows, not just him and his band but in the staging and the lighting and the whole experience and performance really. I’m looking forward to catching up with him again when he comes back round.

JWS: Touring will be happening for Yes again soon though?

GD: Well, yes, we’ve got a tour booked for next May and June in the UK and Europe.

JWS: This is the ‘Relayer’ Tour?

GD: Yes, it’s been postponed twice so we’re hoping it’s third time lucky for it to go ahead.

JWS: Well, the album is very interesting, I’ve heard it all, and the bonus tracks, one of which is obviously a tribute to the Beatles. But the whole album is interesting lyrically, you’re not afraid to tackle some important and controversial issues like ecology and conservation?

GD: I’m not involved with the lyrics per se, Jon was stuck in Barbados for 5 months and I think that’s reflected in his lyrics, global warming, obviously, and I think The Ice Bridge reflects those concerns. There’s nothing worse than musicians standing on a soapbox telling people what they should be doing but, by the same token, it’s true that the band are all getting older which brings its own challenges.

JWS: So what’s happening with the Downes Braides Association? I loved the ‘Halcyon Hymns’ album and wrote a glowing review of it, I thought it was excellent!

GD: Well, Chris has moved back here now from LA and I’m hopeful that we can get together and work on the next one more directly, as opposed to being two oceans apart. So we will have to see how that comes about in due course.

JWS: You also had the Asia albums re-released recently (‘The Reunion Albums 2007 to 2012’) on BMG.

GD: The 40th anniversary of the ‘Asia’ album is in 2022, so those albums are being re-promoted again to mark that event. Those first three albums were very significant and its important to mark those events again fully.

I’ve still got unworked material from a session I had with John (Wetton) before he sadly died so there is potential there to craft something new. I feel that Asia has not run its course and that there is still some life left in the band. Again, we’ll have to see what emerges from those sessions.

JWS: What about a new solo album for you? Surely you must be due for another one soon?

GD: Yes, I have been thinking about doing something, although quite what that will be is very open. I think I’d like to do something in a similar vein to ‘The Light Program’ from 1987, a sort of ‘stream of consciousness’ album of its time but worth revisiting again I think.

JWS: I also read recently that you wanted the keyboards on this new album, ‘The Quest’ to be more analogue than digital, more like earlier Yes albums?

GD: When I was growing up, I was hugely influenced by the keyboard sounds that Tony Kaye used on those early Yes albums. He was a monster on the growling Hammond and when we did the ‘Yes 50’ tour, Tony was a guest on some dates. He still commands the Hammond organ and we became good friends, so that was a big factor for me. Plus, I think the music Steve was making on the guitar leant itself to that classic type of sound, so that’s what I did, and I think it worked okay.

JWS: Tony Has a new solo album out, ‘End of Innocence’, have you heard it yet?

GD: No, but I want to hear it, it’s all about the World Trade Centre and 9/11 isn’t it?

JWS: Yes, it’s a good album.

GD: Does he play lots of Hammond on it?

JWS: Yes, throughout.

GD: I’ll have to ask management to get me a copy then.

JWS: You won’t regret it Geoff, it’s a fine piece of work, very worthwhile. Anyway, my time has gone, I’m afraid, thanks for talking to me.

GD: No problem John, thanks for interesting questions and for knowing your stuff, I’ve enjoyed talking to you, thank you!

‘The Quest’ by Yes is released on 1st October, 2021 and you can order a copy here:

The Quest (lnk.to)

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