Live Review – YES At Manchester Bridgewater Hall – by John Wenlock-Smith

This was a particularly good show, if not just a little strange at times. The evening started with a few words from legendary album cover artist Roger Dean, who has worked with Yes for over 50 years, a true gentleman and very enthusiastic about the works he has created for the band over the years.

He started off by talking about the loss of Alan White and played a short sequence of images of Alan’s time with the band, then Yes came onstage and started their first set with On the Silent Wings of Freedom from the ‘Tormato’ album, a song that rarely gets played live. The band were up for it though with Steve Howe especially energised for the proceedings.

There were a few gremlins sound wise but the band got through it very professionally. Billy Sherwood’s Bass was a huge sounding behemoth, very Chris Squire like in tone, and he played some exceptionally good lines throughout. Billy has a certain air about him, like a rock god from a bygone age with his long flowing hair and his boots very much an image, but he can certainly play that bass like a master. New drummer Jay Schellan kept things very tidy at the back, solid and uncluttered, much like Alan White used to really.

This latest incarnation of Yes is very much orchestrated, led and driven these days by Steve Howe, who was constantly issuing instructions to the other band members with his hands or voice. Steve is the last member with a connection to their golden age (of which ‘Close To The Edge’ is a major capstone of course). Sure, you could moan about the lack of the presence of either Rick Wakeman or Jon Anderson, however the integrity of this band stays true under Steve’s guidance. Jon Davison may not have the presence of Anderson but he is a very fine singer for this version of Yes.

The band then played Yours Is No Disgrace, which was the first of several longer pieces performed tonight. This song was obviously a long-time favourite of many of the audience who’s average age was sixty plus. It is very strange being part of a crowd this old and you definitely know it is odd when the toilet queue is twice as long for me as it is for women!

We then moved onto No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed, from the ‘Time and a Word’ album, one that no one onstage had been a part of but still played it with much gusto, making it one of the highlights of the evening so far. This was followed by a rousing version of Does It Really Happen from ‘Drama’ and Geoff Downes’ keyboards really shone making it really stand out. We were then treated to Steve Howe’s solo guitar piece, The Clap, which he delivered to much acclaim and a rapturous response.

The latest Yes studio album is ‘The Quest’, which got a mixed critical response. Well, here tonight ,the two tracks they played, The Ice Bridge and Dare To Know, were both very well received, with Steve howe really on fire with his playing, he gave the recurring riff and melody some real oomph! This led to Heart Of The Sunrise from ‘Fragile’, another lengthy workout for all the members again with the thunderous bass from Billy really made this memorable, it was another highlight for me.

After a short break and queuing for the toilets the show recommenced with the main event of the evening, legendary album ‘Close To The Edge’ in its entirety.

The three songs, Close To The Edge, And You And I and Siberian Khatru are possibly the very essence of Yes, they were certainly different to much that was around in 1972. These pieces both retain and contain all that makes Yes so loved, mystical lyrics and driving and unorthodox time signatures where musicians really worked and stretched a piece of music to the maximum. This evening the songs did just that, with an especially fine rendition of And You And I. With some dramatic and effective pedal steel guitar from Steve at the end, it soared out over the audience and was again very well received. Siberian Khatru was also well received and was an excellent finale to proceedings, with the crowd up on their feet clapping along with the music.

Then it was encore time and what could it be but Roundabout and Starship Trooper, both of which really rocked out, sending everyone home extremely happy and satisfied at what they had seen, Yes doing what they do best, remembering a lost colleague and progressing onward as only they can. It was an astonishing and wonderful evening and performance plus, to top it all, Roger Dean signed my copy of the Topographic Oceans CD!

You can buy tickets for the remainder of the shows at this link:

https://yesworld.com/live/

Q&A With Jon Davison of Arc of Life – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith partakes in a Q&A with Jon Davison about the new Arc of Life project for which Jon is the vocalist.

1/ Arc of Life is a new project, how did to come into existence?

While on the road with YES a few years back, Billy and I found a mutual inspiration to start writing during the long drives on the tour bus. Jay was soon involved, supplying his creative input and positive perspective. We then unanimously felt Jimmy was a natural fit.

2/ Who suggested Dave Kerzner for the keyboard role?

Again we unanimously agreed, as with Jimmy, that Dave would bring the perfect musical ingredients into the Arc fold. We were all thinking the same thing in a sort of collective consciousness, but to answer your question accurately, I believe it was Billy who first gave voice to the idea.

3/ What are the main themes to the album?

The most prominent theme is the evolution of mankind. The concept of an arc of life signifying the rise in man’s consciousness and eventually leading to a far greater understanding, passed all political power play and the greed and indifference which plague and sustain the inequalities of our world. Through this ascension of evolution, man’s intelligence will become highly developed, revealing technological advancements beyond our wildest imaginations.

4/ Were you tempted to get a named producer in for the album or Roger Dean for the cover? 

We did seriously consider both at one early point.  We discussed the idea of working with Hugh Padgham, but eventually agreed that producing ourselves, with Billy’s skills at the helm, meant ultimately having complete creative freedom.

By choosing to not work with Roger Dean we thought we might minimize the Yes comparisons. I suppose they are inevitable anyway, but we certainly didn’t want to add to them (lol.)

5/ Aside from Yes, what other influences are apparent?

Back to Padgham and The Police sound. Another influence was Peter Gabriel, particularly in a song like, Talking With Siri.

6/ Is this a one off project or can we expect to hear more new material and, if so, is there a time frame for this?

We actually have a lot more material already in the works that will eventually surface on the next record. We have no time frame as of yet for ARC II. More importantly for now, we have so much to look forward to with this record.

7/ This band could have great potential for the live arena, could there be live shows post covid? Could you tour with Yes for example?

We want to be out on the road, sharing our music with as many people as possible, worldwide. We are totally keen to the idea of opening for a bigger arena type band. The only way it would be right touring with Yes is if each member of Yes also performed in the context of their respective solo and side projects. An event highlighting the current day Yes family tree, if you will, followed by a headline performance by Yes.

8/ I think the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive?

That is great to hear. The album has been a long time coming and it’s rewarding to finally witness its coming to light and the enthusiastic reaction of so many.

9/ What’s happening with Yes, is there any progress on new material yet?

We’ve been creating and recording since the pandemic hit and have our sights set on a new album. The rest I’ll leave as a surprise.

10/ What’s the story behind the album cover?

The album cover is symbolic of the dawning of enlightenment just off in the horizon as mankind perceives its light at the end of the long and treacherous tunnel through which we have journeyed – to reach at last the exit of the deep cave of darkness and ignorance. What can I say… I’m an optimist (lol!)

‘Arc of Life’ was released on February 12th 2021.

Order the album here:

ARC OF LIFE – Arc Of Life – CD Jewelcase | Frontiers Music Official Shop