Stegzy's Music Project

A commentary on Stegzy's album collection

Incas Valley – Yes/Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe[#630]

Unknown-4As long term readers of this project might remember, during the divergence of Yes in the early nineties, when Chris Squire said “No” to Jon Anderson’s use of the band name

Yes

forcing the creation of  the eponymous Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (and later the creation of Anderson Rabin Wakeman (ffs!)), Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Rick “Keyboard Wizard” Wakeman and Steve “Carpet” Howe  got together with Tony Levin, released an album and went on a world tour entitled An Evening of Yes Music. Incas Valley is the bootleg of one of those shows.

I remember being excited at the prospect of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe touring the UK with their show and hoped that I would be granted permission from my parents to go to their gig, the closest to me at the time was in Birmingham. Sadly, my olds decreed that 16 was too young to go to Birmingham to see a rock band on my own and my older brothers couldn’t care less about their younger brother’s musical development so didn’t offer to take me. Instead one recorded onto a cassette a BBC radio broadcast of the gig instead so I had to make do with that.

Many years later I discovered the Incas Valley bootleg on a binary newsgroup and it was pretty much the same set but with extras. So now, to relive that experience, I often play Incas Valley on my stereo in the kitchen while I charge myself £40 to sit in the loft and pretend I’m in the Birmingham Arena. Win!

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House of Yes: Live at the House of Blues – Yes [#594]

House_of_YesWhen this album was released back in 2000, the internet as we know it today was still in its fledgeling state. Websites were mostly created and owned by actual people rather than by corporations and users actually had to seek out their news rather than have it shown to them if an algorithm deigned to do so. As a result, I was only aware it had been released because I saw it while I was browsing the CD racks in HMV.

Of course, with it being a Live/Best of compilation and I already had most of the songs Live or in compilations, I was reluctant to part with hard earned cash for stuff I already had and instead bought something a little more desirable like Air’s Moon Safari or whatever else was about in those days. However sometime later, probably during the Great Internet Download Free-for-All of the early noughties, I was given a copy of the album by a work colleague and so it joined my collection.

House of Yes is a live double album featuring music from Yes’ earlier career and their album The Ladder. It also features Billy Sherwood on guitar and Igor Khoroshev on keyboards, Sherwood left shortly before the album’s release and Khoroshev had already been booted out of the band by that time due to a sexual harassment controversy.

I can’t say that I don’t like this compilation. There are some good performances on the album the enjoyment of which can be enhanced by the viewing of the DVD of the gig.

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Heaven and Hell – Vangelis [#575]

Vangelis_Heaven_and_HellBeardy greek mashes his keyboards once more to produce an enigmatic work with a guest appearance from Jon “Yes” Anderson.

Years ago Carl Sagan did a TV show called Cosmos (the soundtrack to which has already been covered here). It told us all what we knew about the solar system and featured stunning imagery which inspired many young people to get interested in astronomy. Thirty-odd years later, the astronomy factory’s failed to surface and the teacher saying “Astronomy is full of maths” was the right thing to say to impressionable lazy young people embarking on their first tentative steps into the real world. While I was saved a failed career in astronomy thanks to that warning, I carried a little piece of Sagan’s masterwork in my memory, that of the theme tune.  A tune that brought to mind black and white portable television sets and eager cassette recorders waiting to catch the music from the final minutes of the TV show.

Years later, while searching for the music, I learned that the tune was actually from Vangelis’ work Heaven and Hell. While tempting to skip through to the actual bit from Cosmos the album is actually worth listening to in its entirety. Especially as near the end of the first side, our favourite high pitched male singer, Anderson, pops up with an outer space lyrical coda to the side. Indeed, I believe this is the album upon which Vangelis and Anderson worked before forming their own double act, the imaginatively named Jon & Vangelis.

Of course, if you have been following this project for the several years it has been running you might also recall that Vangelis was a member of Aphrodities Child which also dabbled in Biblical musical imagary, with their album 666.

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Going for the One – Yes [#532]

220px-Yes_Going_for_the_OnePossibly one of the first albums I had recorded on cassette. My middle brother had this on cassette and did a copy for me on his twin tape but as home taping killed music, there was nothing after this.

Nonsense of course, I eventually went and bought the album on vinyl, thus saving music for future generations.

Indeed, as a teenager, Going for the One was pivotal in my musical development to such an extent that I performed the track Turn of the Century during a school end of term concert and Wondrous Stories as an exam piece for my Music GCSE. While the majority of my peers enjoyed the likes of Wham, Culture Club and emerging techno, rap and house music, I was busy being ten years behind my contemporaries and enjoying what this album had to offer.

The album sees the return (albeit briefly) of keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman following the departure of Patrick Moraz who played keys for the previous album, Relayer. The return of Wakeman does do some favours to the band at this stage of their career and the track Awaken with its extended organ solo at the heart, really is like a “glad to be back” from Rick.

Sadly, as with all prog bands, the band would separate once more after their next album, Tormato but you can certainly hear the development of the Yes sound and how it is an acoustic ancestor of Tormato with this album.

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Friends of Mr Cairo – Jon & Vangelis [#498]

TheFriendsOfMrCairo2FrontBThis was another of the first CDs I bought for my first CD player and I played it over and over and over.

Chris Rose, a boy at my school, was also a fan of the album and we would spend free periods in sixth form discussing the album, the film Maltese Falcon and Dashiell Hammett. We fostered a good friendship through the two years we were in sixth form together solely based on him seeing the albums title written on one of my cassettes while I was reading the book Maltese Falcon listening to the album on my Walkman.

The song from which the album takes its title, Friends of Mr Cairo, is a tribute and nod to the film noir genre made famous by the likes of actors such as Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, Mr Cairo being a character played by Peter Lorre in the film Maltese Falcon.

This is Jon and Vangelis’ “difficult” but popular second album.

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Fragile – Yes [#495]

FragileI originally bought this album from Woolworths in Pwllheli while holidaying in my Uncles cottage. I remember being excited at the prospect of being able to listen to it on the record player we had there. And so, in 1986 progressive rock reverberated across the Welsh mountains for a brief moment Heart of the Sunrise leading the charge. That was until I was told to turn the music down.

At the time of the album’s release, Yes were coming to the end of an era with the imminent departure of drummer Bill Bruford (who left after the recording of the follow up album Close to the Edgeand the addition, in this album, of keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, who replaced Tony Kaye. This was to become what some fans call “The Classic Yes Line Up” which is interesting as it was only like this for a couple of albums and it seems that nobody wants to talk about the regroup non-cannon album Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe .

The album itself features a number of really good songs, Heart of the Sunrise, Southside of the Sky and Roundabout; all fan pleasing tracks that are played regularly at gigs. It also features a handful of tracks written solo by each band member: Anderson’s We Have Heaven sounding like something from Olias of Sunhillow Bruford’s Five Percent for Nothing sounding like an A Level Music submission and the beginnings of later Wakeman solo projects audibly clear in Can and Brahms .

A fun album with some nice classic Yes songs but sounding flat, disappointing and unpromising with today’s ears.

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Desert Light – Yes [#362]

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 19.46.27This is a bootleg from a concert in the series I saw Yes at in 2002. I then saw the band one last time a year later I think.

I grew up with Yes. They have a special place in my heart and mind as well as a place in my music collection. Sadly long time member and bassist, Chris Squire, passed away earlier this month so it is unlikely I will get to see the band again. I have read that Squire’s old pal Billy Sherwood of Squire/Sherwood collaboration The Unknown has stepped up to cover the massive Chris Squire hole in the band. Moreover, lead singer Jon Anderson is also no longer with the band, Rick Wakeman pops in and out, Steve Howe must be pushing 934 and Alan White is looking a bit tired these days too. It remains hard to imagine how long the band will continue without Chris in the engine room.

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Culture of Ascent – Glass Hammer [#331]

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 10.39.54During my brief exploration of new prog, I was led to the door of Glass Hammer and their song At the Court of Alkinoos on the album Odyssey. I liked it. So when I was presented with a few of their albums by my university audiences lecturer, I was pleased to plug in and listen. For a short fleeting moment at least.

Gah. Forced. Strained. Prog. Not good. So aside from a few albums, this being the second in this project, I didn’t pursue Glass Hammer too hard.

The band’s tenth studio album, Culture of Ascent does have one saving grace though, Yes’ Jon Anderson in backing vocals and a cover version of Yes’ Southside of the Sky.

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Crises – Mike Oldfield [#322]

Mike_oldfield_crises_album_coverCrises is Oldfield’s eighth studio album. Released in 1983, it arrived in my CD collection in the 90s and was probably about the 5th CD I ever bought.

Three things struck me about Crises.

  1. It features a song with Jon Anderson (Yes)
  2. The title track Crises features a great deal of Oldfield tropes; his distinguishable guitar sound, lyrical references to Virgin and musical themes that would reappear in later albums.
  3. It has the hit single Moonlight Shadow

For me, this album was the start of my theory that the music I like is all interconnected somehow. Something I’m still yet to prove.

 

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Close to the Edge – Yes [#281]

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 13.35.18Close to the Edge – Yes

The first time I heard this album I was blown away. I had it on cassette so I was able to play it wherever I wanted on my Walkman or on my portable hi-fi. One place I played it was on top of a windy rainy mountain in Wales, miles from anywhere significant. It is there where I am transported when I hear this album.

Stuck up a mountain. In the wind and rain. Rain pattering onto my hood. Snug and warm in my coat. Listening to this album overlooking fields of sheep watching the rain clouds drift in from the Irish Sea. Getting back to nature.

Years later I discovered that the album was recorded in a studio where the band had requested a more “rural” feel. Cue plastic cows, sheep pens and straw being strewn across the floor; Steve Howe stood on his carpet, Rick Wakeman with his cup of tea and Jon Anderson with his tambourine. Prog madness. Prog. No music like it.

Close to the Edge comes in with 3 tracks. Not many to the uninitiated, but with track one coming in at just under 20 minutes long and tracks two and three together the same, it’s easy to see why prog is such a good showcase for talent. Think of recent popular music. The likes of Gaga and her ilk with wishy-washy 3 minute jobbies. Trash. It’s like Twitter versus the blogosphere.

Close to the Edge is Yes’ fifth studio album and last with Bill Bruford (until Union at least). A rich tapestry of musical talent surpassed only by their next  studio album, Tales from Topographic Oceans.

 

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Change We Must – Jon Anderson [#258]

CHANGES+IN+MINDChange We Must – Jon Anderson

Hello, me again!

Two bits of good news this time. I don’t have a lot of time to write about this album, and I’m not a great fan of it either. So you, the lucky reader, should have a lot less to read. I shall try and go for a more practical Stegzy type summary approach.

As background, I first heard Jon Anderson during my early 90s university years. Being a nerd I inevitably delved into prog rock, with a lot of musical introductions from my lovely university friend Richard. One of those groups was Yes, and if you didn’t know Jon Anderson is their lead singer. I also listened to a lot of Vangelis, and he has teamed up with Jon Anderson on several albums. I am probably a bigger fan of the Jon & Vangelis albums than I am Yes, although I don’t listen to either a great deal. I did listen to some of Anderson’s solo albums, including the very odd Olias of Sunhillow, but I haven’t gone back to any of it. Anderson’s solo stuff almost feels like Christian rock, although as far as I know he wasn’t into religion a great deal.

Those who’ve not heard Anderson before will be surprised by his voice, which is very high, and quite feminine. Apparently he’s a natural alto tenor, so both speaks and sings in a high range, and it’s not falsetto. This does give his music character and originality, of some form.

Change We Must is again that most accursed of albums, the best of (sort of). It’s doubly accursed because bizarrely these are rearrangements – of a mix of Yes, Jon & Vangelis, and solo tracks – which have an orchestral and choral backing. So they’ve been muzak’d, of a fashion. In all fairness to Mr. Anderson apparently some of the tracks on here are new, so it’s a right old dog’s dinner.

In all honesty I don’t recognise most of the tracks on here. The album opens with one of his most famous tracks, A State of Independence, which is a collaboration with Vangelis. The orchestral version jars though, versus the more spartan electronic sounds of the original. It’s a similar story throughout, to the final namesake of the album, Change We Must, which has both orchestra and choir, albeit the original was also fairly rich in tone.

Sorry Jon, your optimistic spiritual tunes mostly don’t do it for me. Doubly so when new versions of old tracks.

I hope Stegzy doesn’t mind me breaking with tradition slightly. Here’s an actual promo video for the album, featuring an interview with Jon.

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The Best of Jon & Vangelis – Jon & Vangelis (#169)

Jon & VangelisThe Best of Jon & Vangelis – Jon & Vangelis

Two titans of prog meet and out prog themselves with prog in a very pro-prog kind of way. Jon Anderson of Yes joins forces with Vangelis of Aphrodites Child to forge an unholy progressive rock alliance bringing the auditory senses an extra dose of twee, sax and plinky plonky synth.

I used to really like this album when I was younger. I had it on CD, then on tape and just to be format friendly, nicked it off the internet. I think by the third time I had obtained this album, I’d already overspent.

Sure, its a good album if you’re a fan. But it’s certainly a product of the time. Just too twee. You half expect to sprout a kaftan and start waving a smudge stick about the place while sticking up Roger Dean posters everywhere just by listening to it.

Great if you like Greek blokes with beards and mop haired guys from Altrincham with inexplicable American accents.

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