Interview: Geoff Downes, Yes
Iconic prog-rock band Yes are currently preparing for their first UK tour without legendary bassist Chris Squire. Exposed caught up with keyboard player Geoff Downes for a chat about Chris, his memories of Sheffield and ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’…
Hi Geoff, what are you up to?
I’m just chilling out at my home in Wales. I had the unfortunate experience of attending Keith Emerson’s funeral yesterday but today I’ve been preparing and getting stuff together for the tour – not long now!
Are you looking forward to the UK tour?
Absolutely! It’s been two years since our last UK tour. It’s going to be strange without Chris Squire. It’s going to be tough without him but we’re going to give a good account of ourselves. The music needs that.
Why did the band choose the Fragile and Drama albums for this tour?
They are both pivotal albums in the long and distinguished career of Yes. Fragile certified the classic line up of the band when Rick Wakeman came in. I think the band found their feet with that album. It certified Yes as a strong progression band with very intricate arrangements; it was an important moment in the band’s history. From my own standpoint, Drama brought a different approach to Yes music – we embraced all the new technology.
Is the tour a tribute to Chris as much as it is a celebration of those two albums?
Yeah I think so. Fragile and Drama are two albums that Chris was very proud of. The playing on ‘Machine Messiah’ from Drama and ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ from Fragile is brilliant and we’re paying our respects to him.
Do you have a favourite piece of music by Chris?
We do a tribute to him during show, it’s very important to honour him. The legacy of Yes – you can’t take Chris away from that. His name is synonymous with Yes. He got ill and nominated Billy to come in as a temporary replacement but of course Chris’ health got worse and the rest is history really.
Billy Sherwood has big shoes to fill, how’s he got on?
It’s a very tricky job and as you say, they are enormous shoes to fill. Billy had worked with Chris before, and Billy was in Yes for a period so he knows the band well. Chris wasn’t just a bassist, he was a second vocalist. His vocal texture formed the sound of the band as well as being a terrific instrumentalist. If anyone is capable of doing Chris’ part justice, it’s Billy. When Chris asked him to take his place, he was honoured.
You usually play beautiful theatres on the tour, Manchester Apollo, Royal Albert Hall, Sheffield City Hall – do those venues complement the music more than big arenas?
Yes music is better presented in theatre and concert halls. It’s as close to classical music you can get from a rock standpoint. There is a lot of dynamics in the music – a lot of intimate moments and a lot of dramatic moments so the music lends itself better to those more intimate venues.
Do you have any fond memories of Sheffield?
I was up there a couple of weeks ago with the classic rock society in Rotherham. I spent some time in Leeds as a student so we used to go down to Sheffield for a night out. It was only a short hop over the Pennines from Stockport where I lived at the time. I have a lot of friends there and I always look forward to coming back. Yes are always received well in Sheffield too, I think Sheffield has a huge number of rock music fans.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I guess when I look back at my time in The Buggles and when ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ got to number one. We were a couple of guys coming from nothing significant and we bucked the trend really. We made that record 38 years ago and I heard it on BBC Radio 2 this morning – I still get such a huge buzz from that.
Who is one musician you have always wanted to work with, but never got round to?
Sting – he is such an inspirational musician. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing musicians in my life; John Wetton, Chris Squire and Greg Lake to name a few, and that’s just the bassists! In terms of drummers, Carl Palmer and Alan White are two really talented guys – I’m very privileged to work with those people.
Who has had the greatest influence on you in your career?
Keith Emerson – not so much his style but his persona. He was the first keyboard player to step out from the corner of the stage and really become a vocal point for a band. He did that to such an amazing extent.
Yes come to Sheffield City Hall on May 3rd, head to www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk for tickets and more.