Yes has just wrapped up its summer Royal Affair Tour, but the group’s current lineup, and alumni, are still planning to be a big generator, if you will, for the near future.
The current Yes is releasing a concert album, Yes 50 Live, on Aug. 2 — including its seminal hit “Roundabout,” premiering exclusively below. Recorded during 50th anniversary tour shows during 2018, the 13-track set captures the beginning of Yes’ silver anniversary celebration (including a Philadelphia show that featured 10 members, past and present), which continued with this year’s commemoration of the release of the prog rock stalwart’s self-titled debut album. And while guitarist Steve Howe, the longest-serving member in the current lineup, says he’s “not one to revel in nostalgia,” the past couple of years have given him a bit of pause to appreciate the group’s enduring legacy and longevity.
“There’s something about it that connects with certain people, and with certain other people it won’t,” Howe, who joined current Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes in doing double-duty with Asia during the tour, tells Billboard. “But the people who get it understand, and they keep coming back.” Drummer Alan White, who’s been with Yes consistently since 1972, adds that, “It seems kind of unrealistic in a sense, like, ‘Wow, how did we reach this milestone?’ It’s kind of hard to look at it, and I would never really have anticipated this 47 years ago, but there it is, you know?”
Yes released the online documentary Yes 50: Yesterday Today, Tomorrow in June, and is currently off the road. Howe expects more live dates to surface, including for 2020, but he’s more circumspect about the group returning to the studio for a follow-up to 2014’s Heaven & Earth. “Well, we’ll see — that is the most honest and best answer I can give,” the guitarist says. “We certainly still write music. I have a new solo album in progress, so I’m obviously writing. But to get the right team writing together (for Yes) is something we hope for. So let’s put it this way — I hope so.”
This year did find Howe, White and company as the only Yes on the road. Former members Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin had started touring as ARW in 2016 and then adopted the Yes moniker as well shortly after the group’s 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. This year, however, the project was dormant and the three worked on other projects. “It’s a long story,” Anderson — who released a solo album, 1000 Hands: Chapter One, this year, and is writing a memoir — says. “Life happens when you least expect it. You expect something to go for a long journey, and then all of a sudden it’s not…because of life. People have a life they want to live and go through. It’s not a good explanation, but it just doesn’t work at times. There’s maybe 20 versions of Yes I’ve been in, and every one’s been fantastic — but it was always chaos in there for some reason.”
Wakeman, who says he opposed ARW going out as Yes, adds that the trio is planning one last tour for 2020 and may possibly record some of the new music they’ve been writing during their time together.
“We feel it’s sort of come to the end of the road,” says Wakeman, who will be mounting his first North American solo tour in 13 years starting Sept. 21 in Annapolis, Md., and is also recording a Christmas Portraits album of solo piano holiday songs for the fall. “None of us are spring chickens anymore, although Trevor still has a 6 in front of his age, whereas Jon and I don’t. I think we’ll thoroughly enjoy another (tour) and then I think we can sort of proudly close the lid on it, very happy in our belief that we’ve done it proud.”
As for any new material, Wakeman says that the trio “has got a couple of things we’ve worked on that we think are good enough, but we always said that unless it was really of a high standard we felt really proud of we wouldn’t just release stuff for the sake of releasing it. I think when we start on the farewell dates we’ll analyze what we’ve done and go, ‘OK, what can we make of this?’ I would like to think we can leave one final burst of music that we can be proud of and, perhaps, we’d like to think that Yes fans have been waiting for.”
Howe, who guests on Anderson’s album, maintains that his Yes “has had nothing to say” about ARW’s usage of the band name. “Anybody can play Yes music; We’d never stop anybody doing what they want to do,” Howe notes. “Basically I say ‘Good luck’ to them.” But about the absence of the ARW Yes this year, he adds that “we’re not unhappy, so that maybe tells you something.”