From A Page – Live from Lyon 2009, Plus Four Previously Unreleased Songs – plus a new chapter to the yes story…
We were actually trying to do something creative, and actually bringing together some music that we felt would be a positive addition to the Yes canon.”
The ultimate affirmative is Yes – and this band continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Despite multiple changes in the line-up over the years, Yes consistently produces brilliant music. Most fans remember well the musical contributions of Rick Wakeman, the legendary keyboardist. His gifts run strongly in the family, as his son Oliver demonstrates. He joined Yes for the 40th Anniversary Tour in 2008, and traveled with Chris Squire, Alan White, Steve Howe, and Benoit David. He remained with them for the initial sessions for Fly From Here, and during the Rite of Spring tour in 2011. During that time, the band had recorded the live dates, but also worked on studio music outside of the Fly From Here project. The performances of 2009 were immortalised in the album Live From Lyon. These recordings are now available as part of the new box set, entitled From A Page, which includes four previously unreleased recordings from 2010. Wakeman sat down with Velvet Thunder to discuss the project, which he took back to the studio with Karl Groom (mixing) and Mike Pietrini (mastering).
Wakeman described how the new material was created. “The background behind the album is that in 2009 we were on tour around Europe and whenever we toured around America, we were always flying between venues. But when we were in Europe, we hired a tour bus and we all traveled around Europe, traveling together, and at the end of the night everybody would end up going to bed. And I’m a bit of an insomniac, and Chris Squire, he stayed up late too. So, we would often end up just sat on the bus, just the two of us chatting late into the night. And he said, ‘This lineup’s really good. We really need to record. We should go to studio and do a new album.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’m up for that. That sounds great.’ And we talked about it for a while and Steve was a little less keen at first – he wanted to make sure we were ready to go into the studio and be properly gelled.
“And by the beginning of 2010, after that European tour, Steve was like, ‘Yeah, okay, I think that we’re ready now’. So, in the beginning of 2010 Chris came over to the UK, and Chris, Steve and I got together at Steve’s farmhouse down in Devon, and we went through a load of the ideas that we had for songs – what we could use, and what we couldn’t use, and what needed more work, and what ideas we had. We did a show in Mexico, and we flew to Phoenix in America, and rented out a house. We all stayed in this house, and we had a studio down the road that we were using to go and jam in.
The four new songs were Wakeman’s contributions. He explains, “I set up a little studio in the corner of the lounge, and we just started putting these songs together. I had my full three tracks and half of the track – Chris had the other half of the track – and we got them all ready to go. And then I’d suggested… He was talking about producers and I’d suggested to Chris that maybe Trevor Horn would be someone that would work with the band again. And then when Trevor came on board, he wanted to work on one of his tracks and then he sort of wanted to expand it out, and the band ended up going down a direction utilizing his songs that he’d written with Geoff Downes.”
This could have been the end of the story, which would have been a tremendous loss. But Wakeman knew that the work he had done with the band belonged in the Yes catalogue. He picks up the story there. “And I sort of let go and ended up back in the UK with these discs of the songs that I’d written. I was told that they’re not going to end up on the album, so you have been back, and then I just put them on my shelf. And it was only when Chris passed away that I thought I really hadn’t been listening to much Yes stuff. In fact, the day that Chris passed away was the first time I’d put Live in Lyon on since I’d finished working in the studio on it. I was moving house, and I decided to listen to these total sessions.
“And there was loads of stuff in there, and I just basically decided to just start working through one of the tracks, The Gift of Love, which was starting from some of Chris’s and some of mine. I just started trying to pull it together and see what takes there were, and what we had. We had it pretty well filled, but it just needed to quite a bit of work. And I wasn’t doing it thinking, this is going to come out anyway. It was initially just done for me. So I ended up thinking, well, I’m going to create this track and I’m going to have it just for me as my little memory. But I’d get distracted and in listening to it, and I thought, actually, it’s really nice. I thought this track’s got something, something that keeps making me want to listen to it. I thought, that’s a good sign. And then at some point, about two, three years later, the management got in touch with me and said, ‘Can we have a chat?’ And so then I met up with Steve Howe, and we talked about the project, and he listened to the music. I had mixed up the other tracks as well. And he said, ‘These are great. We’ve got to do something with these.’ And so that’s where the whole thing came from. It just came from the conversations on a bus back in 2009 whilst traveling between Italy and Germany, probably.
Given Wakeman’s musical lineage, many assume that his involvement and connection to the band are inherent. But the reality is much different. “Everyone imagines that I grew up with nothing but the Yes guys, coming in and out of our house, drinking cups of tea and jamming in the corner! But, the reality is that I wasn’t born by the time Fragile came out, and Dad had left the band by the time I was two. He didn’t join again until 1977, and I was five. And then he moved over to Switzerland. My mum and dad got divorced in 78, so I didn’t really have a lot to do with the Yes guys. And I ended up really getting to meet Steve and Bill and Jon on the ABWH tour. I spent a lot of time with Steve. He played guitar on one of my albums and I played keyboards on one of his and we used to live quite close to each other in Devon, and so we used to talk quite a lot and became quite good friends, but Chris was completely unknown.”
Once he joined the band, though, he formed a strong bond with Squire, and the two became fast friends. Fans of the bass great will appreciate Wakeman’s recollections. “I always remember he said to me one day, he said, ‘There isn’t a song in the Yes repertoire that this line up couldn’t do justice to.’ And I took that as a tremendous compliment. He was very supportive in the studio. You know, he was a very generous musician. He was encouraging Benoit to write lyrics and I was playing him these songs I’d written to use. He was great fun to work with and I always enjoyed working on stage with him, because Steve was on the other side of the stage. Chris was next to the keyboards all the time, and we always had the end of Starship Trooper, where he’d work his way towards me with the bass, and I’d take over on the keyboard solo. We used to sit down and pick apart pieces and try and work out how to make them tighter on stage. And so we spent quite a long time doing stuff like that. I got on tremendously well with him, and he sent me some very nice emails after I left the band, which I still have and I’m grateful to have those.”
Putting this new project together was a tribute to their friendship and professional collaboration. Wakeman says, “When I started listening to these songs – you hear Chris’s wonderful bass. And then somehow I found these lengthy tracks where he’d done backing vocals, and a couple of harmony lines and it was like, whoa! That was a bit of a strange one – to suddenly hear that voice come out of the speaker, which no one else has heard. And to be honest, the line in Words On A Page, where I found one of his backing vocals, is at the end where we do all the vocal bits. I start the vocals, and then Chris comes in and sings something – and Chris’s part was actually a harmony to one of Benoit’s parts. And I thought, no, let’s just, let’s give Chris this line. You know, I’ll bring Benoit in later. And it just seemed very nice, because then we will get this vocal interplay going on with the whole piece going on. And I thought that’s a nice Yes thing. Because that’s another thing that Yes was really good at – vocals and harmonies and interplay between voices.
He continued on a more philosophic way. “I think what I’m most pleased about is that it actually, it just kind of gives that line up, which was, you know, that line up went for about three years. And at that time the band was probably about 40 years old! So it was almost a tenth of its existence was that lineup. And it felt really odd that it hadn’t been represented, or fulfilled its potential. So having these tracks come out was a real chance to say we weren’t just out there touring all the time. We were actually trying to do something creative, and actually bringing together some music that we felt would be a positive addition to the Yes canon. And I think these four tracks show that.”
The live album was recorded in a hectic part of the tour, when the band did a lot of traveling. Despite the band being tired, the music didn’t suffer. Wakeman recalls,”We were about midway through a tour. We came from Germany and we drove into England on the ferry. Came right into England, and then we played Hammersmith, and then straight off we finished Hammersmith. Then we did Birmingham. We did four countries and Britain in four days, and that was the shows. And we were doing all these interviews as well for the album. It was great. It was really great fun, but at the time we didn’t really know we were recording a live album. We were recording the shows and people were buying the shows on the USB sticks. I said, ‘Oh, we should do a live album. If we’ve got this stuff recorded, we should live album.’” Wakeman volunteered to listen to the recordings to find the best takes, and put together the Live In Lyon project.
His experience in graphic design came into play for the packaging as well. Roger Dean contributed new, original artwork for the box set, and Wakeman had a hand in the overall design. He describes some of the more nuanced aspects of the art, which has been the subject of discussion on Twitter. “We went to town on the detail on it, and we spent quite a lot of time talking about stuff, and I said to him, ‘On the back of the Lyon cover there’s five figures on a bridge. I really like that. Did you draw that, because it’s me and Benoit, and then the other three?’ And he went, ‘Oh, I never thought of that.’ I thought that the new artwork on the back of the new box set was the most wonderful painting. And he had the five figures on the bridge, and then off to the left of the side it has two other figures, and I love it because it’s kind of like a story.”
Overall, Wakeman is rightfully proud of the end result, and rightfully so. “The comments, the reaction online has been quite remarkable. Everybody’s been so complimentary about it. A – partly because they get to hear Chris again, and B – they get to hear Yes music they didn’t know existed. And it’s also Yes music that was written in a piece of the bands’ history that nobody was expecting to ever hear from. And I think that that whole, out of the blue, ‘Here you go. Here’s some Yes stuff for you’, was quite nice and everybody’s reacted really well to it. I like to think that these pieces people can, you know, pick up off a shelf and think ‘here’s something new’ every time, because I still listen to them now.”
It’s hard to argue with classic Yes, and even harder when new music with Chris Squire is included. Beautiful packaging with new art from Roger Dean is icing on the cake. And Wakeman has so much more in the pipeline, including a Christmas song (with Rodney Matthews), and more. God bless the Wakeman gift for music.
The mini-box set and a vinyl release of the new songs are exclusively available here: