Interview: Alan White, YES

All White on the Night

For YES, 1991 has definitely been something of a milestone, not only for the band but also for the thousands of 'Yes Music' connoisseurs who caught them on their highly successful re-Union tour. These grand masters of progressive art-rock have returned in all their glory to perform the art they have striven to keep alive for over two decades.

The 90s YES is actually the result of a combination of two separate band. Firstly, the hugely successful 90125 line-up, featuring the talents of guitarist Trevor Rabin, along with Alan White (drums), Tony Kaye (keyboards), and founder-members Chris Squire (bass) and Jon Anderson (vocals), and secondly the Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe (ABWH) incarnation (although minus the name, which Anderson instigated after becoming disillusioned with the latter) who form the nucleus of the old 'classic' YES circa 1971/72 - Bill Bruford (percussion), Rick Wakeman (keyboards), and Steve Howe (guitar).

Now having unleashed a brand new album, Union, a tour, and a multitude of retrospective material in the shape of YesStory (a triple album), YesYears (a box set), and YesStory (a video), they are preparing for the next stage of their musical development, having delivered the goods to their respective record companies and all those starved of the excesses and indulgences of their musical pedigree.

Having given Steve Howe an opportunity to voice his opinions earlier this year, we felt it was time to flip the coin and get long-time drummer Alan White to nostalgically look back on the YES legacy and wet our appetites as to what we could expect from them in future years.

Alan, speaking to me from his Seattle home, expounded on the pleasure of having been able to play three sell-out shows at Wembley Arena back in June.
"Personally I loved it because we hadn't played there for a couple of years, and it was like a breath of fresh air."
Of course the last time Alan, and YES for that matter, had graced a British stage was on the 90125 tour back in 1984. However, now the band has two drummers playing on stage, the other being original YES drummer Bill Bruford, one wonders what has been the most exciting thing about this particular YES reunion and tour.
"I was skeptical at first," Alan affirms. "I knew Bill relatively well but not in a playing sense, more of on a social level. And I knew it was going to be hard work at the beginning, but it was actually a lot easier than we thought. We got our heads down and said, 'We've got to do this task together,' and I think we actually started enjoying it."
Both drummers actually play simultaneously together on some of the pieces in the live situation, a matter that Alan is quite content with.
"We had to sit down and talk about it, obviously, and we decided that we'd have lead drums and rhythm drums, like lead guitar and rhythm guitar, in the songs. On about 70% of the material I took the lead drum part because I'd done a lot of the new music as well as the old. Bill said to me, 'I forgot that you'd done a lot of the older stuff.' So we swapped off like that and Bill played a great orchestral percussive piece I think on a lot of the songs. It took a long time to find things to do how , where, and when, but in the end there were some very complimentary things that we were doing for each other."
Another contributing factor to the cohesiveness of the album and the live shows was the presence of bassist Chris Squire who had founded the band back in 1967/68. Alan has nothing but praise for Chris who has been the only YES member to have been in every single line-up of the band since its inception.
"Well, the thing about that is, is that I've been playing with Chris for nineteen years and he's the only bass player I've ever played with on stage, so I was quite used to that fact."
I put it to him that with so many people up there on stage it must have been chaotic at times to get the right balance of musical egos.
"It was like that for a while, but we sorted out who was doing what and once we got into the mode of playing I thought the band was performing exceptionally well."
Besides the eight members who make up YES 1991 there have also been a plethora of other individuals contributing to the phenomenon we all know as 'YES Music.' Musicians such as Peter Banks, Patrick Moraz, Geoff Downes, and Trevor Horn have all added their input to the legacy. Could it be said then that YES is not so much a band but more a compositional institution which can see various members come and go without upsetting the equilibrium too much?

Alan theorises:
"I think the driving force has been the fact that the name YES and the people in it always seem to have revolved around this egg...called YES. There's always been people coming in and going out, but we've always moved on to the next version with a different element involved."
One wonders, though, with all this toing-and-froing whether there are any sort of egos that have to kept under control at times or is it just a matter of being professional?
"Well, I'd be lying if I said No, but I think it's much better than it used to be. I think that everyone gets along a lot better now. Maybe we've actually grown up to a certain degree this time and are just getting on with the fact that we're in YES and being realistic about the situation. There's a lot more honesty around. Frankly although there was a lot of attention given to the fact that Jon and Chris were arguing about the name. It was really overblown to me, because nothing ever that serious went down."

At the time of the ABWH/YES reformation Msrs. Squire, White, Rabin, and Kaye had actually started working on the follow-up to '87's Big Generator and were in the process of looking for a new vocalist to replace Jon Anderson.
"We actually started working on the next YES album and were getting on with the fact of making a new YES record and we knew that ABWH were in the process of doing that too. Then the management put their heads together along with the record companies and decided it would be a good idea to make a joint venture out of it. People wondered about it at first but I think it's worked out quite well."
I venture that it did seem natural in a way because, having seen ABWH with Jon singing, the sound was obviously YES anyway.
"All of those factors were taken into contention," ponders Alan. "They did sound like YES and it was an obvious move to put the whole package back together again."
But whose decision was it to put out this mass of YES retrospective material.
"It was Atco's. The idea had been around for a long time but when we started talking about about doing this tour and how the Union thing would come together it seemed like a good time to put all of these things together and release a classic version box set of music."
The story goes that whilst ABWH were working on their second album, the 90125 line-up were also obliged to bring out another YES album with Atco while they still retained the name, however on delivery of that album, the name would be up for grabs to ABWH.

Alan agrees that the legal problems were quite complex.
"There were many contracts we had to sign to pass the name over to Arista to make the Union album, and delivering the box set retrospective seemed only right after we'd been with Atco and Atlantic for so many years, to fulfil our part of the contract."
As a collector's item YesYears (the box set) is a must for any serious fan of the band as it encompasses much unreleased material from their years together, plus a full info pack on their history. Then for those who may have just got into the band there's YesStory (a much shortened version of the box set) which features all those classic YES epics such as Close To The Edge, Round About, Heart Of The Sunrise, bringing us more up to date with Owner Of A Lonely Heart, etc. It's been put together quite well, considering the mass of material they had at their disposal.

"It's a good package too," Alan enthuses. "The people who put it together did a great job and they spent a lot of time doing it."
With the YesYears box set, the compilers have gone for a solid collection of musical pieces over the years, but have also given unreleased materiel its first airing too.
"Well, unreleased stuff and obviously the classic stuff that people wanted to listen to throughout the years. Some of it has been re-EQed so that it sounds more modern than it actually is. So there is a bonus there. I like the compilation and I don't think it took all eight members to decide what a good running order was."
So, what are Alan's personal favourite tracks on that box set?
"There's lots of them. I mean when people ask me what my favourite track it's always mind-boggling because a lot of the tracks are so diverse and I've been playing them for so many years. Pieces such as Heart Of The Sunrise and Shoot High Aim Low are great to play...I could go on forever."
I put it to Alan that when I had talked to Steve Howe earlier this year he cited Awaken as being his favourite. Awaken does tend to encompass YES in a nut-shell on a musical level...

"Well, Awaken is just a beautiful piece to play and we used that as an ending number for the main part of the set. Every night the band just got better batter at playing it. It has the melody song part, the pretty song part, the instrumental melody part, it also has a lot of interesting rhythm sections."
With the completion of the tour and the re-issuing of their back catalogue it's quite apparent that there seems to be a big interest in the band at the moment.
"They did a survey in the UK and in America and I think YES are one of the bands who are still really popular, we kind of cleaned up during the Seventies. We had really great attendance and great box office receipts and I think people were surprised we did so well. The band has a lot of great fans and obviously seeing this line-up was an interest to them. I thought the band performed great anyway and there was a very high standard of musicianship and in the end we well deserved to have that praise. We're all thinking now about the future and what is down the line for us."
Again, the audiences were, in terms of age, quite mixed. 

Alan again has a theory.
"I think this is because YES music does span a lot of years and I've actually met a lot of people whose parents have been playing the music for so many years that they've actually become fans. You get that parent relationship where they all go to concerts together, and then of course 90125 opened up another door because we had that commercial hit off it."
Indeed, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, which hit the No.1 slot in the States in '84, has been released in a variety of formats - along with the original version. There's the Move Yourself Mix, the Close To The Edge Mix, and the Not Fragile Mix. Alan is certain that the success of that particular song opened up many doors.

"That is reflected in the back catalogue of the band, and also gave us new fans."
The question remains, however, if the eight members will form a cohesive unit as YES for the future?
"Well, on the last month of the tour people started talking about how we would make the next album, how we would approach certain things. We decided we will stamp something individually between the two versions of the band, as it were, and also together. We're working on how we can move forward."
At the end of the day, was Alan surprised that this reunion of musical souls had been so successful?

"It's been more successful than I actually thought it was going to be. It's also ben less hard work, except maybe on the road. Even though this box set seems like a retrospective of YES through the years, to us it's like a stepping stone to the the future. We've always been a band that's been interested in taking the next step and getting on with the future."

Mark Crampton
Riff Raff
January, 1992

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