Golden Fragments is Fragile’s first original album. Fragile was the original European Yes Tribute band formed in the late 1990s. The group now works as an original band that pays tribute to Yes in its own unique way. This album features contributions from Claire Hamill (solo singer-songwriter, Ray Davies, Steve Howe, Jon Anderson, John Martyn, Alan White, Jon & Vangelis, Wishbone Ash) and as special guest Clive Bayley, from the 1960s pre-Yes band Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. Fragile is not just a tribute band: guitarist Steve Howe himself has performed with the band on a regular basis and is very enthusiastic about their capabilities. There is also praise for the cover design; no, not from Roger Dean but from Steven Mayerson, naturally inspired by the former. By the way, Fragile has stopped performing to fully focus on writing and recording original Yes inspired music.
Before long, the iconic sounds of seventies Yes are soaring in the more than twelve-minute long When Are Wars Won?/Surely All I Need. Instrumental sections that could have come straight from Close to the Edge but especially Tales From Topographic Oceans. It takes some getting used to Claire Hammill’s female lead vocals, but that quickly passes. Especially, the keyboard parts and guitar sounds strongly refer to Wakeman/Howe to reinforce the Yes effect. The composition is less effective, it seems to be going nowhere and only serves as a framework for the virtuoso antics on guitar and keys. Guitarist Oliver Day’s solo, which refers to Yes’ America halfway through the song, speaks volumes in that sense. The lyrical second part, Surely All I Need, is reminiscent of Leaves of Green (Tales: The Ancient).
Singer Claire Hammill’s lyrics fit in well with the atmosphere of seventies Yes. This also applies to Blessed By the Sun/Hey You And I And (no misprint), including woolly lyrics, characteristic of Jon Anderson. Extremely recognisable duets between guitar and synthesizer, as in the best Yesyears. The song ends somewhat abruptly after just under seven minutes. Male lead vocals from Max Hunt on Five Senses, with harmony vocals from Hamill, is an excellent prog rock song with hardly any reference material. This takes the direction of truly authentic material.
Heaven’s Core features a special guest as singer: the previously mentioned original singer/guitarist of Yes’ predecessor Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, Clive Bayley. A band that was re-formed in 2014 with, among others, Fragile keyboardist Max Hunt and Yes bassist Billy Sherwood in the ranks. The intro reminds me of GTR’s When the Heart Rules The Mind. Bayley’s voice is distorted (embellished?) by the auto-tune, as if the aforementioned Sherwood was in charge of production. The sound evokes memories of the Drama and 90125 eras. Open Space is guitarist Day’s version of Howe’s Mood For A Day, an understated two-and-a-half minute piece of acoustic solo guitar.
Time to Dream/Now We Are Sunlight is the second song that features vocals from the aforementioned Clive Bayley. The intro is a cross between Close to the Edge (I Get Up I Get Down) and the beginning of Awaken (High Vibrations) with Hamill’s vocals and many, many atmospheric sounds. Then both tempo and mood change and the busy, everyone for themselves, organised chaos that typified Yes in its heyday appears. Above and beyond the music, Bayley’s distorted chant Time to Dream soars into a Soon/Close to the Edge-esque ending, complete with tiny bells and bird sounds.
The comparison with Renaissance is always lurking when a symphonic rock band features a female lead singer. But on the closing Old Worlds and Kingdoms/Too Late in the Day, Fragile sounds very much like Annie Haslam and co. Well done, it must be said. For almost twelve minutes the legendary English band passes by, with Steve Howe on guitar: Yes meets Renaissance. After a beautiful piano intro, Hamill sings like in the best times of Mother Russia and Scheherazade. Especially the bass and drums do a good job here, due to deviating rhythm and meter. Hamill sings in roughly the same regions as Haslam which reinforces the comparison. Just as she did for Steve Howe on the song Look Over Your Shoulder from his second solo album, 1979’s The Steve Howe Album. The very same Howe, oh sorry, Oliver Day, throws in another characteristic solo after which Hunt finishes the piece in true Wakeman-style.
Seldom will an album title be as appropriate as is the case with Golden Fragments. There is no question that both the band as a whole and the individual members are perfectly capable of approaching the sound of Yes. This is all clearly audible throughout the new album. But when it comes to composing coherent songs where ebb and flow alternate logically, the band has to throw in the towel. There’s no shame in that: there’s a good reason why the original has been at the top of the genre for years and stood at its cradle. At best, Fragile is able to lay a solid foundation and bring sufficient cohesion to the songs to act as a perfect stage for the individual’s playing, especially keyboardist Max Hunt and guitarist Oliver Day. There is plenty to enjoy and the band occasionally shows that they are also able to produce their own unique sound. In that context I would like to highlight Five Senses in particular; that may well be a direction that could be further explored towards an authentic sound. For the rest, they remain mainly golden fragments; sounds from times long gone that, for some of us, prog fans from the very beginning, conjure a smile of recognition on our faces.
01. When are Wars Won?/Surely All I Need (12:17)
02. Blessed By the Sun/Hey You and I And (6:40)
03. Five Senses (4:34)
04. Heaven’s Core (6:29)
05. Open Space (2:31)
06. Time to Dream/Now We Are Sunlight (6:29)
07. Old Worlds and Kingdoms/Too Late in the Day (11:24)
Total Time – 50:24
Claire Hamill – Vocals
Oliver Day – Guitars
Russ Wilson – Drums, Percussion
Max Hunt – Vocals, Keyboards, Bass, Guitar, Percussion
Clive Bayley – Vocals
Record Label: Force Ten Productions
Date of Release: 16th May 2020