Yes in the 1980s

Stephen Lambe with David Watkinson – Yes in the 1980s

It’s a well known truth that the history of Yes is littered with strife and controversy. In fact, it’s probably the trauma that’s actually held the band together all this time, in some weird way, binding it all up like a spikey thread of angst. I’m sure those involved wish it weren’t that way, but without those personalities and decisions the music would no doubt have turned out differently and Yes might never have become what they did, so it’s a double-edged thing I suspect.

Of all the troubles that the band have experienced/thrived on/endured (depending on the individual points of view involved), the ’80s looms large as a period of unpredictable and messy goings on. Having been a huge fan of the band since the early part of the decade, initially being drawn in by the majesty of Awaken (thank you Tommy Vance) before being knocked completely sideways by 90125. The ’80s marked the start of the period when it became particularly difficult to be a Yes fan, monitoring the varying changes in style, line-up, the periods of inactivity bursting back to life in unexpected ways. Even trying to get your head around the split of the band into two feuding units, only to find them shoehorned back together as a kind of octopus-like Super-Yes. On paper, this regathering of convenience under the auspices of greedy record company execs was manna from heaven for me, and the show I saw them play in-the-round at Wembley Arena in 1991 was superb. Only later did I discover more about the behind-the-scenes goings surrounding the Wakeman derided “Onion” album.

To think that the decade began for the band with Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman going MIA and The Buggles being drafted in to replace them. I mean, what?! I’m listening to Drama as I write this and I still completely love it, having picked it up in the bargain bin at HMV on Oxford Street on a school trip to London, probably to the Science Museum – a prelude to the REAL educational value of such trips, the de rigueur tramp around record shops and Soho, to expand our specialist knowledge on other topics… As a starting point to the bizarre tale of how Yes managed to stay afloat, and even thrive (before failing again, and then somehow managing to thrive in the face of an abject failure) during the 1980s, Drama is about perfect. A blast of fiery intent for the new decade that now stands as a shimmering beacon. Where fans used to hark back to the glory days of the ’70s, Drama has seen a massive resurgence of late and it’s almost certainly true that most of those still interested in the band would take a new album of that quality over anything else that’s come out under the Yes banner during most of the ensuing four decades. Four decades?! How did that happen?

But back to the book in hand…

Stephen Lambe will be well know to many for his previous books (including another Yes tome on the entire recorded output of the band, On Track, also on his own Sonicbond imprint) and his co-stewardship of the wonderful Summer’s End festival for lots of years. Here he teams up with mega-fan David Watkinson, who was there and involved with the band members and associates through his fanzine work at the time. His recollection of seeing the band rehearsing (when still using the name Cinema, prior to rebranding for 90125), visiting Vangelis in his studio and other anecdotes, are a lovely addition to the book, giving it a vivid quality which anchors it nicely. David’s vast collection of memorabilia also beautifully illustrates the text, with his personal snapshots of particular interest. Lambe’s words are well chosen and highly readable, covering the machinations of the plotline whilst considering the vast array of recorded output from the various dramatis personae. From my calculation, thirty-five albums are covered, including GTR, Jon & Vangelis, Asia and lots of solo stuff (mainly from Wakeman, and of varying quality). Most I’m familiar with (although many have not been played in a loooong time) whilst some I am not. It’s not a complete potted recording history of every Yes member, just those who were there at the arse-end of the ’70s or who joined during the decade, and that’s a good thing as it would become unwieldy and unbalanced otherwise. By the necessity of having to cover all the ins and outs, ups and downs, comings and goings, some of the reviews are brief, and that’s to be expected, but some certainly spike my interest to go back and spin some of the less familiar works or dig out a few new ones. Some I will resolutely continue to ignore, based on the advice contained herein…

Stephen has found the right pace to pick his way through the twisted brambles of Yes history whilst considering the albums, whether integral or as asides to the main branch. The primary albums are rightly given prominence and many details presented are new to me, which is nice, with several of the nuggets causing me to raise an eyebrow. Overall it certainly manages to explain many of the more bizarre choices made as Yes navigated a mine-strewn period where many of the ’70s prog act had to make difficult stylistic decisions (not least of which the inevitable content of Chris Squire’s wardrobe) or die.

Yes in the 1980s does exactly what it says on the tin, giving a handy guide to a period of reinvention while considering the many facets of the recordings undertaken by the band members past and present, at the end looking forward to the turbulent waters that still lay ahead. Its readable style makes for easy going, and there is humour to be found – this is not a furrow-browed and overly reverent piece. For a pedant like me there are some teeth-grindingly annoying spelling bloopers to be found in my review pdf (which I may have unofficially subtitled ‘Tales from Typographic Oceans’), but hopefully these have been corrected for the paper copy. But even if they haven’t, it doesn’t diminish from the enjoyment of reading again about a band that were a big part of my life for many years. Less so these days, but the catalogue still contains many moments of pure wonder, no matter how many times I hear them, and that includes tracks from the ’80s, that most ‘Marmite’ of Yes decades.

Publisher: Sonicbond Publishing
Author: Stephen Lambe, with David Watkinson
Date of Publication: 29th November 2021

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