Yes – Sounding Out on BBC 1971

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Part of the BBC Crown Jewels series, hosted by Glen Tilbrook.

This video contains live footage of the band Yes recorded during the tour for their fourth album, Fragile. Yes  would break-up and reform several times, and go on to produce 21 studio albums. This video looks at the early Yes. By this time, the lineup consisted of lead vocalist Jon Anderson, bass player Chris Squire, drummer Bill Bruford, guitarist Steve Howe, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman. (The first incarnation of Yes included Peter Banks on guitar and Tony Kaye on keyboards.) Along with King Krimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd, Yes was one of the pioneers of progressive rock.

This video includes interviews with each of the band’s members, and provides insights into their songwriting process, which centers on taping their rehearsals and songwriting sessions.

The visuals in this video are great, even if the sound is a little sub-par. At 14:36 in the video, Steve Howe chides the producers of the documentary for not doing a better job recording the sound. Howe says, “I didn’t think  the sound that the BBC got was very good. I wish personally that you had taken the sound from our  console, our mix, because it’s the most difficult thing in the world to … I mean we spend hours mixing our music on record.”

The year was 1971. PA systems and live mixing consoles were a brand-new invention. Yes is one of the first bands to tour using their own PA and mixing board. They didn’t even have them at Woodstock two years earlier, where the sound system was basically comprised of many separate amplifiers. The best live recordings of the early Yes are on their 1973 triple album, Yessongs. (Steve Howe plays brilliant solos on Perpetual Change, and All Good People.)

3:15 Jon Anderson: “I think I work a bit backward, because I write a tune, and then I write the lyrics, not so much for the idea behind the lyrics, but for the sound of the words. After you’ve written a song, and put it together, and recorded it, I start to look at the thing as a whole, and then decide there is a meaning to it. If I can find a meaning, then possibly people that listen to it will find different meanings.”

5:16 Bill Bruford: “Yes was a good idea at the time. It still is a good idea. Because I wanted to be a musician, and I wanted to learn about the sort of jazz tradition and things. I would have gone to school, were there a school. But there wasn’t a school, so the best thing to do was to form one and to take it around the country, which is Yes. The best place to learn to play is on a bandstand.”

6:34 Bill Bruford: “The musical arrangements are quite complex to us, but I suppose to better musicians, not so complex. They’re head arrangements, that is to say that they’re remembered, and you learn them while you’re rehearsing them. And once you’ve rehearsed them, they’re indelibly inscribed, I think … you can sing them in your sleep.”

7:25 Bill Bruford: “I reckon I get on stage every night alongside £13k worth of equipment. It takes about an hour and a half to unload the truck. Another couple of hours to set up on stage. The guitarist has a roadie, and the keyboards have a roadie, and there’s a guy to set the drums up, and then the lights and the sound. And assuming it all works, then the group can come, and you can begin to achieve a sound balance. If anything goes wrong, the electricity wavers or whatever, then we’re really sunk. Without the PA system, we couldn’t do a show at all.”

8:52 Steve Howe: “It’s much more fulfilling (to play guitar) than it is to be a bass player or a drummer, someone who is a featured soloist, because the audiences are much more educated, people are very aware these days. Even some of the chicks are aware of what kinds of strings and things we used on certain bass guitars, and things like that.” (GV: I remember Chris Squire talking about his Rotosound Roundwound strings in interviews.)

At around 11 minutes, Rick Wakeman talks about the difficulty of remembering complex parts, and moving between multiple keyboards, especially on his first few gigs with the band.

13:27 Steve Howe performs Mood For A Day, a piece he composed for solo acoustic guitar. Most guitarists don’t play solo acoustic pieces standing up.


The interview segment in which Bill Bruford compares Yes to a traveling music school is also included in an episode from the BBC’s Prog Rock Family Tree from 1997.

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