Notes From the Edge 

Conversation with
Oliver Wakeman
nfte #307

Obviously, Oliver Wakeman doesn't need much of an introduction to Yes fans. The oldest son of Rick has been striking out on his own since the late 1990s, with eight albums and many sessions under his belt. His band has recently released his first live DVD, "Coming to Town". His web site, The Oliver Wakeman Website, has a wealth of information on Oliver's career, and I encourage you to visit it to learn more about this remarkable individual.

Though Oliver is busily preparing for the upcoming "In the Present" tour with Yes he graciously consented to a conversation for Notes. My goal was to concentrate on his formative years and his musical influences, and to get his insights on stepping into his father's very formidable shoes in one of the most coveted keyboard roles in rock. His thoughtful comments and refreshing good humor indicate he is a very good choice, indeed.

Note that there are possible spoilers revealed--though the set list is not firm there are some surprising songs being considered. There is a link prior to that section (which appears shortly after the photo of Oliver and Rick), and clicking on it will bypass the spoilers.

MOT
 


MIKE TIANO: I really enjoyed your recently-released DVD/CD combo, which is filmed and recorded in Poland ["Coming to Town" from the Oliver Wakeman Band]. Is it tough to have to come off of that and concentrate on this gig with Yes, or do you think you're going to just have other projects happening concurrently?

OLIVER WAKEMAN: I'm often running more than one or two things at the same time. My own band all work in different areas, anyway; they all do their own bands and musical projects anyhow, so we kind of plan quite far ahead to just do the odd shows here and there. So I don't have a problem with that, and to be honest with you, we've been playing, not exactly the same set-we mix songs around-but we've been playing together for about four years now, going out with various albums, so it's quite nice to actually get my teeth into something different, especially something like Yes music, where the songs that we're doing are played by not just dad, but a multitude of keyboard players.

I find it fascinating listening to how other keyboard players play their parts, because when you're doing your own stuff you can play it and your fingers find the notes quite easily, because you're playing in your own sort of style. However, when you're sort of sitting there and trying to work out something that Tony Kaye played or something that dad's played, you just hear the different ways that people approach things, and it's tremendously challenging but it's really good fun, and I think any musician will always say that they're always learning from their instrument, and this is just a great opportunity to learn more about my instrument and what I can do with it.

MOT: Let's back up a little bit-let's go way back [laughs]. You were born around the time that your dad joined Yes.

OW:
Yeah, I was born in "72... quite a couple of interesting little things; if you look on the inside of the FRAGILE record where you've got the little booklet, at the bottom of it where he did his thank yous and he put, "P.S.-to one future offspring"-that was me. [Laughs] I was being born just after FRAGILE was released, but I was around for CLOSE TO THE EDGE.

MOT: Although you probably don't remember much of that [laughs].

OW:
I don't remember much of it. I was at the JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH concert apparently, but I was only 1, so I don't really remember that either.

MOT: You were probably about eight when he first left Yes, around 1980; what were your memories of him working with the band up to that time?

OW:
I don't really have a great amount of memories from the band, because I was about five or six when I was just sort of starting to come aware of my surroundings and my family; my mom and dad were sort of going through their build-up towards their divorce I think, because they split up in about '77, and I vaguely remember going over to Switzerland a couple of times as kids-me and my brother Adam-and for some reason I always remember that trip, because I do remember they had lots of tea chests at the studio, and my brother and I were enjoying playing in the snow so much, we didn't want to go, we hid in these tea chests and nearly missed the flight. I always remember that, and that's one of my strange, earliest memories, but I don't really remember the guys in the band and things like that very much then, because after that they sort of started to... dissolve I suppose is the best way of putting it, and with dad and Jon sort of leaving, and news of my dad was going through this divorce as well, so I didn't really get to see him very much. So my life, for a few years after that, sort of was not really focused around dad at all, because he was living in Switzerland and I lived with my mum in England, so we were kind of sheltered a bit from it at that point.

MOT: Your bio states that you tried to teach yourself, but ultimately you had to be taught; I saw the story as far as how you kind of picked things out and it suddenly kind of came together, and then you drove people crazy trying to teach yourself. How much was Rick an influence, both from the perspective of a talented musician you may have wanted to emulate as well as being a diligent dad trying to get you to play?

OW:
When I first started to play, dad was not around very much when I was very little. He was often out touring and things; he was always abroad, so we were pretty much with mum most of the time, and I remember him coming back, but when he came back home we'd often just go out and do things like go and find fireworks-after fireworks night we'd go and find the empty shells the next day and things like that and just sort of going out and having fun sort of thing, and that was kind of it. He never really sat down and played with us at the piano, or I certainly don't remember it, but I do remember we had a lovely grand piano in the lounge, which this is where I used to just sort of wait until everybody was away and then just sort of mucking around with it, and then I started doing some sort of piano lessons when I was very, very small-about five, but I remember the reason I didn't like it very much was that the piano lessons has to be taken during your playtime, and as a five-year-old, I wasn't very happy with watching all of my friends outside playing whilst I had to sit at a piano [laughs].

So it kind of was a bit of a stunted start, but as I got older my dad moved back to England, which was probably in the early 80s-'83-'84, when he met Nina and they got together. We started to see a lot more of him, and I suppose that's probably when I started to become interested in what he was doing and what he had done. I do remember specifically sitting at the breakfast table with dad and Nina, and dad was talking about some stories about JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, and I said I'd never heard it, and Nina sort of looked at me in shock, and she looked at Rick and said, "How come your son doesn't even know your album?" and I was only about twelve I think, and dad was like, "Oh, there's a copy somewhere; go dig it out for him." So I really remember listening to it and really, really enjoying it then. I think that's when I sort of started to have an understanding of what dad did and what he could do, but up to that point at the end of the day he's sort of my dad, and we just sort of chatted and did things like that rather than sit and think about his career, because at the age of twelve, you don't really care about that sort of stuff. I was just sort of excited to be spending some time with father again after a period where he lived abroad.

MOT: Was Yes music played at all, if much, at home-whether on the turntable or...

OW:
No, not really, because my dad was often away; my mom was the real fan of things like Cat Stevens and John Denver, and there's a French Celtic band called Gwendal that she loved. I always remember she used to listen to that a lot of the time, so she sort of had her own likes of music, and I'm sure she likes some of the stuff dad did, but she had her own sort of taste in music as well, which we listened to a lot, because she'd have it on it the car. But when I got to my early teens, I remember dad had a room at the top of his house, which us kids were at and just go and play and we had a little snooker table and a stereo, and he'd put loads of records there; and likewise at my house with my mum, I had a load of old records which were dad's sort of promotional records that he'd been given from A&M. That's really where I discovered my love of music from about the age of ten to twelve to fourteen from these records that were just sort of lying around, I distinctly remember to this day.

I've still got the copies of THE GRAND ILLUSION by Styx with an A&M demonstration sticker on it, and I had GOING FOR THE ONE and TORMATO, and I remember those three records as being real turning points that actually got me interested in music that wasn't traditional pop music, but most ten-year-olds are listening to it, and from then I sort of would go out with my friends on the weekends and they all buy the latest pop records, and I'd sort of be looking around and picking up records by Rush and Deep Purple and Zeppelin. I decided that I really liked this music, for some reason I could listen to it again and again and again without getting bored of it, which a lot of the pop music that I was listening to with my friends kind of bored me quite a bit. I mean, there's some very good stuff that stood the test of time but a lot of it was quite disposable, and I quite liked listening to this other music that just made me think "Wow!" You can listen to this time and time again and hear something different every time, and I think that's where my real love of music came from, rather than just doing piano lessons and just being taught music. It's where you suddenly discover a passion for something, and I think that's what did it for me was discovering these old records and then going out and buying things and feeling like you were the only person in the world who was discovering this music, and especially when all my friends weren't interested in it.

MOT: So from what you said, GOING FOR THE ONE and TORMATO were really the first Yes music that you were exposed to that you really liked.

OW:
Oh yeah, I'd say it was actually the first Yes music I'd actually heard, and I do remember "Turn of the Century" being a piece that particularly enthralled me as a kid, because it just seemed so different to anything else that I'd heard. But TORMATO I always had a great love for... obviously I've known about Yes for years, but I hadn't really sort of checked out what people were saying about Yes music. I just knew which Yes music I knew and what I listened to and what I liked, and it was quite interesting when I read a lot about people who didn't really take to TORMATO and had problems with it, and for me it was always one of my favorite albums, primarily because it was one of the ones that got me interested in Yes-not just because my dad was in it, but because I genuinely liked it.

MOT: It's interesting to hear you say that; TORMATO is definitely a divisive album amongst Yes fans; either they really love it or [laughs] they don't care for it so much. I'm one of the former myself, and I remember talking to your dad about it a few years back, and it sounded like he had some affection for it as well.

OW:
Yeah.

MOT: So there was never really a real effort to rebel against the stogy-old people's music as it were?

OW:
No, not at all. My family, we had a strange sort of upbringing, as much as dad was always very sort of flamboyant and lived in bigger houses and was doing TV when he came back to England and doing lots of big shows. But my brother and I had a very stable upbringing from my mum and her second husband, so we had almost a split childhood, where we had this very normal day-to-day-going to school, coming back, my stepfather going out to work, my mum doing the occasional part-time job and bringing up the children, and then at weekends we'd go and see my dad, and he'd be... we'd golf and watch him do TV shows, and concerts and all this sort of stuff, and so we ended up having this sort of almost duel childhood sort of thing, and to me it was just exciting and interesting, and people always said to me, you had a really strange upbringing, but to me, because it was the only upbringing I had, it seemed perfectly natural. But I never felt the need to rebel, because I think by the time my dad sort of came back into my life, which was in my early teens after their divorce and his subsequent second divorce, I was just pleased to see him and start to spend some time together. We've had our ups and downs, but we are genuinely very close, and I never felt the need with my dad to actually rebel against him, I think that was possibly because I didn't see so much of him when I was younger, so when I got to my teens where most people are rebelling against their parents I didn't tend to do that with my dad so much.

MOT: Going back to albums and what influenced you, you mentioned THE GRAND ILLUSION by Styx. I know, in other interviews, you also mentioned Deep Purple, and Jon Lord as being an influence. Can you name some other-outside of Yes-some other artists, and maybe some specific albums that were also influential to you?

OW:
Yeah, I'd have to say [Mike Oldfield's] TUBULAR BELLS is just a fantastic record; I've always loved that. I'm particularly keen on some early Don McLean albums; I really thought his songwriting styles were superb, and I think probably Marillion were also a band that I was quite surprised to discover in the late 80s-early 90s; they were a band that were actually doing music in a progressive style and were actually becoming quite well-known for it, so I really enjoyed their music as well. There were quite a few artists. It's always weird when somebody asks you to name specific albums, you end up stumbling a little bit. But I do remember that once I find an artist that I like, I do tend to try and get as much of the catalog as I can. So Styx, once I got their GRAND ILLUSION, I ended up going out and getting PIECES OF EIGHT, CRYSTAL BALL-basically picking up a lot of the catalog, and I'm pretty sure a lot of the, shall we say, younger Yes fans will probably appreciate where I come from with this sort of thing in that we're very lucky in so much as when you discover a band from the '70s or the early '80s is that suddenly you've got a wealth of material you can choose, and you can pick it up very, very quickly.

Whereas I imagine a Yes fan in the 70s was probably chomping at the bit, saying "Come on, you've just done CLOSE TO THE EDGE, what are you going to do now, and I've got to wait a year for it!" I could go out and buy GRAND ILLUSION and say to my mate, "This is really good stuff," and then look it up and suddenly find that there's another six or seven albums that I can go pick up tomorrow and hear all this music, which has taken nearly a decade to create, and I can go and get it all in a couple of weeks. I think that's one of the advantages to discovering older bands, so I don't suppose there were sort of thousands of bands I've discovered, because I had the advantage of being able to discover Styx and suddenly pick up ten of their records, discover Led Zeppelin and pick up ten of theirs, and again with the Yes music you can go and pick up a good ten albums of that, so you find artists and then you'd actually have a really good opportunity to sort of track how they changed over the years, but in a short space of time. So I think it wasn't so much specific albums. I think it was more the artists and actually understanding how their careers changed. But I do have a couple of albums I'd say are in my top ten, and one of them has to be WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE by Deep Purple, which I just absolutely love.

MOT: What about Yes' peers back in the 70s? Did you get into Crimson, Genesis, ELP?

OW:
Genesis I never really clicked with for some reason; I've listened to it quite a few bits, and there's bits I really like, but it didn't... I think for some reason it was the long songs I find interesting, but I think the thing I liked about Yes is the element of flamboyancy I think that came from the instrumentation, whereas Genesis were always focused on the flamboyancy of the singer, and I think being more of an instrumental player, that really did grab me. Crimson I found very interesting; I remember my dad lived on the Isle of Man and I went and lived with him for a short while, and I was coming back to see my mum; and just when I got on the airplane I said to dad, "Have you got anything I could listen to on my Walkman?" He gave me a tape, and he said just listen to this. He said, "I don't listen to much music sometimes, but this is one album that is one of my favorite albums," He just gave me this cassette, and I put it on and it was the first King Crimson album; I sat on the plane, and "21st Century Schizoid Man" came on. I just remember thinking this is pretty incredible, and this was probably in the early '90s, so I can't imagine how it must have sounded in the late '60s when it came out. But I never really followed lots of Crimson stuff, just sort of occasional albums with that. ELP, again bits and pieces... I like Yes for the complex instrumentation, but then started following other bands that did maybe more traditional songwriting like Styx, I suppose.

MOT: That's interesting to hear what you have to say about both Genesis and ELP, because both those bands had some pretty talented and up-front keyboard players-Tony Banks in Genesis and of course Keith Emerson in ELP.

OW:
I think it's probably just I've never actually given it much time, and it's not a deliberate reason that I haven't done it; it's just that I've never really picked up lots of the albums that have really sparked me, and it's not to say that there aren't tracks out there that would spark me. I just haven't listened to them yet, but maybe I should [laughs].

MOT: I'll be glad to give you some recommendations if you're interested [laughs].

OW:
You'll have to send me an email with a list of essential listening for a Yes keyboard player [both laugh].

MOT: I might just do that, if you're open to that.

OW:
Definitely, definitely.

MOT: What was it like having a brother who was also interested in the same instrument? What was it like for you and Adam both learning keyboards? Did you play together? Give me a little understanding and insight into growing up with Adam.

OW:
It's a strange one actually, because in dad's family we have lots of brothers and sisters; there's about six or seven of us, but Adam and I are true brothers. We have the same mother, and dad's obviously our father, and we lived with my mum up until about the age of sixteen where we both sort of disappeared to live with dad at various times. I must say now Adam and I are as close as brothers can be. We speak all the time; we often talk about music industry, what we have to do. We both have young children: Adam has a 3 year old daughter, and I have a three year old son, so we've gone through quite a lot together. We got married within a couple of years of each other, so we've gone through this sort of life journey being only two years apart in age and both getting married and getting engaged and having children, so we are actually very close as brothers. However, when we were growing up, we did what a lot of brothers do which is just constantly fight, and we were always falling out.

We didn't have the greatest of brotherly love as children, but as we got older, we developed into not just brothers but really good friends, which is great, because we can talk about anything together, which is really good. But when it came to our musicality, I suppose we both did piano lessons, and Adam carried on doing different lessons while I ended up going into sports and things like that when we were at school, and then we followed a different route. I'd discovered playing on my own and sitting down and working out bits and pieces where Adam was following a more going to lessons sort of route, and we came to a point where he was playing with different bands... he was in a band at, I suppose 16, and I was 18-15 and 17, something like that-and I remember a phone call coming through and somebody asking if Adam was there, and I said, "No, he's not here," and he said, "It's just that we're putting a new band together, and we wanted him to come and audition for the keyboard player's role," And I said, "Sorry but he's really busy at the moment, he won't be able to make it, but I can!" So I kind of stole his audition, went along and got the job. We both ended up playing in bands in the Devon area in England, and we were both on the circuit for quite some time. We're sort of friendly competition, really, but he's gone his own way with what he does, and I've followed what I do. We show interest in each other's careers, and we're supportive for each other; but even though we've sort of come from the same sort of family background, we have slightly different approaches to things.

MOT: Your own playing style-and I think you could say this for Adam as well-is very much like your father's, and I have to wonder with a towering talent and influence like Rick Wakeman, how do you find our own voice?

OW:
Well, the one thing I've never done-and this is actually true-I've never actually sat down and listened to what dad's played and tried to copy it, up until now having to do this Yes stuff. I've just never done it; I've never sat down and sort of thought I really want to know how to play it. I just sat at pianos and played what my ear wants to hear really. I just hear bits and pieces and I'd play, and I started listening to music, you hear little inflections in the way someone plays, but it does seem to come natural; I mean it's always hard work learning how to play and learning what to do, but I've never deliberately gone out of my way to say I want to sound like dad. I've probably listened to as much Jon Lord and Dennis DeYoung as I have as dad's stuff, but I just seem to have picked out a sort of... I don't know whether it's genetic, or stuff just seems to soak into the brain and you end up playing that way, but it certainly isn't a deliberate attempt to be a carbon copy.

MOT: It's a revelation to hear you talk about your influences, when you mentioned the songwriting of Styx, and especially Don McLean; I would never have thought that it was one of your influences, and I think one thing that came through on your DVD is that you're definitely trying to strike a balance between, as you put it, the flamboyance of the instrumentation of bands like Yes, along with the heart and songwriting of more traditional singer/songwriters.

OW:
Well, I made very sure when I was younger when I first started working in music, and I decided to start putting bands together, even my early days, I certainly thought, "Right, what do I want to write about? How do I want to write it?," and I decided to teach myself how to play a guitar, because I thought it was... you know, you can get an idea for a song on a piano, and a piano can write a song in a certain way, but you can write a song and in a sort of a slightly different style if you write in on a guitar or you get a better understanding of how a piece of music can work, and I just sort of thought well, what do I want to be? Do I want to be solely just a flashy keyboard player or do I want to actually try and write songs that are important? Because there have been instances, and I can't think of anybody in particular, but some music I've listened to where you hear people playing, and they're playing phenomenally quickly and phenomenally cleverly, but there's no soul to the music, and a piece of music has to emotionally grab you as well somewhere along the line.

I think I decided that listening to bands like Styx you listen to the songwriting, and you think the songs are really good, and yet the instrumentation just makes it even better, and I think that's really where my love of it came from, who can do a killer solo on a killer song; that just makes it so much more exciting. There's nothing better than a really good song but then gets up to a solo that just takes it to that other level, and I think that's the sort of thing really interests me, and in listening to a lot of the Yes stuff; you can just take it back to just simple chords for the main melody, but then you add all this instrumentation around it, and it just makes everything so interesting and so exciting. When I think when I came to writing my own music, I would do that. I would often start with just the simple guitar or piano, just try and write what I felt was a good song, and then depending on how I felt the song needed to go or what the story was behind the song, I would develop the music accordingly. Some of the pieces on the DVD are nice three-four minute numbers and some of them are ten minute pieces that kind of go off on tangents, but the most important thing was always making sure the story and the song was important.

MOT: Length is always an issue for those who don't really have an ear for progressive music. I think Jon Anderson put it best many years ago when he said a song is as long as a song needs to be.

OW:
Yeah, oh definitely. I can't add anything to that; that's about right really.

MOT: Let's move on to Yes here. We know, as we all know, you're friends with Steve, and you've recorded together through 3 AGES OF MAGICK, of course, which is a wonderful album.

OW:
Thank you.

MOT: Was it Steve who approached you to join Yes when the tour was first announced a few months ago?

OW:
Yeah, he phoned me up. I knew about it quite some time in advance; he actually phoned me up in December last year and said this is what's on the cards, and he said are you interested in doing it, so even though the tour wasn't until July, he sort of gave me a fair amount of notice, I think, to see if I was interested, and so they can start making some plans, because I think dad had sort of indicated that he wasn't going to do it. I remember sitting down having tea with my wife and the phone went, and Steve came on the answering machine and just said can you give me a call back, and I looked at my wife, she said so call him back, and I said "Yeah, I'm just about to." She had this sort of intuitive thing, she said, "He's going to ask you to join Yes," and I said "Don't be so silly!" [laughs].

So I phoned him back, and he said, "I hope you're sitting down," and I said, "Well, I can be," and he said, "It's just that we'd like you to join up if you're interested. We're going to do a tour," and I said "Well, yes." I spoke to my wife about it, but we just jumped at the chance of doing it, but I remember the one thing I was thinking about when they asked me: I did say to Steve, "The one thing I do want to do before I say yes I'll do it is I'd like to just at least speak to dad and just make sure he was ok with it." I didn't know what the situation was with what they'd discussed with dad, whether dad had left or whether dad was still doing it or whether he didn't know that they were going to approach me, and I spoke to dad [in email] and just said, "Steve's been on the phone, and this sounds like great fun and a great opportunity, but I'd like to do it with your blessing. I don't want to do something that's going to be uncomfortable," and he just wrote back one line that just said, "Who do you think recommended you?" and that was it [both laugh]. I felt it made everything ok, but the one thing I didn't want to do was cause any friction, not that there could have been any, but if you don't know what's been happening in the background-you just get a phone call out of the blue-I just wanted to make sure everyone was ok with it, and that's obviously when I heard all the stories about how dad and Chris had been talking and all that sort of stuff, but at the time it was literally just a case of well, as long as I've got dad's blessing to do it, I'd love to do it.

MOT: How much progress had you made on learning the actual songs when the summer tour was initially cancelled?

OW:
By the time the announcements had been made, obviously in the background lots of things were happening, and I had been put on notice that there's a good chance this is going to not happen now or for a while. I'd got quite far with a fair few pieces, subsequent to say that they are pieces that are being played now [laughs], so I had done a fair amount of work, but obviously with this new stuff coming up, there's been a whole new load of songs to learn, so I've got a fair amount into it. I mean, nothing was polished and finished; it was still sort of in putting it together approach, because one thing I wasn't going to do was just phone up dad and say "How do you play this bit, and what did you play here?" For me, it was just a case of right, if I'm going to do this, let's do it properly; let's get the CDs out, get the DVDs out, watch, listen, and going on to YouTube and seeing the various versions of the band playing various pieces and trying to just see how the band has developed a song, because it's not just case of sitting down and listening to a piece of music off of the record, say a piece off of FRAGILE, and then turning up at the rehearsal and saying right, ok you've learned it from the record.

They all get amended for live playing; they get adjusted slightly. Keyboard parts get played slightly differently, and so what I had to do was listen to the original song, sort of map it out, and then listen to the live versions and work out where they'd changed it and then try get to the latest live version and work out what arrangement they would likely want to play at the time. So it wasn't as easy as just sitting down and learning a piece from start to finish, because they have developed especially when you're playing a piece that Tony Kaye played originally, and then dad had been playing it for years, and then another keyboard player had come along and copied dad's parts rather than the original Tony Kaye part. You end up having to find this amalgamation of parts and actually work out what is the best way of playing this piece of music, so it's still a work in progress at the moment.

Click here to skip the spoilers

MOT: Can you list some of these songs?

OW:
Yeah, I was probably thinking something along the lines of "South Side of the Sky", for example, is particularly different to the original record, with all the little soloing bits and stuff. "Siberian Khatru" has, not different keyboard parts, but there's different sounds and different areas that are slightly different live than they are... just trying to think; "You're is No Disgrace" I seem to remember off the 35th Anniversary tour has a much more improvised middle section, and I'm not sure whether we're doing that one now, but there's always little different sections, which when you listen to are very, very different, and it's just trying to remember them all and work out which route to take really.

MOT: What are some of the songs that the band had told you they'll probably be playing on this upcoming tour?

OW:
"Siberian Khatru" is on there, which wasn't on the original tour list, and actually having played it, I'm actually really looking forward to it-it's really good fun. "Close to the Edge", which is a challenging piece, which is good fun to play, and I think we're doing "Tempus Fugit" as well. "Astral Traveler" as well I think is one of the ones that's under consideration. There's quite a few unusual pieces slotting in. I think the way it's working now, they're going for doing a set [where] the fans might not have exactly the people they want up there on the stage, but the one thing that Chris, Alan, and Steve can do is give the fans the music that they'd like to hear.

[Alan White, in a video project being prepared for YesWorld, divulged that "Machine Messiah" and "A Venture" are also candidates for the upcoming tour. However, until the band is together and attempt these songs in rehearsals these selections are not final. -MOT]

From the songs that have been given to me as proposals to use-we've got a list of definite and a list of possibilities-it does look like,, obviously, the very classic '70s albums will be covered quite well, but I think there's going to be a good few pieces that sort of do cover the whole career, and I think that could well be a couple of pieces in there that people will be quite surprised about hearing and probably very pleased to hear, so I think people really will enjoy it. I hope they will.

End of spoilers

MOT: You mentioned earlier that you pull out all the Yes albums, and you're learning them all on your own; this may have not happened yet, but what happens if you do hit a wall in terms of figuring out a particular sound or phrasing, do you think you'll ring up dad and say, "What did you do there?'

OW:
No, I don't do that. I've already hit walls like that and all it is is you just come down to perseverance. There's little riffs that I've been listening to and say, "I cannot hear what that is," and then you suddenly hear it, and you suddenly go "Ah!" It just clicks; sometimes you just sit down, and it would just come somehow. I haven't really come across anything-I mean, it's obviously very challenging parts, but I haven't come across anything at the moment that I've thought that's going to be, "I'm not sure how to even approach that." Luckily, everything I'm coming up with so far does seem to fit. I'm pretty sure that once I get in a rehearsal room with the other guys, some sounds that I think I'm going to use probably won't work, and I'll probably have to make some changes on the fly, but I'm in discussions with my keyboard tech Will at the moment about what we're going to be doing for sounds for the tour, because again you can't use all the sounds that were originally on the records, because it's difficult to get a hold of those keyboards or samples, and also they've been sort of played on different keyboards over tours. Somebody else has already done this and naturally found a sound that works very well on the live sets, so I should probably go more down that route of listening to what other keyboard players have chosen; then it won't be a big surprise for everybody else when we turn up for rehearsals, and I suddenly start playing a sound from an album in 1972, but the guys haven't heard that sound for 30 years, and it sort of froze everybody off. You just want to turn up basically and try and slot in and make it seem as effortless to people as possible. That way it makes you feel like you got a good chemistry and everything's working well together and going in the same direction, rather than trying to complicate things.

MOT: Do you think you'll be using the same setup that you pretty much had on the DVD, or will you be augmenting it somehow?

OW:
Oh yeah, it'll be larger than the setup for the DVD. I have a core set keyboard sounds, and bits and pieces that I want to use, but I'm obviously for this setup, I need to have a certain set of sounds that are a definite requirement for this tour, so the keyboard setup will probably be twice the size of the one on the DVD. But I do remember talking to dad about the DVD, and he said... we were talking about the filming, and he said, "Make sure you take all the gear that you want to, so remember it's going to be on film, so make it look as good as you can," and I remember thinking ok, great, I'll take everything I've got out there, have a really big keyboard setup and it'll look great. And then I thought to myself, right, there are some friends of mine driving all the gear over there in an old van, and I remember the thought go through my head if they crash it or they're on a boat and it sinks and I come home and I haven't got anything to use anymore! So I took a sort of mid-way gamble where I thought, well, I'll take across some stuff, but I'll make sure I've got some stuff when I get home just in case the worst happens.

MOT: Is there any talk of you having your own segment during the show to basically show your stuff like Rick did on previous Yes tours, or has it gotten that far yet?

OW:
I think it's been an initial sort of approach. It might be quite fun to do something different. Steve did mention a possibility of doing something from the 3 AGES together, which might be quite fun. As to whether it will happen or not, or whether I'll just get to do a piano piece, or what will happen, I don't really know yet. I think they're still trying to work exactly what setlist they want to do, and once they've worked out what songs they want to do, we'll work out what time is left over as to whether there are going to be solo spots for a new boy or whether it'll would just be limited to Chris and Steve and Alan doing their bits. But if they ask me, I'll be more than happy to.

MOT: So have you had other conversations with your father beyond the initial blessing? I guess I'm interested in the possibility of him joining the band for some local gigs, for instance.

OW:
He hasn't mentioned it to me, once we went through the initial talking about it and bits and pieces like that, he's kind of... one thing he did say to me, he said, "You're your own man now". He said, "You're dealing with this; you're doing the job. It's for you to find your way with it," which I'm quite pleased about actually, because he's there if I need a bit of advice, but he's very much saying you want to do this, and that's absolutely fine, but you have to make your own decisions, and so he hasn't really been involved very much with it. Whether at some point if they've got plans to do something all together, I guess they know. They haven't spoken to me about it; but if at some point they all get up and decide they want to play again, then I'll be in the front row watching and cheering like everybody else would, I'd imagine.

MOT: I've got a three-part question for you. The first part is what are your own favorite Yes songs, as compositions?

OW:
There's probably two or three that I think are particularly impressive. "Turn of the Century", probably because it was one of the first pieces that I heard that really made me go, wow, that's really something. Something like "South Side of the Sky", I really liked when it was on FRAGILE, and it was one of those pieces that I just instantly liked straight away. And I think probably because when I was a child I really liked "Circus of Heaven" off of TORMATO, just as a kid. I just remember when I was about ten listening to this record for the first time, just hearing that song and thinking wow, that's really good fun, and I know that that will probably make a load of Yes fans go "What? 'Circus of Heaven' over something like 'Close to the Edge'?" but I think purely from the memory point of view as to what got me excited about it in the first place; I'd have to say something like that, and in fact anything from TORMATO, not just "Circus of Heaven", anything from TORMATO would have to go down there; not as maybe their best-ever songs, but something that actually gave me the spark to discover the music in the first place.

MOT: Yeah, I wished that the band would play more songs from TORMATO-"Future Times" and "Release, Release" are two of my favorites. "Arriving UFO" has some wonderful stuff too.

OW:
Yeah, that's a lovely track as well.

MOT: So the second part of my question is, which songs do you think had your father's strongest playing?

OW:
Strongest playing... I would probably have to say "Close to the Edge" has got some very, very strong playing on it, even though it might not be to the fore all the time. Especially when I'm working on "Close to the Edge" and "Siberian Khatru", the keyboards are playing very much a supporting role, short of obviously the big solo in "Close to the Edge", but you're kind of taken along with with the guitar solo at the beginning and the great melodies that Steve plays on that, and obviously Jon's voice shines through on things like "I Get Up, I Get Down" section, but all the way throughout the background, the keyboards are playing very much a supporting role, but especially the opening fast riff on "Close to the Edge". It takes some real stamina to keep that speed up and that melody going for period of time, and I think as I've been listening to that piece, you suddenly realize that there's a whole depth of work going on in the keyboards in "Close to the Edge", but maybe isn't a focus, and I think that makes it a very strong song, whereas a lot of dad's work is often praised for the sort of flash-ness and the flamboyancy of it. But I think that song particularly showed that dad was very, very able to be a player to help support a song along, rather than taking the limelight on it.

MOT: OK, and the third part of my question, you may have already touched this in the first two parts-if you were drawing up your own setlist, which Yes songs would you really, really want to play, if they said, "Oliver, what songs do you want to play?"

OW:
I'd like "Close to the Edge" I think, actually having learned it, is a great piece-it's a wonderful piece to play. I do have a soft spot, strangely enough, for "Holy Lamb"; I think "Holy Lamb" is a lovely track, and I know, again, some Yes fans will be going, "But that's not a classic Yes track," but I think it's a very, almost an underrated track, and I'll tell you I would love to hear Chris and Steve play it, with a more sort of classic Yes approach to it. I mean, I love the version that was done with Trevor Rabin and Tony Kaye, but I'd love to have everybody have a crack at it doing Steve's guitar on it. I think it could just be a little gem, but I've always thought it was a lovely song. I love the words; I like the melody. I've always just thought it was a very nice song.

MOT: Talking about Yes' albums and songs and the such-do you share your dad's distaste for TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS?

OW:
No, I don't actually. I did have that as a child which I've got on double vinyl. I think sometimes dad's been... obviously I know all what they went through in the '70s and they all had big fights about it, but you know when you talk to dad about it, he always maintains that he thinks TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS would have made a fantastic single record. I don't think he hates every moment of it; I think he just feels that there were sections that were elongated that didn't need to be, and if it had been trimmed down, he thinks it would have been a great single record, but then again that was in the '70s when a double album took up an hour or something. Nowadays you buy a CD and sometimes you can have like 74 minutes on it, which I think is really long for an album, so I don't have that sort of distaste... it's not my favorite Yes album, but I don't certainly have that sort of "Oh, I can't bear to listen to this" approach to it. Some of the bits I think are fantastic.

MOT: Do you think Benoit will be able to cut it with both the band and the fans?

OW:
I hope so. I mean, from what I've heard of him, he sounds very, very good, and I'm sure he's a very nice guy. He's got a tough job; I feel like it's made my life not quite so panicked and pressured, if that makes sense, because I'm not now the only new boy. We're both going into it, and even though he might have had more experience of playing Yes songs because of the work that he's done in the past, I've probably had a bit more of the experience of working with musicians who are as well-known as they are, so we're both sort of approaching this as new boys, but both with different experiences that will help us. And hopefully we'll be able to help each other through, and I'd like to think that he'll think that Oliver is a bit new to it as well, so I'm not the only one, and hopefully we'll help create a bit of camaraderie between everybody. Everybody wants to make this work, and everybody's excited about it, and I suppose the fact that Jon's ill and isn't doing this tour is obviously sad, but if it was... I suppose what it boils down to to a lot of fans is they get the chance to go out and hear some Yes music or not hear some Yes music and hear Chris, Alan, and Steve, who are actually responsible for an awful lot of it-classic Yes material, I hope people will just come along and enjoy it. As a musician, that's all you want people to do is come along and have a good time; that's what we're there for. Everybody comes along and enjoys themselves, and if people come and enjoy it and go away happy, then we've done what we've aimed for.

MOT: One thing I do want to do is to run through the other Yes keyboard players-I'll give you the name, and you give me your thoughts. If you don't have any, you can say you don't have any thoughts. Let's start with Tony Kaye.

OW:
Tony Kaye-he's got a lovely style of playing the Hammond... the one thing I've noticed when listening to the Tony Kaye stuff, even though he doesn't have maybe the flamboyancy or the flair of playing lots of things very fast, he has a great sense of timing. He often comes up with little keyboard lines using a timing that you wouldn't normally expect, and I think it's probably because I think he has a bit more of jazz approach to how he plays things, so the one thing I've sort of noticed-whereas with dad you're focusing on the speed and the complexity-with Tony you're listening to it and thinking, oh I see where you're going with it; I get your timing, and it's really interesting, because it's completely different to how I would have played, but you learn something about keyboard players, that's something that I've sort of picked up from the way he does things-yeah, yeah, I can see where your approach is now, and it's really interesting.

MOT: That's interesting you mentioned the jazz aspect, because in the beginning they were more of a jazz-leaning band as far their sensibilities, and with Bill Bruford's playing and Peter Banks was also kind of jazzy.

OW:
Yeah, especially Peter would take a lot of the solos, and Tony didn't take many solos at all, so he would end up being more the rhythmic part, which I suppose then he was always syncing in with Bill and Chris, which I suppose would emphasize the timing approach to things.

MOT: OK... Patrick Moraz.

OW:
I'm afraid... this is one I will probably have to, pass on. Not for any other reasons, I haven't really heard anything that he's done. I'm going to be terrible here and say I don't actually have RELAYER. It's the one Yes album I don't have, and I think it's probably because after dad left in '77, he didn't get any more Yes albums, and then it was me having to sort of pick them up as a child, and I think once I started getting into Yes, it was like picking the stuff that dad had been on, so I kind of started up again with GOING FOR THE ONE and TORMATO and things like that, so the only track I really know is "Soon". So I cannot really comment on him, although from what I have heard, he's a superb player.

MOT: RELAYER is really one of the most interesting albums in Yes' canon, so I would recommend that you give it a listen [laughs].

OW:
I will do; I'll probably get lynched for that. "He listens to 'Holy Lamb', but never listened to Gates of Delirium. What is this guy?" [Laughs]

MOT: How about Geoff Downes?

OW:
I probably know his work more; obviously because he only did the DRAMA album, but I probably know more of his work from the Asia work, because that's probably more my teenage years or growing up when they were actually doing a lot of work then, and I really enjoyed the stuff he did with Steve. But I think his keyboard playing probably lends itself more to the Asia style, I think. I think he found his niche; I think he probably really enjoyed the Yes stuff, but I think he really excels with Asia. It suits his style, because I think he's a very good songwriter as well, and I think it mixes his talents really well in Asia, so I don't think he had enough albums with Yes to sort of really see a development of style or see different ideas. He only really got the one moment to do what he did, which he did very well, but I think in Asia he really came into his own.

MOT: Those three keyboard players, along with your father, were band members that helped create new music. In some ways you really have more in common with, say, Igor Khoroshev or Tom Brislin filling in on existing songs. Did you have a chance to hear either of those gentlemen, and do you have any thoughts on them if you did?

OW:
Yeah, I've seen Igor on some of the stuff on YouTube and obviously on THE LADDER. I think he did a very good job on THE LADDER; he's got some nice keyboard parts, and Tom Brislin, I watched him on the Symphonic Yes tour, and he played the parts very well. The only thing I would say, I'd like to think I'm probably in between the two sets I think, because of the work that I've done with Steve in between and with a lot of the other sort of progressive musicians. I like to think I have an approach with Steve in that we've spent quite a bit of time working together, so we kind of have an understanding.

MOT: You are kind of a bridge; like you say, you've done work with Steve, whereas Igor and Tom both came out of the blue just to fill a role and hadn't much interaction with the band prior to that.

OW:
Yeah, I think that's what it is. I suppose I sort of have the history building towards the possibility something like this happening. My career was kind of going in that musical direction so working with Yes seems to be a good fit. I did some work with Starcastle as well, I performed with them at ROSfest last year as part of their reunion and had a great time with them. I'm continuing to work with Al Lewis, the singer, on another project. Working with Starcastle-incidentally there will be a live CD of the ROSfest show out next year-was a great build up to working with Yes. A lot of comments I've read about compare Starcastle to Yes, which to some extent are true in so much as that their music is complex in nature, has lots of counter melodies and relies heavily on instrumental passages with long song structures. However, having worked with the guys and played with them, their music does have its own identity, but whether they sound like Yes or not didn't really worry me, I just enjoyed the music and love working with talented musicians.

MOT: This leads to my very last question; this gig with Yes could turn into a long-term gig. Are you prepared to go the distance here?

OW:
Oh definitely, I mean it's one of those opportunities that just don't come along very often, and you have to really think about something like this as to what you want to do. Are you doing it for the right reasons? Now, obviously getting into playing music and doing it with a band like Yes and going around the world is a very exciting opportunity and a very exciting prospect, but the bottom line is that you have to really love the music and love the songs and the whole approach to what it is, and I think with Yes music, it's one of those things that the more I hear it, the more I hear in it, and it makes me want to be more of a part of it, and hopefully think that I can bring something that people will think oh, that's a really good idea or that's a great development; I'd love to hear what he could do with a new piece of music with Steve, Chris, and Alan.

It'll be lovely, so it's something I'm very proud to have been asked; I'm very honored by it, but I'm also humbled by it, because I know how important Yes is to people, and I know people would like to think that Yes music is going to keep going and still create new stuff, and I know it's difficult for people to put out new albums these days, but I know for having spoken to Chris and work with Steve and things, these guys they write such good music, and they've got so much more music in them. It would just be great to be a part of them creating new stuff that hopefully will surprise a few people. It would be wonderful to do a record and everyone went you know something, that's pretty good.


 


Notes From the Edge #307

The entire contents of this interview are
Copyright © 2008 Mike Tiano
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Special thanks to Oliver Wakeman and Jen Gaudette
This conversation was conducted on September 3, 2008


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