Notes From the Edge
Conversation with
Rick Wakeman
nfte #275

TIM MORSE: We all know you started playing at a young age, but how old were you when you started composing music?

RICK WAKEMAN: I think I started writing stuff on my own when I was quite young, eleven or twelve. To be honest, writing is something that is individual to you; but normally the first things that you write are crap, to put it bluntly! They tend to be based on or around other things that you are playing at the time--that type of thing. My first compositions came from playing solos. I was playing in a little Dixieland jazz band when I was about twelve. And the thing about Dixieland was that everybody did lots of solos, there'd be a short tune that lasted for thirty seconds or whatever and then there was a trumpet solo, and then the clarinet solo and heaven forbid, the banjo solo and then there was a piano solo. This was in the early 60's, 1960, 1961, and if you couldn't solo you didn't get one. We were all school kids and then was a trumpet player, a nice guy, but he couldn't solo to save his life so when it came to his solo he just played the same notes as the beginning tune. So we ditched his solo and in order to make the songs longer than a minute and a half I took two solos.

Basically what happens is you start experimenting on your own playing around someone else's music, if you know what I mean? And I'm convinced that gives you a start on your composition life, because you start doing things that are a little unique for yourself. And then when you come to start writing a piece on your own those are the areas that come to the forefront. I was in various sorts of rock bands and everybody wrote 12 bar blues, rock blues and tried to write words. I suppose it was really when I came to join Strawbs that I started getting interested in writing stuff, because I realized...

TM: The writers made all the money!

RW: Well, no, funnily enough. Amazingly enough it was later on that I realized that most of the money came from writing something. At that time I'd met Dave Cousins and he had such a unique style. Not only was it a band playing where you could hear that style of the band, but it was also the style of their music that made them what they were. I found a tape sometime ago of stuff that I'd written when I was 17 or 18 and at the time I thought it was great. But listening back most of it was... there were a few little bits, where I thought I could have used that idea later on, but it was only about a few bars of that and most of it was just junk.

TM: I guess you've answered my next question as to whether any of the writing you did at the Royal Academy of Music ended up in your solo works or with Yes.

RW: Um, no. To be brutally honest with you the only piece of music that did appear on anything was I wrote a song--I can't remember what it was called-- that became the basis for the opening song in JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH. I wrote it in '68 or '69 when I was in a band called The Spinning Wheel. We all got the chance to write something on our own, a song each and this was the song I wrote. And when I came to do JOURNEY, I had read the book and was working out the bits and pieces--I wanted after the opening bits to come into a song, I started writing this and I thought, "I know this, I've done this before." And it's not the same, but it is based around the other song.

TM: An instrument that has been associated with you over the years is the Mini-Moog and I was wondering when you were first introduced to it and what was your initial reaction?

RW: Well, I'd played the big Moogs, before the Mini-Moogs, which were totally impractical to take around with you. Then I played a Mini-Moog, around 1970 on a Strawbs session. There was one in the studio, which didn't belong to us and I asked if I could use it and the guy who owned it said yeah. I just fell in love with it, it was the answer to every keyboard players dream. Because one of the major problems that keyboard players had down the years until then was that we had electric pianos, the Hammond organ, the piano and the Mellotron had just appeared and that was it. When it came time to do solos, you couldn't be heard. The terrible thing for everyone else was when it came to the keyboard solo, they had to play quietly. Which was absolutely impossible--the drummers and the guitar players never played quietly at all.

They used to dread the keyboard solo, because they'd have to go "dinky-dinky" and of course they didn't, they got louder and louder. And so any keyboard solos were a complete and utter waste of time. Which was a shame, but then the Mini-Moog came and it was unbelievable, because it would cut through concrete! And suddenly guitar players didn't like that, here was something that could cut through louder than they could. It was an absolute joy! But they were very expensive, they were two or three thousand bucks even back then, which in 1970 was an absolute fortune. When I joined Yes it was something I wanted to have, but I couldn't afford one, because we were on about 75 bucks a week when I joined the band. There was just no way I could afford it. But there was this guy through our management who said that he had one and wanted to sell it. I said, "Oh right, how much does he want for it?" And he said something ridiculous like a hundred dollars or something.

TM: And what was wrong with it?

RW: Right. I thought for a hundred dollars--there was no such thing as anyone who could fix these things back then--if just three notes work it on it, it would be something. This is absolutely a true story so I said, "I'll have it." It was still in all the original packaging, it looked absolutely mint. I took it out, plugged the headphones in and I couldn't find anything wrong with it. So I asked my manager to find out what was wrong and he spoke to the guy and he said, "It's no good, because it only plays one note at a time!"

TM: (laughing) And that's why he sold it for a hundred bucks!

RW: And I said, "They are only supposed to play one note at a time! You'd better go back and tell him, there's nothing wrong with it, because he's paid a lot of money for it." I packed it up, ready to take it back and I got a phone call, the guy said it was no good to him if it only plays one note at a time so I can have it.

TM: Very lucky for you.

RW: It was Christmas. That was my first Mini-Moog.

TM: So you got that just before Fragile was recorded?

RW: Yeah.

TM: So you were learning how to work it as you recorded the album?

RW: What you did with instruments back then, you took it back to your house or your hotel room, and you worked on it for a month until you knew it inside out. It wasn't like today when you get an instrument, switch it on and there's instant sounds. It wasn't like that back then, you had to create your own sounds. By the time it came to do CLOSE TO THE EDGE I'd sort of chosen what I'd lovingly called "Yes-sounds", which were sounds that fitted the band and the music. You don't get that by accident, you get it by taking it home and working on it and saying, "Look what I've got!"

TM: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of SIX WIVES...

RW: It is?

TM: It came out in '73, right?

RW: Criky, I suppose it was, yeah.

TM: Are you going to take it out for dinner?

RW: (laughs) No, I never thought of that! Thirty years, that's terrifying!

TM: Looking back at your first solo album, do you feel proud of the accomplishment or do you look at it a say, "I wish I could have changed that... " How do you see it now, how do you perceive it?

RW: I played it for the first time, funnily enough a little while ago--I haven't played it for ages--I can't even remember the reason I put it on. And I thought it was really good and I thought there were some things... "How did I do that?" Because there were some sounds on there that nowadays you can find on sampling machines, and I thought, "Where did I get those from?"

TM: Is it true that "Catherine of Aragon" was originally intended for the Fragile album?

RW: It's funny it went around two ways actually. It was always one of the pieces for Six Wives, it started as "Catherine of Aragon," because I'd read the book "The Private Life of Henry the Eighth" on the Yes tour in America. I couldn't record an original piece for FRAGILE, because of the publishing deal Yes had. I suppose if there was anything that niggles me a bit was that there were chunks of music on FRAGILE that I wrote, but could never be credited because of the political situation at the time. Whole chunks of "Heart of the Sunrise" which you can't be credited for, because of the political climate at the time. I suppose at the time you think, "I don't care, let's just get on with it," which is fine and is probably the right attitude. But after all these years it would be nice to get the credit, but there you go.

So when I was doing SIX WIVES, it was called "Catherine of Aragon", but you didn't mark any of your music on the boxes in the studio, simply because there so much stealing and bootlegging going on. So what happened at Trident studios was that everybody put there music down under a different name, for example eventually SIX WIVES was Victor Sylvester and his Dance Band. But when we recorded "Catherine" they asked me, "What are you going to call it for the box?" And at that time we'd just done FRAGILE, so it was a pun on FRAGILE, which was "Handle With Care."

TM: So that song was never intended to be on FRAGILE?

RW: No.

TM: That's a bit of misinformation that's been hanging around forever.

RW: It was recorded way after FRAGILE was recorded. FRAGILE was recorded in August, September '71 and I didn't start on SIX WIVES until December '71.

TM: Moving on to the Wakeman epics I was wondering how difficult it was to get everyone to commit to your vision of these extraordinary shows; playing arenas with your band, a choir and a full orchestra?

RW: I was old school, and I still am to some extent. If someone has bought an album with an orchestra on it and you' re going to promote it and my view is you've got to have an orchestra. That's what the people have bought and that's what they like so therefore that's what you go out and play. And so that's what I did, much to my bank manager's disgust! But things did get out of hand and it was fantastic, it was a great period of time. You could be cutting edge, you could do things that no one had ever done. Which is always very hard, because promoters, agents, mangers and record companies don't like anything that hasn't been done, because the first question is going to be "What's it going to be like. Who's done it before?" And you say, "Nobody." "Well, umm, well I don't really know about that... "

TM: Their eyes gloss over...

RW: Oh yeah. One of the things that they don't understand, is that if you try to be innovative, it doesn't always work; it's a fact of life. For every invention that somebody makes, they've probably tried a hundred that have failed. But that's the only way that things move forward is innovation. They don't like that, they like the safety in what's happening--in what's being done. So it was always very hard to convince them of what I wanted to do. But as David Bowie once said to me, "If you can call the shots, then you can move forward. If you can't the shots, then you stand still." And you know that's really true. You can always move forward while you're spending your money. People like Andrew Lloyd Webber have got things on the stage, that they'd never got on the stage, due to the fact if you're not going to give me the money, then I'll do it myself.

TM: And listen to CRIMINAL RECORD.

RW: Yeah, right... tell me about that one! Anyway, I'm not a great dreamer, if I have a dream about something I don't like it to remain a dream, because I don't really see the point in that.

TM: When you consider that just a few years earlier you sort of scraping to make ends meet, playing with the Strawbs and doing sessions and then BOOM, you're playing these extraordinary shows--that's quite a transformation.

RW: Yeah, and if I was a bit more clever I could have kept some of the money! With the mixture of shall we say, slightly dubious management and other people around me at the time--it's something you don't find out until years and years later that those areas need to be looked after as well.

TM: Unfortunately, you're not the only one in the business, particularly from that era who has experienced these problems.

RW: Oh no, absolutely right.

TM: A song that strikes me from that period is "Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight"--it's a very cinematic piece, it features lots of great performances and I love the way it reintroduces the earlier themes and develops them. When you hear a song like that today, what comes to mind?

RW: I remember doing "Lancelot and the Black Knight" and it brings up a couple of funny areas. It's actually full of different people playing in different time signatures. If you listen to the actual tuned percussion--claves and tambourines or whatever--they're all playing in different time signatures, I do that quite a lot. What happens if you're all playing in different time signatures is that sooner or later you'll all meet up, it's like a lot of roads meeting. The human ear can play games and almost without thinking knows that the meeting is going to come. We do it in Yes a lot, it's something that I've learned from old Russian composers, so I used to use it a lot. I remember in "Lancelot", there's the solo in the middle--almost like a Latin solo. It was quite funny because solos on records are a nightmare, because once they're on record, they're no longer a solo.

TM: Right, then it's a feature.

RW: Yeah, they're what people expect to hear and I remember the late, great John Entwistle saying about the bass solo on "My Generation", "We did it in the studio and every time we went out and I played it, people would say, 'It's not the same as the record.' Well, I can't remember what I played on the record, it was a solo." He basically had to learn it and it became one of the great bass solos of all time. Another classic example is Chris on "Heart of the Sunrise," probably the two greatest bass solos ever recorded. Chris has been very clever, he starts off the same as the record, which is enough to make everyone happy, and then he goes off on one of his wonderful trips, which is lovely.

Of course for the keyboard player you've got the same problem. Once you play something, which is the mood of what it is at the time and that's what people lock onto. They play it twenty times at home and they know. You've played it once, you haven't got a clue! With the solo in "Lancelot" and I knew I only had one or two cracks at getting a really good solo, this is before the days when you could edit solos. We were recording in a studio which is now defunct, called Morgan studios and I went over to the bar--this was in my drinking days--and I must have had half a bottle of scotch I think. I staggered across the road to the studio--I had tried a couple of things and they hadn't worked and got fed up--basically to say everybody let's try this tomorrow. I walked in with a very thick head, light headed and they were playing the master tape and they were coming up to the area where the solo would be and I shouted to the engineer (slurring) "Keep it going!" And I staggered over and played this solo and at the end of it felt quite sick. I got someone to drive me home, and when I came in the next day I thought, "That'll do!" Strange things happened in those days.

TM: On that solo there are two lines going simultaneously.

RW: That's right, yeah.

TM: Did you record two versions, or...

RW: I came over the following day and added some bits over the top of it.

TM: I was wondering if you'd done two and couldn't decide between them.

RW: I came in and actually liked the solo I'd done a lot, but there were a couple of areas that I wasn't ... so we tried the idea of adding things over the top of that, which is how that happened.

TM: I feel that NO EARTHLY CONNECTION is an underrated or maybe underappreciated album in your catalog. I think it's a shame that you weren't allowed to use an orchestra and a choir at that point, because I can hear their parts so clearly.

RW: When it came to NO EARTHLY CONNECTION, A&M said, "No more orchestras and no more choirs." I said, "They aren't really my trademark, but I like writing for them." They said, "No. We draw the line, no, no, no." There were some real problems with NO EARTHLY CONNECTION. It's one of my favorite albums, in fact the new album is a follow-up to NO EARTHLY CONNECTION. It comes out literally on Monday and is the follow-up. I suppose it was the first album I made without an orchestra that was going back to the principles of how I'd worked on Six Wives and things I'd learned from other people on the true prog-rock basis. The best prog-rock starts from themes, where you have loads of themes. And then you work with them on how many different kinds of ways can I play these? Play them fast, slow, minor keys, major keys, different chord sequences. I'll give you a classic example, "And You And I" is a theme I can remember sitting in the studio with Jon and the rest of the band and figuring out, "How many different ways can we play this?"

TM: That song is really theme and variations.

RW: That's right, that's basically what good prog is and that's what I did with No Earthly Connection. With themes that were very adaptable, "I've got something here, I can work on it." Moving fractionally ahead of the game, I remember A&M Records calling an emergency meeting about eight months after NO EARTHLY CONNECTION was out to discuss the poor sales of the album, because they hadn't reached five million. It was four and three quarter million.

TM: How disappointing!

RW: They were very upset about that and called it a complete disaster. I went, "Oh, okay."

TM: Did you tell them it was because there was no orchestra?

RW: I probably did, but the truth of the matter was it went wrong, for a couple of reasons. I was always the laugher and joker, if you know what I mean, there was always an element of seriousness, but tongue in cheek as well. When you do King Arthur on ice, you've got a moderate sense of humor. And suddenly there was a subject that was dear to my heart, there was no comedy element or fun element with NO EARTHLY CONNECTION. It was something that I believed in fervently. Anyway all of the press came down for the playback of the album. They were all guys I knew very well and they came down expecting the tons and tons of booze and the dancing girls and Wakeman probably being dressed up as a spaceman hanging from the ceiling.

Well, they got the first two, but when it came to playing the album I told them the story about how I believed that music was the missing sense, that it had to be connected with other universes... they basically said, "Oh Wakeman's stopped drinking--he's turned to drugs!" They all expected the wild party and the mad Wakeman, but they didn't get it. They got this guy whose suddenly got a bit serious about what the music was about and they went away. They sat in the coach saying, "Wakeman's lost it! He's on a different planet."

TM: Because he made a serious album.

RW: Not that the others weren't serious, but they said, "What are you going to for concerts?" I said, "I'm going to go out and play the music." "Are you going to build a spaceship?" "No."

TM: "Fly around in a spaceship?"

RW: "Oh, you're not going to do that?" "No, no I'm just going to play with the band." "Oh, oh dear." The amazing thing is the album is still an album that seems a lot of people like, which is why I suppose I eventually ended up doing--I say sequel, but certainly one on along the same lines.

TM: Was there any difficulty getting A&M behind NO EARTHLY CONNECTION?

RW: I had hell of a trouble with NO EARTHLY CONNECTION. The actual main piece I think is about 34 minutes, which of course is too long to go on one side on an album. It was a huge problem and the record company said, "Cut chunks out and make it one side." And I said, "NO. This is the length that it is, this is what it is." Which is why the end of it is on side two.

TM: You had to split it up.

RW: Then they said, "Well, write some more and make it two sides." I said, "There isn't enough to make it two sides. Not on that subject, I've got different pieces, but they aren't part of that story." And they said, "Just lengthen the other bits." And I said, "Look we're getting into TOPOGRAPHIC land here." Having been down that path, padding things out to make it work I didn't want to go down that route. I told them, "You'll just have to split it up and put some of it on side two." They just put their head in their hands. I said, "It's not my fault records are this long." So the story of the music soul is that first piece, leading onto side two and there was "The Prisoner" and "The Spaceman" which were I call related story wise related pieces.

TM: The keyboard parts are so inventive in the melodies and also the tone colors that you used, perhaps some of it was making up for the lack of orchestra?

RW: We'd rented this Château in Northern France. It's where Elton John's album Honky Château was done. It's long since been closed down and it had some history to it, Chopin had lived there for a little while. You were there 24 hours a day and basically I was there through-out the whole thing and my band would be there for large chunks and then some of them would go home. But I was there all the time and the engineer was there all the time, so the studio was basically open 24 hours a day. So sometimes I'd go to my room and I'd think about what we'd been doing and I'd think, "I'd love to do that sound on that!" So I'd get out of bed and wake the engineer up and do it. There was something quite magical about that and I've never been able to do it ever again. It was rather nice; the engineer hated it. I can actually listen to that album and I can almost tell you what times those bits were done.

TM: Criminal Record is one of your defining moments and yet I've never really heard you say much about the recording of the album. Was it something you had pretty much together when you went to work with Yes on Going For The One in Switzerland?

RW: Yeah, it was, but I've always tried not to confuse issues with solo work and Yes. So when we were doing GOING FOR THE ONE I knew you cannot record two albums at the same time. It's not feasible or possible, it cannot be done. So GOING FOR THE ONE was such fun to record in every way that I just threw everything into that. I had a whale of a time doing that album. But of course when it was finished everyone was still hanging around Montreux and I was due to make another album for A&M. I wanted to do something a little bit off the wall. I remember sitting in a pub called the White Horse in Montreux and Chris asked me, "What are you going to do for your album?" I said, "It's based on crime," and he laughed. "I'm going to call it CRIMINAL RECORD." He said, "I like that, what are you going to do?" I replied, "I'm just probably going to do a band, but I want to do something completely different this time around." Normally the poor old keyboard player gets most of his stuff shoved on last, so he's normally fighting for areas to work around what everyone else is doing.

I want to basically go back to SIX WIVES where the keyboards come first. With the technology now I'm going to put all the keyboards on first and then say to bass, drums, guitar, 'Right, you work around what I've done!'" He said, "That sounds like fun, who are you going to use?" I said, "I don't know." And he said, "I'd like to do it and I know Alan would too." It sounded good to me. So I did all the keyboard parts over a period of time for CRIMINAL RECORD and Chris and Alan did their bass and drums and I deliberately didn't go anywhere near the studio.

I didn't want to have any influence over what Chris and Alan would do. The first time I heard it was after about ten days, I can't even remember where I went. I didn't even stay in Switzerland and the engineer Dave Richards called and said, "They're all done!" And it was fantastic, because it was like listening to the pieces for the first time.

TM: That's wild, Rick, I've never heard of anyone doing anything like that.

RW: That was it. I remember phoning Chris and saying, "Fantastic, thank you very much!"

TM: You had no input on their parts at all?

RW: No input whatsoever. In fact Chris especially did some things, that if I had been around--I wouldn't even have thought of.

TM: But you were playing to a click track though, right?

RW: No, I hated click tracks. I needed things to have a feel, so when I put the keyboard parts down they had my feel. The tempos wander considerably and I know Alan called me some gynecological term, because it was not easy to play to! It was easier for Chris, because he could wander in and out with the music. There was no click track at all.

TM: That's amazing.

RW: Every keyboard, every solo was down before they came in.

TM: This explains why it's such a definitive keyboard album.

RW: After they'd done their bits, I brought in a percussion player called Frank Ricotti from England to add tymps and tuned percussion. He came in for a day, I was there for that. I also got a famous English comedian called Bill Oddie for the one tongue in cheek song "The Breathalyzer" which he came and did. He had a minor hit record with the "Throwing Up Blues". It had a great line in it, "I've thrown up in St. Louie, I've thrown up in New York too and if you come anywhere near me I'll throw up all over you!" He came up over a day and we recorded. But basically the album was done, all the keyboard parts--thank you very much- and every one else work around me, tough shit!

TM: In regards to Rhapsodies album, what the hell happened there?

RW: A&M records. Basically, financially things weren't great. The trouble is it goes back to what I said about David Bowie, "If you've got the control, you can be innovative and move forward." A&M records came to me and they didn't understand CRIMINAL RECORD at all and they said, "We need you to get a producer." I said, "I don't mind, but it's got to be someone who understands music. That's really important, because otherwise we can't talk the same language." They said all right and we agreed on Tony Visconti, because I'd worked with Tony on Strawbs and various things. I heard from Tony later, who was not just given guidelines, but was told by A&M basically to make an album with lots of tunes on it. Some of those pieces should have been one, there were four or five that would have been one piece. It was recorded in Switzerland on the mobile, I had a big house there at the time and we used a big room to record in. There were some good sounds on there, like on "The March of the Gladiators," but I'll be very honest with you--I just lost interest in it. I ended up not going in, unless it was to do my bits and pieces. Again there was some nice melodies...

TM: "Seahorses"...

RW: "Seahorses", I liked a lot. It was actually taken from a film of seahorses that I'd seen from an American friend of mine who is an underwater diver. That was the only piece was what it should have been. "Flacons de Neige" for example, what have been the pretty piano melodies that would have been part of another piece, but they just wanted lots of short pieces. Tony had been dictated to, so that's what happened on that album. There are some things on there that I like, and there's some things that obviously I don't like--I'm sort of surmising, but you can say this was the record companies way of getting what they wanted, by telling the producer, "Okay you'll get paid if you deliver this."

Tony is a good producer and a clever man, but I don't think this is an album that he would have produced under normal circumstances. I know I wouldn't have done it. And then A&M had it and didn't know what to do with it. First of all it didn't fit in with the punk music that was coming out and it didn't fit in with what I'd done before. So everybody sort of scratched their head, if you know what I mean? I suppose that was the first time if the truth be known that I lost control, complete control. The album didn't do that well, but it still sold a couple of million.

TM: For a double album that's great.

RW: Yeah, but when you consider Journey, Arthur and Henry had all done more than ten million. The thing that upset me more than anything else was that a lot of music was wasted on there. Had I been able to arrange it and play it as I wanted to it would have been fine. To top it off they came to me and demanded a disco track with "Rhapsody in Blue". Which as an exercise was great fun, because I did all the orchestra on the instruments of the day, which was not easy. I remember they were a track short, they'd mistimed. I'd just done the "Rhapsody in Blue" and I was tearing out my hair really, but what I did quite enjoy was getting different sounds out the instruments. So we had to get it done quick so I said, "Let's do something completely different." So I did this track called "Half Holiday" which was like a trad jazz track. It was like a Dixieland jazz piece, but I did on the instruments that I had available. As an experiment I thought it was really good.

TM: I'll have to go back and listen to that one.

RW: It was all done on Mini-Moogs and electric pianos, we didn't have any of the toys we have today. So that was done and then the album came out and I sort of threw me head in my hands, really.

TM: Let's leave the distant past and talk about the new album Out There. You said that this the first really progressive rock band album you've done since NO EARTHLY CONNECTION and in some ways a sequel to that album.

RW: It started three or four years ago when I was out in South America playing with my band. That's still what I call a prog-rock strong hold. I also went to Russia, which is also strong.

TM: Russia is... really?

RW: Yeah, we did really good business there and in Poland. We're still playing 5-10,000 seaters or more in some places. On tour I was asked, "Why don't you make another prog rock album? A proper prog-rock album?" It started me thinking, "What is a proper prog-rock album?" I thought well, it's basically knowing all the rules of music and breaking them --in a lot of respects. You've got to know the rules to break them in the first place. I was looking at some of things we've been talking about getting the melodies together and the other thing you do as well is you make a piece up, you start putting a piece together and then you put it to one side. You listen to it a month later and bits that you like really stand out, and bits that you don't like stand out and you get rid of those. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle, like CLOSE TO THE EDGE. I said, "I've love to do an album like that, I'd really would."

I was speaking to a friend of mine at Classic Pictures; Robert Garofalo and I'd told him I'd really like to do this project. He'd done a DVD of one of my stand-up shows, which had done really well. I said, "I like doing these, this is really great. What do I do next?" He said, "Make a prog-rock album." I said, "The problem is, there are record companies who will give you the money to do it, simply because a lot of young bands are taking a lot of influences from prog-rock, it's not a bad thing. But the trouble is they all want input, there's always conditions that come when someone gives you the money to make something." He said, "Well, make it yourself." "It's not always that easy and you've got to remember that not only in my exploits into concerts that cost ten times more than people coming in, and three divorces... it's not that easy!" He said, "Well, it's the only way. You produce it and then take it to the companies. You still retain the rights and keep it on your label; you just use their distribution. You get their benefits, but you have control over the music. Just record the music over periods of time, when you've got the money and time."

So I started looking around for a concept, because I thought if I'm going to do this in true prog-rock manner, I've got to have all the things that influence me that way. One of the things people keep mentioning to me is NO EARTHLY CONNECTION. And I'm fascinated with space and as you probably know I've got a long association with the people at NASA...

TM: I have heard that.

RW: I've had this for some time, they've been flying my music up there for bloody years. It was about that time I got another letter from NASA saying, that when they did the map of the earth--when Endeavor flew seventeen times around the earth to map the earth they played JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH through the entire trip. And then I was walking on the beach in the Canary islands and with a good mate down there and he asked me the question I can never answer, I hate to answer, it's one of those impossible things: "When you're writing where do the first notes come from?" It's just an unanswerable question. I said, "I don't know." "It's got to come from somewhere." I looked up and it was a beautiful night, stars were everywhere and I said, "Somewhere out there, I suppose." I started looking out, and I was thinking, "Out there, eh? If NASA has been flying my music out there, I wonder if anyone could be flying it back down to us?" I have a little house there, I went back and sat down and stayed up most the night looking at the sky and thinking, "I want to do a concept on a fantasy, but a fantasy that's--I won't say believable, but certainly not unbelievable."

TM: Plausible.

RW: Plausible, yeah. We know there is a multitude of universes out there and there are things that we don't know. We know you can't actually see music, you can't put it in your hand. In the same way in your room, wherever you are is full of radio signals from radio stations and if you turn on your radio and tune it in you'll pick one up. You can't see it, but it will pick it up.

TM: So you're saying the same thing about music?

RW: Certain people who have within them, the receiver ability--to receive certain kinds of music if they tune into that frequency. There's a great universe in the sky, firing it down and you just happened to tune it, you could collect some music. And I thought, "I like that, that's quite good fun." So then there was another strange thing that happened, certainly--I don't believe in the word coincidence--but certain things happen and you go, "Hold on a minute, somebody's trying to tell me something!" It was shortly after that I went to Italy, my girlfriend is Italian and she's an artist. I said to her, "I've got an idea about music in the universe, etc" and she said, "You know three years before we met I painted this series of paintings called 'Music of the Universe'." And I said, "You're joking!" She said, "I'll show you, I've got them waiting to go in an exhibition. There are all different music galaxies, where the stars are music symbols and all sorts of things." I went and saw them and they're huge paintings and it was really strange, because this is exactly what I'm thinking about--this has got to be the one, this is it.

TM: More than coincidence.

RW: Oh yeah. Then we were putting the music together and it was going great. We were driving along in the car in England listening to my demos and she said to me, "This is a really nice concept about music being fired down or you can go out in collect it. So you've got the different kinds of galaxies with different kinds of music." I said, "That's it, there's a galaxy of where there's music of love, there's a galaxy with music of power... " "But who puts the music in the galaxies?" "Oh great! Thanks a lot, it was going really, really well." Again this wonderful world of coincidence, of all things I'd put together on the CD a piece came on based on a huge church organ sound. This just came on and I said, "There's a great big cathedral in the sky, in the furthest away universe possible. It's in this great big cathedral that dishes all the music." She went, "Oh that's good. I like that." I thought, "Right, we've answered that one!" So I wrote this piece called "Cathedral in the Sky" which is the last piece on the album.

TM: Very evocative, I could picture the cathedral just as you said it. Weren't you going to release this album originally last year?

RW: Everything went really well and we finished the album and then the Yes scenario appeared. The album was due to be released June of last year and when the Yes thing happened I said, "I don't want to release it now. I want to release it next year." And they said why not and I told them: "There's a couple of things. First of all I want to be able to concentrate for the next six months on the tour with Yes. And I don't think it sends out the right signals, June the 4th rejoins Yes, June the 5th releases solo album! Okay, I don't believe anyone would think I recorded the album overnight, but on the other hand I don't want to go on the tour promoting the album, I want to promote Yes so you can't release it now." They saw where I was coming from and I said let's do it the beginning of next year, before Yes goes to do other things. Things worked out really quite well, in-between the gap on the Yes tour I was listening to it and remixed a couple of bits, adding a couple bits--things did actually improve. Then when we gave it to the BMG who are going to distribute it though Classic Pictures in September... Robert loved it and said, "I want to make a DVD of this." I said, "What, record a show?" He said, "No, no. It's about time someone made a studio film DVD. I want to make animation and all sorts of things."

TM: I was wondering what the DVD was...

RW: I said, "All right. No disrespect Robert, but it's going to cost a fortune." He said, "Yeah, that's my problem, not yours. I'll deal with that. I'll need to sit down and ask you some questions with my animators." So I told him the basis of the concept of the story and he loved it. He told me, "This is great, we'll have a field day with the universes, stars and so on. Now how will we get out there? How do you get to play the music, or do you just stand in a field or something?" I replied, "Some of it's in the mind obviously" and they said doesn't really help us too much, do you mind if we make an adaptation? I said, "Not of the music." "No, no of the story to make it more visual. Right, let's say that you're venturing to find the source of music. We'll build an intergalactic space ship built out of bits of musical instruments and we will go into space to collect the different kinds of music, eventually ending up at the Cathedral in the Sky." The DVD won't be out until May or June, but I've seen clips and it's fantastic, it's unbelievable. They made a film to the music, basically.

TM: You told me last year that you may come to North America to do a solo tour this year--is that still on the drawing board?

RW: Yeah, that'll happen. Basically to avoid situations that have happened in the past, I make no plans until I know 100% what's happening with Yes.

TM: Which is tough!

RW: It is pretty tough, yeah that's putting it mildly!

TM: Things change all the time.

RW: Tell me about it and it is actually difficult at times, because things do change a lot. My English tour finishes the 31st of May and Yes starts in Dublin on the 3rd. I've got 24 hours to get my gear to Dublin, but that's all right. But I do want to bring this to America, because the show we're doing in England we'll project bits of the DVD footage and we've got cameras over the keyboards so we can project onto a couple of screens. It's quite a big production and it will be nice to bring it here.

TM: We'd love to see a solo tour, it's been a long time.

RW: The band's good, but you have to focus on one thing at a time. When this UK tour finishes, it will literally be shutting the door on my own face on the 31st of May and you open the Yes tour and you concentrate on that 100%. When the full Yes schedule and plans are known and if there are gaps it may be possible to put some US and European shows on in the gaps. Reality also has to step in, the shows I'm putting on is quite an expensive show. The pre-album sales in the UK are good and it looks like it will chart the first week of its release, which is really quite nice. How look it will stay nobody knows, but at least it goes in for a week or so. You have to brutally honest and if it doesn't do well in the US, well you can only go and play where people want it. We're not just playing that album, we're playing a lot of the old stuff the same as everybody does... we do want to come here and play shows with the band. Definitely.

TM: I'd like to wrap up by talking a bit about Yes. The show I saw the band do at the Universal Amphitheater at the end of the first leg was extraordinary, it was one of the best Yes shows I've seen in a long time.

RW: I think actually, by the time we came on the second leg, where we'd changed a couple things around, I think it was better. The second lot.

TM: That was a great show too.

RW: They were both good. It's just hard to say when you're playing music, that shall we say is not current, but it was incredibly fresh. I think that was one of the tremendous things about that show. Although it's not like playing the music for the first time, but from the keyboard side of things there's been lots of new innovations which have better equipped me to play some of the pieces than ever before. For example it's always been difficult on pieces like "Awaken" where six considerably different organ sounds are needed, whereas before I'd get one out of this and two out of that and this is going to be difficult...

TM: Some compromises were made.

RW: There were, causing a little frustration. It was great to go in this time--Jon, who I think knows every note of "Awaken" from start to finish that everybody plays, which is quite remarkable- we played it in rehearsal and he said, "You've never done that before." And I said, "You can now." It was just really nice, that there were things like that for me that Jon noticed, you know what I mean? There was a whole camaraderie on that thing.

TM: It seemed like the band was having a great time.

RW: Oh absolutely. I absolutely loved it; there's no other word for it. In fact the last show in Mexico I cried back in my room, I was really upset.

TM: You talked about putting a fresh coat of paint on these songs, but one of my favorite parts of the second leg was when "Magnification", "Don't Kill the Whale" and "South Side of the Sky" were played right after each other. I loved it, because "Don't Kill the Whale" hadn't been played since '79, "Magnification" was new and "South Side" was only revived for this tour. So it was magical to hear 'new' music played with that intensity.

RW: What was also nice as well was a lot more what I call 'looser areas' in regard to some of the music as well. I do think that at times in the past we were a bit pedantic about, "Well, this is how it was recorded, so this is how it has to sound." Of course you take pieces like "South Side" which don't have an ending on the record--"What can we do at the end?" It could be a bit like "Siberian Khatru" where Steve has a solo or whatever, but it started sound like the end of "Khatru". Steve said, "Do you want to do the solo?" And I said, "Yeah, I could do it, but then it would also sound like 'Oh they're going to finish it and do another solo at the end.' Why don't we do the old jazz trick of doing fours backwards and forwards?" Steve liked the idea and so we tried it out the first night and everybody loved it and so we kept it in. Things like linking "Don't Kill the Whale" to the end of "Magnification" was really good, you know? It's not something Yes would have done years ago, and I think that little bit of daredevil attitude coming in...

TM: A little cavalier?

RW: Yeah, there's a bit of that and it created such a great feeling. There's no doubt about it; the audiences were just beyond belief. I always knew how much Yes meant to a lot of people; I did always know that. But to be honest with you, I didn't know what this particular line-up meant to a lot of people.

TM: It's great to have you back, because it really does feel complete now.

RW: The great thing about this band is it's not one to look over its shoulder at mistakes that individuals or the band has made. It's one that does look forward, and I think that's probably Yes' great strength. From the moment we sat in the rehearsal room in June, nobody was looking over their shoulder, it was, "Where are we going to go from here?"

TM: It was apparent in the shows, they were amazing. I don't know when Yes is planning to go back in the studio and this may be a bit presumptuous of me, but I think Yes should create another great rock song like "South Side" or "All Good People."

RW: One of things we've resisted is going into the studio straight away and certain people have wanted the band go right back and record, "This would be great. We'll sell the record and get make some money." "No, no, no. Let's not be in a rush." So we're not planning to record until 2004 or whatever and that's basically what's going to happen. Jon and I spent a lot of time in the car on the last tour just driving around and we've talked a lot about what we can do and what we should do. I'm very much going to be pushing for a lot of the music coming from how we used to write--I'm not trying to suggest we produce a 70's kind of album, but certainly getting great things together, building pieces around thematic things, which Yes are really good at.

Notes From the Edge #275
Conducted March 21, 2003

The entire contents of this interview are
Copyright © 2003 Tim Morse and Notes From the Edge

© 2003 Notes From the Edge