Story by Shawn Perry
To stay relevant for the half century they’ve been around, Yes has been known for mixing it up. They did it with the music in the 1970s and 80s. These days, it’s all about playing live and keeping it fresh. So, in their infinite wisdom, Yes started getting creative and played their epic albums in concert and started taking their most hardcore fans on an annual Caribbean cruise.
In more recent years, they’ve been supported on the tours by a number of favorable, complementary acts. For 2019, Yes have expanded their show to over three hours with themselves, Asia, John Lodge of The Moody Blues, and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy with Arthur Brown, on the bill for The Royal Affair Tour. Highlights of the tour include Yes performing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which Yes drummer Alan White accompanied the former Beatle on. Asia also has Steve Howe, the band’s original guitarist who quit to focus on Yes, sitting in for a song or two. Those are only two of the many “surprises” on this trek.
Speaking from the road, keyboardist Geoff Downes of both Yes and Asia, says the tour has been going very well, adding, “The whole idea of putting together British bands and the songs associated it…if you’re an ELP fan or a Yes fan, the people really appreciate the variety of music. John Lodge puts on a fantastic show. Carl (Palmer) has a few surprises. And a Yes set and an Asia set in between. It’s a big feast of music for fans of any of those bands.”
With “an amazing crew that can turn each act around within five minutes,” Downes assures me the logistics behind putting on such an epic production are locked in. As for the music itself, the keyboardist is pulling double duty with both Yes and Asia.
“For my part, I have to cover four different keyboards from Yes’s catalog, so should give you an indication of the diversity of our setlist,” he tells me regarding his responsibilities with Yes. As for balancing that with Asia, Downes says, “It’s a challenge, but it’s been great. I look forward to playing with both bands.”
On this tour, Asia has a new member in their ranks: Ron Thal, aka “Bumblefoot,” on guitar and lead vocals. Thal is best known for his seven-year stint with Guns N’ Roses (2006 through 2014). More recently, his mastery of prog has bubbled to the surface with the supergroup Sons of Apollo. So how on earth did he end up with Asia?
Downes explains the two met during a Classic Rock All-Stars jam, where he says they “really hit it off.” Billy Sherwood, already assuming Chris Squire’s place in Yes, agreed to play bass and sing in Asia in 2018. However, according to Downes, both he and Sherwood wanted to “strengthen” the vocals a bit more for this tour, so he asked Thal about becoming Asia’s guitarist and lead vocalist. “He was happy to come aboard and do it,” the keyboardists says. “Hopefully, we’ll do something in the future. I think he’s done a fantastic job. It would be a shame if we didn’t continue and make some music together.”
After The Royal Affair Tour wraps at the end of July, the keyboardist looks forward to “a productive spell” for a few months. He wouldn’t speculate as to whether Yes or Asia have committed to making a record, though he mentioned everyone is always working on music and “getting ideas together.”
For Yes, who have spent the past two years touring, there’s little time to record. That, however, could change.
“There’s a fairly large window this time,” Downes says. “That’s when we’ll start talking about going into the studio and doing some new stuff.”