Yes – Magnification Tour – Nottingham Royal Centre, Saturday December 8, 2001.

Jon Anderson: “I was interviewed one time by this Finnish lady who said to me (adopts accent) ‘I listened to your music all the way through the 70s and I never understood one word of what you were singing about!’ So I said to her: ‘Well, I didn’t understand a word of it either!’” (Gales of audience laughter)

I was prepared for all sorts of things, but I never expected Yes to show a sense of, you know, Fun. Yet all the people on stage at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall – band and orchestra alike – were clearly having a ball. Bassist Chris Squire – wearing a flouncy black smock over skin-tight lycra leggings tucked into Doc Marten boots – was having more of a ball than most. Every now and again (particularly during Starship Trooper and Ritual), he would start galumphing round the stage, legs akimbo, alternately pulling fearsome “I AM THOR, GOD OF THUNDER!” type poses and cracking into broad “Isn’t this just the best job in the world?” type grins. In a flash of awful clarity, you suddenly saw where New Order’s Hooky stole his best moves.

In stark contrast, at the opposite side of the stage, Steve Howe’s aura was one of professorial detachment and studious concentration (though occasionally he would forget himself and allow a broad toothy grin to spread over his face). With his once much-envied tresses now receding, showing a surprisingly high domed forehead, he seemed to be morphing into an unholy cross between Stephen Hawking and Sven-Goran Eriksson. Midway through the third song of the night, he was already onto his ninth guitar (K was counting). By the end of the show, he had got through thirteen of them. Sometimes, he would have one guitar still strapped to him, but would actually be playing a different guitar in front of that, set up on a stand. His guitar technician, an almost constant presence on stage throughout, must surely be the hardest working roadie in show business.

Meanwhile, Anderson skipped about the stage like the irrepressibly cheerful space pixie he always was, his singing as high and clear as ever. He was only flummoxed once. Yes fans being the obsessives that they are, the real diehards down the front already knew the order of the set. So they were well aware that on some nights, the band weren’t bothering to play Gates Of Delirium (from 1974’s Relayer album) – a complex and challenging work, even by Yes standards, which I find almost impossible to listen to, but which can reduce other grown men to tears (I’ll name no names here…) So, when the appointed time arrived, shouts of “GATES!” immediately started reverberating round the front stalls. One bunch even unfurled a huge black banner, with “GATES OF DELIRIUM” painted in huge letters. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a designated “Gates night”. The orchestra didn’t even have the sheet music with them, so we were told. Anderson had thought they could all get away with it. Big mistake! Howls of protest. One very uncomfortable looking space pixie wringing his hands and squirming with embarrassment, at a loss for words.

This aside, there was, as they say, a lot of love in the room. The audience were mostly men in their forties, reliving their adolescence with unselfconscious glee (and, latterly, gimpy dancing). Their partners were, to a woman, all bearing the same Brave Smile. It was very strange being in the company of people whose lips didn’t automatically curl into a sneer at the very mention of the band’s name. Strange, and curiously liberating. Why, it almost felt like Pride marches in the late eighties!

The band opened with the first song of theirs which I ever heard (aged 12) – Close To The Edge. The experience of actually hearing it being played live in front of me, 27 years after buying the album, was overwhelming. For all of its duration (and it’s a long piece – maybe 20 minutes or so), I was on the brink of tears. I later discovered that I wasn’t the only one. The band played it superbly. The orchestral backing, which seemed so restrictive on their current album (Magnification), worked magnificently well on stage – it was a balanced, integral part of the whole.

I was watching the members of the orchestra closely. Sometimes, when a rock act adopts an orchestra, you can see a very particular expression on their faces. It’s a sort of distant disdain. It says: “My God, the things I have to do to pay the rent…” But not with this orchestra. I honestly think they, uh, dug it. Respect!

Other highlights: And You And I (the orchestra worked beautifully well on this), Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil), and a final, ecstatic Roundabout. In fact, even the new stuff sounded good. In fact, there weren’t really any boring moments at all. And I was completely prepared for boring moments. But this band know how to entertain – and by God, they can play their instruments. Technically, they were stunning. You remembered why you used to like “progressive” rock – because it was an exercise in stretching one’s capabilities to the very limits, and pushing back the boundaries of what a rock band was capable of producing. Is that really so very wrong?

And one other thing, which also struck me when I saw Gong last month. Somehow, the spirit of optimism was still intact and going strong. How the hell did that happen? I’d forgotten how important that sense of optimism was to the genre – of a simple faith in human progress and evolution. Hey, we weren’t to know what was just round the corner: punk, Thatcher, style fascism, the death of the socialist dream, all the rest of it (and if you really want to know what happened, read Jonathan Coe’s superb “The Rotters Club” – all will be explained). We might have been naïve then, but it felt so good to reconnect, just for one night, with something which meant so much at the time, and for which we have spent far too much time apologising.

In the pub after the show, eight of us sat round having the most animated conversation about prog acts we had loved. Gentle Giant! Greenslade! Camel! Focus! Gryphon! And if you must, Rush! (Though there was a major schism over that last one.) At the end of the night, as we were heading off home, someone said “God, we’re sad bastards, aren’t we?” To which I replied: no – it’s the people who shut themselves off to stuff just because it’s unfashionable who are the sad bastards. Not us!

Top 30 Overview – 14 March 1982


Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the current top thirty is the almost complete absence of black dance records. Imagination stand alone at number 18, with “Just An Illusion” cleaning up the disco market completely – last week, George Benson was disco’s sole representative. It is a sad fact that the only black faces in the charts belong to the three hunky dudes in Imagination, Neville and Lynval of the Fun Boy 3, and Haircut 100’s drummer (Burmese Annabella Lu-win is a debatable addition to the list). Is it just a fluke? Or have the white soul boys of yesteryear switched their allegiances to the bright faces of the New Pop, such as Haircut, ABC, Spandau, Soft Cell et al? Or is the current disco output just lamentably weak compared to the sheer might of some of the offerings of ’78 and ’79? Hopefully – surely – this is just a temporary aberration, but there is precious little knocking on the doors of the thirty: Kool and the Gang, Pluto Shervington, The Four Tops, and no-one else in sight.

The healthiest aspect has to be the wealth of bright and breezy new groups zooming to prominence with their first few releases. Haircut 100 currently rule to roost, at number 3 with “Love Plus One” and at number 2 in the album chart with “Pelican West” – and deservedly so, as they have effectively silenced all the carping critics of last year who had them bracketed with such faddy puffballs as Blue Rondo A La Turk and their ilk. “Funk by numbers!” they jeered – but a listen to “Pelican West” shows variety, taste and an astonishing maturity for a band so young. Nick Heyward is the perfect pin-up for 10 year olds everywhere, and so much more healthy than poor old Adam, who must by now have lost all his fans of eighteen months ago who saw him as such a welcome breath of fresh air.  The appearance of “Deutsche Girls”, now 4 years old, in the charts makes me chuckle, as the powers that be have hastily tried to remove the Nazi-chic connotations from the song in order to preserve Adam’s all-round family appeal: “Camp 49 way down on the Rhine” becomes “Lover of mine way down on the Rhine” and “why did you have to be so Nazi?” becomes, laughably, “why did you have to be so Nasty?”. Unless there is some sort of drastic re-think in the Antcamp, it looks as if the downward spiral is about to start for the tacky old trouper. Nick Heyward and Claire Grogan – young, teasing, eager and enhanced with vitamin C – are by far the better choices, and Britain’s teenys are waking up to the fact. Watch the new Altered Images offering, “See Those Eyes”, shoot up to the top 5 for another prolonged residence!!

Also up there are the Depeche boys, irresistable as ever with “See You”, Fun Boy 3, thankfully losing their one-dimensional gripe-and-groan image with an added injection of Bananarama and an insanely catchy tune in “It Ain’t What You Do…” and, of course, Soft Cell, who have captured just that little edge of danger, of subversiveness, of hidden dark forces – enough to capture the imagination and arouse the curiosity of Britain’s young innocents. (There’s something definitely not quite right about Marc Almond, isn’t there?) And then…. put out the flags! Bow Wow Wow have got it right at last! Two years, an album and six singles after the McLaren masterplan was first unfolded, “Go Wild In The Country” finally finds the right combination of catchiness, subversion, fluidity, passion and ambiguity and hits the top ten – at last, we are treated to the sight of the delightful Annabella where she rightly belongs: strutting her stuff on Top Of The Pops. Let’s only hope that they don’t go the way of the Ants, and dilute the might of their first hit in favour of lame commercialism.

Surprising, as well, to see The Associates up there. After single after single of uncompromising gloom ‘n doom, the boys have decided to clean up and go for gold. “Party Fears Two” is a glorious swirl of majestic pop sound, capped by the tortured delivery of Billy Mackenzie. I would have thought that Billy’s well over-the-top vocalising alone would have kept “Party Fears Two” a million miles away from charting, but once again, the top thirty has thrown up yet another pleasant surprise, and it looks as if The Associates are going to be stars!

Completing this clutch of young hopefuls are ABC, with, in my opinion, the most stunningly perfect single in the charts at the moment – I refer, of course, to the incomparable “Poison Arrow”. A superbly crafted record: a properly structured song, a thumping danceability, a sparkling production from Trevor Horn and intelligent, ambiguous lyrics masterfully delivered by Martin Fry. “Poison Arrow” will surely stand the test of time, and sound as right five years on as it does today. And such an improvement on the dreary anti-climax of the much-heralded “Tears Are Not Enough”, as well! ABC understand.

The old guard of the new wave are still out in force, of course – The Jam have returned with their best single since “Start” in the shape of “Town Called Malice”; sad, then, that the other side, “Precious”, is such a drossy rip-off of last year’s upsurge of white funk and “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” in particular. Madness are back as strong as ever with “Cardiac Arrest”, and have proved themselves to be so much more than nutty nutty rude-boys. There’s surely one hell of a greatest hits album to be made here! The Stranglers have surprised all and sundry with “Golden Brown” becoming the biggest hit of their careers by a long way, and deservedly so. Gary Numan‘s latest, “Music For Chameleons”, steals unashamedly from the last Japan album in every way possible, but he has worked with Mick Karn, so I suppose it can be justified to some extent – what’s more, it stands head and shoulders over everything he’s done in living memory since the heady days of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” and “Cars”. I don’t care much for OMD, but “Maid Of Orleans” is a professional job, it has to be admitted, and I don’t begrudge them their continued success. And of course there’s Bowie, back with his thirtieth hit, no less!

And that leaves…

Special mentions for Robert Palmer and Hall & Oates! Their respective careers have both had considerable up’s and down’s, but both are currently enjoying their greatest British chart successes ever with “Some Guys Have All The Luck” and “I Can’t Go For That”. Both are worthy testaments to their perennial talents and enduring quality – and so say all of us! “Some Guys” in particular is a real sizzler, and deserves top three status at the very least. A pity, then, that other relics from the early Seventies are producing such tripe: the records from Adrian Gurvitz and Elkie Brooks are unimaginative mush. These are the sort of things that spoil the enjoyment of Top Of The Pops and the Top Forty show for everybody! The Radio One DJ’s in question should be shot for giving them the exposure that made them chart in the first place. The only heavy metal record in the charts at the moment comes from Iron Maiden, and, it must be admitted, it’s quite palatable as HM records go – at least the lyrics contain some traits, however facile, of “social conscience”. There’s usually one relatively decent HM hit per year – “Since You’ve Been Gone” in ’79, “New Orleans” in ’81, for instance – I don’t think “Run To The Hills” will be The One, but it’s not far off. The J. Geils Band‘s “Centrefold” provokes a mixed reaction – I know it’s abominably MINDLESS and SEXIST, and the video raises my liberal hackles…. but when all’s said and done, you can’t beat a good tune, and “Centrefold” is an exceptionally good tune. What’s more, it’s about time the J. Geils Band got the recognition they deserve after so many years in the wilderness. But WHAT THE HELL is “Layla” doing in the charts?!

And that leaves….

The Jets. Well, each to his own, I suppose. Beats Matchbox at any rate. Mike Post and Larry Carlton. Who buys this sort of stuff? People who never miss an episode of “The Hill Street Blues”, I suppose. Julio Iglesias and The Goombay Dance Band, continuing the fine old tradition of cruddy, half-baked, unimaginative FOREIGN (eurgh!!) slop capturing, as ever, the hearts and wallets of gullible, tone-deaf wallies everywhere. Starsound, sounding amazingly outdated already with their ‘tribute’ to Stevie Wonder. Abba, with an undistinguished offering that looks like being their smallest hit for a very long time indeed – wise up, Bjorn and Benny; you’re capable of so much more! And finally, this week’s top two, from Tight Fit and Toni Basil. And I expect you probably have your own opinions about those two!