Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Yes vocalist and songwriter Jon Anderson is touring Europe with The Paul Green Rock Academy. The trek is a resumption of the tradition started in 2005 when Jon toured with Paul Green's School of Rock all stars. Bringing a new generation to perform a host of classic tracks, Jon will be playing Yes' classic 'Close to the Edge' in its entirety, as well as other hits and some surprises. We caught up with Jon to discuss the dates, touch on some key Yes albums, and find out what happened the night Yes attempted to play a gig in Cork on the night of the moon landing all the way back in 1969. Man in the moon; Eamon O’Neill.
Hey Jon, how are you today?
Hey man, how are you? Yeah, all is good. We've got a show tonight, here in Madrid and it's standing room only.
The tour has started already; how's it been going?
Very well. Working with teenagers is more fun and frolics and craziness. They love creating music. They love playing music, which is helpful. We do some Frank Zappa songs and we do a Zeppelin song, and a couple of other songs people know, and we match them up with Yes songs.
That sounds interesting. How did you come to be involved with the Paul Green Rock Academy, and what was attracted you to doing it?
Well twenty years ago, twenty-two years ago Yes was doing a concert in Philadelphia, and I came out after the show backstage and there's about ten kids with 'School of Rock' t shirts, and I said; "okay, what are you doing then?" They said; "yeah, we play rock and roll", and I said; "oh, really, who you play?", and they said; "well we play Zappa, and we like Yes, it's pretty good!", you know, "thank you very much!" And then Paul rings me, and said; "Hi, John, how are you? Would you be interested in working with the kids?" I said; "not really", and then about two weeks later, he sent me a cassette of them playing 'Heart of the Sunrise' [from 'Fragile', 1971], and it blew my mind. It really blew my mind, so from then on we were very interested in it, and me and James went to Philadelphia in the middle of winter to work with kids and teach them a bit of stage presence.
Obviously, Yes. music is famously complex, especially from that era, so it must have been mind blowing to see young kids play it.
It's quite amazing. They're still doing it now. We're doing the whole 'Close to the Edge' album, and some classic Yes stuff. They're very happy to do music, and we're grateful and thankful, and you can't go wrong with that.
You're coming back to Dublin with the show, and it's been quite a while since you played in Ireland; how do you feel about coming back?
Well, we love Dublin, of course. We love Ireland. My mum was Irish, and so I have that in my blood. And it's great to be able to travel around Europe and just do shows and have fun. Everybody seems to enjoy the show. I've just got to learn to remember the words.
Yes played in both Dublin and Belfast way back in 1969. Have you any memories about those really early shows?
Yeah, I remember it very clearly because we drove from Dublin to Cork, and we stopped at every pub on the way. as you can imagine! By that time we were on tour with The Nice, which was Keith Emerson's band, and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. By the time we got to Cork, we found the gig, and it was a hurling sort of pitch [sports ground], and the stage was facing the stand. So we kind of looked at it and realised there was only one plug! Somebody had gone around the back and said; "hey, there's a plug around here!" So, we went into the Abattoir pub and started drinking.
Going to the pub was the natural thing to do.
Well, we can't really just play on one plug; we'd need a dozen at least for the equipment, and so on and so on, so we thought; "well, maybe we shouldn't" So, right there we started; Keith Emerson's on the piano. We're singing silly songs and we're drinking a lot, and a lot of fans have bought tickets and started coming into the pub. And some of them are a bit annoyed, you know? So we kind of brushed it off and said; "sorry, we'll sing the song now on the piano", and that kind of thing. It got a little bit rowdy, and our manager at the time said; "I've got to sneak you out of here because there's another fifty people outside wanting to come into the pub". Just at that moment, the guy behind the bar, the pub owner, rang the bell said; "everybody, everybody, everybody look at the TV!", and he had this little TV in the corner, and it was the moon landing! And while everybody's watching, the manager has sneaked us out the back, and we went on the coach, and got to the local airport, flew to London.
So that gig didn't take place in the end because of that one plug situation?
Exactly. Well, there was a iron flex going from the stage waaaaay to the other side of the pitch in a little hut, and we all walk over to that; "well, we need some electricity", and there wasn't even a plug on the end of the flex!
Going back to 'Close to the Edge', and what memories do you have from recording the album?
Oh, forever. Making the album wasn't easy. You have to do a twenty minute piece of music in sections and things like that, so there's a lot of fun going on there. But we loved making the album. I remember very vividly that it was something different, totally different; nothing to do with radio music or pop music. It was just this gigantic idea that Chris [Squire] and Steve [Howe] sort of constructed as we went along. It was a wonderful experience because we all grew up musically getting that together. And then the idea of touring and performing, it was another 'guess', shall we say!? And then fifty years later, here we are doing it with young teenagers. You know, it's just a wonderful experience to be able to do this music, still, and it's survived, which is a good thing.
Is the album a particular favourite of yours, or was the idea to do it purely based on the anniversary?
No, it just happened that way because we've learned it last year. The teenagers said; "we've done 'Close to the Edge", and we said; "why don't we do it [live] next year? We'll do the whole album". It's a good show. People love it.
I wanted to touch on '90125' , as Trevor Horn has told us that it's the best album he ever worked on.
Oh, Trevor Horn, brilliant producer. He'd already done an album I liked which was 'Duck Rock'. It was the manager of Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren, that album. And I'd heard a couple of other things, so when I went to London and Chris rang me up and said he wants to see me, play me some of the music, I said; "this is bloody great, Chris". He said; "do you want to sing on it?" I said; "well, if I do, I'm sure it'll sound like Yes", and he said; "that's what we want", and I thought; "yeah, I'll do it, of course!" It was a great experience; you know, you travelled the world, number one. Wherever you went. It was a big record.
Follow-up 'Big Generator'  didn't fair as well.
Well, you should never chase a hit record and try to find a hit record; you either make on or you don't. That's what they were doing, and I was busy writing whole album of ideas that I was working on at that time. So, I was sort of happy to do the album, but it wasn't a big experience for me. It was just fun.
Personally, I love 'Rhythm of Love' and 'Love Will Find a Way'; they're great tracks, but was the album maybe a little bit too Pop?
Well, I thought they were great, great for stage. Basically, MTV had already decided that we weren't hip enough. You'd make a video, send it to the MTV and they'd say; "no, we don't want to use it". My god, we just spent a hundred grand on that bloody video, and you don't want to use it?! That kind of thing happens in this world.
That brings us to the 'Union'  album, which Rick Wickman calls 'Onion' because it makes him cry!
Yeah, you know, I did ABWH [Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, 1989] which I thought was a good album, and I wanted to do a similar idea, but it wasn't meant to be. Sometimes you've just got to go with the flow. I just I was busy writing a lot of different sort of music at that time anyway.
Looking back to the band's early days, you and Steve Howe wrote very closely.
Well, he's a great guy. We just got on like brothers and wrote some really good songs. You know, things happen in life. I started working with Vangelis [in 1979], he started working with other people and things like that. But a great guy to work with; very spontaneous and very helpful. When I wanted to write something, he'd help me.
Before you go, I wanted to touch on the sad passing of Alan White.
He was my best man at my wedding. That says it all.
What's next for you?
Next, yeah, I just toured with the Band Geeks, which was a great experience, and we're going to tour with them next year, so that's going to be fun.
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Jon Anderson with the Paul Green Rock Academy are on tour in July and August 2023. For ticketing, click here.