Few bands are more divisive than Yes. Come on, be honest do you like ‘em or hate ‘em? I am willing to bet that pretty much nobody said “meh! Not fussed one way or the other”. Whilst bands like King Crimson pretty much avoided all that punk rock rancour Yes were right smack in the forefront of the dinosaur debate, and at the forefront of Yes, spouting fantastical lyrical flights of fancy, in a high pitched choristers voice no less was Jon Anderson. If there was a figure more likely to be held up for sneering ridicule by the hordes of three chord teens it’s hard to image who it might be. And yet The Yes Album, Fragile and Close To The edge are now, quite rightly, recognized as remarkable pieces of work, head and shoulders above much of what was passing for progressive rock at the time, and still prog rock lodestones to this day, and right there at the coal face hacking out these massively convoluted rock gems was the slight, but steely
determined Jon Anderson. With yet another new solo album (Survival & Other Stories) due out presently and the recently successful The Living Tree album and tour with his Yes keyboard Compadre Rick Wakeman under his belt Jon Anderson, despite a brush with serious illness when he suffered acute respiratory failure in 2008, has never been busier so we decided to take the diminutive vocalist - nicknamed Napoleon by his Yes band-mates - right back to his roots to discover if he came from a musical background
Jon: “My parents were ballroom dancing champions, so I was brought up on Glenn Miller and music for dance, Bing Crosby and the 40's music, I loved Elgar, and Holst, then [the] pop of the 50's, then Elvis, Buddy, Be-Bop, Little Richard, Cliff Richards and the Shadows. Then the great change came, the Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys The Who, leading to Hendrix...”
Oddly enough for someone who was, let's be honest here, a bit of a titch, Jon had an abiding passion for football and wanted nothing more than to play for Accrington Stanley, something he still wishes had come to pass over fifty years later.
Jon: “Almost everyday. I was the 'ballboy', and then at 9 years old, I was the Mascot.... but I wanted to play for the team sooooooooo much.”
Total Music: What are your memories of playing in early bands like The Warriors, The Gun and The Open Mind?
Jon: “I was in my brothers band The Warriors for five years before Yes [and that] was just wonderful, very funny, very crazy, drinking and carrying on all the time, like wild men, great band, no direction, but great. The Gun, well they fired me, but I had fun singing a for a couple of shows. Open Mind? mmmmmmmm not sure who that was.”
Total Music: It’s often reported that Mabel Greer's Toyshop went on to become Yes, is this true or were they in fact two different projects altogether?
Jon: “No the MGT was Chris's band, we started with that nucleus but changed the people every week I think, depended on who turned up to rehearse, eventually calling ourselves Yes.”
Total Music: What do you recall about that, hugely experimental late ‘60s period of music making, it must have been a real adventure?
Jon: “Amazing to say the least, we would marry music from movies, to modern songs, to electronic sounds, amazing the energy, everyone was free to try out new ideas, we didn't want to be pop stars, I felt we were too old [but] I had big dreams.”
Total Music: Opinions are obviously divided on the high water point of Yes (votes here are evenly split between Close To The Edge and Fragile with a few votes for 90125), what is your favourite Yes album?
Jon: “I do love most of them, 'Awaken' (from Going For The One) is my favourite work so far. Fragile is special as is Close To The Edge. I do like some of the songs on Talk, and Magnification...'Mind Drive' (from Keys To Ascension 2) is cool.”
Total Music: Did you ever feel that Yes lost their way musically? ?
Jon: “It Happens, but 80% of the time I felt we did the right thing. It's a good percentage.”
In 2008 Jon then found illness precluded his touring with Yes and was replaced by Benoît David – a remarkable decision given that, to all intents and purposes David is little more than a ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ version of Anderson, indeed the band discovered him singing for a Yes tribute band called Close To The Edge – but he refuses to be drawn on the subject simply stating that ‘at the time yes, it was very sad’. However having overcome this illness (he now insists that he is ‘in very good health, I'm very Happy and in love with life and everything’), he ploughed headlong into solo projects, which currently stand at a remarkable 14 albums, so what, we wondered, would make a track something he kept for solo work rather than take in to the band?
Jon: “I kept always them separate. I would know what would be good for the band, and good for solo work, most of my solo work is adventure time, I try something different each time, whereas Yes music has a 'definite thought behind it'. [but even though] I'm not in the band I am writing Yes style music, it's in my DNA.”
Total Music: “You obviously have a close relationship with Rick Wakeman, which goes beyond work alone, can you tell us about how The Living Tree with Rick came together and what else you have planned?”
Jon: “We are touring the East coast of the USA later this year, 'The Living Tree' was just Rick and I writing song for last year’s UK tour, we had a blast writing, and it makes a very good album, I am very proud of the songs.”
Total Music: Your latest album Survival & Other Stories had a remarkable genesis, can you tell us some more about how inviting people to send you MP3 samples on your website then morphs into a full blown song (and did the original contributor of the sample have any later involvement in the creation process)?
Jon: “It was around five years ago, I was itching to work with people via the Internet, MP3's and such, but the guys in the band didn't really think it was worth the trouble, so I put an advert on my website, [to] 'send one minute of your music’... Wow!! It worked, of course they would know me, like me, and want to work with me, very cool idea I thought. I picked out the ones that 'musically hit me' and then asked them to send more music, and [in return] I sent some of them songs to create with, as the music came back to me, I sang instantly if the track was good! All very cool, and a great way to create.”
Total Music: Do you find this new process of working liberating rather than being stuck for weeks on end in the studio?
Jon: “Totally amazing on so many levels, there are so many talented musicians out there, with all kinds of different musical ideas, really amazing.”
Total Music: It’s probably the question you least like to deal with nowadays but what are the chances of a reunion with Yes?
Jon: “Not at this time...........”
Survival & Other Stories is out on July 18th on Gonzo Media in the UK and Ais in the US. For more information on this and other upcoming releases and tours go to