When it comes to playing 70’s prog-rock, I tend to dig into my CD collection and pull out some Genesis or Pink Floyd. I have a handful of Yes albums but, despite Close to the Edge being one of my favourites of all time, they don’t seem to get played as much. Thinking about it, I find that strange. Yes are, after all, quintessentially prog with twenty minute songs often with symphonic structures, sometimes bizarre changes of timing, cathedral-like keyboards and incomprehensible lyrics sung with multi-layered vocals. I like them but, for some unfathomable reason, I hardly ever play them.
Like most bands from that era, the chances of seeing them live are slim and the chances of seeing a classic line-up are slimmer still. Arguably, if you saw the current line-up of Yes, you could be mistaken for thinking that you were watching a tribute band with Rick Wakeman’s son playing keyboards and Canadian Benoit David, recruited from tribute band Close to the Edge, standing in for an ill Jon Anderson.
Tonight, however, it was the gigging B-team attending the Duchess for Seyes, a less well-known tribute band from the North West of England. To be honest, it’s a good job we decided to go, as our attendance may just have pushed the audience over twenty-five people.
Seyes consist of Phil Bernia (vocals), Tim Locklear (guitars), Tim Rothwell (drums), Pete Greenwood (bass and vocals) and Chris Bradshaw (keyboards and vocals) and they had an impressive amount of equipment dotted around the stage. I counted eleven different guitars, including one slide and one double-necked twelve-and-six string. Despite the vast array of equipment, however, they were perhaps the most uncomfortable-looking band on stage, with Bernia looking decidedly nervous and Locklear at one point looking as though he had only just remembered that he should be playing a different guitar at that time. Being fair, Greenwood looked to be very composed and seemed to be conducting the rest of the band whilst playing some excellent bass.
For me, one of the best aspects of Yes was always Jon Anderson’s somewhat unique voice and Bernia, despite his apparent nerves, managed to reproduce his tones pretty well. Was he aided electronically? I don’t know (and I’m not sure I care). With Greenwood and Bradshaw sharing backing vocals, the multi-layered effects were reproduced superbly. Locklear was more than adept on the guitars while Bradshaw’s keyboards included the soaring church organ sounds that make Yes tracks somewhat unique. Nestled away at the back of the stage, behind the biggest drum kit I think I’ve seen at the Duchess, Rothwell drummed his heart out, sometimes managing to hit so hard that you felt the vibrations.
While being a tribute to a band that produced such complex music may not be the easiest thing to do, one upside may be that you don’t actually have to learn too many songs. Tonight’s performance lasted just under two hours (including encore) and consisted of just nine songs. I didn’t recognise the first song (and couldn’t remember any lyrics to look it up when I got home) but the rest of the set consisted of I’ve Seen All The Good People, Close To The Edge, And You And I, Siberian Khatru (Yep, the whole of the CttE Album), Gates Of Delirium (celebrating Relayer‘s 35th anniversary), Heart Of The Sunrise, Roundabout and Starship Trooper.
I may not have been the most knowledgeable Yes fan in the very small audience but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Having only ever heard studio recordings, I can’t say whether the band reproduced the live sound accurately but I did hear one other audience member remark to his wife that their rendition of Close To The Edge was not a bad effort. Certainly by the time they started playing it they seemed to have lost a little bit of the nerves. The Starship Trooper encore was superb and seemed to include and extended instrumental section that showed just how good these musicians really are. It may have been that I knew most of the songs but, after what seemed to be a poor start, the sound seemed to be mixed as well as you can get at the Duchess, with all the instruments being heard individually and Bernia’s vocal being very clear.
This was an assured performance of some incredibly complex music which, being honest, deserved a much larger audience. In some ways I hope that the lack of attendance was simply due to this being a tribute as, in my opinion, Yes’s music is equally as enjoyable as that of the other giants of 70’s prog. Now, if only I could remember to play the CDs more often.