Tag Archives: Roger Dean

Cruising the Progressive Seas

ctte2017_slide_fish_lodgeFresh air, exceptional, challenging music, calm seas, good fellowship: this year’s floating concert spectacle, Cruise to the Edge 2017 was undeniably one of the best yet. It’s the forth time progressive rock heroes Yes have sponsored this particular festival and it was smooth sailing in almost every respect. This time we were afloat on the Brilliance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner which experienced travellers said was above average though not the best craft in the league. Made little difference – the real attraction of these trips is the exciting lineup of progressive rock bands new and old, fresh or reconstituted, and this year’s collection of artists ensured there was something for every fan.

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Yes has been joined in the past by their 1970s contemporaries Marillion, Steve Hackett, Carl Palmer, PFM, Three Friends (Gentle Giant), Tangerine Dream, UK, Caravan, and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), along with newer prog acts Anathema, Enchant, Moon Safari, Lifesigns and many others. Each festival has had something to offer, and has been successful despite each running into a storm during the voyage!

ctte2017_flyingcolorssm_144dpiThis year’s lineup included returning mainstays and new acts: Yes, Steve Hackett, Kansas, Mike Portnoy, The Neal Morse Band, Spock’s Beard, Stickmen, Haken, IO Earth, Patrick Moraz, Bad Dreams, District 97, Anglagard, Curved Air, Frost, Electric Asturias, Focus, The Fringe, Dave Kerezner, Pain of Salvation, and Scott Henderson. An excellent lineup made even better with a special appearance by Dixie Dregs/Kansas/Deep Purple axe-man Steve Morse who surprised the crowd on opening day with a great but short set from Flying Colors, staged during Mike Portnoy’s 50th birthday bash.

 

wettonjohn2017_withuk_72dpiMissing this year but certainly not forgotten was prog legend John Wetton, who passed away just before the cruise was to depart, a very short time after announcing he would not be able to make the event. John Lodge from The Moody Blues stepped in after the unfortunate announcement. There was a moment of silence for John at the opening event, and a number of tributes to him by the other artists on the cruise – possibly the most touching when Steve Hackett dedicated the Genesis mainstay “Afterglow” to our fallen friend. We miss you more …as well.

Once again Jon Kirkman was our eloquent master of ceremonies. Jon is so deeply studied in the prog arts and music in general that his many interviews with band members during the course of the cruise are a always a highlight. Jon’s new book, Yes Dialogue (@TimeAndAWordTheYesInterviews) is hitting stores now. We had the brief chance to take a look at this excellent book, which sports numerous never-before-seen photos and lots of inside information on this enduring band.

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Roger Dean was in attendance again this year, with Michael and the team at Trading Boundaries at his gallery top deck. This was another chance for cruisers to obtain one of Roger’s stunning prints, from the Yes and Virgin Records logos, to the cover of Gentle Giant’s Octopus (UK), or the magnificent cover for Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans. Roger kindly displayed a copy of my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels at his front desk with postcard ads as this tome contains licensed shots of the Yes Relayer tour taken by Martyn Dean in addition to a couple of Roger’s legendary album cover images.
https://www.amazon.com/Rockin-City-Angels-Douglas-Harr/dp/0997771100/

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Roger Dean’s Gallery

One of the fantastic features of this cruise is the Late Night Live sessions. As the name implies live music fills the wee hours from about midnight into the early morning. Organized by broadcaster Rob Rutz and a team of dedicated proggers, this event gives attendees who can play or sing a chance to take the stage and perform with other fans, sometimes with one of the professional musicians who come to cheer them on and lend an occasional hand. This afforded us a chance to see and hear Jon Davison (Yes), Nad Sylvan (Steve Hackett) members of Circuline and others perform side by side with many talented fans, as they work together often for the first time, through long set lists that cover tracks from our prog favorites old and new.

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Late Night Live: Yes “Heart of the Sunrise” Andrew Colyer (keys), Darin Brannon (drums), Rose Danese (vocals) Joel Simches (bass) Tom Maltose (guitar)

As mentioned, there was something for fans of nearly every style of progressive rock music from the big acts to the newer lot. As usually there isn’t time to get to all of the bands. Here are some snaps from the top acts I was able to see:

Yes: Continued their album-pair set that included the hard-driving Drama record and two sides of masterwork Tales From Topographic Oceans. Jay Shellen was there to assist Alan White on drums, and Billy Sherwood was absolutely on fire, visibly happy, relaxed and just nailing bass parts that were absolutely reminiscent of Chris Squire yet still colored by his own unique palette. I could have watched the whole show again just to see and hear Sherwood at that level of excellence. It had to be part of what drove the whole band, including guitarist Steve Howe to perform at the top of their game. That Drama was featured surely inspired keyboard wizard Geoff Downes who was a part of that era’s lineup. Jon Davison also mentioned in interview that it was liberating for him to do some vocals not originally recorded by founder Jon Anderson as this allowed for some stretching out, on material that is more strident and modern (added Howe and White).

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Steve Hackett: played a few stellar new tracks, along with a set list that included several from Genesis masterwork Wind and Wuthering, now 40 years on. These songs included “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” “One for the Vine,” and EP B-side “Inside and Out” along with the oft-played suite that ends the album. During that coda, Hackett dedicated “Afterglow” to fallen friend John Wetton leaving not many a dry eye in the house. Hackett and his band continue to stage innovative progressive rock concerts that are second to none.

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Kansas took the stage for a pair of first time CTTE performances, receiving many standing ovations from the audience. With the addition of Ronnie Platt on vocals and keys, and additional expert musicians, the band is able to present new and old Kansas music with the level of instrumental and vocal prowess once championed by retired founders Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, albeit without the handstands!

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Mike Portnoy celebrated his 50th birthday, and for his fans and admirers this was a key event on the cruise. Of the various bands he’s been in, my top vote goes to Flying Colors and they were the toast of the launch.

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Haken: They get the award for continuous improvement. I’ve seen them over the years and each time their performances just get tighter, both instrumentally and vocally, fronting compositions that increasingly achieve balance between light and dark for a melodic and powerful form of prog.

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Anglagard: Similarly this exceptional Swedish band continues to amaze as they endure. Their first performance was cut short by late night rain, but the full set the next day found them astutely blending electric and acoustic piano/sax/flute against electric frets for a compelling strain of prog, most reminiscent of the 70s era while still sounding new and all their own.

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IO Earth: beautiful compositions and performance that blended middle eastern motifs with rock instrumentation.

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Focus: They sounded better than any time I’ve seen them – great sound and performance by this Dutch band, fronted by the always entertaining, Thijs van Leer.

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Curved Air: Legendary British band fronted by long time inspiring vocalist Sonia Kristina closed the cruise with the final set late Friday night.

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Electric Asturias: Exceptional blend of jazz-fusion and prog forms hailing from Japan.

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Stickmen: Masters of dissonance Tony Levin/Pat Mastelotto/Markus Reuter were fantastic as always.

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Patrick Moraz: legendary keyboardist on his own at the piano…. Magnifique!

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District 97: Highly talented band, brilliant set.

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Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard were crowd favorites I ended up missing, but everyone I talked to who saw them, John Lodge, Bad Dreams, Alex Machacek, Frost, The Fringe, Dave Kerzner and Pain of Salvation loved those sets.

Back on dry land this week …vive le rock (y tambien, terra firma)!

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goodnight proggers…

Rockin’ the City of Angels – How?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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This is the third in a three-part piece about my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels, and I want to answer the question – how did all this come about, for a guy that worked in the tech industry for so many years, and became a writer so late in life?

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Doug & Steve Hackett

In earlier posts, I established that I am a die-hard fan of classic and progressive rock from the 1970s and beyond. I saw almost every one of the 36 artists in the book in Los Angeles (the City of Angels) in the 1970s. But my first written piece on a rock concert was inspired by seeing Rick Wakeman live in London in 2009 with orchestra, choir, and Brian Blessed telling the stories of the six wives of Henry the VIIIth:
https://diegospadeproductions.com/2009/05/16/six-wives-live-live/

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Doug more recently in 2016 with Rick Wakeman and band

From this meager beginning my friend Jeff Melton, a writer for Expose magazine, helped me get the article accepted and into print. On that basis, I contacted several zines, determined to write about these concerts as they came along, and maybe about new and legacy record releases. Jonathan Downes at Gonzo Multimedia liked what he saw and picked me up as staff writer for his magazine: http://www.gonzoweekly.com

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Doug’s Review of Phil Collins’ Bio

After years writing for Gonzo, and also contributing to SomethingElse! I put a pause on my tech career and started the process of writing the book that is about to be shipped. It was a long two year process of incorporating to become a self publisher, locating photos, completing the manuscript, getting editors (Mike Edison, Courtney Lee Adams), a musicologist (Tim Smolko), and a designer (Tilman Reitzle) and others to take the journey with me.

One of the best aspects of the effort was the nearly two years I spent looking for photographs and memorabilia to illuminate the manuscript. I searched through thousands of slides in the basement of a photo agency in London, housed in the same building that was a workhouse, which inspired Charles Dickens’ portrayal of David Copperfield. I trolled websites figuring out how to find photographers from the day, Neal Preston, Richard E. Aaron, Neil Zlowzower, Lisa Tanner, some purely by accident, some who had photos already placed inside album sleeves and music magazines, others carried by agencies like Getty and Rex Features.

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Neal Preston

I will never forget the 2 hours Neal Preston spent with me on the phone talking about his experiences in the day following Led Zeppelin, The Who, and so many classic bands around the country as part of their posse and at times with best friend Cameron Crowe. He had never met me, but nonetheless was generous and enthusiastic on the phone. Also, I was lucky to find and connect with Italian photojournalist Armando Gallo, someone whose work I revere back to the days when his shots

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Armando Gallo

were the only way to see what Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was all about. I never expected the chance to visit both of these artists at their home studios, working together to pick out slides for this book, so many of which are theirs. 

Working with the fine purveyors of rare rock photography at the San Francisco Art Exchange, I was able to connect with many photographers, and one of their special clients Roger Dean, the artist who painted so many Yes album covers among many other achievements. Through this connection, it came to pass that Roger invited my wife and I over to his studios in Essex England while we were in London on vacation. Visiting this studio and meeting Roger and his brother Martyn (who worked with me to select his shots of Yes on tour in 1976) is now a cherished memory.

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Doug with Roger Dean

To top that off, I was able to work directly with musical heroes of mine from Ambrosia and Happy The Man to unearth ’70s photographs from their private collections. This we did, and I was also able to interview band members and document their fantastic stories. For Ambrosia, we focused on their classic Somewhere I Never Travelled, https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/01/28/ambrosias-early-travels/

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and for Happy the Man, their famous Arista releases, the self titled debut, and the followup Crafty Hands https://diegospadeproductions.com/2016/04/02/happy-the-man/

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Another somewhat tougher climb, the five-month, seven-person introduction effort it took to find one photo of Camel in concert on the night they recorded The Snow Goose live with the London Symphony Orchestra. Oh, elusive photo….

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I could go on, but should stop here. It’s been a terrific ride, and here’s hoping that everyone who comes across this book sees the devotion that went into it, and loves what they see and read… Doug

Yes: War and Peace

Yes Relayer CoverThe Yes album Relayer, one of the band’s most adventurous and enduring records, was originally released in 1974. It is a progressive rock masterpiece that includes elements of jazz-fusion, and a looser feel, thanks in great part to keyboard player Patrick Moraz, and the sessions that were part of its writing. The album is a work of art, in its story telling, prose, virtuosic playing and beautiful cover art by Roger Dean. Its release was followed by two tours of North America, England and Europe, each segment utilizing amazing stage sets designed and built by Martyn Dean, resulting in the most impressive theatrical performances of their careers. Forty years after it’s release, Steven Wilson remastered the album from its original multitrack tapes in stereo and 5.1 sound, producing what is now the definitive release on CD and Blue-ray.

THE ALBUM

Relayer’s centerpiece is “The Gates of Delirium” which occupies side one of the vinyl album. Written during the unending turmoil of the Vietnam War, and the August 1974 resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon, it weaves a tale about the evils of war and it’s aftermath, inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s War And Peace. As Anderson described the multi-part suite “There’s a prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.” It contains some of the most assured and aggressive instrumentals and vocals of the band’s catalog. The music perfectly illuminates the central story and it’s lyrics. Consider the battle scene instrumental, complete with the sound of battle cries and clanging metal, the band creating the sometimes abrasive tones of naked aggression – following the lyric:

The fist will run
Grasp metal to gun
The Spirit sings in crashing tones we gain the battle drum
Our cries will shrill the air will moan and crash into the dawn

This cacophony fades into the peaceful finale “Soon,” one of the most beautiful songs Yes composed and an enduring fan favorite. Just as with the story of war before it, “Soon”, perfectly matches music to hopeful prose emerging from the shadows of battle. Moraz lays down a backdrop of peaceful organ and Mellotron. Steve Howe leads with atmospheric pedal-steel and acoustic guitars, and Jon Anderson delivers one of his most touching yet powerful lead vocals, a reflection of his utopian philosophy:

Soon Oh soon the light
Ours to shape for all time, ours the right
The sun will lead us
Our reason to be here

“The Gates of Delirium” is a prime example of Yes’s large-scale songs that are designed to take listeners on a journey, to take them to a place far removed from their beginnings. The song begins with a state of turmoil, the onset of war and reaches its climax in the middle with a musical depiction of war. A state of peace is attained after the battle, bringing the listener into a world free from the fetters of time and space. The beginning of the piece has a strong rhythmic force, which propels the music forward. The ending has an absence of beat and pulse, and produces a feeling of timelessness, quietude, and contemplation – a hymn-like atmosphere. While Tchaikovsky and Mahler give their final slow movements tragic overtones, Yes’s slow movements portray hope and transcendence rather than tragedy. It is music for the theater in our minds.

The second side of the original LP contains two tracks that are masterful works in their own right. In particular, the jazz fusion influence brought by Moraz is demonstrated in “Sound Chaser” featuring his impossibly fast leads on the Fender Rhodes keyboard backed by similarly frenetic drum and bass runs – some of the best synergy between Chris Squire and Alan White on record. The frenetic middle instrumental passes between key and meter with vocal punctuations (cha cha cha, cha cha!). This music rewards only the attentive listener. The more gentle, melodic “To Be Over” makes a perfect closer for this brilliant album.

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The cover art for Relayer is one of Roger Dean’s most beautiful paintings. I felt fortunate to see this finely detailed work up close at a San Francisco Art Exchange showing in 2009, prior to seeing a Yes and Asia gig in the city. Roger once described the painting: “Relayer was really a pencil drawing –I’ve said it jokingly but it was almost painted with dirty water- its got so little color in it. It wasn’t a conscious intention to do a contrast– it was just how that should have been – just the right way to do it – to this day it’s definitely one of my top 3 favorites.” A poem by Donald Lehmkuhl sets the tone for Jon’s lyrics and Roger’s cover art; it begins with the line, “Snakes are coiled upon the granite.” As rendered, the artwork imagines an otherworldly, nearly colorless historical setting for “Gates” creating the perfect packaging to match the musical genius inside.

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Alan White chats with Doug Harr at SFAE

THE 2014 STEVEN WILSON REMASTER

As to the latest remastering, the CD and Blue-ray DVD present the best sounding versions of the albums I’ve heard to date. In an interesting turn of events, the battle sound effects from the original mix of “Gates” are not included on the remastered versions of that track as they were not found on the multitrack master tapes. Not to worry, as original album versions, including two with the needle drop are included on the DVD. In addition we get single edits of “Soon” and “Sound Chaser” along with a studio run through of each track. It’s nice to have the clean Blu-ray stereo pressing of “Sound Chaser” live from Cobo “Hall” (an arena in Detroit, Michigan) in 1976, though it was previously available on The Word Is Live, and would have been more valuable had it been paired with “Gates” (which appeared on YesShows) and a version of “To Be Over” from the prior year. It would in fact have been a notch better if an alternate live performance of the entire album was included, and even more interesting if any live video had been added. Having said that this now definitive set contains a wealth of audio to consume and appreciate.

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TOURS AND LIVE RECORDINGS

As to live video, the only complete film from this period is a valuable if flawed document of the Relayer tour at Queen’s Park, London from May 10, 1975. The picture is excellent considering the era, though because it’s the early leg of the tour, and the band played during daylight, the staging effects are poorly captured. Unfortunately, the sound is poor during the first segment of the show, and never completely recovers. At some date we may see unearthed footage from later segments of this tour, which eventually ended with the most impressive staging of the band’s history. For now it is the most important footage of this incarnation of Yes.

The staging by Roger and Martyn Dean represented a massive undertaking for the ensemble during the long tour. If we include the 1976 “solo albums” leg of the journey, there were almost 150 performances between November 1974 to late August 1976. The staging went through three iterations – beginning with the Tales set, followed by a set dubbed “Barnacles” for the second U.S. visit between June and July of 1975. A subsequent tour with the same lineup but no new Yes album to support came in May of 1976. Dubbed the “solo albums” tour, this is still referred to by most as part of the Relayer tour, though “To Be Over” had been dropped from the set list to make way for a few alternate and solo tracks. Most importantly, the break left time for Martyn Dean to conceive of his most stunning staging yet, the “Crab Nebula.”

Yes Relayer Ticket 1976The “Crab Nebula” was a three-headed creation that towered over the band, fit out with spotlights, and built to emerge and vanish during the show, because as Martyn noted “Anything that’s onstage for three hours becomes boring if you can’t make it vanish.” Ten people worked for three months on the “Crab Nebula” structure, made with wood, aluminum, foam, plaster and varnish, resulting in a transportable, sturdy construction that kept it intact and functional through the summer tour of stadiums and coliseums, which ended in August of 1976. This was part of Martyn’s work with Yes over a seven-year period, when he and his team produced increasingly sophisticated and impressive staging. Along with the cloth backdrop designed by Roger and made by Felicity Youlette, it represented scenery and craft raised to the level of artful theater.

Music, lyrics, poetry and art come together on Relayer, creating a sumptuous package. Considered along with its legendary performances, this is one of the pinnacles of 1970’s era progressive and classic rock.

More to come on this fantastic album, its long tour, and its place as one of the most theatrical works of the progressive era, when I finish my next book! In the meantime, collect these discs and put on your headphones…

Yes Transcends

Asia Opening
Asia Opening

Finally!  After a year of uncertainty about the future of Yes, I am pleased to report here that the show last night at the Warfield theater in San Francisco exceeded my expectations making the long wait worthwhile.  Asia opened and played a set list that included several songs from their debut, two tracks from the followup, and one from the most recent release. Group members presented something from their past –  John Wetton (King Crimson/In the Court of the Crimson King), Geoff Downes (The Buggles/Video Killed the Radio Star), and Carl Palmer (ELP/Fanfare for the Common Man), each representing a bit of the the history of their 1970’s bands.  While Asia was always this “progressive supergroup gone pop”, their work was pleasent, powerful and certainly less angular than their predecessors.  John Wetton is one of my favorite vocalists and he delivered with accurate, clear vocals throughout the show – awesome and unexpected after all these years.

When Yes took the stage for the opening track, “Siberian Khatru”, any fears that this ensemble would have troubles melted away.  This first track would be a litmus test for any band, given the complex interlocking passages and strong harmonies. This band showed right away that they are up to the task, as Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), and Alan White (drums) played as well as I have seen, and seemed to enjoy themselves during the almost two hour set. Though this music calls for precision timing and accuracy, the band kept a the slight looseness to some passages which added to the experience.  The only minor complaint for me is that while Oliver covered his father’s material (and Geoff/Tony) faithfully, he never really stood out in the mix, but that has been a common affliction of Yes keyboard players other than Rick Wakeman.

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Siberians

Most important was the question – would the absence of lead singer Jon Anderson, the zen center of Yes, render the show a lesser form?  Would the emotional integrity of the experience be intact?  Covering for Jon Anderson is even more difficult than what we have seen with other ’70’s acts such as Alan Parsons, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, etc. because Jon is so much part of the fabric of the whole Yes experience.  The main reason most of us love this band is simple, and goes beyond exceptional musicianship and compositions – its that when Yes hits it marks, we are taken somewhere on a transcendent journey, getting in touch with an energy outside ourselves.  The band construct these intense, chaotic passages, which build, and then shift into the most angelic, harmonic major-chord-based resolves imaginable.  Jon seems at the heart of this journey, embodying his spiritual lyrics – often obtuse, but imparting radiant, positive messages.  When this is presented properly in a live concert setting, the results are powerful.  On this night, of course we missed seeing Jon himself, but even without him in this lineup, all was well in the Yes universe.

The current vocalist Benoit David has Continue reading Yes Transcends