BILLY SHERWOOD: CITIZEN

(Frontiers Music; 2015)

album_cover_CITIZEN_55f05293426d5

Billy Sherwood seems to be a guy who doesn’t rattle easily. A guy who can step in and handle enormous responsibilities without flinching. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, he stepped in to some pretty big shoes, and helped a struggling Jon Anderson-fronted Yes continue their journey on both record and stage. Sherwood’s a big part of the sound on OPEN YOUR EYES and THE LADDER, both underrated. While releasing a series of solo albums and guesting on records all over the place, both proggy and not, Sherwood became a kind of go-to guy when a band needed not just a multi-instrumentalist, but an experienced engineer. Chris Squire, the legendary Yes bassist who succumbed to leukemia last year, initially picked Sherwood to replace him on bass for a huge 2015 Yes tour that Squire knew he couldn’t participate in. That’s no small thing and Sherwood, by all accounts, jumped in ready to go. But then, Squire left this mortal coil, and now, well, we have to assume Sherwood will continue with Yes, and might even be the point man for a brand new phase, one that none of us can anticipate yet. The guy is a fantastic, versatile musician, and he’s earned good karma a-plenty.

Billy Sherwood with Chris Squire (uncredited photo)

Billy Sherwood with Chris Squire (uncredited photo)

Which brings us to CITIZEN, surprisingly Sherwood’s seventh or eighth solo album since 1999. It’s a solid platter, with appearances by Yes members both past and present, and the last song recorded by Chris Squire (he appears on the opening track, “The Citizen”). There’s a familiarity about the sound that you can’t deny, and it wouldn’t be fair to even think in terms of “Yes-lite” or something. These are muscular, strong compositions, and why not use musicians of the caliber of YES men such as Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman and Geoff Downes if you can? This is still a Sherwood album through and through, and he sings most of the lead vocals. Among standout tracks: “No Man’s Land,” a fizzy prog confection that alternates between memorably processed lead vocals, Yes-like harmonies, and a confidently anchored arrangement. “Age of the Atom” is a stirring piece that has a descending chord progression, a hooky chorus and some zippy keyboard playing… this one definitely sticks in the ear. By the way, this and “The Great Depression” may bring another progressive behemoth to mind – Genesis. Sherwood sounds a tad like Peter Gabriel at times, and it’s worth mentioning that Steve Hackett from that band is also featured on the record (on “Man and the Machine”). “Trail of Tears” is a tune Gabriel would love… it echoes his aesthetic about indigenous peoples and the subject matter definitely takes on the famed Native American death march of the 1800s. Some very airy, charming synth work is an interesting sonic counterpoint to the theme, and you can just enjoy this track musically without worrying about the history lesson. It’s really good, plain and simple. The aptly named “Escape Velocity” is suffused with Yes DNA… if you just heard this playing, especially during the chorus, you would guess it was likely the real YES, an unfamiliar track perhaps. This is really spirited stuff, and you will swear you can hear Squire on that chorus and bass (though it’s really Billy showing the world why he was Chris’ handpicked successor). Anyway, this is one of the album’s highlights. The ending really kicks ass. And so does the ending of the entire disc, “Written In the Centuries,” which finds current Yes lead singer Jon Davison outfront on vocals. Nice, tight harmonies, chiming guitars, mystical lyrics, tempo changes… why, YES, peeps, you’ll recognize this sound! But somehow it’s also… different. Fresh. It’s the Billy Sherwood approach to prog, and it’s plenty meaty!

Billy Sherwood (publicity photo)

Billy Sherwood (publicity photo)

The album has a story line, by the way, something about a lost soul being reincarnated into different historical periods. There’s a song about Galileo (featuring vocals from XTC’s Colin Moulding) and all sorts of references you’ll have fun trying to catch. But you don’t HAVE to know the theme or decipher the lyrics to appreciate this album. There’s a majesty about a lot of this stuff that shows the pedigree of the players. There are melodies, no song is all that long, and the sonics are nicely balanced between what all Yes fans might expect and fresher elements that Billy Sherwood, a thoughtful musician, took care to weave into the compositions. This CITIZEN is a reliable one indeed, and deserves to take its rightful place in the ever evolving community of Yes and related prog-dom. Nice job, Billy boy. I hope your pal Chris got to hear most of this before he said goodbye.


CHRIS SQUIRE: THE ULTIMATE YES MAN

(A heartfelt goodbye by KEVIN RENICK)

Chris Squire (uncredited photo)

Chris Squire (uncredited photo)

The “Fish” swims no more. Chris Squire, bassist and co-founder of legendary prog-rock band Yes, has passed away at age 67 from complications of leukemia. It’s an absolute shock how fast it happened, as we were only informed of his diagnosis this past May. But barely a month later, Squire is gone. As the only member of Yes to play on every single one of their albums, Squire achieved the ultimate in perfect “attendance,” and should’ve been given the opportunity to write a book about what it’s like to survive multiple incarnations of a mega-famous, influential band. The tall, lanky musician developed a signature pulsing, hypnotic style on bass that captivated millions of classic rock fans on Yes’ trifecta of ’70s masterpieces THE YES ALBUM, FRAGILE and CLOSE TO THE EDGE. While other bass players of note may have been more immediately engaging or melodic (Paul McCartney) or anchored their bands with more economy and finesse (John Entwistle of the Who, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin), it was arguably Squire who did the most to make the bass guitar a lead instrument in the ’70s, or to at least show that it could be one of the most prominent sonic elements in complex arrangements. Along with Jack Bruce of Cream and Les Claypool of Primus (who clearly took inspiration from Squire), the Yes visionary demonstrated new horizons for the bass guitar, new ways for lower frequencies and unexpected harmonics to provide dazzling depth and variety to what ultimately was still “rock” music. Squire was revered by fans, and certainly helped write a few new chapters in the book on what bass guitarists with imagination could achieve. It was easy to take his virtuosity for granted; he made it look easy. But it wasn’t. No way, or lots of guys would’ve done it.

A young Chris Squire, back row, center (uncredited photo)

A young Chris Squire, back row, center (uncredited photo)

Squire was born Christopher Russell Edward Squire in March 1948 in a northwest suburb of London called Kingsbury. He sang in choirs as a boy, and was greatly affected by the Beatles and Paul McCartney as a teenager. He dropped out of school in 1964, and soon formed his first group, the Selfs. A bad experience with LSD and subsequent recovery at his girlfriend’s apartment apparently led to Squire’s developing his unique style on the bass guitar. He purchased his signature Rickenbacker 4001 in 1965, and soon spent time in promising British bands the Syn and Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, a kind of precursor to Yes featuring Peter Banks. Influenced by Jack Bruce, John Entwistle and Larry Graham (bassist for Sly and the Family Stone and Graham Central Station), Squire had a fateful encounter with vocalist Jon Anderson at a Soho bar in early 1968. The two men shared a love for vocal harmonies and the melodic records of the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and the Fifth Dimension. Together with drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Tony Kaye, the band Yes was formed, releasing their self-titled debut in 1969. While the first two Yes albums hardly made the band superstars, interesting originals like “Beyond and Before,” “Survival” and “Time and a Word” complemented ambitious covers to reveal a band definitely aiming high and displaying a fearless attitude. THE YES ALBUM, their third effort (released in 1971), shot them to a whole new level as guitar genius Steve Howe joined and completed the “Anderson/Howe/Squire” co-composing credit that would grace many a classic at the time. “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “Starship Trooper” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” were all from this great album and remain staples of classic rock radio to this day. Squire’s inventive, riveting playing on these tracks was impossible to ignore, and by the time of 1972’s FRAGILE, on which keyboardist Rick Wakeman now completed a truly virtuoso lineup, Yes were one of the most popular bands on FM radio, and Chris Squire began topping magazine polls of beloved bassists. The band’s second release of the year, CLOSE TO THE EDGE then sealed the deal for the whole band, becoming one of the most enduring prog rock masterpieces of all time and greatly expanding the sonic palette for ambitious, large-scale rock music. It’s astounding, the distance the band traveled from covers of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield on their first two records, to the side-long “Close to the Edge” and dense, wildly ambitious pieces like “Siberian Khatru” and “Heart of the Sunrise.” The music sounds thrilling even today.

Chris Squire (uncredited photo)

Chris Squire (uncredited photo)

There will be many tributes to Yes and Chris Squire in the days ahead. It’s not necessary to talk about their many personnel changes and controversies, or the way the band (and prog rock as a genre) fell out of favor many times. Here’s what is worth mentioning: Chris Squire hung in there, like the most stalwart, dedicated musician imaginable, through ALL of the band’s 21 studio albums (this does not count all the live recordings). When Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman departed for 1980’s DRAMA, Squire spearheaded a new version of Yes, with a pair of Buggles in tow. When things really got bizarre between 1982 and 1983, with Steve Howe nowhere to be seen, and a group called Cinema featuring Squire and new guitarist Trevor Rabin somehow turning into yet another version of Yes, one that would invite Anderson back into the fold, ride the early wave of the MTV video era, and have their first top 10 single with the song “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” well, imagine how it must have felt to be Chris Squire at the time, enjoying a level of success that even he had to be surprised by. And thereafter, a whole series of members that came and went, came and went, sometimes old and sometimes new, with hugely controversial developments like beloved singer Jon Anderson being squeezed out of the band for having health problems that took too long to improve, and the lead singer of a Yes TRIBUTE band actually replacing him for a while. The Yes story kept changing and unfolding in real time, annoying many fans, earning begrudging admiration from others. But always, Mister Chris Squire was there, keeping the flame alive, talking about the value of the music, and showing immense respect for the fans around the world. Squire knew that this prog rock behemoth he’d helped invent was too special to let it die. And apparently even when he knew he could not be part of the band’s scheduled 2015 summer tour due to his illness, he made public statements that the show would go on, and that fans would still get the “Yes experience” they had come to expect. But, would it truly be Yes without THE MAN, the amazing bass player and singer who’d been on every album in the band’s considerable canon? Isn’t a Squire-less YES more of a MAYBE, a true question mark when the chief anchoring force has gone to rock heaven? Let the debate begin. But honestly, I just can’t imagine Yes without Chris Squire. I go back too far with him. I met Chris Squire twice, after legendary shows in the late ’70s in Saint Louis. Dapper, charismatic, and unfailingly polite, Squire was amiable at signing autographs, and never anything less than dignified and attentive when it came to answering questions and talking up the legacy of his band. To be a musician of such stature, doing what you do throughout changing decades and shifting musical tastes, requires a level of resolve and confidence that not all possess, to say the least. Squire’s achievements in Yes and on the bass are staggering; he was unarguably one of the best musicians in the history of prog, and one of the most unflappable. Few fans would say that Yes were still making indispensable music in recent years, and Squire, who only released one solo album (1975’s excellent FISH OUT OF WATER), didn’t seem that set on adding much more solo work to his legacy. Instead, he seemed content to keep changing and adapting Yes to every new challenge that came along. But his illness was one challenge he could not overcome, and now millions of fans will be reeling from the loss of this singular musician. The records will always be there to listen to and rediscover, however. And even if Yes are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as they should be, Chris Squire belongs in any bass player hall of fame, as well as on ANY listing of musicians who proved what dedication, discipline and adaptability are all about through a lifelong body of work. Rest in peace, Mister Squire. You got “close to the edge” throughout your work and life many times, and now you have crossed over. Thanks for “going for the one” in almost every recording you made. It’s a legacy that is anything but “fragile,” for sure. High vibration, go on…

FIVE NOTABLE CHRIS SQUIRE PERFORMANCES:

1. YOURS IS NO DISGRACE – This 1971 fan favorite was a surging, soaring piece of prog rock bliss that featured shifting tempos, dynamic breaks and a stellar early example of Chris Squire’s throbbing, upfront bass playing. The medium had to accommodate a NEW message from here on.

2. LONG DISTANCE RUNAROUND/THE FISH (SHINDLERIA PRAEMATURUS) – Without a doubt, 1972 was the year of YES. These days, it would be hard to imagine an artist putting out two all-time classics in one year, but imagine putting out two gems like FRAGILE and CLOSE TO THE EDGE within mere months of each other. Squire’s supercharged ascending lines on “Runaround” coupled with his 4- and 5-note punctuation phrases while Jon Anderson sings, comprise some of the best bass playing ever recorded. Then couple THAT with his harmonics-laden, experimental solo segue “The Fish,” which becomes transfixing in a short time, and you’ve got, well, six minutes of Squire showing why he’s a legend on his instrument.

3. CLOSE TO THE EDGE – Much has been written about this side-long thematic epic; it is arguably one of the all-time high points of progressive rock performance and arrangement. Squire’s bass becomes a lumbering, wandering beast that stomps its way right through every formula or “template” ever made for the instrument, like a brainy, determined dinosaur. Electrifying in every sense of the word, from the famous opening chords that follow the slow ambient fade-in, to the riveting climax and fade-out. Yes belong in the Hall of Fame for this album alone, damn it.

Chris Squire (photo credit: GLENN GOTTLIEB)

Chris Squire (photo credit: GLENN GOTTLIEB)

4. ON THE SILENT WINGS OF FREEDOM – The 1978 album TORMATO was not a classic by any means, but this amazing song WAS. Co-written by Squire, it’s a propulsive, uplifting gem seemingly about potential and pushing past limitations, something Squire could write the book on. His bass playing is magnificent throughout, featuring a dynamic, repeating 7-note plus sequence that is killer, and some gorgeous, haunting overtones later in the piece. Absolute splendor from their sometimes maligned late ’70s period.

5. OWNER OF A LONELY HEART – One of the most unlikely hit singles in rock history, the epitome of Yes reinventing themselves in the early ’80s after punk and new wave changed all the rules, and after that thing called MTV forced artists to adapt and think of new ways to showcase/present themselves. Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson proved they were up to such daunting challenges, and delivered something fresh, sassy, melodic and -gulp – even danceable. WTF? And yeah, Squire’s awesome bass playing still shone through, albeit in a wildly new context.

A FINAL NOTE:

Squire had a pleasant voice, high and slightly reedy, and it blended amazingly well with the even higher-voiced Jon Anderson. Those stellar Yes harmonies were generally the result of the tightness of Anderson and Squire’s vocals offset in an interesting way by the lower, edgier voice of Steve Howe. Subsequent band members changed things a bit, of course, but most Yes classics feature this threesome. Squire’s lone solo album, FISH OUT OF WATER, has some wonderful singing from him and a fresh showcase of his songwriting and arranging talents. “Hold Out Your Hand” is a catchy single, and “Safe” has moments of epic, soulful beauty and more lumbering bass from the master.


YES-TERDAY AND TODAY: AN INTERVIEW WITH MABEL GREER’S TOYSHOP ABOUT THEIR SURPRISING COMEBACK AND SOME “UNFINISHED BUSINESS”

Mabel Greer's Toyshop

You could be forgiven for not immediately knowing who Mabel Greer’s Toyshop are. That name has not exactly been pervasive in the music press. However, hardcore fans of the legendary progressive rock ensemble Yes will recognize MGT (whom we will sometimes also refer to as just “Mabel,” as fans are starting to do) as the place Yes came from, a long, long time ago. Yes indeed, way back in 1966, founding members Robert Hagger and Clive Bayley, together with original Yes-men Peter Banks and Chris Squire, were starting to make music as MGT, something pop oriented and even a little folksy. Then, that Jon Anderson fellow had to come along and start having long, late night talks with Chris Squire, and everything got messed up. Depending on how you look at it, of course. MGT did not continue as an active entity, although material had been written and performed at the time. So, it’s more than a little unexpected that, 45 years later, they have a new album called NEW WAY OF LIFE due out, featuring Hagger and Bayley, along with Yes alumnae Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood, and bassist Hugo Barre as the main newbie. The album succeeds in not only being eminently listenable, but in setting itself far apart from Yes-pectations (a word that might as well be officially used to describe the always-changing state of Yes fanship through the years and the rotating lineups). Such tunes as “Get Yourself Together,” “Images of You and Me,” “Singing To Your Heart” and the melodic title track are muscular, well-conceived tracks that feature pleasant harmonies, energetic playing and a joyful spirit that is almost celebratory in nature. After all this time, the band probably knew that full surrender was the best way to go with a project that has taken so long to be realized. One thing that is a bit surprising with regard to Yes is that two songs on the first Yes album, “Beyond and Before” and “Sweetness” have been totally redone here. We’ll let the band explain how that came about in the following interview, conducted via email.

Whatever preconceived notions that listeners bring to this project, it’s fair to say that if you set those aside and just listen, you’ll hear some classic old-school British rock that is influenced by its prog roots to an extent, but also straightforward in its desire to showcase the melodies and tight musicianship of this new-old ensemble, with nothing pretentious or self-indulgent to mar the result. There are a couple of instrumentals, and a few tunes that probably won’t set the world on fire, but this is just pleasant, well-crafted rock with hints of nostalgia that should make most listeners smile. Mabel Greer’s Toyshop clearly had a barrel of fun with this album, and it’s an easy bet that they will keep it going. They are doing exactly what they want to do, and the intimidating musical legacy that they’ve come from, while echoed here and there, does not straightjacket this new record in any way. It’s an admirable feat they’ve accomplished, one that is a bit unprecedented in the annals of progressive music. There were many questions worth asking the band, but the following interview tells a great deal about their unusual journey to this point:

Mabel Greer's Toyshop, 1967 (Robert Hagger, Peter Banks, Clive Bayley, Chris Squire) (photo credit: ROWAN BULMER)

Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, 1967 (Robert Hagger, Peter Banks, Clive Bayley, Chris Squire) (photo credit: ROWAN BULMER)

THE MULE: Although it’s not unprecedented for a group that was better known as the earliest incarnation of a more prominent group to “reunite” and release new music, it’s also not common. How did this project ultimately come about?

ROBERT HAGGER: Ironically, I think it may have been the death of Peter Banks that was a catalyst. On March 15, 2013, I was on a flight from Dubai to Johannesburg and read in a newspaper that “Peter Banks, former lead guitarist with Yes and Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, died on March 7 from heart failure at the age of 65.” THE (London) TIMES dedicated three-quarters of a page to the story. Mabel Greer’s Toyshop was mentioned in the article, although inaccurately reporting that, “the band was formed by Banks and Chris Squire.” In reality, Clive and I asked Chris to join following my audition with the band, the Syn. Chris then invited Peter and Jon Anderson to join us. Peter made a huge contribution to what we were doing at the time. I started swapping emails with Clive and we agreed to meet up in July in France at the Le Petit Maison in Nice, a restaurant opposite the opera house. It’s a surreal experience to meet someone again after 45 years! We had a lot to talk about and during the meal he blurts it out, “we should reform Mabel Greer’s Toyshop.” We all fall about laughing, but it hits a nerve, and we agreed to book some studio time in August.

CLIVE BAYLEY: Mabel was always “unfinished business” for both of us; we thought the music deserved to be carried through to a larger audience.

Mabel Greer's Toyshop becomes Yes (Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, Jon Anderson) (uncredited photo)

Mabel Greer’s Toyshop becomes Yes (Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, Jon Anderson) (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Most hardcore Yes fans will likely know of you guys, but perhaps not the prog audience at large. What would you say distinguishes the current musical style you’re creating from the 60s incarnation of the band?

CLIVE: Back in the 60’s our style was likened to a crossover of Pink Floyd and the Byrds; strong melody lines and good harmonies, albeit a little more classic rock oriented (as was carried over to the Yes incarnation). If anything, the Mabel melody lines are perhaps even stronger and heavier now and include 45 years of influences from far and wide.

THE MULE: It was a bit of a surprise to hear the tracks “Beyond and Before” and “Sweetness” redone on this record, as those tracks were on the first Yes album and heavily featured Jon Anderson. What made you decide to record those songs, and are you concerned at all that your take on them will suffer by comparison to Anderson’s distinctive style?

ROBERT: “Beyond and Before” was always the Mabel opening piece at gigs, even before Jon Anderson joined us. The song, written by Clive and Chris Squire, is part of our history, we couldn’t possibly leave it out.

CLIVE: Jon is a great singer, and we all enjoy the Yes version… but, we wanted to do the melody lines more like the original Mabel version. Regarding “Sweetness,” which I co-wrote with Jon and Chris… again, Jon’s version is great, but my voice is an octave lower and a different style. The interesting thing about the Mabel version of “Sweetness” is the lead guitar running through the song in counterpoint which twists it into another style, I think.

Mabel Greer's Toyshop rehearsa, circa 2013 (Annouchka Bayley, Alex Keren Robert Hagger, Clive Bayley, Hugo Barre) (uncredited photo)

Mabel Greer’s Toyshop rehearsa, circa 2013 (Annouchka Bayley, Alex Keren Robert Hagger, Clive Bayley, Hugo Barre) (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Talk about your compositional process a little: How did tracks such as “Get Yourself Together” and “Images of You and Me” originate and develop into the arrangements we hear? Then elsewhere, you have tracks that are mostly instrumental such as “King and Country” and “Oceans”… how are aesthetic decisions like that made? Does everyone have to agree on the elements of a song, or do a couple of you get to pretty much determine the direction of a tune?

CLIVE: I think songwriting and arranging really is my thing. So in a lot of the arrangements I was trying to create a fuller, more interesting sound than we had achieved on the older material. The new songs just kind of fell into place. On “New Way of Life,” Billy altered the bass line from what we had originally and this seemed to change the style of the song quite a bit. He just did it, we all liked it, so we kept it. Billy’s style worked well as he intuitively caught where the European part of the band were coming from… great job from both him and Tony Kaye.

ROBERT: “Get Yourself Together” and “Images” were, again, written back in 1967. When we went back in the studio to record them we did it from memory, which was an interesting experience in itself. It’s important to note that the only rehearsal we had was to play the numbers through once or twice and then lay down the tracks. There are advantages and disadvantages in doing it this way. We sacrificed some quality to retain the vibe and energy.

Mabel Greer's Toyshop's Clive Bayley, circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

Mabel Greer’s Toyshop’s Clive Bayley, circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: “Oceans” makes it pretty clear that you guys are comfortable with long instrumental passages and “painterly” style soundscapes. Might you consider doing an all-instrumental recording someday?

CLIVE: The music piece determines if vocals are required… alternatively, if a strong melody line is created then the backing can be hard rock or delicate, it just kind of evolves. Yes, I would like to do an instrumental with strings and a choir sort of thing, but I suspect a melody line will creep in somewhere as a vocal. I do like Rock Opera, music telling a story. I wrote an album called KING AND COUNTRY, (which has) not yet been released, that does this. Strangely, it was based on TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, which is now about to be released as a major movie. I would like to re-record this album or update it at some point in time.

THE MULE: Clive and Robert, what was it like revisiting something you did so long ago? Were you at all concerned about being in the shadow of Yes as you embarked on this project?

CLIVE: I don’t want to emulate Yes, they are a wonderful band and they are Yes. However, you can detect where some of the Yes sound came from, and with a little imagination, you have a different take on where it could have gone if we had remained involved. I don’t rate myself as a great guitarist like Steve Howe or Peter Banks… but, I think I can write and arrange some nice sounds, and want to share that.

ROBERT: When Clive and I formed Mabel back in 1966, we knew we had something special. Even at the age of 16, Clive was writing stuff like “Beyond and Before” and “Jeanetta,” still one of my all-time favourites and also included on the new album. There is no question of being in the shadow of another band, we are just making our offering and if a few people enjoy it, then we will be happy.

Mabel Greer's Toyshop's Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood (uncredited photo)

Mabel Greer’s Toyshop’s Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood are in the unique position of having played with later versions of Yes; in fact, Tony played in early AND later incarnations. Would love it if you guys could share your insights into what it was like during your particular eras with Yes, and how those experiences influenced you for this new MGT project. Do you still have contact with Chris Squire, any of you? Has he heard the new work?

BILLY SHERWOOD: I was lucky enough to tour with the 90125 (Yes) lineup in 1995, for their TALK record, after that, the band reverted back to the classic lineup as it’s known, with Howe and Wakeman. I was called in to produce/mix for that lineup during the KEYS TO ASCENSION sessions. After that phase, they broke up and it was at that point that Squire and myself began writing and sending tracks around to Anderson, who got involved in this new writing wave… which became the OPEN YOUR EYES record. This is when I joined as a full member, touring that record and the following record THE LADDER. This would be the third Yes lineup I had the pleasure to play with. I left the band in 2000 to go back into the studio production world, making many records, some of which included various Yes members… (THE PROG COLLECTIVE 1 and 2, the Fusion Syndicate, William Shatners PONDER THE MYSTERY among other records). As a result of my ongoing relationship with Yes, I was asked to come in and mix their most recent studio record, HEAVEN AND EARTH, as well as their live DVD from Bristol called LIKE IT IS. I am currently just starting to mix another Live Yes DVD from Mesa, Arizona… Regarding Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, it was a part of Yes history in that the early seeds of Yes were housed within that band in many ways. When I was asked to come on board to make their new record, it was an honor. As a Yes fan, knowing the backstory of where it all began, I felt it was something special to be involved with such history by pushing it forward into the future. I really enjoyed playing on the record and producing/mixing, it was a labour of love indeed!

(Tony Kaye was also part of the Mabel Greer’s Toyshop/Yes transition in June to August 1968 in London, and was of course the keyboard player on the versions of “Beyond and Before” and “Sweetness’ that featured on the first Yes album. Tony was very pleased to be involved in the revival album with Clive and Bob, and enjoyed playing the old material again. He has also been working with Billy Sherwood on their joint-project and new album with the band Circa… Tony was not available for this interview).

THE MULE: You are billed as an “English psychedelic rock band” on your web site. What does the term “psychedelic” mean to you. Has audience perception of that word changed since the 60s?

ROBERT: We used the term “psychedelic” with the meaning “mind-revealing” in that the music was designed to change the state of the listener’s mind by sound effects and reverberation. As an example, just listen to some of the intros and specifically to the track “Oceans” on the new album.

CLIVE: Yes, audience perception of “psychedelic” has changed. We were dressed differently then, and when we started out it was the pre-Flower Power era. The 60s were a great time of peaceful protest and desire to change the establishment, too. Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, we were all breaking new ground. I think we tend to use the term “psychedelic” loosely… it could encompass a protest movement, new way of life, breakout… But, using the word “psychedelic” also brings back images of that era where all these things were going on.

THE MULE: Talking about this area a little more, progressive rock sort of had its heyday in the 70s with groups like Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Then it fell out of favor for many years, partially due to punk and new wave, but a new crop of bands like Porcupine Tree, Spock’s Beard and many more proved that prog rock still had a massive audience in the 90s and beyond. What do you guys see as the importance and appeal of prog rock? Do you see yourselves fitting into that realm, even though some of the tracks on your new record are essentially straightforward pop songs?

CLIVE: I think we are flexible enough to try different styles. The title track, dare I say, is more country and western than prog rock. A bit like the last Muse album where they introduced some R&B tunes, that shocked a few people. We like to experiment a lot, which again, is that psychedelic label, but it doesn’t ALL have to sound like Flower Power… if that makes sense?

Mabel Greer's Toyshop's Robert Hagger, circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

Mabel Greer’s Toyshop’s Robert Hagger, circa 2013 (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Does it affect groups like you that made your first mark in a very different musical era, that the technology and distribution systems have changed so much? Do you think music has been devalued by mp3s and the like, or is it just the inevitable change that musicians have to adapt to? How do you personally see the music business these days?

CLIVE: Well, Bob and I are getting back in so we are seeing the music business in a new light after a long gap. It clearly has changed. I think we all have to constantly adapt quickly as the world is speeding up now and more and more will change. Go with the flow but keep your integrity and create what you believe in.

ROBERT: In the old days, musicians could not rely on record sales to make a living, they had to go out and play in front of an audience. Funny that today is the same…

THE MULE: For those who don’t know, what is the origin of the band’s name? Was there ever any thought about going out under a different name when you got together again?

ROBERT: Back in the 60s, interesting, way-out names were the way to go: Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, et cetera. So we became Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. This whole project was about reviving the vibes that we had going in the beginning, so it would have been counter-productive to rename the band, although it seems that everybody now refers to it as just plain “Mabel… ”

THE MULE: What are your biggest hopes as you launch into this new phase of the band’s career? Will you be touring a lot? Will you be doing other early Yes songs besides the ones on the record? And do you think there will be more albums down the road?

CLIVE: No, I don’t think we will do any Yes songs. We will do some showcase gigs and see what happens. I am definitely arranging the next album soon; we already have a lot of new songs for it. And I want to do that Rock Opera thing or themed album. We are happy to do a new album every year if the audience likes it. Constantly trying to create exciting music, whatever shape it takes. Let’s see where this “NEW WAY OF LIFE” takes Mabel after March 9…

Album cover

NEW WAY OF LIFE will be released as a digital download and CD on March 9, 2015 by RSK Entertainment. For more information, visit the band’s website at mabelgreerstoyshop.com.


WHAT’S IT TO ME, ANYWAY?: THE 25 ALBUMS THAT MOST INFLUENCED MY LIFE, PART 1

(Ruminations of a music junkie, by KEVIN RENICK)

Hey everyone, it’s 2015! Didja notice? Yep, it’s a symmetrical year three fourths of the way through the first fifth of the new millennium! I find that this is making me, and plenty of other people I’ve spoken to, think about numbers, halfway points, anniversaries, etc. For me, this year marks the major anniversary of a lot of key things in my life and career, and I plan to write about some of those right here at the Mule. It’s gonna be fun, so saddle up and take this trip with me, through the past, smartly! Not that I feel like acknowledging my age or anything, but I would say I have been a true “music fan” for 50 years now. As a bonafide baby boomer, I grew up in the ’60s listening to all that classic stuff that makes the “Best Ever” lists these days. Sometime in 1965, probably after the Beatles’ RUBBER SOUL album came out, I became aware of music in a bigger way than before. It was no longer just the radio hits my sisters were listening to incessantly on AM, now they were buying albums (mostly the Beatles at first), and the repeated playing of these began to affect my young ears with increasing intensity. I love melodies and good singing, and everyone at the time was into the Beatles. A new era was upon us, and it was exhilarating.

What I thought I would do to celebrate my 50 years of being an active listener, is pick the 25 albums that influenced me the most. Here at the Mule, we like to take things personally, that’s why a conventional list of “Best of All Time” or “Best of the Decade,” that kinda thing, is not much fun to do. Stuff like that is all over the web or in your latest issue of ROLLING STONE. And though fun, that kind of clinical exercise can get tedious. But if I tell you I’m going to make a list of 25 albums that truly affected my life, that either set something in motion, changed me or altered my musical taste in some way, well, I get all tingly just thinking about that. The list could be much longer, of course, but it’s important to have parameters. And I like the symmetry of “25 in 50,” ie: The 25 recordings that had the greatest personal impact in 50 years of listening. You will encounter some of the great classics in here, and you’ll also read about stuff you never heard of. Maybe you’ll be shocked that there are no Dylan, Rolling Stones or Beach Boys albums on my list. I’ll say it again, this is NOT a list of the most influential albums, period. It’s a list of what most influenced ME, and made my musical life what it is. This is a thoughtful, personal exercise, and I hope you’ll enjoy sharing it with me. Maybe it will encourage some of you to think about what music most made a difference to YOU, and affected your personality the most. Fun, right? Making something all about YOU is more honest and real than those tedious “Best of” lists. So, here we go. These albums will roughly be listed in the order that I encountered them, although I can’t absolutely swear to that. But… all of these works helped make me whatever and whoever the heck I am today. Enjoy!

1. THE BEATLES: REVOLVER

REVOLVER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1966)

REVOLVER (CAPITOL RECORDS, 1966)

Although SERGEANT PEPPER… is usually cited as the greatest Beatles album, the 1966 classic REVOLVER had a bigger impact on me. It was the Fabs entering their psychedelic period, and my sisters, Therese and Pam, played this album all the time. I was fascinated by the unusual sounds on it (“Tomorrow Never Knows” was utterly hypnotic, as were the strings on “Eleanor Rigby”), and classic gems of songcraft like “Good Day Sunshine,” “I Want To Tell You” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” became lodged firmly in my young mind. I feel sad for people who never know the experience of growing up with a classic album like this.

How it influenced me: Gave me perhaps my first experience of enjoying an album all the way through, with melodies and sounds that seeped deep into my brain.

2. THE BEATLES: THE BEATLES (WHITE ALBUM)

THE BEATLES (APPLE RECORDS, 1968)

THE BEATLES (APPLE RECORDS, 1968)

Barely two years after REVOLVER, the Beatles had evolved so much that it was almost dizzying to a budding music fan at the time. By 1968, only my sister Therese was still home among my siblings, and this album got constant play. It was a weird, unsettling, enthralling experience to listen to it back then. I vividly remember a couple of times when I fell asleep on the extra bed in Therese’s room absorbing the strange, diverse tracks on this album. Each side had a unique flow; some songs rocked out (“Back in the USSR,” “Glass Onion”), some songs were folksy and pretty (“Mother Nature’s Son,” “Julia”) and some were scary and from a place I yearned to know more about (“Long Long Long,” “Revolution 9″) What a remarkable sonic journey this double album took fans on! Nobody at the time talked about the “divisions” within the Beatles, or how “self-indulgent” the album was. We simply ate it up, listened with fascination, and marveled at the new age of rock that was now dawning.

How it influenced me: The first massive song collection I ever lost myself in, with unforgettable moments across the musical spectrum, including the first moments on record to scare the crap out of me (the moaning sounds at the end of “Long Long Long” and the entire “Revolution 9″). Hearing dark, weird sounds on a record began for me, oddly, with the Fab Four.

3. THE MONKEES: PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED

PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED (COLGEMS RECORDS, 1967)

PISCES, AQUARIUS, CAPRICORN AND JONES, LIMITED (COLGEMS RECORDS, 1967)

In the late 60s, the Monkees were the OTHER band that captured the lion’s share of attention in my circles. We all knew the hits like we knew the shrubs in our front yard, and we watched the MONKEES TV show faithfully. This 1967 album was a superb collection of tunes that got constant play in my neighborhood. The previous Monkees albums seemed more like collections of big hits, but this one headed into some new territory. “Star Collector” was downright psychedelic, and Davy Jones sang it! “Pleasant Valley Sunday” was simply one of the best songs ever, ever, ever, one of the first songs to become a solid favorite for me. And many others stood out, like the minor-key laden “Words,” the Nesmith classic “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” and the Nilsson gem “Cuddly Toy,” which, decades later, would become a song I would sometimes perform live when I became a musician myself.

How it influenced me: A solid soundtrack to my childhood, full of innocence, whimsy and suburban dreams.

4. TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS: THE BEST OF…

THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS (ROULETTE RECORDS, 1969)

THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS (ROULETTE RECORDS, 1969)

From 1967 to 1970, Tommy James was a fixture on radio, with classic hit after classic hit. They were often in the summer, becoming wondrous summer classics like “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Crimson and Clover.” At every swimming pool where radio was in the background, Tommy James was a part of the atmosphere. And the first song I ever declared to be my personal favorite, was “Sweet Cherry Wine.” This song absolutely captivated me, and I would sometimes wait for it to come on the radio, getting very emotional when it did. It was a beautifully produced song, with background vocals that got under my skin and never left my memory. THE BEST OF TOMMY JAMES AND THE SHONDELLS was, I believe, the first album I bought with my own money. It’s possible a Monkees album preceded it in that regard; memory can be sketchy. But it was unquestionably the first hits collection I ever bought, and the first non Beatles or Monkees music to get repeat play in my life. A soundtrack for the year 1969 in particular.

How it influenced me: The sound of the last year before I became a teenager. The first record to actively make me aware of the magic of background vocals. A collection of songs I truly, truly could listen to over and over.

5. SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: BOOKENDS and BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (tie)

BOOKENDS (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1968); BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1970)

BOOKENDS (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1968); BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER (COLUMBIA RECORDS, 1970)

If you become a musician, some influences don’t become apparent to you right away; you might have to work on developing your style and think about the kinds of songs you want to do, before the stylistic touchstones become obvious. I grew up with Simon and Garfunkel, and all but their first album were regular spins at our home in Kirkwood. Most of their songs struck me as sad, intimate and evocative, and the musical personality they presented… the tight harmonies, the sometimes quirky lyrics… was vivid and powerful. These two albums affected me about equally, the former for its melancholy musings on the passing of time (“Old Friends,” “Bookends”) and quirky sing-alongs (“Hazy Shade of Winter,” “At the Zoo”), the latter for its epic production and exhilarating musical dramas (“Cecilia,” “El Condor Pasa,” “The Boxer,” the title track). This was one of a clutch of albums I listened to a great deal with an early girlfriend in 1972; such things stay with you. Years later, I fell in love with a girl actually NAMED Cecilia, and that song became significant in a very personal way. More importantly, Paul Simon’s songwriting stood out for me as artful, impactful stuff, and he is one of the composers I always mention as an influence on my own music and aesthetic.

6. CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG: DEJA VU

DEJA VU (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1970)

DEJA VU (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1970)

They were called the “first big supergroup,” “the American Beatles” and more. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were not destined to sustain the kind of impact such lofty labels created expectations for, but they made this one incredible studio album as a foursome. It was a 1970 classic, and that year they were omnipresent. Every song was amazing, and the potency of their musical personalities was overwhelming if you were a fan of singer/songwriters. I was, and this album, plus the live album FOUR WAY STREET, essentially planted the seeds of my own desire to write songs. From the iconic cover photo to the peerless harmonies to the counterculture sass, this was an unmissable classic of its time. And that guy Neil…

How it influenced me: The songwriting. The personalities. The times!

7. NEIL YOUNG: HARVEST

HARVEST (REPRISE RECORDS, 1972)

HARVEST (REPRISE RECORDS, 1972)

It’s really not easy picking one Neil Young album for my list. Considering that Neil Young is one of the two most important and influential musicians in my entire life, it seems inadequate to talk about one album. It actually could have been ANY of his first four: the NEIL YOUNG debut, the epic Crazy Horse workout EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE in 1969, the popular fan favorite AFTER THE GOLDRUSH from 1970. All had an impact, but HARVEST was one of my high school soundtracks. I listened to it with my first real girlfriend. I was profoundly affected by Neil’s singing and arrangements throughout, and, quite simply, I was a different person by the time I fully absorbed this album. Neil Young was the first singer/songwriter I claimed as my own, the first to pervade my life and shift my understanding of the craft of songwriting. I memorized everything on this album; it became a huge soundtrack for me. I even liked the orchestration on “There’s a World,” which some reviewers lambasted. Everything in my music life changed after Neil Young; he’s even the artist that got me interested in reading reviews, which then led to my writing career. His influence was profound.

8. PINK FLOYD: MEDDLE

MEDDLE (HARVEST RECORDS, 1971)

MEDDLE (HARVEST RECORDS, 1971)

If you were in high school in the early to mid-’70s, Pink Floyd were a staple. FM radio played them all the time, and the longhairs and tokers were ALWAYS talking about them. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was one of the first albums to become a genuine phenomenon, and it was absolutely everywhere when I was in high school. I was intrigued enough by the band to research all their earlier work, and I found their 1971 classic MEDDLE. That’s the one that burrowed into my brain. The trilogy of atmospheric gems on side one: “A Pillow of Winds,” “Fearless” and “San Tropez” stirred me with their smooth vocals, melancholy arrangements and haunted romanticism. I found these tracks more than a little compelling. And, as for “Echoes,” the spacey side-long excursion that graced side two, well, it was the first immersive space rock spectacle I had encountered, a headphone extravaganza for many of us buying our first stereo systems at the time. Progressive rock had arrived, and so had a plethora of mysterious sounds we’d never heard the likes of before, us teens.

How it influenced me: The dawn of headphones-ready space rock, David Gilmour and Rick Wright creating a perfect sonic template to serve Roger Waters’ lyrical ideas, and the important notion that something could be epic and intimate at the same time in music.

9. YES: CLOSE TO THE EDGE

CLOSE TO THE EDGE (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1972)

CLOSE TO THE EDGE (ATLANTIC RECORDS, 1972)

And they WERE, too. Close to the edge of sonic possibilities at the time, as evidenced by the side-long title track that pretty much blew everyone’s mind. I didn’t truly listen to Yes with any depth until 1973, but CLOSE TO THE EDGE became a staple. Progressive rock was becoming one of the most popular genres, with Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and others dominating the talk among hardcore music fans at the time. With musicianship on a scale hardly imagined before, Jon Anderson’s soaring voice and “out there” lyrics, and passages of music that were so hypnotic and evocative that they could be said to represent the beginning of the power of “ambient sound” (which would transform my life a few years later), Yes were unrvaveling layers of new possibilities in music. I ate it all up, shared it with friends, and even began trying to memorize some of the more interesting lyrics.

How it influenced me: The mystical, far-reaching “subjects,” the compelling lyrics, the incredible purity of Jon Anderson’s voice, the early ambient sounds.

10. BLACK SABBATH: SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1974)

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH (WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS, 1974)

I was never much into what was called “heavy metal,” although both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were huge during my teen years. I have no idea what first got me into Black Sabbath, but I listened to MASTER OF REALITY pretty often with the same girlfriend I mentioned in an early paragraph, and it had a lot of mystery about it. The heaviness of the riffs and the darker themes were quite compelling to me. I started reading some of the reviews of Black Sabbath, and by the time their fifth album came out, I was a senior in high school and a budding amateur musician. There seemed to be something of real substance to SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH to my ears at the time, and I even liked Ozzy Osbourne’s shrill voice. The oddest thing that happened, though, is that I began trying to play a couple of the songs on piano. I’d had a year or so of lessons, and I would occasionally try to just “pick out” chords or melodies from popular songs. Came up with my own versions of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and, inexplicably, “Sabbra Cadabra” from the Black Sabbath album. I was playing controlled double octaves, and I was doing it with all the energy I possessed. I had the structure of this song down pretty well! It got to the point where this was pretty impressive, I suppose, because I played it at a couple of parties and for a number of friends, who always seemed to clap. Inadvertently, Black Sabbath had given me my first taste of what it might be like to be a musician. That’s influential, ain’t it?

11. BRIAN ENO: DISCREET MUSIC

DISCREET MUSIC (ANTILLES RECORDS, 1975)

DISCREET MUSIC (ANTILLES RECORDS, 1975)

In a month or two, I’ll be doing a piece on Brian Eno for this site, so I don’t want to go into undue detail right now. But… people who know me, know that Eno is the single most influential musical artist of my life, just a shade more than Neil Young because of the differing STREAMS of influence he had. This 1975 album was a game changer, to say the least, and of earthshaking importance in my life. Try to imagine what it would be like to have your actual dreams and subconscious memories represented in musical terms. That’s what Eno’s first true “ambient” recording did for me. Consisting of wispy, ethereal, repeating and interweaving synth melodies, what Eno came up with was so new and different that no one really knew what to do with it at the time. I did, though. I listened to it late at night both through headphones and without. I played it any time I had a hangover, and the hangover would miraculously go away. I listened to it when I felt depressed, and I felt that, somehow, there was a force out there that understood me. “Miracle music,” I began to call this stuff, and it launched my lifetime love affair with ambient music. How did it influence me? In every possible way as a music listener. It asked questions that many people are STILL trying to answer. And a whole new world had opened up that I walked into with an open mind and open ears…

12. JONI MITCHELL: HEJIRA

HEJIRA (ASYLUM RECORDS, 1976)

HEJIRA (ASYLUM RECORDS, 1976)

By 1976, the legendary Joni Mitchell was exploring jazz stylings more and more in her music, and she was well past the stage of having conventional “hits” (1974’s COURT AND SPARK was her last album to feature anything like that). I’d been a fan, but HEJIRA was more than just a new album by a songwriter I loved; it was a restless travelogue by an artist at the peak of her powers. Songs such as “Amelia” (which referenced ill-fated pilot Amelia Earhart), “Song for Sharon” and “Refuge of the Road” really stirred me with their ruminations on life, memories and uncertainty, and furthered a growing desire I had to write meaningful things myself. If that weren’t enough, I fell in love with a girl not long after this that looked very much LIKE Joni Mitchell, and kind of worshipped her. So, me with my Neil Young obsession and this girl with her Joni fixation, began comparing notes and trading insights on our idols. It was heady stuff, and although it ended badly, this Joni Mitchell album in particular captured something emotionally potent that was not only on the recording itself, but echoed through my own personal life. And the lyrics of that “Refuge of the Roads” song are brilliant and sobering.

13. TELEVISION: MARQUEE MOON

MARQUEE MOON (ELEKTRA RECORDS, 1977)

MARQUEE MOON (ELEKTRA RECORDS, 1977)

Something strange and mysterious was going on in New York City in the mid ’70s, and my cousin Roxanne, who lived there, started talking to me about it. There were a lot of new bands playing at a club called CBGB’s, and Roxanne and I, who were already close partially due to shared letters and phone calls about relationships and the music we loved, began going to that club and others in NYC, regularly. A band called Television was getting a great deal of attention, and I didn’t think too much about this until I went to New York myself in 1977 and got to see them, with my cousin and my brother Kyle along for the experience. There’s a thing that happens when you see a band that sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard. You get transported, you have your mind blown, and it expands your reference points for the old sonic vocabulary. Television had two incredible guitarists, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, and the mesmerizing interplay of the two lead guitars, coupled with bizarre, evocative lyrics and Verlaine’s charisma on stage, was unforgettable for anyone who saw the band. The term “new wave” was created to try to label bands like this; “punk” just wasn’t cutting it. These guys were musicians, and they were reaching for something out there that the punk bands couldn’t care less about. Roxanne sang me her favorite lyrics from the band over and over, even my snobby brother was affected, and I was left reeling by yet another brand new rock sound. The MARQUEE MOON album came out later in 1977 and took the indie music scene by storm. Some of the best guitar work ever played was on this album.

How it influenced me: By generating understanding of the far-reaching drama that two electric guitars could generate, seeing the experience of people getting swept away by music in the dingiest of dingy Bowery clubs (at a legendary time in rock music history), and by raising the stakes for underground music, which was also to generate so much press that the mere READING of reviews and articles at this time became an experience unto itself.