Yessessions (Highland HL296/297/298)
Yessessions was released by Highland in 1999 and at the time was the most ambitious collection of early Yes documents. Unlike other collections like Before The Birth Of Yes or Goddess Of Mercy, Yessessions, while beginning with non-Yes singles, focus mostly upon Yes tapes from 1970 to 1978. Overall this set serves two purposes. Highland’s obvious intention is to correct some of their earlier mistakes. Several of the tapes found on this release are also on others but at wrong speeds and higher generations. The problems on the earlier releases have been correct so that this is much more definitive.
The second purpose is to find a silver release for important tapes that wouldn’t work on their own. These are tapes that are very short and of inferior sound quality but are historically important. It should be stressed that, while the sources for these tracks come from many places, they are all at least very good sound quality with some bordering on excellent. Most come from professional recording and those that do not are still very listenable.
Disc 1 (76:25): The Syn first single 1967: Created By Clive, Grounded. The Syn second single 1967: Flowerman, Fourteen Hour Technicolour Dream. Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop, BBC session March, 1968: Beyond And Before, Images Of You And I, Jeanetta. “Johnny Walker Show” – June 4th, 1969: Looking Around. “Mike Harding Show” – April 7th, 1970: For Everyone. “Mike Harding Show” – October 20th, 1970: America. Konserthuset, Gothenburg, Sweden – January 24th, 1971: I’ve Seen All Good People, Astral Traveller, Everydays
The first disc begins with the only two singles released by The Syn, the band the featured Peter Banks on guitar and Chris Squire on bass. “Created By Clive” with “Grounded” was the first and “Flowerman” backed by “Fourteen Hour Technicolor Dream” is the second. The musical style is very firmly rooted in the pop-psychedelia of the time where bands wanted to straddle both the underground experimental scene and the record charts. It is strange to hear arrangements trying to write spaced out music with a hook. The lyrics are likewise strange, focusing upon a hairdresser named Clive and comparing humans to flowers. These would be the only releases by The Syn before they broke up and until they reformed forty years later for the album Syndestructible.
Mabel Greer’s Toy Shop was the precursor to Yes featuring Chris Squire, Jon Anderson and Peter Banks. For only six months did they exist and the only recordings is the March 1968 BBC session for John Peel. They recorded four songs total. The three in this collection come from a rare album of obscure British bands called Dustbin Full of Rubbish. The fourth song, “Electric Funeral,” surfaced soon after the release of Yessessions. The musical style is very similar to early Yes withe emphasis upon the high treble bass, melodic hooks and singing in harmony. “Beyond And Before” would be recorded again for the first Yes album.
The first actual Yes song is “Looking Around” from their second session for the radio. It was taped on June 4th and broadcast June 14th, 1969. Yes recorded “Looking Around,” “Sweetness” and “Every Little Thing.” The three appear on the unofficial release BBC Sessions 1969/1970 (8 – Ball 024) but only two, “Sweetness” and “Every Little Thing” are on the officially released collection Something’s Coming: The BBC Recordings 1969-1970. The sound quality is good but significanlty below the official release.
The next two tracks are from two appearances on the BBC with Mike Harding in 1970. “For Everyone” was first recorded for John Peel on March 12th. This is the version that is included on the official releases Something’s Coming and The Word Is Live as well as several unofficial releases. The Mike Harding version taped three weeks later appeared previously on Moments (The Third Eye/Liquid Sky Records KT 003) and Lost YesYears (Highland HL001/2#Y1) running at the wrong speed. This version of the song, which hold interest as a precursor to the “Disillusion” section of “Starship Trooper,” differs significantly from the Peel recording. It is double the length, clocking in at over nine minutes, and contains long instrumental improvisation passages. It is also one of the final things they did with original guitarist Peter Banks.
The second Mike Harding track comes six months later in October 1970. This is the first radio appearance with new guitarist Steve Howe and they play a pristine, fifteen minute version of “America.” This recording has been included on other titles including Highland’s first release, but it ran extremely fast and sounds simply horrible. On this the sound quality is much improved and it runs at the correct speed. What also makes this version unique of all the original long versions is the inclusion of the grand piano in the mix. It’s not clear exactly who is playing it, but it adds another dimension to the song absent from other recordings including the standard studio recording done a year later with Rick Wakeman in the band.
The final three songs come from the January 24th, 1971 Gothenburg, Sweden show. This is a twenty minute tape which some sources claim is a radio broadcast. Although it is excellent sounding, it is too rough for the radio and sounds more like a soundboard tape. Two songs, “Astral Traveler” and “Everydays” was included on the official release The Word Is Live in 2005. Previous boot releases include Looking Around (Lost Rose Records LR 07) and on two previous Highland titles, Lost YesYears (HL001/2#Y1) and Out The Valley (HL169/170). The boots run at the wrong speed but runs correctly on Yessessions.
Gothenburg dates from their legendary tour where they supported Iron Butterfly. Since they were the opening act they played shorter sets than later on when The Yes Album would be released. It is interesting that only one new song, “I’ve Seen All Good People,” is on the tape. “Astral Traveller,” which Anderson says is “from the Time And A WordLP and is for Monica, wherever she may be. She sent me a little note, a thank you for the note and this song is called ‘Astral Traveller.'” This is one of the very rare recordings of “Astral Traveller” with Steve Howe instead of Peter Banks on guitar. It is certainly the best recorded of the three. Howe adds his own style of picking into the middle improvisation.
It is the same with “Everydays,” which Anderson calls “one of the first songs we played on stage together as a group a couple of years ago.” This would see a longer time the set than any other Banks era tune. Although firmly rooted in jazz, Howe plays a Carl Perkins country style solo over the beat before Tony Kaye brings the song back to its dreamlike roots. Howe continues to add his pretty little adornments to the melody in the final verses. Gothenburg is one of the most exciting tapes from the era and with this, Highland’s third release of the tape, they get it right with great sound quality and impressive mastering.
Disc 2 (68:50): Falkoner Teater, Copenhagen, Denmark – January 25th, 1971: Bye Bye Goodbye Baby (jam with Iron Butterfly). “Beat Club,” Bremen – January 28th, 1971: Yours Is No Disgrace, I’ve Seen All Good People. “Top Of The Pops,” BBC – April 1st, 1971: Starship Trooper. Sportpalast, Berlin, Germany – June 5th, 1971: Clap, Perpetual Change, America
The second disc picks up the night following the Sweden show. A twenty-five minute tape exists with “Astral Traveller” and “Then,” but Highland focus upon the ten minute jam session with Iron Butterfly. Doug Ingle can be heard on the tape saying, “We’d like to call up to jam with us, our friends from Yes. C’mon audience lets give them a big one. Yeah. Tony and Bill..and all the guys.” Squire gets them going with a groovy melody on bass guitar and they jam for minutes. The melody sound closer to The Guess Who than either Iron Butterfly or Yes. In the middle Tony Kaye takes a short solo before a key change and shift into something slower and heavier. The sound quality is not bad for the era and the tune is catchy.
The next two numbers are from the German television program “Beat Club.” This was taped at the studios in Breman on January 28 and aired on April 24th. This is sourced from an excellent quality transfer of the telecast. Yes play “All Good People” (“Your Move,” the first half of the song, was omitted) and a ten minute version of “Yours Is No Disgrace.” An absolutely perfect transfer of the video with impeccable audio was released officially on Yes Special Edition EP in 2003. It’s currently out of print but worth tracking down because this is the best footage available from this time period.
Bremen is followed by “Starship Trooper.” The source for this track is almost a total mystery. Highland list it as BBC TV “Top Of The Pops” but no one is really sure. The song didn’t make its live debut until December 12th, 1972 at the Rainbow (and recorded for Yessongs), and wasn’t played regularly until they toured Japan in 1973 so it being played at such an early date would be unusual. The sound quality is good but it has several dropouts and it cuts out in the middle of “Würm.”
The final tape on the second disc is the June 5th Berlin soundboard fragment. This is about twenty-five minutes long with the latter half of the set. This show was one of the rare times they played with Pink Floyd who were touring with their new epic “The Return of the Son of Nothing” soon to be called “Echoes.” An audience recording exists for both Yes’ and Pink Floyd’s complete sets (which was released many years ago on Mauerspechte) but Highland use the twenty-minute rough soundboard tape that was also used for Perpetual Change (Hiwatt YS 001) with “Perpetual Change,” and “America” and Lost YesYears (Highland HL001/2#Y1) which has all three songs but runs at the wrong speed.
The tape cuts in the middle of Jon Anderson’s introduction to “I’ve Seen All Good People,” saying, “…enjoy to play. This is another track from the LP. This is a song, songs, lots of songs. He can do a tap dance as well. This is one called ‘Clap.'” Steve Howe’s song includes the “Classical Gas” interlude. “Perpetual Change” is fourteen minutes long and includes Bruford’s drum solo but is cut at the very end. The tape does capture a nice fifteen minute “America” with some breathtaking Howe solos in the middle. Berlin is one of the final shows in The Yes Album era and it’s fitting it ends the second disc of this collection.
Disc 3 (67:12): Advision studio, London – September, 1971: Roundabout (demo). Crystal Garden Party, London – July 31st, 1971: I’ve Seen All Good People. Fragile tour rehearsal – October, 1971: The Fish / Heart Of The Sunrise / Steve solo. Sounding Out, Hempstead, England – October 3rd, 1971: I’ve Seen All Good People – Perpetual Change – Long Distance Runaround -Heart of The Sunrise – Mood For a Day – Your Is No Disgrace. “Bob Harris Show” January 11th, 1973: Revealing Science of God. Tormato promo: Don’t Kill The Whale, Madrigal, On The Silent Wings Of Freedom
The final disc picks up when Rick Wakeman joined the band. “Roundabout” was the first song written with the keyboardist, having been inspired by the excitement of their first rehearsal together. It is referred to as a demo on the artwork, but it is the final version of the song but lacking the introduction and with a different mix. It sounds very close to the “rough mix” found as a bonus track on the 2003 remaster of Fragile. Neither of these two are as interesting as the rough mix Highland released soon after the remaster on Extra Tracks (Highland HL633).
Following the “Roundabout” tape is “I’ve Seen All Good People” from the Crystal Garden Party set on July 31st, 1971. The complete show exists and has been pressed on The Model For Success on Highland utilizing the same tape source. It sounds as if this uses a higher generation copy taken from scratchy vinyl. Quite why it’s here isn’t very clear.
The next two tracks, totaling about twenty minutes, come from the BBC telecast “Sounding Out.” This is a special program meant to present the band to a national audience with interviews with each member of the band and lots of live footage filmed at the October 3rd, 1971 Hempstead show. The first track titled “Fragile tour rehearsal” is a two minute clips of interviews with Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe each telling stories about being in the band. The Howe clip is interesting because, while improvising he plays one of the melodies he would use years later in “The Nature Of The Sea” on Beginnings.
The next fifteen minute track presents the musical performances from “Sounding Out” with the interviews edited out. The sound quality is very good. None of the performances are complete but it does have substantial sections of “Perpetual Change” and “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Of course, this doesn’t beat owning the telecast which the BBC rebroadcast in 2007 in amazing quality. Sirene released it as a DVDR extra several years ago, but would make a good addition to a visual compilation.
“The Revealing Science Of God” from Tales From Topographic Oceansis next. The entire album was recorded for the BBC on January 11th, 1973. Side one of the album is in very good mono with hints of static from the transmission It was issued previously on Moments (The Third Eye/Liquid Sky Records KT 003) and on Topographic (Highland HL044/45#Y11). Other than the opening chant being slightly slower than the album, it sounds identical to the official version.
The final tracks come five years later with the release of Tormato. “Don’t Kill The Whale” is the studio version with sound effects at the beginning. “Madrigal” has Wakeman in conversation with someone at the beginning and crowd cheering at the very end. “On The Silent Wings Of Freedom” is a different mix with the guitars up higher. These three tracks are interesting but hardly revelatory and were not included on any subsequent officall release by the band.
Yessessions is packaged in a standard fatboy jewel case with an interesting amalgam of their album covers on the front. Most of the front cover is taken from the old Yesterday compiliation LP from 1975. But there are references to Fragile (broken earth), Close To The Edge (waterfall), the disembodied head from The Yes Album, the lady’s legs from the European pressing of Time And A Word, and the naked man from Going For The One (which is strange since there is nothing on this release from those sessions). The inside contain photos of the band ranging from 1968 to a shot of them in studio recording Tormato. A decade after its release this remains a classic Highland release worth having.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)