Monday 28 February 2011

Just One Man

There has been much talk, conjecture, sadness and sometimes anger in recent weeks, mainly on dedicated Facebook pages about Jon Anderson. Much of it centres on the fact that the current incarnation of Yes will be releasing a new album this year, produced, it is said, by Trevor Horn, an erstwhile band member and overseer of 90125, followed by a British tour. The message is overwhelming - that Yes cannot even consider being a bona fide band without the presence of the Accrington Alto.

I share some of this anguish, but I cannot help but feel that now is the time to look at the bigger picture and move on.

Jon has been my prime musical and spiritual inspiration, mentor and teacher for the past 40 years - back to when Fragile came out in 1971. At the tender age of 13, my life had been irrevocably changed.

Without going into too much detail, my world has been influenced by him more than any other human being but, unlike a recent posting on an FB page, I would disagree with him being declared a messiah. I would rather equate him with the title of one of the beautiful songs on The Living Tree, his recent collaboration with Rick Wakeman: Just One Man.

The song reflects his continuing faith in higher spiritual powers, a theme which has been one of the main pillars of his music, lyrics and poetry, along with his perpetual wonderment and love of life. As Mr Wakeman once so eloquently summed it up: "He is the only person I know trying to save this planet whilst existing on another one."

Well, from the outset in the early 70s, he has seemed to be operating in a completely different dimension - the angelically pure voice coupled with those ethereal looks - through those sometimes unintelligible words on which books have been written that have tried to find their true meaning. In fact, we each have our own true meaning to the words so why seek a third party interpretation?

I have seen Yes a number of times over the years and Jon was always central to the cast, always the focus of attention. There have been many hiatuses and fallings-out over the years within the band but even these resulted in some sensational by-products such as the AWBH album, which is filled with some gorgeous New Age themed compositions such as The Order of the Universe.

Jon's solo career has been prodigious and has charted his spiritual and philosophical discoveries along his unique path, from the cosmically charged fantastical worlds created in Olias Of Sunhillow to Angel's Embrace, his paean of love for his exquisite wife Jane.

But perhaps three albums in particular stand out: firstly In The City of Angels, which was the album which helped me through a very dark and difficult time in my life. Another was Toltec, inspired by the book The Power of Silence by Carlos Castaneda, which feels like entering a new powerful, spiritual reality.

Thirdly, Change We Must contained two reworked songs from City, plus one from 90125 and the iconic State of Independence, one of the most poignant affirmations ever of life, love and belief. However, it was the eponymous song which has created the most resonance, based on the book by Hawaiian spiritual teacher Nana Veary. A life-affirming video, based on this glorious song and featuring beautiful people and voices from around the globe, was released last year, creating huge waves of appreciation and love for all those involved. It sounded like a call to arms.

Meanwhile, Jon's well-documented brush with death in 2007, caused by a chronic asthma attack, has changed his life and indeed those of his fans, forever. The new version of Yes was assembled in time for the 40th anniversary tour, allegedly without Jon being informed. Like other fans, I was mortified to hear of this if indeed there had been no communication between him and the other members of the classic line-up.

But it was more out of curiosity than zealotry that my brother and I went to see the current line-up on the opening night of the British tour in Birmingham the autumn before last. And it was clear the dynamic of the band had shifted from the traditional centre to the left side of the stage. And there were no programmes, which was a glaring omission! But we will be seeing them on the upcoming tour to hear the new Yesmusic taking shape.

So where are we now? Having seen Jon and Rick in their Anderson/Wakeman Project tour in downtown Basingstoke in September, it is abundantly clear they are in a completely different space musically. Jon's voice has changed discernibly and this can in no small part be due to the effects of his respiratory break-down. It is still as beautiful and clear as ever but it now bears the traces of trauma, which only adds to the poignancy of the lyrics of the songs written since then.

Jon is now working in different areas and, on my part, it is the thought of him working with young musicians and choirs in the USA which really gladdens the heart. Well, can you think of a better teacher for these kids - someone who embodies love, goodness and positivity? There are not many role models possessed of these inherent qualities these days, and perhaps his experiences with them led to him writing the words to The Living Tree that teach young people to love and value themselves. I would like to think so.

To see him and Rick performing together was simply amazing. I had seen them on their previous two-hander in 2006 and met them afterwards. All I could say to him was thank you for the music!

To bring it up to the present, let us remember Jon is 67 this October, a time when many people would have been putting their feet up and reflecting on life's labours. I think Jon will never stop making the music and creating the art which brings him and so many of us such mutual pleasure. We will never stop reading his posts on FB and hearing about his latest collaborations with songwriters and musicians across the globe.

But putting it into context, it is highly unlikely we will ever see him with Yes again. Though he looks as beautiful and together as ever, his health would probably not be able to withstand the rigours of a full-on national or international tour. Even now, his wife Jane, "his angel", is there for him at every concert and he looks to her throughout. Would this be welcome on a band tour? If you need any convincing, remember the scene in This Is Spinal Tap!

It has nothing to do with wanting to please the fans, but has everything to do with what is physically possible - and anyway, he appears to be loving what he is doing now, spreading his unique brand of joy and positivity wherever he goes.

There is so much more I can say about this remarkable and incredibly special man, but hey, you know that already, otherwise you would not be reading this. "Change we must to live again." That is just what Jon is continuing to do and so must we.


  1. As is often the case Alison; I agree with about 75% of what you put, and love the way you express the other 25%! I too, am sure Jon will not be part of Yes again, and yet I'm looking forward to the new material with anticipation. Yes' music has been part of my life since the early 70s and, whilst I am by no means the dedicated acolyte that you are, I am similarly sad to sense the passing of an era.

  2. For me, Yes are soulless without Jon, simple as that. The performances, while excellent, have no living heart now, no meaning; they are just accurate copies in a display cabinet.

    This is not a complaint about Benoit, it's a lament for the absence of the visionary who wrote the songs. When Jon sang them, it was him talking to us in his own words. With Benoit, it’s just a case of watching to see how good an impersonation he can do. For me, Steve and Rick’s magnificent runs were wordless affirmations of the message of the guy in the centre of the stage with the microphone – this cannot be the case anymore.

    If I start writing now about Jon's significance to me I will be writing for the next 12 hours; but all I have to do is listen to “To the Runner” from Olias and that says everything I want to say.


  3. Rather than specifics about this post, I just wanted to comment on your posts in general. Alison, I totally get where you are coming from. I had a "Road to Damascus" moment listening to Roundabout in my teenage years and I haven't looked back since. I pretty much agree with all you make public, and I love the eloquence of what your write.

    toodle pip - Don

  4. Am not one for long examinations of things - I never have been Ali - but I have to admit - this piece about Jon - wonderful reading. I am another step closer to knowing the real 'progrock chick' that you truly are haha!(not that the music you and I have discussed has given much away haha!)
    I dont know whether I should put this comment in this space but I did spot a picture of Mr Hackett and your writing on '15 albums in 15 minutes (which is wonderful in itself), and I suddenly remembered what I felt , the first time I heard Spectral Mornings. 'Dave floated away, with all his childhood memories and was placed softly on a cloud' about sums it up! To end, it just shows how powerful something as simple as music can be to elevate a soul, no matter how dark the depths it may be in.