Well, here we go again with another Yes article, this time a short interview with Steve Howe. I hope y`all like it!
Down on the farm
Howard Fielding talks to Steve Howe
Now that the only people who can afford country estates are pop stars, I thought I`d do an interview with a musician for one of those earthy farming magazines – `Artificial Inseminator`s Weekly` was the one I had in mind. But Steve Howe was the wrong man to pick – all he can talk about is guitars – so here we are in SOUNDS again.
The scene was all right, in the heart of Somerset pastureland, and the farm we were on was for sale. Steve did stroll round the fields, conversed briefly with the odd calf, but clearly preferred the feel of the slenderer necks of his Gibsons. Mind you, it was my own fault. Having just seen the second Yes concert at Bristol the night before, it seemed a good idea to start off with a reference to the battery of guitars used at the concert.
It only took half a query, and Steve had flashed out an antique guitar catalogue of the 1920s, and was enthusing about his collecting mania – harp mandolins and all.
After a struggle I got him round to the present tour, and showed puzzlement that the material selected dated back as far as `The Yes Album`, and that he still played `Mood For A Day` and `The Clap` as his virtuoso sections. That`s apparently because the band have featured the new stuff in America on recent tours, and felt they`d like a change. Since they hadn`t played in England for so long also, the set chosen had public reaction in mind.
It`s more popular and more before the kill, “It`s all to do with composition.” My mind is still a mess of frets, fingerboards, C-sharps and B-flats, pick-ups and plugs and the thickness of notes and thinness of bodies – but it`s really quite simple.
Every time a new set of music was to be written for an album, Steve sat down with the guitar of the moment, and the music evolved from the idiosyncratic features and capacities of that particular instrument. So `The Yes Album` is mostly Gibson 175; `Fragile` is Gibsons Switchmaster; `Topographic` is Les Paul Junior (single pick-up, please note), `Close To The Edge` is Gibson Stereo; and `Relayer` is Fender Telecaster. Spefic extra items merit other special guitars, but the bulk of any album concentrates on one guitar only.
Granted the intimacy thus created between songs and guitar, it seems almost rewarding to play familiar songs, and anyway, he pointed out, Yes don`t just play their material routinely – there are lots of subtle changes and variations.
Ho-hum, I thought, he`d have to say something like that. So the next line of attack was to be more penetrating. If the band now play what suits the audience, could it be that they had lost their way in terms of leading their followers, and were going round in circles? Perhaps a little hint, too, that the latest material wasn`t as good as the old – was a little too close to a Yes stereotype?
I could see straightaway he`d answered that before, as he gently implied that such comments reflected a lack of discrimination in the ears of the critics. In fact he said that the next Yes album would be more `Yes-like` still, if possible. It`s to be another double which will be so much a step towards the band`s ultimate ideal that it will displace the old material. It`s to be an `expedition` – a pioneering exploit going far beyond the previous parameters of their music, and far outstripping the present production, presentation, and stage techniques.
So I thought just one more chance before I yield to this nice, modest but too clever young man. What about all those guitars on stage? Could the audience really differentiate between them? All 10 of them?
Couldn`t it be just a little extrovert?
“Ah, well,” he said, pausing blasphemous to have suggested that he could play the piece on anything other than the original instrument. I had to agree. Quite right, Steve, fair enough, use as many as you like.
I was capitulating, when he melted by boots with the remark that he thought it was all getting a bit silly, really, and he was going to cut down in future and develop a consistent single guitar approach, using things like phase switches and other unmentionables to vary the tone and texture. He`s even practising a `thin body style` – more funky, see.
He just kept going on after that, and was still mouthing about acoustic resonance when I left discreetly, feeling a little slack-jawed myself. Still, it came in useful, this humility, when I came out of the third Yes concert and stepped into a queue of Bay City Rollers sleeping bags waiting overnight for tickets.
Less stern stuff, I thought; pen in hand. “Do you hope to grow up one day?” “Who are the best group in the world?” “Aren`t you cold?” With incredible economy of mind and body, she flashed back the answer to all questions in a single word, “Yes”. It`s sad that one so young should be so wise.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Roxy Music, Steve Hillage, Bobby Bland, Maria Muldaur, Barry White, Allen Toussaint, Nils Lofgren, Bay City Rollers, Neil Young, Dave Greenslade, Status Quo, BTO, Link Wray, Ladies in rock, Hedgehog Pie, Van Der Graaf Generator.
This edition is sold.