UK progressive rockers Yes take a straight & stronger course with their film “Yessongs”

By on December 3, 2018

Now streaming in Night Flight’s ever-growing Concert section on Night Flight Plus is the newly-released reissue of the seminal Yes concert film Yessongs, lensed at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London, on December 15, 1972, but not released theatrically until October 19, 1975.

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Capturing the UK progressive rockers — Jon Anderson (lead vocals), Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), Rick Wakeman (keyboards, synthesizers) and Alan White (drums) — at what many consider the likely zenith of their long career, this 70-minute live concert film arrives in a restored HD digital transfer, made from the original 16mm negatives (in 1.33:1 aspect ratio).

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The Rainbow Theatre— where Yes played two consecutive nights, December 15 and 16, 1972 — was a relatively small venue they’d play in their prime (holding about 2500 fans), considering Yes were already stadium-filling headliners at the time.

Record producer and audio engineer Eddy Offord had decided less than twenty-four hours prior to the show that the band’s Rainbow Theatre concert should be filmed, now that Yes’s lineup had solidified.

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Director Peter Neal was brought aboard the Yessongs film project, along with four or five cameramen armed with 16mm cameras.

He’d previously directed a 1968 Jimi Hendrix doc Experience, and the BBC Omnibus documentary Be Glad for the Song Has No Ending with the Incredible String Band in 1970, and he’d just been credited as the “Completion Director”on the Glastonbury Fayre festival feature, directed by the late Nicolas Roeg.

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A faux disco ball provides much of the stage lighting effects here, and Wakeman’s vast keyboard array is set up in front of a large mirror, an interesting illusion which often expands and multiplies what we see onstage, the cameras often focusing on a mirrored reflection off Wakeman’s glittery sequin-covered cape.

The songs you’ll hear performed here include: “Your Move/All Good People,” “The Clap,” “And You and I,” “Close to the Edge,” a Rick Wakeman solo with excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII, “Roundabout,” “Yours Is No Disgrace,” and “Würm,” an excerpt from “Starship Trooper.”

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The concerts during this tour began with “Opening (Excerpt from ‘Firebird Suite)”, a piece of the closing section to the orchestral work The Firebird (1910) by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

The quadraphonic triple-album gatefold live album Yessongs — the first of many subsequent live Yes albums — was released on May 4, 1973, reaching the Top Ten on the UK Albums Chart (#7) and #12 on Billboard‘s 200 chart.

Read more about Yessongs below.

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Yes (1971): Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, Bill Bruford, Jon Anderson

In March of 1972, Yes drummer Bill Bruford — who left Yes eleven days prior to the start of their tour to join King Crimson — had told Circus magazine that the band’s Fragile album title was a commentary on their state of affairs after the departures of guitarist Peter Banks and keyboardist Tony Kaye.

Kaye — who had been fired during rehearsals and early recording sessions for Fragile — was reportedly reluctant to learn instruments other than the piano and organ.

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Kaye’s replacement, Rick Wakeman, had spent much of the 1970s thus far working as an accomplished session musician.

He’d played on several of David Bowie‘s albums, including Space Oddity and Hunky Dory, as well as contributing to Elton John‘s Madman Across the Water, and dozens more rock classics.

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Wakeman had also been in Strawbs — his final album with the English folk-rock group was 1971’s From the Witchwood — but he was finding it difficult to pay his bills with what Strawbs were paying him.

He opted to quit when Bowie asked him to be a member of his new backing band, the Spiders from Mars.

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Later that same day, though, Yes bassist Chris Squire called him at two o’clock in the morning, asking him to consider joining Yes.

Wakeman met with them, and jammed on the songs that became”Heart of the Sunrise,” and “Roundabout,” deciding to turn down Bowie’s offer to become part of what is now considered the “classic” Yes lineup.

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Wakeman plays on Fragile — their first album to feature cover art by Roger Dean, whose art also graces the cover of Yessongs –  which was released in November ’71.

That same year, Wakeman had also contributed keyboards to “It Ain’t Easy” from Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album, released the following June.

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Wakeman — who was also offered a five-album solo recording contract with A&M Records — was interviewed by the UK’s Melody Maker about joining the most popular progressive rock band in England, appearing on the cover (the second time he’d been on their cover in a year).

Eventually, though, Wakeman began to have problems with the way he was being credited for his song contributions, a rift that amounted to (in his words) “a fair bit of money” considering Yes’s future publishing royalties.

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Wakeman was credited as a co-writer on the title track to Yes’s Close to the Edge — released in September 1972, it became the best-selling album since their formation — and on the album’s third track, “Siberian Khatru.”

He also toured with Yes on their massive Close To The Edge tour, wearing the first of his many splendid capes.

Unfortunately, he had many disagreements with them about the direction they’d taken during sessions for Tales From Topographic Oceans.

Wakeman was reportedly so bored playing songs from the new album in concert that at a show in Manchester, England, he ate curry onstage.

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On May 18, 1974, Wakeman left Yes, choosing not to participate in the recording of their next album, Relayer.

Watch Yessongs on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.