Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Jon Davison of Yes … Continuing with The Quest !!

There can surely be fewer challenges more daunting than stepping into the shoes of an acknowledged rock legend and attempting to sustain the legacy of what’s gone before, but such is the challenge undertaken by Jon Davison. For many fans, Jon Anderson is the voice of Yes but, when he finally left the band in 2004, Yes went into hibernation for a few years, returning in 2009 with Benoit David as vocalist on 2011’s Fly From Here, but upon his leaving due to illness in 2012, vocal duties were undertaken by Jon Davison, ex-Glass Hammer, after the Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins had mentioned to Yes Bassist Chris Squire, “if you ever need a singer, I know just the guy”. Davison joined and sang on Yes’ last two studio albums, Heaven And Earth (2014) and 2021’s The Quest, writing and co-writing several songs on both albums.

The magnitude of what’s facing Jon Davison can be gauged by saying Yes are probably one of the most innovative bands in prog rock history, influencing many other bands and releasing classic albums like Fragile, The Yes Album and Tales From Topographic Oceans, not to mention Close To The Edge, racking up album sales in excess of 50mill and being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. Their most recent studio album, 2021’s The Quest, reached no:1 in the UK rock charts and no:20 in the official album charts.  

In the summer of 2022 Yes toured the UK, giving fans a complete performance of their seminal album, Close To The Edge, consistently voted as one of the milestones in the evolution of Prog rock, as well as performing other Yes classics. It’s an album closely identified with Jon Anderson, so how did Davison feel about the (then) forthcoming tour?

“It’s been ten years now I’ve been singing for Yes and, throughout this time, we’ve generally had in regular set rotation at least one of the three songs from the album, so I’m quite familiar with the territory. Having said this, though, Yes haven’t performed now for about three years, so there’s bound to be some shaky nerves along the way.”

How challenging is it having to learn Close To The Edge?

“Initially, it was a colossal undertaking, and the painstaking process was very humbling and quickly showed me where I fell short as a vocalist. But, just as a wrestler only ever gets better at their skill by wrestling with a stronger opponent, I found defeat not an enemy, but a most valuable aid in helping me strengthen my voice and hone my abilities.”  

Leaving aside Benoit David for a while, you’ve stepped into the shoes of a prog legend in Jon Anderson who, for many fans, is still the voice of Yes. What emotions were you experiencing when you went onstage with Yes for the first time?

 “It was a very surreal feeling to actually be on stage with my favourite band, and the fact they all had confidence in me gave me, in turn, the confidence to find grace under pressure. 

As far as how I feel trying to fill Jon Anderson’s shoes, I hold him in such high esteem that there’s really no comparing myself to who he is and what he’s done. This attitude removes a lot of the pressure and serves as a psychological ruse which I apply to trick my own ego into not taking myself too seriously, which means I then end up performing better because the mind isn’t getting in the way.”

What’s the biggest issue you face performing songs Jon Anderson’s renowned for?

“Technically speaking, one’s singing range matches their speaking range. If you listen to Jon’s speaking voice, it’s much higher than mine, yet I’m still having to sing in his high range. Based on this principle, I should be singing in a lower range, so singing in Yes does pose a greater challenge for me. To overcome this, I’ve embraced extensive warming up exercises and have learned how to blend without much strain, my falsetto or head voice with my full or chest voice. It’s a challenge I positively embrace and actually enjoy.”

Your first album with Yes, Heaven And Earth, wasn’t very well received by the Yes fanbase. Did this ever cause you to wonder if you’d done the right thing joining the band?

“Heaven and Hell would suit the situation a bit more accurately! I’m not sure what was going on with Roy Thomas Baker (Producer) but, unfortunately, it affected the quality of the album. I say this with complete respect for Roy, as I truly admire him for his contribution to the art of recording but, on this particular album, we were a ship without a captain.”

The next album, however, The Quest, made it to no:1 in the UK rock charts and no:20 in the official album charts. Do you think this album was more successful because the band produced it themselves?

 “Oh, one hundred percent. Having Steve Howe as the Producer meant, in the fullest sense, the band had a true leader as well as a meticulous and creative individual with the all-around personality required to oversee such a responsibility. Also, being one of the band meant Steve was patiently and diligently invested in the music to the extent no one else outside could ever be. As well as this, we also had the pleasure of working alongside Steve’s longtime right hand man, engineer Curtis Schwartz. Having the two of them manning the ship made all the difference.”

How difficult was it writing and recording The Quest with band members living all over the world?

  “I think it ended up being much less of an obstacle than we had originally anticipated. We were able to do a lot of work in person as well. As we began the writing process for The Quest, I was regularly spending time in the UK, which fortunately allowed Steve and myself to physically get together, collaborate and record ideas. On other fruitful occasions, Steve and Geoff were able to meet up in person. Although I prefer the creatively collective environment of the recording studio, I also thrive working in my own corner in a less intensive time frame. This is particularly effective for when I compose my initial ideas. In addition, many of my vocals which ended up as final takes on The Quest were personally recorded at home during the lockdown.” 

Do the lyrics and the environmental issues raised on the album reflect your own wider concerns about the environment?

 “They certainly do! The Ice Bridge is such a song, though such concerns are expressed more through a mythological lens. Lyrically, A Living Island is all that but also so much more. The song is really a love letter to humanity and focuses on what’s best in all of us when forced to face a global crisis like the pandemic. It’s also about the pandemic challenging but love strengthening experience I shared with my darling fiancé Emily while isolating in Barbados. Barbados is actually made of coral and is therefore revered as a living island.”

With no Jon Anderson and Chris Squire in the current line-up. Is Yes a continuation of the same band with different members, or a separate entity under the same name?

 “I would say a healthy blend of both. It’s an ever-evolving balance. The same question could have been asked when the then current line-up with Steve Howe became a no Peter Banks version of Yes, or the Wakeman version replacing the one with Tony Kaye.”

Are there any plans for Yes offshoot Arc of Life to record another album or to play ‘live?’

“Indeed! In fact, the second Arc of Life record is being remastered as we speak, and it should be out in the late fall of this year.”

What can you do inside Arc of Life you can’t do inside Yes?

 “I believe it allows Billy (Sherwood), Jay (Schelen) and myself to explore our Trevor Rabin and ‘Yes West’ influence. We’re really excited within the outfit to be working alongside the talents of Jimmy Haun on guitar and Dave Kerzner on Keys.”

You’ve played with John Lodge (Moody Blues). Any likelihood you’ll record together?

“I’m actually on John’s latest ‘live’ album, The Royal Affair And After, which includes my taking the lead spot on his moving and authentic version of ‘Nights in White Satin’. I’ve also had the honour of singing background vocals on his latest two singles, ‘In These Crazy Times’ and ‘The Sun Will Shine’. John’s band (10,000 Lights Years) and I are also working on an exciting studio endeavour which’ll be revealed in the near future.”

Yes are toured Close To The Edge in 2022 and will be touring Relayer in 2023. Does the future for Yes now reside in performing albums from its impressive back catalogue, or will new studio albums continue to be made?

 “All of the above, really. Steve is as excited as ever to propel the band into the far-reaching realms of studio creativity, and we’re currently exploring such horizons on our latest effort, which’ll be released early next year.”

Finally, does it still continue to be Yes’ philosophy to ‘reach new musical heights by amalgamating our collectively shared musical influences ?’

  “More than ever .. Yes !!”

YES Tour 2023
YES Tour 2023
Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Laurence,
    Great article, I enjoyed it! I’m one of the Yes fans who miss Jon Anderson not being in the band. I respect Jon Davison and he’s an excellent vocalist. Jon A did not leave Yes in 2004. The band was dormant from 2005 to 2007 but they scheduled a US tour in 2008 with Jon A on vocals and Oliver Wakeman, Rick’s son, on keyboards. Jon A fell I’ll on the eve of the tour and it was canceled. Benoit David was brought in to ‘fill in for Jon A while he convalesced. They toured in 2009 with Asia. On the eve of this tour Chris, Steve, and Carl Palmer appeared on Rockline. Chris and Steve said Benoit was filling in for Jon A until he was better but when Benoit fell ill they brought in Jon D. There’s an article out there….”I didn’t leave Yes, they left me” where Jon A tells his side. I probably shouldn’t rehash old stuff going back almost 15 years now but I still feel it was unfair what happened. Maybe it was financial, musical differences in the band (things we always hear regarding musicians) but it’s a misnomer to say Jon A left in 2004 when he really didn’t. I just wanted to reach out. All of this is with respect. All the best!
    Bryan

  2. Sorry but Jon Anderson Was Fired from Yes,as far as I know he Was ill and he couldn’t go on a tour so the rest of the band didn’t accept that and decided to hire David Benoit.

  3. SUMMER OF 1971 (7/9/71)
    …I FIRST SAW YES, WHEN THEY OPENED FOR JETHRO TULL AT THE OLD WILDWOOD CONVENTION HALL, NEW JERSEY.
    TULL WAS HOT AS ALWAYS… I HAD SEEN THEM AT NYC’s FILMORE EAST THEATER SEVERAL TIMES!
    IN THE MID TO LATE ‘60s…I WAS A GUITARIST, CO-COMPOSER AND BECAME A FLUTIST AS WELL! AFTER HEARING IAN ANDERSON AND TULL’s FIRST ALBUMS… THEY WERE THE BEST!
    BUT YES CAME AROUND FOR US ABOUT ‘69…
    AND WOW!!!

    MY STATEN ISLAND, NY…BAND MATES IN EGDAN HEATH WERE THERE ALSO!
    (JOHN TERRELE guitar/synthesizer, BOB BACOTTI DRUMS & CO-COMPOSER, ROBERT “MARIO” MENDOZA drums, ROBERT FEIT bass /singer and me,
    AND WE ALL AGREED THAT YES BLEW TULL OFF THE STAGE!
    WE WERE ALL BIG TULL FANS AND DID A NUMBER OF THEIR TUNES… BUT YES, WAS ANOTHER WORLD!!!
    WHICH WE LOVED RIGHT FROM THEIR FIRST ALBUM!
    RICK HEADE

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