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Geoff Downes interview 2011.

A live review with: Yes
from Nijmegen Nov 2011.

Picture by Bert Treep Nijmegen Nov 2011.


After Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman, Geoff Downes is the third keyboardplayer who returned to Yes. A remarkeble choice, because during his debut in 1980 the band was in a troubled period. During Yes-2011 European tour, Mostlypink speaks to the celebrated keyboardist who’s very eager about being part of Yes again. Also Geoff reveals his passion for technique and British church music.



*How are you?
Very good! I’m enjoying the tour. In my opinion the band is sounding really good, and that’s great.

*The entry in Yes this was a lot smoother that thirty years ago. How come?
I think it has to do with the fact that Trevor Horn was producing a couple of tracks on the album. That were songs that Trever and I wrote. He purposed the idea of me being the keyboard- player. It’s also very much a case of me coming back into the fold. When I joined Yes thirty years ago, I hadn’t done anyting like that before. Now I’ve got some thirty years Asia in between. That made it also a lot easier this time. yes2011

*The ‘Drama’-album received new appreciation to the succes of the ‘Fly From Here’-album. According to this fact, could it be that ‘Drama’ just came out at the wrong time?
There are a lot of people who are still looking at ‘Drama’ as being a good album. I think there were some good songs on it. It’s very important for Yes to keep on doing different things. Rather than just going out and playing your classic stuff. ‘Drama’ started a whole new chapter for Yes. There was a new music to be sought, actually. In many ways I followed on into the next period when Trevor Horn produced ‘90125’. Yes is a bit like a book. There are different chapters, and I think each one has it’s own merits. Even ‘Fly From Here’ is a new chapter. When you put all the Yes-chapters together, it reads like one big story.

*Why is there a quote from Tocatta of Widow’s Organ Symphony nr. 5 used in ‘Machine Messiah’?
I’d always growed up with church music and I often heard Widow’s Tocatta. It’s not an original sequence or such. I think they way it was played on an organ, it sounded a bit like it. This piece is connected to my past. During the composing of ‘Machine Messiah’ there was a moment when the piece suited very well. It all came very spontanious.

*On your solo-album ‘Vox Humana’ there’s a superb ballad version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ sung by Glenn Hughes. Can you tell something about the idea behind this approach?
When Patt Thrall came into Asia, he introduced met to Glenn Hughes. They did the ‘Hughes/Thrall’-album before. Glenn was doing a solo-album at that time, and Patt suggested that I’d play the keyboards. I got on very well with Glenn. We wrote and recorded the ‘Work Tapes’-album. After that I worked on ‘Vox Humana’ with a bunch of different vocalists. I thought that it would be nice to get Glenn involved because of his wonderfull voice. He’s a versitale singer who’s capable in heavy rock stuff and soul. I prefer his soul approach in many ways, and that’s how this version of ‘Video…’ came down. By the way: thanks for your compliment.

*Although you’re a Moog-fan, you don’t seem to use the Moog in Yes as much as your predecessors. How come?
It’s because I use simulations. I’m very much into technology, and how to create these old, analogue sounds out of new synths. With a lot of the stuff I simulate the old Moogs. There’s a lot of software that create these sounds. But I’m still very faithfull to a lot of these older instruments like the Mello- tron, Fender Rhodes-piano, Hammond-organ, and things like that. They are still a big part of my composition. I always lean to some of these instruments. On stage I try to be faithfull as possible to Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman or whoever played the keyboards in Yes.

*You could probably stage your live rig more economically with less keyboards, when you’d use Logic Mainstage. Never considered it?
Yes, I use Mainstage-live. My favorite instrument is, and always will be, the piano. It’s where I grew-up on. Key-instruments are part of myself. I love all the crazy sounds you can make out of Logic-software. But at the end of the day, my main instrument is the piano.

Geoff during the Light Program Recording.
Geoff Keyboard.
The Light Program (2006).

*For all those Roland Fantom G-lovers: which piano patch(es) do you use?
Actually I got an expansion pack which has got a many different piano sounds. I just work around those. I’ve done some recent Buggles-gigs with Trevor Horn. I used some of the honky tonk-piano sound then, which is very poppy. But the grand piano-sound they contain is very, very good! michel

*Would you consider working on a follow up to your soloalbum ‘The Light Program’?
Yeah, I’m very proud of that album. It has a lot of moods. I used a lot of different keyboards then. The whole music is programmed with sequencers. They started to get going around that time (1986). That’s why it’s called ‘The Light Program’. Maybe there will be a follow up. The beauty of doing soloalbums from time to time is that there’s no requirement to write in a specific style. When I write for Asia or Yes , I’ve got to fit in with the other instrumentation around me. When doing a soloalbum I don’t have that restrain. I can do what the hell I like! On the other hand, I appreciate being with other musicians, and kick-out in what they do. I work with Steve Howe on a lot of albums. We both got on very well as a keyboard-player and guitarist. We are well balanced. Steve is a very distinctive type of player, and I can give him quite a lot of support.

*What’s your influence in composing and playing?
I was born in a very musical family. Particulary on keyboards. My father was a church organist and my mother a piano teacher. I couldn’t really do anything else. I studied classical and modern music. In terms of writing I’m still hanging on to British church music. It’s instilled in me, if you like. I can’t get away from it. It’s funny that both John Wetton and Trevor Horn had some simular influence and education.

*What about your cooperation with Mike Holmes (IQ), Tony Levin (ex-King Crimson), and Nick D’Virgilio (ex-Spock’s Beard) known as the Pulse-project?
Well, it moves like one degree every few months. Nick isn’t a member of Spock’s Beard anymore, so he will be a bit more pro-active involved now. I still work with Rob Aubrey who put it all together. It sure will see the light of day, because we’ve got a lot of good stuff. But everyone is doing other things now, so it’ll take some time.

*Thank you very much for your time and anwers, Geoff.

Michel Scheijen for www.mostlypink.net.

A very special thanks goes out to Ellie Schwartz, Lobke de Boer, and Servé Smeets for their invaluable help and support!

Picture by Bert Treep Nijmegen Nov 2011.


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A live review with: Yes
from Nijmegen Nov 2011.
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Updated December 2011 by Nick.