Jon Anderson: ‘I thought there was something good about this album, the songs had lasted so long’

Ex-Yes singer Jon Anderson has been working on his latest album 1000 Hands for decades. He spoke to Duncan Seaman.

Jon Anderson. Picture: Deborah Anderson
Jon Anderson. Picture: Deborah Anderson

By any standards, Jon Anderson’s album 1000 Hands has been a long time in coming.

The singer, known for four decades as the voice of multi-million selling progressive rock band Yes, as well as his collaborations with synthesiser pioneer Vangelis, actually started work on this record 30 years ago with Brian Chatten, a long-time friend who was with Anderson in the 1960s group The Warriors.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Initial writing sessions took place at Big Bear Mountain ski resort in southern California. “He came up and was in such a funny, wonderful mood, he’s a real comedian,” recalls Anderson. “We just laughed for the whole month and I went skiing every morning, it was a wonderful time and the tracks really got some shape to them.”

Thinking two tracks needed bass and drums, he called up another pal, Chris Squire, who happened to be in Los Angeles with Yes bandmate Alan White. “For an afternoon they performed on two tracks, that was all, but that got me thinking ‘these songs are really good, they’re very current, we just needed in some more talented musicians’. I started calling it Uzlot – as in ‘us lot’, like you do up north.”

A plan was hatched to work with the Beach Boys and jazz musicians Wayne Shorter and Billy Cobham (“characters that I’d bumped into over the years”) but then, Anderson says, “life happened and they never got finished”.

“Brian tried to turn them into more commercial songs – that didn’t quite work; I went on tour.”

For 28 years the tapes languished in Anderson’s garage before he was contacted by Orlando-based producer Michael Franklin, saying he had “some capital” to complete the record.

Jon Anderson. Picture: Robin Kauffman

So began a process of rounding up guest contributors including Cobham, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty and Steve Howe, with Franklin sending Anderson soundfiles to check on progress.

“By the time we finished it last Christmas I thought there was something good about it,” says Anderson, now 75. “The songs had lasted so long and people liked the album, which is good.”

The Accrington-born singer believes the record even adheres to his original vision. “In its complete idea it is exactly what I was thinking at that time [in 1990],” he says. “The lyrics haven’t changed in two thirds of the songs, we’ve been able to add some of the creme de la creme of music on it and every time I put it on I hear different stuff going on.

“When you make an album with a band more or less you’re in there every day studying what everybody’s played so by the time you finish the album you know every note. But this album there’s a track called Come Up which has got Billy Cobham on, when I first heard it I said to Michael, ‘Turn the drums up because this is a classic drummer here’. And then he put Chick Corea on and then Jean-Luc played on it and there’s some vocals on it from Zap Mama, who was my favourite vocalising band way back in the 1990s when I saw them in LA, they’re from Belgium and they have a couple of brilliant African singers in there, so it all evolved.

“I can still enjoy everything about the album because I wasn’t there in the trenches mixing it. I don’t like mixing but I would do it from afar. Michael would send me a mix and I would say, ‘this is great then at two minutes 33 seconds the guitar is too loud, take the guitar down a little bit and bring it up later, it just blocks what was happening’, things like that, ‘could you bring my voice up a bit?’ Obvious things like that that you do as a listener. But it was done with great respect and friendship from Michael Franklin.”

The pair are now contemplating a choral album of four 20-minute pieces with orchestration. “Since the beginning of the virus and we were told to stay home that’s what I’ve been working on,” Anderson reveals. “I’m asthmatic so I’m not going anywhere, so I’ve spent the last three months doing all this vocalising work on the music.”

Betweeen 1979 and 1986 Anderson formed a productive partnership with Vangelis that yielded three hit albums.

He remembers being introduced to Vangelis’ music by a friend after Yes made Tales From Topographic Oceans and tracking the Greek musician down to Paris. “He answered the door, a big guy in a long kaftan and a bow and arrow around his shoulder,” he says. “I go in his palatial apartment near the Champs Elysees. There was a long hallway and he sends an arrow right through an open window. I said, ‘Vangelis, you could’ve killed somebody’. He said, ‘Oh don’t worry, I’m Greek.’”

Although it’s over a decade since Anderson last performed with Yes – after the band elected to continue without him when he had health problems – he still holds out hope that they may yet find a way to reunite.

He says: “I just had a dream the other week where I would start the show with my guitar and sing a couple of songs and then Steve (Howe)’s band will play and then Rick (Wakeman) and Trevor (Rabin) and myself will play something and we’ll all get together and play Close To The Edge and Awaken and Bob’s your uncle. If it happens, then it happens.”

1000 Hands is out on July 31.