My two favorite old dinosaur-prog bands — Yes and Procol Harum —
are playing together in August at the Snoqualmie Casino. It’s a
show that’s interesting if only for the band dynamic of the two
units — these days, Yes is a hot mess, the resurgent Procol a hot
Here’s a column about them that’s running in the April 13
edition of Kitsap A&E in the Flamethrower:
What makes a band?
It’s a question I’ve been pondering since the announcement of a
concert this summer at the Snoqualmie Casino, featuring two
prog-rock mainstays and two of my all-time favorite bands; Procol
Harum opening for Yes.
Two bands with checkered histories, marked with flirtations with
fame and clouded by low-grade controversy.
And both of them feature only one “original” member. Procol Harum
is, and always has been, fronted by vocalist-pianist-melodist Gary
Brooker, and Yes is piloted by co-founder and bassist Chris
Squire actually — and infamously, to anyone who’s keeping track —
“owns” Yes, at least the legal right to use the name. You might
remember (but you probably won’t) that in 1983, with the band
apparently in ruins and ex-members strewn over two continents,
Squire and drummer Alan White reconvened with original keyboardist
Tony Kaye and South African guitarist-songwriter Trevor Rabin,
originally under the moniker Cinema. The strong material whipped up
by the resurgent band lured the other founding member,
singer-songwriter Jon Anderson, back from self-imposed exile.
Anderson later left again and gathered an illustrious band of
fellow Yes alums — guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman
and percussionist Bill Bruford — into an approximation of what many
considered the “classic” Yes lineup, the one that produced
standard-setting prog anthems like “Close to the Edge,” had a
megahit with “Roundabout” and filled arenas around the world on
Only they couldn’t be called Yes. Squire, in Los Angeles with the
spare-parts outfit that Anderson jokingly called, at various times,
“Yes West” or “Yes Light,” owned the name. Squire’s bunch courted
new fans with more pop-rock fare like “Owner of a Lonely Heart”
while Anderson’s all-star entourage produced more album-oriented
originals to go with their catologue of Yes staples. By the time
the two groups merged for a tour and spliced together a CD of
undistinguished new material (1991’s “Union”) you needed a score
card to tell who was who.
Many various reconfigurations have followed, including a 2004 tour
with Anderson, Squire, Wakeman, Howe and White — the “classic”
lineup” — celebrating the band’s 35th anniversary. But then
Anderson was stricken with respiratory ailments that forced him out
again, and the tragicomedy began anew. Squire tired of waiting for
the band’s distinctive voice to return, and finally hired a singer
from a Yes tribute band, Canadian Benoit David, to take his place.
Ironically, David later fell ill himself, and was replaced by
another tribute singer, Jon Davidson, who’ll be on board for the
Snoqualmie concert — unless some misfortune should befall him in
the meantime, forcing Squire to go to the well yet again.
Through all the reality show-worthy melodrama (“Spinal Tap 2,”
anyone?), some argue that, even with the other pieces of the
“classic” lineup in place, it isn’t Yes unless it features
Anderson’s singular castrato. Squire, apparently, says bollocks to
that. Anderson, apparently healthy once again, has been touring in
the U.S. and U.K. with Wakeman and has a rumored recording project
in the works with Wakeman and Rabin. He has declared himself fit to
reassume his Yes duties, but he and Squire have their own spins on
why it hasn’t happened. Yes’ fans want their voice back, but Squire
seems adamant to prove that the voice is no less replaceable than
any of the band’s other components.
Conversely, it seems, any time Brooker’s considerable pipes and
Keith Reid’s lyrics are involved, whatever combination of mates
surround him can be labeled as “Procol Harum.” The band never has
had anything like a “classic” lineup, and the pieces started to
fall off after only three albums (when organist Matthew Fisher and
bassist David Knights left after “A Salty Dog”). Current
Harumembers Geoff Whitehorn (guitar) and Matt Pegg (bass) are
actually the longest-tenured of anyone on their respective
instruments. They, along with organist Josh Phillips and drummer
Geoff Dunn, back the distinctive Brooker bellow in what might be
the most potent incarnation of the band ever (and that’s saying
something, remembering the power of the core group that included
guitar diety Robin Trower and drummer B.J. Wilson back in the
It isn’t certain if Brooker actually “owns” the name Procol Harum.
And it isn’t important, since it certainly isn’t a name anyone else
might ever be the slightest bit interested in using it. The turmoil
in the Procol camp has come instead from Fisher’s suit several
years ago over “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” claiming his stately organ
part qualified him for co-writing credit with melodist Brooker and
lyricist Keith Reid — and a chunk of the royalties.
Procol played at Snoqualmie in November of 2010, part of a brief
U.S. tour that went over well enough to entice them back across the
pond for a dozen dates, mostly on the East Coast, this summer.
Their songs, their sound and their rock credibility are all
As great as Squire, Howe, White and Downes might still be
musically, without Anderson it might not be possible to say the
same about Yes.