The Anvil - Basingstoke 22 October 2010 by Ade Annabel

(What's So Funny 'Bout) the Anderson Wakeman Project?

The tiny hobbit-like Jon Anderson and the big grumpy toilet-humoured troll Rick Wakeman performed a classic Little and Large act at the Anvil in Basingstoke on Friday 22nd October.

Nick Lowe penned the ironic ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’ and despite it belonging to a different era it struck a chord because the funny thing about Anderson Wakeman is that they really are funny in a laugh out loud way whilst still being deadly serious about Peace, Love and Understanding. They tell bawdy tales rooted in English Rock and Roll from the back of a struggling prog rock band’s transit van but seen wistfully through psychedelic rose tinted Californian spectacles of later success suffused with a delicate and religious sense of beauty.

Hence the two renegades from the progressive rock dinosaur juggernaut that became Yes have got together to do a relatively low key tour of UK dates giving a recital from a new album called The Living Tree with a liberal sprinkling of singalong Yes classics such as Starship Trooper, Sweet Dreams, Your Move, And You and I, Yours is No Disgrace, Owner of a Lonely Heart, Long Distance Runaround, Time and a Word, South Side of the Sky, Turn of the Century, Roundabout and Soon.

A couple of years ago Jon Anderson suffered from acute respiratory failure, stopping him touring with Yes and effectively ending (for now anyway) his relationship with the band. Yes went on to tour and are just about to record with new vocalist Benoit David, who came to Chris Squire’s attention through YouTube videos from a tribute band Close To The Edge. Perhaps this is appropriate as most fans have difficulty thinking of Yes as being anything other than a tribute band without Jon Anderson. Also this near death experience seems to have sharpened Anderson’s sense of what is important in life…health, family, friendship, music…yes, and Peace, Love and Understanding.

As a cynical world weary atheist I found some of his lyrical explanations a little ‘preachy’ and sentimental but you can’t really argue with Peace, Love and Understanding. Why would you want to? Do you really prefer War, Hate and Misunderstanding? No? Well shut up then. For someone who was accused in his Yes days of writing ungrammatical fantasy and space fiction nonsense, his modern writing has a ring of emotional truth that is full of positive hope and life. It says, simply, Yes.

That he should team up with another ‘near death’ victim from that group, Rick Wakeman (who suffered several heart attacks in his twenties) isn’t coincidental. The grumpy old man of rock is also, on the quiet, a deeply spiritual soul, albeit of a more conventionally Christian persuasion. But you wouldn’t know it from his public persona of which the following aside at the concert is typical; “We have to break for an interval now because Jon needs a pee. When you get older like us you pee a lot. Do you ever have to get up in the night to have a pee Jon? I had one at 5 this morning. Pity I didn’t wake up until 6.”

Despite both musicians not being so much from the sixties as in their sixties, both are in excellent shape. Jon’s crystal clear vocals are spot on, particularly in the quieter pieces where other aging rockers might drop an octave (or the audience suffer the consequences). Rick’s rapid runs up and down the keys are as sprightly as ever – perhaps better than ever. The multiple and split voices used on his keyboard really filled out the sound and made it more orchestral than you would expect from a duo. Jon’s acoustic guitar was accurate and rhythmic although I would have liked him to experiment with the midi guitar he has used on occasion to compliment the keyboards or to hit a bit of percussion. All in all though, a tremendously satisfying and uplifting experience; so in the words of John Lennon, via Jon Anderson, “All we are saying is give Peace a chance.” It’s not a bygone fashion statement – it’s a way of living.

Ade Annabel ©2010