Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jon Anderson - Song Of Seven

Jon Anderson was born in the town of Accrington, Lancashire, England, in a family of Irish ancestry, his parents being Albert and Kathleen Anderson. He was later to drop the "h" from his first name in 1971, as he had a dream where he was given the name "Jonathan". Thus, on The Yes Album he is still credited as "John", and on the next album Fragile, credited as "Jon".
He attended St. John's Infants School in Accrington, and made a tentative start to his musical career at an early age by playing the washboard in "Little John's Skiffle Group", which played songs by Lonnie Donegan among others. Anderson left school at the age of fifteen, and went through a series of jobs including working as a farm hand, lorry driver, and a milkman. He also tried to pursue a football career in the club he is still a fan of, Accrington Stanley F.C., but he was eventually turned down because of his frail constitution.

Early career

In 1962, Anderson joined The Warriors (also known as The Electric Warriors), where he and his brother Tony shared the role of lead vocalist. He quit this band in 1967, released two solo singles in 1968 under the pseudonym Hans Christian Anderson, and then briefly sang for the bands The Gun and The Open Mind.

In the summer of 1968, Anderson met bassist Chris Squire and joined him in a group called Mabel Greer's Toyshop, which had previously included guitarist Peter Banks. Anderson fronted this band, but ended up leaving again before the summer was over. He remarks on his website that his time with the band consisted of "too many drugs, not enough fun!".


Anderson, Squire, and Banks went on to form Yes, with drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Tony Kaye. Their debut album was released in 1969. He stayed with the group until 1980, and this period is now known as the classic period of Yes. Jon was a major creative force and band leader throughout the period (describing himself as the 'team captain'; nicknamed by his bandmates "Napoleon" for his diminutive stature and leadership of the band)-- and is recognized as the main instigator of the series of epics produced by Yes at the time. His role in creating such complex pieces as Close to the Edge, Awaken, and especially The Gates of Delirium is central, despite his limited instrumental abilities.
He rejoined a reformed Yes in 1983 which produced their most commercially successful album 90125 with newcomer Trevor Rabin, and departed again in 1988 over the band's continued pursuit of major commercial success and mainstream radio play. In 1989, Anderson and other former Yes members formed the group Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe (ABWH), augmented by bassist Tony Levin who had played with drummer Bill Bruford in King Crimson. After the successful first ABWH album, a bizarre series of business deals caused ABWH to reunite with the then-current members of Yes, who had been out of the public eye while searching for a new lead singer. The resulting eight-man band assumed the name Yes, and the album Union (1991) was assembled from various pieces of an in-progress second ABWH album as well as recordings that "Yes proper" had been working on, without Anderson. A successful tour followed, but the eight-man lineup of Yes never recorded a complete album together before splintering in 1992. Many more personnel changes followed, but Anderson has been with the band ever since. He appears on all Yes albums except their 1980 album Drama.
Vocalist Jon Anderson performing in concert with Yes in 1977

Anderson was fond of experimenting within the band, also adding to what were at times conflicted relationships within the band and with management. He originally wanted to record the album Tales from Topographic Oceans in the middle of the woods, and instead decided to put hay and animal cut-outs all over the recording studio, causing lice to infest one of Rick Wakeman's keyboards.In another incident, Anderson had tiles installed in the studio, to simulate the echo effect of one's vocals in a bathroom.

Anderson last performed with Yes in 2004. A tour planned for summer 2008 with Anderson was cancelled when he suffered acute respiratory failure. The band have since announced a tour without him and he has been replaced by Benoît David, singer in a Yes tribute act Close to the Edge.

Vocal and lyrical style

It is a commonly held misconception that Jon Anderson sings falsetto, a vocal technique which artificially produces high, airy notes by using only the ligamentous edges of the vocal cords; however, Jon Anderson does not sing falsetto. His normal singing (and speaking) voice is naturally above the tenor range. In a 2008 interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jon stated, "I'm an alto tenor and I can sing certain high notes, but I could never sing falsetto, so I go and hit them high."

Anderson is also responsible for most of the mystically-themed lyrics and concepts which are part of many Yes releases. These elements are crucial components of the classic Yes sound, but have occasionally alienated some members of the band (most notably Bruford and Rick Wakeman), contributing to their leaving the group. The lyrics are frequently inspired by various books Anderson has enjoyed, from Tolstoy's War and Peace to Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. A footnote in Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi inspired an entire double album Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973). Recurring themes include environmentalism, pacifism and sun-worship.

Song of Seven is Jon Anderson’s most conventional album to date, sounding at times like a spiritually informed Supertramp. A handful of these tracks are carryovers from the last Yes sessions, rendered here in a straightforward style by the studio musicians on hand. While less well received than his collaborative effort with Vangelis released earlier in the year, Short Stories, this record is much more accessible and engaging. Unlike the conceptual Olias of Sunhillow, Song of Seven is simply a collection of songs, many with a positive message and a catchy melody. A few qualify as actual pop songs - “Don’t Forget (Nostalgia),” “Heart of the Matter” and “Take Your Time” for example - delivered with a charm and sincerity unique to Anderson. The opening “For You For Me” is more in line with the free-form vocalizing of Short Stories, “Hear It” and “Days” perhaps the closest match to Olias’ acoustic magic. The album’s high point is the title track, which recalls the melodic epics of Yes, albeit on a more modest scale. Likewise, “Some Are Born” and “Everybody Loves You” are memorable songs that deliver Jon’s message of love and hope in pleasant arrangements. The music, predictably light on its feet, is anchored by traditional instrumentation: fretless bassist John Giblin, keyboardist Ronnie Leahy, guitarist Ian Barinson and percussionist Maurice (Morris) Pert add an element of substance lacking in Jon’s earlier work, although some may find the results mundane by comparison. I have yet to read a positive account of this album, but it’s one of my favorites from Jon, unpretentious and disarmingly sweet.


1. FOR YOU FOR ME 4:24
4. HEART OF THE MATTER (Jon Anderson/Ronnie Leahy) 4:18
5. HEAR IT 1:48
8. DAYS 3:24
9. SONG OF SEVEN 11:07

All songs written by Jon Anderson unless noted


JON ANDERSON -- vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboards, harp
IAN BARINSON -- guitar, bass, sing song vocals
RONNIE LEAHY -- keyboards
MAURICE PERT -- drums, percussion
CHRISTOPHER RAINBOW -- backing vocals, sing song vocals, choir
Damian James Anderson -- Korg keyboards (5), countdown and countup (9)
Deborah Leigh Anderson -- harmony (5)
Petite Jade Anderson -- countdown and countup (9)
Jack Bruce -- bass (4)
Clem Clemson -- guitar (4,9)
Johnny Dankworth -- alto sax (3)
Delme String Quartet -- strings (9)
Mel -- bass (5)
Dick Morrisay (sic) -- sax (2,4)
Dave Ogden -- string arrangement (9)
Simon Phillips -- drums (4)
Mike Dunne -- engineer
Brian Gaylor -- electronics
John Martin -- coordination and instruments


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