‘Suddenly, I realized Billy could kick ass': Circa’s Tony Kaye on switch to guitar for Sherwood

Having cemented a new line up in Brazil, Circa returned on a musical roll. Co-founding keyboardist Tony Kaye says fans can expect an new concert souvenir called Circa: Live from Here There and Everywhere soon.

In fact, so hot has been the spark since fellow co-founding member Billy Sherwood moved from bass to guitar, Kaye wouldn’t be surprised if a new studio album — a quick follow up to 2011’s And So On — was in the offing, too. “Billy doesn’t stand still for very long,” Kaye tells us. “With the band playing the way that it’s playing at the moment, a band album will be much easier to do.”

Sherwood, who worked with Kaye in Yes in the 1990s, replaces Johnny Bruhns — who has played guitars with Yoso, and once subbed at a Yes rehearsal back in 2008. Ricky “Rat” Tierney (Alice Cooper, the Monkees) moved into the bass chair from Sherwood’s solo band. Scott Connor (Yoso, and the Prog Collective with Sherwood and Kaye) remains on drums.

Live from Here There and Everywhere will be released on the European label Glassville, with an overseas tour likely to follow. Also on tap for 2013: Circa will appear on the Moody Blues Cruise at-sea concert event in March, along with ex-Hawkwind member Nik Turner. They will be billed as the Prog Collective.

Kaye, in a new SER Sitdown, talks about the beginnings of Circa (which originally included Yes drummer Alan White, as well), what led to the switch for Sherwood, and the keyboardist’s passion for the game of tennis …

NICK DERISO: When Billy Sherwood was first putting together Circa and called you, you were out of the music business. In fact, you had joined a regular tennis circuit.
TONY KAYE: I had retired. I was partly living in the Caymen Islands, and playing tennis. He phoned me and said: “You’ve got to play.”

NICK DERISO: What could he have possibly said to get you out of the Caymen Islands?
TONY KAYE: (Laughing) Really! Actually, it was a couple of Pink Floyd tribute albums that he was doing. Being such a fan of Pink Floyd, I really couldn’t turn it down. We did Dark Side and The Wall, and that was the beginning of it. I got my B3 out of retirement, and went to the studio. That was the beginning of Circa, really. During those sessions, we started talking about doing some original music in a bit of a Yes style. Alan joined the band, and it turned into Circa.

NICK DERISO: Obviously, Circa boasts a lot of Yes influences, but it also moves into other interesting eras. I hear a lot of fusion in it, for instance. Did you find it liberating to play in a band that didn’t have so much history to live up or down to? Is there a freedom in that?
TONY KAYE: Oh, yeah. It was great. Billy and I really worked hard together writing the first Circa album. He had the studio, and I was there everyday — and we just wrote. It was the beginning of something new and it was great having Alan in the band, but he was sort of temporary. We did one great show, which fortunately we documented.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Co-founding keyboardist Tony Kaye talks about Yes' earliest days, its platinum-era successes, and how a series of scary crashes almost ended the band before it even got going.]

NICK DERISO: Another lineup change, more recently, now finds Billy moving from bass to guitar. How has that changed the band’s core sound?
TONY KAYE: Well, I was responsible for that. (Laughs.) We had a great guitar player. Johnny was great, but it didn’t really have that power. He was very much into the Steve Howe way of playing. It was good, I loved working with Johnny. But about I guess six months before, Billy and I had done a tour of Japan, which we did as a duo. We did it to a backing track, with Billy playing drums and bass, and he switched to guitar for the tour we did. It was a great, great tour — very inspirational. It was just two weeks after the tsunami. We just wanted to support the Japanese people, and they were really enthusiastic. But suddenly I realized that Billy could kick ass on guitar. (Laughs.) So, we came back and did a New Year’s Eve live broadcast, and I watched it and I thought: “You know, I’m not entirely happy with it.” So, a couple or three months went by, and we did some gigs, and I just felt there was a change needed. But how do you find somebody who plays bass like Billy? You know, (Yes co-founder and Sherwood mentor) Chris (Squire) and Billy are sort of synonymous with each other. It’s a particular style of playing, and not everyone can do it. It’s like a lead instrument. But he wanted to do a solo thing, and while he was doing tracks for that, he started playing with Ricky on bass. I checked Ricky out, and he was playing like Billy. So we had our bass player. One day in the studio, I said to Billy: “How about you play guitar?” And that was it. Hopefully, this will be the final change for the band, because it’s really good right now.

NICK DERISO: What do you hear that sparks you with Sherwood’s guitar? Is it his fusion influences?
TONY KAYE: He’s just very good. He can play anything, but he has a very unique style on guitar. It’s like no one that I could say. He’s got a dexterity that gives it that fusion quality, but he also has a sense of power that changes things in the band. You don’t have to think about it. And, as a keyboard player, you have to be in sync with the guitar. Before, we were doing so much Yes material, and we’re not doing that anymore. We have so much Circa material that we decided to just do that. The guitar player had to be able to play the Yes stuff, and it was really difficult to find someone after (original Circa guitarist) Jimmy (Haun). But Billy’s got it. His head is in so many different directions, so many styles. Also, he picked up everything really quickly. Rehearsals could be somewhat laborious with other people. The music is quite complex. You really have to wrap your head around it, and he does that very quickly.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Circa's 'And So On,' from last year, marries the sounds of both tenures in Yes for co-founding keyboardist Tony Kaye -- making for an atom-smashing delight.]

NICK DERISO: Before I let you go, I’ve got to ask you: Do you still make time for tennis? How’s your game?
TONY KAYE: (Laughs.) Not a lot of time. I do still play, but I don’t play tournaments anymore. That’s all a thing of the past. At 67 years of age, physically you start to slow down a little. (Laughs.) My wife plays, and we play quite a lot. But as far as competitive tournaments, which I was really into throughout the ’80s, there’s no more of that.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.