Geoff Downes talks up Yes’ often-forgotten Drama: ‘It’s a quite astonishing piece of work’

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Geoff Downes’ initial, turn-of-the-1980s involvement with Yes began at a crossroads moment for the band, as he replaced long-time keyboardist Rick Wakeman even as original frontman Jon Anderson departed. He still understood the opportunity.

“In some ways, it was a stepping stone,” says Downes, now in his second stint with Yes. “But I think it was a real privilege to play with a band that was so revered. As a keyboard player, coming into someone like Rick Wakeman’s shoes — it was a challenge.”

The resulting album Drama, released on August 18, 1980, would focus more on guitarist Steve Howe — dividing the loyalties of Yes’ fanbase. But not Geoff Downes’.

“I’m actually very proud of it,” Downes says. “I think, in hindsight, it’s a quite astonishing piece of work — particularly when you think that we’d only just come together as an outfit. I’m really proud of some of the material. The performing on there, and the parts — the whole way it’s put together, the contrasts, the different songs like ‘White Car’ or ‘Run to the Light,’ then you’ve got the epic ‘Machine Messiah’ and this frantic track ‘Tempus Fugit.’ I think we definitely had something right with that album; certainly, the chemistry of those involved was definitely working.”

Jon Anderson eventually returned for 1983’s 90125, and by then Asia had become home for both Steve Howe and Geoff Downes. Trevor Horn, who had briefly filled in for Anderson, moved to the producer’s chair for Yes — but the music of Drama would become unplayed on subsequent tours, and largely forgotten.

That is, until Jon Anderson’s next departure in the early 2000s. When Yes subsequently convened in the studio again, Downes and Horn were back on board as keyboardist and producer, respectively, and the group set about refashioning some unfinished portions of the Drama sessions into 2011’s Fly From Here.

When they took to the road again, so did songs from Yes’ lost 1980 album. A critical reevaluation had begun — one that Geoff Downes seems to feel should have happened long ago.

“I look back on that album, and I can listen to it and think: ‘Wow, how the hell did we come up with that stuff,'” Downes says. “Some of it was magnificent.”

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