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

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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  • Allan Folsom

    I whole heartedly agree with Geoff Downes here. Drama was one of the most underrated Yes albums ever. Musically it was stunning, but of course I am a guitar player and a bit biased.

  • Bassthang

    I can’t understand why this album isn’t considered as a classic (even by Yes fans). IMHO it ranks right up there as one of their finest, and possibly the best rock album to be released in the 80s. I still regularly play this, more often even than CTTE or Fragile.
    Maybe it’s because I’d had little exposure to the “classic” Jon Anderson Yes prior to hearing this, so I hadn’t developed that fanboy mentality. And it was the first incarnation of Yes that I saw play live.
    Or maybe it’s simply that stonking up-front bass that does it for me. Chirs Squire rocks!

  • Jeff Blanks

    It’s a really good album, and it could’ve set Yes up for the future IF the “power trio” had swallowed their pride and asked Jon Anderson to come back. It has a coherent direction that’s suitable for the time and yet still sounds like Yes, sounding “together” in a way that Tormato (an album I also enjoy) doesn’t. But having Jon there, if he could’ve understood that this was something the “power trio” needed to do, could’ve improved and deepened the resulting album. (What would an album made up of the best of Drama and the best of Song of Seven have sounded like?)

  • Ray Garcia

    This has always been one of my favorite Yes albums, primarily due to Steve’s guitar work and Geoff’s keyboards. It would be great to hear more of it played live.

  • Seaguy3000

    I agree with all the comments. Drama is a great LP, but I also love the Buggles, esp. their “Adventures in Modern Recording” LP. Not to brag, but I was lucky enough to see Yes with the Drama lineup during its’ tour. Even though some fans didn’t cotten to Trevor Horn, I really dug it.