Yes, “Onward” from Tormato (1978): YESterdays

Some moments are etched on our musical memories. For me, these moments include experiencing The Rite of Spring for the first time from just behind the percussion section when I was a teenager, going to my first Yes concert in 1998 and hearing my own set of responses sung by my old College Chapel Choir fairly recently.

At the risk of attracting derision, another of these crucial experiences for me was hearing 1978’s Tormato for the first time. It was lent to me by a friend alongside the recently released 1983 pop-prog classic, 90125. I instantly fell in love with both albums and started to collect everything I could find by the band.

Fast forward to 2016 and I witnessed another deeply affecting musical moment in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, U.K. A cream, Rickenbacker bass guitar sat alone on stage, picked out by a single spotlight while a video slideshow of images of the master Chris Squire played on the screen and the opening notes of “Onward” emerged from the speakers. The emotion was still raw – as for all fans, it remains – at the loss of the keeper of the Yes flame.

This experience only served to remind me of how much I love “Onward.” As Tormato was my introduction to Yes’ progressive music, it has become so deeply ingrained in me that I can’t hear the imperfections that others tell me are there but, in any case, I do believe that “Onward” is a sublime, classic song.

The Chris Squire composition contains a wonderful combination of spiky Steve Howe picking against mellow bass chords and patterns, topped off by Jon Anderson’s floating, ethereal vocal line. This contrasting texture is a hallmark of the best Yes music. Strings add an extra layer and the harmony vocals between Anderson and Squire are simply lovely.

The lyrics are archetypal Yes, and what tops it all off for me is the achingly beautiful French horn solo, accompanied by interweaving strings. The horn part then creates an exquisite tapestry against the other elements and, even though this is a relatively short Yes song at just over four minutes, it encapsulates for me the wonderful, life-affirming quality of the world’s greatest progressive rock band.

If you have written off Yes’ Tormato by now, do go back and listen to “Onward,” a moment of tranquillity and beauty in the midst of our hectic lives. Listen and pick through your own musical memories, especially those you have of our lost hero, the incomparable Chris Squire.

Preston Frazier’s YESterdays is a song-by-song feature that explores the unforgettable musical legacy of Yes. The series runs every other Tuesday.

Kevin Mulryne

Kevin Mulryne is a husband, father to three, musician, creative soul, and host of the Yes Music Podcast. He listens to as much Yes music as he can, and talks about the band to whoever will listen. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Roberto Crudo

    reading this “review” has reminded me a very special and sad day of my childhood… I remembered very well that was Sunday, and I checked it out just now on the web in the wikipedia Yes tour lists, yes, it was Sunday: it was the 4th of December in 1977 and I was 10 years (almost 10.5) old… on that evening there would have been in Lyon, France, a concert of the “Going for the One Tour”… just the day before in the late afternoon I met in a room of the local church (in the suburban sprawls, Donald Fagen would say, of Turin, Italy) with the two friends (16/17 years old) who were my guitar “teachers”, it was about 7 p.m. and one of them, Daniele told that he would have gone to Lyon to see the Yes concert, I don’t remember the reason why the other one, Riccardo, wouldn’t… I didn’t cried, I considered myself already a “boy”… and I didn’t even think to tell my mother (housewife, my father was a FIAT, now FCA, worker) that I would have wanted to go with him, it wasn’t even a question to rise… of course, it would (not “could”) have been the happiest day of my life, but I stayed at home and probably played “Mood for a day”, “The clap” and “The Ancient” in solitude…
    More or less the same happened three years later, on the 25th of October in 1980… I remember that it should have been a Saturday or a Sunday ‘cos it was afternoon and I was not at school, in fact it was Saturday (checked it out too on the web): Weather Report live in Milan, the last italian chance to see them with Jaco… I happened to meet (on the street going back home) another friend of mine, Dedo, he was riding his big motorcycle… he was going to the concert… the same as above… BUT: on the 16th of May in 1983, I was almost 16 years old, and I managed to convince my mother: Weather Report live in my city, Turin, and that, till now, has been my happiest day in my life: I didn’t sleep all night.. I was too happy… I still remember myself yelling “Ciao!!!” to the 3 young new members who were also shaking their hands behind the bus glasses…
    The Magic of Music…