For any fan of progressive rock, the name Jon Anderson needs no introduction. As former singer for the mythical band Yes, his body of work towers over the genre. His many solo projects have seen him collaborate with so many musicians that you’ll need a scorecard to track them all down. Now touring with his latest project, the AndersonPonty Band with famed violonist Jean-Luc Ponty, the British singer will stop by Montreal on May 26th at Théatre St-Denis. I had the immense pleasure of interviewing the legendary singer.
This project, which revisits many classics from both musicians’ catalog, started with Anderson reaching out to the French violinist. “I sent him a song I wrote on one of his well-known works from the ’70s for fun,” he explains, “And to show him what we would sound like together.” Ponty obviously liked the result and the pair agreed to tour together.
“We put a show together that would be entertaining, stretch out musical ideals and give the audience a great night of music from both our musical worlds.” The setlist of course included quite a few Yes classics but presented in new ways that benefited from both musicians’ sensibilities. “The songs are played in a more eclectic way,” he admits. “It came very naturally to experiment with the old Yes songs; we wanted to try a new approach and the band just improvised, and that was it. All very simple and wonderful. I knew people would want to hear ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Owner’: it’s only natural to want to give them the best we have, plus some exciting new ideas.”
Back in September 2014, the band recorded and filmed their concert in Aspen, Colorado and released it as a DVD/CD called “Better Late Than Never”, a sly nod to the fact that Anderson initially approached Ponty in the ’80s. But it’d be short-sighted to see the AndersonPonty Band as just an excuse to give a new coat of paint on old favourites and get an album and a tour out of it. As Anderson explains, the pair is looking forward to creating new material. “We spoke yesterday about a concept album/show for next year,” he admits. “We are both very adventurous about life and music. Why not try new ideas? It’s the breath of life to a musician to always challenge ourselves. So we are planning a new project for next summer. Jean-Luc is a beautiful soul, and an amazing musician, so the prospects are endless, and we really have a lot of fun performing.”
Despite all the success that Jon Anderson has had over his career, there is one accolade that has so far eluded him and his former Yes colleagues. The band has still not been inducted into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame, despite appearing on the short list twice. But that’s not something Anderson frets over. “My mantra on most things is ‘It will happen when it happens.’ I performed at the Hall of Fame two years ago, as a storytelling solo show, and I had the best time there. The folks that run the place showed me a corner of one of the big rooms on the third floor, saying, this is for YES, so I know it will happen one day, but I’m not holding my breath,” he confesses.
For fans, a possible presence at the Hall of Fame ceremony brings hope for reconciliation. The split between Anderson and the rest of Yes wasn’t very amicable. In 2008, while Anderson was sidelined with illness, the band decided not to wait for the singer to get healthy again and they moved on without him. In the eyes of many fans, admission to the Hall could be the catalyst to mending the relationship between both sides. I asked Jon if he felt that could happen. “Yes, I’m sure all will be forgotten and forgiven, it usually happens that way,” he says. ”Music will take over; we are the typical family, a musical family. Things don’t always go the way you expect. I think it’s called ‘life’…”
After the AndersonPonty Band tour, the singer will have a new album coming out, a project with Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings. With four multi-movement songs, the 65 minute-long album recalls the more adventurous side of Yes (think “Tales from a Topographic Ocean”) but with a modern touch, and Anderson can barely contain his excitement. “I’m so excited for people to hear the album,” he says. “It really changed my life, and made me realize how much YES music is in my DNA. Roine is a wonderful producer. I sent him songs and an idea of what I was dreaming to do, and he told me he had the same dream, so here it is!”
When it came time to conclude our conversation, I asked Jon if he had favourite memories among all the concerts he’s done in Montreal over the years. “All of them!” he exclaims. “Great energy, great people. Standing ovations after ‘Close to the Edge.’ An audience so quiet as we perform the longer works. Just amazing energy.”
And for the concert on the 26th? “The show we are bringing will lift everyone’s heart and soul.”
The AndersonPonty Band plays Theatre St-Denis 2 on May 26th 2016 at 8PM. Tickets are available here.