Drive to give a great performance fuels Yes guitarist Steve Howe after 54 years on classic tour return to York Barbican

Yes, seen here playing live in 2023, return to York Barbican tonight. Picture: Gottlieb Bros

PROG-ROCK legends Yes bring their Classic Tales of Yes Tour to York Barbican tomorrow night (28/5/2024) in the only Yorkshire show of May’s nine-date itinerary.

In the line-up will be Steve Howe, on guitar and vocals, Geoff Downes, on keyboards, Billy Sherwood, on bass guitar and vocals, Jon Davison, on vocals and acoustic guitar, and Jay Schellen on drums.

“We’re putting together a great setlist covering the length and breadth of Yes’s career,” says Howe, whose band last played York Barbican on their Close To The Edge 50th Anniversary Tour in June 2022.

Divided into two sets, the Classic Tales of Yes Tour show comprises myriad songs from Yes’s back catalogue covering 50-plus years.

Definitely it will include a 20-minute medley from 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans and “possibly” music from latest album Mirror To The Sky, released on InsideOutMusic/Sony Music in May 2023.

“As always, we are committed to pushing new boundaries and are very excited to be performing another chapter in the rich legacy of the band,” says Downes.

“This tour format does open up a few corridors,” says Howe. “Choosing the running order, I’ve dreamed up the set list, put it to the guys and said ‘what do you think?’, and thankfully they’ve liked it.

“I don’t pre-set it until I’m fairly sure it’s watertight, making sure we pick songs that reach out broadly across our catalogue. Like playing It Will Be A Good Day (The River) from [1999 album] The Ladder, which is something we’ve not played since maybe The Ladder Tour, and Time And A Word [from the 1970 album of that title], a song that is so warm and beautiful to play.”

Central to the Classic Tales of Yes Tour will be the Tales From Topographic Oceans section in the second set. “I got into the idea of visiting each side, drawing the lines together to form a mini-representation,” says Howe.

The poster for The Classic Tales Of Yes Tour 2024. York Barbican is the only Yorkshire date

This tour finds drummer Jay Schellen becoming a permanent member of the band, with the blessing of long-serving Alan White, who died in 2022. Schellen had begun performing with Yes in 2016, when White was beset with health problems. 

“Alan would not give up but he was getting a bit weaker, so we bought in Jay as a standby. For the bigger sets, Alan would come on and do the encore, as his general strength wasn’t capable of doing two and a half hours.

“When Alan couldn’t do the next tour, and later passed away, it was logical to pass on the baton to Jay, who was there already. He’s been very excited to take on the drummer’s role and be constantly involved. It’s a very complicated job but he makes it look easy.”

Will latest album Mirror To The Sky feature in the setlist? “We just do one song from it, Cut From The Stars, the opening track,” confirms Howe. “We’re happier with one, having earlier done two from it.”

As with 2021’s The Quest, Yes began work on their 23rd studio album gradually. “We started in our own studios and then a centralised studio,  building the songs. [Vocalist and acoustic guitarist] Jon Davison started to reside in the UK, in Wales, so we could get some of it done physically together, but with a great deal of file sharing first and then maybe rearranging it with greater dynamics,” says Howe.

“We then went on tour, but fortunately we didn’t do any touring in 2023 bar America in September and October, so we had time to finish earlier in the year.”

Howe has embraced the role of new technology in extending the possibilities of recording remotely as well as together, on The Quest and Mirror To The Sky, but also revels in the pleasures of performing each show. “When you’re playing live, you’re doing it differently, presenting it in an immediate way. That’s a beautiful thing; in between the start and the last chord, anything can happen, anything can become exciting. That drive to give a great performance.”

Performance is a combination of “a lot of structure” and the here and now, the difference maker from night to night. “There are parts that really come alive every night, and we put so much into tunes like America [an instrumental cover of the Simon & Garfunkel song]. It’s a challenge to play but bringing it to life is a joy.”

North Londoner Howe, now 77, says his greatest pleasure is playing solo guitar. “It’s the Chet Atkins in me that wants to play acoustic guitar,” he says. “I’ll be demonstrating that I have the will and determination to do that on my new solo album. It’s got me, lock, stock and barrel, me and the guitar, so I hope to do shows like that in the future.” As well as still saying yes to playing with Yes after 54 years, of course.

Yes, The Classic Tales Of Yes Tour 2024, York Barbican, May 28, 8pm. Rearranged from 2023; tickets remain valid. Box office: