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The Prog Interview: Steve Howe on Chris Squire and The Future Of Yes

Yes legend Steve Howe is the guitarist responsible for some of the most thrilling moments in prog rock during his 40-plus years at the cutting edge of music.

Steve Howe is quick to confess that he’s not someone who can easily sit still.

So just how many make up his voluminous collection these days? “I hate to say but it’s about 100,” he admits with a laugh.

Tucked away in his eight-track home studio, he’s spent a bit of time lately sifting through various concert tapes of the Steve Howe Trio, featuring his son Dylan on drums and Ross Stanley on Hammond organ, for a future live release. “It has more of a proggy element to it, even though we like to swing,” he says. “We’re going to hone down to a final mix and then we’ll look at how we should release it.”

Not that he’s short of things to release. Howe proudly notes that the sixth instalment of his Homebrew home demo series is due to find its way into the eager hands of Howophiles sometime in April. And, of course, he’s continually writing and recording ideas, any one of which might possibly end up on the follow-up to 2011’s Time, his last official solo album, or perhaps as part of a new track for Yes. “I think it is a need that I have, a need to invent music in order to feel that I am a guitarist…”

Heaven & Earth was done in a slightly chaotic way and if people have got criticisms of it, I’ve got no problems with that because I’ve got my own.

That apparent compulsion, doubling as a means of validating his sense of who he is, hints at both self-deprecation and a surprising vulnerability. That latter notion seems odd when you consider the strength and depth of Howe’s contributions, not only from a technical point of view in the sphere of his chosen instrument, but in the world of rock and progressive music in general. Hailing from an era largely defined and dominated by the electric guitar and the fretboard fireworks that accompanied it, Howe’s unwillingness to serve up reheated, well-worn licks set him apart from many of his blues-based contemporaries. An almost professorial approach to solo construction, encyclopaedic technique and eager embrace of less than obvious influences all form Howe’s singular voice.

Whether turning on a dime from clanging, bell-like tones to hushed, jazz-infused intimacy, his propulsive playing and soaring compositions helped take Yes from the top spot in a provincial polytechnic to filling entire stadiums. Not bad for a self‑taught lad from Holloway.

Prog found Howe at home just as he was about to go off on holiday, but still willing to talk candidly about his career and the band in which he now, with Chris Squire’s passing, represents the last of the original, animating spirit. Howe wouldn’t be comfortable with that description but understands things have irrevocably changed. “What I’ve learnt about bands over these last 10 years is that it’s a lot more difficult than people think. Running a band, keeping it going, organising it and getting the musical satisfaction out of it, takes a lot of commitment.”

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