When my friend, GLYN PROTHEROE asked me if I fancied seeing the remarkably talented ex-YES guitarist STEVE HOWE, play a solo acoustic gig at STRATFORD CIRCUS in East London, I of course jumped at the chance. I’d never been to this venue before; but I immediately liked it. It is a small theatre – the stage being almost as big as the auditorium! There can’t have been more than 150 people present. This made for a very intimate; almost personal performance. As we entered, we saw that Steve’s guitars and associated gear were clustered mid-stage awaiting the maestro’s presence. There was no support act, and Mr.Howe was to perform the show in two-parts. Glyn had procured seats for us in the centre of Row F; and this afforded an excellent view of the proceedings; which as guitarists ourselves, we required for close observation of the Yes-man’s considerable skills.
At 8PM, Steve unceremoniously, and unpretentiously emerged from the stage’s wings to great applause. Without any ado, he picked up one of the two Spanish guitars available to him, and began to play ‘Pyramidology’; closely followed by ‘Classical Gas’ and ‘The Ancient’ (From the 1973 Yes album ‘Tales Of Topographic Oceans’). His style of playing is a joy to see – effortless and faultless. Changing to the only steel-strung acoustic present, he then played ‘Ram’; and a beautiful instrumental cover of THE HOLLIES’ ‘He Ain’t Heavy’. ‘Solitaire’; and ‘To Be Over’ (From the 1974 Yes album ‘Relayer’) followed. Part One finished with the clever and amusing instrumental ‘Second Initial’ (written for one of his children). It was amusing to see performed, as well as heard. How can a piece of music be amusing? Howe can make it so! Cheers rang out as our host exited the stage for a short break.
Part Two began, again with great applause – plus, a loud ‘We love you, Steve!’ from a particularly adoring fan behind us somewhere. Our man began again with more instrumentals: ‘Masquerade’; ‘Corkscrew’; ‘J’s Theme’ (for his wife); ‘Little galliard’; and ‘Mood For A Day’. He was more chatty in this half describing the influences and writing of the songs.
He then spoke about his three chosen guitars for this gig – all custom-made to his specifications. His first nylon-strung Spanish instrument was a MARTIN MC 38 ‘Steve Howe Edition’. The other Spanish was a specially made KOHNO guitar from Japan. Finally he described his steel-string MARTIN MC 28. A beautiful trio of guitars in sight as well as sound.
It is a well-known fact that Steve Howe has myriad musical influences. Not least of which was the legendary CHET ATKINS. He spoke about how he was, as a boy, first exposed to this very talented guitarist; and as a tribute to the great man, he played the classic ‘Trambone’. He followed this with ‘Valley Of The Rocks’ which is named after a beauty-spot in Devon.
Another big influence on the young Master Howe, was BIG BILL BROONZY. His tribute to this great bluesman was by way of a superb cover of ‘Glory Of Love’; effortlessly merging with ‘Goin Down This Road’. Steve is not a singer (more a guitarist who sings occasionally), but he did sing these old blues classics quite well, I must say. He also penned his own song for Broonzy: ‘Intersection Blues’; which like everything else on this evening was played immaculately.
As Steve is due to tour ‘Down-under’ shortly (and visit his brother whilst there), he deemed it appropriate to play ‘Bound For Australia’. This was followed by ‘laughing With Larry’; ‘All In The Course Of A Day’; and ‘Sketches In The Sun’.
During the interval, members of the audience were invited to write questions down that they’d like Steve to answer. This led to interesting and amusing anecdotes about QUEEN (for whom he asked for a round of applause); LOU REED; and THE BYRDS. Glyn had asked if it was true about RICK WAKEMAN infamously eating curry on-stage with YES at a gig in the 70s – it was!
Encore was demanded! Inevitably this was the quintessential Steve Howe piece, ‘The Clap’. It was played superlatively; just as it was all those years ago on ‘The Yes Album’ in 1971. He left the stage to a standing ovation.
After the gig, Glyn and I waited by the ‘merch desk’ hoping for our acoustic hero to have a few words with us. He duly arrived and signed autographs; posed for photos; and spoke to those of us that had stayed behind. I don’t think he wanted to hang around long, but spoke a little to us about his guitars.
I’d recommend anyone who loves guitar music of any kind to go and see Steve Howe whenever possible. His eclectic repertoire means there will be something for almost everyone. His playing is a beautiful to watch as well as listen to. It is inspirational and sublime.