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Roger Dean (born August 31, 1944) is a visual artist who has been responsible for the majority of Yes album covers and stage designs.
Designing for Yes Edit
The first Yes album that Dean designed was Fragile (1971). The year after that, he also designed Close To The Edge. The beautiful green textured cover with the new Yes logo contrasted so starkly with the inside picture where everything was literally "close to the edge". Then in May 1973 Yessongs was released with the four Roger Dean paintings that continued the story commenced on Fragile.
It was around the period of Yessongs that Roger Dean felt that he had developed a good relationship with the band. He joined them for a period on the Close to the Edge tour and was with them in Japan when the early seeds for the Tales From Topographic Oceans album were sown. The design of the cover involved a lot of consultation with the band, particularly Jon Anderson. As Roger has stated, "With Tales From Topographic Oceans [cover], we talked for hours about it."
This closeness to Yes led to Roger’s first stage-set design for the Topographic Oceans tour that commenced in England in November 1973. As noted in Dean’s book, "Views", the initial stage used on the English tour was incomplete, in part due to the smallness of the English theatres. Also, the sculptural forms used were only the patterns from which the molds were cast for the final stage used in the American tour that commenced in February 1974.
In looking at the reviews of this English tour on Peter Whipple’s Forgotten Yesterdays website, it is notable that the only mention of the stage-set is a quote from Chris Welch where he mentions the "elaborate drum rostrum", so clearly it was in rudimentary form at this point.
Indeed, it was the Tales tour of North America in 1974 that really announced Roger Dean’s broader involvement with the group. Roger commented on this, "We did a lot of stuff on that tour that had never been done before and I mean the stage was one obvious thing. My brother (Martyn) did most of that. He supervised a lot of design and building of that stage. I think the band was very willing and very interested in experimenting and I went and talked to them about wouldn’t it be good to do it. They thought it would be great, so we did."
The final castings used on the American tour were composed of thin translucent fibreglass that was lit inside and out. Martyn designed and built the drum rostrum that was the centre of the stage, while Roger designed the doorway, the backcloth and organ pipes.
On Forgotten Yesterdays, the first mention of the stage-set is from the Roanoke concert on February 12 where Edward Kyle reports, "The fiberglass set pieces were jewel-like and beautiful but I was surprised to see 'idiot cards' with handwritten lyrics to the Tales suites taped to all the green 'rocks' at the front of the stage." Another comment taken from Forgotten Yesterdays from the second Madison Square Gardens concert on February 20th ‘The stage was done in huge chunks of floating "earth" (papier machete) like the album cover art. Wakeman was inside a huge dinosaur skeleton rib cage that glowed orange! White was on a rotating drum platform that spun around during his solo!’ Bill Pate, also reporting on Forgotten Yesterdays, describes the Pittsburgh show. ‘….Yes emerged from a huge pink conch shell onto a fog-shrouded "underwater" stage. Monitors covered to look like mossy rocks pulsed an eerie green. Manta ray wings in the canopy above White's Ludwigs flapped back and forth. Smoke issued from the spine of a whale's rib cage guarding Rick's Moogs, mellos, RMIs, Hammonds and grand piano.’ Another dramatic report from the March 5th Bloomington, Minnesota concert by Kevin. ‘At the climax of Ritual, White began the frenetic percussion, joined by Steve, Chris, and Jon on other percussive instruments (John played timpani if I remember correctly). As the pace built, the set "came alive". The "tentacles" of lights began to writhe up and down..... the lights within the set pieces began to strobe, flash, and move in a swirl of greens, reds, and blues. Smoke (dry ice) began to pour forth out onto the stage from behind White's kit. There were (sic) a pair of "pods" over White's kit that began to "unfold" like wings and began to "flutter" amid the lights and smoke. The entire set seemed alive and breathing with movement as the percussion pounded.’ But the stage-set was only a part of the Roger Dean contribution to that tour. As Roger commented, ‘we also did something afterwards, that’d not been done before. We organised tour merchandising across the whole of the United States. Up to that date, all of the different promoters organised their own tour merchandising and sometimes it would look awful and sometimes it would look absolutely bloody awful. It rarely looked good. And we did it not so much for commercial reasons but more for an aesthetic reason, you know, to help identify the band and give consistency to that. But, in fact, it turned out to work incredibly well commercially as well. We designed everything. You know, T-shirts, posters, tour books. Prior to that, all kinds of different people had produced different things and it was random and appalling.’ He went on to say ‘I organised a lot of the shipping. We flew out two tons of paper at one point. We were sending out shipments by air every other day. This was not only commercially successful, but it set a standard for future rock tours. In addition, Roger noted that ‘the two guys who went over there and did the actual selling.….were the core that became Brockum which became a $400 million company. That was their first foray into the States and went on to become a huge merchandising giant.’
After the Topographic Oceans tour and the departure of Rick Wakeman from the group, the sets were modified to accommodate Patrick Moraz for the first leg of the North American Relayer tour that commenced in November 1974 and for the spring tour of the UK in 1975. These can be seen on the Live at QPR DVD. The second leg of the North American tour in 1975 had a new stage-set designed by Martyn Dean and built by him and Cliff Richardson in just three weeks. Roger Dean designed the backdrop, which featured sharp black rocks in silhouette with a tree in green and scarlet that was made by Felicity Youette. Many Yesfans are unaware that two different stage-sets were used during the Relayer tour and a number of reviewers on ‘Forgotten Yesterdays’ have clearly got their tours mixed up. The 1975 stage-set has been described as the ‘barnacle stage’ with huge immobile shapes spread across the back of the stage that had colours that ran and changed from reds to greens to resemble marine life. Some have commented that they looked more like tulips than barnacles. Indeed, the construction team noted this just before the tour started and they tried to rectify it at the last minute.
According to Roger Dean, the backdrop from the Relayer tour is still being stored in a barn in England. He joked that maybe it could be cut into small pieces and sold to Yesfans, though he says ‘I think nature has probably already had a go at redesigning it.’ Although the actual stage-set is not existent, Roger says ‘we have all the tools, all the molds. We don’t have the actual stage. I think Alan White had it and then he left it behind when he sold his house, and I don’t know where it is now. We could make it again.’
The final Dean stage-set for the 1970’s was for the 1976 solo tour. Again, Martyn designed the stage and Roger the backdrop. This is known as the ‘Crab Nebula stage’ and had the ‘three-headed crab’ described as follows on Forgotten Yesterdays ‘I was blown away by the three-headed monster they had that spit out a fan of green laser light. It looked great piercing the mist that filled the air. When it started to spin like a rotating hand, the music and the lights combined to lift us out of our chairs.’ Another description states ‘the set was fantastic. Steve, Jon, and Chris each had his own spotlight in an arm that came out from a central section. I remember Steve blazing away at a solo when the arm came down and the spotlight got so intense everything just became white brilliance.’ The sets were embellished by multi-coloured laser lighting, long since banned in the United States due to concerns about radiation. A third vivid description from the Jersey City show by Michael Kennedy on Forgotten Yesterdays states ‘I especially remember the visual interpretation of Relayer, how during the battle sequence, "the devil’s sermon", the outer-worldly bio mechanical crabshell-like spaceship, which was around 20 feet wide with 3 long cartilage like necks with some kind of featureless heads at the ends and hovering over the drum kit, was blasting out lazerbeams all over the stadium, into the outstretched hands of all the concert goers.’
The next Dean stage-set was for the British leg of the Drama tour in 1980. Martyn Dean designed the ‘crystal stage’ that again was built and delivered within a three-week deadline. The crystal shapes were put in two clusters behind the keyboards and drums. The crystals were lit from inside and the lighting sequences went in every direction. A lightning bolt was on the backdrop. Like the barnacle stage, the set was immobile.
On the ABWH tour of 1989 there was a minimalist Roger Dean stage-set. Bill Bruford’s drum set was mounted upon a 1½ metre high rostrum with narrow rectangular gold edged shapes that were lit. Stairs curved around either side of the drums, on one side leading to a platform for Tony Levin located behind Rick Wakeman. Fanning out behind the drum kit were numerous trapeziform shapes upon which the lights were directed. The backdrop was also of much larger trapeziform shapes that spread out like the outer layers of a fan. Rick’s keyboards were fronted by narrow vertical triangular shapes upon which various lighting effects were used. All of this can be seen to good effect on the ABWH video/DVD ‘An evening of Yes music plus’.
These Dean stage-sets lived in Yes memory and for years many fans hoped that it might all happen again. So when rumours started to appear that there would be a Roger Dean stage set for the 2004 35th Anniversary tour, excitement mounted everywhere. I asked Roger about how it came about and he said ‘I first talked to the band about that in Sydney and Melbourne (on the 2003 Full Circle tour). I talked to them in much more detail in Hawaii in September (the following week). The band has been very enthusiastic and supportive and apparently so have the management’.
The US$ 4million dollar set consisted of five stage-based white inflatable structures colloquially known by the crew as the dog, the rooster, the chicken, the toupe, and the lilo, with a further inflatable (‘the crab’) flown above the stage. Various multicoloured shapes were painted on the inflatables that appeared with UV lighting. In addition they were equipped to have internal lights. I asked Roger what had been the inspiration for the design. ‘So much stuff, as a matter of fact, and going back so far too. The shapes really, in a way, are much more obvious than they seem. A lot of people think that these things are really abstract and they give them names, for example, the contracts with the manufacturers for the pipes for the things behind Rick, they call them ferns because they think it looks like a fern. In fact they really are just sort of wildly enthusiastic organ pipes, if you like organic organ pipes, you know the kind of inspiration from the instruments themselves. The shapes behind Steve kind of evolved from way, way back. If you go and look at Yessongs, which was the first album cover I did for the band playing live, there is a kind of giant city structure in the background and it is a shape that I have played with. It appeared in Yesshows and again in a different version in the Yesyears packages. I should say that it would be cool to build something like that. I played with a lot of other shapes and ideas and sculptural forms, and this is not meant to be a city, it is meant to be, I don’t know, somewhere between a desert rose, a cactus and coral in its form. The idea really was to, and I’ve done it before, make shapes of things that look like something. You look at it and think ‘Oh yeah, that’s like whatever it is’, but it doesn’t look abstract, it doesn’t look unintentional. It looks like it has a right to be, but it isn’t actually anything that you can pin down.
According to Roger Dean, the Alan White piece was conceived as ‘a giant robotic entity playing bass drums so they’re digitally slaves to Alan’s foot. So what he plays with his feet, they play. Otherwise they kind of look like robotic drum kits.’ The robo drums were translucent fibreglass that had internal lighting. Four drums were mounted either side of the actual drum kit on an armature.
Chris and Jon did not have any designs behind them. As Roger explained ‘Well basically the very pragmatic way of looking at the stage is that Alan and Rick are fixed. Wherever they are they are. Their equipment ties them down. They can get up and walk about but they can’t get up and walk about with their equipment. The other three are very free on the stage. They can go anywhere they like and the shape behind Steve isn’t really connected to Steve. It’s just that it’s balancing the stage. So the only two that I have designed something specifically for them are Alan and Rick, as I say they are in a fixed position on the stage. They don’t perform at the front edge of the stage. They are hidden by their equipment to a large degree. So I just decided to make much more of that space they were in and evolve shapes and forms from their equipment. But the other three are free as it were, they move around. So really the rest of the stage is making an environment where they can all be and perform. It is like going from a Yes stage to a Yes world.’
Unfortunately, when the first North American leg of the tour commenced in Seattle in April 2004, the stage-set was incomplete. Much of the internal lighting was missing so that the lighting effects were muted. There were mixed reviews from fans but one comment frequently made was that it was much more effective further back in the audience. Up close, the inflatables simply looked like inflatables.
I first saw the set at Wembley on the second leg of the tour. The stage was shrouded with a curtain that only lifted during the Firebird Suite and then we caught our first glimpse of the stage set. We were quite away back and from a distance it was extremely impressive with the different lighting effects The stage-set had been further refined since the US tour. At the climax of each half of the show – during ‘Yours is no disgrace’ and ‘Ritual’ – large ‘flames’ appear around the stage – a really incredible appearance seen to best effect at the drum/percussion section of Ritual with deep red/orange lighting. The ‘flameboys’ were a metal box with an internal fan that blew silken flames of 2-3 metres in height. Two of them were located in ornamental pots on the front of the stage, the rest were at the backline. I was then fortunate to see their last two shows in the US at Concord and Universal on the second North American leg. The stage set further evolved from the European leg with large signs about the height of the stage and on either side of the stage with the word PEACE written vertically in a typical Roger Dean blue script. As the show progressed the other major change was in the lighting where more lights have clearly been placed inside of the blow-up shapes and Alan's drum kit. Now the shapes and Alan's bass drum glowed from the inside and changed colour with the mood of the music - much more effective than before. Thus, by the end of the 35th Anniversary tour the stage-set had evolved to being close to Roger Dean’s original vision. Now we have to wait and find out whether this was the last Yes show with a Roger Dean stage!
- Close To The Edge
- Tales From Topographic Oceans
- Classic Yes
- Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
- Keys To Ascension
- Keys To Ascension 2
- Open Your Eyes
- The Ladder
- House Of Yes: Live From House Of Blues
- In A Word: Yes (1969 - )
- The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection
- The Word Is Live