Sunday, December 21, 2014

Asia: Interview with Geoff Downes

Friday, November 30, 2012, 20:45
This news item was posted in Features, News category and has 3 Comments so far.

Just two weeks before rock supergroup ASIA start their UK tour in Tavistock, Baconmusic’s James Allman caught up with the band’s legendary keyboard player Geoff Downes:

JA: We are now just two weeks away from your UK tour, which starts on 15th December, are you looking forward to playing to your home fans?

GD: Yes we are, because our previous UK tour a couple of years ago was cut short as Steve Howe hurt his back and couldn’t finish the tour. But we’re up and running and raring to go for this tour.

JA: ..and is Steve well now?

GD: Absolutely, everybody’s very well. We’ve just come off our 7 week US tour, that was quite gruelling but we’ve had a couple of week to recuperate and get ourselves back in shape again.

JA: The tour celebrates the 30th year anniversary of the band. I guess the debut album will be heavily reflected in the setlist, or will the whole album be played even?

GD: We do a cross-section of the first 3 or 4 albums and then the most recent two, spanning the material released by the original line-up. We are conscious of the fact that the first album was a milestone for us so we’ll be focussing quite heavily on that but also the new album, so everyone will get a good dose of ASIA for a couple of hours.

JA: Over half of the shows are sold out, so it seems like the fans have a real appetite to see this tour?

GD: Yes, it’s very pleasing. I know the tickets have been on sale for quite some time but it’s still very encouraging for us that we have got the sort of following that really does embrace the band. It’s very encouraging that in a climate where some bands are struggling to sell tickets, we seem to be doing OK.

JA: You’re coming back from a run of shows in the States, so I guess the band is well-oiled – how was the reaction over there?

GD: The American audiences have always been gung-ho about anything that we’ve done, not just with ASIA, but the other bands that we are involved with. Our American audiences have always been behind us.

JA: Talking of the new album, was the album named ‘XXX’ an attempt to avoid the internet pirates, as the results of typing ASIA XXX into Google are potentially very dangerous?!

GD: Yes it doesn’t really work too well if you put ASIA and then XXX after it – it might take some people to the wrong areas. We couldn’t really think of anything better, and when the name cropped up, XXX for thirty years, we said ‘lets do it!’.

JA: The reaction to the album has been terrific. Where would you rank the album in terms of the band’s distinguished discography?

GD: It’s very encouraging that we’ve had such a good response to the album and we were very conscious of the fact that we wanted to pull out something special. The first album was always a tough one for us to live up to, not necessarily because of its content, but certainly because of its wide commercial success. In many ways it was great that we have the initial success that we did with the first album but it also set a precedent and that’s one of the reasons why we thought that this album had to be a little bit special as well…and the fact that it has been so well received, not just by the fans, but the critics as well, it appears that we’ve done something right.

JA: The album has a definite sound that harks back to the 1982 debut album. Was there a conscious effort to re-create some of the magic from those days?

GD: Not necessarily. The nature of the band is such that we have a make-up of 4 very different instrumentalists, and when you put that together it creates something quite different. When the four of us are in a room we always make not exactly the same sound, but an identifiable sound and that’s something that happens quite naturally, and not something that we consciously advocate. We are aware of the fact that we want to make new music, but it will invariably have the hallmarks of that original album.

JA: Many of the songs on the new album are co-written by yourself and John Wetton. What process do you and John have in terms of putting the songs together?

GD: I think we’ve always, from day one, had a very good understanding of writing together and that is something that is a very natural process. In a nutshell, we always have the premise that if we can’t make the song work in a very rudimentary environment, such as one or two of us sitting around the piano, we do tend to work very well together in that respect. It’s quite effortless in many ways. It sounds very fairly simple, but we do just sit down and work on stuff together and it seems to come out from there.

JA: This week has also seen the release of a brand new double live CD and DVD entitled ‘Resonance’ – how happy were you with the results of that release?

GD: It came about when we were on the last full blown European tour. We wanted to capture that because at the time we had just brought out the previous album ‘Omega’. When we got the opportunity to record it live, we knew the place where we recorded it, the Z7 in Switzerland, is a great venue, not only from the sound point of view, but visually it has great lights and it’s a really nice venue. We wanted to capture the tour and that seemed to be the best place to do it.

JA: …and as the musical perfectionists that you are, were you happy with the performance on the DVD?

GD: Yes. We were quite well into the tour at the time, so any of the gremlins which often beset the beginning of a tour were eradicated, and we were in pretty good shape when we made the DVD.

JA: Will you be planning to, or have you recorded any shows from this year’s shows?

GD: Generally we do record every show, I think that we’ve got a recording running all the time so we
have a lot of the shows recorded as we go. We did do a live broadcast from San Francisco this time, which was aired live on a Cable Channel called AXS TV and that seemed to go pretty well. So we’re getting used to being recorded during a tour!

JA: One of the strange facts I read on Wikipedia the other day is that you hold the Guiness world record for playing the most keyboards on stage in one performance (28) is this true?

GD: I think it might be stretching the imagination a little bit. It is true that I did perform with 28 keyboards on the ‘Asia in Asia’ Japanese tour in 1983 and I don’t know if anyone has topped that. I know it was put forward for the Guiness book of records, whether or not it made it in there, I don’t know.

JA: Where on earth do you keep all of your keyboards? Could you open a museum?

GD: I’ve got parallel rigs around the world, so it’s not that easy to track how many keyboards I’ve got at one time, but it’s nothing like it used to be, the way that technology has changed, you can get a lot of sounds out of one keyboard now that maybe I needed six machines to get the same kind of sounds before. I still love the old analogue stuff, I think it’s still got a place in music, it’s certainly had a revival in dance music and rap, where they’re using all kinds of keyboards. It’s something that’s always interested me and it’s something that I like to keep abreast of.

JA: It’s great to see some of the older bands like yourselves embracing Twitter and keeping your avid fans up to date. Is this something you enjoy doing?

GD: Yes it is. One has to look at ways that music has changed. The days of the mystique of the band being locked away are over. It’s very good to keep in touch with the fans and I think they appreciate the fact that they can chat, even if its just about football, politics or whatever. I think it’s a nice media for people to operate in.

JA: ..and did you get your Roast Beef dinner when you got home from the States?

GD: I did indeed thank you very much, and it was very good too. When you’re away from home for quite some time, you lose a bit of touch with current affairs and the sport, but with having the internet, you can keep in touch much more than you used to.

JA: I know you’re always busy in the world of music, so after the tour, what’s next for Geoff Downes?

GD: Next year, we’ve got some stuff planned with ASIA over the summer and prior to that I’m going to be going out with YES again. There is also a cruise planned which has got everybody from ASIA on board, playing in their different bands, John’s doing some stuff with UK, Carls with the Carl Palmer band, and Steve and myself are going to do YES. So that should be quite interesting. I think Asia is very important to all of us, when we decided to get back together again in 2006, we felt that we wanted to give it a good shot. When we first came out we only really did 2 studio albums with the original line up to start with so it’s been a very interesting last 5 or 6 years putting the band back together again.

JA: Finally, do you have any message to your fans out there reading this?

GD: Yes. It’s always nice to know that you’re being appreciated and we try to give the fans something extra each time, a new album or a new tour. Thankfully there are enough fans to stick around and follow us and appreciate what we do. Thanks to them for keeping us going!

JA: Thanks for talking to Baconmusic, and congratulations on 30 years!

GD: Thanks very much! Here’s to the next 30!

ASIA, featuring the original line-up of Geoff Downes (keyboards), Steve Howe (guitar), Carl Palmer (drums) and John Wetton (bass, lead vocals) start their 30th Anniversary UK Tour on December 15. The tour celebrates their 1982 eponymous debut album (now released as a new collectors’ edition) and their critically acclaimed new studio album ‘XXX’. The tour is seling out fast!

Tickets are available from the 24 Hour Box Office: 0844 478 0898,

Tavistock The Wharf – Dec 15 (SOLD OUT)
Holmfirth Picturedrome – Dec 16 (SOLD OUT)
Edinburgh Queen’s Hall – Dec 17
Salisbury City Hall – Dec 19
Birmingham Town Hall – Dec 20 (SOLD OUT)
Manchester Royal Northern College of Music – Dec 21 (SOLD OUT)
London o2 Shepherds Bush Empire – Dec 22

Thirty years after its eponymous debut album, ASIA ascended to the top of the Billboard Top 100 chart (where the album was #1 for nine weeks). The new album, ‘XXX’, featuring artwork by the legendary Roger Dean, has been hailed as ASIA’s best album since their early 80s classics.

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3 Responses to “Asia: Interview with Geoff Downes”

  1. SR said on Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 22:41

    What a Legend!!!

  2. ‘It might take some people to the wrong areas’: Geoff Downes on what happens when you search for ‘Asia XXX’ said on Friday, December 7, 2012, 13:37

    [...] Still, first Downes had to address this pressing issue — and he did so with James Allman of the yummy-sounding Bacon Music. [...]

  3. Huw Lloyd Langton fans invited to funeral | News | Classic Rock said on Monday, December 10, 2012, 7:30

    [...] Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes admits there’s a downside to having called their last album XXX – especially online. “It doesn’t really work too well if you put ‘Asia’ then ‘XXX’ after it,” he acknowledges. “It might take some people to the wrong areas. We couldn’t really think of anything better, and when the name cropped up, XXX for 30 years, we said, ‘Let’s do it.’” [BaconMusic] [...]