Geoff Downes - Asia / Yes / The Buggles
On the phone with David Lee Wilson - 2003
By 1980 the so-called "Super-groups" of the sixties and seventies were as passé as peace, love and every other Hippie accouterment you would care to name. Not exactly fertile ground for former members of long winded Progsters Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer to cultivate a new group, still they planted the seeds and now twenty years later the roots and branches of Asia are still bearing fruit.
"Anthologia" is a monster of a two-disc package containing the full studio versions of every track from the first four Asia discs "Asia", "Alpha", "Astra" and "Then And Now." Along with the attendant "B" sides of the singles released from those legendary albums there are extensive liner notes throughout which taken together elevate this offering to "definitive" status in terms of Asia compilations. All totaled there are 160 minutes of Progressive-Pop-Rock majesty chronicling the group's life between 1982 and 1990 and not a minute of it is anything less than exhilarating despite the fact that much of this is better than a generation old.
Keyboardist and sole surviving member of the original Asia lineup Geoff Downes phoned in to give his thoughts on this twentieth anniversary anthology as well as a bit of a forecast as to what the next twenty years may hold for the storied group.

K2K: When last you traveled to America with Asia the band stuck mostly with a "hits" kind of set but this package you have out now goes well beyond just the "hits," I mean, it is four full albums worth of material isn't it?
GEOFF DOWNES: Yeah, I mean, I think that it is quite a formidable collection really because it does incorporate every single song that was done throughout the whole of the 80's era Asia. I think that in that respect that it is nice that it has come out twenty years after the band's formation and it is a good reflection of what the band was about at that time.
K2K: Is it simply an impossible expectation to hope for a compilation that would cover the entire life of the group?
GD: Well, I think that it is complicated in that the first four albums were all with Universal so they have the rights to that and therefore it is a lot easier for them to do that period. Just the actual physics of putting it all together, you know, the latter period is actually quite fragmented in terms of the licenses and all those things so it makes a compilation of the full twenty years really a technical minefield.
K2K: Perhaps one day Universal will just buy out all of those record companies? (laughs)
GD: Well, this is it right! (laughs) Maybe at twenty-five years.
K2K: That would be nice.
GD: It would, it really would.
K2K: It wasn't too long ago that there was a single disc "Greatest Hits" package out, did you worry that this compilation of tracks was coming a little too close to that one?
GD: Yeah, that was, "The Very Best Of Asia." I wasn't that keen on that edition particularly because a lot of the tracks had been edited and this one is sort of like the unabridged version with all of the songs as they were. That is, I think in many ways, nicer for the people to get the full focus of exactly what Asia was about rather than of someone's interpretation of it.
K2K: It is also nice for those people who have come along since the "Astra" disc went out of regular print as it contains all of those songs?
GD: Yeah, well I think that we were pretty proud of the "Astra" album and it was certainly a long time in the making but commercially it wasn't as successful as the first two, by any means, and I think that counted against it. I think that Geffen, when they were handling it, discontinued it for a while so it has never really regained its status as much as the first two albums.
K2K: Did you think about or had anyone suggested that this might be an opportunity to change around the running order of the tracks?
GD: To be honest with you we weren't really consulted on that aspect and I think that this is something that they wanted to do in their own way. It was one of those things were we said, "You do it and I am sure it will be fine." (laughs) We could have diggled with the running order and said, "Yeah, that should come there. . ." but in many ways I think that it is a fair representation of the way the band was between '82 and '91.
K2K: Is this release a good enough excuse for you guys to go out and play some live shows?
GD: Do you mean with the original lineup?
K2K: Either that or with the current band and I must admit to being a big fan of John Payne so it wouldn't bother me to see the modern version of the band do some touring behind it.
GD: There was some talk a couple of years ago about the original lineup getting back together again but I think that it is too far down the line really and I think that the way that we have molded Asia over the last few years, it has changed how the group is perceived and I think that, for better or worse, we are quite happy with the direction that we are taking at the moment. As you quite rightfully intimated, John Payne is a great singer and I think that he has done very good service to the band since he has come in so. . . Reformations are all very well but I know that Steve [Howe] is tied up with his Yes stuff and John Wetton is very keen on his solo career so I don't see that as a prospect really. Still, we view that old material very much like we view the new material so if this gives us a chance to go out and promote it then, yes we will go out and do that.
K2K: You mentioned Yes and I just took in a show of theirs a few weeks ago and was overjoyed to hear and see Chris Squire dropping in a bit of "Tempus Fugit" from the "Drama" album that you played on. . .
GD: Oh yes, how was that?
K2K: They were very, very good.
GD: Yes, I have heard great reports on them and they are back to what one could certainly construe as being "the" Yes lineup, the classic lineup. It is nice that, that ["Tempis Fugit"] is reflected in the set but I don't think that Jon Anderson will ever do any of the "Drama" album per se because I don't think that he sees that as his "baby" and that is really his decision, I think, but I know Steve would like to have maybe done a full version of "Tempus Fugit" or even "Machine Messiah" or something like that. Quite a lot of Yes fans who accepted the version of Yes when me and Trevor [Horn] were with them would be quite happy to see that stuff I am sure.
K2K: Along those same lines one of my strongest memories of last years Asia visit to town was of this one guy who kept yelling for "White Car" the whole set! (laughs) It was cute at first but became quite annoying an hour later. (laughs)
GD: Right, right! (laughs) Yeah, well there are some Yes nuts out there! (laughs) Unfortunately in those kinds of environments, when you are on with a package, it is very limiting for each act, but maybe next year we will be doing a bit more of the club type of gigs where we can play our usual set which is about an hour and three quarters.
K2K: Love to see it!
GD: Yeah, that way you do get a good cross-reference of the full twenty years of Asia as opposed to only a part of the history. Obviously people want to hear "Heat of the Moment," Sole Survivor" and "Only time will Tell" which were great tracks but not solely what the band is about.
K2K: With the last Asia album you involved many people who had been with the band through the years as well as the touring version of the band and it took quite a long time to finish, will the formula for the next studio record be the same?
GD: I think that we are working towards getting some material together for it and I don't think that we could really do that number again, where we had so many musicians on the album because it was so extremely time consuming. It was a rewarding album in many ways. I don't think that it suffered from the fact that there were a lot of people on it, in fact I think that was a large part of the attraction of it but having said that, I think that we might view the next album with a bit more of a group focus where we use the same members on the same instrument throughout the album.
K2K: The band remains the same as on the last tour?
GD: Yeah, I mean, I think that we have built up quite a bit of live support and I think that the only way that you can really establish a band of the ilk of Asia is to go out and play gigs and I think that once people see that you are doing that it sort of benefits everybody and it helps to build a groundswell of feeling for the band again.
K2K: If one thing has remained consistent with Asia it is the quality of both the music and the people involved in making it though the sound has changed a bit from time to time.
GD: That is great! I am glad that we are still making music that appeals! (laughs) We have always tried to treat every album differently and even from day one I think that each Asia album has been approached with care and thought and hopefully that shines through twenty years later.
K2K: Sure does. This is slightly off topic but I do want to get it asked before our time is done, I read recently of some work that you did with Glenn Hughes, what became of that?
GD: Oh, yeah. That was about ten years ago and it was only about two weeks and we recorded everything that we did. It was one of those projects where we wrote and recorded the songs within a very short period of time and it was actually released on a label called, Voiceprint, in its unabridged version. I get a lot of people who really enjoyed it, it is an album called, "THE WORK TAPES" and it was done by "Hughes / Downes" and it is actually still available.
K2K: Also, for the past several years both MTV and VH1 have been in complete reminiscence mode and of course you were there right at the beginning of it all. . .
GD: Yeah, "From Buggles To Bizkit" I think was their 20th Anniversary campaign on MTV and slogan for their party which I went to last year.
K2K: Right and the story was that when you got there they didn't believe that you were you and you had a problem getting in? (laughs)
GD: Well, there was a little bit of confusion I think it would be fair to say but it wasn't really that kind of heavy. Once they realized that I was going to be there they kind of softened up a little bit and said, "Sure, of course you can come in." (laughs) I think that our publicity girl at the time was a little bit overzealous with the whole thing so it was a bit of a storm in a teacup I think. Yeah, it was quite a good event really and I am looking forward to the thirty-year party!
K2K: You have had phenomenal success and notoriety with both Asia and Yes but the association with The Buggles and being the first ever video seen on MTV, that has to be something on a whole other level. Do you find that people kind of put more emphasis on that one song and one video that started MTV than on everything else you have done in your career?
GD: Well, I think that it is always a talking point. (laughs) Certainly "Video Killed The Radio Star" was a pretty ground breaking record even though when it had come out in America the year before MTV it wasn't specifically a big massive hit but somehow it did seem to get embedded in people's consciousness. It must have been through MTV's constant promotion that it seems to have been embedded into the American psyche and popular culture. I see it as something that I am proud of but there is that association and there is not a lot that I can do about it. If I go to a birthday party or something and there is a piano in the corner they will always say, "Could you play 'Video Killed The Radio Star'?'" so it does haunt me. It will haunt me to the grave I think! (laughs)
K2K: Well, hopefully you are still getting the checks for it? (laughs)
GD: Yes! It does still tick along quite nicely! (laughs)
Written by David Lee Wilson

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