Olias Of Sunhillow by Jon Anderson – the best of the Yes solo albums that sprung out as the band took a break in 1975/6. Even in the forty plus years following the release, still arguably the best of ALL the solo albums from Yes members.
Release date: 26th March 2021
Label: Esoteric Recordings
Format: 2CD (inc 5.1 ‘upmix’)
We waxed lyrical over the reissue of Jon’s second solo album, Song Of Seven (our review) at the end of 2020. A real trip down memory lane. With the prospect of a reissue of Animation from 1982, we now head back to the start of the Anderson solo oeuvre with a genuine ‘solo’ album. Solo in the fact that Jon did it all; as the album states, “music written and performed by Jon Anderson.”
Although his day job in The Warriors and in Yes was as singer, Anderson had enough rudimentary skill on a number of instruments, even learning some on the job and as necessary so as to maintain ultimate control over his precious solo outing. They all add to the quaintness and organic feel of the album. The elements of new age sounds and electronic experimentation are similar to that you’d find with Tangerine Dream and Tomita.
As we “sound out the galleon” a typically opaque Anderson story evolves that involves Olias, Qoquaq, their friends and their journey from their fallen planet via the mystical Moorglade, a flying craft that’s not too far removed from the Roger Dean creation that adorned the Fragile album. There’s a hefty helping of standard Anderson obscurity/opacity in the lyrics where the words may lack clarity and meaning but fit the rhythms and textures – always the primary focus of Jon’s work with Yes. Even heading to the invention of a new language that decorates the music in parts. Olias is Anderson at his most lyrical with no Yesmen to rein him in.
“As old stands to plunder, expectant as one dear companion can offer, the right we achieve” just one early example of how the words become part of the Anderson dance.
The opening combination of Eastern chimes and ambient sounds on Ocean Song echo his later collaboration with Vangelis and the tribal rhythms and chants of Meeting. Layered vocals and all manner of instruments come to the party, ranging from his familiar acoustic guitar and harp to percussion and freshly learned keyboards. The electronic alien voices that connect the light and airy Dance Of Ranyart and Olias offer a glimpse of the experimentation and ambition.
The new age/tribal meets with a kitchen sink being thrown in in the Qoquac En Transic/Naon/Transic To part, something that would surface in the shamanic Awaken epic that would grace Going For the One when Yes went into the studio again. Such may have been the influence of Olias and the growing confidence Anderson had (not that ‘the hippy with the iron fist’ ever lack conviction, drive and purpose) in his visions.
However, there are enough moments of melody and accessibility amidst the tale and even what you’d call ‘songs’ – Flight Of The Moorglade echoes a Clannad song style and the second half, heralded by the growing Solid Space and the extended song cycles of Moon Ra / Chords / Song Of Search, like the first concludes with a more simple song in the lovely To The Runner.
Back in ’75, Olias even hit the top ten, such was the pull of Yesmusic. It’s an undeniably magical piece of fantasy escapism that many (many...) Yes fans hold dear. One that captures the true spirit of Yes from the man who really is the heart of Yes.The thought that there could possibly even be a sequel…one of the many irons that Jon Anderson has glowing in a fire that still burns strong.
Listen to Flight Of The Moorglade:
Jon Anderson: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube
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Hi Mike. Thanks for another interesting review. One of the problems of an ever-growing collection is that those gems and favourites from yesteryear (that could have been an album title) get played less and less. At the time Yes took their break following Relayer, I bought each of the five solo albums, as student funds allowed, and having a much smaller collection back then these solo efforts spent considerable time on my turntable. I have to say I don’t agree with your view that Olias is the best of the solo efforts. The five are very different and as such there will be a range of views as to ‘best’ or ‘rank order’. Olias is a fine album with some beautiful moments. However, Steve Howe’s Beginnings for me is a stronger effort from a master musician and whilst Howe is no lead vocalist, he wrote a fine collection of songs with some brilliant guitar work throughout on his first solo effort. I suspect Chris Squire’s Fish out of Water would be ahead of Olias in most Yes fans rank order and is a more satisfying listen for me with its blend of melodic prog and effective use of orchestra. Patric Moraz also made something special with that strange yet successful mix of keyboard and Brazilian percussion. Only the somewhat forgettable Alan White effort would definitely rank below Olias for me (although Spring – Song of Innocence is a thing of beauty). You also suggest that Jon’s Olias is arguably the best of all the Yes members solo efforts but I think there are a number of Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman releases that are stronger.
As ever, Mike, I appreciate and enjoy your reviews. Keep up the good work!
Thanks for taking the time to comment Norman. It might be a bit flippant to call Olias “the best solo Yes” as that particular library of work is so vast (heavily populated by Howe and Wakeman as you say), but hey, if it gets people thinking and shouting for their own faves, I’m all for that – LOL. Perhaps I should have said”my favourite” but thanks for opening that rather large can of worms. :-). PS – ‘Animation’ review coming up (which I also LOVE!). Hope you’re well…
Mike, I recently purchased this double disc remaster of Olias and found the surround sound so subtle as to be almost non-existent. How does it sound to your ears? BTW, Oilas and Fish Out of Water are virtually tied for my favorite Yes solo albums. FooW edges out Olias by a smidge because It’s such a delight hear Chris sing lead vocals on every song.
Hi Bob – I’d tend to agree with you tbh. I think with the new mix being classed as an ‘up mix’ / attempt at creating a 5.1 version with the limitations of the original tapes, that very comment was always likely to be an issue.Not being an audiophile and not having the sort of system that could reveal any subtleties in the new version, I have to admit that for me, sticking the old vinyl on the player is the way I enjoy Olias. I know Howard had a listen to the sooper dooper FooW Bluray, but not had a chance to try that one out yet….
Mike, The Blu-Ray of FooW is quite good. Very immersive. A few liberties were taken with the remixing: i.
e. the outro of “Safe (Canon Song)” is missing the ethereal bass solo. But it’s apples and oranges since the original multitrack masters were available for FooW and sadly not for Olias. Still, the Olias remaster is handsomely packaged and features copious liner notes. The CD sounds freshened up a bit, which is good as I seldom play LPs these days. Cheers!