When Peter Banks left progressive rock pioneers Yes and formed his own band, it was a brave move that allowed him to maintain a high profile while forging his own sound and ideas. His band, named Flash, came out with their first album roughly at the same time that his former bandmates, with new guitarist Steve Howe in tow, hit the charts with their third and, especially, fourth albums. For better or for worse, Flash was often lumped together with Yes — at least that is how I remember it as a little kid listening to FM radio in the New York metropolitan area.
It wasn’t really a fair pairing. In retrospect, and as good as it is, that first Flash album sounds like it was produced to sound a bit like Yes. Whether conscious or unconsciously done, we probably won’t ever know. But when you spend some time with Flash’s music you realize that Yes was on a different trajectory toward large suites of music that had more in common with Stravinsky than Chuck Berry or the free form freak flag flying sounds of Jimi Hendrix. That said, the reality is that Peter Banks was one of the original members of Yes who helped shape their sound and direction that went on to pack stadiums around the globe.
There is a great, if blunt, quote from Mr. Banks in the liner notes to a new live album from Flash — called Flash: In Public — which I feel driven to include in this review (warning: strong adult language follows):
“Our critics and detractors accused us of ‘sounding like YES.” Of course we did. I was one of the founding members that helped to make (for better or worse – richer or poorer) the strange beast that band has become today. To those critics and fault-finders who expect a musician to re-invent himself every six months — I say F**K YOU!” (note: expletive modified with asterisks to help keep this review safe for work viewing)
Right on, Peter.
Had Banks remained in his original band, chances are they might have sounded a bit more like Flash, which was (in retrospect) more about the rocking improvisatory jams than the carefully mapped scores pursued by Yes (ie. Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, Relayer, etc.)
This is never more apparent than when listening to this very high quality live recording that has recently surfaced of Flash playing their last show on their U.S. tour, in Kansas City. Listening to this warts-‘n-all performance it is very evident that Flash was a great rock band, first and foremost.
In a live setting, Flash was a classic guitar, bass and drums power trio. Yes was a five piece octopus of a group, with the multi-keyboard textures of Rick Wakeman, oft-complex three and four part harmonies and the polyrhythmic punch of drummers Bill Bruford and later Alan White. Flash had more in common with groups like Nektar and The Who in terms of overall feel. Ironically, the band wasn’t purely about flash (if you will) but its music was very much centered around the guitar fire improvisatory power of Peter Banks.
The boy could really play, with a style that fell more this side of Jimi Hendrix than his more classically inclined Yes replacement, Steve Howe. Banks was rooted in rock ‘n roll and found a great balance between guitar hero bravado and progressive self indulgence. The band’s sound was akin to longer works by the The Who and The Move (pre-ELO). Flash had a very distinctive, pronounced and lyrical Rickenbacker playing bassist (Ray Bennett) whose melodic playing at times echos John Entwistle. Flash could even sometimes get jazzy-ish from time to time, with subtle swinging moments amidst the wall of sound they created.
Flash: In Public is a welcome addition for any fan of the band, especially since all that has existed previously is a somewhat obscure 180-gram LP — Psychosync — featuring a mix of sometimes near-bootleg quality sounding recordings taken mostly from early TV and radio appearances. This 1973 Kansas City show was recorded for a radio broadcast on multitrack tape and has been mixed to sound great, even if it is only available on a CD at present (no LP or Hi Res download that I know at present). The band is rocking on all cylinders and strutting its stuff gleefully with that sort of end-of-tour abandon that often leads bands to reach for new stars — most times they reach them but, make no mistake, this is a live unedited show so there are some missed notes and such.
It’s only rock ‘n roll, as they say…
The tri-fold, digipak-type cardboard sleeve for Flash: In Public is fun, replete with a Pink Floyd-inspired cow on the cover (it was recorded at The Cowtown Ballroom, after all). The package features great full color photos of the band and liner notes written by Peter Banks shortly before his surprising death in March 2013. It includes a loving booklet of memories on the band by various roadies, managers, as well as contemporaries including Pete Townshend and Steve Howe!
Taking a few steps back, while listening to Flash I am realizing that (at least vocally) they sound a bit like Rush. This is curious for me as I’ve never really been a Rush fan. Thus I suppose its high time I revisit Rush’s music to see if there was something I was missing …
And away we go… in a Flash….
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.