Geoffrey Downes (born 25 August 1952) is an English rock keyboard player and songwriter for the bands Yes and Asia, and formerly of The Buggles, during which he played multiple keyboards to achieve a New Wave technopop sound. He was once entered for the Guinness Book of Records for performing with the most keyboards (28) on stage in one performance.
Downes was born at Stepping Hill Hospital in, Stockport, Cheshire, the son of musical parents. His father was a church organist and his mother a pianist. He also took up the keyboards and played in a succession of local bands. He attended Stockport Grammar School before studying at Leeds College of Music. After graduating he moved to London, where he played sessions and composed advertising jingles.
In the mid-seventies, Downes was a member of She's French, playing Fender Rhodes and Hammond. The band also included Jamie West-Oram (with whom he had been at music college in Leeds) on guitar and Hoagy Davies (son of Rupert Davies) on MiniMoog.
In 1976, Downes met Trevor Horn while auditioning for pop singer Tina Charles' backing band. They continued to work together, eventually forming The Buggles, recording a worldwide hit single "Video Killed the Radio Star" in 1979. It was Island Records' first number 1 in the UK, and the video of the song subsequently became the first ever to be played at the launch of MTV on August 1981.
The success of The Buggles led to Downes and Horn joining Yes for the Drama album and the associated tour in 1980. Downes was the first member of the band to have completed a music degree. Yes split at the beginning of 1981, and Downes subsequently joined forces with guitarist Steve Howe (from Yes), bassist/vocalist John Wetton (from King Crimson) and drummer Carl Palmer (from Emerson, Lake & Palmer) to form 'Asia'.
Asia was an immediate worldwide success upon the recording of "Heat of the Moment" and the release of their first album Asia in 1982; the album remained at number 1 on the Billboard album charts for a record 9 successive weeks. Asia has formed the backbone of Downes' career since.
In addition to recording and touring with Asia, Downes has also recorded a number of solo albums and collaborated with many other artists, including Glenn Hughes, Ride The Tiger with Greg Lake, Trapeze, in 1991 for a tour that produced the live album Welcome to the Real World, and a brief appearance on Kate Bush's "Sat in Your Lap". In 2005, he joined Yes drummer Alan White's eponymous band, White, on their debut album.
He has also worked extensively as a producer with such acts as Mike Oldfield, Thompson Twins and GTR. As a songwriter, he has written for Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA. He is also credited as a co-writer on the album entitled Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (made up of former members of Yes in 1989); he is credited due to Howe re-using some musical ideas from Asia.
Downes has continued to release sporadic solo albums over the years, mainly under the name The New Dance Orchestra. They include the critically acclaimed 1986 double album The Light Programme, in addition to Vox Humana (1992), Shadows & Reflections (2003), along with a few others. He performed a sold out one-man show in 2003 at St Cyprian's Church in London, which was recorded using ambisonics technology.
In recent years, Downes has teamed up with John Wetton again in a separate project under the name Icon. They have released three studio albums thus far: Icon (2005), Icon II: Rubicon (2006), and Icon 3 (2009). The original 'Wetton/Downes' album is due for re-issue under the Icon banner in 2010.
In 2006, Downes reunited with the original members of Asia for a series of tours that continued into 2008, releasing a new album of studio material, Phoenix (2008), with more shows performed through Spring 2009. Later in 2009, the original Asia toured the US supporting Yes, with guitarist Steve Howe doing double duty performing with both bands nightly.
In the autumn of 2009 the band went into the studio again to record another album. The Asia album Omega was released in April 2010. The band have since been touring this album in Europe and Japan. The band are scheduled to play the High Voltage Festival, London on 24 July and then several festivals in Germany before embarking on a six-week US tour through August and September. A song, "Extraordinary Life" from their previous album, Phoenix (2008), was recently chosen as the trailer for US's biggest reality TV show America's Got Talent.
Downes was involved as producer with the re-make of Deep Purple's 1972 song "Smoke on the Water" in 1989 to raise funds for the Spitak Earthquake victims, which occurred on 7 December 1988. In 2009, Downes along with Tony Iommi, Ian Gillan and the former Wimbledon tennis champion Pat Cash, went to Armenia, and were presented with state medals from the President of Armenia for their efforts in the Rock Aid Armenia project.
In 2012, Downes teamed up with Chris Braide under the name "DBA" ("Downes Braide Association"). The result was an album, Pictures of You, released in Summer 2012 on Plane Groovy Records.
Influences and style:
In an interview conducted December 2006, Downes said the three players who had inspired him were Rick Wakeman (Yes), Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and especially Dave Sinclair (Caravan). In the same interview, he identified his favourite Asia tracks as "Only Time Will Tell", "Wildest Dreams", "Open Your Eyes" and "Voice of America".
Downes has been married and divorced twice. He had two daughters, Christina and Alexandra, from his first wife, Norwegian former model Wenche Steen (Miss Norway in 1973). Alexandra died in February 2013.
Downes has an older sister, Helen, and two older brothers, John Gordon and Andrew. He currently lives in South Wales with his long-term partner.
While currently active with the original Asia, he has also finished three albums with John Wetton on their side project 'Icon', and recorded a live DVD in February 2009 to promote the release of their third studio album. The project included guitarist Dave Kilminster (Roger Waters, Keith Emerson), Pete Riley (Keith Emerson, Ken Hensley), and Hugh McDowell (Electric Light Orchestra). In addition, Downes is also working on television, film and production music for a London West End film production company, Original Production Music Ltd.
He released a further 'The New Dance Orchestra' (NDO) album scheduled in October 2010, entitled Electronica and with vocals from Anne-Marie Helder (Karnataka, Panic Room, Mostly Autumn). It is a twelve-track album featuring Downes's orchestral style of keyboard playing.
On 28 September 2010, he reunited with Bruce Woolley and Trevor Horn as the band The Buggles, performing "The Lost Gig" to raise funds for the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability.
On 22 March 2011, he performed at the Roundhouse, London with Trevor Horn and Producers, along with Spandau Ballet & Alison Moyet to raise funds for a music charity for underprivileged children. The event raised over half a million pounds on the night.
On 31 March 2011, he was confirmed as participating in the recording of the new Yes album Fly from Here (2011), reuniting with them formally for the first time since 1980 and rejoining the band for an upcoming tour.
In May 2011, he rejoined Yes as the full-time keyboard player, and the band toured during the summer period in the U.S. with Styx. They then embarked on a European in October, starting in Portugal and ending up in December in Stockholm. The band was forced to cancel the last 3 shows due to lead singer Benoît David's illness.
In January 2012, the band appointed a replacement vocalist, Jon Davison to continue with the world tour and in particular the Pacific Rim tour in April 2012, comprising New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, and Hawaii.
In 2012, Downes completed work on an album with Chris Braide under the name of DBA (Downes Braide Association) called Pictures of You. The album will be released later in the year.
Downes has also worked with Asia on a 30th Anniversary album called XXX and released 29 June 2012 as a CD, a CD/DVD, a LP and as a download, all of which feature Roger Dean artwork. Downes plays keyboards on the album and co-composed 9 of the 10 original compositions on the album with lead vocalist John Wetton. The first single from the release, "Face on the Bridge", was released on 14 May 2012.
In the spring of 2013, Downes toured North America with Yes, playing three classic albums in their entirety, The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One.