Tribute To Freedom crowds - Photo courtesy of Markus Schellhorn   Tribute To Freedom crowds - Photo courtesy of Markus Schellhorn


Saturday, 15th August, 2009

featuring Jon Anderson & Peter Machajdik 




View of stage as crowds arrive for Tribute To Freedom concert - Photo courtesy of Markus Schellhorn 

I booked a flight to Bratislava months ago upon hearing Jon Anderson, founder-member and lead singer of legendary progressive rock band Yes (though currently not in the band) was to perform at Devin Castle near Bratislava, Slovakia. After suffering from asthma for some time, culminating in a very serious attack on 13th May 2008 and being hospitalised in intensive care for some days causing the cancellation of Yes's summer tour of the USA, Jon took the first tentative steps in performing again, with the announcement of a European tour during the summer of 2009. A concert at Devin Castle as part of Tribute To Freedom, an event to commemorate the fall of the Iron Curtain in former Czechoslovakia 20 years ago, was announced for 15th August, 2009, along with Slovakian composer Peter Machajdik. Jon was being accompanied by Juraj Burian (guitar), Miki Škuta (piano), Oskar Rózsa (bass). Martin Valihora (drums), and cellists Eugen Prochác, Ján Slávik, Vladimír Sirota and Boris Bohó. Peter Machajdík played keyboards. This was Jon's only show with a band during his "Have Guitar Will Travel" European tour, which also saw him play in the United Kingdom. Other acts at Tribute To Freedom included Marián Varga, Pražský Výber, Vladimir Merta and Marta Kubišová. One couldn't have expected a more beautiful setting, on a hilltop above the Danube and the Morava rivers, in glorious late afternoon European sunshine.

Though attending the concert was my main reason for going, I then planned to meet up for a long weekend and chill out with friends Markus from Vienna and Zoltan from Budapest at the lakeside campsite at Zlaté Piesky from the Friday to the Monday, getting in some cycling and bathing, weather permitting. The man-made lake is located only a few minutes from Bratislava airport, so Markus was able to fetch me. The UK rail strike had been called off Friday to enable me to reach the airport on time, yet flights out of Stansted had been delayed for up to an hour. Zoltan joined us later Friday evening after driving up from Budapest after work. Tribute To Freedom had been advertised as a free concert on Jon Anderson's website but a few days before I stumbled upon the fact that tickets were required via the Ticket Portal website, so in haste bordering on virtual panic I registered on their website using the Zlaté Piesky campsite's address and bought three tickets, to be collected at one of their outlets in Bratislava, which we did at Aupark shopping complex, after cycling in to Bratislava town centre Saturday morning, the day of the concert. Although tickets were also being sold at the venue entrance at Devin Castle, as we learnt later, I wasn't taking a chance.  There was no way on earth I was going to miss out on seeing Jon Anderson! A large screen was used to project concert footage mixed in with other imagery, including some black & white film footage depicting the harsh reality of the communist era. A speech by Václav Havel, writer and first president of Czechoslovakia after the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989, was relayed to the audience. The concert was also being filmed, I assume for National Television.




Jon Anderson at Devin Castle









Jon Anderson was given a tumultuous welcome by the crowd of several thousand crammed within the walls of the area of the castle where the stage had been set up.  He first played a few songs on solo guitar and sang before the rest of the ensemble joined him on stage. A new song dedicated to the people of Bratislava and obviously written for the occasion warmed him to the audience, of that there was no doubt. The friendship that has developed between Jon and Peter Machajdík was apparent and so too was the mutual respect. The show included songs such as Your Move, Nous Sommes Du Soleil (from Ritual), And You And I and Soon, performed along with several recorded with Vangelis, culminating in Close To The Edge as the finale, ambitious in the extreme. Yet they pulled it off. I can understand the musical connection between Jon and Peter Machajdík. Peter is described a minimalist composer and listening to some of his music on his MySpace page, it is not dissimilar to some of Jon's arrangements on Change We Must (the piano pieces) and the Angels Embrace.

Jon performed for about an hour and a half and seemed to be having fun, smiling and relaxed almost constantly and gaining in confidence in the process. It is inevitable that the health setbacks he has suffered in recent years would have taken its toll to degree - he has lost a lot of weight. But Jon Anderson is both courageous and determined. There was a single moment when he reached down for the asthma pump but I suspect it was a precautionary measure. There were no flaws in his outstanding vocal performance and it was a joy to see him sing and perform again with passion and energy. Is his voice as strong as it was 10 years ago? Probably not. Is he ready to rejoin and perform with Yes?  I do believe so, but whether he is able to stand up to the rigours of a lengthy sort of tour similar to what Yes did for the 35th anniversary world tour, is obviously still open to question. After all, it was at the screening of Yes Live At Montreux at Shepperton Studious on the Thames last year that Rick Wakeman spoke of his deep concern for Jon's health and echoed similar sentiments. Personally, my wish is that Jon Anderson will wait until he feels he is 100% fit and ready to return, where he rightfully belongs, to record a new album with Yes in 2010.  The fact is, they cannot possibly be the same band without him and I think this opinion is shared by every fan of Yes. Lang may yer lum reek, Jon!





  Peter Machajdik on keyboards.



  Jon Anderson performing at Casrtle Devin for Tribute To Freedom.
















  Jon Anderson performing at Casrtle Devin for Tribute To Freedom.


Devin Castle towards the confluence of the Danube and Morava - Photo courtesy of Markus Schellhorn

  Devin Castle above the confluence of the rivers Danube and Morava is one of the three oldest historically acknowledged castles in Slovakia. The village of Devin is now a part of Bratislava. Oldest traces of settlement there date back to the 5th century B.C. The site has been settled since the Neolithic Period and fortified since the Bronze and Iron Age. Due to its advantageous geographical position, it was able to control the most important trade routes along the Danube as well as one part of the Amber Road (an ancient trade route for the transfer of amber). In the 1st century B.C, the territory was populated by Celts. The castle played an important role as a boundary fortress as a part of the Limes Romanus fortifications against enemies at the times of the Roman Empire and as a military station and trade centre at the times of the Great Moravian Empire the first Slavic state.

A Slavic castle, founded in the 8th century, played a crucial role during frequent wars between Great Moravia and the Franks. After the fall of the Great Moravian Empire, the castle served again as a boundary fortress under the reign of the Hungarians and in the 13th century, a stone castle was built to protect the western frontier of the Hungarian Kingdom.  A palace was added in the 15th century. Fortification was reinforced during wars against the Ottoman Empire. The castle was destroyed by Napoleon's troops in 1809. Archeological research began in the 30s of the 20th century. The first written reference to the castle and its ancient name – Dowina, though still under debate  based both on linguistic arguments and the absence of convincing archaeologic evidence, comes from 864. The Castle was never taken, but after the Hungarian Kingdom joined the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Ottomans were finally defeated, it ceased to be an important border fortress and was no longer used by the military. The identification of Dowina (from the Slavic/Slovak word deva for girl) with Devín Castle, mentioned for the first time in written resources in 864, has been debated, based both on linguistic arguments and the absence of convincing archaeologic evidence.

Castle Devin undergoing restoration.   Castle Devin, overlooking the Danube.






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