Celebrity Drive: Geoff Downes, Keyboardist for Yes, Asia, Buggles


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Quick Stats: Geoff Downes, keyboardist, Yes/Asia/Buggles
Daily Driver: 2014 Porsche Boxster S (Geoff’s rating: 9 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: A40 in Wales
Car he learned to drive in: 1970 Land Rover
First car bought: 1965 Hillman Imp

Class of 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes was driving a beat-up old Ford Escort wagon when he did session work, because it could fit his electric piano and other items. But then “Video Killed the Radio Star” topped the charts, and he could afford a proper rock star car in 1980, well before the hit helped launch a cable network called MTV.

“When we got the Buggles success, I thought ‘I’m not going to drive around in this battered old thing anymore,’ so I just dumped it and bought myself a Porsche 911 Targa,” Downes tells Motor Trend. “That was my first new car, because at that time I’d made a bit of money off the Buggles and so I was splashing out a bit, so I thought I’d go buy myself a Porsche. And I did. It was great, I loved it.”

You might say that 1980 Porsche 911 made Downes a Porsche guy to this day when looking at the cars in his garage. “I’ve got two and they’re both Porsches, I’ve got a Porsche Boxster S and that’s the one I bum around in and then we’ve got a Porsche Cayenne,” he says.

Even after the mega success of Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” in 1982, with fans around the world wearing their long sleeved T-shirts and denim jackets painted with album art, Downes still kept the reliable Porsche.

“We were the biggest band on the planet in 1982. It’s so big that album, it was No. 1 on Billboard. I was quite happy with what I had. It was a bit of a bonus really to get success in that as well,” he says. “I really loved the car. People used to joke with me because I had it for quite a few years.”

Downes laughs thinking about the parking lot where the band came together. “When we formed Asia, I remember being outside of the rehearsal room and the cars were incredible because John Wetton had an Aston Martin, Carl Palmer had a Rolls Royce and Steve Howe had a Bristol, which was quite a rare British car. These cars were all lined up outside, it looked pretty fancy. We used to joke that it was like one of the big show rooms,” he says. “In the interim, I’d been in Yes for a couple years, and again, Chris Squire had a Rolls-Royce Phantom, Alan White had a Bentley Continental S. It was like a prestige car showroom.”

Downes kept the Porsche because it stood him in good stead. “It was always a good car to leave outside the studio, it got me there in the mornings. It was a nice vehicle,” he says.

2014 Porsche Boxster S

Rating: 9

“It’s very fast, very comfortable car. It’s automatic as well, so it’s pretty cool in traffic. The whole thing was people thought having the stick shift was a proper sports car, but I think times changed that and the automatics are really, really good,” Downes says.

This is the third Boxster he’s had. “I think there were four versions, four models, and I’ve had the last three models. I’ve always been very, very satisfied with it,” he says. “I’ve think they’re very reliable. I’ve not had, touch wood, too much problems with them.”

Downes also likes the fact that they’re very driveable and yet comfortable rides. “They look pretty cool as well. You take the lid off on a sunny day, we get don’t get too many of those in the U.K.,” he says from the U.K. “It’s a great car. I don’t have too many complaints about it.”

2014 Porsche Cayenne Diesel

Rating: 8 or 9

For a long drive, the Cayenne is always the ride Downes takes. “That’s just like sitting in an arm chair. That’s an amazing drive. A lot of people that come in the car say, ‘Wow this is really nice, it’s really comfortable,’” he says. “The Boxster S is the sporty version and the other one is more of a traveling car. But they’ve both proven to be very, very reliable, which is good.”

Downes had another Cayenne, but switched to this diesel because of the high price of gas. “The one before was extremely greedy on petrol, which, as you know, it’s a lot cheaper for you guys over there,” he says. “But here, we pay a very, very high price for fuel and the actual amount of mileage you get out of the that would be probably about 200 or 250 miles, whereas with a diesel it’s about 700 on a full tank. The old petrol version got a bit expensive on the gas as you can imagine. Particularly in Europe and the U.K. where petrol is very expensive, you see quite a lot more diesel because their consumption is much, much better. They have a much better ratio to miles to gallons. It’s a much better car.”

He’s also looked at other Porsche models, like the Macan. “You can’t really go wrong with Porsches,” Downes says. “Something like 70 percent of them ever made from the very beginning are still on the road, which is an incredible testament to that particular brand of motors. Then you think that many cars are still in service on the road, that’s a pretty amazing percentage.”

There isn’t really anything Downes dislikes about the Cayenne, except for one thing. “I’ve got a panoramic sunroof on it and that’s pretty nice, it gives a lot of light in the car,” he says. “Sometimes with the newer one, with that window, it’s a bit less vision, so you don’t quite have as much peripheral vision as they had on the older ones, but that’s a small point and you get used to it.”

Car he learned to drive in

“The car that I passed my driving test in was a Land Rover, which was a very difficult car to drive and difficult car to learn on because it had very complex gearing. They call it double declutch,” Downes says. “It was not an easy thing to do, but once you get used to it, it was pretty good. You’ve got to press the clutch again when you move up a gear, you have to double it when you hit neutral and then put it back in again. It’s a slightly complex method of changing gear, but those old ones were like that.”

Downes says the Land Rover, which belonged to his parents, was most effective as a farm vehicle. “It was a standard short-wheelbased Landrover. If you look at those old Land Rovers, they haven’t really changed their design too much,” he says, guessing it was a circa 1970 model year. “You’ve got the short-wheelbase or the long-wheelbase and visually they’re about the same. I suppose they were a version of a British jeep in many ways.”

He learned to drive on the streets around Manchester, where he grew up. “I used to bob around in this car, and unfortunately it was very, very expensive on gas. You had to keep filling it up which is a bit of a pain,” Downes says. “It was a nice car to drive. I had a lot of fun in it. It was pretty good because it was a soft top and in the summer it was quite cool to take the lid off. There wasn’t as much traffic on the road then. It wasn’t anything like it is now.”

First car bought

After passing his driver’s test, Downes bought a circa 1965 or 1966 Hillman Imp with money he made as a landscape gardener during his gap year before music college.

“It was a bit like a Mini,” he says. “I drove it to a music college in Leeds, which was about 50-60 miles away from Manchester and that was my car that I kept in Leeds when I was a student,” he says. “I had a little bit of money and I had a grant, so I could just about afford to run it.”

As any first car that a teenager can just barely afford, it had its problems, but Downes was grateful to have a college car.

“I had a bit of a problem with it because the third gear didn’t work, so I had to rev it really high in second and then chuck it into fourth,” he says, laughing. “So I toughed it out. But what separated Leeds and Manchester are some pretty savage mountain, there were mountain roads. Going over those on a weekend when I was driving home, it was pretty intense going up the hill when you didn’t have third gear, you need third gear when you’re going up the hill. I could make do it with it, it was character building.”

Favorite road trip

“I live in the south of Wales and there’s a really nice road that goes all the way up to the mountains at the top,” Downes says. “It’s called the A40. It goes the whole length of Wales. It’s pretty amazing and some of the scenery is absolutely breathtaking, but it’s quite winding, because it’s not a proper motorway, but it’s an extremely scenic trip and you go through reservoirs and these beautiful mountainous views and lakes in the mountains. It’s pretty phenomenal.”

The only thing is that Downes makes sure to be careful with the Boxster. “The clearance is very, very low. You can’t go off track too far because of uneven surfaces, you just bottom out on it,” he says. “The car bottoms on the surface, so you’ve got to be careful you don’t go too far off the track.”

2017 Yestival Summer Tour starts Aug. 4 and Yes’ 50th Anniversary

It’s a big year for Yes. Earlier this year they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Downes is busy this month on the summer Yestival tour around North America, which started Aug. 4 and ends Sept. 19 in Huntington, New York, with stops in Rochester and Boston just before that. Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy will join the tour at various dates. Yestival will feature the greatest hits from all of Yes’ studio albums up until 1980.

Aug. 4 is a special date for Yes because as of that day, the prog rock band is now in its 50th year, having played their first concert on Aug. 3, 1968. Yes will also be on Cruise to the Edge on Feb. 3, sailing from Florida for five days of progressive rock. For all things Yes please visit yesworld.com.


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