The exact date on which the band was started is
difficult to trace but it was somewhere in 1975.
Initially a three-man-band, Jos (lead-guitar),
Paul (drums) and Ernest (bass) played covers of
Steely Dan, Eagles, Peter Frampton Moody Blues and
so on. Soon they discovered their real musical interest
was symphonic rock and they decided to concentrate
on self-composed songs.
It was about this time the band chose the name Saga.
Early recordings made in Butcher Alley Studio (although
still without keyboards) really started to expose the
bands symphonic sound. Then already Jos proved to be
the most productive composer although Ernest and later keyboard player Guido also contributed to Saga’s set list. Guido joined the group to fill in the need for keyboards. Starting with a very basic Philicorda organ and some time later an Arp Axxe the group worked hard to develop its own distinctive sound which can still be recognized even in the most recent of recordings.
With the keyboard slot filled in, the opportunity rose to record an album at Crossroad Studio. "To Whom it Concerns” was recorded, mixed and mastered in just a few days. Far from perfect but... very distinctively Saga. Paul had done the lead vocals on “To Whom...” and because the band decided that everything they recorded had to be achievable in a live concert, a replacement drummer took his place behind the kit. Unfortunately Paul’s drumming was badly missed so he decided to swap back to drumming.
A singer, Tom de Jong, joined the band and together with him Saga built an atractive stage act. They bought their own PA, light show, smoke machine (quite groovy in those days) and with Paul on drums, Ernest on bass and 12-string, Jos on lead-guitar, Guido on keyboards (amongst which a genuine “Mellotron”) and Tom as a real singer/actor they were able to perform a two hour stage show. But nothing lasts forever... Tom and Guido left the band, and Paul, Jos and Ernest were back to basics. A keyboardist was difficult to find so Ernest decided to give it a try. This was early eighties. For a short period the band struggled because of the very basic keyboard parts but thanks to many lessons and a good teacher the sound rapidly improved. In fact this whole change turned out to be a move to the better. Jos, being a much more dynamic bass player, and Paul proving to be the perfect (odd) rhythm combination and Ernest (as a bass-player already very melodic) to enhance the orchestral fills. A nice combination, which worked fine for this time. Together with guitar player Nico Bakker and singer Ton van Kesteren, Saga went through its “last quarter”. One of the highlights from that period was a well conceived concert in “Het Paard van Troje” (The Trojan Horse) at The Hague. Unfortunately this combination did’nt last long. Nico quit and Ton just kind of disappeared... So 1983 saw the end of Saga.
Jos , Paul and Ernest tried to go 'commercial' but that did not work. Paul continued to play drums in several bands, playing a variety of musical styles. Ernest had a short bass adventure with a jazz/dixyland band (!) but aftre that Jos and Ernest did not play for many, many years. All instruments, amps and effects were sold.
Then came the summer of ’98. While on holiday in France Ernest got 'pleasantly aroused' by listening to Genesis CD’s and when he learned that Paul still enjoyed playing (he had even taken drumming lessons again) he got 'the itch, bought a synthesizer and took lessons to 'get back into shape'. At that time Jos was not very interested in starting playing again but a little over a year later Jos suddenly showed up with a bass-guitar and an acoustic twelve string. From that moment on every Friday night was reserved for... US. Jos playing all guitars, Ernest on keyboards and Paul on drums. The concept was simple, Jos usually came up with the idea and the basic concept of a new song. While rehearsing his songs grew and got more final. The results of which landed on a very limited edition CD called 'The Wizzard of Us', recorded at home, on a tiny 8-track digital workstation. The practice schedule was enhanced and the Friday night sessions changed to Sunday morning sessions in a small studio, which gave US the opportunity to play 'full steam'.
Being in and around this studio led to the idea of re-recording 'The Wizzard'. During the preparations some songs of 'The Wizzard' were replaced by others. After all Jos had not stopped composing and later songs were considered more appropriate for the CD. While recording the need of a dedicated electric guitar player with his own distinguished style was noticed. Peter de Frankrijker was asked to complete the already recorded tracks which he did splendidly. It resulted in 'A Sorrow In Our Hearts'. No surprise he joined US after that. Soon the now four members of US started working on tracks for a new CD.
To overcome all the cumbersome travelling and the high costs of recording in a hired studio, they decided to build their own home studio in Paul's garage which had enough room. It was a simple but effective studio, handbuilt by the four members and their trusty power tools. The studio was dubbed "The B'SUS" for Blood Sweat and US, and filled with a 24-track harddisk recorder plus accompanying whistles and gizmos. Before recording the new album, the band set out to find a singer to allow Jos to focus his attention on his guitars and bass. Sympathetic southerner Stephan drew their attention with his sotto voice charm and distinctive mellow husky sound. He turned out to be a real nice guy and fitted perfectly into the group's passe partout. So with a new singer and a new studio,
US set to work.
The new CD, Eamon's Day, was recorded, produced and finished in about six months over early 2003. It was quite a hectic process of inventing the songs and the recording process all at the same time. Peter turned out to be the preferred fader jockey and was glued to the production chair to fiddle with frequencies, conquer compressors and position the panning. The five songs that make up Eamon's Day (including the epic half-an-hour Life In Progress) were trusted to The Polyurethane Disc and released into the wild. Eamon's Day has known fabulous succes all over the world. Evaluation copies were sent out to magazines, website and radio stations and the reviews ranged from the very good to the outright extatic.
Luckily for US, album sales followed. A Japanese shop even sold over 200 copies in one month. Nothing special if you're a young busty pop minx, but for four mere mortal guys in a sympho outfit without a record deal... it's pretty astounding. Okay, it hasn't earned the band private jets and a home in the hills yet, but the album is definetely generating a cash flow. Jos even expects to be able to buy a whole new D string for his bass, and Peter is even saving up his profits for a shiny new beautiful plectrum! In the meantime, november 2003, US performed the opening slot on Dutch sympho festival ProgFarm. This was only the second time US performed live on stage, and the first time before an audience this attentive, knowledgeable and discerning. US played well and enjoyed good reviews for that gig. But a tour schedule was shelved after Jos revealed his new song ideas.
US re-entered The B'SUS studios in february 2004 to start recording these for the third album. The album was called "The Ghost Of Human Kindness" and features the heaviest parts US has ever played as well alongside true US-styled odd rhythms and lyrical passages. All in all US has become much more than just a re-birth of Saga. Not only have the individual musicians grown older and wiser but the band as a total is also much more mature and more than ever determined to produce the music it loves most: progressive, symphonic rock. Then Paul moved to Belgium, Peter took-up his study and Stephan has his own shop. Individual reasons not to spend much more time on US and again the band split-up.
Jos and Ernest decided not to wait and started recording the fourth album. This album; The Young and Restless, has been completed and released. Stephan's warm voice was no longer available but whilst looking for alternatives demo recordings revealed another possibility. So on TYAR you will hear Jos, Ernest and Marijke Wernars doing the vocals. The drums were added by guest drummer Joris ten Eussens. TYAR has been well received and provided sufficient encouragement to start recording a fifth album. It took Jos and Ernest less than a year to complete and release this new CD called “Reflections”. The Wernars brothers have decided to take a break and individually work out ideas or complete songs for a new album.
The sixth album; Climbing Mount Improbable, was recorded in 2007/8 and released in April 2008. No changes in personel compared to the previous album. As usual, most of the compositions were made by Jos. It's to early to say how this album is perceived but sales sofar have been encouraging. But than in 2008 Ernest decided to leave the band. It was a hard decision to make but because of health problems and the ongoing stress to keep a band alive he decided time had come to quit. A sad day since from the early days on Ernest had been a keyrole member of the group. Paul gone, and now Ernest had left to. It made me feel sad. Now Us was only me.
There have been numerous moments at which I sincerely considered to call it quits, but in the end music won.
I decided to give it another try and to do everything on my own. To keep a band alive is a very, very difficult thing, but to find new members maybe even more difficult. Moneywise it was also a big thing because new investments had to be made. I even considered to call the album and then there was one, but I decided not to do so because that would only feed the ever boring Genesis comparisations. It all resulted in the 7th album ' Everything changes'. A lot of things had to be re-invented because drums and keyboards had to be fitted in. Time had come to come forward that Joris ten Eussens had been an anagram to start with and that drums had been done by me anyway. Ernest and I chose to do so, right after Paul had left to keep the band idea alive. Somehow there seems to be a tendency that one man bands always run a litlle bit behind and we were now close to that. To replace Paul was a difficult thing to begin with since he had always been with US. He is a great drummer, as far as I am concerned potentially world class if he could only find the time to explore his many talents.
The recordings went well and funny enough the reviews were the same as usual. No big changes there, some like Us and some don't. Us seem to have listeners all over the world who very well accepted Us in its new form, so I felt encouraged enough to make an 8th one, Feeding the crocodile. Not an easy thing. The subject is quite controversial and making such a lenghty piece on your own is also a big task. The album came out and the same things happened all over again. Some people like US, some don't.
Than Paul re-appeared and we started working on US album number 10. Although Paul is living in Spain we can do that thanks to the ever evolving technical possibilities.
A Dutch reviewer once said that he thought of me as a swimmer against the tide and somehow I think that image is correct. I quess nobody really understands how difficult it is to hold a band together and to cope with disappointment on your own. My wife who helps me out with vocals, always manages to get me up my feet again. Sometimes it is devestating when you read what people think they may write about you. But luckily enough there have been many people, people who have to pay for their cd, who kept me going. Also people who have been with Us from the beginning, Yoshiko, Don, Peter, Chris, Will, Eric, Andy, Herald, Kjell, Angela and many more have kept me going, sending me mails asking when the next cd will be out. I personnally accept the fact that I cannot please everyone. Music is about strong personal taste, you like it, or you don't. That is good. There is much talk about renewal in musical style and I think that sucks. That is the biggest nonsense ever written and probably coming from people who don't have a clue what they are talking about. Once you have found your style, and that surely can be a new one, that is you and that is what you do. Only a few, only very few manage to alter their ways and come up with something completely different. Maybe small changes come from that but in the end things won't change that much. Why does nobody ever talk about renewal in other musical styles? In the seventies I once read a review about a new Yes album, which I thought it was great, whilst the reviewer spoke about dinosaurs and all such typical worthless metaphors. He left no stone unturned to show that he did not like Yes, to little rock and roll, (whatever that meant) nothing new. But the album they have made still stands, I still love it and Yes is still here. I wonder what has happened to the guy who wrote that stupid review . . . .?
THE SAGA OF US
THE MUSIC OF US
The-music-of-us: Jos Wernars