Olias of Sunhillow

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Olias of Sunhillow
Jon anderson olias of sunhillow album cover.jpg
Studio album by Jon Anderson
Released 24 July 1976 (1976-07-24)[1]
Recorded 1975–1976
Studio Seer Green, Buckinghamshire, England
Genre Progressive rock
Length 44:10
Label Atlantic
Producer Jon Anderson
Jon Anderson chronology
Olias of Sunhillow
Song of Seven

Olias of Sunhillow is the first studio album by English singer, songwriter, and musician Jon Anderson, released in July 1976 on Atlantic Records. It is a concept album which tells the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world following a volcanic catastrophe. Anderson recorded all of the music and vocals himself.


In August 1975, the Yes line-up of singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, and keyboardist Patrick Moraz, completed their 1974–1975 tour in support of their seventh studio album, Relayer (1974).[2][3] The group then decided to take a break in group activity for each member to make a solo album. Having toured and recorded constantly for the past five years, they felt the time was right for a rest.[2]



For his solo effort, Anderson wished to present a concept album which told a "semi-science fiction" story inspired by the artwork that Roger Dean had designed and illustrated for Yes's fourth album, Fragile (1971).[4][5] Dean's first piece of work for the group, the front cover depicts a tiny planet breaking apart and a glider escaping into space, which Anderson adapted into the story with additional inspiration from the novel The Initiation of the World by writer, painter, and mystic Vera Stanley Alder and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by writer J.R.R. Tolkien.[5] Regarding the story, Anderson has admitted "it's not that well mapped out - there's a vague interpretation of a planet and four tribes being representative of rhythm, scale and bell tones creating sound around scale, and chorale... I just thought of the story as three magicians coming out of space to take these tribes from one planet to another to save them from destruction. It's a very simple story really, it isn't so complicated. I hope it will be taken on a level without people thinking there are any hidden meanings."[4]


The planet Sunhillow is home of four tribes, Nagrunium, Asatranius, Oractaniom and Nordranious,[4][5] each of whom represent a different aspect of "music consciousness", which comes under threat of a catastrophic eruption of its "harnessed volcano". Olias is the chosen architect of an ark named the Moorglade Mover to fly Sunhillow's people to a new planet. Ranyart is the harp-playing navigator of the glider, and Qoquaq (pronounced "ko-quake") is the mystic who unites the four tribes to leave the planet together.[6][2]

Olias fashions the Moorglade Mover by persuading Sunhillow's trees and fish to sacrifice their lives and substance to form it, while Qoquaq travels across Sunhillow using trance singing to bring together the mutually suspicious tribes to unite and board the ship. With the population on board and in a collective trance, the ship leaves Sunhillow just before the planet explodes "into millions of silent teardrops". As the glider travels through deep space, the refugees succumb to the mysterious Moon Ra, a force of disorientation. Creating "an evil form" out of their panic and frustration, they are reassured and reunified by Olias through his singing of "chords of love and life".

The Moorglade Mover lands on the plains of a new planet named Asguard, and the tribes disembark and go their separate ways. Their mission completed, Olias, Ranyart, and Qoquag ascend the highest of Asguard's mountains in order to sleep and "become one with the universe".[6][4]


Since Anderson produced Olias soon after Vangelis had auditioned to be a part of Yes, there has been widespread speculation that Vangelis contributed to the album.[citation needed] Both Vangelis and Anderson have denied that they collaborated on the album. Vangelis has, however, been vocal in his praise of the finished work: ""When the record came out, the people of RCA with whom I am under contract invited me and told me it wasn't very nice to have played on the record, without warning. But that's ever more curious since I haven't played on it and they were convinced of having recognized my sound. I myself was very surprised it had my name on the thank you-list. Maybe I have influenced Jon, I don't know. And it's clear that it's closer to this than you get with Yes. But maybe it's a coincidence. In any case, it's a formidable feat there is such a record when it features like Jon a debutante on keyboards. I believe the record represents more the way he is than what he does with Yes, no offense intended…. Jon Anderson is not an instrumentalist in the old sense of the term and yet he has made, with lots of effort, a marvelous record."[7]

In various interviews, Anderson has stressed that the album was in part created as a statement of independence and personal skill. Interviewed by Chris Welch of Melody Maker in 1976, he admitted "having thought about doing an album, and wanting to learn about music, that gave me the main push. Many is the time I've talked to the guys in the band about music, and I realised if I was going to learn something about structures and possibilities, I'd have to go away for along time and be taught. Basically, the idea of doing the album was this self-taught approach. Halfway through the album I realised I was learning a lot about my possibilities - and non-possibilities! You just find out where you're at in being able to express yourself. It was an intense period of time."[4] When interviewed about the album in Team Rock in 2016, Anderson remembered that "I wanted to come out feeling like I had achieved something because (in Yes) I was always relying on other people to create the work. Doing it on my own gave me the chance to create something unique."[2]

The album represented eight months of physical work, but it took two years from conception to release (even delaying a proposed Yes tour of Japan to enable Anderson to complete the record). Working in a home studio he'd set up in a converted garage in his house at Seer Green, Buckinghamshire, Anderson worked a steady stream of ten-hour days in order to achieve his aims, accompanied only by Yes sound engineer Mike Dunne (who operated the recording desk). Anderson has commented "Mike... was very involved on the engineering and I needed somebody there to help me and get the right sound. When it came to mixing, it was what I wanted to hear. Mike was more than the second man, he was part of the mix."[4]

Anderson used more than a hundred tracks in putting the album together, overdubbing all of the vocals and instruments himself.[4] He confessed to Chris Welch that "the album took a lot longer than I anticipated and obviously there were points when I didn't think I was going to finish it, and that I was going to end up a nervous wreck."[4] In an interview with Best magazine in 1977, he also confessed "I do not claim to be a master of the keyboards or percussions but I find that what I've pulled off attracts me and sounds right. What counts is not the technical ability, but the accuracy of what one does at the moment when it is done, however modest that might be."[8]

Although previous Yes tours had seen him play passable support guitar and percussion onstage, Anderson drastically improved his musical skills for Olias, becoming a multi-instrumentalist for the album sessions. In 1976, he reminisced to Chris Welch, "at the beginning of the (Yes) American tour (of 1975) I started collecting instruments. I bought a harp after listening to harp music for six months. I just had to have one... I've so much to learn in technique on any instrument. But being able to play a tune was enough. I couldn't say I've mastered the art of playing harp, but I can play a tune on it. In ten years I might be able to play it fully. But the initial step has been taken. I couldn't read any music either - that's another thing I've got to learn. But that's what we've been doing with Yes for so long - remembering things."[4]

In addition to learning harp, Anderson also taught himself to perform parts on wooden flute, Asian bells, sitars, Moog synthesizer and Turkish saz. He still considered his voice his primary instrument, using multiple overdubs (as he had on Yes' Fragile track "We Have Heaven") and creating impressions of new languages as part of the orchestration process. ("Those words were a solo for my voice. I couldn’t play a solo on an instrument so I used my voice instead. The different language was a vocal exercise. I still do that now. If I don’t have a lyric, I make a sound. On Olias, I sang it and sang it until we created twenty voices and finished up with this tangible energy.")[2]

The album made the Top 10 in the British album charts (reaching No. 8) and also made the Billboard Top 50. Very little of it has ever been performed live. Although "Ocean Song" was performed by Yes during the band's 1976 "Solo Albums" tour of American (as an ambient show opener), as with the other solo tracks in the initial setlist it was dropped after the first few weeks of touring.[2]


Despite repeated requests from Anderson, Roger Dean was too busy to commit to the album design, so instead the album sleeve features a series of artworks by the artist David Fairbrother Roe, RA (whose other work included graphics for the Isle of Wight Festival, NazarethHair of the Dog, and the Dragonflight novels of Anne McCaffrey).


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[9]

The album was released in July 1976 on Atlantic Records. The album peaked at number 8 on the UK and number 47 in the United States.[10]


Writing in RAM in July 1976, Bob Edmunds described the album as being "as impressive as anything Yes have produced collectively... Musicians with greater skills (e.g. Mike Oldfield) have created instrumental works on this scale but have always been denied access to the wonderful instrument of Jon Anderson's voice. Endless tours have done nothing to detract from one of the richest, purest voices in rock…. Olias has a continuity of intensity rarely found on any album, let alone one this ambitious. It won't go down too well with those who reject anything except full-tilt rock'n'roll. But there's no way you can deny the sheer grandeur of Jon Anderson's music, no matter what opinions you hold about rock."[11]

In Allmusic, Dave Connolly concludes "the idea may seem overly ambitious, but Anderson fills the record with enough magical moments to delight fans of Yes' mystic side... at no point does the music lose its spellbinding effect for lack of sonic detail. Olias of Sunhillow is faithful to the spirit of Yes, though decidedly more airy than that band's visceral style - its closest comparison would be Fragile's "We Have Heaven" or Going for the One's "Wonderous Stories" (which was clearly influenced by this record) on the vocal tracks, and Greek progressive electronic composer (and future Anderson collaborator) Vangelis on the instrumental tracks.... Olias of Sunhillow is not the missing Yes album some might hope it to be, though it does prefigure the later Jon & Vangelis collaborations of the '80s."[12] Writing on his own Progrography website, Connolly has also commented that "it's not a stretch to say that Olias of Sunhillow looks and sounds like (Roger) Dean's previous Yes artwork come to life. Since Anderson himself handles all the instruments, the album is an airier affair than Yes, and yet at the heart of these songs is the same captivating, intoxicating core that the singer brought to that band.... Olias of Sunhillow is the one Anderson album most likely to please Yes fans, immersed as it is in their mystical aura. It's also a gorgeously packaged product (in LP form, anyway), which helps set the mood immeasurably."[13]

Writing about Olias of Sunhillow on his Mewsings blog in 2009 (thirty-three years after the album's initial release), Murray Ewing reflected "there’s a dangerous swerve towards the New Age in Anderson’s first solo album, both in the optimistic whimsy of its fantasy world, and the musical palette of soft, sparkling synths and world instruments. Thankfully, it easily escapes that particular doldrum of musical hell through sheer energy (on the musical front) and sheer weirdness (on the fantasy front). This isn’t music to attune your chakras to, it’s adventurous, full of drama, uplifting melodies, evocative soundscapes, and a fresh unearthliness that makes it the only fantasy album I can think of which genuinely sounds like it could have come from another world."[14]


The album has been released several times. A recent US CD release was by Wounded Bird Records on 28 February 2006. Contrary to some earlier releases it presents all the artwork, but very small,. Some earlier cd-releases don't show all the original artwork and only part of the story, since they left out pages 3-6 of the original vinyl album. The Japanese pressing on MMG Inc/Atlantic AMCY-18 presents the complete artwork in a booklet, like the vinyl version with 8 pages (including frontcover and backcover).

The album was reissued in January 2014 on SACD by Audio Fidelity.


In 2004, Jon Anderson called for collaborators to contact him via his website. He described a project that would be a "return to Olias".

In 2006, around the time Olias of Sunhillow was re-released, Anderson announced that he was making a sequel called The Songs of Zamran: Son of Olias.

In late 2008, he announced on his Myspace page that he was hoping to finish the sequel soon.

In a Rockline interview on 20 July 2011, Anderson was asked about the sequel. He said that he hoped to have the first bits of Zamran out in a year.

In late 2012, a web site was launched (www.sevendragons.org/zamran now closed) entitling it Zamran Experience, showing a short preview and describing it as "an interactive audio-visual album".

On 3 January 2013, Anderson confirmed he was still working on The Songs of Zamran: Son of Olias.[15]

Track listing[edit]

Words and music by Jon Anderson.

Side one
1."Ocean Song"3:12
2."Meeting (Garden of Geda)"/"Sound Out the Galleon"3:28
3."Dance of Ranyart"/"Olias (To Build the Moorglade)"4:14
4."Qoquaq Ën Transic"/"Naon"/"Transic Tö"7:03
5."Flight of the Moorglade"3:22
Side two
1."Solid Space"5:16
2."Moon Ra"/"Chords"/"Song of Search"12:48
3."To the Runner"4:26


  • Mike Dunne – engineer
  • Brian "It's Going Now" Gaylor – electronics
  • John Martin – co-ordination, equipment, goodies
  • Brian East – mastering at RCA
  • Dave Roe – illustrator, designer
  • Hipgnosis – art direction
  • Jeff Cummings – portrait
  • Richard Manning - portrait colouring


  1. ^ Joel Whitburn, Joel Whitburn's top pop albums, 1955–1992, Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, ISBN 0-7935-6677-0
  2. ^ a b c d e f Blake, Mark (15 July 2016). "The Story Behind Jon Anderson's debut solo album Olias Of Sunhillow". Louder Sound. Retrieved 18 June 2018. 
  3. ^ Sullivan, Steve. "Yes Shows – 1970s – 1975". Forgotten Yesterdays. Retrieved 18 June 2018. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Welch, Chris (5 June 1976). "Jon Anderson's Fairy Tales". Melody Maker. Retrieved 18 June 2018. 
  5. ^ a b c Crescenti, Peter (26 October 1976). "The Sunhillow Saga". Circus. Retrieved 18 June 2018. 
  6. ^ a b Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow - story page on dedicated Olias website
  7. ^ "Vangelis, the Master" - Vangelis interview by Hervé Picard in Best' magazine, 1977 (translated from French by Ivar de Vries, hosted on Elsewhere - the Independent Vangelis Website
  8. ^ "Jon Anderson and the miracle of Olias" - Jon Anderson interview by Hervé Picard in Best' magazine, 1977 (translated from French by Ivar de Vries, hosted on Elsewhere - the Independent Vangelis Website
  9. ^ Connolly, Dave. Album review Olias of Sunhillow at AllMusic. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  10. ^ Charles Snider, The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock, pg. 232, Strawberry Bricks (2008), ISBN 0-615-17566-X
  11. ^ Review of ‘’Olias of Sunhillow’’ by Bob Edmunds in ‘’RAM’’, July 1976 (hosted on ‘Yes in the Press’ website)
  12. ^ Olias of Sunhillow album review at AllMusic, by Dave Connolly (retrieved 17 August 2011)
  13. ^ Olias of Sunhillow review by Dave Connolly in Progrography, 2002
  14. ^ "Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow" - article by Murray Ewing in Mewsings, 21 June 2009
  15. ^ "Jon Anderson Still Working on Sequel to Olias of Sunhillow (by Sterling Whitaker)". ultimateclassicrock.com. 3 January 2013. Retrieved 7 February 2016. 

External links[edit]