ASIA- the return

For a start I never thought it would ever happen!  I had loved Asia since they first burst onto the scene back in '82 and had listened to that first album 'time and time again' - in reality 'learning' about rock music from it.  I had been at Wembley for the first UK gig and had counted myself a fan ever since...

...Of course I like the first 3 albums best...perhaps my favourite ingredient in the Asia sound was always John Wetton's voice - I had also quickly become a big JW fan and had discovered UK (who are at LEAST the equal of Asia in my esteem and - at times - held in even higher regard). I bought the other Asia albums but it was always, to me, like an almost completely different band.  No disrespect to John Payne but JW's 'musical shoes' were just too big for anyone else to step into.  There was a magic gone from the compositions - that relentless minor key pounding topped by inventive melody lines...just impossible to recapture.  Having said that, there are some '2nd Asia' moments I still treasure - especially parts of 'Aura' and most notably 'Ready to Go Home.'  But I digress...

Bits of the 'proper' Asia had reformed several times in the interim - JW toured in the late 80s and early 90s but not with Steve Howe, and sometimes not even with Geoff Downes (John Young stepping in for a tour or so).  Then, in 2000 it seemed the 'dream' might be almost coming true!  Rumours of a reunion abounded but what materialised was 'Qango' - three quarters of the proposed Asia 'reunion' - JW, Carl Palmer and guitarist Dave Kilminster with John Young again filling the keyboard slot (quite admirably, of course!)  I saw the band and thoroughly enjoyed the concert, fully expecting it to be the nearest I would ever get to experiencing 'proper' Asia again.  I wasn't complaining - it was great - and to be able to include ELP songs like 'Bitches Crystal' and 'Fanfare', John Young classics like 'Last One Home' and the magnificent 'Battle Lines' alongside Asia classics made for a wonderful mix.  But is was still not 'Asia'.

I had always subscribed to artists' newsletters and, particularly, Dave Gallant's invaluable Armada to find out what was happening.  I still bought the Asia CDs (confession time...I bought 'Silent Nation on its release but, as of writing this in January 2007 have still not even listened to it) but then, in Autumn 2006, Armada announced a massive political upheaval:  Payne et al were 'gone' and not just John Wetton but also Steve Howe were BACK for a reunion 25th anniversary tour.  Amazing!  If it took Dave by as much surprise as it did, mixing regularly with the 'inner wheels' of the band just imagine how that news hit a fan like me!

My two sons are 15 and 13, both are learning guitars, bass and drums and I have always done my best to steer them towards what I regard as 'quality' music and, despite occasional lapses while growing up into SClub 7, Busted etc. this ploy, I'm pleased to say, has largely been successful.  Morgan, my eldest, has even met and spoken to John Wetton (who recognised him after the London gig!), Lew has been with me to see After the Fire, they  have always come to support me when I have played gigs etc. It was part of our Christmas present to all go together to the Carling Academy to see the reformed ASIA!

Expectations in the car going up with Alvin and Andre, the excitement of a proper rock venue queue, talking to other fans we'd never met before about other bands like the reforming It Bites, Kino and Frost* then perusing the merchandise stall (where I bought Rubicon - the 2nd Wetton/Downes/Icon CD - even better than the excellent first).  Climbing the stairs (and how many stairs!) to Level 3 and then...it began!

Morgan was transfixed throughout by Carl Palmer.  he didn't know it at the time but he was getting his own 'Flats' kit for Christmas.  He is now learning 'Heat of the Moment' and 'Time Again' with his band at school.  His mp3 player is full of Asia.  I think he enjoyed the show.

The stage was simple - especially compared to the extravagance of Wembley '82 - with Carl's kit considerably smaller (and without the 2 massive gongs he used to have - rather sadly, I thought!), Steve had his customary Persian carpet.  Steve looked and played very animatedly (for him!) in the gig.  The last few times I've seen him with Yes he has painted something of a pale, thin - almost skeletal - picture but tonight he even ventured off the carpet a few times!  (Even did a 'back to back' with the mobile Geoff late on!)  His playing was, as always, impeccable.

It was a shame I was so far away as I'd liked to have had more access to facial expressions but the music is paramount and it was great to enjoy the selection of songs chosen.  I have to say the Lew and I really enjoyed 'Video Killed the Radio Star' with the megaphone adding a great touch of authenticity to verse 1.  I had heard a bootleg of an early-reunion gig from America in which the band 'covered' the Yes classic, 'Roundabout'.  It was pretty bad, I have to say.  I remember saying to the boys that, if it was still in the set now I hope it had improved.  It had!  One of the highlights of part one!

Part two of the concert began acoustically with one of my favourites, 'The Smile Has Left Your Eyes' - then the stage went red and we were in 'The Court of the Crimson King' (something of a strange choice as none of the band were on the original recording - although ex-Asia stand-in Greg Lake was, of course).  John has featured the song many, many times in his solo shows (once , rather memorably, with the lyrics replaced by 'My Old Man's a Dustman!)

In a whirlwind of solos - Carl's drums, as ever, another treat - and favourite songs the gig proceeded towards its finale and the encores: a lovely acoustic rendition of the B-side track 'Ride Easy' and 'Heat of the Moment'.  By this time the crowd were completely 'into' the atmosphere, it was very evident that both they AND the band, were thoroughly enjoying the experience.

We stayed behind afterwards to try to purchase the live CDs produced 'on the night' but the uncomfortable and chaotic queuing system led to us giving up after an hour or so.  Still, it was nice to meet some old friends (hi Paul and April!) and even better to meet the band!!!  They came out to sign items bought on the night and/or ticket stubs.  I pushed my luck and handed over my item of treasure as well - a 12" picture disc of the Roger Dean painted first album cover.  Carl commented that there can't be many of those still around - well I guess there are even less personally signed by all 4 original band members!  But I've got one!  I could have been holding the crown jewels and was surprised to soon find myself almost as big a centre of attention as the queue for the band!  One American fan offered me 1000 there and then for it...but I haven't waited and dreamed for 20 years that one day I may get it signed to sell it within 5 minutes of 'mission accomplished'.  Unsigned it was the centrepiece of a picture disc gallery on my music studio wall.  Signed, it's moving to the front room!

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