Until I went to Music College in 1981 I suppose you could say I had not listened to a lot of different music genres. Our house was filed with the sound of my dad's favourite brass bands, breakfast was accompanied by Terry Wogan's radio programme. In my early teens I had discovered Harry Nilsson* and, through him, I discovered The Beatles. Record collecting had become my passion and I fondly recall the days when I would go shopping for vinyl; scouring record shops for bargains, rarities etc. Suffice to say I had all Nilsson albums, all Beatles albums and all the solo Beatles product as well. At the same time I was just getting into The Beach Boys, I remember. I had tried dabbling in Rock a few times but had never been able to drag myself away from my favourites for very long - I had even seen Thin Lizzy live at Newcastle City Hall...I quite liked them for a while...
Anyway, I digress! At college my best friend was Alvin Allison, whom I had met through summer Music Camps half a decade before (and we later performed together in 'Blood and Fire', 'Cross Purposes' and 'The Big Picture'). Alvin was a big 'Yes' fan and for every attempt I made to introduce him to Pet Sounds or 'Son of Schmilsson' he would play some 'Yes' or thrust a Rick Wakeman tape into my hands! Although I found this complex music, heavier than I was used to, hard to understand and, hence, enjoy something eventually rubbed off on both of us and my tastes soon changed to incorporate Progressive Rock...I could go vinyl shopping again for 'Yes', 'Genesis' and Rick Wakeman music! I remember exactly what sparked my 'awakening'...
Sitting at home during a college holiday I read in my dad's Daily Mirror that a 'supergroup' was about to be formed which would involve 2 ex-members of Yes (Steve Howe and Geoff Downes - not that I knew who they were! Incidentally, I knew who Carl Palmer was as I had bought the (ELP) LP 'Pictures at an Exhibition' from my high school History teacher for 75p!). This was 'impressive' news I could take back to my friend, at least. However, it was me that went to Woolworths and bought the record the day it released. I sat in my 'digs' and put it on the turntable...it didn't get taken off for several weeks: the guitar work was spectacular, I loved the sounds made by the synths, Palmer's powerful drumming and, most of all, THAT VOICE!
It belonged to John Wetton.
John is a singer and bassist who was born in Derby in 1949. He is best known today for his work with Asia but he has played and sung with many bands and produced a large and excellent solo output too. Before long I had added a bit more Wetton to my collection: his solo album 'Caught In The Crossfire' (which contained 2 'instant favourites' in 'Cold is the Night' and 'Woman'). Alvin wasted no time at all in making a second attempt to get me to listen to a live album 'Night After Night' by Wetton's previous band 'UK'. That was IT! That album is THE BEST live album, by any band, ever in the history of Rock Music! I found my own vinyl copy and picked up the first, eponymous 'UK' album as well. Their 2nd album, 'Danger Money' took me LOTS longer to find...it became my next 'Holy Grail' until I tracked it down in a little record shop in Ipswich!
I saw Asia play Wembley in October 1982 (supported by Chris Bliss who juggled with fluorescent balls and came up with the best put down line for a heckler I've ever heard). The band were so distant, so far away...it seemed as if they belonged to a different world from the one I inhabited. I would never have dreamed then that 20 years later I would get to know John personally, chat about the music, Chris Bliss, our Welsh roots, our sons. I discovered that John and I have remarkably similar tastes including tremendous respect for Brian Wilson (about whom John wrote 'Voice of America'), Frank Dunnery (John's favourite Dunnery track is 'Underneath Your Pillow') and, of course, The Beatles. (I must ask him what he thinks of Nilsson one day...)
Since he left Asia for the last time in 1990 John has concentrated much more on his solo career and has produced 4 wonderful solo albums, 'Battle Lines' (or 'Voicemail' - depending on where you live), 'Arkangel', 'Sinister' (or 'Welcome to Heaven') and, most recently, 'Rock of Faith'. The first 3 of these form a trilogy and there are strong musical and spiritual links between them. Another link, relevant, to these pages is that each of the albums feature songs by John Young, who has played keyboards for many John Wetton tours and played with Asia for a short time. In addition to the studio albums John has released a plethora of live recordings in the last ten years, some with a full band, others acoustic but all giving us new takes of favourite songs.
In 2000, following a failed attempt to reform the original Asia line-up Johns Wetton and Young, Carl Palmer and Dave Kilminster formed 'Qango' - a short-lived but exciting combo for 2 UK tours and a limited edition live CD. John also sang and played with Steve Hackett in 1996 in superb concerts that were recorded for posterity and are now available on CD and DVD.
The music of 'UK', 'Asia' and John's solo albums have become essential parts of my collection. I now listen to John Wetton as much, if not more than, any other artist. His last solo album 'Rock of Faith' did not leave my car stereo for months after its release. I think what makes John's music stand out from the rest is DEPTH. While so much modern music is amazingly shallow here we have an artist who is prepared to bare his soul and dig deep within himself to give the listener more than just good music...John gives us an insight on life, with all its ups and downs (just compare the exhilaration of 'No Ordinary Miracle' with the pain of 'After All'.)
John Wetton's voice is, in my opinion, the best in the Rock world. Its power, sustaining ability, timbre and dynamic range are unique, while he can also convey emotion and fervour. I believe his best vocal performance of all can be heard on the song 'Battle Lines', title track of the album and theme song for the movie 'Chasing the Deer'. (I had the privilege of singing this great song myself in an outdoor Music Festival in Norfolk last year with my band 'The Big Picture' - hear an excerpt of my attempt to emulate a hero here)
In 2004 John released his next solo album 'Rock of Faith'. It took me a few plays to get into (some of the best albums I've ever heard did!) but it soon became a firm favourite and still holds that place today. He did not tour the new album as extensively as he had some others in the past but, possibly, his health problems at the time were at least partly responsible. In her official biography, 'My Own Time' Kim Dancha referred John to as a 'recovering alcoholic' yet many occasions when I met him during this period he may have admitted to not being as 'in recovery' as he had once been...
After taking some time out to recover he burst back onto the rock scene with a wonderful exclamation of triumph in the opening words of the first Icon album - "Stone cold sober...So glad it's over!" That said it all - life was very much on the up again for John and a hectic burst of creative work has followed since. Icon is a band John formed with ex-Asia keyboard player Geoff Downes. A swift follow-up 'Icon II - Rubicon' followed and, if anything is even better than the first.
Then came the news most JW fans had been waiting for for years - he was to return to Asia along with Steve Howe to reform the original line-up for the first time since the early 1980s. Wow!
I took my two sons to the Carling Academy for the gig on 3rd December, 2006 for a gig I didn't really even dream would ever happen. Even better, they released the gig on a double CD immediately afterwards and I got to meet and speak to the whole band - getting my 12" picture disc of their first album signed by all the original members at the same time. On the way out of the concert an American fan offered me £1000 on the spot for it! It's worth much more than that to me!
A massive tour is being assembled for the 25th Anniversary Tour in 2007. In the words of another Kohn Wetton song - "I'll Be There"
My review and pictures from the recent London concert
(a full list of the bands/artists JW has played with is listed below)
1969: Mogul Thrash (bass/vocals)
1971: Family (with Roger Chapman)
1972-74: King Crimson (with Robert Fripp)
1974: Roxy Music (with Bryan Ferry)
1975: Uriah Heep (with Ken Hensley)
1976: The Bryan Ferry Band
1978-80: U.K. (with Eddie Jobson, Alan Holdsworth, Bill Bruford and Terry Bozio)
1978: Jack Knife (with old school-friend Richard Palmer-James)
1982-84, 1985-89, 1990: Asia (with Geoff Downes, Carl Palmer, Steve Howe and others)
1996: Steve Hackett (with Chester Thompson, Ian MacDonald and more)
2000: Qango (with Carl Palmer, Dave Kilminster and John Young)
2005: Icon (with Geoff Downes, John Mitchell and Steve Christey)
2006: Asia (again)
*for further information about this encounter click here
The official John Wetton Website
another excellent JW fan page with full discography
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