Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Thank You For The Music: John Wetton

I never thought I'd be writing another Thank You For The Music so soon into 2017. I keep these pages for musicians who have passed that have had an influence in MY musical adventures over the years.

I met John Wetton. Only the once. It was after one of his solo gigs in the 90s. In Ebbw Vale of all places. But more of that later.

He was, and always will be, a musical giant. His influence has been widespread and his legacy is varied and interesting, which I hope to highlight in this page.

The first major band that John was associated with was Family. He was with Family in '71 & '72 and appeared on the Fearless and still influential Bandstand album.

Unlike his contemporary, Greg Lake, John was integral in several bands over the years. He brought his musicianship and melody to King Crimson in 1972 as he replaced Greg Lake in the band, His recording debut came with the album Larks Tongue In Aspic, released in 1973. He was singing lead and playing bass, exactly as Greg had done.

John was to stay with King Crimson until 1974 and appeared on another two seminal Prog Rock albums - Starless & Bible Black and Red and co-wrote the majority of the songs on both albums.

Following his successful stint in Crimson, John found his way  into another 70s English institution, Uriah Heep. Playing Bass, Keyboards and Vocals, he was with the band for two of their mid-70s albums, Return To Fantasy (1975)  and High & Mighty (1976). He even co-wrote a couple of songs, including Weep In Silence with Ken Hensley.

John was never shy of a collaboration and during the 1970s he appeared on record and played live with a multitude of the finest musicians and bands including Brian Eno, Roxy Music,  Phil Manzanera  and Yes man Peter Banks.

But in 1977, John formed his new band UK, with former band mate in King Crimson, Bill Bruford, violinist/ keyboardist Eddie Jobson and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. They released their eponymous debut album in 1978. John was the lyricist on all but one track and co wrote the music on all of the tracks. It featured John's soaring vocals and his ear for a good melody, which would serve him well throughout his career.

The debut was followed up in 1979 with the album Danger Money.

Following the demise of UK in 1979, John went on to record and release his first solo album, Caught In The Crossfire in 1980.

With all songs written by John himself it is the precursor to the mega success that would come to him in 1981 with the release of the first album by 'Supergroup' ASIA.

No-one expected the success of ASIA. I know, I was there in 1981! Everybody expected a Prog led debut considering the Prog pedigree of the band. John Wetton on Bass/Vocals (ex King Crimson), Geoff Downes (ex Yes/Buggles) on Keyboards/Vocals, Steve Howe (ex Yes) Guitars/Vocals and Carl Palmer (ex ELP) on Drums. But, what was released was a glorious slice of AOR. That was singles oriented and SO radio friendly. To say it took off in America is an understatement. It was the biggest selling album of the year in 1982.

With those classic Rock Star good looks and that amazing, soaring voice, John proved the ideal frontman for this new venture. The lead off single from the album was the brilliant Heat Of The Moment. To say Prog fans were shocked didn't tell the full story. Lots hated this new band - I loved 'em. The album spent nine weeks at the top of the US charts and went on to become 4x Platinum by the mid 1990s. Total worldwide sales reached over 10 million copies.

The follow up single Only Time Will Tell was another smash hit worldwide. With all tracks written by John Wetton & Geoff Downes, it was to be the start of a fruitful writing partnership and a lifetime friendship

This original line-up had one more album in them and a year later in 1983 the album Alpha was released. Although not reaching the dizzy heights of their debut, Asia found themselves with another number 1 US album and a couple of hit singles which remained popular in their sets all throughout their career.

Lead off single was Don't Cry.

As per the previous album, all songs were written by John & Geoff except the follow up single, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, which was written solely by John Wetton.

Following the perceived non-success of Astra and for whatever reason, John left the band in 1983.

John next appears on a project with Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera called Wetton Manzanera, which also featured Alan White from YES on drums in 1987. It's very much in the vein of what ASIA was producing in the early 1980s with all of the songs in the 3 or 4 minute mark. It's very much a product of the 80s but not a bad listen.

The 1990s saw John release a brace of solo albums. In 1994, in Japan only, Voice Mails is released. It is later re-released under the new title of Battle Lines. Very much in the vein of his earlier album release it contains some good work and proved that John hadn't lost his way with a melody.

In 1997, John released his next solo album, Archangel. 

Throughout the 1990s and beyond John also released many live albums recorded all over the world.

In 2002, John reunited with former ASIA colleague, Geoff Downes to form Icon. Taking a more Progressive path than their previous commercial route, the album contains some lovely work from both members and reignited the Wetton/Downes songwriting partnership that was such a force on the first two ASIA albums.

In 2006, ASIA regrouped in their original line-up following years of touring with various line ups and the start of the 'Two Bands' era of ASIA.
The original line-up released a new album in 2008, Phoenix. It was as if they'd never been away.

From 2006, there we two more Icon albums, 2 & 3 and three more ASIA albums - Omega (2010), XXX (2012) - after which Steve Howe left the band. Gravitas (2014) featured new young guitarist Sam Coulson, with all tracks again written by Wetton/Downes.

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, I met John Wetton. Only the once. It was in the early 1990s when he was touring alone. He booked to play a gig at Ebbw Vale in the Welsh Valleys. 
He arrived two and a half hours late because of travel problems he had no control over. Most people had left. We were an audience of about 10 waiting for John to turn up.
I'll never forget it. He came in - all dressed in white. Armed with a 12 string acoustic, he played for us 10. He didn't manage a full set because of the curfew in the hall. In fact, we actually went downstairs in the bar. But he played all the hits and even some Crimson. Later he talked to us in the bar. He gave me a hug - thanked me for staying to listen. We had a good chat about his music and his days in Crimson. I told him I especially liked his worked with U.K. - he seemed pleased at this and said he wished he had pursed it for longer. He was a genuinely nice guy, with no pretensions whatsover. A true gent.

Over the last year, John has been fighting a brave battle with cancer. In a brave move, he often posted about his fight on social media by talking about his illness and posting photographs from his hospital bed while getting treatment.

He met Robert Fripp again over the Christmas 2016 holidays and posted the photo below.

John with Robert Fripp

John finally fell to the disease today and died in his sleep this morning - 31st January 2016. He was posting positive messages on social media right up until this month. 
After his death, it was revealed that he had colon cancer.

He is survived by his wife Lisa and son Dylan.

But he also leaves a body of work that will show what a supreme legacy he has left for Music Fans and Musicians alike.

The Great Gig In The Sky has another excellent Bass Player and Lead Vocalist tonight. Rest In Peace John. You will be missed Sir.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, I loved his voice and song writing. He was special, I saw him in UK and Asia and he excelled. At least we can dig an album out and then he is still in the room.Dave