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John Wetton interview

The Asia Reunion Tour - The John Wetton Interview 
 


 by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter

   As the current frontman of Asia, and a former member of UK, Uriah Heep, King Crimson, Wishbone Ash, and countless other projects, John Wetton has contributed his talents to some of the greatest records of all-time. Alongside veteran rock legends Geoffrey Downes, Carl Palmer, and Steve Howe, Wetton has been thrilling audiences around the world on the Asia 25th Anniversary Reunion Tour. I recently had an opportunity to ask this icon of rock royalty a few questions; and aside from some revealing musical details, what came to the surface was the fact that Wetton is a rejuvenated man, as well as a masterful musician.

First, one that you’re probably tired of answering by now, but how did the name of the band come about? I have heard that the name was the invention of Brian Lane, Asia's manager at the time, but why “Asia?”

“I remember the meeting in the office at Sun Artists in Notting Hill, West London. The name subject was on the agenda, and there were several names that flew around that afternoon, and Asia was dismissed fairly rapidly. Brian Lane did suggest it, but there seemed to be no interest. I don't mention this for any other reason than it stuck with me, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. My previous band, UK, was almost 'Alaska' (that became an album track)---also that goes back to me waking up in Tokyo in 1976, and seeing the sign for 'Akasaka' (a district of Tokyo), with bleary eyes, mistaking the Japanese print for 'Alaska'. Had 'Asia' been suggested then, I surely would have made a crusade for that to be UK's moniker, but I just couldn't see at the time it was staring me in the face. I'm glad now that it came to these four people. I liked the geometry of the A--A, four letters for four people, and Brian Lane liked the 'SI' in the middle standing for 'YES' He thought that would be a good omen. Little did I know then, but the rest of the letters would also be a great omen for me, too.”

How has writing songs with Asia, and primarily Geoffrey Downes, changed from 1982 to 2006?

“Very little, in that there is no formula. The process usually starts with one idea (occasionally there is a complete song, but rarely), and then snowballs from there. Geoffrey Downes and I write at a piano, usually the same one in my house where we wrote all the original Asia songs. We collaborate on music and lyrics. Sometimes I'll write the whole lyric--if I have a good direction--but collaboration is usual. People come horribly unstuck when trying to guess what our individual contributions have been, and we are quite compatible.”

Remembering back to the early days, ‘82-‘85, what would you say is the biggest change in this band?

“Me. I am not the same person I was.”

In an interview from April 2003, when talking about the famous “And now you find yourself in eighty two” lyric from “Heat of the Moment,” I have you quoted as saying, “'Eighty two' does not refer to the year, but to a location.” What location are you referring to in the song?

“It does refer to a venue, not a year. It is a very ordinary building on the corner of a very famous street in London's West End, just two streets away from the equally-famous Baker Street. If the reference had been to the year, it would have been apostrophized in the lyric, and I purposefully didn't do that. If you ever see it there (the apostrophe), it's been added, and not by me.”

“Heat of the Moment” originally appeared on the Atoll album, “Rock Puzzle.” Did you present the song idea to anyone else you were working with at the time, like Wishbone Ash?

“'Heat of the Moment ' did NOT appear on the Atoll CD, it was not written until the first album was nearing completion. There are references to Roger Dean's artwork in the lyric. (Editor Note: “You catch the pearl and ride the dragon’s wings”) I see no credit for Nostradamus.”

I’m sorry, John! With all of the talk about the lyric from the previous question, I have “Heat Of The Moment” stuck in my head now! I meant to say “Here Comes The Feeling,” of course, appeared on the Atoll album.

“'Here Comes the Feeling' was on 'Rock Puzzle', and was presented to Wishbone Ash in 1980, Miami. They preferred 'That's That', which is rockier and suited Wishbone Ash's ethos. 'Ride Easy' was also written during the time I was at Criteria Studios in Miami, but was not presented.”

Is it true that guitarist Eric Johnson was a member of U.K. before the band ultimately settled on Allan Holdsworth?

“It is not true. Eric opened for UK in '79, in Texas (after Holdsworth). We were mightily impressed with his phenomenal playing, and as a personality he was just right; good voice, too. But his management were not impressed with our overtures to their protégé. I never saw Eric after that, but I did see his name in lights …quite rightly.”

Looking back at your entire career, what song are you most proud of? In your opinion, what is the best song you’ve ever written?

“I do not know the answer to that question. Maybe I haven't written it yet.”

Out of the long set of music on this reunion tour, what song do you most enjoy playing live?

“When I get it right, I really enjoy 'In the Court of the Crimson King'. Much debate over whether it is ethically right for me to do that song, but it's a great piece of music, written by two friends of mine. I never sang that particular song when I was with King Crimson, but I've subsequently performed it several times with Ian McDonald. All of the acoustic stuff is a joy to sing.”

Do you listen to the up-and-coming bands out there today, and is there any artist that you are particularly impressed with?

“Not as much as I might.”

What could I find you listening to on the tour bus as you travel from city to city?

“As we don't travel by bus, that's unlikely, but I could be found listening to classical music on my Discman; Mahler, most popular classics, some not-so-popular, some female singer/songwriters (Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos), Peter Gabriel - anything good.”

What do you think of the Asia material that has been released over the years after you left the band?

“I've never listened to it, so I have no opinion. I heard a song from their first album, and I thought it was good, but…. By the way, I didn't leave the band.”

Over your lengthy career you’ve worked with everyone from David Cassidy to Robert Fripp to Ringo Starr. Is there anyone that you’ve always wanted to work with but have never gotten the chance?

“No, there isn't. I'm blessed to have worked with many wonderful people over the years, but I'm afraid that I would see the crack in some people if I volunteered to work with them. Having said that, I met Joni Mitchell once (she was with the same record label during the '80s), and I would jump at the chance to work with her. Such is her deity in my particular firmament, but I'd struggle to see in what capacity I'd be of any use.”

What is the fondest memory of your career?

“This morning.”

Can we look forward to a CD and/or a DVD of this Asia reunion tour?

“Yes. All being well, there will be a quality DVD and CD recorded in Japan next year (March '07). It will be good to document this particular moment in ASIA's development.”

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It was quite an honor bestowed upon me to be given this opportunity to talk with a true rock legend, and I want to thank everyone involved in making it happen - you know who you are. And, of course, extra special thanks to John Wetton for his talent and expertise as a musician, and his class and kindness as a human being.

 

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