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ProgBlog goes to the Biennale Architettura 2018 in Venice but still manages to find prog connections - and a relatively new record store...

By ProgBlog, Feb 5 2017 07:20PM

I bought myself a bass guitar shortly after my 18th birthday, a sunburst finish Fender Precision copy with no manufacturer’s details. I was aware that there were hundreds of budding guitarists of my age, all with a head start over me, so I chose four strings instead of six, reasoning it would be easier to get into a band as a dedicated bassist. By this stage, with five years of listening to progressive rock under my belt, I’d also worked out what sort of bassist I’d like to be; I’d figured out there was a small cohort of what I called ‘classic English rock bassists’ who didn’t necessarily have the flash of their fusion counterparts but, despite the difference of rock idioms in which they operated, had a distinct harmonic style which suited their particular genre. Chris Squire’s bass work stood out; Martin Turner’s playing was perfect for the twin guitar approach of Wishbone Ash, propelling them to the verge of prog; Paul McCartney may have been highly regarded for his song writing but his bass was very inventive if somewhat understated; John Entwistle first used the high treble style that influenced Squire; and John Wetton.

My first bass
My first bass

I’d missed out on Wetton’s early career in Mogul Thrash and Family and my introduction to his playing was in 1974, hearing The Great Deceiver played on Alan Freeman’s Saturday radio show when Starless and Bible Black was released. A few months later a friend bought the outstanding Red (1974) and my brother Tony bought the ground-breaking Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973). As my appreciation for King Crimson increased, it became obvious that the bass and vocals of John Wetton were an integral part of the sound of the incarnation of King Crimson that convened in 1972, unbelievably forceful and inventive. It wasn’t until I found a copy of USA (1975) in the record store local to my hall of residence at the end of the decade that I began to understand the power of the group in a live setting; Asbury Park is probably my favourite Crimson improvisation. All this was without realising that the bulk of Starless and Bible Black and Providence from Red were live tracks but the Night Watch playback and CD in 1997 put everything into context, further clarified by the superb Great Deceiver box set where not only the alchemy of David Singleton but also the diary notes and reflections of Fripp, Cross and John Wetton allowed the awesome sound of the band in full tilt to be fully appreciated.


Wetton-era King Crimson LPs
Wetton-era King Crimson LPs

Wetton-era King Crimson box sets
Wetton-era King Crimson box sets

Following the demise of Crimson, I regarded Wetton’s move to Uriah Heep as a retrograde step, though his later move to Wishbone Ash for Number the Brave (1981) was of note, as I harboured a begrudging regard for the Ash. It just wasn’t of enough interest to make me go out and buy the album though I did think that Wetton’s bass playing was suited to the early Wishbone Ash style; restricting his song writing was evidently too much for him to take. As for the Roxy Music and Brian Ferry band period, I was never really interested in post-Siren Roxy. The touring arrangement with Roxy started before King Crimson officially ceased to exist, a temporary measure before Crimson was due to get back to touring. With shared management it was easy to help out friends (reciprocated on USA where Eddie Jobson provided violin overdubs) and helping to formulate Wetton’s next band.

The seemingly unlikely collaboration between Wetton, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman could have been amazing but the collapse of that project resulted in the formation of supergroup UK. Their eponymous debut (1978) was a slick progressive album with leanings towards jazz rock and quite different from long-standing progressive acts and newer groups like England. The song writing was mature with a coherent sound, as though the individuals were all treated as equals and were all pulling in the same direction. That meant it came as something of a shock when Bruford and Holdsworth departed, the former being replaced by an unknown (to me) Terry Bozzio and the guitarist not being replaced at all.


UK albums
UK albums

I didn’t manage to get to see the original quartet but I did manage to see the pared-down Danger Money incarnation of the band at Imperial College, their only British appearance before shooting off on tour to support Jethro Tull. As good as this gig was, my enthusiasm was tempered by the feeling that the band was under-rehearsed. Danger Money (1979) was a stylistic nod to the earlier progressive era but the balance present on the debut had gone, ushering in a radio-friendly verse-chorus-verse-chorus direction with shorter numbers like Caesar’s Palace Blues and Nothing to Lose, the latter released as a single. Despite the more commercial slant there are some classic prog moments, especially the Jobson organ work. The evocative Rendezvous 6:02, another outstanding but understated song, is one of my favourite Wetton tracks and I think his vocals would be the best they’d get

.

Caught in the Crossfire
Caught in the Crossfire

Wetton’s Jack-Knife project resulted in I Wish You Would (1979), an album recorded in Munich over 10 days. This was a reunion with Richard Palmer-James and covered material that the two played together in Tetrad. More a demonstration of his remarkable versatility, it included Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Eyesight to the Blind and a self-penned song called Mustang Momma - hardly challenging for the players or listeners. Presented in an awful cover, I gave my copy away to a charity shop. I have kept Wetton’s first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire (1980) where, despite a guest appearance by Martin Barre, the content is well removed from progressive rock; the track When Will You Realize? was apparently cited by Eddie Jobson as the song most responsible for the demise of UK.

The formation of Asia, Wetton getting back together with prog luminaries promised so much but I have to admit being disappointed with the end product. I wasn’t aware that he was deliberately choosing to depart from the band members’ pasts and eschew long instrumentals in favour of short songs, an approach that runs counter to my love of long-form. I dutifully bought the first three albums when they came out, Asia (1982), Alpha (1983) and Astra (1985) and even bought the compilation on CD Then and Now in 1990. I was pleased that the venture was successful though I was perturbed that Steve Howe appeared to have been ejected from the band after Alpha and was unable to work out why Wetton also left, to be replaced, briefly and somewhat ironically, by Greg Lake.


Asia albums and the 12" single The Smile has left Your Eyes
Asia albums and the 12" single The Smile has left Your Eyes

Towards the end of the 90s I went to see John Wetton with his band on three occasions, at the Astoria in Charing Cross Road, in Croydon and in Bromley. I didn’t really know what to expect but I thought his re-emergence, with progressive rock no longer a dirty word, was something to follow. I was able to track his progress over a couple of years from the quality of playing of the music that made up the set list, a mixture of Crimson, UK, Asia and solo songs, watching the evolution of the band. I wasn’t over-impressed with guitarist Billy Liesgang though drummer Tom Lang was good; these two were eventually replaced by Dave Kilminster and Steve Christey (ex-Jadis) respectively. Martin Orford was a constant and consistent presence on keyboards. A major highlight was in September 1997 when I saw him along with other members of the 72-74 King Crimson for the Night Watch playback at London’s Hotel Intercontinental. He performed a solo acoustic version of Book of Saturday and signed copies of the double CD at the end of the event. Sadly, mine was stolen from the boot of a taxi in Miami in 2003.

In 1998 I began subscribing to ARkANGEL, the official John Wetton ‘infomagazine’, a labour of love put together with a cheap word processing package by Gary Carter and it was through this fanzine that I discovered a host of Wetton solo material, adding Battle Lines (1994), Chasing the Deer (1998), Arkangel (1998), Hazy Monet (1998), Live at the Sun Plaza Tokyo 1999 (2000) and Sinister (2001) to the copy of Akustika (1995) I’d bought from the merchandise stand at the Astoria gig. The vast majority of this is well-produced AOR but there are some stand-out tracks like The Circle of St Giles and E-Scape and I enjoy all of Chasing the Deer. I also invested in a copy of the authorised Wetton biography, My Own Time by Kim Dancha, which is a bit short on detail and concludes in 1997.


ARkANGEL - The John Wetton infomagazine
ARkANGEL - The John Wetton infomagazine


John Wetton CD collection
John Wetton CD collection

Qango were a short-lived band that attempted to recreate the highs of prog. Alongside Wetton on bass and vocals were Carl Palmer on drums, John Young on keyboards and Dave Kilminster on guitar. I saw them play at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, using material from Asia and ELP, plus Wetton favourite All Along the Watchtower. They released a live album (Live in the Hood, 2000) but sadly, plans for a studio album were abandoned.


Qango played Croydon in May 2000
Qango played Croydon in May 2000

I managed to catch a re-formed UK at Under the Bridge in May 2012, a great venue with the right level of intimacy, somehow just right for the return of a premier-league prog act. The performance included more than just material from the two studio albums, notably Starless, Jobson’s favourite King Crimson song. Wetton and Jobson were joined on stage Alex Machacek who beautifully recreated the Holdsworth guitar licks and Gary Husband was an inspired choice to fill in on drums. It seemed to me that Wetton’s voice was a little strained at times but these moments were neatly covered with some effective echo; he managed to keep in tune throughout and hit the higher notes. I’m delighted I got to see the show.


UK at Under the Bridge, May 2012
UK at Under the Bridge, May 2012

John Wetton was one of the reasons I picked up the bass guitar. I followed his career from true prog great (the King Crimson improvisations) to polished AOR and though it’s his time with Crimson and UK that remain a highlight for me, all his work, the collaborations and the ‘solo’ material are all very much respected. Wetton’s death is another huge loss to the prog world.


John Wetton b. 12th June 1949 d. January 31st 2017

By ProgBlog, May 5 2015 09:36PM

The bass playing and vocals of John Wetton were an integral part of the sound of the incarnation of King Crimson that convened in 1972. I first became aware of Wetton in 1974 listening to The Great Deceiver which was played by Alan Freeman when Starless and Bible Black was released and this was reinforced a few months later when Guy Wimble, one of the Infield Park Gang (IPG), bought the outstanding Red (1974) and brother Tony bought the ground-breaking Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973). I managed to find a copy of the powerful but elusive USA (1975) when I moved down to London as a student from the local record store near my hall of residence, Elpees in Bexley.

His move to Uriah Heep after the break-up of Crimson didn’t make us rush out and buy Return to Fantasy (1975) or High and Mighty (1976) even though Wimble owned copies of The Magician’s Birthday and Demons and Wizards but his later move to Wishbone Ash for Number the Brave (1981) did rouse some interest, enough to look at the record sleeve in the shops, anyway. I’d have thought that Wetton’s bass style was suited to the early Wishbone Ash style; I’d class Martin Turner alongside Wetton in terms of sound and technique but when I first went to see Wishbone Ash in 1979 at Keele University, they were plying mindless boogie, despite having produced No Smoke Without Fire the previous year, an album many considered to be a return to form because of its leaning towards prog with the two-part Way of the World, a track that strongly reminds me of The Pilgrim from 1971’s Pilgrimage. Never truly prog, the Ash did have a rather annoying habit of following good albums with poor efforts. I was never really interested in post-Siren Roxy Music.

I didn’t manage to get to see the original quartet version of UK but I did manage to see the pared-down Danger Money incarnation of the band for their only UK appearance before shooting off on tour to support Jethro Tull. My enthusiasm for this gig was tempered by the feeling that the band was under-rehearsed. A mix-up with dates meant that I didn’t get to see the last ever UK gig on UK soil but I did see them at the same venue, Under the Bridge, in May 2012. The eponymous debut album was brilliant, arriving just in time to show that progressive rock had a future but the departure of Bruford and Holdsworth changed the balance of the band and though the trio were eminently able to cope with complexity, they chose to head in a radio-friendly verse-chorus-verse-chorus direction. Despite this, there are some classic prog moments on Danger Money, especially the Jobson organ work which seems to have inspired Adam Holzman; the evocative Rendezvous 6:02, though understated, is one of my favourite Wetton tracks and his vocals would be the best they’d get on this album.

When you think of Wetton’s contribution to Jack-Knife’s I Wish You Would (1979) it’s possible to imagine him playing that kind of material because of his remarkable versatility but it was hardly challenging for the players or listeners and that was the reason I gave it away to a charity shop after buying a copy I came upon by chance in a small, obscure record shop in Tooting in the early 80s. I didn’t really know what to expect before I bought it, with cover versions of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Eyesight to the Blind and a self-penned song called Mustang Momma yet somehow I was seduced by the inclusion of Richard Palmer-James in the line-up when the dreadful cover artwork should have been enough of a clue. Perhaps I was just being completist because I’d acquired the Jack-Knife album after finding Wetton’s first solo album, Caught in the Crossfire (1980) in a sale in WH Smith in Streatham. Despite a guest appearance by Martin Barre, Crossfire was quite removed from progressive rock; the track When Will You Realize? which is included here was apparently cited by Eddie Jobson as the song most responsible for the demise of UK. It’s slightly surprising that I never got rid of that, too.

I was originally looking forward to the first Asia album; Wetton was back with prog luminaries and the result could only be positive. I wasn’t aware that he was deliberately choosing to depart from the band members’ pasts and eschew long instrumentals in favour of short songs, an approach that I wasn’t going to enjoy. I dutifully bought the first three albums when they came out, Asia (1982), Alpha (1983) and Astra (1985), divesting the latter when I came across the part-compilation on CD Then and Now in 1990, disgruntled that Steve Howe appeared to have been ejected from the band after Alpha. Though I could have gone to see the reformed Asia at the High Voltage festival in 2010, I decided against it, preferring to spend my cash going to witness a reformed ELP who were headlining the next day.

Towards the end of the 90s I went to see John Wetton with his band on three occasions. The first was at the Astoria that used to stand in Charing Cross Road, in November 1996, where I didn’t really know what to expect. The material was a mixture of Crimson, UK, Asia and solo songs and I was impressed enough to buy Akustika – Live in Amerika (1996) from the merchandise stand. The support band turned out to be David Cross who was promoting his about-to-be-released Exiles (1997) which turned out to be uncompromising prog. Five months later I saw Wetton at Croydon’s Ashcroft Theatre and in September 1997 I saw him along with other members of the 72-74 King Crimson for the Night Watch playback at London’s Hotel Intercontinental where he performed a solo acoustic version of Book of Saturday. In November 1998 I saw him play in a room at the Pavilion, Bromley. His band evolved over these performances and I used Starless as a measure of their competence; guitarist Billy Liesgang wasn’t too impressive though drummer Tom Lang was good and these two were eventually replaced by Dave Kilminster and Steve Christey (ex-Jadis) respectively. Martin Orford was a constant and consistent presence on keyboards.

In 1998 I began subscribing to ARkANGEL, the official John Wetton ‘infomagazine’, a labour of love put together with a cheap word processing package by Gary Carter who doubled-up as merchandise stallholder; I submitted a review or an op-ed but it didn’t get printed even though it seemed like Carter was forever haranguing the readership for material. This still exists in email format and a link can be found on the official website http://johnwetton.com

It was through ARkANGEL that I discovered a host of Wetton solo material and added Battle Lines (1994), Chasing the Deer (1998), Arkangel (1998), Hazy Monet (1998), Live at the Sun Plaza Tokyo 1999 (2000) and Sinister (2001). The vast majority of this is well-produced AOR but there are some stand-out tracks like The Circle of St Giles and E-Scape and I enjoy all of Chasing the Deer. To complete my collection I invested in a copy of the authorised Wetton biography, My Own Time by Kim Dancha, which concludes in 1997.

Qango were a short-lived band that attempted to recreate the highs of prog. Alongside Wetton on bass and vocals were Carl Palmer on drums, John Young on keyboards and Dave Kilminster on guitar. I saw them play at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon, using material from Asia and ELP, plus Wetton favourite All Along the Watchtower. They released a live album (Live in the Hood, 2000) but sadly, plans for a studio album were abandoned


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