Tag Archives: UK

Dear John

John Wetton just passed away. Many fans have known that this brave and talented artist had been fighting cancer, going through successive treatments that did not lead to recovery. I didn’t know John, only met him twice, but I love his work and have great respect and admiration for his life and journey. The verses and choruses of his greatest music have been running through my head this morning since waking to read the sad announcement. He was and will be remembered as one of the most important and prolific rock artists of our time.

Just want to say a few things, without a deep encyclopedic review of the man and his work. While John lent his time to several projects early in his career, the first really impactful music I heard from the man was from his work with King Crimson. Back when we used to accost our friends to exclaim, “listen to this record!” one of mine handed me two LP’s – wettonjohn2017_crimson_lark_72dpiCrimson’s Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (1973) and Starless And Bible Black (1974). I found this music cast a kind of strange spell while at the same time being aurally shocking, challenging beyond belief, utterly lacking in the kind of sound that would attract anyone but serious musicians. It captivated me and made me a lifelong fan of those who contributed. These two albums capture almost everything that made John such a compelling songwriter, player and vocalist. To be sure, his work on that thunderous monster bass was often stunning – take “The Talking Drum,” a relentless dissonant instrumental driven by Bill Bruford’s tuned toms and John’s four-string attack. The momentous sound of his bass could and sometimes did overwhelm the mix in concert. Full stop… one great bass player.

But what always stuck with me, and kept me collecting John’s work through the next 40 years was his truly golden expressive voice. There was a majestic power to that voice, an incredible sustain and phrasing that alternated between sarcastic and sublime, often with a touch of vibrato but more frequently long clear pitch-perfect tones. This was a voice tailor made for progressive rock, particularly on those songs that seemed to come from an earlier time, that pre-industrial acoustic-meets-electric modern renaissance. Take his gorgeous vocal on “Book of Saturdays” and lines such as “Every time I try to leave you, You laugh just the same.” Or, something more intense and biting from “Easy Money” “Getting fat on your lucky star… Making easy money.” John had an uncanny ability to deliver what dynamic prog music demanded, a lead vocal that could easily flex between gentle and more violent passages. Right from the start, that voice had everything in its arsenal -a yearning that brought the blues, a bite, a howl for justice, a plea for sanity, or just a call to celebrate.

wettonjohn2017_uknancover_72dpiAfter Crimson’s untimely disbandment in 1974, John cast about a bit, eventually forming U.K. with prog luminaries, a band that racked up just two albums followed by a live one taken from the tour I saw, their sophomore outing supporting Danger Money when they opened for Jethro Tull in 1979 as a three piece. This legendary band, though short-lived, tops my list for great Wetton compositions played with maximum dynamics by virtuoso musicians Eddie Jobson, Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth and Terry Bozzio. To a great extent, while similar to Crimson in dynamics, this work finds John in his best voice, alternating between near ballads like “Renevous 6:02” and “Ceasar’s Palace Blues.”

When this outfit also broke up, John released his first solo album, which made clear that he was well capable of writing music that was easier on the ears, more major tones, a bit less minor. With this under his belt, John went on to form “super group” Asia where he found the commercial success that had eluded his more musically challenging work of the 70s. With the debut Asia album John finally made a more accessible form of pop music that also captured a wider audience. The concert in support of the album was unforgettable, a master class in prog and pop that I will never forget. I’ve seen him live in concert numerous times over the years, and never saw a lazy or subpar performance, even when he had a cold or off night.

John left behind a large catalog of solo work, and collaborations with so many peers, including most notably keyboard player Geoff Downes and guitarist Phil Manzanera. These albums explore every facet of the rock art – some jazz-infused, some progressive, most really essential rock music with some pop to balance it all out. He worked tirelessly, releasing numerous albums, touring frequently. Sure there were some bumps in the road, but there is so much treasure in the man’s large catalog of music that it will stand the test of time as a major contribution to the form.

wettonjohn2017_arkangelcover_72dpiMy favorite moment of John’s is on his 1998 solo album Arkangel. It reportedly came at a time of personal challenges for this artist, and it’s hard not to consider the title track and some of the content overall as autobiographical. Opening with a crack of thunder, this powerful tome includes fitting lyrics for the fighter:

You are my arkangel, my heart and my right hand
When in the face of danger we stand

The danger is over, the artist now quieted, rest in peace John Wetton, safe journey.

wettonjohn2017_withuk_72dpi

Because John is featured in my book for his work with both U.K. and King Crimson, I searched for months for photos of the man, and fortunately discovered Lisa Tanner, one of the great photographers of the era, who captured this really beautiful shot of John and his frets…thank you Lisa!

Cruise to the Edge Returns to Port

Still reeling a bit from 5 days out to sea witnessing a terrifying battle between two sea monsters… wait, no, that’s a different story – ahem – 5 days at sea bearing witness to at least a dozen progressive rock concerts on the wonderful Cruise to the Edge voyage.  Met and interviewed band members – many who are musical heroes to me, made new friends, and took in some sun & sand besides. On the plane now heading back to San Francisco, thinking about the highlights:

P1000501 Three Friends (now two – featuring former members of Gentle Giant – Gary Green (guitar), and Malcolm Mortimer (drums)):  The talented band they assembled played three full sets, varying the selections each time, including “Alucard” from their debut, four from Acquiring the Taste including the searing “The House, The Street, The Room”, and four from Three Friends including “Prologue” (the opener for each show), “Schooldays” (yes, really, live!), “Mister Class and Quality” and “Three Friends”.  Among other mid period tracks, they did several from their masterworks, Octopus, In A Glass House, Power and the Glory, and Free Hand.  I’ll have a lead story on these shows and an interview with guitarist Gary Green in an upcoming post.

Premiata ForneriP1000195a Marconi (PFM): This will be the subject of a second lead story which will include an interview with the three primary band members and I’ll have a review of their latest Pfm in Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration. PFM has seldom made it to the states after the 1970’s other than the east coast Nearfest dates some years ago, and time has not diminished their musical prowess in concert.  The band tore through tight renditions of “La Luna Nuova” (Four Holes in the Ground), “Mr. Nine ‘Till Five” (including the “alta loma” coda), “Romeo E Giulietta” (from the beautiful new Mozart orchestrated disc) and the ever popular “Celebration.”  At their main stage show they included the songs “Promenade the Puzzle” from their first English language release Photos of Ghosts (1973) and “La Carrozza di Hans” from their first Italian release Storia Di Un Minuto (1972).  PFM earned many new converts among the cruisers with these fine shows.

P1000777Marillion: This show was a real surprise for me Thursday night on the cruise.  I’ve not had the chance to experience this band but we kept meeting so many very (very) dedicated fans on this cruise, and being able to talk to them, along with the very personable band members themselves over the days leading up to these headlining shows I think prepared us to finally “get it.”  And we really did get into this band – Steve Hogarth is one amazing singer and performer who communicates their work in an inspiring and compelling way.  Steve Rothery (guitar) had a bit of the bad back, but played beautifully, and temp drummer Leon Parr had to fill in for an ailing Ian Mosley, but the band was in fine form, and played an excellent set that opened with “The Invisible Man” – most impactful to these new ears were “Ocean Cloud,” “This Strange Engine” and “Neverland.”.  One experienced fan on the way out said if he could have designed the perfect set list, that would have been it.

P1000644Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Steve and his tight band played two shows on the main stage, each including Supper’s Ready (he and Nat joined on the last show by Simon Collins, son of Phil for the “Apocalypse” vocals), Firth of Fifth (with John Wetton on vocals – also last show) “The Knife” and “The Musical Box.”  For the first show they wrapped these together with “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos.”  The second show was more extended with “Squonk” and the closer “All Along the Watchtower” joined by Chris Squire and again with John.  Also added for the second show was “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…In That Quiet Earth” followed by “Afterglow” from Wind and Wurthering and “Broadway Melody of 1974” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.  These were rewarding shows, though the shorter format let a bit of the steam out of the proceedings given the full sets on these tour dates have been more than twice as long.  Still, amazing to see this master guitarist paying respects to his early work with Genesis.

Yes – After all, the cruise is nP1000334amed for these headliners.  The shows were very much like the current tour – the band played all of Close to the Edge, and The Yes Album, at a reduced tempo, along with “America” and “Roundabout.”  The slower pace for their original work allows one to see Steve Howe (guitar) and Chris Squire (bass) hit all their notes and I think works well for any frustrated musician or technically curious fan.  Unfortunately the downside is it robs a bit of the immediacy from the work.  One nice surprise, most notable to this listener, was just how strong a vocalist Jon Davidson has become – he nailed several very sustained perfect notes at just the right times to drive a bit more energy into the mix.

uk_j UK – John Wetton and Eddie Jobson were joined on stage by guitar and drums to make a four piece this time out.  Both shows presented their debut album in it’s entirety, plus a bit of their second, Danger Money.  Each show included a nice surprise – the band doing a faithful rendition of “Starless” from King Crimson’s Red (1974).  Was great to see them again and this time with deft guitarist Alex Machacek who filled in Alan Holdsworth’s parts, often missed from the first tracks when not present.  No photos were allowed for these shows.

Along with these headliners we were able to catch great sets by Patrick Moraz, Sound of Contact, Tangerine Dream, Renaissance, and Soft Machine.  We missed Moon Safari and Stick Men who were also favorites on the ship, and a few other bands, but overall were able to take in as much music as I suppose was possible over the five days.  Even caught a bit of the midnight movie – Paul Williams in Phantom of the Paradise on the pool deck – major cheese (!) – how could that have been any better?  What an awesome experience the cruise was – think about saving up for next year.  In the meantime, I think now that we are back on shore, to regain my Eustachian balance we will have to listen to something a bit less prog…. maybe the Beach Boys!

Cruise to the Edge Embarking

Very excited tScreen Shot 2014-03-30 at 1.38.52 PMo be going on the Cruise to the Edge trip to Honduras and Cozumel this coming April 7, 2014.  To date I’ve been a bit wary of going on a cruse as I’m not quite seaworthy and typically regret any time spent without feet on terra firma!  However, as this particular cruise will have as entertainment over a dozen famous progressive rock bands of the 1970’s and beyond I’m intrigued.

Besides Yes who host the event, we have Genesis Revisited (Steve Hackett), UK (John Wetton, Eddie Jobson, plus), PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi from Italy), Three Friends (former members of Gentle Giant Gary Green and Malcolm Mortimer), Marillion, and Tangerine Dream.  Plus having ace keys player Patrick Moraz, stick man Tony Levin, and the great Simon Phillips on skins, among so many others made it too hard to say “no” to this cruise event.

As we’ve been able to catch Yes, UK and Steve Hackett recently, the biggest draw for me is being able to meet and see Gary Green play live once again after all these years.  Three Friends has not made it to the west coast in the states to perform the music of Gentle Giant, so this is a rare treat.  Also key is the inclusion of PFM from Italy.  Its rare to catch them outside their home country and this is arguably one of the best ever progressive rock bands of the past, and present.  Check out their latest disc for proof – the wonderful PFM in Classic da Mozart – a Celebration to witness how they have sustained their craft.

Planning to file reports as we go, as long as the Dramamine kicks in!