Interview with John Wetton (Asia)

Metal Express Radio recently caught up with Asia’s lead singer/bass player, John Wetton, to chat about the recent reunion shows and the plans for the future of Asia.

Back in December 2006 you played a successful string of dates in the UK. When was your last UK show before those dates?

Our last UK shows before this tour were back in 1982 at Wembley Arena and we hadn’t been back with the original line-up until those shows in December. So, it’s been around 23 years since we were here.

Did it feel as though over 20 years had passed when you stepped onto the stage?

Not really. Well, yes and no!! In certain respects it was like no time at all had passed, but we had played 19 shows in America before we came over, so we had been an entity for a few months prior to those UK shows. In other respects, you are aware that you are a quarter of a century further on and that’s a long time really.

How was the crowd reaction?

The crowds have been unbelievable. It couldn’t have been better. They were really into it and knew all the songs. I think they were genuinely pleased to see us.

What sort of set list were you playing?

We played the whole of the first album, three songs from the second album, but nothing from Astra. We also did one song from each of the band members past. We didn’t do any of the Icon material that Geoff and I have been working on recently. The ones that we perform are in their own rights classics. We do “Court Of The Crimson King” by King Crimson; “Fanfare For The Common Man” by ELP; “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles, and “Roundabout” by Yes. They are sprinkled around the set and they’re nice to do. We have plenty to choose from, so we may change the set around as we go.

Rumors of possible reunions have come and gone over the years. Why is the time right for a reunion now?

It seemed as though everybody was in the right space. I don’t mean in the right place, I mean mentally in the right space. It just wasn’t the right time before, it wasn’t the time to bring it up. It seemed like the managers of Icon knew the individual members and they have been going on at us for ages to do this. The first step was for me and Geoff to work together on the Icon project and when that was possible then we had to see if the other two were interested. Now that we were an entity it helped pry Geoff away from what had been going on in the past 10 or 15 years with Asia. It allowed us to approach Steve and Carl. When that approach took place in January 2006, we said lets just meet in a hotel and that was really to see if we could stand to be in the same hotel room together, and yes, we could.

Have you come close to doing this before?

No, not really. I think it was obvious that it could only work with the original four, you just couldn’t substitute anyone. That in itself makes everyone feel more secure as it can’t be done without one of the four.

How was that first meeting together?

It’s funny as I’d bumped into Steve in the lobby of the hotel beforehand, so we were kind of forced into a hug in the lobby. In the past there had been a problem between me and Steve, but I think that must have been divine intervention, but there didn’t have to be any ice to break after that. I’d been in the same room as Geoff as I’d been working with him for the last couple of years. As for Carl, we have worked together in the past, so that was alright. It was only really Steve who I hadn’t seen for years and years, and we met in the lobby so it was done for us.

There must have been a degree of uncertainty as to whether things were going to work out, bearing in mind there was some acrimony back in the 80s. At what point did it seem to click back into place?

It didn’t!! As soon as we had that meeting we knew everything was OK, so we started booking dates. We didn’t play or rehearse before we knew it was right; it happened at that first meeting. We rehearsed together for the first time about three weeks before the first show.

What was the first song you played together?

We actually wrote out a set list and worked our way through it so we started with “Time Again.” We used to open with that so we’re going to open with it now.

Who needed the most rehearsal time?

Well everyone has been playing so no one was really rusty. I hadn’t played live for a year or so, but we played well together.

Have you been surprised at the degree of press interest in the reunion?

I was disappointed with the press interest, in fact, it’s been dismal. There’s been coverage in the specialized Rock press, but it doesn’t go any deeper beyond that readership. We got more coverage in America, as they’re a lot more open to stuff like this, but in this country we could be seen as a nostalgic tribute. We’re not, we are the real thing and people are enjoying it. Then again we didn’t know what the reaction would be when we went to America, but it was crazy — they went bananas. That was very reassuring. Then to arrive in the UK for our shows last November and to find out it was exactly the same over here. It was absolutely voracious.

One thing that appears to be lacking from your early years was a live album. You’ve now finally put out an official live album, Fantasia: Live in Tokyo to document the tour.

We did record a show in Las Vegas and we all thought that Asia Live in Las Vegas would have been fantastic as Asia are so un-Las Vegas as a band, as it’s normally Barry Manilow or Frank Sinatra. It was at The House of Blues, it was very nice but very dirty!! We actually decided after the UK shows when we played in Japan to record some of these shows. The live album is out now on CD and this was recorded at our show in Tokyo back in March. The DVD will be available towards the end of September. It’s going to be a really super-duper high quality DVD with surround sound and lots of bonus material.

You did an “Instant Live” type of release on some of your UK shows where fans can actually buy a copy of the show 30 minutes after it has finished. That makes a pretty unique concert souvenir for the fans. Who was behind that idea?

We did this with the Carling Group where you can buy a recording of the show after the gig, which is a great idea. The whole tour was recorded except Newcastle and Wolverhampton, I don’t know why these weren’t recorded, but everything else was. This was Carling’s idea. We were suspicious at first as we thought it was a license to bootleg, but in fact it has the opposite effect. People are buying their own “bootleg” and everyone gets paid.

Talking of live releases … what is your view on the large amount of unofficial live albums that have cropped up over the years, such as the Zoom Club live albums?

We’ve had no control over these at all, and I haven’t seen a penny from these. Most of the quality is appalling. I can guarantee that every show that I’ve done over the last 10 years has been bootlegged and it ends up somewhere, usually Japan or Russia. It’s usually done with some bloke with a microphone in his lapel and now they even have a couple of small cameras in their glasses!! They all end up on You Tube these days.

You’ve all been busy over the years with various projects. Was it difficult scheduling the time when you would all be available?

That wasn’t bad. Once we had decided that this was going to happen, and it seemed so appropriate as it was the 25th anniversary of the band forming, we said let’s just do the American tour and we won’t commit to anything beyond that. We were just going to do the tour and if we were unhappy at the end, then we’d not do anything else. It was as simple as that. If it went well and we were all happy and if everyone wants to do it, we would carry on. When we were half way through the U.S tour there was talk of some UK dates. Our agent over here who’s done tours for myself and Carl approached The Carling Group and we had 5 days booked just like that. It was not too much to bite off, just 5 dates. As soon as America started happening, then Japan was interested and these dates came in. We didn’t schedule any mainland Europe shows as we didn’t know what had happened to the Asia name over the years. We didn’t think the Asia name was worth as much in Europe as in North America, the UK, and Japan and Latin America, actually. We’ve just come back from there. We will be playing some festivals in Germany in July and may be adding some more shows later on. The UK dates went so well that we’ve booked some more shows later this year in December and we’re looking forward to coming back.

So now the original four of you are back together, you were at one point in the past considering being a 5-piece. How close was Trevor Rabin to being in the band?

Trevor was a great guy, but it just wasn’t right. He was superfluous to our needs, but it was general paranoia from people around the band, but we just knew it only ever felt right with four people. Whenever anyone else came in from the outside, and we had many people come in during rehearsals and some big names too, but afterwards it just didn’t work. Five into four just doesn’t go, it’s as simple as that.

The band continued in various guises over the years, including members such as Greg Lake, Pat Thrall, Scott Gorham, and John Payne. Did you keep an eye on what they were doing?

I wasn’t terribly aware of what was going on there, but for my money for what I had heard, I thought it was pretty good. I just didn’t think they should have called in Asia. I think what people see now is the real thing and there’s no doubt about that. I think the person who writes the song and sings it has the divine right to it. It very rare that someone else can come in and do it better than the one who wrote it and I mean no disrespect to anyone, but they’re all my songs!!

It’s obvious that even when you weren’t together as a band, there was still a common bond between you. Over the years, you and Geoff have worked together on various projects, most recently on Icon and Rubicon, Steve played on Aura and made special guest appearances on the Aqua tour and along with Carl played on the Aqua album. Do you think this has helped in bringing you together again for this tour?

I think what we did in ’82 and ’83 was enough. We’d established a little bit of Rock history for ourselves and that was never going to go away. With any kind of band that has carved that history for themselves, if the core members get together again it just takes you straight back to those times. There’s only these four people who can recreate this. We’ve tried it every other way, but it just doesn’t work. This way just works again. I think the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts.

What have you got lined up for the coming months?

We’ve just done some shows in Japan, where the DVD was recorded, and South America too. We’re over to The States for a series of shows that runs until September, and we’ll be back to the UK at the end of the year and might possibly fit in some dates in Europe too around the time of the festivals that we’re doing in Germany in July.

In addition to the Live CD and DVD, Universal will be remastering the debut album at some point and that will have a DVD disc with loads of extras on it with bits that you’ve never seen before. Best Buy in The States issued a compilation of ours with a bonus DVD of some of our videos while we were out there and it actually got into the Billboard chart, which is not a bad feat 25 years later. There’s probably footage somewhere of our Wembley shows, but I haven’t actually seen it. I’ve seen Montreal Forum in 1983 but it’s all really bad. There is footage of Wembley as we did a faux live video for Soul Survivor there, so we’ve still got that somewhere, so that might show up at some point.

We’ve also just started working on a new album at the moment, which will be our first together since 1983, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

Metal Express Radio Note: This interview with John Wetton took place prior to his recent open heart surgery. We all at Metal Express Radio wish John Wetton a speedy recovery and good health. The planned UK shows in December have now been rearranged and the tour will commence on March 1st 2008 at Falmouth Pavillion.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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