There is a new book on the legendary John Wetton coming soon! Titled “An Extraordinary Life”, the book features stories from numerous friends, family, former bandmates, colleagues… Wetton’s career included such bands as King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, UK, Wishbone Ash, and Asia, where he had his biggest commercial success. He also released numerous solo albums, and collaborations with Geoff Downes (Icon).
The sign-up is now open for people to be a part of this much anticipated book created with John’s family and management. Some seventy-plus people who knew and worked with John, from his school days through Family, King Crimson, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Roxy Music, U.K., Asia, the John Wetton solo band and beyond, pay witness and tribute to his life and work. Among those quoted along with his family are Steve Howe, Phil Manzanera, Bill Bruford, Robert Fripp, Carl Palmer, Rick Wakeman, Dave Kilminster, Geoff Downes and many, many more.
Among the stories of friendship, music and sometimes craziness are reflections on what made John Wetton such an unforgettable musician and prog rock legend.
Along with stories of John’s musical success are those from friends and family who do not steer clear of his problems, but rather explain the why, the how, and eventual triumph over them in honest and touching recollections. Along with the stories are personal and classic photos of John at work and play in two extensive photo sections of An Extraordinary Life.
“He had a love for fast cars, fine food, coffee, the Rams (that’s Derby County for non-football followers), films, books, crosswords, current affairs, sport, languages, classical music – anything that would stimulate his mind that he could use to great effect in his music and lyrics.” Geoff Downes.
*Signing up for news and special offers at http://www.johnwettonbook.com will ensure a special discount when preorder begins, allow people to have a name printed in the book and be a part of this unique project.
ASIA marked their 25th anniversary of the band in 2007 with the reunited original line-up recording and releasing Fantasia (Live In Tokyo). That came out in CD and DVD formats only back then, but there is now a 3-LP reissue of that historic recording to be issued February 24, through BMG. The band consisting of John Wetton, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, and Geoff Downes played all the songs from their hugely successful 1982 debut album Asia, as well as a few from 1983’s Alpha, plus selections from the bandmembers’ past bands. And much like Asia’s ’80s albums, Fantasia also came in a fantastic Roger Dean cover. *See below for the tracklisting.
“By simultaneously celebrating their debut album alongside the legacy of their foundational bands, the four band members crafted a standing testament to their collective impact on the world of music. Fantasia is a clear reminder of the majestic legacy of this incredible band and to the artistic pedigree of the four original members of ASIA.“
Pooling the talents of bassist/vocalist John Wetton, drummer Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoff Downes and guitarist Steve Howe, ASIA immediately became the epitome of a supergroup of rock aristocracy and the natural heir to its members’ legendary bands of the 70s – King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Buggles and Yes.
Leaving behind their progressive roots, ASIA embraced the commercial FM rock sound that dominated US airwaves and took that, and the new MTV video channel, by storm. The single Heat Of The Moment was a world-wide monster smash and their eponymous 1982 debut album spent an incredible 9 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart as Asia became the biggest selling album of the year and world tour dates sold out.
A second album, Alpha, was released in 1983. The four original members reconvened in 2006 for a world tour, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that incredible success, and the album Phoenix followed.
While the members were still heavily involved in other projects, they came together again to record Omega in 2010 and XXX in 2012, both albums were acclaimed by their faithful fans and supported by more world tours.
Steve Howe stepped back from ASIA to concentrate on his work with YES and was absent for 2014’s Gravitas. Following this tour came the news of John Wetton’s treatment for cancer, a fight he sadly lost in 2017.
ASIA – FANTASIA LIVE IN TOKYO 2007 – 3 LP SET – out 24th February 2023
Michael Inns is a British rock photographer, album designer, and illustrator, who has worked on many great albums and with many legendary musicians over the past few decades. He has also been a part of a number of album art projects with Roger Dean. Along with Karen Gladwell, Mike began Mixed Images Ltd – creating cover art, album layouts, press photos… In this exchange Michael details the beginnings of his career and getting to work with Roger Dean, his work and friendship with the late John Wetton, as well as discuss a number of projects and album covers he created and was a part of. Sadly, Karen Gladwell passed in October of 2019 (RIP), and I’ve included a video Michael created as a tribute to her, set to John Wetton’s classic ballad “After All” – below.
Can you give me a bit of background as to how you got into the rock end of art and photography?
I was a rather reclusive individual struggling for survival at a boys’ Public School in England. I discovered a small darkroom hidden in the basement of one of the school’s art centers. I was interested in photography, so this was my home for the remaining time at school. Photojournalist Penny Tweedie arrived at the school to cover an assignment, I met her, and she was the ‘coolest’ person on the planet – that’s what I wanted to do. I followed her work, inspired by the art of photojournalism which led on to following the work of Don McCullin.
School really wasn’t the place to be, so I managed to take the opportunity to take up a course in Design / Photography for three years. My roommate greeted me wearing a ‘YES’ tee shirt which introduced me to YES and the work of Roger Dean. Roger was the new inspirational ‘cool’ for me and YES became my favourite band. It was the 70’s and Roger ruled supreme as a guiding light to the world of graphics. I remember ‘Relayer’ coming out and seeing the band play the album live in Leicester with Roger’s stage sets and lighting.
After leaving Art College I lived with like-minded British author Freda Warrington and tried to find a way into album design. I remember sending my portfolio to Kate Bush and Jon Anderson. I carried on working as a designer for a local PR company until I eventually left to start ‘Mixed Images’ with my long-term best friend and business partner Karen Gladwell. Karen has been by my side throughout and is a huge part of everything we achieved as well as giving her loyal support and friendship to all the artists we have worked with.
It was at a local ENID gig where I met Robert John Godfrey and Steve Stewart and spent the next few years spending time at their recording studios in Suffolk. I really began my studio photographic sessions with the ENID. It was then that I bumped into Rob Ayling who was at the time managing the band. Rob later introduced me to Dave Stewart, John Wetton and Geoffrey Downes. Around that time Steve Stewart asked me if I could work with Katrina and the Waves on photoshoots, album designs and pop videos. It was a really creative time which developed into a long-term friendship with Katrina and Kimberly Rew. I received a call from promoter Dave Hill soon after to work for Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone.
I had developed a close friendship with John Wetton and Richard Palmer-James. One day John called me and asked me to meet him at a nearby studio owned by Martin Darvill where they were having a meeting to discuss the formation of ‘Qango’ a spinoff of ASIA. I remember arriving with Karen to meet for the first time, Carl Palmer wandering around the car park waiting. The Qango project led me to forging long term friendships with most of the musicians I now currently work with.
My friendship and admiration for Martin Darvill grew. Martin asked me to work on a photoshoot with Martin Turner as well as Sonja Kristina and Focus. I used to pack my entire studio light system and set up in the basements of various theatres for some of the bands. Other times they would come to me at my studio in Hertfordshire or I would set up at Martin’s recording studio in Buckinghamshire.
Martin Darvill is an extremely skillful and highly regarded manager who gave his time and experience to help artists like Martin Turner, Focus and many others in reformation projects. Martin notably managed to succeed in getting Steve Howe, Geoffrey Downes, John Wetton and Carl Palmer around the same table to discuss the reformation of the original ASIA.
I later met up with Dave Roberts – who brought together many great bands for his Cambridge Rock Festivals. I had many wonderful weekends working alongside my inspirational friend and rock photographer John Price.
Whilst the photoshoots were taking up a huge amount of time, I also worked on producing the artworks the various albums released by Martin’s company QEDG.
Martin asked Roger Dean if he would be happy for me to work on the various ASIA projects. Roger agreed. For me it was the most daunting assignment so far. Whilst I worked with many big names in the music business, I would never be judged on my ability to play. When it came to Roger – he was the person who defined my future path in the world of graphics. Over the years Roger has introduced me to some really great musicians.
I have now spent over 15 years working for Roger – where his generosity of spirit has nurtured my understanding of his techniques and work. Constantly juggling an ever-growing array of projects – Roger seems to me like a man who never sleeps.
You’ve done a lot of work [photos, art, layout…] on a number of Asia, John Wetton [and related] releases. Can you give me a bit of insight into some of your work with John, Geoff, and Asia? (Any details or insight to a few specific covers that you had a hand in via art, layout or photos)
I met John Wetton for the first time on a photoshoot with Phil Manzenera at his Gallery Studios. John was in the final stages of production for “Arkangel” with Billy Liesegang. I wasn’t working on the designs – just a few PR shots for the re-release of two ‘Wetton Manzenera’ albums. It was after ‘Arkangel’ that John asked me to work on all his new studio albums.
At the same time, I also remember I was working with Bill Nelson’s “Noise Candy”, Katrina Leskanich, Gordon Haskell and Dave Stewart / Barbara Gaskin.
I remember that most of the albums I worked on were for John, Geoffrey, Carl and ASIA including photoshoots for albums and PR. For the album artworks – Roger Dean is the default artist for QEDG projects such as ASIA, DBA and FOCUS.
I was already working with Geoffrey Downes before I met John, so I ended up working on every iCon – Wetton Downes project too. We wrote it as iCon because at the time there was a new product on the market called an iPad and thought it might be a more distinctive layout.
John Wetton would just call me to invite me on our next journey together. Another album design. John always knew the direction he wanted to travel but he only knew the destination when we reached it. It was always fun and took us in unexpected directions. John’s dry sense of humor and deep laugh was a constant welcome companion.
Most of our collaborations were driven by John’s spark of imagination. The cover art was the most important to get right. John would send me the lyrics and a stack of images that defined the essence of each track. I remember seeing a mobile phone for “Finger On The Trigger” and hadn’t realized the track was about a war of love and sending a text message.
I remember the cover of “Rock Of Faith” – we were sitting in Clive Nolan’s studio in Virginia Water with Martin Darvill – I gave John my notebook for his page-by-page notes. He was overdubbing the bass on “Take Me To The Waterline” at the time so there were a series of squiggles to denote the pages. When I got back to the studio, I thought the squiggle for the cover had a Star Trek feel and had something going for it – so I drew it up. I noticed later John had a silver pendant made up with shape of the cover image.
Because of Martin Darvill’s heavy involvement with Roger Dean, the ‘Downes Braide Association’ engaged with Roger to work on ‘DBA – “Skyscraper Souls”.
We were in Bournemouth on a cold February day I was with Karen – I remember Roger Dean showing me the proposed cover painting for “Skyscraper Souls” which was in the boot of his car. The painting was wonderful – It was a truly sad day – we were attending John Wetton’s funeral.
Can you give me some insight and stories in to some of the covers you created an or had a hand in – Bernie Shaw / Dale Collins – Too Much Information (where did the album’s image[s] come from? And who came up with the cover concept?)
I had a call from QEDG and asked if I could work on Bernie Shaw / Dale Collins – “Too Much Information”. I think it was Bernie who had already chosen the cover image of a solitary metal sculpture on a snowy mountain. I only had the one image to work with so I tried to find more sculpture images that would help me to create the rest of the artworks.
I found “The Statue of Love” by Tamara Kvesitadze that commemorates the 1937 novel “Ali and Nino” about the love of a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian princess. The remarkable moving statue became the narrative throughout the booklet.
Another project that we felt required a narrative throughout was a project for Tony Kaye called “End Of Innocence”. Roger Dean had already created a unique cover painting. The album was a personal reflection on 9-11. It was an amazing concept with the piece starting the night before the attacks and follows the events through the following day and on to the aftermath.
We decided to colorize Roger’s painting for the interior taking the narrative from the calm blues of ‘innocence’ to the reds and blacks of the disaster through to warm yellows representing a ‘new beginning’.
Peter Goalby – Easy With The Heartaches, I Will Come Runnin’ (where did these cover ideas come from? were you familiar with Peter’s work? and was it any different creating cover art for an archived release where there may be no artist photos, or the artist is no longer active?)
I had already been working for Uriah Heep, Phil Lanzon and Ken Hensley on new projects and releases, so I knew of Peter Goalby but had never heard Peter’s solo work. I was asked if I could create a cover for Peter’s re-release of solo albums. The brief was that this should be four completely different covers that could be combined together to create one single image. The concept was difficult enough without even beginning to visualize the production. I decided to use very bold abstract images for each of the individual releases and blend them together to create a single landscape image. I then added more layers across the whole images which were depictions that represented ‘sound’ waves.
If I have a project that is a completely blank canvas with no logo, no images and no music to work from – the only way forward is to create something that is interesting and bold.
Arc Of Life album, featuring YES members
“Arc of Life” for me started with a call from Martin Darvill. Billy Sherwood had got a band together during the Pandemic. These days there is such a long lead time on some of the production processes most artists get very little notice for these urgent projects. Billy was really specific and had a clear idea about what he wanted to see on the cover and for that matter the back cover too. It was a very clear and clever idea with the cover and back cover portraying the same scene – the cover daytime and the back cover night-time reflecting the ‘Arc of Life’.
Although I have worked with most of the members of YES over the years as well as Roger, I don’t actually work on any current YES projects other than maybe the admats for the tours. The ‘go to’ designers (other than Roger) are the well respected, Doug and Glenn Gottlieb who have a history with YES dating back to the 70’s.
Alan Simon’s Excalibur IV [from 2017] (and Did you happen to create Alan Simon’s Excalibur V cover that came out late last year? (if so, any insight on that?)
I created the cover for Excalibur IV as well as the latest Excalibur V. In all I think I have created around seven album artworks for Alan and a series of rereleases. Alan is very clear about what he wants to achieve from concept to production. It is a very similar working relationship to working with John Wetton. Alan sends me a whole batch of his own photographic images which we use throughout the artworks. Alan is a very talented artist, photographer, composer, musician and film maker. Another individual that never sleeps.
The cover for “The Dark Age of the Dragon” evolved from the existing artworks in the Excalibur series. The circle is always a key element. Although “Excalibur V” visually doesn’t immediately stand out as a circle – the subject actually is a stone circle. The original concept for the cover came from a rough sketch Alan sent me a few years ago.
What would be a couple of your own favorite projects you’ve been a part of?
Each project has it’s own charm.
I have created all the album artworks for Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin over the past 20 years. Dave sets the bar on creativity and constantly raises it a notch every time we exchange thoughts. Like with Roger, the initial brief is always achievable – but is constantly evolving to a higher level and just when you think you’ve made it . . . those are probably the best projects to work on.
I worked with Gordon Haskell on “Harry’s Bar” from which the single “How Wonderful You Are” was released and became the Christmas number 2 in 2001. The cover image of the album came about in February 2001 when Gordon turned up at my home by surprise along with a studio copy of “Harrys Bar”. We played the first track but Gordon was dissatisfied with the quality, abandoned the CD and proceeded to pick up one of my guitars and perform some of the tracks ‘live’. Gordon wanted an idea of the style of cover photograph he should have on the cover of the album. We were sitting in my dinning room at the time – I had about ten frames left on my film camera – so I took a series of ideas and sent them to him. One of the shots became the cover image.
Working with Katrina and the Waves was another interesting period. I had been working with Katrina for a few years – helping produce album artworks and pop videos. I was asked to work on a version of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ for GMTV. Soon after I got a call to work on a new single “Love Shine A Light” written and produced by Kimberley Rew. The song was put forward for the “Great British Song Contest” and went on win Eurovision 1997. The cover was actually created from a cartoon sketch supplied by Kimberley.
Recent projects include – photoshoots for Blues Guitarist Ben Poole and two album projects from QEDG for Nathan James, Inglorious.
The new album from New York area band LIPS TURN BLUE features an eye catching cover created by artist Martin Kornick, aka Man In The Mountain. Martin has designed numerous album covers over the past 2 decades, notably for prog artists like Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Keith Emerson, and Kinetic Element. Admittedly, when I looked in to Martin’s work intending just to inquire about the LTB cover, I found a lot more of his work that I couldn’t avoid asking about! In this interview Martin details how he created the LTB cover, as well as a few others, such as those by John Wetton & District 97 and Keith Emerson, as well as his lengthy working relationship with Neal Morse. He also shares his background in the business and future plans. I’ve included images of some of Martin’s covers as well as pics of him with a few of those he’s worked for (all provided by Martin). *For more on his work as an artist, and various projects check out Martin’s site – http://www.maninthemountain.com (see more links below)
Can you give me a bit of background as to how you started in doing album covers (aside from your other works)?
I got my start doing album covers thanks to Neal Morse back when he was in Spock’s Beard – the ’90’s era progressive rock band that I was quite smitten with upon discovery. Floored really. I couldn’t believe the interweaving keyboards and lush prog arrangements I was hearing spinning “The Doorway” on my stereo. I quickly became obsessed with the band. I distinctly remember getting their newest album Day For Night and being entranced by the cover art by German artist Thomas Ewerhard, which had a strong Pink Floyd Hipgnosis vibe to it. As I examined it further it struck me that Thomas was using a lot of Photoshop techniques that I was already experimenting with in my personal art. I thought, “I can do that! How can I do something like that for Spock’s Beard? I must find a way!”
Shorty after I was thrilled to see Spock’s Beard were playing at Martyrs’, a Chicago area nightclub. It was such a magical night, as anyone who was anyone in the Chicago prog scene was there in attendance. I truly made several long-lasting friendships with people I met there that night. But what then happened is at the start of the show, Neal Morse ran out on stage with a video camera, then leaned over and gave me (randomly) the camera to continue filming the show. And honestly, I am the most insane prog fan/bootleg collector you could ever give a video camera too. Haha! After the show, I had to somehow get a copy of this concert video. So, I contacted Neal by email to ask for a copy, and we hit off a friendship talking about old Genesis and Gentle Giant Bootlegs. We even traded a few things. During our correspondence over the next few months, I mentioned to Neal that I was a graphic artist and hit him up if needed any art for a CD project. Nothing became of it until one more time I asked and by chance he was working on a fan club CD. He asked me to shoot him some ideas for it. And I ended up working for Neal for the next 20 years. How is that for fate? And of course, led to doing artwork for other bands as well.
Growing up – what were some of your favorite bands, albums, and album cover artists? [Any artists influence your own work? ]
Looking back at my youth, I did have an affinity for bands that had cool artwork and graphics. I easily fell for KISS who were the most graphic art-oriented band ever, from the face paint, the photos, to the album art. KISS were super easy to the draw, and I even made my own KISS comic books. I had a sort of musical awakening when I went to see the movie The Song Remains The Same and watched Jimmy Page make all these otherworldly sounds with a cello bow, while he turned into a wizard and drew an electric rainbow across the sky. My tastes then shifted to Led Zeppelin and bands like RUSH and Styx who also explored more cinematic musical landscapes and science fiction. RUSH used all that dystopian Hugh Syme artwork like A Farewell To Kings, Permanent Waves – two of my all-time favs. Bands like Judas Priest started attracting me because they were operatic in style and had gothic album art like a Sad Wings of Destiny and Sin After Sin. Plus the logos… AC/CD, Van Halen, Def Leppard, Styx, Judas Priest, all of them… which sharpened my skills by duplicating the logos all over my high school desk. They didn’t understand, that WAS my schooling!
After graduating high school in 1981, instead of listening to the popular music of the times, the hair metal and MTV, I fell in love with older music from the ’60’s and all the ’70’s progressive rock music like YES, ELP, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and Rick Wakeman. And certainly, that artwork delved deeper artistically into fantasy, science fiction, and mind-altering photo manipulation from Hipgnosis. Off the top of my head, artwork for albums like Wish You Were Here, Yessongs, The Myth & Legends of King Arthur, ELP’s Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery… were among my favorites. It’s a world I’ve been in artistically ever since. Roger Dean made a huge impression on me, and I started covering my apartment walls with his work. All of this was my school, my formative training
You’ve done a lot of covers for Neal Morse, as well as Transatlantic and Mike Portnoy. – can you tell me a bit about where ideas come from and how much collaboration [or input] there is from the musical artists when designing a cover?
Typically, there is little “idea” input from the musicians, but not in every case. I usually draw from the album title and maybe some lyrics. Sometimes I’m given the raw music to get a feel of what the music sounds like. I’ll listen to it over and over while creating images in my mind. No matter what I am fed at the start, my artwork is always developed organically in a stream of consciousness. I do not create my art in a formally trained manner, as I do not make sketches or roughs. I hit the digital canvas and go where it takes me. I keep fishing about until I see something good forming, and then tighten it up to a viable well developed idea that I can present to the client.
Collaborating with Neal Morse was fantastic, he has a certain aura about him, that’s hard to explain, it’s a unique energy. We had such a great symbiotic relationship in that we could read each well for any project that came before us. Neal allowed me tons of freedom, letting me develop ideas, but sometimes he suggested ideas too. With Neal becoming a Christian artist, I had to work within a more spiritual mindset, which could take me out of my comfort zone. God spinning the Earth on the cover of Momentum was an idea Neal suggested after he didn’t feel my attempts were hitting it. But how I created the cover from that suggestion, was all from my imagination. So, when talking about collaboration, to me it’s more about listening to the artists and their needs, rather than shooting ideas at each other or watching me every step of the way. It’s important to be responsive with artists and very reliable professionally. At the end of the day, you need to deliver on time, and not have a plethora of errors coming from the printing plant, that’s when you’ll get a call to do more.
Working for Mike Portnoy is always so fun. He’s hilarious and has an M family like I do (all names starting with an M), so we M’s get on great. Seeing my artwork end up on his drumhead is surreal to say the least. Mike is a terrific guy, who is inspiring to work with because he continues to be excited like a child when working on his music projects. He cares a lot about his fans.
One cover of your’s I really like is the Keith Emerson Band album from 2008. Any recall on creating that and working with Keith?
Thank you, that’s nice to hear. Yeah, how much room do you have in this interview? Let’s just say Keith Emerson was extremely excited about this release. He saw it as a return to form after not having any significant output for years. His desire was to have the type of cover artwork he loved from the ’70’s. Detailed enough to keep you looking at a vinyl copy for years. That’s what attracted Keith to my work. I do recall having a bit of a false start on ideas for the album which Keith was initially planning on calling “Ganton 7” about a distant planet. He did however let me do my thing, with Keith explaining that “there was a cow’s arse on the cover of a Pink Floyd album, so anything is possible.” – That’s a direct quote. Marc Bonilla was also involved with the album art, and I had many long conversations with Marc on development.
Eventually, Keith liked a piece I had already completed that was displayed on MySpace (of all places) depicting a Mellotron rusting in the desert under a red sky. Keith suggested changing the Mellotron to a Hammond B3, feeling this image represented the state of his music career, but also somehow wanting to show it as a rebirth. Along with Marc, we batted around a few ideas until I came up with igniting the organ on fire. That was the moment – I had nailed it! If you look closely, the fire is restoring the organ to its former glory. Keith pointed out to me that the opening section of the track “Miles Away” is based on my cover art. He had the art hanging in the studio. If you look at the cover while playing that intro, the synergy is strikingly clear. Keith was an amazing person to work for, with an unarming humbleness that made you feel comfortable to even disagree with him. He also had no problems calling me on the phone to discuss the album, which is rare – most everyone sticks to email. Nothing can top getting an unlisted phone call, picking it up and hearing in a British accent, “Hello Martin, this is Keith!” I miss him so much.
As a fan of the late John Wetton, can you recall working with him in creating the cover for the live album with District 97? [They are from Chicago!?] Also, were you at that show and have any favorite albums with JW?
District 97 is a Chicago area prog band that caught my attention with their 2010 debut album “Hybrid Child.” They had a youthful energy and a remarkably proficient singer, Leslie Hunt, that set them apart from most other prog acts at the time. Being local to Chicago, I thought I would introduce myself to the band’s founder & drummer Jonathan Schang and offer my design services. Jonathan was quick to take me up on that and hired me to design show posters and on-line promotions. Soon afterwards, John Wetton also became a fan of District 97 and started to collaborate with the band. A tour was then planned to have D97 play the music of King Crimson with none other than John Wetton on vocals. Because I was their tour poster guy, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity make the graphics to accompany the tour, which later turned into a live CD package. I can’t say I worked directly with Wetton, but was Cc’ed among conversations regarding the artwork. I do recall Wetton being indecisive about what photo of him we could use, insisting the CD color be red, and that the title of the album be changed from “One More Red Nightmare” to “One More Red Night.” Which probably was a good call! I didn’t catch the Chicago show that was recorded, but I caught them earlier up in Milwaukee. The CD is fantastic, don’t you think? I might say it’s my favorite Wetton album! I do love the first Asia album, Crimson’s Red, and Night After Night with UK is on top of my list. “Rendezvous 6:02” is my favorite song featuring John Wetton.
Your latest cover is the Lips Turn Blue cover, and its real eye catching. How did you wind up with this project? Were you familiar with any of the band?
Thank you! I was asked to do the project by the band’s manager, Bruce Pilato. Bruce and I have known each other for many years working with The Carl Palmer Band. I’ve designed many of Carl’s t-shirts and DVD covers, as well the “ELP Lives On” logo that Carl uses on the huge stage backdrop. When Bruce asked me about working on LTB, I was familiar with Phil Naro and the band Talas. The other players had strong resumes as well, so it sounded like a hot project to take on.
Where did the idea for the cover shot come from? Can you give us details on the photo and how you transformed it into the final piece of art [including the logo and the city scene in the girl’s glasses]?
I’m not sure who in the band came up with the idea, but Bruce described in detail what they were looking for. A beautiful female face, similar to those in the Robert Palmer video “Addicted to Love”, with a silver painted face and bright blue lips. That’s very descript. Selecting the particular model and just the right pose, with her hand on her chin, was entirely my call. People see a face, but it’s really about shapes working together in balance, and the selection and framing of those shapes is key to it’s strength. The city lights in the glasses were my way of adding some extra flash and depth to the image – putting the model in a place rather than just a flat image. The logo played off that, with neon lettering. With CD artwork now reduced to tiny icons on the internet, I needed to create a simple bold image to draw attention. The contrasting silver/blue color scheme worked well to that effect. Another interesting part of the development of the cover were instructions to put photos of all the band members at the bottom of the woman’s face. I did that, but then ending up having a disagreement over it. When I removed the band photos, Bruce argued that without them, people would think the woman is the recording artist on the CD. I reminded him that many male bands used a woman on the cover, like The Cars and Roxy Music. So, in that spirit, I guess I won out! I was also told Phil Naro approved the final artwork just before he passed, so that’s quite nice to think my artwork was among his last images on Earth.
Do you have any favorite tracks from the LTD album? and might we see you work on the next LTB cover?
All the tracks are consistently strong. “Pray For Tomorrow” is quite nice. And I love “Blood Moon”. Probably because it has a prog feel to it with prominent organ and synths, and I’m a synth player myself so I dig that. I’m certainly open to another LTB cover, but I think their current plans are for a tour.
Any upcoming album art you are working on [or will be] ?
I’m open for business. So, if Rick Wakeman or Peter Gabriel want to drop me a line, I’m ready and available! I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me, Kevin. There are many modern-day cover artists like myself that don’t get enough recognition because everyone seems fixated on the classic artist. So, good on you and Outsider-Rock for spending the time with me.
Among the Heep faithful there are 3 albums that tend to stir up the most controversy and conversation, and often one of them is cited as the band’s ‘worst’ album by many fans or rock historians. I’ve already written previously my support for Conquest and for Equator, both albums that land at the bottom of any Heep album ranking, and the 3rd in that trilogy would be 1976’s High and Mighty – the last to feature original singer & founding member David Byron. Frankly, none of these 3 land in the bottom 3 for me, in particular High and Mighty, an album I rank in the top half of the band’s catalogue.
High and Mighty came at the end of a very busy period for the band. In ’75 – the band had changed bass players, adding John Wetton in place of Gary Thain, who had been fired, and the band got down to releasing Return To Fantasy in the summer of ’75. Ken Hensley also had his 2nd solo album Eager To Please released not too far off from that. A huge world tour followed the release of that Heep album, followed by David Byron’s solo album Take No Prisoners, and a Best of Uriah Heep issued in most markets (except for North America). So, to say High and Mighty might’ve been rushed soon after is more than likely. Despite Return To Fantasy being a huge success in the UK, the band’s last few albums were selling less in North America, and with this perhaps was the motivation to ‘fire’ Gerry Bron as the new album’s producer and produce it themselves. But, where as RTF had many more band co-writes and member contributions, High and Mighty would consist of entirely Ken Hensley penned tracks, with Wetton getting 2 co-writes. Ken has stated in the past the album felt more like a solo album, and both he and Wetton noted that not much of the band were around at the time, leaving the 2 of them to take on most of the production, aided by engineer Ashley Howe.
John Wetton’s presence is felt immediately on the opening track “One Way Or Another”, in which he takes the lead vocal. A fantastic beginning to this album with the opening guitar riff coming in with a fresh new strong sound, before Wetton’s bass, then drums and organ join in. This is a standout track, and a shame it never got a proper single release. There would be no global single from this album, with this song being issued in the UK (limited), and nothing in North America. David Byron was apparently off with chicken pox at the time of recording this track, so that was the reason given for Wetton’s lead vocal. John recalled in an interview that when David did come back he went in to sing the song, part way through stopped, saying that it was fine the way it was. “Weep In Silence”, a heavy guitar driven ballad, with Hensley’s distinct guitar sound throughout and a great vocal from Byron remains a fan favorite from this album, though it was never played live. “Misty Eyes” starts out gently with Byron singing the opening lines alone before the band comes in softly with acoustic guitar, organ and drums. A good lighter pop song that would’ve made a catchy single, IMO. The first side ends with “Midnight”, the longest track on the album, and most progressive,. An often overlooked epic in the band’s catalogue, and although Wetton didn’t get a co-write on this Or on “One Way Or Another”, his performances (bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals or backing vocals) make these 2 tracks his greatest contributions to his time with the band.
Side 2 opens with the anthem “Can’t Keep A Good Band Down”, a response and dig at the band’s critics. A good upbeat rocker that would’ve (again) made for a fine single. A shame the song would never feature in the band’s live show back then or ever. Next up was the pop-rock of “Woman Of The World”; a good tune, tho’ a bit on the lighter side. Might’ve made a decent single, but like a number of tracks here it lacks an extended solo or something unique as the song merely fades out quickly after the last chorus. “Woman Of The World” would include the band’s message to Bron in the harmonies – You can stick this contract up your flue “Footprints In The Snow” is a favorite of mine on this album, co-credited to Wetton. Love the mix of acoustic and electric guitars organ, and harmonies. An underrated classic from the Byron era, IMO. From here, despite how much I love this album, I can see how critics might disagree with my enthusiasm, as the next 3 tracks drop off a bit, especially the funky keyboardy “I Can’t Stop Singing”. I never ‘got’ this song, and listening to it now, I still don’t. . tho’ it’s not bad, and David sounds convincing on the verses, but the chorus… meh…. “Make A Little Love” is a guitar blues n boogie number, featuring slide guitar. Sounds like it could’ve been a good old school jam rocker, but it ends too early, like a few tracks here, sounding rushed . This one did make it in to the live set on the High & Mighty tour, but like the rest of the album was never played again (aside from Ken resurrecting a track live with John Wetton). The album ends on a high note, but a sad one with “Confession”, with David delivering an apologetic lyric on Ken’s piano ballad. It’s an excellent, moving ballad that sits behind the band’s previous ballads “Rain” and “The Easy Road”. A shame it ends so soon.
In 1995 I interviewed John Wetton and he recalled no leftover tracks being recorded, but sure enough 2 outtakes would eventually be released. “Sunshine”, a good upbeat number; love Lee Kerslake’s intro and playing here. The other cut is the guitar heavy “Name Of The Game”. This song appeared in another version on Ken Hensley’s From Time To Time album in ’94 (an album of solo outtakes and demos), as Ken had recorded the track in the late ’70s with members of Bad Company. A great heavy riff to open this song, fantastic delivery from David and slide guitar from Ken. To me, this sounds like it wasn’t totally completed or mixed well enough, hence it’s lack of inclusion on the album, but a crying shame this wasn’t totally finished and cleaned up and included – could’ve made for a very different outcome of an album that is often brushed off as “lightweight”.
High and Mighty received a huge press bash at the time in Switzerland, where James Bond was filmed. But after that the album dropped – with no worldwide single, and little push. As the band toured the US before it’s release – with no single on the radio or record in the shops, High and Mighty was kinda doomed. The tour saw Ken Hensley leave the band and return, and David Byron fired at the end of the European tour. John Wetton had already made up his mind due to the internal conflict, and and left as well. Many fans wrote the band off after David Byron was dismissed, and the band’s profile and album sales would continue to sink in North America.
But really, I kinda love this album. I realize it may be seen as lightweight or too much of a Ken Hensley solo project by many old Heep fans, but to me it had a new fresh approach and sound following Return To Fantasy and Wonderworld. The band experimented, did something new, and High and Mighty offered up a number of tracks that would’ve made fine singles. With John Wetton having a major hand in it, it sounded much more modern in tune with UK nd Asia, and a forward step from the band’s previous albums. Heck, I even think the album cover art is pretty cool!
A rare configuration of this band, which played 3 nights for a charity [see my recent interview with Robin George]. This recording comes from the 2nd night at The Marquee. It is an impressive set of Asia favorites, mixed in with a few of Robin’s solo hits, a track from the Wetton/Manzanera album, a Beatles’ cover, solos from Don Airey (is there a band this guy hasn’t played with?) and Carl Palmer, plus 2 studio tracks! The sound quality is OK [not superb], recorded on video cam and the desk (according to Robin). But this should appeal to Asia and Wetton fans, as a rare and historical set, and I’ve heard much worse! And judging from the crowd and John’s performance and intros between songs, it must’ve been a good evening. This show has been bootlegged previously, from different sources, [curious about the absence of a few songs here (!?)] *Studio track “Wasted Time” features John and Robin, while “Johnny” is a solo track from Robin – “Johnny was written for all the friends I’ve loved and lost, but inspired by a real close friend!” A nice add for John Wetton and Asia fans.
Well, I don’t much about Alan Simon or this series of Celtic rock opera Excalibur releases. This being my first take on the project which previously released 4 studio and 2 live albums featuring different musicians on each one, though there are a few holdovers. I do know that Cherry Red recently released the first 4 Excalibur studio albums plus a couple of live shows in a 6 CD box – https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/excalibur-the-20th-anniversary-box-set-6cd-2dvd-boxset/
As a fan of many of the artists involved this is an outstanding concept release that features singers such as Bernie Shaw, Roberto Tiranti and Michael Sadler singing in styles they may do with their respective bands. And with that said, that contributes to the appeal here as these singers deliver performances like they have never before. Amazing performances, as well as from the various musicians such as Steve Hackett, Martin Barre and John Helliwell, among others. The last track is a wonderful surprise, as it features the late great John Wetton singing a ballad, “The Vision”.
An amazing production from Alan Simon, who has written and assembled a stellar cast here. As a Heep fan it is really something to hear Bernie [who delivers quite a theatrical intro] and Roberto [Ken Hensley’s Live Fire] sing in such a different project.
*For more info check out these links, as well as the press release below….
John Wetton (Asia / King Crimson) Steve Hackett (Genesis) John Helliwell, Jesse Siebenberg (Supertramp) Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep) Martin Barre (Jethro Tull) Jeremy Spencer (Fleetwood Mac) Michael Sadler (Saga) Roberto Tiranti (Labyrinth) Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra) Shira Golan & Miriam Toukan (The Peace Tent Project)
Move, Cry, Act, Clash! is the fifth part of French musician and producer Alan Simon’s legendary Celtic rock opera series Excalibur.
Featuring Alan Simon, John Wetton, Steve Hackett, Bernie Shaw, Jerry Goodman, Martin Barre, Jeremy Spencer, Michael Sadler, Roberto Tiranti, John Helliwell, Jesse Siebenberg, Shira Golan and Miriam Toukan.
Move, Cry, Act, Clash! concludes its 12 tracks with “The Vision” featuring the legendary John Wetton (King Crimson/Asia) in a beautiful tribute to the friendship and respect between these two musical giants.
Alan Simon is a Breton songwriter and director. Author of modern operas, his works are performed in various national theaters (Russia, Germany, France …). More than 300,000 spectators came to applaud Excalibur or Tristan & Yseult. Alan has obtained several gold and platinum records and his creations have received several awards. In the USA, Alan won the Grammy for best producer in 2008 and for best song, “Circle of Life,” performed by Jon Anderson of Yes. His album Big Bang (2018) is the soundtrack of the City of Space in Toulouse (an educational park about the conquest of space). After the film O Gengis in 2005 (with Omar Sharif and Jean Reno), he has just finished Monsieur Constant, his second film for the cinema, which is in production during 2021. Today Alan wants to go on tour around the world with his extraordinary musical round table where many legends of folk and rock meet.
“‘Excalibur’ brought me a lot of happiness because by creating this musical round table, I had the great chance to collaborate with incredible rock and folk legends, pillars of mythical groups: Yes, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Alan Parson, Asia, Barclay James Harvest, Genesis, Fairport Convention, Runrig, Jethro Tull, Saga, Uriah Heep… Since its creation 20 years ago ‘Excalibur’ has represented 5 studio and 3 live albums including 120 original tracks. Offering a new album is not trivial. You have to give everything. So I made this opus V by investing myself 100% with an ‘old-fashioned’ production. No home studio but the joy of living in a large studio (Drums code studios in Italy) with great soloists and a fantastic symphony. Then I contacted magical interpreters that I like. What a joy to hear the guitars of the legendary pillars of Genesis and Jethro Tull: Steve Hackett and Martin Barre or the voices of Supertramp from Saga and Uriah Heep: Jesse Siebenberg, Michael Sadler and Bernie Shaw without forgetting this incredible talented singer Roberto Tiranti. We spent 6 months in a mixing studio with an average of 100 tracks per title. I hope that this more rock album than the previous ones will sign a real return on stage of this universal legend, ‘ever green’ say the English. Thank you to all those who supported ‘Excalibur.’ After 300 000 spectators in 4 tours, I hope that this musical round table finally finds its audience under the aegis of sharing. These 12 new songs underline the urgency to get moving for our planet. More than ever our destiny is in our hands. And everything is good to take. The concept of Excalibur and its musical knights must contribute to this new start. Artists can (and must) get involved more than ever.” – Alan Simon
1 Move, Cry, Act, Clash 2 The Prisoner 3 The Last Bird 4 Messaline 5 I Said Shout 6 Heaven 7 The Lady of the Lake 8 When Your Feelings Grow 9 Wake Up (Before the Last War) 10 Hey 11 A Brand New Day 12 The Vision
Asia’s debut album from 1982 featured a number of hits, but it was the lead off single that was most successful and became the band’s trademark song, as it would for John Wetton. The song became a Top single in at least a half a dozen countries, as well as #1 on Billboard’s mainstream rock charts. In a 2011 interview with http://www.rediscoverthe80s.com John Wetton explained the song – “The lyrics are an abject apology for my dreadful behavior towards a particular woman (the woman I would eventually marry, but divorce 10 years later), the chorus began its life as a 6/8 country song, but when Geoff and I started writing together, we moved the time signatures around, and “Heat of the Moment” emerged. No-one else particularly “got” the song, and it was the last song to be recorded for the album…”
Hearing this song always takes me back to when this first came out, and hearing it daily either playing pool at a neighbor’s house (with the radio on) or listening to it on my walkman while delivering papers. Years later I got to interview John Wetton, and he was happy to talk about Asia and that song. It would feature on every Asia collection, as well as every John Wetton live release.
Today sees a ‘live’ release of the classic track, from the band’s upcoming release Official Live Bootlegs Volume 1, to be released through BMG Records on 26th November 2021.
The live single version of “Heat of The Moment” was recorded live at Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, NY, USA on 3rd May 1982. This performance came just days into their debut US tour. They were already selling out 2,000 – 5,000 seat halls. Within weeks, on the strength of an unprecedented amount of radio play and heavy rotation of their videos on MTV, their box office draw exploded.
Geoff Downes, who co-wrote the track with the late John Wetton commented: “Just before we went into the studio to record the first ASIA album, we realized we were one track short. So John and I sat down one afternoon and came up with “Heat Of The Moment.” He had the chorus, I had the verse and we literally put the ideas together there and then. I’m glad we did, because it became the lead-off single from the album and really established the band in the mainstream pop/rock charts. It’s hard to say whether or not the album would have been as successful had we not had this track, but for sure it certainly created a lot of momentum for us at the time. I’m proud of it, as it shows the instant magic John and I could work together as songwriters, and it still remains relevant 40 years on.”
The Official Live Bootlegs Volume 1 celebrates the huge appeal of the concert tours that followed ASIA’s first two albums in 1982 and 1983. The success continued following ASIA’s 25th anniversary reunion in 2006 and three more highly acclaimed albums. The slipcase boxset features 5 x 2CD concerts from 1982 (Buffalo, NY, USA), 1983 (Worcester, MA, USA), 2007 (São Paulo, Brazil), 2008 (Tokyo, Japan) and 2010 (London, UK).
With the release of 2 ASIA box sets in 2021, I’d thought I’d tidy up and re-share these interviews I did years ago – one with John Wetton  and one with Geoff Downes . Earlier this year BMG released The Reunion Albums slipbox [5CDs], and next month will release The Official Live Bootlegs : Volume 1. Next March marks the 40th Anniversary of the band’s debut album, let’s hope there’s something special being planned for release. RIP John.
ASIA Rises Again With Phoenix
This interview was done via email in 2008, following the release of Asia’s first comeback album Phoenix. For whatever reason, it did not all appear as I’d written it, so here is the complete thing. I’d originally sent questions for John Wetton and Geoff Downes, but only ever heard back from John.
What was the catalyst and, I guess – major reason or criteria for the original line-up of Asia to reunite? And was it with the understanding that it would have to be a long term commitment [w/ new recordings] – as opposed to just a one-off tour?
It really started with ‘Rock of faith’, a solo album from 2002,where Geoff and I wrote a song “I’ve come to take you home”, for the first time in many years. From that came the Icon project, and so on to Asia.
Over the years the reunion rumor had come up several times. How much had you guys kept in touch or had you sort of kept ‘tabs’ on each other over the years? AND, How well did the initial reunion shows go? Did they meet or exceed expectations? What have been some of the highlight concerts in the past 2 years?
Extremely well, and by the time we were halfway thru out 17-date US tour, we had an offer for Japan, and the UK.
On Phoenix John & Geoff resume as the band’s main songwriters. How easy was it to pick up your songwriting partnership after so many years?
As I explained in the first question, the ice had been broken, and we were used to working again with each other. The spark was still there.
With John & Geoff doing most of the writing, how is an Asia song [well, on Phoenix and the next album] generally put together? And what sort of input do Carl and Steve have?
Carl is not really a writer, and Steve tends to write on his own, but Geoff and myself enjoy the process of writing as a partnership.
How was the atmosphere and feeling – being together as the original Asia band again in the studio and on stage?
Much better than the first time around! We enjoyed ourselves, and banished some ghosts from the proceedings.
Phoenix is a great album, but it was more of a ‘grower’ from me because “Never Again” is such a powerful lead off rock track, but then the album really varies and includes more acoustic and softer songs. Did you guys have any idea what you wanted the album to sound like – or be a heavier or lighter album?
We just wanted it to be a representation of us 25 years on from our first outing. there are nods to our past, but the music is exactly what you get when you put those 4 musicians back on stage or in a studio. My one regret is that we didn’t have Mike Stone around to complete the circle, but that was not possible, as Mike is sadly no longer with us.
Never Again is a very uplifting and memorable song. Can you tell me what inspired that one musically and lyrically?
It’s virtually the Ten commandments. About never wanting to be judgmental, murderous or have evil intent. It’s musically quite hard-hitting. With the guitar intro, and powerful chorus, it is reminiscent of ‘Heat of the Moment’, but it was not intentionally so, and I think that is ok. ‘Parallel Worlds / Vortex / Deya’ is quite a melodic – progressive centerpiece to the album. Was this originally written as one song or separate pieces? Can you tell me how this song developed in to such an epic?
Yes,they all come from different periods. Deya was written in 1976,in Deya, Mallorca, Spain. Parallel Worlds was written in the Seneca Hotel, Niagara Falls, and was originally titled, ‘Sitting on top of the World’. Geoff wrote ‘Vortex’ quite recently.
How have the new songs been received live? Does there seem to be any fan favorites or faves that you guys enjoy performing?
Yes,’Never Again’, and ‘An Extraordinary Life’ go down very well in the live set.
Geoff and John are currently working on a new Icon album. How is that going? And is there any separation between Icon and Asia songs when writing? [I mean, any difference in what you’re writing or intending the songs for?]
We’re quite a long way into the record now, on overdubs – vocals, keyboards, etc. Should be finished by December sometime.
You’re also going on tour as Icon. How are these shows? Any different approaches to an Icon performance?
Yes, it’s very different from Asia. We have a cello (Hugh McDowell), and will have a female vocalist (Icon has duets).
When might we see another Asia studio album? Do you guys have any definite or tentative plans?
No plans as yet, but why not? We waited over 20 years for Phoenix, we don’t need to put out 2 records in 12 months.
As the original Asia was a fairly short-lived, straight to the top band in the early 80s. Do you guys feel you have something to prove to critics since reuniting?
Only to ourselves, and on a personal level, not musical.
Any solo albums in the future?
Yes, 2009 should see another solo record.
You were friends with David Byron for years; have you had a chance to check out the new Byron Band release from Damage Control Music [Robin George]?? Any contact with Ken Hensley or other Heep alumni since your own comeback?
I still have contact with Kenny, and Mick from the band. I was unaware of the Byron action.
You and Carl both had serious health issues in the past 2 years. How has that affected your drive and desire to create new stuff? And are you guys in to some new routines brought about by these health issues?
Only as far as exercise and diet, we still have the desire to play, and to create.
KJ, July 2012
ASIA – new album XXX
XXX had received rave reviews, many hailing it as the best since that first album. Geoff Downes is the band’s keyboard player and major songwriter – having contributed to such classic Asia songs as “Heat of The Moment”, “Only Time Will Tell”, “Don’t Cry” and numerous others [along with John Wetton]. Prior to Asia, Geoff had been part of “The Buggles”, before joining Yes for the Drama LP in 1980, a band he rejoined in 2011. In this interview Geoff discusses Asia’s ‘new’ reunion era, as well as the album XXX, as well as reflects on the band’s historic debut album.
What are the challenges and rewards this time around with the line-up of Asia? [What makes things easier and more rewarding, and what has changed that you need to work harder or differently at?].
Whenever we make a new album, it’s always a challenge. Not only to write the material, but also make sure we can do it justice in the live setting. The reward is knowing we have new music to play to people, not just relying on the early ‘classic’ material. Simply, nothing has really changed since we began the band. The main suspects are all still there – alive and well, thankfully!
First, just wanted to ask you – what have been some of the highlights since the band returned in 2006?
It’s been interesting to say the least. We all went into it not really with any great expectations or plans for the future. It seemed a nice path to take for all of us at the time and since then it’s been hugely enjoyable. That’s one of the main reasons that it’s still a going concern today.
Can you tell me a bit about some of tracks from ‘Phoenix” and “Omega”, such as “Never Again”, “An Extraordinary Life”, “I Believe” and “Finger On The Trigger”? [these being my favorites. Curious if you’d have any particular faves?] “Finger On The Trigger” was first recorded with John Wetton, but re-worked for “Omega”. Curious if there’s other tracks from “XXX” that may have been around for a while?
We wrote most of the material for these albums in dedicated writing periods before the start of the albums. Actually, with the exception of FOTT which had already recorded on the ICON CD Rubicon by John and myself. I think the record label saw it as being appropriate as an ASIA song. NA & AEL all written specifically with ASIA in mind. No actual full songs remain from these albums, but there are some interesting unused snippets of ideas.
You stuck with Mike Paxman as producer again, as opposed to producing yourselves. How was Mike to work with?
Mike did a great job with Omega, and provided us with a comfortable and relaxed environment in the studio. We felt he kept a very good balance between all the band members not only musically but also personally. We got to know him as a friend too, and so we had no hesitation in asking him back to help us make the XXX album.
The songs on XXX are mainly written by yourself and John Wetton. How did that work out, as [going back to the first album] – there was more band credits? [Might we hear more from Steve and Carl in the future?]
Certainly, historically a fair percentage of the band compositions have emanated from John and me. That’s not to say that that diminishes Steve’s contributions. Actually, Steve has 3 co-writes on this XXX, which is the same as he contributed on ASIA. But yeah, a full group composition might be interesting for the next album!
What is the ‘process’ of yourself and John writing together? Do either of you tend to come up with more of the words, or more of the melodies, etc… ?
The music is usually jointly collated. It’s quite rare that any of our songs end up as being the whole of one our individual ideas. I think that’s the beauty of it and why it works so well, is, that weave together two of our ideas and come up with – well, something different. John does most of the lyrics, but I’ll throw in the odd title or line here and there. I think it’s important for John that HE believes in what he’s singing about.
Can you give me a few lines on your Asia bandmates? [Having worked them 30 years ago, and currently, and what’s changed in the way you all get along and work together]
The thing with this band is that we are all very different personalities. In the early days, this could at times cause conflict, or conversely work in a very positive fashion. Since we got back together we have focused collectively on the latter. There’s a very strong level of respect between the four of us, and the chemistry is still there. That’s what’s important.
The new album seems [IMO] a bit more upbeat/rockier. I love “tomorrow The World” [and that intro], “Face On The Bridge”, Bury Me In Willow”, “Judas” … Can you give me a few lines about some of the songs – as to what inspired them or how they came about, lyrics, etc…?
We wanted to give the fans something a bit more upbeat this time. That’s not to say our previous albums have any less substance. It’s sometimes just how they turn out in terms of balance, but it’s not possible to second-guess this when you embark on a new album such as XXX. The songs are based on hope and inspiration. They are more spiritual without being religious. But bottom line is, it’s better to listen to music than talk about it to be honest.
I enjoyed “Phoenix” and “Omega”, but think this album is stronger all around. How happy are you guys with its outcome and how it stands up with previous Asia albums?
Honestly, we think it ranks up there with some of our best historical work. Having said that, some people will get more out of one album than another, so it’s all a matter of choice and personal taste really. I think we’re more proud of the fact that, we’re still here making fresh and inspiring new music 30 years on. That’s more than quite a lot of bands could say these days!
You’ve also done 2 videos for this album [Face On the Bridge and Faithful]. Might there be any further videos to promote any other tracks?
No, that’s it. Two’s enough!
You guys obviously have a lot of material to choose from for a live set. Curious how much of the new album will be featured, and what ‘staples’ are there from the previous 2 albums?
The set will be made up of all the ASIA albums that have featured the four original members. Of course there will be some of the signature songs from the first two 80’s albums, but we will also be incorporating material from the last three.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the debut album. Reflecting back, what are your fondest memories of that period and what can fans expect [aside from the CD re-issue] to commemorate its release? Any chance there’ll be a live performance of that complete album?
There are many great memories to savour when that 1st album really took off, too many to mention. We had worked long and hard on that for a year prior to its release, so our efforts were thoroughly rewarded. It was an exciting time for us. So it might be appropriate to turn the clock back and play the whole of that album again, like we did on the first tour. But there again, a show is all about balance, and it’s important for us to feature the newer music as well.
Beyond Asia, what else are you working on these days? Any Yes projects, solo outings, … ?
Well yeah, aside from recording the new ASIA CD, I’ve been involved with a number of projects over the last year or two. Specifically, my return to YES which has been a real privilege, and great fun to be back involved with those guys again. But also, I’ve been working with singer/songwriter Chris Braide on an album, as well as a whole host of other projects, so it’s very busy times for me right now!
The Official Live BootlegsVolume 1 Out on 26th November 12th October 2021: Multi-platinum selling English supergroup ASIA are to release a 10CD boxset The Official Live Bootlegs Volume 1 through BMG Records on 26th November 2021. There will also be a digital album featuring a selection of 24 tracks taken from the full boxset, out on the same day.
When ASIA came out on the scene in 1982, they were a huge global success with their debut single “Heat Of The Moment” and debut album – which was #1 on the US Billboard charts for 9 weeks! The band was instantly dubbed a ‘supergroup’ based on the success and achievements of it’s band members – ASIA: Geoff Downes (The Buggles, YES, keyboards), Steve Howe (YES, solo, guitars), Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, drums) and John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, Uriah Heep, bass/vocals).
The original foursome recorded just 2 albums, the self-titled debut, which also included the hits (“Only Time Will Tell” and “Sole Survivor”), followed by 1983’s Alpha (which featured the big hit “Don’t Cry”). Soon after John Wetton left the band, then returned, followed by Steve Howe’s departure (Howe went on to the successful GTR project, before resuming a solo career). The band carried on, making one further album with Mandy Meyer, and a few singles beyond that, before splitting up. Geoff Downes later formed a new version of the band (w/ John Payne), and Wetton went on to record a number of solo albums). The original line-up reunited in 2006, releasing Fantasia : Live In Tokyo (2007), and would release 3 further studio albums – Phoenix (2008), Omega (2010), and XXX (2012), before Howe left again (to focus on YES), and the band recorded just 1 further album in 2014 (Gravitas, with Sam Coulson), before the passing of John Wetton in 2017.
ASIA didn’t release an official Live album in their original line-up until the reunion happened, although there were radio shows and audience recordings out there from the ’80s, as well as now hard to find series From The Asia Archives in the early 2000s (which I might think included some of these shows came from?). So, this Volume 1 of the bands “official Bootleg” recordings will be easier to obtain and a nice addition to their catalogue for fans. The 5 shows in this slipcase box set include > 1982 (Buffalo, NY, USA), 1983 (Worcester, MA, USA), 2007 (São Paulo, Brazil), 2008 (Tokyo, Japan) and 2010 (London, UK), with all shows taking up 2 CDs each. *BMG also recently released a 5CD slip box of the ‘reunion’ albums. As one who has very little live Asia, I am looking forward to this.
“This historical collection represents some of our finest and most defining live moments,” says Geoff Downes, “from the very first ASIA tour in 1982 and the Alpha tour the following year through three of our many ‘Reunion’ shows. It was such a privilege to take ASIA’s music to these different continents and feel the warmth and support from fans all over the world. We hope this brings back great memories and inspires others to appreciate the music of ASIA”.
This the first time these recordings have been made officially available by ASIA and they are presented together in a superb collector’s edition boxset with original artwork by Roger Dean, who created all of ASIA’s album artwork.