Wetton's Ark Is Filled To The Rim With Angels ...
by John 'Bo Bo' Bollenberg
'Bo Bo': Was 'Akustika' a logical release in your recording output ?
John Wetton: I had done eleven dates in my own right in the States and about 26 dates in Europe supporting Saga. I did an acoustic set each night and after the show people would come up to me and ask when I was going to release an acoustic CD. I started thinking about it and remembered what Robert Fripp had done, namely releasing loads of live material himself in order to beat the bootleggers at their game ! If you release your own live recordings in good quality then there's no point for the bootleggers to continue what they're doing. Regarding King Crimson Robert told me there are about 120 different bootlegs ! People should be aware that the artists themselves don't get a penny out of it. So that's why I released 'Akustika'. It had nothing to do with MTV that's for sure !
'Bo Bo': The band you had during the recording of 'Chasing The Dragon' obviously wasn't the 'real' band you were looking for. How difficult is it to put a 'real' band together ?
John Wetton: I knew the band 'It Bites' for a long time as they were my biggest UK-fans ever ! Also they were signed to Brian Lane's management so I knew them very closely and knew they were very good musicians. I was in need of a band very urgently and knew Francis Dunnery was doing something outside the band. Also I knew that the remaining bandmembers of 'It Bites' wanted to stick together in the future so I immediately had a complete band at hand. Most of the times if I want to put a band together there are several well-known names that want to lend a hand. However these 'names' sometimes give me loads of problems so I thought why not give people that are hungry for success a chance. Hence the fact that I did some gigs with 'Landmarq'. Normally they would have asked Clive Nolan to do the keyboards but he was too busy at the time so they opted for Martin Orford instead. I was so impressed with Martin that I have asked him ever since. At first I would have asked the Belgian band 'Now' but in the end they were impossible to work with. One moment they could do the job the next they couldn't. It's a pity it didn't work out as I've heard that they are very talented musicians.
'Bo Bo': How did you come to find the wonderful musicians you use now ?
John Wetton: At one point I did a gig in Uden, Holland which I taped. I listened to it afterwards and Martin didn't make one single mistake. For me that was enough to continue working with him. On top of that he's a very nice chap ! Billy Liesegang I met through Trevor Horn. At one point Trevor proposed a project which would consist of me, Billy and a Greek composer by the name of George Di Angelis. George suddenly became succeslul as a producer so the project was shelved. However in the meantime I had composed two tracks together with Billy which later were used on his solo album 'No Strings Attached'. Thomas Lang, I got to know through Billy. Because I brought Martin Orford into the band, Billy could bring someone as well so he brought in Thomas whom he said he was brilliant. Having heard this a million times before I didn't take any notice but I managed to get in touch with Thomas prior to hearing some of his stuff. From the moment we met it clicked and when I heard his playing afterwards - well, I was stunned ! At one point Thomas played Zappa's 'Black page' which was a track both Terri Bozzio and Eddie Jobson had to study when they were with Zappa. I sent Jobson a copy of the Thomas Lang session and he couldn't believe what he was hearing ! Concerning Keith More I was very pleased to have him in the band as I think he's one of the best guitarists around. At one point he sort of suggested leaving the band in favour of Arena which was something I could easily understand. Unfortunately Keith has now left Arena but in his situation I think it might be the best solution as his solo album is really ace. As a matter of fact he's opening for Simon Philips tonight so good luck to him !
'Bo Bo': I hear you'll be doing a tour in September with Keith More as support ...
John Wetton: What happened is that Keith called me a couple of weeks ago and informed me about his current situation. So I got in touch with my agent in England and Europe and suggested taking Keith on tour with me in September. Unfortunately the support slot is sometimes suggested by the promotor in the country where the gig is taking place. So personally I can't guarantee Keith will be doing the entire tour but where there's an option I will surely try and drag him along !
'Bo Bo': How different is it working with these guys compared to the band on 'Chasing ...'
John Wetton: The band is more 'organic' as opposed to the previous band. When I toured with the boys from 'It Bites' it was more of a job for them. They learned the scores, did their job, finished the tour and looked out for something else. With the guys I have now I get suggestions from the various bandmembers which is how it should be. The stuff we do together should be the result of brainstorming together.
'Bo Bo': Would you say this is your final John Wetton Band ?
John Wetton: This isn't up to me as each of the individual members has the right to leave the band at any particular stage. As they are each and every one of them superb musicians I'm pretty certain I'm not the only one asking to use their skills. So yes, it's up to them to decide how long they want to remain part of my band but I do hope we'll be able to make many an album together.
'Bo Bo': The new album 'Arkangel' was a long time in the making. Did you start writing straight after 'Battle Lines' ?
John Wetton: I never stop writing. It's like I'm walking into a tunnel shaped like a cone. I keep on walking and walking and suddenly reach the tip of the cone, the end of that particular tunnel. That's where the process of making a particular album stops. ln the case of 'Arkangel' this was 14th February 1996, a superb day to end a project. I went on holiday to ltaly in July '96 and I mean REALLY on holiday. In fact it was my first real visit to the country in fifteen years. And the inspiration started flowing from the moment I set foot on Italian soil. Most of the recording then took place in north-east London which was a big difference with the previous studio album. 'Battle Lines' was recorded in sunny Los Angeles amidst waving palmtrees whereas 'Arkangel' was recorded in rainy, grey London. I had hoped the album would've been ready for Christmas '96 but we had some misfortune. Our computer was stolen which contained all of the recording information and sounds. Luckily we had all of the information on floppy discs but it was like putting a huge jigsaw puzzle together. It took us ages ! After Christmas it was my turn to catch the flu. Then when the mastering of the disc had to be done, two of our cutting engineers had the flu. It was hilarious.
'Bo Bo': I'm sure 'Ark angel' will be a very fluent album ... (loud laughter from John ...)
'Bo Bo': In what ways does if differ from 'Battle Lines' ?
John Wetton: The album is more orchestral, more raw, more adventurous. The first person that listened to the material next to the bandmembers and studio personnel told me, after listening to four songs: "Man this is not a happy recording. This is MORBID !" What happened was that on 'Arkangel' my true emotions have been put onto music. I sing about things that happened as far back as my childhood and I sing them with every emotion I have which indeed makes it a strong statement and somber record to listen to. When I write material whilst being in London I'm very stressed as the phone always rings or the fax spits paper. Now I wasn't stressed at all and could concentrate on every detail. I even asked to leave the sound of every breath I take on the record as opposed to erase them in the studio. People simply have to hear where the emotion is so big I have to take an extra inhale of breath. I must also underline the importance of the wonderful orchestrations courtesy of Mike Stobbie. Mike was introduced to me through Keith More. In the end I had a chat with Mike and gave him one of my songs to work on. Three days later he called me over and what I heard simply was unbelievable. This guy is a genius, he really is and it blends very well with the rough approach of Billy's guitar parts.
'Bo Bo': I believe Steve Hackett guests on it. Any other names ?
John Wetton: He does indeed. I have been friends with Steve for nearly 25 years now. What people don't know is that Steve is an ace harmonica player ! Because I had one or two tracks that were in desperate need of some harmonica I called Steve and asked if he wanted to do it. At that particular time Steve was recording his 'Genesis Revisited' album and so he called me to sing on two tracks: 'Firth Of Frith' and 'Watcher Of The Skies'. Then he was asked to do a tour in Japan and again called me to see if I was interested to come along as a singer. Of course I agreed to do the tour so the recording of 'Arkangel' was postponed for a month as I had to start learning all those Genesis compositions. I also used a guy called Tim Garland on saxophone and there was one particular track on the album that simply had to have Robert Fripp on it. In fact Robert was the only option I had for this track. I called him, he accepted and I went over to his place. He listened to the track, fiddled about with some pedals and effects, plugged in his guitar and by the second take it was there: just the kind of sound I had in my mind all along. One hour later I was back home ! Apart from these great guests, the album is mainly based around the actual bandmembers.
'Bo Bo': Would you say you are more AOR now than prog or do you feel you have always written 'melodic' music ?
John Wetton: Even in 1974 with King Crimson I wrote 'melodic music'. The ballad part in 'Starless and bible black' I wrote. It was the fact that the track became longer and longer which made it a progressive piece but if you take that ballad part out of it, you get a song in it's own right. So my way of writing songs hasn't changed. It is down to the arrangement to make something prog, AOR or simply melodic.
'Bo Bo': You toured in Japan with Steve Hackett. How was the reception from the audience ?
John Wetton: The reception was overwhelming as it not only consisted of Steve Hackett but also Ian Mc Donald, Chester Thompson and Julian Colbeck. So people thought they saw a superband in action and wouldn't witness it a second time. We did four concerts in front of something like 3000 people each night. Apart from the obvious Hackett and Genesis material we also did King Crimson material from the first album such as 'I Talk To The Wind'. You'll be able to see the audience going absolutely crackers as there will be a live video out very soon.
'Bo Bo': Speaking of Japan I guess that particular audience is very eager to hear the new UK material. I believe a 20 minute track with a Bulgarian choir is on the cards ...
John Wetton: I know I told you the release for the album would've been the first half of '96 but that wasn't possible. Fact is that we stopped working on the album in February '96 as we all had other commitments lined up. Eddie Jobson had been asked to write the music for the new Nash Bridges TV-series starring Don Johnson. Now I believe this show will be running for 56 consecutive weeks which means he has to write the music for a complete episode every week for over a year ! So far about half of the UK album has been finished and I can indeed tell you it will boast a 20 minute track featuring a Bulgarian choir. Again, the entire piece is based around a song which I wrote and which in fact is a lullaby. However prior to the real 'lullaby' you get some industrial Hammond sounds from Eddie and of course those wailing Bulgarian voices. My god, it's like you hear all the ages of oppression in their voices ! The arrangement for the choir has been done by Eddie and it really sounds incredible ! The album will now hopefully be released in the second half of this year as we have all agreed to reserve the month of May for some more recording with UK. In Japan we already have a deal for the album with Mitsubishi but we're still looking for the right deal in Europe and the States so if any A&R people are reading this: give's a call ! John 'Bo Bo' Bollenberg :How disappointing is it for an artist if he records material that never gets released ? The main reason for my asking concerns a so far unreleased second Pete Sinfield album which has you, Greg Lake, Boz Burell, Mel Collins ...
John Wetton: It's tragic as I think the only thing every 'real' musician wants is to have his/her music heard ! Regarding this second Sinfield album I don't know about that one. The only one I know is 'Stillusion'. All I really want is to have the material out regardless of the money involved. Look, in 1991 I got a phonecall asking if I would agree that three tracks I once did with French band Atoll, would be released on a CD re-issue. I agreed on condition that they would be marked as demo's. They did and I'm happy it finally saw the light of day. However up until now I haven't seen a penny of royalties and I think I never will ! (meanwhile I checked my information and saw that the CD version of 'Stillusion' on Voiceprint has some bonus tracks from what would have been his second album which was never issued - 'Bo Bo').
'Bo Bo': Sometimes it takes a long time before something is released. Voiceprint is now planning two 'UK' live recordings. But do they reach sufficient people as opposed to say the '70's ?
John Wetton: Again as with Robert Fripp, the main idea to release these 'UK' live recordings is to beat the bootleggers at their own game. Labels like Voiceprint are needed as otherwise that particular material will never be released (officially that is). Voiceprint's Malcolm Harrison knows he puts out some difficult material that won't reach a gigantic audience but he feels it's his duty to get the stuff out for otherwise the world will be up to their eyeballs in Spice Girls !
'Bo Bo': Not so long ago you played the Astoria when people like Mike Rutherford, Kevin Godley, Robert Fripp, Phil Manzanera and Richard Palmer-James came to see you. How important is it for a musician to see those familar faces at a gig ? Does it make you extra nervous (or aren't you nervous at all ?)
John Wetton: When a journalist once asked Thomas Lang if he was nervous, Thomas asnwered: "Nervous ? why should we be ? everyone knows what he has to do, nothing can go wrong so why should we be nervous ?" I think this sort of sums up how we feel although I must admit if I'm in a venue with 2000 seats and one is empty and 1999 are taken; I'll be looking at that empty seat all night !
'Bo Bo': You went to see King Crimson when they toured with 'Vroooom' which you called 'Sounding like the grandson of 'Red' '. Compared with your material I guess Robert Fripp must find it very difficult to like what you're doing. Is coming to see one of your gigs not torture for him ?
John Wetton: You just told about the Astoria gig where Robert came to see me. The next day the phone rang? I picked it up and a voice said: "Hi John? it's Robert Fripp". I asked him what he thought of the previous night and he answered: "A triumph? a triumph !"
'Bo Bo': Could it be that the 'Arkangel' in Wetton's new album has Fripp as surname ?
The album 'Arkangel' will be released in Japan on 21st April and will include 13 tracks one of which is a bonus track that was recorded two years ago. The European version will contain twelve tracks and will be released in September.