Tuesday, 31 January 2017

John Wetton

I'm not often moved to write about a musician who has passed, but John Wetton was different.

At the start of the eighties some of my favourite musicians started forming bands together in some sort of fantasy rock group league. First Adrian Belew from Bowie's band & Talking Heads joined up with Bill Bruford, Tony Levin and a guitarist called Robert Fripp who I had never heard of, and then two of the lineup that made Drama, still my best loved Yes album, to form Asia with ELP's drummer and John Wetton.

John Wetton was a favourite by then. A hard driving bass player and a singer with a distinctive mid range voice. I heard him originally on U.K.'s Night After Night live album, worked back to the first U.K. album (where I found Bruford and especially Allan Holdsworth) and then earlier versions of King Crimson. Asia were different, more mainstream, the term AOR was just becoming one of abuse, but with enough substance to keep the music interesting. Built around Geoff Downes keyboard sounds, which were as much Buggles as Yes, Steve Howe's guitar solos were trimmed to keep you wanting more rather than looking at your watch, and Carl Palmer by and large kept out of the way.

In Downes, Wetton had the writing foil he needed to bring out the commercial aspect of his songs and make them hits. Short punchy anthems, the first album was full of them. John Wetton had been heading in this direction for a while, "As Long As You Want Me Here" on Night After Night, and his sole contribution to Wishbone Ash "That's That",and Downes contributions enabled him to create an album full of memorable hooks and tunes. Mike Stone's production and the business backing of John Kalodner and Geffen Records provided the mega seller that four muso's from the seventies would never have expected.

Lightning didn't strike twice and the second album was not as good, and in the end politics got in the way. The whole story is on Wikipedia fairly accurately. After Asia Wetton had a solo career that produced some great songs and a lot of good versions of his past triumphs. I saw the reformed Asia in 2009 and they were good, the voice was there and the bass playing was excellent. Wetton still had it right up to the end. The last picture I saw of him meeting Fripp was of a gaunt figure, who has sadly joined the ranks of the gone too soon. I will remember the powerhouse singer and bassist and play some his music tonight. What would I suggest to the person who has only just learnt his name or lost track in 1982?

Asia - "Asia" The whole album not a bad song on it. Heat Of the Moment might have been the hit but   there are stronger songs and performances.

John Wetton - "Live In Tokyo 1997" Some of his best interpretations of Crimson, U.K. and Asia along with the pick of his then current solo stuff, skip the solos though.

Wishbone Ash - "That's That" from Number The Brave, great metallic bass sound, Asia should have covered this.

John Wetton - "Raised in Captivity" His last studio album and probably one of his best

His whole discography is here explore it and find some lost gems along with songs that if you are of my generation will resonate with you

John Wetton 1949 - 2017 R.I.P.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Artist Choice Part One - Samantha James

In 2009 one of my discoveries was Samantha James. You can get the basic bio here. On the surface one of the stable of EDM artists that OM Records offer to the world, there is a certain something about the mix of her voice, the production, and the slightly hippy trippy lyrics that adds up to more than the sum of it's parts. So far her two albums Rise in 2007 & Subconscious from 2010 are at the top of my "played" count on the iPod. How come a fairly "traditional" fan took to something that seems a bit remote from my usual listening fare?

I think it is that "certain something" and the personal reaction to music I mentioned in "How Did I Miss This" previously. The arrangements often have an acoustic or slightly more organic element to them than run of  the mill Electronic Dance Music. There was an acoustic E.P. accompanying the Rise album where the songs stood up as well stripped back as they did with full "band". The lyrics on closer inspection are far deeper than they seem at first glance. The Subconscious album came out of the passing of her father from cancer, but it comes across as a very positive set of songs. Rise took a two years to complete and a couple of the songs have the feel of being worked over once too often, the acoustic version of 'Rain' is far superior to the album cut for instance. It does however contain two of her best songs, 'Rise' and 'Send It Out To The Universe'. So strong songwriting with thoughtful arrangements,  and a judicious use of collaborators, Brazilian singer/guitarist Celso Fonseca, and the Canadian J.B.Eckl who has collaborated with Carlos Santana in the past. Neither chosen for their big name pulling power but each adds to the songs they appear on. There are the inevitable remixes, Kaskade, & Eric Kupper, as well as others I have never heard of. The thoughtfulness in the process again comes through.

And after a single, 'Wings of Faith' in 2011 that was it, A couple of guest appearances on obscure albums crept out and her social media posts dwindled. I thought we may be left with two great albums as her legacy, but just recently the pace has picked up. A collaboration with Myon looks like bearing fruit in 2017 so this may be the time to investigate Samantha James.

Listening to her sent me off to other Downtempo and Nu-Jazz related artists like Late Night Alumni, Kyoto Jazz Massive and the Saint Germain Des Pres Cafe compilations. Try the playlist below as a starter and let me know what you think.

From Rise
I Found You
Enchanted Life
Send It Out To The Universe

From Rise Acoustic Sessions

Together As One (with Charles Webster)

From Subsconcious

Waves of Change

Buy her music on Bandcamp
Twitter @samanthajames13
Online at Om Records There's another playlist and videos here

Monday, 9 January 2017

How Did I Miss This?

There's no logic behind the music you (or at least I) listen to. A friend tried to explain football to me once and why he supports Yeovil Town. I still don't get football, but I do get the feeling that you were meant to discover a team, or band, and follow them through thick & thin. This loyalty, borne of the hope that this is album is where they will find the spark again has been misplaced more than once. I went on buying Santana's albums long after it became obvious he didn't have another Moonflower to offer for instance.

But then there is the music that passes you by at the time and you only pick up on thirty or more years later; like Magazine.

I heard 'Shot by Both Sides' when John Peel played it, I watched them on Old Grey Whistle Test but the rest of their career came and went without me giving a second glance. Given that I liked a lot of bands from a similar part of the musical forest I don't know why. Then just a couple of months ago I saw their performance at the Electric Prom in 2009 on You Tube.This one in fact...

... and a few weeks later I have the excellent compilation 'Touch & Go', A BBC In Concert from 1978 and just downloaded today, 'Real Life and Thereafter' from the 2009 reunion tour.

The synth line in 'Definitive Gaze', Songs like 'Give Me Everything', Surely these would have struck the same chord then as they have now. I listen to a lot of music now that I was listening too in 1979/80 still and I must have heard them on the radio so why did I not pick up on this at the time? I had 30 years, I could have gone to the 2009 tour. What blinded me to the obvious quality of Howard Devoto's lyrics or Barry Adamson's bass playing for all this time? Who knows, anyway, found it now.

The question of course is what else is out there to find?  Artists I still don't get although I know I "should" like them include Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones and Leonard Cohen. At least with these I have tried, I have listened to their albums, looked for the point of entry that will connect me the millions who clearly hear something I don't.

That of course is the point of music, it is the intensely personal reaction to music, (or football) which makes the journey and the exploration worthwhile, and fills up the iPod with something to suit any mood or emotion.

Let's see what's out there...