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Oliver's Memories of John Wetton

I felt that I had to write a few lines about the sad news I heard this morning about the passing of John Wetton, the voice of Asia.

I first got to know John Wetton's work when I bought a CD of the first Asia album as a lad in my early 20's and was instantly struck with his ability to conjour a melody out of no-where, and to be able to produce track after track of interesting and catchy vocal lines.

I bought many of his albums over the years and in my early 20's there were mumblings from a friend of mine that John was looking for a keyboard player and he'd put my name forward. Unfortunaltely, nothing came of that but I was proud to have been considered.

Going forward to 2008 and I received my first 'Keyboard player of the year' award from John at the Classic Rock Society awards night.

Oliver and John Wetton at an awards show with Oliver receiving an award

Skip forward another 11 years and on my 3rd tour with YES it was billed as YES with Special Guest Asia. We spent 4/5 weeks traveling together and I got to spend a lot of time with John and would often breakfast together and he was always a charming person to talk to. Very open about the challenges he had faced and how he worked hard to ensure his life was always moving in a positive direction. He was also very focussed and an utter professional. I enjoyed watching him perform almost every night of the tour.

I distinctly remember one trip we took on the tour as if it was yesterday. We were fortunate enough to have a lift on a private jet to one of our shows by a friend of the band and whilst on the flight John spent the whole time giving me advice about how to approach my career and how to develop as an artist.

I remember him explaining in so many words that, as I had now worked with YES for a period of time, I had should be proud of myself to have become a part of YES's history. He also explained about self-believe and how I shouldn't settle for music I didn't believe in. He was very encouraging and, of all my times on tour over the years, I hold those words of wisdom close to me. I still have a poster from that tour on my music room wall signed by him which now has now become a more cherished possession.

We met up again during my very last shows with YES in Mexico which were also with Asia. John again spent time with me during those few days which were a very difficult couple of shows (it had been announced that Geoff was replacing me and I was obligated to do the last shows of the tour). He was very understanding of the situation and was very upset about the handling of the whole thing.

The shows came and went and before I knew it I was on my way home and no longer working with YES. I arrived home not sure of what to do next and so started work on a large musical project and the Raven's and Lullabies album with Gordon Giltrap. (Remembering John's advice to only work with artists that you really wanted to to create quality music!)

This album was extremely well received and won a few album of the year awards as well as a songwriting nomination for the track 'Moneyfacturing' from PROG magazine in 2013.

John and I would keep in sporadic touch over the next few years as he continued with Asia and I toured with Gordon as a duo. However, when Gordon and I put a full band together for a tour in early 2014, I contacted John as we were to perform at a venue close to his home and asked if he's like to come along as our guest.

John replied and said he'd love to come and also asked if he could perform with us. I was so pleased to, after all these years of knowing John, to get a chance of performing with him. (During the YES/Asia tour in '09 there had been talk of both bands getting together to perform at the end of the night but it never happened unfortunately.)

John was true to his word and we met early afternoon to go through the Asia classic 'Heat of the Moment'. It was such great fun and I had a smile on my face the whole afternoon. The show came and John joined us at the end of the show to perform the song for the audience and I finally had a dream fulfilled. I also think I'm the only person to have performed with Gordon Giltrap and John Wetton at the same time!

Oliver, Gordon Giltrap and John Wetton on stage

All musicians are inspired by many different artists and I have various artists which have infuenced me over the years. John was one such artist.

After listening to John's song writing I would always ensure that I would not just 'settle' for any old melody in the verse just to get to a catchy chorus. John always made the entire song melodic and I felt this made the listener want to understand to the entire story of the song rather than just a sing along chorus.

So I have religiously made my self go back and re-write countless verse melodies over the years to ensure that the listener is drawn into the story that the song is trying to tell. Even when people have said to me, "it's fine, leave it now", I've always struggled on, refining and refining, trying to ensure every melody line is working with the music in the best way it can.

So John, for your inspiration, encouragement and support during tough times I am eternally grateful.

Oliver Wakeman
January 31st 2017

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