Review – Phenomena: Phenomena / Dream Runner / Innervision / Anthology – 4CD Box Set – by John Wenlock-Smith

Nostalgia is a thing of the past, or so one witty person once said. Although, reading progressive music websites could we have you thinking that prog fans are Living In The Past, as Jethro Tull once sang on their unorthodox album of the same name, released in 1972. A certain sector of prog fans tends to view with suspicion any album released after 1976 and, heaven forbid, anything from the eighties or beyond!

This is unfair and is not completely true, much as I love those classic albums from prog’s so called ‘golden era’, I am also open to newer music, as I am to reissues of classic, long lost, or under-appreciated albums, of which I have reviewed several on this very site.

Many of these lost gems come from the good people at Esoteric/Cherry Red, although some have come from the Rock Candy label whose remit is usually hard rock or AOR type offerings from US Bands who got lost in the mix of all that has happened in the last four decades.

This review features one of those lost gems, namely the Phenomena album from 1985. Phenomena was a project created and  by Tom Galley, the Cannock, Staffordshire younger brother of Mel Galley (the guitarist in the Midlands based band Trapeze). Mel was also heavily involved in the music behind this “concept” album, being able to call up, and recruit, his old band mate Glenn Hughes, who had been with Trapeze for their first three albums before jumping ship and taking over from Roger Glover in Deep Purple. In addition, both Cozy Powell and Neil Murray (who were both members of Mel’s then band Whitesnake) were recruited to the project, as was original Magnum keyboard player Richard Bailey and John Thomas of Budgie.

On paper, the project had the stamp of pedigree with some very well known and established musicians to carry the project forward. The album had interesting packaging with a deluxe booklet with the lyrics and the artwork of Ian Lowe’s interpretation of the songs (along with the lyrics and album credits). All this occurred on the then Bronze label home of Uriah Heep and another local hero Robin George, who also had Magnum connections. However, Bronze were in trouble financially, their golden days of Uriah Heep selling millions of albums were long past and they were struggling to make ends meet, As such, despite the huge promotional push for Phenomena, it sadly failed to make the sales expected, Robin George’s then album, ‘Dangerous Music’, suffering a similar fate.

Listening to the album again now ,nearly 40 years on, is fascinating and, yes, the music certainly stands up well and is rightly due for re-evaluation, This set comprises all three Phenomena albums, along with the ‘Anthology’ album that includes three tracks from the original album, three from the second album, ‘Dream Runner’, and four from the third, and final, Phenomena album, ‘Innervision’. In addition, there are three non-album tracks and two 12″ single mixes of Did It All For Love and Still The Night. Also, there is a booklet for each album that gives the lowdown, who plays what and the full lyrics to each album, all well presented in a sturdy clamshell box.

The music itself is prominently British heavy rock of the mid 1980’s so think Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy or Gary Moore and you’re in the right territory. What really lifts the album into something special though are the tremendous vocals of Glenn Hughes who is absolutely fabulous throughout and sings his lungs out on tracks like Still the Night and Phoenix Rising. Also very noteworthy is the demonic violin playing of Ric Sanders (latterly of Fairport Convention) on the track Dance With The Devil. It is utterly mesmerising and backed up with some muscular musical accompaniment. The last track on the album is a little different in that it is performed by a boys’ choir who wordlessly intone Latin, which gives a certain gothic nature to the track.

On listening to the album, I think I can spot where they went wrong in that the concept was not clear enough for listeners to fully grasp and so this was a factor in not really reaching the heights they had wanted to achieve. Also, there were a myriad of confusing releases from the album which, over time, diluted the album’s appeal and could be viewed as hype that was not fully realised. This was a pity as the original album had good material and performances throughout and really deserved far better than it received.

The next Phenomena album was released, again to much fanfare, in 1987, some two years after the original album. This time around they took a more Sci-Fi based storyline and plot, although, again, the concept got lost in the mix a little. This time they had, in addition to Glenn Hughes, John Wetton of Asia, Ray Gillen of Black Sabbath and members of Japanese band Bow Wow, whose guitarist and drummer came on board, as did Max Bacon of Bronz, another group whose success was limited by the collapse of the Bronze label.

The music was, again, very mid eighty’s hard rock, although John Wetton’s vocal on Did It All for Love gave the album a big boost in certain markets like Europe and South America, where it was a big hit, making the album even more successful than the first. It still stands as a fine piece of hard rock from that era, stand out tracks being Did It All For Love, Hearts On Fire, Jukebox  and No Retreat, No Surrender, on which Ray Gillen turns in a memorable performance. Again, the artwork is very suited to the album and the booklet details the saga of getting the album out. It was quite a struggle and the fact they managed it speaks volumes to the faith they had in the project, which was thankfully repaid upon release.

The third album in this set is the ‘Innervision’ album from 1993, this time the concept was far less ethereal or supernatural and was more like a gangster story. The music is more up to date, in that it sounded like a British Bon Jovi with big riffs and choruses and with a great, little known, vocalist, Keith Murrell (who had sung with Cliff Richard and Airrace, amongst others). The big star on this album was Brian May, who Scott Gorham knew and asked to play on two songs, What About Love? and A Whole Lot Of Love. The lineup may have been slimmed down but, even so, the music has fire and guts and still sounds good today, some 28 years on. I never bought this instalment as it was always expensive, so it’s good to have it in this set now. Again, the booklet tells the story behind the album and the difficulties they had in getting it released, 7 years after the second and 10 years after the first album.

Banzai sounds like a Foreigner song with some crunchy guitar riffs amidst the keyboards, the big song is What About Love, featuring the aforementioned Brian May on guitar, and this sounds truly epic with masses of backing vocals. They were trying to get Freddie Mercury to sing but, sadly, it never happened, imagine how that would have sounded! Yet again, the concept gets lost in the mix somehow but, the songs and music are exceptionally fine indeed and Keith Murrell is a fine singer who brings fire and passion to these songs, making this third instalment a real treat and an undiscovered classic album.

Having said all this, I do feel that these albums are worthy of far more appreciation than they received at the time and the additional tracks and excellent booklets provide information that makes this set very worthy of investigation. Of its time and era for certain but both marvellous and bold, in the face of many difficulties and with definite progressive moments and wonderful performances by all. In addition, the set features three previously unreleased tracks, Assassins Of The Night and Running With The Pack with Glenn Hughes and Stealing Heaven with Keith Murrell, and 12″ mixes of Did It All For Love and Still the Night.

Order the box set from Cherry Red here:

Phenomena: Phenomena / Dream Runner / Innervision / Anthology, 4CD – Cherry Red Records

Review – ASIA – The Official Live Bootlegs – Volume 1 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Asia are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of their debut album next year, can you believe it has been 40 years since ‘Heat of the Moment’ first graced our airwaves! That album, of course, was a spectacular success and gave a new lease of life to a disgruntled Steve Howe who had been left in the cold by Yes as they had regrouped around Trever Rabin and Chris Squire. Steve was invited to join John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes in his then latest venture that brought the worlds of progressive music and AOR together in spectacular musical and financial success.

This set consists of five double CD’s featuring hitherto unreleased recordings of Asia in 1982, 1983, 2007, 2008 and, finally, 2010, recorded in the USA, Brazil, Japan and London. These sets are quite different in that the sound is always good and most noticeable is the bass of John Wetton, being often prominent and the band are playing very tightly and obviously enjoying themselves Naturally, many of the tracks are repeated over the five shows, although Carl Palmer’s drum solo moves from track to track as these albums progress.

The first set was recorded on Asia’s first US tour and, obviously, their debut album is prominently featured, although a new track that would appear on ‘Alpha’ was unveiled, albeit in a quite different version to the one that ended up on the album, as this features all four members playing keyboards to a drum machine backing before morphing into a full band performance where Steve Howe gets to wail and Carl Palmer hits things loudly. A lively rendition of Only Time Will Tell stands out with Geoff’s keyboard being prominent and John in fined voice indeed. In fact, Asia have seldom sounded rawer than this and everyone sounds in good form, this performance is particularly feisty and energetic. The rest of this set is fuelled by the balance of songs from their debut, Carl Palmer’s Drum solo and the double whammy of Sole Survivor and Heat of The Moment.

The second set is from August 1983 in Worcester, Massachusetts and this is a mixture of the debut and ‘Alpha’ albums along with Steve Howe’s solo segment of Beginnings/Valley of Rocks/Clap and Carl Palmer’s drum solo in Here Comes the Feeling, culminating in Sole Survivor and Heat of the Moment again.

The third set  was recorded in Brazil shortly after the band reformed in 2007 and this set features tracks from their recently released album ‘Phoenix’, which stand up well to their earlier classics. Also Roundabout gets a dusting off here with John Wetton taking on the Jon Anderson parts. Well, he even gets a Chris Squire type sound and tone and his bass drives the song along nicely. It is great to hear these musicians really stretching themselves, though the sound is a bit crackly on this number, for some reason, but it doesn’t detract from what is an excellent version of a great song.

There is a version of Fanfare for the Common Man from Carl’s old band, ELP, and, again, we are in for a real treat here with Geoff Downes’ keyboards sounding not unlike a certain Mr. Emerson, and Steve’s guitar interjects and adds little flourishes throughout before he lets fly with a brief solo. It’s all highly effective stuff, as is the short bass solo from John Wetton. This set also includes a King Crimson track, In the Court of the Crimson King, and The Buggles’ song Video Killed the Radio Star.

Set four is from Tokyo in 2008, just before ‘Omega’ was released. The ‘Phoenix’ album is featured with An Extraordinary Life standing out. Again, solo tracks from each member are included and this is also the longest of these sets at nearly 2 hours in length. The sound is uniformly good throughout and it is great to hear .

The last set in this collection comes from London in 2010 and is a great return to form for the band. Featuring, as it does, lesser played tracks like Finger on The Trigger and Through My Veins from the ‘Omega’ album, along with a Steve Howe solo and the usual Carl Palmer drum solo during The Heat Goes On. The set concludes with Sole Survivor, Go (from ‘Astra’) and Heat of The Moment.

The collection features new art from Roger Dean and a brief, but informative, booklet detailing each of the shows, just a shame that John Wetton is no longer with  us to celebrate this significant anniversary. This box set is a wonderful way in which to both remember, and celebrate, a rather rawer and more ferocious Asia than their albums showed. It is a great collection, pricey but worthwhile as Christmas is soon with us!

Released 26th November, 2021.

Order the box set here:

Asia – The Official Live Bootlegs, Volume One – Horizons Music

ASIA – The Official Live Bootlegs – Volume 1 – Out 26th November

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.

Pre-order it here:-https://asiaband.lnk.to/OLB1PR

ASIA: Geoff Downes (The Buggles, YES, keyboards), Steve Howe (YES, guitars), Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, drums) and John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, bass/vocals), took the world by storm with their eponymous debut album, globally the biggest-selling album of 1982, and the single Heat Of The Moment.

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).

“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”. 

The sets for ASIA’s original 1980s tours featured only the band’s new music. For the ‘Reunion’ years tours, ASIA included heritage tracks from each of the band member’s pre-ASIA groups. The 2007 and 2008 concerts also feature the Wetton/Howe composition Ride Easy, a song omitted from the debut album that was issued as the B-side of Heat Of The Moment, and included in their later live repertoire as a thank you to their fans for their support over a quarter of a century.

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. 

ASIA, The Official Live Bootlegs, Volume 1 is available as a 10CD boxset and a Digital Album on 26th November 2021 through BMG Records.

About ASIA

ASIA was a true ‘supergroup’ pooling the talents of Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and John Wetton, who had already amassed tens of millions of record sales with their collective bands of the 70s.

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 THE OFFICIAL LIVE BOOTLEGS – VOLUME 1 PRE-ORDER HERE: https://asiaband.lnk.to/OLB1PR

Asia: The Reunion Albums: 2007 – 2012 – Box Set Out Now!

ASIA, the multi-platinum selling English supergroup, formed in London in 1981, celebrate their 40th anniversary with a 5CD boxset The Reunion Albums: 2007 – 2012 through BMG.

Watch the unboxing here:

Buy it here: https://asiaband.lnk.to/reunionalbumsPR

This 5CD deluxe clamshell box set features the 2CD live recording Fantasia, Live In Tokyo together with the three reunion studio albums Phoenix, Omegaand XXX.

ASIA took the world by a storm with their eponymous debut album, globally the biggest-selling album of 1982. The single Heat Of The Moment, a huge soft-rock anthem, reached the top 40 in over a dozen markets, peaking in the U.S. at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.

The four original members of ASIA – John Wetton (King Crimson, lead vocal/bass), Steve Howe (YES, guitars), Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, drums) and Geoff Downes (The Buggles, YES, keyboards), reunited to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2006 and 2007 with a world tour.

A live album from the tour Fantasia, Live In Tokyo was released in 2007 as they returned to the studio together for the first time in a quarter of a century. The reunion would yield three stunning albums Phoenix (2008), Omega (2010) together with XXX (2012) as they celebrated their 30th anniversary.

Of these later albums Carl Palmer said, “The chemistry and energy that comes out when the four of us are working together, is reflected in the new material.” For his part, John Wetton marvelled at how far the band had come. “Each one of us is comfortable as a human being, and the sound reflects the collective maturity of these four people who are not only eager to explore but also relaxed enough to luxuriate in the strength of the material.”

This boxset features the original ASIA line-up, reformed in 2006, and brings together, for the first time, all of ASIA’s essential music into one concise collection.

Fantasia, Live In Tokyo, the 2CD live show from their 2007 World Tour, features many of the tracks from their first two albums Asia (1982) and Alpha (1983) and includes Heat Of The Moment and Don’t Cry together with heritage tracks from each of the band member’s musical history. The band also performed live, for the first time, an acoustic version of Ride Easy, a B-side from the debut single Heat Of The Moment.

The boxset collection is completed by the three reunion studio albums Phoenix, Omega and XXX. These represent some of ASIA’s finest moments and allowed the band to explore fully their rock and progressive roots.
These albums are presented together in a superb collector’s edition boxset designed by Roger Dean, who produced all of the original albums’ artwork. The boxset cover image was previously unused and the Fantasia sleeve design has been updated by Roger. 

ASIA, The Reunion Albums: 2007 – 2012 5CD boxset is out now through BMG Records.

About ASIA
ASIA was a true ‘supergroup’ pooling the talents of John Wetton, Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes and Steve Howe and was the logical successor to their collective bands of the 70s.

Moving beyond 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 platinum selling album, Alpha, was released in 1983. The four original members reconvened in 2006 for a world tour, to celebrate the 25thanniversary 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 he was replaced by Sam Coulson for 2014’s Gravitas. Following this tour came the news of John Wetton’s treatment for cancer, a fight he sadly lost in 2017, just before Asia started an arena tour with JOURNEY, a tour which became a tribute to John’s life and legacy. John had requested that Billy Sherwood YES replace him on bass and vocals.

ASIA supported YES’s 2019 US Royal Affair Tour with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (Guns N’ Roses) on guitar and vocal duties. Steve Howe also returned as special guest.
In 2021 ASIA signed a deal with BMG to re-release their reunion albums Phoenix, Omega, Fantasia: Live In Tokyo and XXX, along with Gravitas (with Sam Coulson), to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary in 2022. They also plan to release a box-set ASIA In Asia, of the first simulcast from 1983, with Greg Lake temporarily replacing John Wetton.

John Wetton Boxset and Book Announced

John Wetton

The John Wetton Estate proudly announces work has commenced on a solo career box set featuring expanded editions of his iconic albums and a lavish hardback book. 12th June 2019 would have been John’s 70th birthday. 

Since John Wetton’s passing in January 2017, his family, friends and management have been working on finding a fitting tribute to such a remarkable man and iconic artist.  The result of this labour of love is a box set entitled “An Extraordinary Life”, dedicatedentirely to John’s solo career.  The project has the full support of John’s wife, Lisa, and his son, Dylan, who are wholly involved with compiling the contents.    

The set will include definitive, remastered editions of each of his six solo albums, with bonus tracks and artwork selected by John towards the end of his lifetime, and in some cases expanded to two discs:

  1. Caught in the Crossfire
  2. Battle Lines
  3. Arkangel
  4. Sinister
  5. Rock of Faith
  6. Raised in Captivity

   An Extraordinary Life will also feature a lavish hardback “coffee table” book written by one of John’s friends, the journalist Nick Shilton.  Nick has interviewed dozens of John’s collaborators, peers and associates, both in and out of the music business, as well as friends from his childhood and through all eras of his career, collecting a multitude of exclusive, poignant and wonderful stories along the way.

This box set – a “must have” for every John Wetton fan – will also feature high resolution video tributes as well as unique bonus material.  The Official John Wetton website will launch a dedicated webpage entitled “An Extraordinary Life” which will become an ever-evolving digital gathering place for the inner circle of John’s fans.  

An Extraordinary Life will be completed during 2019 and initially be exclusively available via Burning Shed ahead of a wider scale retail release. The Burning shed store is now at https://burningshed.com/store/john-wetton

Coinciding with John’s 70th birthday today, Asia begins a 28 date USA tour as special guests of Yes on their Royal Affair Tour, which will premiere tonight in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy and John Lodge from the Moody Blues will also be on the bill.  Asia’s new line-up comprises Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes Billy Sherwood, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and a special guest appearance by Steve Howe.  John Wetton’s great friend Roger Dean will have an exhibition at each show, including iconic Asia artwork.

To celebrate John’s birthday, and as a teaser to the box set, we release a never before heard fly-on-the-wall of an early Asia rehearsal, recorded exactly 38 years ago today on June 12, 1981.  Ricky Nelson has lovingly nurtured this Holy Grail recording, and has created a collage slide-show of rare photos through the decades to remind you of John’s genius.  The question arises – what song did this morph into?

Further, Ricky has curated a special video recording of John’s last ever tour singing Asia songs, with the Rock Meets Classic arena tour in March 2015, where John delivers a supreme performance, one of his finest ever versions of “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”.  This will be a special release today at 12noon UK time from John’s twitter page [see below].

Dylan Wetton says: “This is helping me come to terms with the loss of my Dad, and is opening my eyes to his genius.  It is truly a labour of love”.

Lisa Wetton says: “When you open your box set for the first time, you will know that every person involved with its creation was touched deeply by John Wetton. You will be playing the music that revealed his personal life story, and you will be perpetuating a legacy that was meant to be a shining light for everyone. The physical light may have flickered out on January 31, 2017, but there is an extra radiant star aglow in the firmament today. It is my hope that when you listen, you will still feel the warmth from that light, and hear the Lion roar for generations to come”.

Official Website: www.johnwetton.co.uk

Remembering John Wetton Twitter: https://twitter.com/officialjwetton Remembering John Wetton Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1377795682293955/