John Wetton - The Official Bootleg Archive Vol 1 album review

Live, from the annals: welcome to heaven

John Wetton The Official Bootleg Archive Vol 1 cover art

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It’s strange how objects that have no right to exist become integral parts of people’s lives. Take the egg clacker, for example. Once owned, you wonder how you ever lived without it. The clacker opens your daily free-range with unerring accuracy – it’s like performing a laser-precision lobotomy on a tiny bald person’s head. Adult colouring books are another example. Who would have thought a collection of crayons and some intricately detailed fairie scenes would enable so many stressed-out investment bankers to chillax?

So we come to John Wetton’s Official Bootleg Archive Vol 1, which collects together three of the man’s previously released – you guessed it – official bootlegs, which have been out of print for nearly 10 years. (For the record, the Primary Purpose label upon which they’re being issued is Wetton’s own.) Now the world plainly doesn’t need a sprawling six-CD memento of the singer/bassist/songwriter’s gigs in Buenos Aires, Argentina (October 1996), Osaka, Japan (October 1997) and Tokyo, Japan (August 1999). Or does it?

If you find the prospect of a wagonload of Wetton’s sentimental pomp rock daunting, not to say worrisome, the listening experience is the exact opposite. The King Crimson/UK/Asia stalwart is that rare breed, a warm-hearted professional who is equally passionate about his music and his fans, which lends this marathon offering an unusual sense of intimacy.

The three shows are varied enough to stand alone in their own rights, although all, of course, feature the ‘hits’, such as The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, Heat Of The Moment and Don’t Cry, the latter song acting as the emotion-charged set closer every night.

The Nippon performances just edge the Argentina one; most likely because (bad joke alert) Japan is part of Asia. Indeed, Wetton himself is full of praise for the Tokyo concert in particular, recalling that band, audience and crew were completely attonato during a memorable evening.

The sonics have been remastered throughout but there’s still a distinct ‘from the sound desk, warts and all’ vibe, relative low-points such as Thomas Lang’s Drum Solo and John Young’s [keyboard] Solo remaining intact. But still, Wetton’s honest demeanour and all-round good humour shine through. For proof, look no further than his sleeve-noted memories of Argentina ’96. The promoter asked: “John, do you still get nervous?” “Yeah,” Wetton replied. “Ah, huevos en la garganta,” the promoter advised.

Now where did I put that egg clacker?

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.