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An extraordinary life: John Wetton, 1949-2017

From backing pop stars as a teenager to his work with King Crimson, Asia and many more, John Wetton was a true gem of the prog world. We go behind-the-scenes on his life and career

Bucharest, Romania. It’s August 1968 and British popster Helen Shapiro and fellow crooner Tony Bolton are in town with their UK backing group to play a series of concerts. With the Soviet Union glowering disapprovingly on its satellite states opening up to the West, the singing stars and their beat combo are unlikely cultural ambassadors in Eastern Europe. Pathé News, covering this significant event in the life of a Communist country, has a newsreel showing the principals posing for press photos, walking in the park and all the usual grinning and gurning required of obliging pop stars. Then the action cuts to a performance in a concert hall. The brief footage reveals John Wetton, then still a teenager, comping away behind Helen Shapiro’s blue-eyed soul singing and later, adding high-end harmonies to Tony Bolton’s full-throated cabaret-singer rendition of Tom Jones’ Delilah. A few days after that footage had been taken, Wetton recalls they performed in a football stadium filled with pop music-starved young people. Before Helen Shapiro came out on stage, the band covered The Beatles’ Lady Madonna, which had only recently been released, and of course, only in the West. “About 60,000 people in Bucharest just went mental. Absolutely fucking mental. I realised at that moment what you could do with music, about the power of music. It was just incredible. It taught me a huge lesson.”

From the archive

From the archive

From the archive


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