John Wetton


By Jeremy Miles

As he steps on stage at the Bournemouth Pavilion with Asia on Sunday, John Wetton will offer a silent prayer of thanks that he's made it back to where it all began.

Last summer the one-time Bournemouth schoolboy who went on to become bass player and vocalist with King Crimson, Family, Roxy Music and Wishbone Ash checked into a London clinic for a routine medical check.

He was 58 years old, had half a lifetime of rock n' roll excess behind him and a hefty touring schedule looming.

"I just wanted to make sure that I was OK," he says. Within hours he was told that an MRI scan had revealed advanced cardiac disease. Although he had suffered no obvious symptoms, the arteries to Wetton's heart were in a bad way.

"The worst affected was the one that can actually cause sudden death - the main artery that supplies the heart muscle.

"They said mine was 99.9 per cent occluded. It was gone. I was running on empty, running on fumes..."

Terrifyingly he was told that without open heart surgery he could literally drop dead at any moment.

"I said to the cardiologist: I'm going to be the best patient you've ever had. You won't get any questions or any arguments. Just tell me what to do and I'll do it.' Frankly I would have done anything at that point."

Within days Wetton was lying in the Wellington Hospital in London's St John's Wood waiting for life-saving surgery.

"I was in this room overlooking Abbey Road (home of the famous recording studios) and I just remember thinking what a fitting place for it all to end."

Happily of course it didn't end. Not only was the surgery successful but Wetton says he feels fitter and healthier now than he has done in decades.

Recovery though was slow. "The first month was agony," he says. "It's not really surprising I suppose. You've been cracked open like a lobster and all of your insides have been rearranged. It's really invasive. But the difference is amazing. I feel so good."

Now he's calling for MRI scans to be made available on the National Health.

"It seems terribly wrong that the only reason my condition was discovered was because I can afford expensive diagnostic treatment.

"If I hadn't had that test I would probably have dropped dead by now. I don't know why MRI scanning isn't routinely used as part of the National Health system.

"If we really cared about ourselves as a nation we would have that in place. I know it's expensive but these things are relative."

Wetton points out that many men of his age - including ironically his Asia colleague Carl Palmer - succumb to heart conditions.

The one time Emerson, Lake and Palmer drummer also learned of growing arterial damage through a routine MRI scan.

"Fortunately he wasn't as bad as me and they were able to deal with it with an angioplasty.

"But if there's two people out of four in just one band how many others are there out there?

"The trouble is it (heart disease) is very insidious, it creeps up over 25 years or more and you just don't notice it happening. There's incremental disability every day but you aren't aware of it progressing."

Following his operation Wetton found himself on a cocktail of drugs.

"There were beta-blockers, blood pressure tablets, all kinds of stuff.

"A lot of it is gradually being phased out now but there are certain things I'll be on for the rest of my life, like aspirin and statins."

Not, I point out, the kind of medication normally associated with the rock n roll lifestyle.

"I'm afraid my track record does rather go before me in that department," admits Wetton.

"I really gave my body a hammering in the 80s."

However doctors say the most likely cause of the damage is his past history as a smoker.

"They say the worst thing I did was smoke cigarettes from the age of 15 to 40. I haven't smoked for 18 years but they say that makes no difference, that's what they put it down to, smoking."

*The reunited original line-up of multi-million selling British rock group Asia, featuring Wetton on vocals and bass Palmer on drums, Steve Howe on guitar and Geoff Downes on keyboards plays Bournemouth Pavilion on Sunday.

© Jeremy Miles 2022