Wetton left high and dry as Crimson pirate scuttled; The bass and vocals star tells Simon Evans he's still baffled.
Nearly 25 years on, it's a decision that still baffles the amiable bass guitarist.
"I was devastated, no question about it, everything seemed to have been leading up to us entering the Pink Floyd league and then it was suddenly taken away. I didn't understand Robert's reasons then, and I still don't. I think deep down it was a fear of success on his part."
Wetton still rates Red, the last studio album he recorded with Crimson, as a major work, even though it failed to to make much of an impression at the time. Kurt Cobain was but one of the many admirers of its muscular, thinking person's heavy metal.
After brief stints with Uriah Heep, Roxy Music ("before they reached the stage of having knickers thrown at them") and an abortive attempt at a post prog-rock supergroup UK, Wetton fell on his feet big time with Asia. Formed in 1982 with Yes men Steve Howe and Geoff Downes and ELP's Carl Palmer this outfit boiled down the constituent parts of progressive rock - virtuosity, romanticism and Roger Dean album covers - into radio friendly AOR, hitting the jackpot with the singles Heat Of The Moment and Only Time Will Tell.
John Wetton jumped ship as the band started to lose its way in the mid-80s, rejoining briefly at the turn of the decade only to leave once again. What Wetton calls "the old girl" is however being resuscitated this summer with the original line-up, minus Steve Howe.
"I think the time is right for us to do it," John says, "but if it was for purely commercial reasons I know none of us would want anything to do with it". The band will be touring the United States and Japan over the summer and autumn, reaching these shores towards the end of the year. A new album is also promised for the year 2000.
Before then there's the small matter of a solo tour to fit in. "You may have noticed I don't like to stop working" laughs John. The gigs will take an acoustic format and John will be joined for the tour by guitarist David Kilminster, who'll also be part of the new Asia.
"People have been asking me to do an acoustic tour over here so this seemed a good opportunity to do that." John said, promising a set ranging over the whole of his career, from early days as part of the rock band Family right up to his solo album Arkangel ,released last year.
John is certainly prolific, in the past 12 months alone, apart from Arkangel, he's released two live albums, appeared on Steve Hackett's Tokyo Tapes and Genesis Revisted albums, sang on his old King Crimson colleague David Cross's solo album and most intriguing of all, released an LP, Monkey Business, of demos, out-takes and re-recorded material with former Crimson lyricist Richard Palmer-James. The latter features material intended for the Crimson LP that never was, the follow-up to Red which John says was going to be called Blue.
Another live LP, recorded in Poland, is due for release over the next couple of months.
"Prolific isn't the word," laughs John, "but it's my way of beating the bootleggers. Like Robert Fripp I believe that if there's a demand you should fill it, even if means putting out three or four albums a year. Because if you don't, the bootleggers will and then the musicians lose out and the fan ends up with a poor quality over-priced product. This way everyone's happy - except the bootlegger."
John Wetton plays Huntingdon hall, Worcester on April 16 and The Foundry, Birmingham, on April 18. Live in Tokyo and Monkey Business are released through Blueprint.