The Rick Wakeman Interview

By Shawn Perry
Photo: Lee Wilkinson

When I first heard Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth some time around its release in 1974, I was at once baffled and fascinated. It wasn't your average rock and roll set from Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath — it was weird and different with a narrator, an orchestra, a choir and a guy in a sequined cape surrounded by stacks of keyboards. My world had already been swallowed up by the antics of Emerson, Lake and Palmer; now the keyboard player from Yes was about to knock me silly with a blend of sophisticated pomp and circumstance I couldn't get enough of.

Throughout the years, as much as I loved the keyboards of Keith Emerson, I came to realize that Rick Wakeman was an entirely different animal. He had long fingers that gracefully flowed over the keys with a light, yet firm touch. He closed his eyes when he played and painted musical pictures in his mind. Obviously, he was educated, having studied at the Royal College of Music, and well-read, as evidenced by his adaptation of the Jules Verne classic. He was also (and still is) a bit of a history buff. When it came time for him to record his first solo album, he found inspiration in a book about Henry VIII.

After The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, an instrumental keyboard album, achieved unexpected worldwide success in 1973, Wakeman attempted to persuade the gatekeepers at Hampton Court Palace to stage a concert. He was flatly turned down, turned his back and went on to make over 50 solo albums, as well as record and tour on and off with Yes. Then, in 2008, Wakeman received a surprising phone call: An invitation to play The Six Wives Of Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's ascension to the throne. Naturally, Wakeman spared no expense in making the show as over-the-top, musical and spectacular as possible. Best of all, he saw to it that the concerts were filmed and recorded for the masses to soak up and enjoy.

Having the unique opportunity to talk with the man behind this and many of other incredible pieces of music exceeded all my expectations. Wakeman joyfully went through every detail about how the Hampton Court shows came together. He shared insights about Henry VIII and the magnificent palace where he played and entertained. Wakeman told me about plans for other shows, and explained why he holds down so many part-time jobs. I had piles of questions to ask, but time was limited. So to finish, he gave me an honest and emotional assessment regarding the current state of his former band, Yes.

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