The Six Wives Of Henry VIII:
Live At Hampton Court Palace
Who says you can’t go home again…or at least to the grounds of
Hampton Court Palace. While on tour with Yes in the early 70's, Rick Wakeman
picked up a book about the notorious King Henry VIII at a U.S. airport, hoping
to find something to read on his flight. The chance purchase inspired the
cape-twirling keyboardist’s concept for his first solo album, The
Six Wives Of Henry VIII. Thirty-six years after its release (and
15 million copies sold worldwide), Wakeman finally realized his dream of playing
the album over a two-night stand at the monarch’s grand palace in celebration
of the 500th anniversary of the king's accession. Best of all, it was captured
on film and is available on CD and DVD as The Six Wives Of Henry VIII:
Live At Hampton Court Palace.
Wakeman makes his entrance, dressed in royal red robes and six “wives”
at his side. He walks to his circular array of keyboards to begin a new piece
called “Tudorture ‘1485’”— a wailing dramatic
seven minutes, a bit too long, but it fleshes out nicely towards the end once
the melody and the brilliant strings come in. Watching the DVD provides some
sweeping overhead shots, close-ups of Wakeman, his band the English Rock Ensemble,
the Orchestra Europa, the English Chamber Choir and narrator Brian Blessed.
After the lengthy introduction, we're right into a slightly faster-than-the-studio
version of “Catherine Of Aragon” with that “crinkly”
sounding synth flying over the orchestra and slithering high strings. There
are some different movements here and there, providing enough of a diversion
from the original to make the piece more interesting.
Blessed, a fun bear-like guy and beloved British actor of some renown, becomes
seemingly growing more inebriated as the evening progresses, delightfully
stumbling through introductions of each wife (i.e., song). “Kathryn
Howard” opens with a “Morning Has Broken”-like piano attack
(no surprise since Wakeman played the piano on the Cat Stevens hit). “Jane
Seymour” shifts the visuals as Wakeman walks from around his keys as
the wives enter again. He takes his cape off, replaces it with an old classic
shimmering gold cape, similar to what he routinely wore back in the salad
days of the 70s. The maestro makes his way up a staircase to a platform where
a large pipe organ rises into view. His back to the audience and his cape
draped upon his shoulders, Wakeman assumes the position and never lets go.
A track that didn’t make it to the original album because of time constraints,
“Defender Of The Faith” is about the King himself. This is a solid
tune, given an extra punch from veteran percussionist Ray Cooper. At 10 minutes
plus, this is one of the longer pieces that could have benefited from some
brevity. A blaring organ and some amazing drumming from Tony Fernandez, who’s
been the drummer with the English Rock Ensemble since 1976, kicks off “Katherine
Parr.” This is probably the most rocking tune of the bunch that really
showcases the band — Fernandez, Cooper, Pete Rinaldi on acoustic guitar,
Jonathan Noyce (formerly of Jethro Tull) on bass, Dave Colquhoun on electric
guitars, and Wakeman’s son Adam on keys, just like dear old dad.
The booming orchestral horns provide the accents in “Anne Of Cleves”
before “Anne Boleyn,” the most mournful and intricate tune of
the lot, ushers the show to a close. The orchestra and choir rise in unison
as Wakeman ascends a staircase that leads to a grand piano on a high platform.
The palace lit in the background, he sits down and masterfully tickles the
ivories to lush accompaniment. Wakeman says a few words and brings out Blessed
for a few more hearty words to launch “Tudorrock,” another new
one and the evening’s finale. The Wakeman boys take center stage, sporting
keytars (strap-on keyboards) and engaging in less of a duel and more of a
duet to add a little light father and son fun to the night.
The majestic palace basking in color washes and gobo swirls certainly provided
the perfect backdrop for this show. As Wakeman explains in the bonus interview
on the DVD, he wanted to play Hampton Court when he first released the album,
but was turned down flat. Four decades later, The Six Wives of Henry
VIII: Live At Hampton Court Palace has finally come home and we are
all the better for it.
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