Is Rick Wakeman the last of the great ‘Rock and Roll’ keyboard players. Well given the loss of so many musos recently the answer is Yes (no pun intended). Alas Keith Emerson and Jon Lord are no longer with us so Rick is now the keeper of the flame. I’d like to add him to our list of national treasures!
So apart from being a keyboard maestro extraordinaire, Rick also has many other talents – raconteur, comedian, TV and radio presenter, author, DJ and all round nice bloke.
So at Harlow playhouse a 67 year old Rick saunters onto a barren stage (slightly in awe and humble), apart from a grand piano, scruffily resplendent in black tail jacket/trousers, Laurel & Hardy t-shirt and white trainers. The stage is set for an evening of keyboard wizardry and career long anecdotes between. It wasn’t until I meet with him afterwards that I realised just how big his hands are!!
My memory is not great but it sort of went song anecdote, song anecdote etc.
Songs – either his own or ones he has worked on
- Cat Stevens – Morning has Broken
- Yes – And You and I plus Wondrous Stories
- David Bowie – Life on Mars
- Catherine Parr
- A Nursery Rhyme Concerto – a series of nursery rhymes in the style of various composers – Mozart, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninov and Les Dawson (you gotta be good to play out of tune like that)
- Merlin the Magician
- Eleanor Rigby in the style of Prokofiev
In this one-man show he’s got plenty of anecdotes and jokes from a long career in music and by the looks of it having worked with most people in the music and arts. But thankfully he starts at the beginning aged 5 with his piano teacher Mrs Symes (who put him on the way to stardom) and his first recital playing “See a monkey on a stick” (a tune he re-worded when he was 12!) repeatedly until pulled off stage by his mum. Mrs Symes taught him the importance of music being used to visualize painting a picture – which from an early age seemed to be inclined towards ladies bosoms!
Doing the ‘twiddly bits’ on Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” to expand it to the required length for a single release (and getting £9 for his troubles – albeit 27 years later). The ‘twiddly bits’ are not written down anywhere and he still keeps it secret to this day.
Bowie playing him the Hunky Dory songs in Beckenham on a knackered old 12 string guitar – “if it sounds great now imagine what it would sound like in a studio with a band!”
That his first solo album “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” would be of his future marriage record almost – 4 and counting currently. He jokes that one of his wives divorced simply because he didn’t hold the door open for her (he panicked and swam to the surface as quickly as possible!!), and that he passed 7 of the properties he used to own on the way to the gig.
He is an infectious storyteller combining classical music genius, a rock star back-catalogue and wonderful anecdotes form a long and varied career. Be it William Shatner’s lingerie collection or Brian Blesseds’ admiration for huge tits, or Clive Dunns crappy records – all priceless. He had the sell-out audience in stitches.
This is a man of prodigious gifts who has a loyal following, but it seems as if he is just getting on with what he does best (if he wasn’t playing here he’d be playing at home)
At the end he did a signing, generous to the end Rick has time for everyone, putting people at ease and treating them all as friends. We spoke about silent movies and our love of Laurel & Hardy and he signed many LPs for me. However, he was most interested in an old programme from 1980 (Daily Error) which he thumbed through with glee – bringing back happy memories.
Thank you Rick – keep painting those pictures! A true gentleman.
Ps – can’t wait for the Stone Free festival in June and the new and 80 minute plus expanded version of the King Arthur album!
Marko 21 May 2016