INTERVIEW WITH THE LEGENDARY RICK WAKEMAN
FIRST PUBLISHED 31 MAY 2012
What can we expect to hear in the live set?
I rarely do shows with the English Rock Ensemble in the UK so when we do get together we pretty much know what we all want to play which is a mix of the Classics such as ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’, ‘…King Arthur…’ and ‘The Six Wives Of Henry VIII’, plus we throw in a few surprises that perhaps people won’t be expecting.
“The last time we played in the UK was three years ago at the Cropredy Festival which was wonderful. This band is the best I’ve ever had and I do wish we could do more together. We’re off to Hungary in July for a festival and then out into Europe for October before South America kicks in, but due to a lack of festivals this year in England it seems that 99% of everything is abroad.”
You’ve played at the Crystal Palace Bowl before though in 1974 performing ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’. After that show you suffered a heart attack despite only being in your twenties. What caused that? Was it the rock n’ roll lifestyle or the stress of success or a bit of both?
“A bit of both I suspect!!! I can tell you though I do not plan to repeat that particular performance again!”
Between 1971 and 1975 you had huge success with both Yes and your own solo career with six Top Ten albums with two Number 1 albums here in the UK, one with Yes’ ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ and your own ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’. What was it like being Rick Wakeman on a daily basis at the time? Did you keep yourself down to earth as possible or did you became an out of control egotistic rock star?
“When not rehearsing, doing shows or recording I did exactly the same things I’d always done with my mates in my spare time. Going to football matches, going to banger racing, going to pubs to play darts and bar billiards. Sadly, banger racing is pretty scarce these days, probably thanks to Health And Safety, and pubs in general are rubbish these days. You’re hard pushed to find a bar billiards table and a dart board these days unless you search. No wonder pubs are going under. Plus the fact I haven’t drunk for more than 27 years!!!”
The album ‘The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table’ sold 12 million copies and was performed live at the Empire Pool in London, infamously on ice. We can look back now and smile about it, but it cost a fortune to produce. Whose idea was it and was there any other grand ideas lined up for you?
“To be honest I smile with a bit of pride. If I had a pound for everyone who has told me they were there, then I would never have to work again. I’d do it again if I had the money. True it did cost a fortune, but the album ended up selling more than 12 million after those concerts.
“I wanted the concerts to be musical and entertaining. I followed some great advice given to me by David Bowie who told me to do what I wanted to do on stage, especially if I was using my own money. ‘Don’t let any promoter, agent or manager tell you’, he said. ‘They don’t have the imagination…’. I’m forever indebted to David for that.”
In hindsight was it wise to leave Yes when you did?
“Wise?… That’s a strange word. It suggests money… Well, if money was the reason I left, then I should have stayed as the QPR football stadium was booked plus some other enormous venues too, so it would’ve made sense for me to stay if that were the case. Hindsight is the most useless thing a human can look at. It was the right time and for the right reasons… 100% Musical.”
You have said yes to Yes five times in your career, returning at various times. Would you ever return again and how do you feel about their treatment towards Jon Anderson?
“Can of worms… I’m very unhappy about the treatment of Jon, but that’s my personal and private view. Would I ever go back?… Not now.”
What’s the biggest crowd you’ve ever performed to?
“Difficult one this, as I’ve played at festivals with other bands where there were probably more than 100,000 out there, but they weren’t all mine or Yes’ audience, so the biggest I’ve played as ‘Rick Wakeman’ was in Canada three years ago where I performed ‘Return To The Centre Of The Earth’ in front of an estimated 82,000.
Before you found stardom, you played the Mellotron on David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. Whilst recording it, did you think it would become such a massive smash hit?
“Yes… It was such a stand out song. Same with ‘Hunky Dory’. You knew it was something special… Very special.”
Whilst recording ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ at the Morgan Studios, Black Sabbath were next door recording ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’. You ending up guesting with them on that album, but with the two bands at the height of their fame in the same studios together I can only imagine that there were times when you were ready to party. Do you have any stories you wish to share?
“Do I have stories of my time with Sabbath?…. Of course I do!… Would I like to share?… Of course I wouldn’t!!!”
In 1999 you made the album ‘Return To The Centre Of The Earth’, an album with an impressive cast. My favourite track is the highly underrated ‘Buried Alive’ which featured Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. Did you write that song with Ozzy in mind?
“Yes I did… You’re the first person to ever ask me that so good spotting. I spoke to Ozzy first and asked if he would like to be involved and he was well up for it. I’d guested on his ‘Ozzmosis’ album a few years prior to that and knew from tracks like ‘Perry Mason’ that Ozzy was much more accomplished than a lot of people gave him credit for. He’s a very bright guy and I have much admiration for all he does. He sang ‘Buried Alive’ brilliantly and I love the track to bits.”
To promote that album you held a very lavish launch party at the Natural History Museum in London, an evening that I was fortunate enough to attend myself and I must thank you for the very fine wine that I consumed that drunken evening. What was the most extravagant party held either for yourself or for Yes?
“Yes were never party animals to be honest. Thinking back, the ideal reception party held for Yes would’ve been held on an organic lettuce farm with the Mahavishnu Orchestra playing on a giant mushroom.
“Most parties held for the band were attended by hundreds of people but rarely the band! The most lavish parties for me and my own band were undoubtedly in South America. Amazing, truly amazing.”
You’re just as well known now as a TV star as much as being known as a keyboard wizard, but your first real introduction to TV was the largely forgotten programme on Channel 4 in 1982, Gastank. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
“It was the late Tony Ashton’s concept and a great one too. Simply, bands played live and were interviewed afterwards. The bands would record live onto multi track and then mixed that morning. No cheating and no overdubs. No miming.
“Channel 4 had a moan and said that we were using too many old bands and musicians and we needed to get some new bands involved. We explained that we had contacted every single record label around at the time but every single one said that their acts could only come on if they were allowed to mime, so it was goodbye to Gastank. Some classic performances came out through it such as Phil Lynott and John Entwistle. I’d love to do that programme again.”
What was your favourite interview you did on Gastank and favourite performance too?
“Favourite performance was John Entwistle… Truly amazing and probably the interview too.”
Do you feel that Jools Holland stole a few ideas from Gastank for his own show?
“I’ll ask him!! But I don’t think so. Nice guy, Jools.”
“The book ‘Caped Crusader’ is just to be re-published. Would you say the book is the definitive read on Rick Wakeman?
“To be honest… No! But if you want to complete the book collection then it’s harmless enough. If I were to choose the best books in order to buy then they would be ‘Further Adventures Of A Grumpy Old Rockstar’, ‘Grumpy Old Rockstar’, ‘Say Yes’ and then the ‘Caped Crusader’. I was only 27 years old when that book was finished so not very much had happened!!! Good pictures though!”
You now live in Norfolk. What made you move to East Anglia and are the local radio DJ’s really like Alan Partridge?
“I love Norfolk and all of North East Anglia. Wonderfully commutable to almost everywhere. As for radio… BBC Radio Norfolk is excellent. It’s one of the biggest BBC radio stations and I listen a lot… As for the other stations around? Well to be honest, there is more than a hint of Alan Partridge with one station in particular, but I’m not giving the name away!!!”
You’ve just done a bizarre performance at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds with the actor Ian Lavender, recently seen in EastEnders and fondly remembered as Pike in Dad’s Army. Please tell us a little bit more about that?
“Ian and I are great mates and the evening was just so much fun. David Croft, the writer and director and indeed the producer of Dad’s Army was very fond of the Theatre Royal and we were asked if we would like to do a fund raiser for the theatre by Ann Croft and the rest of the Croft family who I simply adore. They are so lovely. It was an one off evening with so much off the cuff immediacy. I felt privileged to be a part of it.”
You’re known as one of the ‘Grumpy Old Men’… What is your rant for today?
“I will not get even close to finishing everything I had planned to do today which means people will be emailing me later with “You haven’t replied” AND and the phone will ring with people saying “You were going to call me…” Patience is lacking in today’s world. Solution for today? Don’t answer the phone and turn the computer off.”
You are a very well known face and you must get stopped in the street all the time. What’s the funniest mistaken identity you’ve ever had from someone?
“I used to be mistaken for Rick Parfitt a lot, but not so much now. A lot of people will tell me ‘Tubular Bells’ is a great album and I say “It wasn’t me”. “Oh, right… It was ‘War Of The Worlds’ wasn’t it?”… By this time I say “thank you2 and toddle off.”
And with that Rick Wakeman puts on his cape and toddles off to prepare for his ‘Homecoming’ at the Open in Norwich.