In Conversation With - Rick Wakeman
By Jem Jedrzejewski
The closest most people get to become a legend is in their own minds. When The Hairless Heart Herald was offered the opportunity to talk to true keyboard and prog legend, Rick Wakeman, we were there like a shot (metaphorically speaking, as it took place via a 90 minute phone call). Our thanks go to Ben Williams of Classic Pictures who facilitated the whole operation, and a special thanks to Rick Wakeman for his time and perseverance in admirably contending with my slurred speech due to my illness and lack of sleep. Our conversation (which could have gone on for days) covers a variety of areas such as rheumatoid arthritis, playing techniques, prog and Rickís forthcoming prog album, music in general and ideas for future projects. For ease of reading, the following transcript has been edited into headed sections. To set the scene, it is 9:50am on Friday 22nd March 2002, Rick Wakeman is at Classic Pictures Studios, Shepperton, with cup of coffee at hand and HHHís Jem Jedrzejewski is West Yorkshire with coffee and a mouth full of cough dropsÖ.
Warning: This article, like all others on this site is © The Hairless Heart Herald 2002 and must not be reproduced in any form without our express permission. The photographs of Rick Wakeman are © Classic Pictures with the exception of the photograph of Aladdin where The Hiss & Boo Company is the copyright owner. Use and reproduction of these photographs is strictly forbidden. Links to the websites of Classic Pictures and The Hiss & Boo Company are provided at the foot of this article.
Good morning Rick!
RW: Iím sorry Iím late. I got caught up in the traffic this morning.
How far have you travelled this morning?
RW: Not far at all. I only had to come down from Teddington to Shepperton. I got to Shepperton with 15 minutes to spare then discovered some senior citizens crossing the road with shopping trolleys, which was very interesting because they stop and have a little chat in the middle of the road for 15 minutes. So it doesnít matter what you do, you just have to sit there. Then youíve got the 90 year old lady sitting in her 1973 Vauxhall Nova at traffic lights and when they change to green, by the time that sheís put it in first gear, released handbrake, checked that it is the right shade of green, it has gone red again. You know, you get all that. Itís just hilarious. It would make a great film. I started laughing, itís really so funny.
Not so funny if you have to get somewhere urgently in a hurry.
RW: Well I used to live in Switzerland for a long time and you get used to having to arrive somewhere half an hour early. Iím a nightmare for arriving everywhere well before Iím expected, so I would have been early today, but I just burst out laughing it was so funny.
As long as youíre OK. Have you got a cup of coffee or something there?
RW: Oh yeah, Iíve got my cup of coffee sitting here. How are you sir?
Iím suffering with a bit of a cold, so I hope you can understand me. Iím sucking a sucky sweet at the moment.
Trying to free the old congestion.
RW: Well donít go for any Olympic games at the moment!
I couldnít anyway as I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
RW: Whereabouts do you get it?
RW: Do you? Iíve just got it in the hands.
RW: Yeah, Iíve had it for 20 years, well more than that. 22 years in the hands.
What are you taking for it?
RW: Well what I do, as you probably know thereís like hundreds of different sorts. And there are different sorts of viruses too (N.B. which can affect the degree of inflammation and are thought to bring the onset of rheumatoid arthritis) and what I do is just take a lot of marine fish oil and it seems to hold it all at bay.
I didnít realise you suffered with arthritis of the hands. That must be terrible.
RW: Yes, itís a common problem with pianists.
I have a friend, a keyboardist, who used to perform a one-man version of ELP, fingers working ten to the dozen. Before long he had problems with hands and wrists and was told to give up by his doctor or lose the use of his hands altogether.
RW: Most of the rheumatoid arthritis in the hands is a form, you know some are a virus - some are notÖ I looked into it deeply because when I first found out that Iíd got it, it was a nightmare because my hands used to swell up after about ten minutes, couldnít play you know. If you think of a pianist, we use the muscles and tendons in our hands much more than the average person. The analogy I was given by the expert I went to see was that if you think of footballers at the age of 40, their legs are a wreckÖ in essence, when a footballer is 40 his legs are 80, and itís the same for a pianist; when you are 30/35 your hands, in usage, are the equivalent of those of an 80 year old.
Do you find that finger exercises every day helps?
Absolutely. I play every day, I take my fish oil regular as clockwork Ė I was introduced to that by Laurie McMenemy, the football manager. I was seriously considering giving up because I couldnít play for more than ten minutes. I had to have buckets of ice beside me on stage it was so bad. The Football Association had spent a lot of money doing research into all sorts of things to do with footballers, and after checking hundreds of makes of different types of products had come to the conclusion that this Efamol marine Fish Oil worked. I must admit I thought at that stage Iíve got nothing to lose, Laurie sent me some and I took it not thinking much about it to be brutally honest. Then suddenly after taking it for a couple of months when I suppose it had got into my system, I was playing again with no problems. I kept it going for three or four years then went on holiday and ran out and had a week without it. By the end of that week, the problems came back again. Iíve put other people onto it and for some it works, for others it doesnít Ė itís not a medication, itís a natural substance. Iíve tried other makes but only Efamol works for me and I should add that I donít get anything from Efamol for mentioning them (laughs). Give it a try, you have nothing to lose and it canít do you any harm.
Itís worth a try! You certainly havenít lost speed.
No, that was my real concern as it is the nature of the way I play and if you lose your style of play youíre, well, youíre knackered arenít you?
Further discussions on medications, RA (and curry!), MS and DNA developments ensued which though of interest to me and other sufferers, are probably not so interesting to the fit and healthy progger! (N.b. if you are currently taking any other medication it is advisable to consult your GP or specialist prior to taking any supplements, however natural.)
Iíve recently reviewed your DVDs and the Buenos Aires gig was at a large venue and had an extraordinary large attendance for a prog concert these days. Why do you think that is when itís not the case in the UK and US?
It is strange. The old expression ĎThe world is getting smallerí, it IS getting smaller with regard to getting to places but it also is very different and countries are very different in the way that they look at the music. The UK is, and I hasten to add that what I am going to say now is not a criticism just pure facts, in England we tend to some extent to be, shall I say, very English speaking in everything that we deal with, and that includes music. Most of the music that you hear on the radio and that you buy in the shops is that of American, English, British Ė call it what you like Ė base music. When something goes out of fashion, because we tend to create a lot of fashions, anything new that is created you could say from Hearsay or how we create bands like Oasis, Blur, U2 going back a few years, they come to the forefront and are highly fashionable. When something else comes in of a new fashion then we tend to put a lot of the things, not just on the shelf, but actually in cupboards and close the door, so you donít see them. What happens is the new generations who create the new fashions, the new ideas, which is desperately important and is what keeps the country at the forefront of things, thatís all they focus on and is all that the general public see. What happens at the end of that ten-year stretch is that another new fashion starts and that replaces the one that has gone directly before it, so they then go into the cupboard. To some extent this is important because it is a way for new generations to say that this is ours and we donít want that created by the previous generation. But what they will do is go back to generations before that and have a look to see what music was going around, because that was not the music that was any threat to what they are doing now. Now, specifically, other countries in the world do this a lot more than we do in Britain because, especially in non-English speaking countries, they tend to follow music from all over the world and to some extent will be incredibly more knowledgeable of whatís going on in Argentina, Russia, Canada, Japan than we will in the UK. The average UK music lover can tell you whatís going on in America and the UK, but probably not very much else.
Thatís very true.
RW: When we go out to countries even like Holland and Argentina and Iíve just been down to Indonesia in Jakarta, and I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about the music scene, but you can talk to people down there and theyíll talk to you about whatís going on in the rock scene in Iceland, in Italy etc. Itís because English is not their language that they tend to look globally as against the more insular nature in which we do.
RW: There used to be a hackneyed expression around years ago, there are no great musicians around, all the actual great players were from the 70ís and thatís while theyíre still around and thatís why weíre creating boy bands and things at the moment. Well thatís a complete pile of junk because there are some fantastic young players around. Laugh not, though you might, I went last week to see Atomic Kitten in IpswichÖ
Well, I can understand that (laughs).
RW: (laughs) Well I went because my son, Adam, is in the band. And he said to me Ďcome and have a listen, Dadí and I said OK. Heís doing that and stuff for Victoria Beckham at the moment as well as doing stuff more me. And I said Ďall miming is it?í and he said Ďno, itís all live. Theyíre singing live and theyíre great. And the bandís live and itís cooking!í So I went along and I put my hand on my heart Ė it was fabulous. The band was great. Great young players in the band. The girls sung great and I thought, hold on; things are changing. I went and spoke to their manager afterwards and he said Ďdid you enjoy it?í and I said Ďyes I did. The band was fantastic, the girls were really goodÖí He said we feel the only way forward is live. He said this miming lark, itís the so-called safety net, it doesnít create excitement with the audience or on stage, so weíre going down the live route. So I said good for you and stick with it, because youíll score at the end of the day.
The thing is, whether you like the music or not, if you go and see a live band itís the atmosphere that gets me going.
RW: Also, they did a load of oldies like Dancing In the Street and things like that. It was great!
Todayís Talented Young Musicians And Prog
RW: If you look at young guitarists like Fraser Thorneycroft-Smith with Craig David, I mean they donít come much more talented than that. The bass player that Iíve got in my band, Lee Pomeroy, Iíve never played with a bass player like him, heís sensational. There are some stunning young players around. This brings us onto the next point. These people who have got a lot of talent and can play well, they donít just want to, sort of, play the general pop stuff anymore. They want to be able to show off their talent. So theyíve been looking around for a vehicle to play. The thing that weíve found, you go down to Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Canada, thereís this revolution called new progressive rock thatís going around. Theyíre not copying our music, not sounding like 70ís bands or anything, but theyíre saying now hold on a minute; if we take music and break all the rules using modern technology and various things, in other words not working the normal format of music, we can show off our skills and we can create a new form of music. And this is whatís happening everywhere, almost except for the UK. It is getting better. I look at bands like Super Furry Animals, Muse, Air and in their own way theyíre prog rock. Radiohead, I love them. Like it or lump it, they were one of the major factors in bringing prog rock back for the young kids. (Laughs.)
RW: Yeah, itís amazing really.
The Prog Myth And Young Audiences
RW: Hereís an interesting thing, when we did the Buenos Aires gig, and that was one of the smaller venues we played and it was huge, we always go out and talk to everybody and we went outside afterwards and did a vox pop, because whatís amazing is that more than 50% of the audience are under 20 years of age. A very young audience. So we are talking to them and I said Iíve got to ask you, most of this music that I do, I wrote before you were born. I know my stuff still sells pretty well in these territories, but why on Earth would you come to see these shows? And almost to a voice we got the same answer, we like these new prog rock bands, and they named some bands admittedly a lot I hadnít heard of, and they said when we read the articles about them they mention you as one of their major influences, because of your inauguration with the progressive rock movement. So, what we do because weíre interested in music and want find out what influenced the people we like, we bought some CDs and then we hear youíre coming here to play live, so we come and hear you play live. I said what about the age differences, and they said we are coming to listen to the music, why does it matter how old anybody is? We come to listen to the music because we like it. Itís very interesting because that is what is happening uniformly. Iíve just got back from Jakarta where we flew down to do one show, and the audience was incredibly young again. Yes, there was a few rockers of our age sort of thing, but in essence it was 16, 17 to 35 year olds, and when we talked to them we started getting exactly the same answers again. To some extent, itís no different when we heard people (from a different generation) that we liked. I remember Albert Lee, I remember Ritchie Blackmore and Eric Clapton saying in interviews way back in the 70ís that one of their big idols was Albert Lee. And nobody had ever heard of Albert Lee! Suddenly, every guitarist is going to see Albert Lee, not because they knew much about him because he was getting on then, they wanted to see what this was that affected RB and EC. We put together our show, which we think is a good fun show that tries to get away from that myth that prog rockis sort of Ďhead downí and Ďdoom and gloomí and you come out of there and have to got back to your flat or whatever and discuss the future of mankind. Weíre a fun band. And it works. The band can work virtually as non-stop as we like. The tragedy is that itís almost impossible to do that in the UK. You know, to put on the sort of show we would like to put on.
I would like to see all my favourite bands again in Ďproperí theatres Ė Manchester Apollo etc. Ė but how do you fill it?
RW: The record labels over here are not interested and that means the promoters arenít interested.
As you say, you know a lot of friends of mine at the time when punk came along in í77, they suddenly abandoned prog, went to punk, then went on to new romantic etc. and went through the 80ís and 90ís moving to each new scene as it came along. Of course a lot of other people like music generally anyway, so they didnít abandon prog at all but listened to new stuff as well.
RW: Well you see the thing about prog isÖ I donít hold with the thing that people say you either love it or you hate it, because the thing about progressive is that it has got such a wide bandÖ
It can be so differentÖ
RW: Exactly. You could say that the old Mahuvishna Orchestra was prog, but if you played that say to some of my stuff then next to Gentle Giant then YES, Supertramp, Zeppelin or whatever, youíve got four totally different types of music, but they all come under that prog rock banner. Iíve always held that everybodyís CD or whatever collection may well have a large percentage of the music they actually like, but theyíll also have around 25% of all sorts of things from a bit of classical to a bit of new age to a bit of jazz maybe because of the different moods that they might want. Theyíre not going to want to sit down for a dinner party and play the Mahuvishna OrchestraÖ.
RW: (Laughs) Theyíre certainly not going to play Relayer! So we all have different sorts of music and one of the major faults at the moment is thatÖ my kids rage from 30 down to 16 and itís very interesting listening to them and what they listen toÖ their big argument at the moment is that they have to do so much research themselves to find out whatís out there because the media is not telling them. Thatís not coming from me, itís coming from them, and whatís happening a lot is theyíre listening to a lot of radio on the Internet, because there are programmes that are dedicated to rock, to heavy metal, to folk and to prog, to find out whatís going on.
Thereís a lot of stuff out there now, you know thereís probably more prog bands now than ever before.
RW: Absolutely. Thatís quite right. The most amazing thing is that the mainstream media almost donít want to admit it. And itís very strange.
Well, itís not that strange because the record companies donít want to know and the media tends to follow whatever the major record companies offer.
RW: Thatís very true and the other problem that goes with that big time is of course the fact that all the time people have got their head in the sand it makesÖ whatís the expression that my sonÖ heís only 16 and heís a drummer, and he said the more we donít know something exists the more we want to find out about it. Iíve always said that if a brave radio station would come and reproduce a programme like a 21st century version of Nicky Horneís Your Mother Wouldnít Like It (N.B. Nickyís show on Londonís Capital Radio in the early 70ís) I think it would have a huge audience, I really believe that. But they donít want to know.
Moogs, Korgs And Distinctive Styles And Sounds
Do you think though, talking about music in general, in the early 70ís especially when all the bands started experimenting with progressive rock, there were a lot of bands that all had their own distinctive style. Nowadays, you donít really get that, certainly not to the same extent.
RW: I know what you mean. I have my own theory on this, which is one of the reasons there are so many vocal bands around at the moment because itís only vocally that people can start to get any individuality in what it sounds like. A lot of this is down to technology to be brutally honest with you. Back in the early 70ísÖ Not name-dropping, I was with Bob Moog this weekend in FrankfurtÖ
Oh, looking at the newÖ
RW: Yeah, at the new Voyager. Bobís a great great friend of mine, weíve been friends for years, and we were talking about the, well the words good old days is unfair but we were saying when we first started out in the early 70ís, when you received an instrument, there were no such things as presets, you switched it on and you then spent the next 3 or 4 days trying to get a noise out of it.
I watched the Emerson, Lake and Palmer Picture at an Exhibition DVD a couple of days ago and they had a real synthesiser there, complete with wires coming out of it like an old telephone switchboard. Marvellous stuff. But thatís what it was like then.
RW: Thatís right. Keith (Emerson) and I talk about it, weíre good mates and we go out for lunch and dinner quite a lot when heís over in England or Iím in America, we speak to each other a lot. One of the things which was great for us is that when we received these instruments we had to make a sound out of them. So when you finally did get a sound you nurtured it because it was yours and the odds of anyone finding that exact sound you had created was almost nil. So what you were able to do, not only were you able to create your own style in the way you played, you also created your own sound. Now I still do that today. When I get a new instrument, I wipe out all the presets and I start again. I know that apart from having my own style of playing, having my own sound is important. I spoke to a good friend of mine a little while back at Korg Keyboards, who are probably the biggest company for keyboards in the world and he said one of the interesting things is that when they take in instruments anywhere in the world in part exchange for a new version/instrument, I think it was 97 or 98% of all those instruments come back with exactly the same factory presets that were in it when the instrument went out. Which means, to some extent, a little bit of laziness on the part of a lot of people who buy these instruments, that itís too easy to press a preset and get a nice sound out because the presets offer a fantastic sound. But it just means that youíre going to sound the same as the next guy.
I think a lot of people these days are not technically minded.
RW: Thatís true, but Iím not particularly technically minded, but itís actually notÖ
But surely you needed to be then?
RW: Itís not actually that difficult. Itís no more difficult editing a sound on a keyboard than it is sending an email. Itís not a difficult thing to do at all. A lot of keyboard players ask me how do you get that sound, and I say well I spent a couple of weeks in the studio re-editing all the sounds. And they say, oh great are you going to reproduce them on a CDR and I say no (laughs) because otherwise youíre all going to sound like me! I think thatís a lot of the reasons why; youíre quite right, a lot sound the same. Itís a little bit of laziness and it doesnít take that long just to come up with a couple of new sounds so you think, oh great, Iíll have that for me.
Itís not just sound, its playing styles isnít it? And the individual personality that shines through it.
RW: Yeah. Sounds will create playing styles. I get sent, for whatever reason, loads of CDs from bands every week and there is no doubt about it that sound will dictate the way you play. So if youíre using the same sounds that everybody else is, then the chances are according to your technical ability, you will play the same as the next man. The biggest fault I find with a lot of stuff I get sent is that if people are trying to create exact instruments, like if theyíre trying to create a string section or whatever on synthesisers, then youíve got to think like string players. Youíve got to think in the way you phrase, in the way you play, youíve got to think even in the way you space the notes. You canít play in the same way that you would be playing a set of chords on a Hammond organ.
Experienced keyboardists, for example take Dave Sinclair (Caravan, Camel etc.), playing Caravanís Nine feet Underground, if you watch him closely, he was tickling the key next to the one he was playing, so he was almost bending the note. But nowadays, people use a modulator or pitchbend wheel in an attempt to achieve a similar effect.
RW: Absolutely true. Itís funny you should say that. I can remember going back to the 50ís or early 60ís, I know this sounds really daft but there was a record out by The Springfields, which was Dusty Springfieldís original band and the record was called Say I Wonít Be There. It was a pop record and it was pretty acoustic, but whoever it was bent the string on the guitar Ė not bad, it was the little bit that actually made the record. Now I used to at that time sit at the piano and try and work out the latest pop songs and things and I was puzzled because, of course, you couldnít specifically bend the note on a piano. I found what he was doing was somewhere between the two notes. And in a strange way I did exactly the same thing. You learnt to sort of flick between the two notes to create that type of thing. And youíre quite right, what everybody creates technically, you had to try and create manually. One of the sad things, though it is great, in the studio nothing is now impossible. Back in the 70ís, nothing was possible and everything was probable. So what you did, you heard in your head what you wanted to do and then you sat down and had discussions for maybe a week on how it could possibly be done! And then you got as close to it as you could. And that also helped to create individuality because it wasnít oh yeah, you need this box of tricks to do that. Remember, thatís the nature of the game and I just say to any young musicians who talk to me, make sure you use the technology and the technology doesnít use you.
I think thatís a risk.
RW: It is. I mean I canít put my hand on my heart and say that if I was born 20 years ago and was just coming into the business that I wouldnít fall into all the same traps that everybody else does.
Naturally. Or if, like me, you canít play properly, you use the technology to compensate.
RW: Yeah. With the sounds being so good and youíre so keen to play; I canít guarantee I wouldnít buy and instrument now, if I was 30 years younger, switch it on, say thatís a great sound Ė letís get playing; Rather than say, OK guys, give me three days Iím just going to lock myself in a room and come up with the sounds, you know.
Capes And The Alter Ego - The Buzz Of Performing
Do you still get the same buzz from performing in front of a live audience?
RW: Absolutely. Absolutely. It doesnít matter if itís the one-man show in a theatre, orÖ we are doing some warm up shows with the band in some clubs in May. Now with the exception, of course, of the stages which are tiny so we canít have as much of the full effects and various bits and pieces, but I get the same buzz walking up there and doing the one man show as doing the big arenas down in South America or whatever. I love doing it. Itís a Jekyll and Hyde thing.
And do you get the adrenalin rush before you go on?
RW: Yeah, itís unbelievable. Donít laugh, but when I went back to South America in 200o to do the tour, when I got the contracts through, it was really funny, I donít often bother to read the contracts because basically itís you turn up, weíll pay you and everybodyís happy; I just looked at the bottom of this and it just said ĎMr Wakeman will appear in one of his famous capesí and I looked at this and I said this is some sort of gag. I havenít worn them for years. So they phoned up and they said Ďoh, no no, this is importantí. So I phoned up and spoke to the promoter guy down there and I said Ďthis is some sort of gag isnít it? Iím 52í. Well, I was 50 then, whatever. And he said Ďno, no. It is importantí. Now this goes back to what we were talking about earlier. He said Ďyouíve got to understand; youíre going to get a very young audience here. Now in all of the magazines etc. they show the pictures of as you were, and you were wearing all these capes. They are all talking about it, because they think all the dressing up is new and theyíre discovering it isnít. So you have to walk on in that.í
Itís imagery, isnít it?
RW: Yeah, and I said ĎI havenít worn them for yearsí. He said, ĎIím sorry, the promoters have insistedí. I said, Ďyouíve got to be jokingí and he said Ďno, itís crucialí. So I said all right. So, what I did, my bandís pretty young with the exception of my drummer whoís been with me for ages, I called them all together, I didnít tell them until we got down there (South America). I said right, before we go on, weíre all going to meet 15 minutes beforehand. And they said Ďwhyís that?í. And I said because then you can see what Iím wearing, all have a good laugh, get it out your system, then we can go onstage. So theyíre all intrigued, I put one of the big gold capes on and to my amazement I got Ďitís fantastic. I didnít know they still existedí. I said Ďlook - I donít know what sort of reaction weíre going to get from the audience when we go outí. I walked out and it was bizarre because it was like, ermÖ I probably played some of the best I played for ages. Certainly the audience liked it. I just felt it was the right, should we say, uniform.
If you wear the clothes for the part, you become the part.
RW: You know, thatís very interesting you should say that because I did pantomime this year. (For a brief summary of what pantomime is for those who donít know, see http://www.hissboo.co.uk/pantomime.html)
RW: Yeah, I played Abanazar in Truro in Aladdin. It took me nearly two hours to do all the make up and the one thing you did when you walk on, you walk on and YOU ARE Abanazar. It was quite fantastic. Suddenly, I remembered, it was a real buzz; it was the Jekyll and Hyde thing.
You are not Ďyouí any more.
RW: No, thatís right. And for the rock shows, theyíve (the capes) have stayed ever since. I took them out to Russia etc. and itís no longer a crass thing, itís part and parcel of what itís al about.
Forthcoming, Back To Roots, Prog Album
Absolutely. What about a UK tour then, with the full band? Do you think that would be possible?
RW: Well, Iím in the middle of doing a prog rock album at the moment, called Out There, which Iíve been working on for a year.
Is that by any chance based on the Channel 5 (UK) series of the similar name?
RW: No, no, I did this over a year ago. Itís like a sequel to an album I did in the 70ís called No Earthly Connection. I wanted to make a real prog rock album, the way I used to do it. Go back in, change things, analyse things, rethink things, and I worked the band for a year before we went into the studio so we knew each other well. Weíve been working on it solidly in between tours and dates and other things. Weíre back in finishing it off at the moment and it will come out at the end of the year. I really am hoping that it will create a vehicle that we can go out and do, what I call, some proper gigs next year (2003). You know, three or four decent size theatres in the UK and present it properly.
That would be great. Brilliant.
RW: Thatís the aim.
But you know, the venues may not be seated, maybe London Astoria (Mean Fiddler) whatever itís called now, maybe even Birmingham Symphony Hall.
RW: yeah, we donít have to have seated venues. I mean some of the ones in South America were standing because what they do if itís like a 4,000 seater and they sell those seats out really quick, they pull the seats out and pull another 4,000 people in. So weíve done a lot like that, which is fine. What Iím hoping is that this album on which weíve spent a lot of time and a lot more money than I suppose a lot of people would say makes sense, I want to make sure itís right before itís released. Basically, if people say they donít like it, I can at least say that this is a true band prog rock album, I gave it my all and if you donít like it, thatís as good as itís going to get if you know what I mean. But I hope that it works and will enable us to do three or four shows in the UK, what I call, properly.
I hope you will send us a review copy before it is released.
RW: Absolutely, I guarantee that will happen, because weíre doing a DVD of it as well. The album will be finished sometime in May then the plan is that Classic Pictures are going to come and shoot the band against a blue screen (chromakeying), and then going away and create the background visuals so we will have a simultaneous release of CD and DVD.
Brilliant. I look forward to that.
RW: It will be a proper package.
Can I just back track to the Argentina gig? The performance there was really buzzing. It was funky, it was jazzy, it was full of life. It was as though the material was fresh and not 20 odd years old.
RW: yes, it was. One of the things that has been really good for me, apart from Tony my drummer, is having a young band who are playing music that they like, admittedly, but playing music that was written to some extent before they were born, they had no pre-conceived idea of how it should be played. So they play it in their own styles. I have given them complete freedom. For example, like little Lee Pomeroy; heís bl**dy unbelievable. He came and he said Ďdo you want me to play what was on the original or have I got a bit of licence?í I said Ďyeah, youíve got as much licence as you likeí. Well, what heís done, heís just started to change the whole face of everything. Ant Glynne on guitar doesnít play likeÖ I used to use guitars very much as rhythm instruments. He said ĎI donít want to play rhythm, I want to play liveí.
That was another thing I noticed. Ant took the lead occasionally, and that broke it up. It was good.
RW: It works a real treat. So, suddenly I found Iíd got to rethink how I play here because Iím a bit dated. Iíve got to have a bit of a rethink. My son, Adam, said, what youíve got to look at is itís taken the music, given it new arrangements, new sounds and slightly new style of playing and you can do one of two things. You can either make everybody adapt to how you have played for years, or you can just move slightly sideways and forward and start to rethink a few things. And I did that and started getting a buzz because it was just like brand new again. Halfway through that particular tour I though, now Iíve got to record with this band because this is the feeling I had back in the 70ís when I had a band and we were going in to record a prog rock album, because these guys are going to push me to do things and write things differently to what I would normally do.
This Out There album, are you writing that purely on your own or in collaboration with the band?
RW: Iíve gone back to the same principal I used back in the 70ís, which I havenít done for years. I basically write the music, I do some demoís and then send them to the guys and say, OK, this is it. I want you to play these songs, a bit like how I used to do in sessions when I worked with Bowie etc., but instead of me telling you specific notes and specific things that I want you to play, I want you to treat this like you do the live performances. You say, hereís the song and hereís where I fit in, hereís my bit of the jigsaw. Whatís happened is that theyíve worked together doing various bits and pieces and then somebody may have done something that changes the face of something so something else will change, and weíve allowed all these changes to go on all the time to create the end product. Itís been really, really good. I was in yesterday and Tony, my drummer, has been doing some things and changed the whole rhythm passage on one bit which is so fantastic that Iíve got to re-do the guitars and bass, because heís created something thatís put a grin on everybodyís face. It doesnít matter that everybody played pretty good before then. All the time itís not just constantly working the album, itís constantly improving it.
I wondered if creativity was a problem, having put so many albums out and done so much music over the years.
RW: No. yes, thereís been loads and loads of stuff but to be honest thereís not really been anything, apart from Return which was the big orchestral thing, but nothing that I would call of any prog rock nature. Itís that particular area of writing thatís still very fresh.
I read somewhere that you said you wanted to do a prog rock album every three years. Youíve reneged on that have you?
RW: Yeah, I did say that but itís all down to finances. This particular album, which Iíve personally financed all the way, at the end of the day thereís not going to be much change out of £100,000. Iíve had to sort of rob from Peter and borrow from Paul and having my own studio has helped considerably. But by the time itís finished with everything done and the DVD done itís going to be a lot of money. The only way to make a prog rock album is to go back to the tried and tested formula, which is what I used to do way back in the 70ís, which is you go in with the album 100% in your mind how you want it to be, but also prepared that itís probably going to change 75% when you start working on it. You have got to have that flexibility. Now to have that flexibility you also have to have the resources to do that. There wasnít a record company in existence that understood what I was trying to do because most of the record execs, bless them, were not around and donít understand how it was done. The only way it could be done was to finance it and do it myself, end up with the finished product and take it from there. And that has also dictated the fact that it had to be done over a long period of time as Iíve been able to sort of scrounge a couple of grand off this project and that here and there to take it forward again all the time.
Working With Other Musicians
I understand that from a friend of mine, John Bollenberg, that you are guesting on his album?
RW: Oh John, yeah. Heís done an album and sent me some tapes and asked me if Iíd stick a few bits and pieces on, which Iíve done. Johnís an old mate and we go back probably more years than he would care to remember.
He used to write for the Hairless Heart Herald when we were paper based.
RW: Oh yeah, of course he did, yeah. Heís a good lad, John. His dream was always to make an album.
Heís got a good voice.
RW: yes, his voice is not bad at all. He came to me ages ago said if he got it together would I mind doing some bits and I said Ií be delighted to. Just send me the tapes and tell me roughly what when and where you want and Iíll shove it on accordingly and send it back, you know. (laughs)
And I know you had an interest in the band IonaÖ?
RW: Yeah, Dave Bainbridge is a great friend of mine and I admire the band greatly.
They really are good.
RW: I think they are a super band, super nice people and I think probably deserve considerably more recognition than theyíve had. I think Joanne (Hogg) has got a beautiful voice. At one stage I desperately wanted to have Joanne sing a couple of songs Iíd written, and I was, shall we say, doing things in the correct and proper manner, dealing with their management, which suddenly changed. They seem to get through representations quicker than Derby County (laughs). But I keep in constant touch with Dave. In fact Iíve just done a couple of sentences for the sleeve notes on their box set which they asked if Iíd do, and I said Iíd be delighted because I really am a fan of the band. I think Dave is a very talented player, itís good writing, and Joanne has got a wonderfully unique voice. I tried to get Joanne to sing on something else a little while ago, but sadly her mother passed away and that put a halt to that. Itís quite amazing, Iíve come so close to using Joanne on a few things and yet weíve never actually met.
It will happen sometime.
RW: Yeah, Iím sure it will at some juncture.
Youíve worked with many musicians, and you may have already just answered this question, apart from your immediate family who have you enjoyed working with most, and why?
RW: David Bowie for his professionalism and just wonderful songs. I just love the way David works; heís quite unique. He taught me one of the greatest things, if youíre in the studio and youíve got a song or piece of music, however well prepared you are, if after a couple of hours itís not going down right donít persevere. Stop, move onto something else, take it away with you and have a look, because there will be some little thing that will be wrong stopping it moving forward. Donít try and force it, just take it away. And thatís the best thing Iíve ever learnt because we do quite a lot of things in the studio that arenít going anywhere, yet I know in essence are a good idea. We just put it to one side and I get them all put on to CDR and I take them away and play them in the car and every now and again I go Ďoh, I know whatís wrong with thatí. And sometimes it can be the simplest thing in the world. But thatís one of the greatest things I learnt from David. Wonderful to work with. In general, all the people you work with you always try and learn something and take something. Believe it or not, I loved working with Ozzy, Ozzy Osbourne, when I did the Ozzmosis album.
Oh yes. Superb.
RW: Wonderful album. Iím a great champion of Ozzy and when anybody says to me Ďoh, heís just a heavy metal singer, I say go and listen to Ozzmosis and have a listen to the arrangements on there. Now that is progressive metal. Itís a sensational album.
Is there anybody you would like to work with that you havenít, yet?
RW: I would like to work with McCartney for the simple reason that I love working with people who write melodies. If you write melodies, the adaptations of what you can do musically around such strong melodies is almost infinitesimal. There are so many things you can do. So I really would have liked to have worked with him.
Well maybe you will sometime.
RW: Well, you know, stranger things have happened. There are lots of good great players around. I would have loved to have worked with The Who years ago in their heyday and for Zeppelin in their heyday too. Bonzo (John Bonham) was a great friend of mine and I know Robert Plant very well. One of the strange things is, if you get known as an individual, people donít ask you (to work with them) very much. Brian May phoned me up a few years ago and said, Ďyouíll probably say no but Iíll ask you anyway. Iím doing a thing called Guitar legends in Spain in Seville. Thereís not much to do on the keyboards because itís a big guitar thing. Iíve got Joe Satriani and Joe Walsh and Steve Vai coming out with me Ė you wouldnít fancy it would you?í I said Ďabsolutelyí. He went Ďwould you (disbelief)?í ĎYeahí. He said ĎI didnít think you would because I donít ever see you doing things like thisí. ĎThe reason I donít do things like this is because nobody ever bl**dy asks me!í. Itís interesting, I was talking to Jim Beattieís manager and he said Ďwell people assume you wonít do it, so they donít askí. And you think crikey, there are so many things Iíd like to do. One of the great joys is working with other people.
Maybe you need to post an advert somewhere.
RW: Yeah, I should do.
I donít mind working with other people Ė please ask me! I can only say no.
RW: (Laughing) Yeah, you never know.
The Gig Opening Cock-Up
Have you thought about releasing the recording of the opening cock-up Ďpasticheí where the band played four different songs? I am referring to that story you told on the Live 2000 DVD.
RW: I would think the odds of being able to recreate that are pretty much nil. I did hear that somebody had a very rough cassette recording of it.
It would be quite nice as a bonus track on something. Iíd love to hear it.
RW: (Laughs) yeah, to be honest with you it was a shambles. Itís one of those things in retrospect was hilarious.
Thatís the sort of thing that makes a concert.
RW: Itís one of those things. Youíre heading for the car wreck and thereís nothing you can do about it. All you hope for in the end is that you walk out from the wreckage relatively unscathed.
The Doomed Birotron
(Laughs). The Birotron. What happened to it?
RW: Ohhh, the Birotron. It was ruined by the old chip. Gosh, I ploughed a lot of money into that machine. Very collectable now if you can find one.
So it didnít go any further?
RW: Well, no. We produced about 80 and I believe thereís six left in existence. One month before our huge launch, some bright spark developed the chip, sampling and things. Suddenly weíd had it. So I was a lot of money in debt with an instrument that was heavily out of fashion. But now people are clambering for it. Itís funny isnít it?
Diversity And Survival
Do you think that adopting different styles and keeping them separate is the way for prog artistes to survive these days? I mean, you do prog but you also do the one-man shows and you do the lighter material, etc.
RW: The word survive is the optimum answer really. Iíve recently gone through another divorce and financially that completely wipes you out.
Yeah, I know!
RW: And I have bills to pay. So, the fact of life in music is that you canít always do your number one choice.
The thing is, I was wondering with Genesis because they had two different styles and had two quite separate audiences really, but they didnít separate them.
RW: Well I do have two different audiences really. The theatre audience for the one-man show is totally different from the rock shows. Of that there is no doubt. And I thoroughly enjoy doing both. If I could haveÖ actually, I have to be very honest with you. If I really had my choice, I like the diversity of being able one day to do or one month doing the rock stuff, then doing the one-man show and perhaps then doing a TV programme or comedy show. Iíd like the diversity I must admit.
Comedy And Music?
Have you ever thought of doing a show or set of shows or maybe doing a DVD with Bill Bailey (UK prog-curious, keyboard playing comedian)?
RW: Funnily enough Bill and I talked about that.
Youíre kidding, really?
RW: There was talk at one stage about Bill and I doing a TV show together.
I certainly think a show with you two touring the UK would fill theatres. I would certainly go to more than one. I think you should give it serious consideration. Heís a good musician and heís exceptionally funny as well.
RW: Yeah, heís a good lad. We did the Never Mind The Buzzcocks (1999 Christmas Special) thing together which was hilarious. Thatís where it all stemmed from. We had a chat about it, but itís a question of finding the right vehicle for it.
He was also on The Channel 4 Top Ten of Progressive Rock. I think he was wearing a cape wasnít he?
RW: Thatís right (laughs). Brilliant.
The Obligatory YES Question
The dreaded YES question. Have you been to one of their recent gigs?
RW: No I havenít. Thereís a good chance weíll work together again in the not too distant future. I think thereís a very good chance of that. No, I didnít go to any of the orchestral gigs because I couldnít, not for any other reason than I was just wasnít around to go.
Dare I ask you how you rate their recent material?
RW: Itís very difficult, you knowÖ
Itís an unfair question maybe.
RW: It is to some extent because the lads are, you know, weíre all friends and it is very hard to step away and be a punter, shall we say. If I had to say anything, I mean their musicianship is never in doubt Ė I would never ever question their musicianship because itís excellent. On a personal opinion, I would love to have done the orchestration on Magnification because I thought the orchestration was poor. With YES music the orchestration has to be like another YES instrument playing in the same way and I just thought it was a bit, not so much ĎFriday night is music nightí, but it was, and Iím trying to say this without sounding egotistical, I think I was probably the best person qualified if there were ever to be YES orchestrations done, to have done them because I understand how each of the guys play, how they write, how they work and could have adapted orchestration around that and enhanced it a lot more. I just felt so much more could have been made of it. Thatís just a personal thing.
I was dragged along by a YES fan to go and see them a couple of years ago. I winced a bit because the price was horrific - £36 just to see them in Manchester. I went along and somehow was transported back to the 70ís. They had a typical 70ís stage set with light show, packed audience and in a seated theatre. Fortunately for me, they played all the old stuff. They played a couple of tracks off the new album (The Ladder), which was bearable because of the older material. The audience just lapped it up. It was a brilliant gig. But thinking about it, most of the performance was of stuff from the early 70ís from Fragile and Close To The Edge etc.
RW: Thatís what people want to hear. If he was still alive and you went to a Frank Sinatra concert and he didnít sing New York New York or My Way, youíd probably walk out. Itís the same principle. I would have like to have seen on new material more of the music melody driven which for me means more influence from Jon where the music stems from the melody as against from the rhythmic or musical pattern, which is how YES used to be.
I must admit, when I listen to an album, quite often these days Iíll listen to an album and five minutes afterwards I wonít remember a thing about it. Some things are really good, maybe jazz/fusion taken to the extreme. However, all this week all Iíve got in my head is Six Wives and Journey. You know, quiet moment and Ďwhat the h*ll is that? I canít get rid of ití (Rick laughs) No disrespect, but the melody is there and captures you.
Prog Concepts On Prog Concepts
Have you ever heard of a band called Glass Hammer?
RW: No I havenít.
I think you may be interested in listening to their album Chronometry especially.
RW: Iíll just write that down.
And theyíre at Glasshammer.com where they provide the storyline for the album and an interesting interview. Itís basically a prog concept album about prog concept albums. Itís very much in a British sense of humour vein and is a sort of parody of prog albums from the 70ís and the storyline is based around this chap who is absolutely stuck on prog. There are lots of references both musically and lyrically to many prog bands, to YES, to you, to Genesis and they use the typical keyboards and instrument of the era. Itís really excellent musically and funny as well.
RW: Oh right. Iíll check that out. Brilliant. Thanks.
Future Project Maybe?
Lastly, I was wondering if you were going to do something based on the Mars Project? The expedition to Mars.
RW: Do you know, youíre the second person whoís asked me that!
RW: Not a journalist I hasten to add. Somebody just wrote to the website and asked about that and to be honest, I dismissed it when it came through. Now youíve brought it up maybe I should start having a look at it.
If anybody is going to do that, Iíve been watching programmes late at night on the subject and you know, Holst The planets and who else but Rick Wakeman?
RW: Well one of my great friends, Scot Vengan is the paymaster at NASA and deals with everything that goes on the shuttles, so Iím going out to NASA later this year to spend a couple of weeks there to see a launch and everything.
Hereís another thought; Paul McCartney, Venus and Mars. You may be able to swing something and maybe get him to do a track Ė Venus and Mars Reprise?
RW: Itís worth a thought. Brilliant! Not a bad idea either.
Rick, We have been talking for over 80 minutes! Sorry I couldnít be there. It was good of you to call.
RW: Thatís all right. It is a pleasure to talk with you. Thanks very much indeed. Iíll make sure you get an Out There as soon as itís done.
Thanks again to Rick Wakeman for the highly informative and entertaining chat, to Classic Pictures not least for the use of the photographs and to The Hiss & Boo Company for the use of the Aladdin photo featuring Rick in panto. Please note the copyright statement at the top of this article.
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