Interview: Rick Wakeman

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Photograph: Chris Boland

Ex ‘Yes’ Keyboardist, Prog Rock legend and all round good bloke Rick Wakeman ,will be playing Lancaster Priory Church on 17th October as part of the Lancaster Music Festival. Our writer, Zach Hughes, was given the opportunity to pick his brains on a few topics ranging from sub-consciously autobiographical albums, to the influence of record companies on young bands:

 

Hello! How did the Prog Rock awards in London go well last week?

“They were fantastic! I mean what I like about them is there’s so many new bands that are including, let’s say at least some of the elements of old prog and it covers virtually every different genre and age group you can think of. There are bands in their teens and early twenties from Scandinavia and out in Europe, right up to some of us old pensioners hanging around. It’s just a really lovely event to, ironically, become one of the hottest tickets in town for award ceremonies.”

It’s interesting you mention the age difference because there is a distinct difference between modern prog bands and early prog bands such as ‘Yes’. Would you agree that it’s a genre that is perhaps more susceptible to change than others?

“Yeah you’re spot on there. I mean, basically what it is, is you don’t do what you’re told. You know, if you’re writing a piece of music or playing a piece of music and you feel it should do this that or the other; change tempo or have a banjo solo in the middle or whatever, do it! Don’t say “I’m not allowed to do that”, its do what’s in your head and heart. My professor at the Royal College (Royal College of Music in London) when I was doing my orchestration said to me, now you know what the rules are, you know how to break them.”

Do you think that attitude had an effect on other genres?

“Yeah when I was growing up in the early 1960’s music was formatted; everything was formatted into ‘intro verse chorus verse verse chorus chorus outro’.  And it was prog rock in the late 60’s that said hold on, we just don’t want to do this, there’s nothing wrong with it but we want to do other things. After that you were either an LP band or a singles band, there was no in-between. It took the record companies a while to figure out the value of the album, at one point they were out-selling singles by four-to-one.  What I like now is that when you put the radio on, there is such a diversity of music and it’s very rare to hear the old formatted structure. I think if you can say prog has given anything to music, it’s given it back to the musicians. People do what they want to do now.”

After working with so many greats e.g. David Bowie and Cat Stevens, are there any artists you wished you could have worked with but never got the opportunity?

“That’s a really good question. I guess if I really thought about it I could go on forever but off the top of my head, in the early days at least, I would’ve liked to have worked with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Paul’s song-writing lent itself very well to the piano and John was just such an off the wall character, I knew them well. More recently I’d have to say Justin Hawkins who was in the Darkness. I thought their first album was great stuff and he’s got a lot to give. It’s a shame how it turned out for them really. They were a young band and they just didn’t have the strength to stand up to the record company and the result was an album (‘One way ticket to Hell’ released in 2005) they hated. He’s gone on to form ‘Hot Legs’ now though to get back to the roots of it all. I must get back in touch with him, we’re good friends!”

Looking through your previous work on albums such as ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and ‘Journey to the centre of the Earth’; do you prefer, or perhaps find it easier, to write music based on historical figures and novels rather than music based on your own life experiences?

Yeah definitely, I’ve always been into mythology and history. I’m actually a high ranking Freemason and I’m a Knight’s Templar as well so that stuff has always appealed to me. The only autobiographical thing I’ve written is the ‘King Arthur’ album but I didn’t intend it to be like that, it too me a long time to accept that it was subconsciously about my own life.

Is there anything in particular that drew you to the Lancaster show?

“Well the interesting thing about the Priory is they asked if I would like to use their choir, and I love choirs so I said yeah. So then I thought I can do a completely different show here. I put together some music I usually do on the one man show but adding the choir makes the whole thing really different, they’re performing on about half the set. Then the Priory said ‘we’ve got a great big organ here’ and said ‘oh have you!’ and they asked if I would do one of the tracks from ‘Six Wives…’ or something on it, so I said that sounds good to me! So it’s going to be a very unique show, nothing you can really do anywhere else.”

 

Restricted view tickets are still available for £10 to see Rick Wakeman perform at the Lancaster Priory Church on 17th October, with the Priory Choir.