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© 2010 Festival in the Shire Journal. All rights reserved.

Interview with Rick Wakeman

When did you first come across the works of Tolkien?
Quite late in life... I was in my late twenties and bought a couple of books at an airport to read on tour.

Have you any favourite book amongst Tolkien's works?
Well like everybody, the hobbit always comes to the forefront. I actually looked very closely for a few months on writing a whole work based around the hobbit but in the end decided not to go ahead because Tolkien left little to the imagination for someone like a composer as he is so descriptive.

Did you immediately think of music when you encountered middle earth and the stories?
Certainly great stories, places and characters always give musical thoughts, but that doesn't always mean that that means good music. I came the closest to writing music about the works of Tolkien when I was the presenter on a fifteen / twenty minute film about Tolkien some years back which I did for the BBC at pebble mill. we spent a couple of days going around Tolkien's haunts, interviewing his publisher and surviving "pupils" as well as visiting many locations including that of the inspiration for middle earth. There is no doubt he was a very unique person.

I gave up all thoughts of ever doing anything musically when lord of the rings appeared on film.

You have been involved with an astonishing number of highly respected bands and musicians - are there any real stand out moments in terms of performance or recordings for you?
I learned more from David Bowie about working in the studio than anyone else. I did learn from all the different sessions to be honest. Sometimes you learn how not to do things when recording and make a careful note for when you're doing your own stuff. Working with Toni Visconti and the late gus dudgeon was always a pleasure.

Your solo albums have always seemed to look towards the mythopoeic and historical - does that reflect your interest in fantasy?
Absolutely. For me, much of fantasy is real, it's just that we are so locked in what we think is the real world, we can't see it. I'm constantly teaching myself to see and feel our parallel worlds.

Would you consider tackling a Tolkien inspired theme on an album in the future?
No...for the reasons I've already given. The film was so monstrously big it's left no room for other interpretation that the general public would go for.

Your solo performances are very intimate - how do they compare to the big rock style concerts?
No different except there's a load more gear. Each year I do concerts in front of tens of thousands of people as well as a few hundred for the small shows. They are equally as enjoyable and mean equally as much to me.

How much did your classical training in your early days influence the music you write and how you play?
100%... it's the basis of the style I play and all other influences have to fit into it.

Can you give our readers an idea of where to go to find out all the recorded music you have been involved with?
A list of pretty much everything I’ve recorded as a solo artist can be found at rwcc.com. There are other sites that have some of the music, namely classicmedia & voiceprint.

Finally, I know that the people attending the festival are very excited to be seeing and hearing you, what would you find of most interest yourself at our event?
I've got no idea what to expect really. I love mid Wales and that part of Britain. It's wonderfully unspoilt in so many ways. I have a funny suspicion I may well be spending some money on a few more books to bring home!

Many thanks, Rick, and we look forward to seeing you at the Festival,
Alex Lewis.


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Biography and Discography

RIck Wakeman was born May 18th 1949 in Middlesex and underwent an extensive musical education that culminated in studying at the Royal College of Music. He has been married and divorced three times and has six children and five grandchildren.

Between 1962 and 1969 Rick played with several semi  professional outfits. These included The Concord Quartet, The Atlantic Blues, The James Royal Set, The Ronnie Smith Band, The Tony Dee Showband, The Green Dolphin Trio and two bands of his own: - Brother Wakeman and the Clergyman, (a trad jazz band) and Curdled Milk, (a blues band). In 1967 he started performing on sessions and by 1972 had played on over 2000 recordings which included numerous hits. Artists he performed with include such diversity as Black Sabbath, Cat Stevens, (including the legendary Morning Has Broken), David Bowie, (including Space Oddity and Life on Mars), Cilla Black, Lou Reed, Dana, Mary Hopkin, Karl Douglas, Ozzy Osbourne and even Clive Dunn! He joined Strawbs in April 1970 leaving in July 1971 to join YES. He left YES in May 1974 to pursue an already successful solo career but rejoined in November 1976. He left YES for a second time in January 1980 and reformed Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe in 1989 who eventually merged with YES in 1991 for the record breaking UNION tour. He left again in 1992 rejoining briefly in 1997 for a year to record and perform the Keys To Ascension projects and rejoined YES for a major world tour, which commenced July 2002 and finished in October 2006 !

The major Strawbs albums were Just A Collection of Antiques and Curios and From a Witchwood. The major YES albums were Fragile, Close To The Edge, Yessongs, Going For The One and Tormato. His major solo albums, (there are more than 120 to date), have been The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Journey To The Centre of the Earth, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, White Rock, Criminal Record, 1984, Out There and Return to the Centre of the Earth.

To date, a conservative estimate is that he has sold well in excess of 50,000,000 albums and CDs worldwide and of the 130 recordings he has done with YES, Strawbs and as a solo artist, only four are currently unavailable.

He owns two record labels: - PPF and Hope Records, the latter being a Christian cross-over label which was formed especially to compliment Rick’s recordings in this area as he is a committed Christian.

His hundreds of television appearances over recent years have included hosting his own comedy show, Live at Jongleurs, (which ran for more than six years), and as a team captain on Bygones for BBC 1. Other regular appearances on television include Through The Keyhole; This is Your Life, Under Offer, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Masterchef, Countdown, Grumpy Old Men, He Says She Says, Can’t Cook Won’t Cook, Have I Got News For You, Richard and Judy, Loose Women, The Weakest Link, Top Gear, Mastermind, The One Show, Call My Bluff and The Generation Game.

He has his own Saturday morning show Rick’s Place on Planet Rock digital radio which has been the number one listened to programme on digital radio for the last three years. He is also a regular presenter for the BBC World Service and other BBC stations.

His almost constant association with radio and television have moved him into celebrity status for all ages and although he has now limited his live appearances, his band, The English Rock Ensemble, still sells out major arenas around the world and the variety of different one man shows he puts on, either as one-off performances or at arts festivals, prove to be box office winners wherever he goes.

The television and radio appearances , especially those of Grumpy Old Men and Countdown, have now also made Rick one of the most in demand for corporate events and after dinner speaking.

He also performs around the world with symphony orchestras and choirs, just at the piano . These have proved extremely popular and something very different for the audiences.

His One Man Show…”A Very, Very Intimate Evening with Rick Wakeman” , where he performs at the piano and relates ludicrously funny anecdotes ,has been , and  is still, a phenomenal success around the UK theatres

In May 2009 he put together 2 unique performances of The Six Wives of Henry VIII at Hampton Court with a symphony orchestra, band , choir , actors and actresses plus one of the biggest stage productions seen anywhere for many years involving more than 300 people. These performances were highly acclaimed by critics worldwide and subsequently resulted in a top 5 position in the DVD charts .

The one-man show “An Evening With Rick Wakeman” pretty much came about by accident. Quite simply, his gear didn’t arrive for a show and all there was available was a piano. The audience were given the choice of their money back or an evening with Rick performing on the piano and telling ludicrously ridiculous and funny anecdotes. Only three people took up the offer of their money back, and “An Evening With Rick Wakeman” was born.

These performances are very much  “one-offs” and never done as a tour. The stories change on a regular basis, as does the music. If this show were in a cookery book, the instructions would simply read…..

1…..Take a large concert grand piano and seat Rick Wakeman in front of the keys.

2…..After the first piece, sprinkle in  a ludicrous and funny anecdote.

3…...Repeat  1 & 2 for approximately 2 hours.

These performances don’t happen very often, which is why each one is very special to Rick and hopefully for the audience as well.