Rick Wakeman’s still hitting the high notes

Rick Wakeman's still hitting the high notes
Rick Wakeman is coming to town with his Piano Odyssey tour

As musical credentials go Rick Wakeman’s are pretty hard to beat. The pianist and sometime frontman of prog rock group Yes has worked with some of contemporary music’s greatest artists including David Bowie, Elton John, Brian May, Lou Reed and Cat Stevens over the past five decades. He’s also performed with his trademark stack of keyboards all over the world and made chart history after his 2017 release Piano Portraits was the first solo piano album to enter the UK’s Top 10.

The former Royal College of Music student from West London had originally planned to become a concert pianist having started lessons at the tender age of 5, but while supporting himself through college with stints in various recording studios he decided to shelve his studies and become a full-time session musician instead.

This led to him playing on seminal records such as Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Space Oddity – most famously twinkling the keys on Life on Mars – as well as contributing to albums by T Rex and Cilla Black.

In 1971 he joined Yes but continued to perform his own solo material too, delighting fans all around the world with his trademark concept all-encompassing piano playing and his idiosyncratic and flamboyant stage costumes – think glimmering golden capes, metallic trousers and knee high leather platform boots.

Yet unlike most musicians who cut their teeth during this notoriously hedonistic rock period Rick is still very much on the scene, performing to thousands of his loyal fans who can’t get enough of his elaborate musical spectacles and outlandish sartorial gear.

He’s currently in the middle of his latest tour, Piano Odyssey, which was inspired by last year’s Piano Portraits and comes to the Assembly Hall next Thursday (November 15). The concert will feature a collection of both old and new songs Rick loves which span the classical to contemporary to more obscure genres and peppered by some amusing anecdotes about the life and times of Rick.

When I catch up with him he’s in jovial form, despite only having had a few hours’ sleep. He makes a point you see of driving himself back home to Suffolk from every gig as he ‘doesn’t like other people driving him.’

Yet, although he’s quite literally burning the midnight oil this hasn’t hampered Rick’s enjoyment of being back on the road.

“It’s been really good actually,” he says about his 26 date tour which started in Salisbury in September and ends in Manchester in December. “I’m having a really great time and the audiences have been fantastic. There’s a real mix of all age groups at my concerts. You get wives bringing along their grumpy old husbands who are Yes fans then of course you get the Bowie fans but also lots of new people coming along.

Rick says his anecdotes help to break things up: “I tell many stories – some might have one per cent of truth to them or 99 per cent – I let people decide what’s true.”


Rick won’t actually talk about any of the tales but he promises there will be some interesting nuggets from his career. “Something I learnt years ago from my dear friends Jasper Carrott and Bruce Forysthe was that if you are telling your own stories you are safe, as they are yours.”


What he will reveal is that there will be revelations about those he’s famously worked with like Cat Stevens, David Bowie and the ‘brilliant and legendary’ record producer Tony Visconti.


“Working with David Bowie was an undoubted highlight. He knew exactly how to do things and I pretty much learnt everything I know about working in the studio from him. He was the most influential person and knew exactly what to do, how to work with producers, engineers, and with musicians. He was the cleverest man I’ve ever met.”


Over the years Rick’s also enjoyed working with the likes of Cilla Black and folk singer Mary Hopkins and deems his experience with the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed as ‘interesting’ whereas Elton John was just ‘phenomenal’.


In terms of contemporary artists Rick doesn’t hesitate to answer that he would have loved to work with Amy Winehouse but also Ed Sheeran and Adele too.


“I’d love that, with just a piano, that would be amazing. As an instrument it has a much wider range than a guitar, it’s all enveloping. I always say you can put your arms around a song when you play the piano.”


And when I ask him to pinpoint a highlight so far on this tour he promptly replies: “Every night has been a highlight – and every day too. I wake up and go ‘my God I’m still here.’ That’s my daily achievement.”


Tickets to see Rick Wakeman’s Piano Odyssey at the Assembly Hall on November 15 cost £29.50 from assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk




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