Talking about his not yet released live album being recorded the day before this magazine article were printed, it should be fun to read for all of his fans. I don`t think everyone realizes how big Yes and Rick Wakeman was at the time, but I would like to point out that this album went to number one in the UK and to number three on the Billboard 200 chart. So have yourself a listen to this album who were voted number 55 by the magazine Prog in the 100 greatest Prog albums of all time.
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
Steve Peacock previews Rick Wakeman`s new solo project
It`s strange – Rick Wakeman joined Yes just after I`d come to the conclusion that they were one of the most stylish and entertaining bands I`d seen, and at the time, after witnessing what I thought was a thoroughly flash and superficial solo during one of their sets, I wondered just how much he was going to contribute to the band.
These days, because of the way he`s developed as a musician rather than merely a deft-fingered technician and because of the way Yes have moved in their musical concepts, I find I`m more in sympathy with him than with the rest of the group. He also has a refreshingly irreverant attitude towards the weightier matters of life, a defiant grease-and-beans view of macro-food, and prefers alcohol to orange juice.
Yet he lives and breathes his music as much as any man, has a broad overall concept of music as both the realisation of personal dreams and ideas and as a medium which must entertain and be understood by people if it is to work, and is almost over-anxious to ensure that people have everything they need to enjoy what he does – right to the hilt.
His first solo project, an album based around the lives of Henry VIII`s six wives, was roundly denounced as baloney by the critics – except by our own dear Penny Valentine. “She said in effect she didn`t understand it,” he says. “Which is great – I wish other critics could be that honest.”
But the feeling that people aren`t given as much help as they should be to understand what he, and other people, are up to has led him to make extravagant arrangements for his new solo project. “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” which gets its premiere at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday.
The music has been written on the inspiration of Jules Verne`s book, and will be performed by Rick, a five piece band formed specially for the occasion, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the English Chamber Choir. The piece is 40 minutes long, and will be recorded for an album.
But he feels that merely to perform a new piece of music, however spectacular, is possibly not enough; he had reservations about the recent Yes tour, where they performed the four sides of what he wickedly refers to as “Toby`s Graphic Go-Kart” straight to audiences who`d not heard a note of it before.
“It`s a bit like baking a huge cake that no one`s ever tasted before and asking them to eat it all at once,” he says, and it`s an approach that he`s doing his utmost to avoid with the “Journey” concert. For a start he has a built-in advantage in that a lot of people will probably be familiar with the story anyway – either from Verne`s book or from the film which was made of it; but he`s presenting the concert with the maximum number of props in an attempt to “help the audience to be as involved in what`s happening as the musicians are.
“So many group things are so self indulgent these days, and I suppose that inevitably to get up on stage and play your own music, especially something like this, is self-indulgent anyway; but you can do that and still try to make sure everyone understands what you`re doing and why.”
To this end, he`s using a number of clips from the film says with unarguable logic. What it is then is a piece of music, inspired by a book that excited him when he first read it, that he wrote for the instruments that he felt suited the feel of the passages best.
Sometimes the orchestra plays alone, sometimes the group plays alone, sometimes instruments from the group are used in juxtaposition with orchestral instruments to create a specific effect – electric piano and strings, for instance, or the rough-edged voices of Wild Turkey`s Gary Pickford Hopkins and Warhorse`s Ashley Holt contrasted with the rich precision of the English Chamber Choir. In only one section does the full force of electric rock band combine with the orchestra and choir, and that is the ever-crescendoing climax of the whole piece.
He also resisted the temptation to fill the stage for his solo concert with a host of well-known Friends: his only experience of that kind of scene was the recent “Tommy” show at the Rainbow, which left him less than enthusiastic about that way of working. Instead he`s recruited friends from the old days of playing Top Rank ballrooms, and musicians he`s worked with or seen work who he feels will be more interested in performing the piece well than in the loon potential of the evening.
Alongside the two singers are Mike Egan, guitar, Barney James, drums, and Roger Newall, bass. “We`ve done a lot of rehearsing, ten or twelve hours a day, but it hasn`t seemed particularly like hard work. We`re all boozers and lunatics anyway and we`ve managed to get through a lot of work in a sort of light-hearted way.
The idea for “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” has been around a few years, and he actually started writing the music as long ago as 1971 – before Henry VIII. The Henry project, he says, was a rather more hurried thing, basically building the album from the basis of a number of discrete ideas, while this one was conceived as a whole, but has had to wait until now for the adequate money and pulling power to do it properly. “The book knocked me out when I first read it,” he says, “and then I re-read it and decided how easily it could be put to music.”
Obviously, in 40 minutes the actual story-telling is a trifle on the skeletal side, so what he`s done is to allow the bones of the story to come through the narration, and to be more impressionistic with the music. Specific incidents such as the battle with a sea monster, are highlighted with passages of their own.
Equally obviously, the money to stage such a production (and when you`re talking about employing a top-flight 100-piece orchestra, a 60-voice choir, film projection and the rest, you`re talking about costs of more than £22,000 for just two shows) has come through his involvement with Yes. He couldn`t have done it two years ago, which is why he didn`t.
He now plans to take the whole show on the road – provincial cities in Britain, America, Japan – later this year. How does that affect his future involvement with Yes? “We`re doing a tour of the States in February, and then I think we`ll all take some time to do solo projects. I know Steve has got a lot of music he wants to get out, and Chris the same, and I presume the others have as well. So if after the American tour we find we have three months in which people are going to do things outside the band, before we do the next tour or album or whatever, then I`ll grab the chance with both hands.
“I think it`s important to the survival of the band that that does happen – everyone in any band is frustrated in some way, and those frustrations have to be worked out. Yes has always been very much a band, rather than a group of individuals, and I think it`s time we did some things outside Yes so we can go back with fresh ideas.”
Did he feel Yes had become rather incestuous? “I really don`t know. When you`re so close to something, it`s very difficult to tell. You have to rely on what other people tell you.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull, Bryan Ferry, Chris Squire, Nazareth, Paul Butterfield, Sweet, Tim Hardin, Average White Band, Cozy Powell, Robin Dransfield, Andy Roberts.
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