It is always refreshing to read an interview with this man. I think Yes-fans will agree that this is a good one from the days now so sadly long gone.
Rick Wakeman in the talk-in
Interview: Steve Peacock
Rick Wakeman seems like the one in Yes who you might call an outsider: he is usually fairly outspoken in his criticisms of the band if he feels things aren`t quite right, and he`s been on the point of leaving them more than once.
However, at the moment he wants to stay – despite the success of his “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” solo venture.
He joined almost by accident, having reconciled himself to making a comfortable living from session work, but they called up and he went for a blow and stayed.
That was back in 1970, and now he`s indeed a rich fellow in one of the biggest-earning bands in the world. Here he talks about fighting with the band and how he overcomes his tax problems.
What did you think of Yes before you joined them?
I`d only seen them once, and I was very disappointed with them. That was at Hull, when the Strawbs supported them, and I remember sitting down after our set and being highly disappointed because their PA was really bad and the sound was awful. But looking back on that, and we`ve talked about it since, they were really trying to do something different technically as well as musically.
They`d just built this giant PA with stacks everywhere that was based on the world`s largest record player – Mike Tait decided that if he got hundreds and hundreds of Quad amps all linked together and put through Marshall cabinets it would be like using a huge stereo hi-fi set on stage. But what he didn`t allow for was the fact that the sound came out beautiful for the first ten yards and then dropped like a stone. Consequently I remember coming away thinking that was a bit of a disappointing band.
But when I joined them we went down to Devon to rehearse after we`d finished the “Fragile” album, and they`d just bought the Iron Butterfly PA for the previous English tour, and then it was blatantly obvious that they were a cut above anything that I`d seen before. Bill and Chris were so incredibly together – drummer and bass player working as one like I`d never ever seen in my life before.
Yes is one of the hardest bands not only to get into listening, but to get into personally. I found because my lifestyle was totally different from the rest of the band, and because in the Strawbs I felt the music suffered because we were such good friends, I vowed when I joined Yes that I`d never let those things get in the way of the music. My lifestyle`s totally different anyway, me being a bit of a lunatic and a drinker, so I kept well away socially from the rest of the band. We`ve all got totally different lives outside the band, which I think is good, but it made it doubly difficult for me to become really involved in the band.
For the first English tour, my gear was in a bit of a state too, and then we did three American tours on the trot and I then realised that I was going on stage not knowing what was going to work or what was going to stay in tune. So I sat down with the guy who runs our PA in the States and we worked out that for about 14 grand we could get all my equipment re-built and modified, which I could just afford to do, so I got it done and from that point on really all my problems were over and I began to feel part of the band for the first time instead of being just the keyboard player.
It`s funny, when people used to ask me what Yes was doing I`d say “Oh, they`re doing…” but round about the time of doing “Close To The Edge” I started saying “we” for the first time.
I used to row incredibly with Jon in the early days – it was unbelievable. There used to be Fish and Bill fighting, and me and Jon. I could not for the life of me understand where Jon was at and he couldn`t for the life of him understand where I was at, but then round about the same time as I began to feel part of the band we all sat down and sorted it all out. I suddenly realised where he was at at the same time as I realised what I was doing -essentially we were going for the same thing but we just happened to be taking different routes to get there.
Then when Bill left to join Crimson at the end of “Close To The Edge” that was a real downer for me. I`d just started feeling part of the band and got a lot of confidence, and the one person I`d really got friendly with the whole time was Bill, so for him suddenly to go was like shattering my illusions. I really did think the band was going to fold – I couldn`t see anybody coming in. I think it was good getting Alan though, a totally different style of drummer, but it was a strange feeling to start with.
What was it the band used to fight about?
Silly things really, almost selfishly stupid things when you look back at it. Like with the equipment I had at the time you couldn`t play the Mellotron and the moog together and hear them both, and Jon`d come off and accuse me of not playing something, and I`d say I did, and he`d say I didn`t – stupid stuff. We`d be going hammer and tongs in one room and Chris and Bill would be going hammer and tongs in another… but the great thing was once everyone had got it out of their system it was all forgotten about – till the next night.
Is it right to say that – the main aim of the band is to play each piece accurately each night – that accurasy is the main criterion?
Yes and no. It`s partly true and partly not. Accuracy is incredibly important because without it everything just falls apart, but it can lead to dangerous things because – like in the studio – if you`re trying to get something perfectly right once you get to the thirty-eight take although you might be playing the right notes it`s got about as much feeling as a cow with diarrhoea on a summer`s day. I think what we aim for, especially in the early days, is accuracy and then after a lot of performances on stage perhaps then to bring out the musicality.
Is it loose enough for you to introduce something that the band hasn`t played before, and for everyone to pick up on it and follow it?
To be honest, no. We`ve done things that have free parts within arranged passages, but they tend to end up being arranged after a while anyway. I would say the band wouldn`t be the greatest ad lib band there is – we`re not the ideal musicians to do that. But that`s not what we`ve set out to do: I think every musician should know his limitations and what he`s good at and what he`s setting out to do. I don`t think we`d do rock and roll or play free music very well, because there is quite an art in doing it properly, and I don`t think we`d be very happy doing it either.
True, I suppose, but I know if I was a musician I`d get dreadfully bored playing the same notes in the same way every night. A touch of – to use Alvin Lee`s phrase – the travelling jukebox. I`ve never seen the point of doing live gigs if you`re just going to try to reproduce what you`ve already recorded.
Well, I`d agree and disagree. If you create something as a fixed piece of music… well, this is a very bad comparison, but if Beethoven was alive and doing gigs today, you wouldn`t expect him to write a symphony and then turn to the trumpets and say “forget what I`ve written, just blow what you like”. On the other hand I`d like to see us doing something on stage that we hadn`t already recorded, which there`s talk of us doing. I`d really like to do that because I always find I play things better about 60 gigs after we`ve recorded them.
There`s a heavy rumour that we`ll be doing a co-promotion date with the Who at Charlton Athletic football ground in May sometime, which I think would be really good. I`d like to see English bands like that playing together again without all that horrible old syndrome of “we`re not going on unless we go on last”: it would be great to see a really good festival again when you get something like the Stones, the Who, us, the Faces… that`d be really good. Too much emphasis has been put on this headlining thing, which luckily in America is almost ignored. People tend to pay just as much attention to the first band on as the last – in fact what they love is for the first band to blow the last band off. There are so many bands over here who just won`t play second on the bill to anybody, which is daft because it means they`re often playing to half empty halls instead of full ones.
Is there one person in Yes who tends to dominate as far as what you do and the way you do it goes?
Well, yes and no. Because Jon doesn`t have an instrument to play he tends to be in a very good position to be able to stand and look and take four things in at once while we`re all concentrating on our one thing, which is very useful. As for where we play and when we play, what happens is the management draw up a suggested itinerary for the year and we have one of our famous band meetings which are a complete and utter waste of time, where everything ends up completely undecided. We all have a good laugh though.
Another thing about a band like Yes is the big business angle – you were talking about having your accountant round last night. How does being in a band earning that amount of money relate to being a musician?
The thing we`ve always tried to do is to palm things like the money side and the legal side off onto other people. It`s amazing actually after you start earning some money how the little writs start to pop up from people you knew three or four years ago who suddenly think they`re entitled to something. Ì think it`s quite amusing, though our lawyers don`t, of course. But we put as many things as we can apart from music on to other people. It works relatively well until we find we`ve spent all our money – we`re terrible spenders. Our accountant has heart attacks.
Terrible spenders personally, or as a band?
As a band we spend a lot of money, but he never queries that because he knows it`s going back into the music which is fine, but he has terrible goes at us about our personal expenses. We`ve all tended to go over the edge on occasions. Suddenly from having very little money to being able to have, within reason, anything you want, is a bloody dangerous thing. Because of tax things you have relatively little of your money in England, especially now Mr. Healey`s done his clever thing, and you tend not to understand that even if you`ve got x amount of money in Jersey that you can`t spend the equivalent x amount of money in England. Money things totally confuse me: if I want something now I ask him if I can have the money, and if he says no I know it`s for a reason.
It seems a bit strange talking to you and hearing you have that kind of problem, when most of the musicians I know just don`t have enough money to live on…
Oh yeah, I know. Believe it or not I do think about that. I was talking to Bob Harris about it, and we`re going to start a production company together to try to help bands who`ve really got something to offer, get them deals with record companies and so on. Because there aren`t that many places to play for small bands any more, I think it`s vital that somebody should try and help small bands like that otherwise there`s going to be a large vacuum towards the end of the seventies in new music coming up – there isn`t much at the moment. I think that might be one reason to why some of the major bands` albums haven`t been as good and exciting as they might be: because there`s not that much music coming up from new bands, the well established bands are trying too hard.
Do you find you get very cocooned and isolated in that position? You know you`ve got a lot of bread and that the next album will sell whatever it`s like and that the gigs will sell out. Doesn`t that tend to remove part of the reason for making music?
No, not at all really. But it does worry me sick having all those pre-orders on records. I think it`s very sad that people`ll order a record before it`s even been made, and when it comes out it`ll go in the charts automatically so it`s not a true reflection of whether it`s good or not or whether even people like it or not. It would be very interesting – though totally impracticable – if people could buy records on sale or return. I bet the charts would look a lot different, and I bet you`d find some things in there that normally you`d never see and some of the things that go in automatically might not be there. I think it`s a very dangerous thing for bands to get into.
Do you still feel a bit of an outsider from Yes? Do you find it easy to stand back from it and make criticisms?
No, I don`t feel an outsider but yes it`s one thing that gets me into trouble occasionally that I feel if I think something`s wrong I don`t see why I shouldn`t say so, rather than saying “oh well, we`re Yes, we can get away with that”.
Are there any criticisms of the band you`d make at the moment?
Only silly things, and they get ironed out fairly quickly anyway. (Pause.) Well, I had to think about it and it hasn`t really got anything to do with music, but I do think the band tends to be a little bit removed from everyday life.
Like in the way they react to criticism?
I think the way the band reacts… well, the way the band reacted to criticism over “Topographic Oceans” I thought was childish. It was almost “They`re wrong – what right have they to criticise?”, which I think is a very dangerous thing to do. I think if people say things about you that aren`t silly – not just “this is great” or “this is dreadful” – then you`ve got to take notice.
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: Procol Harum, King Crimson, Dr. Hook, Casablanca, Carol Grimes, Strawbs, Nektar, Ann Peebles, Graham Nash, Ace, Lesley Duncan, Budgie.
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