Starting the New Year with a really good article about the maestro himself, the one and only Rick Wakeman. This one should be of great interest to all those fanatic Yes fans.
And I want to wish a belated Happy New Year to you, Dear reader! May it be the best one yet.
In the talk-in
By Penny Valentine
What`s been the major difference you`ve found working with Yes as opposed to earlier bands you`ve been with?
Well, the major one has been the lack of worry. I mean with this band the only thing we have to concern ourselves with is the music itself. There are so many roadies I lose track of them, it`s staying in five-star hotels everywhere we go, knowing everything`s properly organised, knowing the stuff`s set up on stage on time. We fly anywhere north of Watford. Everything is made as easy as possible so it helps you when you go on stage to do the best job possible.
Of course the music`s different, that goes without saying, plus I`m facing an entirely different kind of audience now. With the Strawbs the music created a different atmosphere – it was very much what I`d call a listening audience. I`d say Yes is a listening audience but also a reacting audience. I mean if you`re on stage and fancy clapping your hands over your head and someone blows a rhubarb and they all just sit there, and they`re snogging in the back row – well, it doesn`t exactly inspire you to go on and leap about, which is what it`s all about anyway, enjoyment. But Yes`s audiences do respond to that kind of thing and that in turn helps you to play better.
Have you found them an easy group to get into?
Surprisingly hard really. You see it`s embarassing to play numbers you enjoy playing like “Yours Is No Disgrace” which get incredible reactions and knowing you really had nothing to do with it. That you`re not involved with that number because you weren`t there when it was originally cut. And obviously because those numbers are well known to the audiences you have to play them. You never know what`s worse – whether to stand up and take credit with the rest of the band or, when it comes to the end of the number, hide under the organ. It really is a problem. I mean you get to the end of the number and all these little girls come up to pull John`s trousers down and what do you do – apart from watch little girls pull John`s trousers down?
Personally, too, it`s not been an easy band to just slide into because we don`t really mix socially – which is good really because I don`t think music and social life mix very well. I mean we all argue after gigs anyway. The first time I met them I couldn`t believe a group could argue so much. I thought they were about to split up and thought “Oh, well, there`s a hundred pounds and a job out of the window”. But then I found that they just argue, everyone tells everyone else when they think they`ve played badly on a gig. They`re all total individuals.
Bill`s a looner. I get on very very well with him – maybe that`s because I found out he`s only six hours older than I am. I`m the kind of person that if I can`t get the right sound I get furious and stomp about – national disaster. Bill`s problem at the moment is that he`s playing a set of drums he can`t get on with and when we come on stage in the dark – you know that opening with the “Firebird Suite” – the first thing you always hear is Bill yelling “My drums are duff” and he tries to kick them and smash them to pieces.
Steve`s placid but when he says something he really means it. Fishy`s a very unique bass player, very melodic. Jon`s really a frustrated musician. I mean he`s actually never had the opportunity to technically learn an instrument, which is a shame, because he`s got such a lot of original ideas and it must be very frustrating to try to explain to people. I think the problem with me is that I`ve been told nobody knows when to take me seriously. I mean I`ll go into the studios and loon about and they`ll shout “yeah, great, leave it in”. Then I`ll say I`ve got this really good idea and play it seriously and they all fall on the floor laughing.
I set out once very religiously to do a very serious piano thing on Brahms, something I`ve always dreamed of doing which is taking part of the symphony, and playing every part of a different keyboard and we did it non stop, it took us 15 hours in the studio, and we were all knocked out. Then I found I`d made a mistake so on stage I put in a bit of Bizet instead which worked out very seriously for five or six minutes, then it reverted back to the old Hamlet ads and silent movies.
Were you very worried about the first gig you played with the band?
Well, it wasn`t until I was halfway to the theatre in Barnstaple and realised that the one thing we hadn`t done was rehearse properly. We`d taken a week off to rehearse in Barnstaple Town Hall but unfortunately they booked us into a motel which had a swimming pool and none of us were out of the pool long enough to actually rehearse together. So what had happened was that I knew all the little bits I was expected to play but I hadn`t a clue where they fitted in. Oh yes and I`d spent most of MY time in the bar – that`s a rarity isn`t it?
Anyway I thought well maybe it wouldn`t be too bad because a lot of people wouldn`t turn up at Barnstaple. I got to the theatre to find 1,500 queuing all the way round it and blocking the street up. All the numbers were about eight or nine minutes long but the boys were very clever – Fishy especially – and gave me great signals right the way through the set without making them noticeable to the audience. It got better and better after that, in fact the tour has really been incredible. Then we hit the Festival Hall which was a disasterous night for me, an amp blew up and I could see this roadie rushing around with a fire extinguisher and sparks flying but I didn`t know which keyboard was going through which amp.
Anyway, he stood there near me and I had this piano solo coming up so I muttered “I`m going on to electric piano – now,” and nothing happened at all and he said “it`s not on”. So I moved to mellotron and he muttered “the electric piano`s working now”, then the mellotron started to work then I went on to Moog and that had gone all out of tune because when the power went off it had thrown it. So I thought the diehard organ never let`s me down, never goes wrong. And I went over to it and all the top part of the bottom keyboard fell off! Then the roadie told me the piano was going again so I finished back on that and it was a complete disaster. I was very choked because I knew everyone else had played very well. And when you`ve got a number using five keyboards it`s a huge worry because you`ve always got to think what you can use as an alternative if something goes wrong.
When you were approached to join Yes did you have any reservations at all?
Well, to be honest, I`d been screwed out of so much money in the past I didn`t want to get screwed up again – not from the Strawbs – but it was a big reservation. So the first thing I said to Jon was “how much do you earn a week?”. Really horrible – and I didn`t mean it to sound like that. He told me and I said what I`d earned with the Strawbs and he said “Well it`s a f… site more than you`re getting and everything we`ve got we own.” Then I said “What plans have you got?” and he said they were going to America and I immediately said I didn`t want to go. Anyway I went home and I thought “I must be mad”. I mean someone had offered me a really good job with a band I really admired, and I was holding out. I thought “what a berk” and went back and joined immediately.
Do you ever feel that it was odd considering how little you`d done up until then that you had such an enormous reputation as a musician?
Well, how can I say this without sounding big headed? Look, I`ve always worked hard for everything I`ve got. I`ve been very, very lucky to have had great parents who helped me financially to have the best tuition I needed. But I did work hard at my music and I knew what I wanted to do. I have also been very lucky in meeting the right people – people that have tried to help me and push me forward. But the main reason it happened was the Strawb`s Queen Elizabeth Hall concert and the dear old press. They could have been really horrible but they`ve always been really nice to me, they`ve all been really nice people. I mean there are a lot of musicians I don`t like – very pretentious, and they annoy me because they think they`re really something incredible. And of course although I wasn`t out doing much on the road I was doing a lot of session work which helped me enormously. In fact I`ve just fitted three session jobs in this week.
Is that just because you can`t stop working – I mean Yes must keep you pretty busy?
I just find that I can`t sit at home – I must have something to do. I have to get up about eight in the morning, I can`t lay in bed, and I have to be doing something even if it`s practising – something you have to do because the only time we play is on stage and it`s very easy for your hands to stiffen up, especially my right hand. I don`t know, I like meeting people, I like playing, and I like sessions.
You had a straight training at the Royal College of Music and then went around with dance bands and you`re own small outfits, was that a deliberate musical policy?
Mmmm – well there was a reason behind it. My dear old dad who was a very fine musician in his younger days told me that there`s a pattern to playing music well – and if I`ve got to thank three people for everything it`s him and my two music teachers – either you start recording or whatever and then gradually come down to dance band and then loads of other smaller bands and then to lavatory attendant.
Or you do it the other way round which is what I did. I had a dance band, jazz band, an out and out pop group, trad jazz band, played in pubs and it gave me a really good grounding in all kinds of music. And it definitely helped me get into sessions because on sessions you`ve got to be able to play anything that`s put in front of you. And my classical background was sound.
But when you went into the Strawbs you hadn`t actually done anything like that before musically?
No and that`s really what attracted me to the group – because I`d never heard anything quite like it before. It was the first group I`d ever been with as a unit and the first time I really felt that was at a gig in Slough around May in 1970 and I really enjoyed it. Suddenly I had a lot of faith in the band that I hadn`t had before, and I don`t think any of the others had had either. It was really something I hadn`t felt before. The main person who`d kept me going musically was my old piano teacher Mrs. Symes who was absolutely fantastic, and my music teacher at the school, a guy called Herrera.
You did so much session work – right from David Bowie`s “Space Oddity” to real out and out pop stuff – what did it do for you as a musician?
Well, you get a certain knowledge when you`re out on the road but in the studio doing sessions it`s a nice chance to see other musicians and what they`re doing. What they`re interested in. I must admit I`ve met a lot on sessions and just can`t understand what the hell they`re doing in the business. But on the other hand I`ve met a lot who are so good I can`t understand why they haven`t had the breaks.
Do you think the time you actually split from the Strawbs you needed to leave – that the offer with Yes happened at a very convenient time for you?
How can I put it… well I desperately needed to get into another band that I could get really interested in, but it had to be the right band. I didn`t want to start my own band because I knew I`d be incapable of doing it. I wanted a band that wasn`t gigantic but that was heading in the right direction, who knew what they were doing and that were really keen and enthusiastic about working. And perhaps as well as offering me something, I could offer them something as well.
So perhaps yes it was just at the right time, the right band, and everything slotted into place. Although I must admit the first couple of weeks were hell because I had no sleep, they were working on a new album and I`d got all this other session work booked and I literally went without any sleep at all for five days.
Do you ever feel that because of that you didn`t really give that album everything you had?
Oh, no, it didn`t affect me in that way. I mean its like driving a car. I don`t know whether you`ve ever noticed but you can feel quite drunk but directly you get behind the wheel of your car you sober up instantly? Well I`m like that with music. However tired I get, you go into a studio feeling half dead. But directly somebody gives you the music or the idea you really get into it. And as soon as that`s over you collapse until the next thing comes along. I contributed to that album all I felt I could, there`s nothing else I could have done on it that I didn`t do.
On the next album obviously there`ll be more I can do. I mean it`s embarrassing when you`ve just joined a band. It`s exactly like when you`ve just joined a new organisation on the board of directors – and basically a band is like a board of directors – it comes to the first meeting and say everything everyone said you disagreed with. Well you`re not going to open your mouth and say anything in that position – the first day and the first meeting. So I`ve had to find out, and I`m sure they`ve had to do the same with me, exactly how the band have thought, what their other interests were, how they worked musically. And really that`s what`s so amazing about Yes. They`re quite remarkable musically – they have literally no musical limitations.
When I first joined I said I`d never met a band that worked so hard or got into things as much as Yes and if anything I feel that even more strongly now, I mean it`s very hard – what makes a band tick? What can mean something to person A can mean nothing to person B and a band that appeals to everybody… you`ve got to go on stage believing what you`re playing or there`s no point going on at all. On the other hand I don`t believe in going on completely poker faced and playing a set, you need a few little loons going. You can go on and play a number for 11 minutes and that`s an awful long time for an audience to keep relating to you and sometimes you can`t believe that anybody will really LISTEN to you for 11 minutes, so you put in a little joke thing in on the piano, or daft comment – anything that can relate to the audience – and Yes have all these qualities.
I think I don`t know exactly what`s going to happen to my music in this band, and if I did I wouldn`t want to because that`s half of the excitement, not knowing what`s going to happen. As regards sounds and ideas Yes have given me a lot more freedom – as regards actual playing at the moment I haven`t got so much obviously. But then these are very early days and the big joy at the moment is not knowing what`s going to happen.
We could go on stage tomorrow and die a death, but we could go on stage and they`d have to bring out the riot squads like they had to in Glasgow the other day, which was fantastic – I love audience reaction. And I never got with a band that got this sort of reaction. Not just for the people themselves but for the band as a whole. I mean you might get a band with a drummer or organist who suddenly has something inside them and he gets it off to the rest of the group or the audience. But it`s rare to get a complete band like that and that`s what is such a good one with this band.
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: Rod Stewart, Loudon Wainwright, Family, Duke Ellington, Redbone, Alice Cooper, The Who, Pink Floyd, Wings, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Chieftains.
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