Phil Sutcliffe

ARTICLE ABOUT Rick Wakeman FROM Sounds, January 31, 1976

I find these interviews with Mr. Wakeman really enjoyable. I think you will too if you give them a chance and are at least a little bit interested in 70s rock.
Have fun!


Have you heard the one about the tall, blonde geezer in the silver cape?

Rick Wakeman shows Phil Sutcliffe how to make doughnuts.

LADEEZ AND gennelmen! May I introduce to you the one and only, the fabulous, the outrageous, alarming, courageous, charming Mr Rick Wakeman (available for extravaganzas, limousines for hire, knock you up a packing case at the drop of a hat, masonics and barmitzvahs on ice).
To quote Basil Brush and Jimmy Dean your favourite keyboard maestro is a ‘BIG, BIG MAN’. Or if you prefer a more classy source, Christopher Marlowe (who had that chart-topper ‘Dr Faustus’ circa 1593), Wakeman is an Overreacher, a man who having conceived a grand project will commit body and soul to making it reality even if it’s essentially impossible.


Which sounds more alarming than charming because it only takes into account the performing face of Wakeman.
Sure he’s the blonde wizard in the silver cape casting spells of astonishing music from his Dalek army of electronic keyboards and carrying that extravagance to absurdity he’s the great, goldskinned god Thor in `Lisz-tomania’ (getting panned by critics, selling albums by the million).
But his fans know the truth that he glitters like a pearly king in a friendly, Cockney way.
The god-wizard is also the mud-clad footballer slogging through the sleet, looking silly and distinctly inelegant in the cause of fun and charity, and most of all he’s the guy in jeans sat behind a pint and a double port at his local, The Saracens, in High Wycombe, enthusiastically discussing any subject you care to mention.
He’s the musical heavyweight who grew up on Kenny Ball and Lonnie Donnegan and now likes Mud for their character, humour and taking care with their music (though he dismisses most teeny pop as ‘pram rock’).
Rick Wakeman is game. He`s Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear both. He’s the kind of character who makes it feel good to be alive and sod the expense.


The urgent business before we could get the probing questions under way was the 2.30 at Towcester. Rick had got a horse and he felt Mike Ledgerwood from A&M should not miss this golden opportunity to invest in what could only be described as a racing certainty — and at 25-1.
Did I detect a shade of doubt and resignation in Ledgerwood`s agreement to match the ardent tipster’s bet? Persuasive he was though and I’m only glad I’d lost my shirt the previous week for Rick’s latter-day Arkle, a nag called Cavaltino, trundled in fifth.
“Well, about 50 per cent of my tips do come off,” said Wakeman. Ah, yes.
Rick is also a great “Have you heard the one about…” man and our progress to the portentious was further impeded when he burst forth ever so refined with a “Hello, I`m Johnnie Craddock and I`m going to show you how to make doughnuts just like Fanny’s.”
And then there was the one about the sheep but he said “No, that takes too long. I’ll tell you after we’ve done the serious bit.”
Oh, now what was that question custom-built to bare the Wakeman soul? “Er, what are you doing next?”
“Now you have to promise to keep it under your hat . . .” Of course, would I? “Well, in fact I’m doing a musical version of The Complete Works Of Shakespeare. It will be a 146-album set and it’s scheduled for release in March, 2003, that is. We hope to put it out for the price of a single album.
“Anyway that’s the sort of story that was going round on our tour of the States in the autumn. That could be because I told it to one really nasty American journalist and he swallowed it.
So I kept on getting asked about it and I’d say ‘Oh yes, I wrote it all last night. It’s a hundred hours long’. ‘Gee, have you written it all down?’ ‘No, it’s all in my head’.”
And rock musicians blame journalists for rumour-mongering! It’s no wonder the word is out now that Wakeman is filling in his spare time by writing `The Bible: The Authorised Rock Opera’ and following his meeting in Brazil with Ronnie Biggs, an orchestral interpretation of ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (okay, I admit / started that one).
Rick is quite unrepentant about his addiction to the grand (grandiose?): “I can’t help it. I don’t like my ideas watered down. Like in a journalist’s terms if they tell you to write 500 words and then cut it down to 200 you’re not happy and the person you write about isn’t happy.”
Which doesn’t mean you have to be inflexible. Until the 11th hour of preparations for ‘The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur’ it was set for Tintagel Castle, the fabled HQ of the Round Table.
Wakeman visited A&M’s offices the day before flying out for Japanese tour and talked with Ledgerwood about this, that and nothing in particular and then as he was halfway out the door Mike chanced to ask how things were progressing at Tintagel. Rick said: “Oh we had to drop that idea. We’re doing it at the Empire Pool on ice. Ta-ta.”
Which may have provoked the greatest avalanche of dropped jaws in the history of rock music.


It also suggests why he found a soul brother working with Ken Russell on `Lisztomania’: “Everyone says he’s outrageous.” (Alarming? Courageous? Charming?) “Maybe that means I’m the same. Off my head. Perhaps we’ll share a cell one day in the loony bin.
“In that case when Tintagel fell through Wembley was the only other possibility. They said the ice would still be there from some show so I thought it would be a pity to waste it.
“What I like about Ken is when he gets an idea he doesn`t just talk about it, he does it. The minute you discuss an idea it’s going to change.
“With my projects I see the whole concept at once, not only the shape of the music, but the way it should be presented and played throughout its life-span.”
As with Russell, extravagant creations have led to extravagant criticisms. The only time it disturbed Rick’s bonhomie was when a writer implied he was some kind of con-man laughing up his sleeve at the poor punters who thought his overblown efforts were magnifident.
A year on Wakeman still bridles at the slur and promises to throttle the guy if and when they meet – though I suspect the confrontation would end with Rick buying the misguided fellow a drink.
On the general run of scribblers he’s far more mellow: “Criticism is nearly always helpful in letting you know what a show looks like from the front.
“And I do leave myself open to self-opinionated people who want a vehicle for their style of writing which is generally sarcastic.
“It’s like walking in front of the firing squad. I love that. That’s what it`s all about.
“The funny thing is that at the moment I think I’m heading for where the critics have always wanted me to be. I’ve just gone by my own route.
“After I left Yes I worked with an orchestra because it had worked well on ‘Henry The Eighth’ and my band wasn’t ready to do the whole thing itself at that stage. After the Wembley ‘King Arthur’ concerts I knew exactly what our faults were as a live band.
“You have to learn by the things that go wrong and learn openly. I hate to read of guys going off the road to ‘get themselves together’. You should be getting yourself together in the public eye.
“I agree with what the critics said . . . except about ‘Journey’ and ‘King Arthur’ . . .”
Then he realised what he’d said, that he agreed with his detractors about everything except everything, and laughed at himself because the conflict is insoluble and absurd and evermore shall be. Musicians like Wakeman put maybe a year of their lives into creating what they trust is a beautiful/boogieful album and writers like me put maybe an evening of their lives into deciding it’s rotten and saying so in the most readably pungent way. That’s entertainment/democracy/civilisation I guess.



Or as Rick put it: “I wouldn’t put out anything I didn’t like. It’s my life.”
The smaller Rock Ensemble line-up seems likely to please almost everyone, even the faithful millions who took his last two epics to the top of the charts in the UK and the States.
“It’s taken me a year and half to get this band together and now it’s beautiful. It’s exactly what I wanted, though there again it’s a matter of the other man’s poison.
“Even though I’ve been doing all those grand things I get terribly embarrassed. I could do things that sounded clever but I would leave them out even though they were right musically because people might say I was just showing off.
“I was notorious with the band for giving them stinking hard pieces to play but I realised I wasn’t taxing myself as a keyboards player. Now I’m giving myself a tough time and it’s so much more satisfying.”
Apart from the bemused interviewers the States audience seems to have given Rick and the Ensemble a reception that was ‘a thousand per cent’ better than their grim trip with the elephantine ‘Journey’ show in ’74. They average 6-7,000 a night which is I good going these days.
Rick observed: “The kids won’t go to the big stadiums over there any more. They would rather have two nights in a smaller hall where everybody can see and hear properly and that’s a trend I approve of.”
Such restraint is hardly the trend in Brazil which turned out to be one of the most surprising and delightful events of Rick’s life. The Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, who joined the Ensemble for their short tour, had just done a free park gig to an estimated audience of 380,000!
Wakeman played little ole basketball stadiums which sold out twice nightly at 25,000 a time but, being more used to appreciation than adulation even from his most fanatical Anglo-Saxon followers, he could hardly credit the response.
“For some reason we are the biggest international act in Brazil. Apart from our normal age-group of fans there would be 4-5,000 kids waiting at the airports as if we were the Beatles.”
They were so successful that the grateful promoter offered Rick, his wife and two children a month’s free holiday in Brazil any time he would do them the honour . . .
Rick loved the country which “vibes on music and football” where he could visit a samba hall at four in the morning and find 4,000 people having a ball — and where nobody ever seemed to get angry.


It seemed strange that his ultra-organised and English compositions should be the fave rave where the lifeblood pumps to a fiesta rhythm but Rick found that the Brazilians also loved European Classics.
Rick brought 300 albums back which, he says, make the so-called Latin American played by British dance bands “look like a turd on a roast dinner”.
But there will be no Samba Symphony or Rumba Rhapsody from Rick:
“I can’t imitate music that doesn’t come naturally. Any influences will be just subconscious.”
Which brought me to another penetrating question: “Er, what are you doing next? Wasn’t there talk about a ‘Suite Of Gods’?”
“I had to shelve that for a while. After ‘Arthur’ I still had to think in terms of using an orchestra and I finished the `Suite’. I really like it. But then the band came good and the `Suite’ was er, what’s a better word than no fucking use, er, obsolete.”
Still fortune smiles on the courageous and charming and at the end of the Brazilian adventure Isaac Karebcheski (give or take an eski), conductor of the BSO, asked Rick if he would consider writing an orchestral piece for them. “Funny you should say that . . .” said Rick, and a certain `Suite` he happened to have knocking about the place will be premiered in Rio next December.
Right. Time for the coup de grace, the Parthian Shot, the apogee of the interviewer’s art: “Great Rick, but what are you doing next?”
“I had no problem deciding on the theme for the new album because I had the idea in my head for five and a half years. Then I didn’t have a band or enough experience to know even what instruments I wanted to write it for.
“It’s called ‘No Earthly Connection’ and it’s about various natural phenomena which scientists don’t like talking about because they can’t explain them away: the legend of Atlantis, Stonehenge, the Bermuda Triangle where a million tons of shipping and a lot of planes have been lost without trace.
“I’ve linked this to the idea of a sixth sense, which might be your soul and which I’ve called music. It’s the part of you that can grow and be passed on when you die. The major track traces it through the life of one man from his birth to his old age when he sees others making the same mistakes he made and he can’t do anything about it and all he has to look forward to is snuffing it.”
So clearly Wakeman is not contemplating any retreat from grandeur and hopefully understanding of all this will come with the lyric sheet, an aspect of the enterprise Rick is well pleased with: “I’ve never been happy with my words before but I worked on them for six months and I think they’re good. And we’ve got five singers in the band now for vocal harmonies.”


A more practical concept could also endear him to his fans before they hear a note: “It’s a double album but I’m trying to get A&M to put it out for the price of one. It’s only an extra piece of wax. It just means double the work for us and that doesn`t matter at all. Nobody’s got the money they used to have and I keep on thinking how in the past couple of years I’ve only done five British concerts and still the people have stuck by me.
“That would be a start to paying them back. Then we plan to do a full tour some time after the release in April. It’s become possible again with the smaller band.
“I just want to show the fans how much I appreciate them. Most sincerely folks. Well, I know it sounds awful but I do mean it.”
Charming and a great attraction everywhere no doubt. But he never did tell me the one about the sheep.


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ARTICLE ABOUT Steve Howe FROM Sounds, November 8, 1975

Just a so-so review for Mr. Howe. Still, the album reached No. 22 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 63 on the US Billboard 200. So he couldn`t be too disappointed.


Howe`s about that then

Record review by Phil Sutcliffe

Steve Howe: ‘Beginnings’ (Atlantic K50151) 38 Mins ***

THE FIRST of the queue of Yes solo albums — at the end of which I suppose the question will have to be ‘was it worth it or should they have combined the best of each into one group creation as before?’ No verdicts yet of course but ‘Beginnings’ is the sort of devotedly-made yet patchy effort you expect from privateering band members.
I would say four of the tracks are thoroughly pleasing to listen to and three of those are the instrumentals, all of them couched in fairly easily-listenable terms rather than bearing forward the Yes banner of experimentation.
As a whole, both verbally and vocally, it’s not too strong. There’s too much philosophising (the first word of the album is `Life’ with a captial L — a bad omen).
Alone, Steve’s voice is high and thin. Singing the opening line of ‘Will 0′ The Wisp’ its plaintiveness is right (Break the chains is that keep us here’). Otherwise it wavers once or twice but he generally has the good judgement to build up the harmonic layers into a richer texture – particularly enhancing ‘Pleasure Stole The Night’ which otherwise tends towards a dreary hymnal quality.
The first side is much the weaker, only redeemed by the instrumental `The Nature Of The Sea’ where the delicacy of so much of Yes’s work gets a look in – a calm-ripping mandolin, a guitar leaping around it like the sun sparkling on a flying fish. Perhaps for a moment I sensed inspiration rather than work.
`Doors Of Sleep’ is overproduced round a not too distinctive melody, while the other two tracks on the side fall away after promising acoustic openings. In fact ‘Lost Symphony’ features the unlikeliest sound on the album — rugged brass riffs which don’t seem suited.
However, turn it over and you are greeted by seven and a half minutes of pleasure: the title track. Chamber music I guess, nothing to do with rock but I trust we are long past arguments against that. It’s sweet sound. Melancholy strings, flute just beautiful, oboe and bassoon officious and jaunty in the faster movements, while Howe weaves amongst them picking some lovely acoustic. Patrick Moraz orchestrated it to flow and charm and delight and it does.
`Ram’ is ‘The Clap’ revisited and again it’s nice to hear a well-played acoustic ragging around. But you have to wait till the last track before you can grab some really successful rock. One of the reasons is Bill Bruford who I reckon the most pungent drummer to emerge from the Progressive era. He doesn’t follow the guitar hero, he whips him along. The result is Howe in a lather tearing an enflamed solo across the crackling skintight beat and for a few minutes sounding as hot as he is live.


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ARTICLE ABOUT Butterfly Ball FROM SOUNDS, October 25, 1975

I have archived this one under “Deep Purple” as it seems the better category considering Glover`s involvement along with other members of that band.


Concert Review from London

By Phil Sutcliffe

What a pleasantly different experience! After all the doubts and warnings of impending disaster `The Butterfly Ball` live was just about as good as it possibly could have been oratorio-style without the costumes and full trapplings of a dramatic production.
A full orchestra sounding in high spirits put a brassy weight behind most of the numbers. The rock band, including a gaggle of keyboard players and Eddie Jobson in joyful form on the electric violin, made it all a lot more raunchy than the rather precious imagery of the `Ball`s` sundry packaging would suggest. And the infinite queue of eager lead singers suggested an opulence of talent such as is too rarely gathered together on a British stage. The musical edifice sustaining all this, last year`s Mr R. Ex-Purple Glover`s album is nice rather than magnificent, but there were times when most of the Albert Hall and your reviewer got quite carried away.
Members of the Purple family like Coverdale, Hughes and Gillan did their bits in friendly, self-effacing fashion like Dylan at the Bangla-Desh, not wanting to steal anyone`s thunder, but the stars of the night came from the `I-know-the-face-but-who-the-hell-is-it?` set featured as the show came down the home straight.
Tony Ashton (A, Gardner and Dyke) swaggered on like Graham Bond reincarnated, greasy hair, shades and leather jacket, and proceeded to rip away the last vestiges of formality from the proceedings with some sleazy blues piano and matching bar-room vocals that took the musicians as well as audience by surprise. Then he yanked his jacket back off his shoulders for a break of Little Richard razzle-dazzle, cooled it again for his coda, burped loudly and departed to a mixture of applause and hilarity.
John Gustafson (Roxy`s current bass guest) had to follow that with `Watch Out For The Bat` and he met the challenge with revetting vocal energy, high, sinister and savage – why isn`t he a lead singer rather than a session bassist? Then John Lawton (who? A Les Humphrey Singer) set the seal on a jolly, almost flower-powerish, evening with two renditions of `Love Is All`, on the encore, his flat-out professional tenor hitting the high notes exultantly where some of his celebrity companions wavered.

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You will be hard pressed to find a more positive concert review than this one. It seems to me that Mr. Sutcliffe really enjoyed himself. So read on!


Yes, the ocean monsters, send us home happy

Phil Sutcliffe catches the Yes tour in Glasgow

It ain`t easy being a Yes fan, you know. Reveal your secret in the wrong company and they go “ya boo”, and beat you about the head with Chuck Berry 78s.
The inverted rocksnob theory is that because the lads don`t encore with `Johnny B Goode` they`re strictly for bourgeoisie intellectuals from Pseud`s Corner.
Well, hear ye. Just cop yer whack for the new Yes tour. I`ve just seen three of the opening gigs and you can argue `til you`re blue in the suede shoes and you won`t persuade me that Yes are anything but one of the best rock bands in the world. That`s as in Rock On, Get Yer Rocks Off, ROCK.
After the relaxed delights of the Newcastle nights, Glasgow was the business end, notebook out, mental computer switched to “analyse”, self-inflicted third degree of “Ve haf vays of making you tell us vy you are enjoying yourself.”
A later than last minute dash up the stairs of the Apollo and there was Alan White, punching into the startling broken time opening of `Sound Chaser`. Short drum volleys surrounded by silence and a rippling run on electric piano. Just right for grabbing idle minds out of their between the acts lethargy.
Instantly the typical Yes audience concentration descended and there was a kind of mutual limbering up. `Sound Chaser` is no classic in terms of tune, but it does demand some of those moments when teamwork has to be so perfect, it`s an aesthetic thrill in itself.
It was so when Steve Howe and Chris Squire hit the main riff in high speed cohesion as if the ryhthm was flowing in one bloodstream, and again, when Jon Anderson went into his vocal percussion “Chas-Chas” backed by Howe and Squire. Their certainty and attack caught that big “Yeah” from inside you which is a clichè of soul music but means it`s buzzing whether it`s Beethoven or boogaloo.

Such a sense of abrasion – that was the surprise. First number over and the audience exchanging “this – is – really – going – to – be – something” glances. They switched on the glitter ball above the stage and in a rain of flickering lights the electronic crickets of `Close To The Edge` started chirping.
It`s never been better, a piece of music that grows and grows. `Close To The Edge` is packed with some of the richest themes that Yes has ever written, and they are given full orchestral weight by Moraz sticking to the Wakeman script on organ and synthesisers, working in intricate sympathy with Howe`s guitars.
The sheer size of it is very satisfying, but you don`t just sit there feeling mellow and inwardly syphonic. The composition is a compound of excitement and beauty and in Glasgow, more so than the earlier gigs, there was that new wildness in the playing. Not just commitment, but abandoned.
Although I have never been able to penetrate their words, their playing is dramatic in a purely musical sense, with no literal meaning, so it takes your emotions on switchback rides into regions uncharted by vocabulary.
In Glasgow, one floodlit second early in `The Edge` caught what I`m trying to express. The first movement is an all guns blazing chaotic attack in which Howe fires his volleys at will across the bass and drum rhythms. It was controlled bedlam and exhilarating in a strange way.
Responding to funk the pleasure is getting into a groove and staying there just bopping away. With Yes, their rhythms reach you alright, and you tap your foot and shake your head but the time criss-crosses and changes so much you never get it quite right so that you`re permanently under an ecstatic kind of stress.
Anyway, you`d about jerked yourself to bits in the chaos section when for that exquisite second everything stops, Anderson sings one long “Aah” into silence, then with eye-bugging precision, the pandemonium music rips away again.


Contrast is the name of the game. Yes are aware that it can be equally effective to use every one of their fifty million watts – or none. The three years matured version of `Close To The Edge` is the high point of their music  to date, tasteful and tasty.
Have you ever had that feeling that you`ve covered two numbers out of a dozen and you`ve only got a hundred words of your allocation left? Hm. A summary of the evidence your worships:
Post orgasm on the edge `To Be Over` is sweet but anticlimatic. Pee time – and you probably need one as Yes value for money always means a set of more than two hours.
`The Gates Of Delirium` also seemed patchy until the simple, beautiful denouement with `Soon Oh Soon`, Anderson`s melancholy voice supported sensitively by Howe on pedal steel.
With which they switched to something entirely different. Yes go acoustic! Some story. A medley of old favourites, the lovely harmony vocals of `Don`t Surround Yourself` and `Long Distance Runaround` alternating with Howe solos (he did a bit of `Topographic` in Glasgow, but thought it wasn`t well enough known and said he`d revert to `Mood For A Day`), rounded off by `The Clap` as happy making as ever.
Also in there, the spotlight picked up Patrick Moraz at his other piano, the grand, and he performed an impressive piece of fast fingering which only took off when he veered towards a boogie for a few bars. Still, the Scots, like the Geordies, applauded him with real affection.
The whole segue is an excellent choice of programming, taking the tempo down while maintaining interest through the variety of sound ready for the big finish.
Which consists of `And You And I` (in fine shape with the intimate relationship between Howe and Moraz on the main themes again a feature), and `Ritual`, the fourth side of `Topographic Oceans`. What a way to go, as they say.

Of course, it`s mainly built on bass and drum leads and the result is naked excitement which can`t be reconciled with the group`s legendary stockbroker mansion lifestyle. You spill sweat with Alan White, then in comes Anderson, the gentle healer, arms flapping like a fledgeling bird, with the balmy beauty of “Nous Sommes Du Soleil”, and we`re all children in the sun.
They let the Glaswegians whip up the “encores!” into a fair old froth of frenzy, then gave them `Roundabout` (ah, `Roundabout`, shall I compare thee to `Brown Sugar` for thou fillest my brain with rock), and `Sweet Dreams`, which is a singalongayes of `Yesterdays`.
And we all lived happily every after. But may I mention two details which have escaped this highly audio and ever so non-visual account.
Chris Squire is wearing matching rings of ostrich feathers round his knees and ankles and therefore from the waist down, looks distractingly like a cross between a chicken and a shire horse.
As to the ocean monsters (Alan White`s has found a mate since the last tour), your enjoyment of them will depend on the prevailing wind. Waving their tentacles or ears in full view they looked extremely silly, but if the dry ice smoke wafts up and shrouds them they take on a light of their own in the primeval depths before we crawled out into the sun or Sauchiehall Street.


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: Frank Zappa, Gladys Knight, Women In Rock, Betty Wright, Steve Harley, Peter Frampton, Labelle, Peter Skellern, Ray Davies, Larry Uttal, Chris Spedding, Anne Murray, Sweet Sensation, Bernard Purdie, Mike Harding, Ronnie Lane.

The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!

1. Send me an e-mail if you are interested. Send it to:
2. The offer should be 20 $ (US Dollars) to be considered. (This includes postage).
3. We conduct the transaction through my verified Paypal account for the safety of both parties.