“Adam's wife cottoned on that we would work for maybe 20 minutes then climb over the wall to go to the pub”: The world of Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman

Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman
(Image credit: Future)

Close friends Damian Wilson and Adam Wakeman juggle their commitments to Headspace and their solo careers, while also finding time to collaborate as a duo. In 2018 they delivered a private double-act for Prog, marking the release of their second record The Sun Will Dance In Its Twilight Hour.

Adam Wakeman and Damian Wilson greet Prog warmly at the door to this afternoon’s interview location and, later on, the scene of a concert.

“Come on in,” Wakeman invites us, “and take a pew.”

“Yeah, quite literally – take a pew,” Wilson adds with a laugh.

Though better known as bandmates in Headspace, the pair have been out on the road promoting their second collaborative release, The Sun Will Dance In Its Twilight Hour, with a lengthy run of dates in venues of all shapes, sizes and types, including arts centres, town halls and small theatres.

Today they’re at St Pancras Old Church, a tiny but beautiful religious space mentioned by Dickens in his 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities. Some claim that this place of worship dates back to the year AD 314. It’s no usual venue for a rock show, but then again, this is no usual rock show.

At the tour’s stop in Milton Keynes this fair organ hailed its heady mix of music, banter and audience participation as “the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” More of the same is offered here in London, in spite of the setting.

“I’ve never had a brassiere thrown at me during a concert in a church,” Wilson marvels at one point, before roars of encouragement to don said garment from the congregation – and also from Wakeman – are rewarded.

Having first met during the early 1990s, Wakeman and Wilson became such fast friends that the concept of a travelling two-man show was developed so they might spend more time in each other’s company.

“That’s how it started, but nowadays we don’t get on at all well,” Wilson deadpans. “Both of us grit our teeth to make it through a tour.”

He’s not fooling anybody. In fact, having already trialled the arrangement so successfully for their shared 2016 album Weir Keeper’s Tale, this time the arc was spread to include new towns and cities.

“Even the ones in places like Washington [in the north-east], which we did mainly because they were on the way to Scotland, were a handful of people away from selling out,” Wakeman enthuses.

“Those gigs summon such a sense of community – pretty much the entire town comes along,” Wilson agrees. “And they seem to enjoy it more than those that know what to expect.”

The whole joy of these shows is that nobody really has an inkling of what might happen. This evening’s setlist is based largely upon Wilson’s solo repertoire and some Wilson-Wakeman originals, plus Wakeman’s version of Tapestries (the title cut of an album recorded with his dad Rick). There’s also a jazz rock piano take on Black Sabbath’s Iron Man (Wakeman was that band’s live keyboardist). The setlist bears little correlation to the one at the start of the tour.

“Early on somebody requested Bring Him Home, a song I used to sing in Les Misérables, which has stuck around, just like our version of The Trooper by Iron Maiden,” Wilson explains. “There aren’t too many concerts that feature show tunes alongside metal classics. It just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

“We mix things up so much that some nights we come offstage and realise that we’ve played more of other people’s songs than our own,” Wakeman grins, “but that doesn’t bother us.”

Without wishing to sound cheesy, Wilson and Wakeman are all about spirit (“And there’s plenty of spirit in this place,” Wilson grins). The pair write about love, honour, integrity, friendship and forgiveness – the important things in life. Channelled through Wilson’s spectacular voice and the music’s stripped-down instrumentation, the experience feels very special.

“It really isn’t a contrived thing,” Wilson claims. “On one of the first days we got together for Weir Keeper’s Tale, we wrote maybe four song ideas in an afternoon. And then we went to the pub.”

The pair’s productivity levels were hardly aided by the fact that Wakeman resided in a house with a studio at the end of its garden. “Until Adam’s wife cottoned on that we would work there for maybe 20 minutes and then climb over the wall to go to the pub,” Wilson guffaws.

“It all went wrong when we bought the pub with my mother-in-law, who became its landlady,” relates Wakeman. “Often she would grass us up.”

We’re sensing a bit of a theme here, so let’s get serious: this is all well and good, but why not simply get on with making a new Headspace album? “Because there would be other people involved,” Wilson fires back.

“That’s not to say it won’t happen, but it requires much more planning,” Wakeman elaborates anxiously. “At the time we made our album, the other guys weren’t available. It’s as simple as that. It’s also important that we don’t just bash something out; it must be done properly because it’s important.”

“That third Headspace album is part of a trilogy, so it’s definitely coming,” Wilson stresses.

Okay, given the pair’s long list of commitments – Wakeman will be appearing on Ozzy’s solo tour and although Wilson is no longer with Threshold and has “stepped back for a while” from Maiden United, he still enjoys a thriving solo career – would it not make better sense to focus upon a single, meaningful project?

“The problem with that is that due to my personal circumstances I’d have to choose the one that makes the most money,” Wakeman admits candidly. “I have a young family. But if I was 20 years old, I’d be in the back of a van with Damo and the rest of the Headspace guys tomorrow.”

“I live a much more simple life, and I don’t have those overheads,” says Wilson, who turns 50 in a few years. “Also, as a singer, I’m very aware that my voice will only last so long. Because of that, I only want to use it on things that please me and that I consider genuine and great.”

And finally, The Sun Will Dance... might be thought-provoking and slightly unusual, but can what Wilson & Wakeman do really be considered prog? “Oh, it’s prog through and through!” Wilson responds delightedly. “In our hearts we are very, very prog.”

“By its very nature, prog rock is all about trying to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable,” Wakeman concludes. “And the last thing that we are is acceptable.”

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.