Rare is the band that makes its official live debut on stage at London’s Wembley Arena. However, in June 2007 a virtually unknown act called Headspace were granted just such an opportunity when Ozzy Osbourne invited them to open for him.
How come? Well, Headspace’s keyboard player, Adam Wakeman – a member of a musical dynasty that includes dad Rick and older sibling Oliver (who, like their father, also played with Yes and Strawbs) – was and still is a member of the former Black Sabbath frontman’s backing group.
This tale of five musicians, some of whom perform pop songs for a living but who bonded via a love of progressive music, is intriguing. It began when bass player Lee Pomeroy and Adam discussed the idea of collaborating while in Rick Wakeman’s band. Supplementing various other projects, vocalist Damian Wilson and drummer Richard Brook also played with Wakeman Senior. Spotted in 2005 in Justin Hawkins’ post-Darkness band Hot Leg, a hotshot Australian guitarist called Pete Rinaldi was the last one to join.
What makes this all the more unusual is that each member also plays (or has previously played) with such chart acts as Take That, Gareth Gates, Will Young,
Go West, Tinchy Stryder, Sugababes and even – whisper it quietly or risk excommunication – Victoria Beckham, via spots in the West End musicals, Queen’s We Will Rock You and Les Misérables.
“Headspace began as a bit of a social club – an excuse to play together and chat about the music we loved over a few pints,” says Lee Pomeroy. “Now it’s serious, but that’s how it all started.”
“When we first got together in a rehearsal space, there was no preconceived notion of how things could sound,” Wakeman explains. “It might’ve been like Keane or some bizarre French pop act, even a heavy metal band.”
In fact, the result was a thoughtful heavy prog group. While Damian Wilson’s passionate, expressive voice enhanced their already rich levels of potential.
By working with Ozzy Osbourne, Adam was following in the footsteps of his father who had played keyboards on Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album. Although this historical fact was not foremost in the minds of those Ozzy fans that barracked Headspace during their support set at Wembley.
“We were pelted by some of the audience, but we took that in our stride,” recalls Damian Wilson, clearly amused. “I went out front afterwards and spoke to some of the biggest troublemakers – a few of them were Hells Angels, twice my size – and they’d say: ‘Great show!’ It made realise it wasn’t personal.”
To commemorate the Wembley gig, Headspace released a four-song EP titled
I Am…. in 2007. One of the first things that the group agreed was to split everything five ways, regardless of which individual was responsible for writing a particular song. “An equal share of the publishing, song credits and profits is the best way forward for band unison,” reasons Wakeman.
The EP was well received, but nobody knew that it would take Headspace a further five years to unveil a full-length record.
“My wife accuses me of never finishing anything – except music,” Adam grins sheepishly. “It took a while for us to put together an album but it was worth it.”
The delay is attributable to newborn children, the pursuing of a record deal (at one point the band considered self-releasing the record before hooking up with Inside Out Music) and the dizzying commitments of individual band members.
“I’ll be gone for a few weeks here and there with It Bites or Steve Hackett, or
a maximum of 10 weeks with Take That,” explains Pomeroy. “But when Adam goes out on tour with Ozzy he’s away for anything up to four or five months.”
Damian Wilson spent considerable time poring over the album’s lyrics and vocal melodies, though sadly his attempt to rationalise the concept that unites its eight songs would probably fill two or three pages.
“It’s hard to explain, but let me have a try,” Wakeman offers. “Basically, the album’s about everybody as individuals and our relationship with humanity. It may well reflect upon current events – there are references to war and religion – but it’s not about the mess going on in America or anywhere else. It could be any superpower. It’s about observations on society and certain feelings that everybody has. There are also references to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ theory of the five stages of grief.”
“Everybody must learn to deal with death,” adds Wilson, taking up the baton. “What we are portraying is mourning over a country or a civilisation. It’s the merry-go-round of life.”
Without doubt, I Am Anonymous is a deep album. Its centrepiece is a piece that revels in the unlikely title of Daddy Fucking Loves You. The 15-minute behemoth begins like a lullaby (albeit one performed on a Chapman Stick) and then spirals off into the stratosphere in an orgy of space-rock riffing. So what the hell is it about?
“It’s inspired by failing at things we think we can succeed at – I’ve got three kids and I look at them and think, ‘I’m a shit dad’,” admits Wilson “The bottom line is that I’m the best they’ve got, and they know that I love them but…”
Being a parent is the hardest job in the world, right?
“Exactly,” he nods. “One day I found myself telling one of them to fuck off. It hit me like a bullet. It’s the most shameful thing you can do as a father, but you know what? He didn’t even notice,” the singer guffaws with a mixture discomfort and embarrassment. “So the title is me saying: ‘Daddy fucking loves you. I’ve got my failings but the sentiment is genuine’.”
Wilson is an interesting character, full of contradictions but unafraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve. At one point he tells a dumbfounded Prog that his lead vocals might well be Headspace’s weakest link. “I really believe that, and I’m not too bad a singer,” he says. Then just a few minutes later he pipes up: “This is my band – completely so. It feels like my music, my lyrics, my project. It’s got me stamped all over it.” Then, after a judiciously placed pause, he delivers the punchline: “And I can tell you that every member of the band feels exactly the same way.”
While the album’s PR blurb is at pains to pigeonhole Headspace as progressive, it’s impossible to overlook the heavyweight nature of a song such as Die With A Bullet, which is packed with guitar playing. Think Dream Theater circa Train Of Thought.
“Pete’s a huge fan of Dream Theater, also Pain Of Salvation, Trivium and Opeth,” explains Pomeroy. “Myself, I come from Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant. Everyone likes loads of different types of music.”
This isn’t the sort of admission one might expect from a musician that shares a stage with Take That. “I believe that if you’re a musician then you should try to play as many different styles as possible,” responds the bassist. “It helps to keep things fresh.”
One wonders whether any of Take That are secret prog freaks?
“When I met the musical director [Mike Stevens] I happened to mention my love of Yes, and it turned out that most of the [backing] band are prog rock nuts. One night I dropped a bit of Close To The Edge into a song called Love Ain’t Here Anymore. Mike, the MD, mouthed across: ‘Is that Close To The Edge?’ and when I nodded, he joined in with his Hammond organ. It grew into this rock segment that would be played every night and remained for the whole tour – and absolutely nobody realised except the guys in the band. Educating the public by stealth in that way was one of my proudest moments!”
Early response to I Am Anonymous has been little short of dizzying: Prog’s own review suggesting it might be among “the most engaging and exciting” releases since this magazine began three years ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having popped their cherry at Wembley, there have also been suggestions that Headspace are spoon-fed. To be fair, accusations of nepotism are nothing new to Adam Wakeman.
“People have pointed out that we went straight in at a certain level, but there are no airs and graces in this band,” he insists “When you see the venues that we will be playing later this year you’ll know that delusions of grandeur are not an issue. They will be small shows and God alone knows whether anybody will turn up. Nobody’s expecting a phone call from their accountant saying it’s okay to go out and buy a Ferrari. We’re realistic.”
Those gigs will happen in late September, locked in around some continental dates with London-based prog-metallers Haken. To some degree, given the schedules of all concerned, it’s pretty amazing that five band members will be together in one place simultaneously. Fans of Wilson’s other group, Threshold, will already be counting the days until September and the release of their ninth studio album, March Of Progress.
“It’s finished and it’s great,” purrs the singer, who returned to Threshold to help the band tour their Dead Reckoning album, but enjoyed himself so much that he decided to stay. “I’m not really here to talk about Threshold, but I can tell you that it’s a different thing to the last one.”
With the participants involved in so many varying activities it would be natural to assume that Headspace are just the latest side-project for all concerned.
“I can see why you’d say that but it’s completely untrue,” Wakeman objects. “Sure, we all have our fingers in lots of different pies but the difference is that Headspace is ours. Don’t go thinking that we’re just some project – this is a band.
“I’ll be honest with you, working as a democracy, even getting everybody to agree on a T-shirt design can be a complete nightmare,” he adds. “But this is our baby and we’re extremely proud of it.”
And so they should be.
This article originally appeared in issue 27 of Prog Magazine.