After the kind of difficult 18 months experienced by so many musicians, Rick Wakeman is glad to be back on the road again. He toured the US in October and performed a run of Christmas shows in the UK in December. And now he's looking forward to heading out again with the English Rock Ensemble, bringing 2020's The Red Planet album to the masses.
"On the rare occasions I am able to get the English Rock Ensemble together," he says, "it’s always very exciting for me, as the setlist determines the line-up."
If an excuse for grumpiness was required, the past eighteen months have provided perfect subject matter.
I had seven tours cancelled, and I earn my living on the road. The thing I found toughest of all was the uncertainty of it all – when would it end?
You returned from a US tour in November.
It was bloody great to be out there playing again. And the rules [to make it happen] were really strict. Everybody had to be covid-tested, and the audiences were extremely respectful of others around them, which I really liked. But in general the country made me scratch my head, because half of them were totally paranoid about the virus and the rest thought it was a hoax.
On the upside, you received a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list.
It came as a massive, massive shock. Until receiving an email from the Cabinet Office, I really thought somebody was playing a joke on me. The hardest thing was keeping it quiet, because if the news gets out they cancel it. I didn’t tell my mother-in-law until fifteen minutes before the announcement. By the time it came, at midnight, she’d already made eight phone calls.
How much of your Grumpy Christmas shows is music?
Three-quarters of is it musical, the rest silly stories. This time I’m bringing a couple of keyboards, as I want to include some pieces I haven’t played in quite a while that work okay on a piano but deserve the full treatment.
Next spring you return to your prog roots with a tour with the English Rock Ensemble – a chance to perform material from 2020’s The Red Planet.
I’m so excited by the idea of playing some prog again, and this time we are using a female lead vocalist [Hayley Sanderson], which makes things very interesting.
Back in 2019, before covid came along, you told Classic Rock of a plan to talk to Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin about getting into a studio and laying down the new songs written by the three of you. Is that still possible?
For me, an album would need to be done together in the same room. That’s where the magic comes from. But for various reasons – geography, schedules, finance – maybe we’ve hit a brick wall.
Have you heard the new Yes album, The Quest, their first without Chris Squire?
No, I haven’t, though I am having lunch with Steve [Howe] in a couple of weeks. That everybody hates each other is a complete myth. There’s a lot of mutual respect between us all.
What would you buy Boris Johnson for Christmas?
You can take this any away you like: I would give him my entire collection of solo albums, and make him listen to them all.
And who deserves an honorary knighthood?
Peter Egan, the actor who does unbelievable work on behalf of animals. He really is the most amazing man.
Rick Wakeman and the English Rock Ensemble play The UK in May.