"That was real food for thought": Rick Wakeman on the surprise lesson he learned from a 16-year-old Brazilian fan

Rick Wakeman onstage
(Image credit: Lee Wilkinson)

A year ago, billed as The Return Of The Caped Crusader, Rick Wakeman and his band the English Rock Ensemble played a pair of concerts at London’s Palladium. The keyboard wizard’s set mixed classic Yes standards with material from his solo albums The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur (on the first night) and, 24 hours later, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Things worked so well that Wakeman is now taking something similar around the country.


You rested the Grumpy At Christmas routine in December 2023

My management and agent both thought it would be beneficial to skip a year and come back bigger and better in 2024, and who am I to argue? 

Nevertheless, your November blog revealed a month stuffed with awards ceremonies, prog-rock dinners, benefits to raise money for stray dogs, and, last but not least, sorting out your music archive. 

Yeah. We moved house this year and everything was in piles and piles of cardboard boxes, so I enlisted my son Adam. It still isn’t finished, but I want to get the whole thing archived because at the moment it’s like my brain – in no particular order.

That same blog said 2023 was “a real mixture of good and not so good”. 

The aftermath of covid hit me really badly. I’m a busy person, and having that taken away from me for more than two years was mentally difficult. Plus the fact that I wasn’t earning. I would cheerfully have strangled anyone that told me: “You can catch up on touring.” I’m seventy-four! I can’t catch up! Besides everything else there were health issues and we lost some family members. 

These regional Caped Crusader shows reprise the concerts at the Palladium in January 2023. 

I’ll be completely honest, when the idea of those gigs was first presented to me I wasn’t sure. My manager had to talk me into doing them. But although I wasn’t convinced, they sold out instantly, and musically speaking they were tremendous.

In fact an additional date at London’s Theatre Royal in Drury Lane has been added. 

I was surprised by the demand for extra shows. We could have done an awful lot more. 

A four-CD boxed set recording from the Palladium shows is released on February 16 via Esoteric Recordings. 

My manager recorded them without telling me because he didn’t want me to either panic or play it safe. [Laughing] I may correct a few of my mistakes. 

How does this unashamed nostalgia sit with you?

A while ago a young kid in Brazil taught me an important lesson. He was at the hotel with a copy of Six Wives that he wanted signed. He said he was sixteen years old. When I asked: “What do you like about this old music?” he got really angry and retorted: “Mr Wakeman, this may be old music to you but it’s new to me. I only heard it two weeks ago. You should learn to remember that when you play music on stage, some people are hearing it for the first time.” That was real food for thought. 

What does the future hold for you? 

For a while now I’ve planned to not necessarily retire, but to calm things down a little. I do know that 2024 and 2025 will be my last touring years in America. My good friend Jon Lord [late Deep Purple keyboard player] and I were planning on doing something together before he died [in 2012], which made me realise how short time can be. I’ve a list of those things, but I’m very aware that some are completely unviable in a commercial sense. That really doesn’t matter. I’m going to do them anyway.

The Return Of The Caped Crusader tour begins on February 15. For dates and tickets, visit Rick's website

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’.