Rick Wakeman: What You See Isn't What You Get

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From the moment you walk on stage, your aim is to play to the very best of your ability and hope that the audience get as much pleasure listening as you do from performing. However, life is never quite as simple as that.

It is nigh on impossible to walk on stage with a perfectly clear head free of outside worries or concerns. The truth is that the musician’s mind is like a Minimoog; it’s monophonic, meaning we can only concentrate on one thing at a time. If external interference comes into your head while you’re playing, concentration gets a little tricky.

There have been numerous occasions when I have been on stage and have had to somehow eliminate the shit that has weedled its way into my brain. Over the years, we all learn to do this and the stage becomes your island: somewhere where you can actually fight to overcome any negativity that wants to take over. Okay, that’s the serious side dealt with. Now for the crazy stuff!

I learned very quickly in my musical career that curries are for after the show and not before. Standing on a stage two hours after a vindaloo is equivalent to that of experiencing

a self-inflicted and uncontrollable enema. The pain is excruciating and squeezing cheeks together is an altogether very unpleasant exercise, especially when there is still an hour and a half left to go. You have to formulate a plan for the end of the show. The first problem is whether or not to bow as this can often be mistaken by the bowel region as a green light. Plotting your route to the nearest loo is crucial as every second counts, as does the awareness that you may have to do an encore.

The musician’s mind is like a Minimoog; it’s monophonic…

Many a time a musician has been asked afterwards, ‘Why did you take nearly 10 minutes to come back for the encore?’ The general reply goes something along the lines of, ‘Well, we were trying to agree on which song to play’. Of course, this actually translates as, ‘I was suffering from nuclear fallout in my bowels.’

Drinking too much before going on stage creates a similar problem in the bladder region. Failures in both the above are legendary among bands and the source of much hilarity for the other musicians. Sometimes the entire band is afflicted, as indeed happened to me while on a South American tour with The English Rock Ensemble in 1975.

We all contracted what we lovingly called ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’. Basically trips to the loo were, at best, hourly. Our set was two-and-a-half hours long. We therefore planned a new one involving lots of solos that allowed each member of the band ample time to leave the stage for multiple clear-outs. This was not an easy set to put together and involved four drum solos, two bass solos and two minutes where I had programmed a sustained note on one of the keyboards while we were all off stage.

So next time you’re at a concert, just spare a thought for any mind or bodily difficulties that the musicians you are watching could be experiencing… and try not to laugh!