It’s the album that became its own legend. In 1975 prog superstar Rick Wakeman brought out his third solo studio epic, the snappily titled The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table as a follow-up to the previous year’s massive hit Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. It’s sold 12 million copies worldwide to date but is famous mostly for being staged over three sold-out nights at Wembley that year - on ice.
Headlining Sunday night at Stone Free festival with a mammoth stage accompaniment of old pals the Orion Orchestra, English Chamber Choir and English Rock Ensemble, Rick has reworked King Arthur… to twice its original length, and there’ll be a new album available to buy on the day. There won’t be an ice rink this time, but he’s not ruling it out for the future.
How did this version of King Arthur… come about?
In 2012 we were booked to play the new, extended Journey To The Centre Of The Earth in South America and they wanted a 90-minute version of King Arthur too. I wrote some new music, then the South Americans changed their mind and asked for Six Wives instead. I kept the music on the backburner, then last year Stuart Galbraith, who put together the Journey… tour in the UK, asked if I’d like to do King Arthur… and I said yes. He told me it needed to be at last 90 minutes long, so I dug out the new music and we [Rick, with engineer/producer Erik Jordan] worked on it for a year.
What made you decide to make a new record too?
As I was working on it I thought ‘I know what will happen, people will ask if they can buy it’. So I asked Universal Records’ consultant, Steve Hammonds, if he thought they’d be interested in adding the new stuff and he said they would, but there wouldn’t be enough time to record it and put it into the release schedule. He also said, ‘Don’t just record the new pieces, record the whole lot again.’ I said, ‘That’ll cost a fortune.’ And he said ‘I know. I’m going to introduce you to PledgeMusic.’
So the new record was kick-started there. What was the reaction?
Like Journey…, people are very attached to the original. Certainly with Journey… there was an element of ‘Don’t tamper with it!’ but after we did it people said, ‘We’re so glad you did this, we’re really happy.’ With Pledge, I got a lot of messages - are you doing this, are you doing that - and I loved the involvement. Great ideas, great feedback and great encouragement. The way record companies work these days you don’t get any feedback, so this has been so, so good.
What kind of things were people asking for?
On the original album, Merlin was an instrumental and a lot of people were asking for a vocal version. We used to do a vocal version on tour, then we found out when we came to redo it with vocals on the record we’d been doing it in the wrong key for 30 years. We had to relearn it all.
What’s the MO for the show?
Well, we’ve got a curfew of 100 minutes. The work itself runs to 88 minutes, then you have to allow for any applause and three additional narrations, so we have to start prompt at 8.40pm. It’s not like a normal show where if you’re a couple of minutes late you ditch a number, it has to be complete! And we certainly can’t do an encore, the lights will be up.
So you’ve got a cast of thousands, and your narrator this time is Ian Lavender.
Yes, we’ve got the band, choir, orchestra and Ian on a chair up high, reading from a big book. We’ve been friends for years – he recorded his parts in my shed. The difficulty with this show is normally we’d set our stuff up early in the day and that would be it. But there are other bands on - it could be chaos [laughs]. I’m gonna keep well out of the way and let the crew get on with it.
You’ve also got your son Oliver helping out.
It needs some additional keyboard stuff and I thought Oliver would be ideal for this. I spent a day with him going through it, he’s very conscientious and it’s always nice to have an additional Wakeman in the ranks! I have to thank Oliver for something else as well, as he’s massively involved in English Heritage who own the site where I wanted to originally play King Arthur… back in 1975, Tintagel. He’s got some of the hierarchy coming to the O2 so if they like it, that could happen. There are jousting societies and things like that that could be involved too. It would be completely outrageous.
And what about putting the show on ice again?
Laugh not, we are looking at Nottingham. I’ve already had a meeting with Robin Cousins about the choreography. Trust me, nothing is normal.
The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table CD, vinyl and other assorted goodies is available from Pledgemusic. Tickets for this weekend’s Stone Free Festival are on sale now.