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Roger Newell, bassist for Rick Wakeman, dies aged 73

Roger Newell
(Image credit: Ian Dickson/Getty)

Roger Newell, bass player for Rick Wakeman, and 60s cult psychedelic band Rainbow Ffolly among others, has died aged 73.

The bassist suffered an aortic aneurysm on Friday September 10, following a long battle with heart-related illness.

He was best known for performing on Wakeman’s 1974 prog opus, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, as well as its follow-ups, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and No Earthly Connection, and associated tours.

Newell met Wakeman at his local pub in Buckinghamshire, where he would jam with friends for free beer. Wakeman sat in on keyboards one night and had so much fun, it became a regular occurrence. The Yes legend was so impressed by their musicianship, that Wakeman adopted most of the band for the Journey To the Centre Of The Earth gig. The recording of the concert went to number 1 in the UK album charts.

In order to perform the complex works of King Arthur… live, Newell collaborated with Wal basses on the first triple-neck bass guitar, which he used with Wakeman’s English Rock Ensemble for shows at Wembley and subsequent tours. 

Roger Newell

The English Rock Ensemble, September 1975. Roger Newell, second from left, back row. (Image credit: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Wakeman paid tribute to Newell, stating, “Roger was such an important founder member of the English Rock Ensemble and his love and understanding of prog rock and orchestral/symphonic rock, was second to none.

“He was enthusiastic, dedicated and a great guy to be around. He was just as happy when we all were playing in the (now defunct) Valiant Trooper in Holmer Green on a Sunday to raise money for charity as he was walking on stage at Madison Square Garden to perform Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

“Roger always deserved more recognition as a bass player and his incredibly musical input in both notation and sounds on No Earthly Connection is a lasting tribute to his talent.”

Prior to joining Wakeman, Newell was part of cult psychedelic pop outfit Rainbow Ffolly, who signed to Parlophone for 1968 debut Sallies Fforth. Original vinyl copies of the album are now much sought-after collector's items.

The group reunited 48 years later for sophomore effort, FFollow Up, making it one of the longest gaps between studio albums on record.

“What we do is let the song dictate where we go musically. The song is always the most important thing,” Newell told Prog of Ffolly’s material. “But our sense of humour also shines through.”

From 1988 onwards, Newell was part of the Wildcats, the backing band for British rock ’n’ roll legend Marty Wilde. He was Deputy Editor of Future publishing's Bassist magazine in the 90s, a regular contributor to Guitarist magazine, and even had an influence on the founding of Prog magazine. On Bassist, he worked alongside future Classic Rock Editor and current Content Director of Music at Future, Scott Rowley.

"Roger would insist that all the best bass players were prog bass players," says Rowley, "so we worked on a special Prog issue with Geddy Lee on the cover. It was our best-selling issue. A few years later, I remembered that and pulled the same trick on Classic Rock. Classic Rock's Prog special also did really well. It was one of the things that made us believe, when Jerry Ewing came to us with the idea, that maybe a dedicated Prog magazine wasn't such a crazy idea after all.

Roger Newell

The Prog special of Bassist (1999), Classic Rock's prog issue (2006), Wakeman on the cover of Prog in 2020. (Image credit: Future)

"That was the influence of Rog. He was so likeable, and had such enthusiasm, that you couldn't help be carried along with it. He was a one-off. We'll all miss him."