“He didn’t think the concerts would work… the fluidity, precision and phrasing is simply dazzling”: Rick Wakeman’s Live At The London Palladium 2023

Performed over two nights, box set featuring The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur, Yes Classics and Journey To The Centre Of The Earth is an essential package

Rick Wakeman - Live London Palladium 2023
(Image: © Fragile / Esoteric)

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Writing in the sleeve notes of this four-disc box set, Rick Wakeman admits he initially didn’t think the concerts captured here would work: two back-to-back shows at London’s iconic Palladium, the first combining The Six Wives Of Henry VIII with The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur, and the second a spruced-up selection of Yes ‘hits’ with Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (the chart-topping pinnacle of his career to date).

It was a mammoth task involving significant work on the core material (with no orchestra involved, King Arthur and Journey had to be rearranged for his stalwart live band, the English Rock Ensemble). Not to mention the daunting prospect of rehearsing over 200 minutes of unfeasibly complex balls-out mega-prog.

Considering that staging a fraction of this material nearly killed him while still a hale and hearty 25-year-old (three ‘minor’ heart attacks followed his Crystal Palace Journey show of 1974), this must have been off the charts for the 73-year-old.

The most striking attribute of the maestro at centre-stage, all cape and trousers, is just how adept he is when it comes to hammering away at a keyboard. While it’s not news that Wakeman can play a bit, the fluidity, precision and phrasing that flows, apparently instinctively – from the opening bars of Six Wives’s Catherine Of Aragon to the closing crescendo of Journey’s Mount Etna – is simply dazzling.

This version of Six Wives has been generously expanded by 13 minutes, and its abundant palette of styles (from syncopated Emerson jazz noodles to blousy Elton kitsch) showcase Wakeman’s virtuosity to jaw-flooring effect.

King Arthur has been flawlessly adapted from all-guns-blazing orchestral Wagnerathon to lithe, ice-show-free, quintet-and-choir conceptual rock show, while losing none of its central themes or intrinsic drama.

A a bit of a shocker, but Hayley Sanderson’s strident purity on Roundabout and Wonderous Stories is hard to fault

Disc three, billed as Classic Yes, is most notable for the fact that – as with the entire set – the lead vocals, more usually associated with Jon Anderson, are sung by Hayley Sanderson (AKA her off of TV’s Strictly Come Dancing). For purists, a bit of a shocker, but Sanderson’s strident purity on Roundabout and Wonderous Stories – now embedded in a broader Yes Suite – is hard to fault.

And Journey To The Centre Of The Earth? It’s the jewel in Rick’s crown, frankly. Fabulously oversold by its deliciously fruity Peter Egan narration, this pacily-edited 50-minute thrill ride incorporates significant chunks of its 2012 re-recording, alongside its unashamedly camp, chorally-swollen original setting. Beautifully captured, flawlessly realised, an essential package.

Live At The London Palladium 2023 is on sale now via Fragile/Esoteric.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.