Rick Wakeman: Reissues

Curiouser and curioser... The brilliantly baffling world of Wakeman.

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It takes a special kind of 20-something bloke to turn Tudor sagas and medieval legends into rock records. Yet that’s precisely what Rick ‘keyboard botherer/Grumpy Old Men dude/all-round nice guy’ Wakeman did, during his initial post-Yes years – as these reissues (his first and third solo LPs) remind us, in deluxe quadraphonic/DVD and CD formats.

By turns baroque, jazzy and insane, they represent the school of thought which dictates that the only thing wrong with crazy piano is not enough crazy piano.

Whether you love noodly 70s prog or not, there’s no denying ol’ Rick knows his way round a set of ivories. This is, after all, a man who’s played Eleanor Rigby in the style of Stravinsky and Rachmaninov (presumably just because he can). By all rights we should find it ridiculous.

Which makes The Six Wives Of Henry VIII (810) oddly brilliant. It is strange, it is nerdy, but in its own nutjob-ish sort of way it’s rather wonderful; luxuriant in its diversity and slick love of classical sensibilities, but unafraid of applying subtle shades amid the organ-bashing light. The likes of Anne Of Cleves purvey jazzy, psychedelic organ, in a Doors-meets-Caravan sort of way, and while delightfully of-its-time – and clearly mental in places – the whole record remains elegantly thoughtful.

And then cometh The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table (610), the full-blown, pampered poodle of the Wakeman empire. If The Six Wives is the eccentric, smilingly geeky prodigy, then King Arthur is… well, it’s that but just more, taking Wakeman’s proto ‘neo-classical’ attributes and slathering them with whipped cream and sequins. And Arthurian quotes and choirs (ever wondered why the minstrels in Monty Python’s Holy Grail sounded familiar? Wonder no more).

Wakeman’s arrangements are impressive, but it’s impossible to not titter at all that monasterial chanting. Or at synthy jigs in Merlin The Magician. Or Sir Lancelot And The Black Knight (‘Fight! Fight!’ trills the choir, followed by a lead rivalling Jesus Christ Superstar). Mega orchestra here, Doctor Who whirls there… It was destined to end up on ice.

You don’t need to know that Wakeman did (and still does) ponce around on stage in a shiny cape, the image is generated just by listening to this stuff. The world would be an infinitely duller place without him./o:p

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.