It is said that a “music legend” is someone famous, of whom many stories are told. It can also be said, that they are someone admired by others. My latest interview, is firmly ensconced in that category.
Richard Wakeman, was born and raised in West London. Over his fifty plus years in the music industry, he has worked with many musicians, such as David Bowie, T.Rex, Elton John, Cat Stevens, Lou Reed, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne and of course, the progressive rock group, Yes.
What is your earliest life memory?
I was one and a bit years old and I have a vivid memory of crawling backwards and getting stuck under a sideboard. I actually checked this out with my mother many years later to clarify it.
What is your earliest ‘music’ memory?
My earliest music memory relates to my father. I remember hearing him play the piano. I was absolutely mesmerised and wanted to emulate that, desperately.
When you had your first piano lesson in the late 50s, did you know instantly that this was your ambition in life? To be the best that you could be?
Believe it or not, yes I certainly did. Music became the focal point of my life. That has never changed. Its remained that way since the first lesson.
While I was researching for this, I read about your times playing at ‘The Greyhound’ in Chadwell Heath. A place I know well. What are your memories of playing there?
I was part of a band called The Spinning Wheel. We had a great time playing there, wonderful times. We played covers and worked seven nights a week, plus Sunday lunchtimes. A guy called Bob Wheatley ran several pubs in the area in which he placed the bands. He was hugely successful and a great character. I have heard he’s still around!
You have collaborated with so many artists in your 50 plus year career. Is there one that sticks out and why?
David Bowie, without a doubt. He understood all musicians, and always gave people he collaborated with, the freedom of musical expression. He was unique.
From my research, I know you first met Yes when you supported them on tour. What did you think when you first heard them live?
I thought that they were very different. They were playing the kind of music that I felt that I would be able to contribute to. I really loved the idea of orchestral rock, and felt that this was where they were heading. I was seeing myself walking the same path and realised that this could be a match made in musical heaven.
Its the worlds worst kept music secret that there were tumultuous years with Yes. Is there anything that you can share?
The thing to remember is that all bands argue. The ones that argue the most achieve the most. When I listen back to “Close to the Edge” it makes all those disagreements so worthwhile.
I have seen Yes a few times in the UK and love the Yes, Live at the Apollo in 2018 concert. How did wearing the cape become a look for you?
I bought my first cape from a DJ who was introducing bands at a small festival in Hartford, Connecticut. I had read a review a few days earlier that said I looked a bit like a spider on stage with arms and legs flying everywhere to reach the keyboards and pedals. I thought that the cape could disguise that movement. I now have a wonderful lady who has made all the best known capes for me.
Since being diagnosed with arthritis in your hands, how has that affected your playing and how you plan and style your tours?
It is pretty devastating if I am honest. It will affect future touring and what I am able to do. If I get to the stage where I am not happy with my performances, then I will stop playing live.
How have the last two tours been? The Grumpy Old Rock Star and the Even Grumpier Old Rock Star tours.
Bloody hard work! Great fun though. I love playing. It really is that simple.
Sitting back now, reflecting on life with children and grandchildren, do you have a “bucket list”?
I have a huge bucket list and will tick off as many as possible over the coming years.
Do you have a ‘musical’ bucket list? Someone that you have never played with and would like to?
Not really, if something comes up, who knows though…?
So, what can we expect next from Rick Wakeman CBE?
Rick will be at St Georges Church, Beckenham, Kent. This is a one off performance for their Art Festival 2022.
You will also, in 2023, find Rick taking part in ‘The 70s Rock and Romance Cruise’ with a great line up including former members of some iconic bands such as The Hollies, ELO, Jefferson Starship, The Eagles and more.