rick wakeman

rick wakeman

rick wakeman

rick wakeman

rick wakeman

rick wakeman

rick wakeman

rick wakeman

rick wakeman

Keyboard player and sometime grumpy raconteur Rick Wakeman visited The Glasshouse in Gateshead last weekend as part of his Return of the Caped Crusader tour. Accompanied by his band the English Rock Ensemble the evening offered a great opportunity to catch the legendary prog-rocker in full flight delivering two generous sets of material, firstly a set of classic Yes material followed by his epic 1974 release, Journey to The Centre of the Earth.

The excellent eight-piece band included Wakeman’s son Adam on keyboard and guitars, Dave Colquhoun on guitar, Lee Pomeroy on bass, Adam Falkner on drums, Molly Marriott (daughter of the late, great Steve Marriott) on vocals and a three-piece choral accompaniment from Tess Burrstone, Izzy Chase and Nick Shirm.

Wakeman took the stage resplendent in sparkly golden cape and after greeting the audience ventured to his place at the centre of the stage behind a huge rig of keyboards.

The first half of the show began with a terrific version of ‘Roundabout’ before moving on to a suite of Yes material that encompassed ‘The Meeting’, ‘Wondrous Stories’ and ‘South Side of The Sky’ before closing with ‘And You and I’. If a mere five songs seemed a little stingy, bear in mind we’re talking about classic prog-rock and no one felt short changed as the clock later ticked past the forty minute mark.

Wakeman steered clear of attempting to produce note perfect copies of the original songs, but he and the band succeeded in updating them while still showing them great respect. Drummer Adam Falkner was a driving force on the material, his experience performing with artists like Amy Macdonald, Babyshambles and Liam Gallagher helping provide some welcome forcefulness among the keyboards. And, of course, it was interesting to hear the material sung by Molly Marriott.

Introducing the second set Wakeman – now sporting a purple cape after a wardrobe change – told us that originally the record company made him release Journey to The Center of the Earth as a single album, which in the days of vinyl, meant it had to be edited to a little over thirty-five minutes in length. Consequently, he had to cut almost half an hour’s worth of the original music from the release. To applause and cheers, “Tonight”, he said, “You will hear the full work”.

As ambition goes, setting Jules Verne’s Victorian sci-fi novel to music sets a high bar, and like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is much enhanced by an effective narration, in this case by Peter Egan. It’s peak-prog but still a thrilling ride and one that won Wakeman a Grammy nomination.

Set across four sections The Journey, Recollection, The Battle and The Forest, the music follows Verne’s tale of Professor Lidenbrock’s epic adventures. If one thing is obvious it’s how much Wakeman loves a great story and how well suited his musical talents and keyboard dexterity are to bringing such tales to life.

The band returned for a near twenty-minute celebratory romp through ‘Starship Trooper’ which brought the evening to a triumphant close and included a keytar faceoff and the three vocalists joining Wakeman behind his rig as the four of them joyfully hammered away at the keyboards.

Wakeman remains a true keyboard wizard capable of dazzling playing and when supported by a group of musicians as infectiously enthusiastic as the English Rock Ensemble anything less than a hugely enjoyable evening was never in doubt.

Review & Photos by David Dunn

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