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Interview: Rick Wakeman

2010-08-18 14:16
 After 40 years of concert tours with the likes of the Strawbs, yes and on his own, he has called it quits.

Don't panic! Wakeman simply means no more touring, no more traipsing from gig to gig, giving the same concert night after night, sometimes as many as 140 in a year. He is not retiring.

"I wanted to do a lot more (musically). I want to be more (diverse) in the concerts I do," he told Reuters as he waited to go on stage last weekend for a one-off performance at Fairport's Cropredy Convention in northern Oxfordshire.

What that means is cutting back to maybe 40 appearances a year. There will be some concerts with his band -- the English Rock Ensemble -- but also special projects such as last year's production of 1973 progressive rock classic "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" at Henry's old crib, Hampton Court.

Next year, there are planned grand performances of another Wakeman classic -- 1974's "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" -- in Australia and South America. Britain will follow later.

Wakeman likes this approach. "Every night almost becomes a first night," he says. "I still work as hard. I still get up at quarter to six every morning. But every day is different."

In addition to big-sound concerts, Wakeman also does one-man piano shows that involve telling anecdotes from the stage.

Which brings us to "Grumpy Old Men", the hit BBC TV show that first aired in 2003 with Wakeman and other men of a certain age (he is 61) whingeing about anything and everything -- road signs, mobile phones, modern life.

Wakeman, who sported a "Grumpy Old Cropredy Crew" T-shirt at the recent gig, says the impact of the TV show has been huge, placing him firmly on the after-dinner speech circuit and making his so recognisable that a British border officer told him he needed a grumpier passport photograph. It has also turned Wakeman into an author. First came some tales from topical notions in "Grumpy Old Rock Star", followed by "Further Adventures of a Grumpy Old Rock Star".

He is now working on "Even More Adventures of a Grumpy Old Rock Star", he says, accompanied by a trademark throaty chuckle.


As for the music, the Cropredy set soared, with Wakeman driving his various keyboards through a universe of electronic sound, accompanied brilliantly by young bassist Lee Pomeroy and guitarist Dave Colquhoun as well as longer-term collaborators Tony Fernandez on drums and vocalist Ashley Holt.

The style still leaned towards the prog rock of the 1970s, when Wakeman would famously take to the stage in an ankle-length gold cape. This time it was a long white coat/jacket adorned with black music notes.

Wakeman said some prog rock is alive in bands such as Radiohead and Air, but he reckons the main thing is that just because it is old does not mean it is not also new.

He recounts with evident pleasure an encounter with a young man in South America who asked him to autograph a vinyl record of "Six Wives".

Saying he was surprised to see the man listening to old music, he was immediately told that it may be old for him, but the autograph-seeker had only come across it a day or so earlier.

Wakeman now thinks of this at each performance. "There will always be someone who will hear it for the first time," he said.

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Rock star, keyboard virtuoso, author, TV favourite, radio DJ and raconteur, says he doesn't want to find himself in strange hotel bedrooms any more.

Interview: Billy Talent

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