Rick Wakeman is perhaps better known these days for being a “Grumpy Old Man” and a tetchy consumer champion via his appearances on BBC’s ‘Watchdog’. But back in the day, with his flowing cape and musical theatrics, he defined progressive rock excess. Now the only real excess is the extra inches added to the girth of his core audience in the intervening years.
The format of this current show was a full blown second half with orchestra and chorus celebrating the 40th anniversary of ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’ whilst the first half had Rick recounting tales of seventies excess in front of his piano (specifically putting the Journey project in context).
This is the first time the album had been toured. Its original outing was the Albert Hall gig in January 1974 which formed the basis of the album release. We also got excerpts from the 1999 ‘Return…’ which was only ever performed live twice.
I have always been more familiar with Wakeman’s first solo album ‘The Six Wives Of Henry VIII’ so was particularly curious about the follow-up and certainly not over-familiar with its content. This gig was an excellent introduction, especially given Wakeman’s anecdotes.
The first half was a scene setter with Wakeman recounting some of the inspiration for a live venture that was self-financed after his label initially rejected the album. It made us remember his early association with Bowie as he introduced one of his two vocalists Hayley Sanderson for a rendition of ‘Life On Mars’. Ashley Holt on the other hand has been a faithful cohort since 1974, singing on the original album, and after some playful banter about their collective weight now exceeding that of their original band we had a passionate version of ‘Summertime’.
If this “Journey” lacked the presentation details and visuals of the original stage production, we were perhaps spared the sight of farting dinosaurs that Wakeman had described earlier. But even for 2014 the staging was ambitious with a full orchestra and choir (under the direction of Guy Protheroe), perfectly suited to the hallowed surroundings of the “Phil”. And full marks too for the splendid narration from Philip Franks even if at times you thought he might break into a promo for “Britain’s Got Talent”.
With Wakeman’s trademark and authentic synthesiser parp we were safely transported back to the golden age of prog when he was a key progenitor of the concept album. It wasn’t until the encore when he sparred – keytar in hand – with guitarist Dave Colquhoun that we were reminded this was, after all, a rock gig. Whatever, we had been treated to a glorious, memorable, and sustained display of progtastic pomp and a celebration befitting of a fortieth anniversary.
Review by David Randall
Photos and gallery by Steve Goudie
Part 1: 1. Morning Has Broken 2. Life On Mars 3. Summertime 4. Eleanor Rigby
Part 2: Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
Encores: 1. Ride Of Your Life 2. The Tunnel 3. Hall Of The Mountain King 4. Mount Etna
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