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Progressive Rock Interviews

Rick Wakeman

Interviewed by Gary Hill and Josh Turner
Interview with Rick Wakeman from 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

First, let's talk about your family situation. You are a grandfather once again. Congratulations! How are you dealing with the whole "grandfather" title? Does it seem "normal" by now or is it still a bit "weird"?
I thought it would feel strange, but actually it doesn't. I'm immensely proud I have to say, there's so much to look forward to as they grow up. I can't help wondering if either Skyla or Arthur will be musical!
MSJ: In related territory, how rewarding is it to work with your children on musical projects? That's kind of territory that a lot of musicians don't get to tackle - Steve Howe being another of the exceptions. What are the upsides and the downsides to it?
It's immensely rewarding, but presents problems that's for sure as well. Adam started working with me by default almost way back in the early eighties. I was putting a tour together and realized that for the music I wanted to play I really needed an extra pair of hands. I decided to add another keyboard player to the line-up to cover areas that I couldn't humanly do whilst playing the main parts. I had a few people in mind and it was, in fact, my engineer at the time, Stuart Sawney, who said, "why are you looking around for someone when Adam knows all your stuff inside out and backwards…and he did, and we worked together for a few years as Wakeman With Wakeman and a lot of fun was had, too. Eventually, of course, he was off doing his own thing and I am very proud of what he has achieved. Oliver developed into the fine player he is today a few years later, really and by this time I was back working on my own and so we never got to record together, but maybe one day this will happen. Jemma has sung on the new album I've just finished (Retro).
MSJ: Are there still challenges as a musician for you? So many look to you as one of the greatest, and it seems that you have accomplished so much. How do you keep it fresh and interesting for yourself?
There will always be challenges. I have frustrations just like any other musician, I suppose. I need to buy time in order to fulfill some personal dreams and that's not always easy. Three divorces take their toll financially and the time I should have bought is not available and so I have to look to the future in the hope that I can achieve this. I think dreams are so important in whatever you do in life. Without them we have nowhere to go. I'm 56 now and I worry that time is running out, but Rachel (my other half) insists that I have as much time ahead of me as I want so the dreams are alive and well!
MSJ: Are there still musicians out there who you would like to work with in the future?
Absolutely, but I fear unlikely. I have always wanted to play piano on a Paul McCartney track. I'd love to work with Pete Townshend and also Ian Anderson. Playing piano for people is always a joy to be honest. I'd fancy doing that for Robbie Williams, Madonna - oh, the list is endless…working with pro people is always rewarding.
MSJ: You recently announced that you will not be performing live after 2006?
This is correct - 2006 will be the last of the solo touring. I'll still do the odd one offs if they appear in future years, but going out on massive tours on my own or with the ERE (English Rock Ensemble - ed) are over. I need to buy that time I spoke about earlier. I'll still continue to record, though.
MSJ: What does the situation with your future participation in Yes look like,then?
Hopefully fine! I always made it clear that my retirement from touring was limited to my solo life, but so many people have misread what was said and printed and presumed that I would not work with Yes or anybody else after next year…not true. It's very clear on the website what I mean and also on the Yesworld site as well. I'm doing exactly what it says on the tin!
MSJ: Will there still be the studio album that you and Steve Howe had both spoken with MSJ about in the past?
Absolutely - we are in regular touch with each other about this and it's moving ahead nicely.
MSJ: What did you think of the Yes album Magnification?
I thought some of the material was really good. An honest answer is that I do not like the orchestrations as I didn't think they complimented the musicians. It would have been wonderful to hear the orchestra work around Steve's guitar work or Chris bass work, but this never happened and the orchestra seemed secondary to me. Also the parts were more arrangements than orchestration. In fairness perhaps this was what was asked of the arranger. I wasn't there so I can't really comment. I do think it was a tremendous opportunity wasted. Having said all that, I enjoyed taking the orchestra parts and turning them into keyboard parts and change a few things - good fun that!
MSJ: Would you like to do an album with Yes and a symphony orchestra?
Not anymore - the damage is done!
MSJ: You have gone back into your catalog and done "sequels" to a couple of your older albums already. Are there others you would like to take a second look at?
Yes…King Arthur…simply by adding some new music to the original and playing it live.
MSJ: You, along with a large number of Yes alumnus recently participated on the Back Against The Wall CD. How did you get involved in the project?
Through Billy Sherwood who just sent me an email asking if I'd like to be involved. Simple answer was "yes", and it was a lot of fun. I'm doing more stuff for him and it's most enjoyable. I like working on other people's ideas.
MSJ: Were you a fan of the album The Wall at all?
Very much so. I just did a whole TV thing on it as they are being inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. A great album of its time…funnily enough a huge success whilst we were recording Going For the One in Switzerland.
MSJ: Your piano work on the track from that collection is a lot more complex, intricate, intense and expressive than the original. How much did you take from the source song?
Nothing to be honest…the moment you go down the original routing you are trapped.
MSJ: How did you go about creating such an incredible work out of it?
We just tried half a dozen different styles and ideas and on playing them back. The one that really worked stuck out by a mile.
MSJ: So, it was fun?
Of course…I don't do anything unless it's fun…except keep getting married!
MSJ: Would you like to do more reworkings of others' music in the future?
Very much so…it's most enjoyable.
MSJ: You've always been innovator as far as musical equipment and technology. Have you found any new gear that you are really impressed with?
Recently …no to be honest. The Gem Promega is a great piece of kit, but mainly companies are just refining their sounds and capacity and more and more refined workstations are appearing. I have a personal view on which way development could go and am in discussion with the powers that be to try and bring some of my ideas to fruition - can't say anymore at the moment!
MSJ: Bob Moog recently passed away and you are sitting on the board of the Moog charitable foundation...
…and very proud to be so.
MSJ: Were you close to him?
Very…he was an extremely close friend. I admired him as the genius he was and also as the great human being he was. I truly miss him greatly, but what a legacy he's left. If he were British he would have been knighted.
MSJ: What does the position on the board entail and what types of activities will the foundation be participating in?
The fine details are still being put together, but it will involve bringing music to young people in a way Bob would have wholly approved of.
MSJ: Do you have any fond memories of Mr. Moog?
Many, too numerous to catalogue…the man was such wonderful company and a joy to meet up with and to work with. There will never be another Bob Moog.
MSJ: Do you keep your eye on new music?
With kids ranging from 19-34 I get all sorts thrust into my ear drums!
MSJ: Are there any new musicians who you feel really show a lot of promise?
I love Muse, Air, Furry Animals, Tool…I listen to all sorts to be honest.
MSJ: Along the same lines, what have you been listening to lately?
Lately…nothing! The reason for this is that when I'm in the studio recording I don't want to be even subliminally influenced by anything that I might hear and so I have always had a rule that I play no music, except classical during my recording periods. I am just finishing off a new album recorded entirely with vintage keyboards…due out next year.
MSJ: Have you figured out your future plans enough to give us some insights into where Rick Wakeman will be headed musically next?
Wherever the music takes me is the only answer I can give. If I can buy some time, then there are some compositional areas I would dearly love to explore. I would like to do more work with orchestras and choirs and also some more film scoring which I really enjoy.
MSJ: What live shows have you managed to catch recently that have been worthy of a mention?
I'm not a great concert goer to be honest…busman's holiday and all that! We go to classical concert, the opera and ballet quite often and we are theatre lovers so go regularly to see plays.
MSJ: This one might fall into the "no comment" category, but since you and Ozzy have worked together in the past, and you even played on a Black Sabbath disc, I was wondering if you had heard about the situation between the Osbournes and Iron Maiden at this year's Ozzfest and if you had any comments on it?
Adam briefly touched upon it (he plays with Sabbath as you know) but I suspect it was more of a storm in a teacup that the press had a field day with! I think the world of Ozzy and Sharon and also Geezer, Bill and Tony. Whatever they do is fine by me!
MSJ: Is there anything else you'd like to say to the readers at this time?
Not really, except thanks for plowing through my probably incomprehensible answers!
 
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