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Rick Wakeman

Interviewed by Gary Hill and Steve Alspach
Interview With Rick Wakeman from 2003
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 3 at

When I spoke with Steve Howe he said that you are back in the band for the long term and that there are plans to do a new studio album. What is your word on this?
Absolutely correct. I am thoroughly enjoying myself and am loving every minute of being back with the guys. It was always a big balls-up as to why I was not around after the Keys to Ascension period, but that's all water under the bridge as they say, and I have no intention of going anywhere whilst Yes are still up and running and moving forward, which they certainly are now. All the guys are playing really well and the atmosphere is tremendous. The rapport both musically that I have with the guys is truly wonderful and Steve and I have always had this sort of telepathic thing musically between us which is very special. I have enjoyed the live work and am really looking forward to seeing what we can conjure up in the studio.
MSJ: He also gave me his take on your return to Yes, what do you have to say about it?
Pretty much said it all in the previous answer, but I feel that we really are a unit and the five of us together have always produced some special music. We have all made mistakes in the past, myself more than most, but hopefully I won't make any more and am back to stay.... unless of course I'm replaced by Bobby Crush or Sooty.
MSJ: Do you have any plans for future solo works?
I had just finished a prog rock album, when I rejoined and, in fact, the release date was originally July of last year. I just thought that it would look bad and be wrong to keep to that release date and so I moved it to February 2003. It took a long time to make, is called OUT THERE and is a sort of continuation of No Earthly Connection. The band I have played exceptionally well on it and preview reviews have been nothing short of excellent, which is really pleasing I can tell you! In January we are recording the studio DVD which involves a lot of animation, space ships and quite amazing effects. The DVD will be released in April just before the start of my UK solo tour. I have also recently released an album of just myself on piano and the English Chamber Choir. This is a pretty classically based work called The Wizard and the Forest of all Dreams. The exciting news for me as regards this is that there is an excellent chance that it will be turned into a ballet sometime later next year. I will not be dancing though.

MSJ: In the past you have worked with a wide variety of musicians. Anyone out there you are still hoping to get the chance to work with?
There are many I would like to have the opportunity to play with, off the top of my head there's Pete Townsend, Paul McCartney and Pavarotti.
MSJ: What have you been listening to lately?
I'm boring...Prokovief features heavily, as always, plus a load of South American prog rock stuff that I picked up last year. I tend to just pull something out and put it on without looking at what it is. If I like it, it stays in the CD player, if not it comes out and gets filed in the basement ...(never to be seen again except as use as a coffee mat). One of the reasons I don't read the labels is that my eyesight is so bad I can't read anything without my glasses and I can never find them. (Need my glasses to see to find my glasses).
MSJ: I understand you have a distaste for jazz.
I love traditional jazz and Dixieland jazz. I had a traditional jazz band of my own years ago. Modern Jazz I'm afraid is not for me. I'm not criticizing it; it's just my own musical taste. I would, to be honest, rather be subjected to living in a basement with no windows suffering the results of air being pumped in from certain orifices of my road crew after they have eaten 45 vindaloo curries than listen to a modern jazz track.
MSJ: What about the last concert you had the chance to see…well, other than Yes?
Atomic Kitten in Ipswich....and they were fabulous! My son Adam was actually in their band at the time and the band really rocked. The girls sang live and very well. Good harmonies and I was impressed. They even did Martha and the Vandella tracks! No flash staging, just a great show. Highly recommended if you don't mind sitting amongst 80 of the audience 12 and under and the other 20% 60 and over wearing rather dubious raincoats.
MSJ: Apparently you, and progressive music, are really big in Argentina. Why Argentina, of all places?
Everywhere in South America to be honest. I have always done very well there, and I love the people dearly. They are really so kind and they love their music. I first went down there in 1975 when nobody would go there. The friendship started then and has continued ever since. I absolutely love going there. They like music for what it is. On their radio you can here Zeppelin played straight after a Latin American track and then Sinatra. Great music, great people with no blinkers when it comes to music.
MSJ: When Yes came to tour Chicago in July, the radio ads made it quite clear that you had re-joined. Was this just a shameful ploy to capitalize on Yes' past, or is there something special that you bring to the band?
I suppose if somebody rejoins it's stupid not to mention it in ads for shows. There is certainly something special about the five of us together and so I don't object to the advertising. I would have felt the same had it been Steve who had just rejoined.
MSJ: It sounded as though your schedule kept you from joining Yes in times past. How did you manage to juggle your schedule to allow yourself to re-join?
We kept in careful contact and had a cut off point of last June where I took no work after that date and Yes made their scheduling so that it fitted that I could rejoin. The previous balls-ups were mainly managerial creations and there are a few people about, (no longer anything to do with Yes now), that I would happily place in that same basement that I was willing to go in rather than listen to the jazz track.
MSJ: In addition to that, I seem to remember an announcement a year or two back that you were cutting down on touring due to health problems. Do I remember that correctly? If so, what changed? How are you holding up health-wise with the rigorous touring.
Three years ago I was pretty ill and in fact I was given 48 hours to live and afterwards it took me 6 months to get any sort of strength back because of damaged lungs due to the pleurisy and double pneumonia. I walked a lot (up to ten miles a day), in order to build myself back up and this paid off and I am now pretty fit. I have pretty regular checks and listen to my body as much as possible and if it tells me it needs a rest....then I try to have one!!!!! Things were really good until just before the second leg of the last tour when I had a multi car high speed car crash in England and have really suffered since. The first two weeks of the tour were agony! Overall though, I'm as healthy as the next man.... (I am sitting in a coffee shop in Milan with the laptop but the man next to me actually looks quite ill, so I'll change that to the man at the table behind. He is about 26 and is built like a brick sh**house. All muscles ......that's me).

MSJ: You said that in the "old days," there were limits to technology that forced you to try to "do the impossible." Are there any limits now?
No, none at all. Technology is now ahead of the musician. As long as you remember to rule the technology and not let it rule you, then all is fine.
MSJ: Then, how do you break any new ground musically?
No idea - I just write and play and never question from whence it comes! I fear if I try to look for the source, it will be the end.
MSJ: Elton John has come out strongly against a lot of the new music. What is your take on it. Has production and sampling and such cut the life out of music?
Absolutely. I agree with much that Elton has said. There are advantages, though. These techno people are not musicians and therefore their lives will be short lived. Elton will always be around because he is a musician and has talent. There is room for everything. If I don't like what I am listening to on the radio, it's simple...I turn it off...

My radio is off most of the time these days.
MSJ: How did you figure out how to play the orchestral arrangements from the songs off of "Magnification"?
I took the orchestral scores and made what is called a short score to perform on the keyboards .As the tour progressed I started making changes, as to be honest the scoring was not to my taste and not what I would have done given the chance to orchestrate for these pieces. Again, it's just a matter of taste. I like the two songs we do very much and have tried to add more light and shade than was on the recording for the live performances.
MSJ: Has Jon Anderson learned to paint anything other than flowers?
An exaggerated story as you can well imagine for stage purposes. Jon's artistic talent is pretty endless. He never ceases to amaze me. He's quite a philosopher as well. We spent many hours together driving on the last tour and the journey's just raced by as we talked non-stop. I class Jon as one of my closest and dearest friends ...and I still have the flowers he painted back on the Isle of Man!
MSJ: You seem keen on trying new keyboards and new technology. What has been the best finds for you?
Undoubtedly the Pro Mega, which is an Italian keyboard made by General Music plus Korg and Roland continue to make tremendous keyboards all the time.
MSJ: What, besides the Birotron that you kicked off stage, have been the less-than-stellar finds?
Don't know where you got this story from, I loved my Birotrons and certainly never even smacked them, let alone kicked them! To be honest, if I try something I don't like, I don't play it. There's a lot of stuff around I don't like, but again it's all down to personal taste.

MSJ: Yes has been notorious for in-house squabbles. Do you find, as the band members get older, that the edges are softening a bit?
The press always made a meal of this...and we let them. We had and still have heated discussions about what we should or shouldn't do just like any other band. The Internet with the World Wide Web now tells even more wild stories about us and some of the chat rooms should have the same anal gas pumped into them that the road crew produced for the mythical basement! I have actually gone into a chat room and found myself already there! And Jon as well, when I know he can't possibly be. I then read piles of crap and it is really upsetting. It's an actual fact that this sort of thing did an awful lot of harm and had such things not have happened then 100% we would have been back together much earlier. I love the WWW but would like to see all chat rooms banned. I now say to people that if you don't read it on my site or the official Yes site, then it probably isn't true.
MSJ: You have a nice little cottage industry on the side producing "new age" albums as well as Christian works. How is that going?
I stopped making New Age albums in about 1992 and the last Christian recording was in 1994 - I think. I have two record labels Ambient Records and Hope Records and both are flourishing pretty nicely.
MSJ: One of the bands you had on your label was Ajalon. I had the opportunity to chat with Randy George, and he had nothing but the best of things to say about you. Do you still keep in touch with them?
Very much so. A great band and lovely guys. Unfortunately I just didn't have the financial resources to promote them as much as I would have liked. We speak regularly, and in fact I'm doing some guest playing on their forthcoming album. They deserve to do well.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Too many to recount. They happen every day. I'm thinking of writing another book and filling it full of them!
MSJ: You're locked in an empty room with Liam Gallagher. What's the first thing you do? Note: one of my writers sent this question to me.
Interestingly enough we both support the same soccer team ...Manchester City ...and so I don't think we would have any communication problems at all! I like a lot of what Oasis have done but think they have been badly handled ...again that's just a personal opinion. .... to be honest, I'm not very fond of any managements!
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