United Kingdom The Return of the Caped Crusader – Rick Wakeman Live at the London Palladium: Rick Wakeman (keyboards), Hayley Sanderson (vocals), English Rock Ensemble (Dave Colquhoun [guitar and backing vocals], Adam Falkner [drums], Lee Pomeroy [bass and backing vocals], Adam Wakeman [keyboards, guitar, backing vocals], The English Chamber Choir (conductor: Guy Protheroe). London Palladium, 22.2.2023. (JPr)
Act 1: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Act 2: The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
That this and the subsequent concert the next evening (of music by Yes and Journey to the Centre of the Earth) went ahead was a triumph of collective will since as Rick Wakeman writes in the glossy programme: ‘As I suspect most of you reading this will know, some low-life scum (that’s a polite description of them), stole a large chunk of my main keyboard rig during my 2022 Xmas tour. As much of the rig is pretty much irreplaceable, this theft really did threaten cancellation of these London Palladium shows, but what happened next shows how people were as incensed as all of us in the “Wakeman camp” were, and stepped up to the plate with amazing offers of help.’ He then revealed how with a great deal of borrowing (and much begging I guess?) everything was got together in time for these special shows and those lucky enough to have been there will be eternally grateful to all those who saved the days.
‘Caped Crusader’ suggests Batman but the figure that ambled on – and, as expected, wearing a cape (gold, red, blue and shiny in the first half and later green with an image of Excalibur on the back) – is prog rock’s mainman. You always have a great evening in the company of Rick Wakeman whether in his solo shows with his piano virtuosity, tall tales and shaggy dog stories or as a keyboard wizard behind his array of instruments. Not that the success of this London Palladium show was due to him alone because he was accompanied by his son, Adam Wakeman (keyboard, guitars and backing vocals), and other members of the English Rock Ensemble – Dave Colquhoun (guitars and backing vocals), Adam Falkner (drums), Lee Pomeroy (bass and backing vocals) – along with Hayley Sanderson (vocals) and the English Chamber Choir directed by Guy Protheroe.
Rick began by revisiting his 1973 The Six Wives of Henry VIII and he recalled in the programme how it was composed during ‘a wonderful period of time as I was left alone to write and record as befitted the music, which would never be allowed today!’. Onstage he introduced the show by saying how ‘Some of the pieces we’ve never really ever actually played before with the new band and everything, it’s been absolutely great’. Referring to Six Wives, Rick said it was pointed out to him that he had nearly as many himself! Interestingly he revealed how the six pieces were not in chronological order on the album because of the need to fit them on a vinyl LP, ‘But tonight we are going to do them in chronological order as indeed did Henry!’ Each is a mini-masterpiece with upbeat melodies that will stay with you once they finish, although – forgive me Rick – I didn’t particularly recognise the historical characters but I may do if I hear them again, this was a first time for me.
All credit to the tight rhythm section (notably Adam Falkner’s drumming) in aiding and abetting Rick in creating different soundscapes and atmospheres helped by the vocalisations of the English Chamber Choir. ‘Catherine of Aragon’ was the shortest of the six and there was the first of the myriad – and majestic – keyboard runs from Rick which we would hear during the evening. Tinkling piano and jazzy riffs abound in ‘Anne Boleyn’ before the organ took over and we heard the plaintive hymn ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’ bringing a quieter close to the music than how Anne Boleyn’s life actually ended. This was a favourite of mine along with ‘Jane Seymour’ with its homage to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. ‘Anne of Cleves’ sounded a bit like the band having fun during a jam session; ‘Catherine Howard’ began again with piano runs before it morphed into a jaunty extemporisation; finally, ‘Catherine Parr’ seemed something of a companion piece to ‘Anne Boleyn’ and there was more of Rick’s amazing keyboard magic with his fingers a typical blur, but there was solid support again from Falkner on the drums and also Lee Pomeroy’s bass. A fabulous ending to the Six Wives.
After the interval Rick described how as a young child in 1954 he went to Tintagel Castle, reputedly linked to King Arthur and he said ‘I just fell in love with the place and I bought loads of books which I’ve still got today, children’s books with big words.’ Over the years he had always wanted to write about the wonderful myth and legends, ‘We did it in 1975 and it was great fun. We performed it at Wembley Empire Pool on ice and it is one of my dreams to do it again, and so if I can convince my manager and agent let’s put it on again on ice.’
Myths and Legends began with the recorded voice of Ian Lavender intoning the inscription on the stone believed to hold the legendary sword, Excalibur, ‘Whosoever pulleth this sword from this stone and anvil is the trueborn king of all Britain.’ Rick then launched into another tour de force at his various keyboards, and we then heard the regal main theme (oft used by the BBC for their General Election broadcasts). This goes straight into the first song ‘Arthur’ and the impressive vocalist Hayley Sanderson (who was frequently supported throughout by the choir and occasionally by members of the band) began with ‘Upon a New Year’s Day a host of knights did pray that from the anvil one could draw the sword’. The music then aims to tell different parts of the story, from Arthur’s early days to the end of his life; the music being superb throughout.
The centrepiece of Myths and Legends was Sanderson’s soaring vocals in the rockiest song ‘Lancelot and the Black Knight’ as we hear how Lancelot must ‘Go to waste land if you dare, lure the Black Knight from his lair, fight and kill the evil man, rid his evil from our land’. Perhaps best of all was the concluding ‘The Last Battle’ which started with the Sanderson singing ‘Gone are the days of the knights’ and we hear about Arthur’s death. The narration reveals the end of the Knights of the Round Table, how the Saxons conquered Britain and the discovery in 1200 of Arthur’s supposed remains at Glastonbury. ‘The Last Battle’ featured more superb technique from Rick and equally great playing by the entire band and ended with a final reprise of the main theme.
Earlier, the English Chamber Choir got an a cappella moment in the spotlight in ‘Lady of the Lake’. Other tracks were character sketches: the ballad ‘Guinevere’ told of her romantic conflict since she was loved by, and was in love with, both Arthur and Lancelot; the rocking ‘Sir Galahad’ (bookended by more a cappella from the choir); and, of course, the instrumental ‘Merlin the Magician’. The latter was played as an epic encore featuring the excellent guitarist Dave Colquhoun and Rick and his son Adam with keytars (lightweight electronic keyboards) strapped on. They were at the front of the stage to show off and bring all the music to a triumphant end and the audience to its feet.
For more about Rick Wakeman click here.