RICK WAKEMAN – TRADING BOUNDARIES, SHEFFIELD GREEN 8.2.24
In the wake (excuse the pun) of Rick’s recent announcement of his impending retirement later this year the three nights played at Trading Boundaries near Fletching in East Sussex suddenly became a very hot ticket if you wanted an opportunity to see the great man in the live environment one last time.
Unlike his fully fledged electric tour starting later this month, this was a far more stripped back and intimate show, featuring Rick in isolation. Just one man and his keyboards. These singular acoustic shows give the audience an opportunity to see the ‘other side’ of Rick Wakeman, not surrounded by mountains of keyboards and a band; just him alone telling jokes and humorous anecdotes and playing in a far more exposed environment.
From the very start when Rick enters the stage he makes it clear from his first utterance that this is not going to be a ‘WOKE’ show and those easily offended might wish to…… Unsurprisingly no one left and the humorous repartee expanded considerably. At times this was as much a comedy show as it was a musical concert, but that is what Rick Wakeman solo shows are all about, and absolutely no-one in this small venue tonight would have been disappointed.
The first set opened with, as Rick put it, a warm up piece called ‘The Jig’ and then proceeded to tell an anecdote regarding a disappearing circus and non-payment. The latter a topic that was raised in a number of anecdotes throughout the evening.
The approach to the concert was interesting inasmuch as it contained a wide variety of music from across his career, not just his own solo material, but also visiting Yes, the band with whom he made his fame, but additionally pieces for other artists with whom he had worked over the years. This was very much the case with an anecdote relating to Cat Stevens, again related to money before playing a beautiful romantic take on the traditional hymn made famous by the former during the 1970’s, ‘Morning Has Broken’.
From then the first set concentrated around Rick’s solo career, featuring pieces from his most famous solo albums. First up was an exquisite version of ‘Jane Seymour’, from the ‘Six Wives Of Henry VIII’ album. This contained beautiful musical harmonisation and showed off his legendary ability to seem to play more notes at any one time than his fingers would allow. As a pianist he is still very clearly at the top of his game, and can make the most difficult and intricate pieces sound simple, yet never loses the integrity of the piece, or the sheer nature of his ability when performing, whether moving from the soft gentle melodic opening, through to the more uplifting and dare I say it light-hearted movement within the piece.
Next up was ‘Dance Of 1000 Lights’ from the ‘Return To The Centre Of The Earth’, an album written back in 1999 as a follow up to his mega selling 1974 album ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’, both concept albums based upon the writings of Jules Verne. For this piece there was the use of some backing tapes to provide the wider sound of orchestra and chorus.
As expected, the show remained as heavy on humour as it was on the music and this actually enhanced the more serious moments making them more profound and moving. This was particularly the scenario when he told a story about his recently departed neighbour and long time friend, the actor Ian Lavender and his love of dogs. Playing and dedicating the piece, ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ there were clearly a few tears shed amongst the audience who were invited to also dedicate this piece to those that they had lost.
The first set ended with two pieces from the ‘The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table’ album, ‘The Last Battle’ and ‘Merlin The Magician’. The first piece starting with the softer refrain that runs through the album, before Rick’s magical fingers again took this piece to another level. What is remarkable about this type of performance is the way in which these familiar pieces of music can take on a new life when stripped back to the basic piano work, and the audience can hear the actual musical lines written without the additional band participation over the top, which in an electric environment can at times drown out the magic inherent in the songwriting. With the two pieces running together there was a seamless roll into the more energetic and entertaining ‘Merlin’, with its almost circus theme like interlude, and with that Rick left the stage with a quip about needing a toilet break.
The second set provided more variety, despite starting with a second more serious visit to the ‘Six Wives’ album with ‘Catherine Howard’, before not only a resurgence in humour but also in the manner of playing. It takes an extremely talented musician to change the entire format of a familiar tune, to turn it into something completely different from its original but still ensure that it sounds instantly recognisable, and this was seriously the case with the next piece simply titled the ‘Nursery Rhyme Concerto’. For those who have seen him play this, then there is probably already a smile on your face as you reminisce about it. For those who have not, the idea is to take a number of well-known nursery rhymes and play them in the style of famous classical composers. In tonight’s offering Trading Boundaries were treated to a medley consisting of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ in the style of Mozart, ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ in the style of Ravel (complete with ‘Bolero’ variation), ‘Three Blind Mice’ in the style of Debussy, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ in the style of Dawson (Les Dawson) before closing with ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ in the style of Rachmaninov.
There is a question of ‘How do you follow that?’ and the answer was very clear with a gentle pastoral piece from the ‘Rhapsodies’ album, ‘Seahorses’, that slowed down proceedings and brought the musicality back to the fore, not saying that it had slipped away but the light-hearted moment again was replaced with a realisation of what a great writer Rick is, as well as a musician.
At the three-quarter point of the show Rick announced that it was time for some Yes. After all, how could you have a Wakeman show without his visiting some classic pieces from his stadium filling days. Two pieces were offered. Both more gentle and emotional pieces from the Yes repertoire. Firstly, came ‘And You And I’ from the ‘Close To The Edge’ album, and Rick clearly could not help himself but to integrate a couple of themes from the album title track into this piece which gave it variety before moving onto ‘Wondrous Stories’ from the ‘Going For The One’ album. Both pieces have a calming style, a pastoral feel and the piano playing brought out the intricate melodies in both tunes.
The set closed with a complete variation of Rick revisiting his playing a well known song in the style of another with a Beatles melody of ‘Help’, stripped down to a slow ballad style, and played in the style of Saint-Saens, and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in the style of Prokofiev. Brilliant pieces, played fantastically and Rick’s approach with a sly dig of “McCartney’s never played any of my songs so I’ll do what I like with his”, albeit very tongue in cheek brought an ever widening smile to the faces of an enraptured audience. Quite simply …What’s not to like….?
The encore, which Rick explained would not see him leaving the stage, brought the audience to their feet as he played Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’, a piece that he had played on back in the seventies and even all these years later can bring the audience to their feet, their voices raised adding the vocals to a perfect piece of music.
It was quite simply a phenomenal evening of entertainment. Yes, Humorous, emotional, thoughtful and impressive. A perfect package and sadly one we are unlikely to see again. Yes. Rick. The Live shows may well come to an end and in the live environment you’ll be gone….but never forgotten.
Rick Wakeman setlist:
‘The Jig’ (from 1995 ‘Cirque Surreal’ album)
‘Morning Has Broken’ (Traditional)
‘Jane Seymour’ (from 1973 ‘The Six Wives Of Henry VIII’ album)
‘Dance Of A Thousand Lights’ (from 1999 ‘Return To The Centre Of The Earth’ album)
‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ (from 1983 ‘Cost Of Living’ album)
‘The Last Battle’ (from 1975 ‘The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table’ album)
‘Merlin The Magician’ (from 1975 ‘The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table’ album)
‘Catherine Howard’ (from 1973 ‘The Six Wives Of Henry VIII’ album)
‘Nursery Rhyme Concerto’
‘Seahorses’ (from 1979 ‘Rhapsodies’ album)
‘And You And I’ (from 1972 ‘Close To The Edge’ Yes album)
‘Wondrous Stories’ (from 1977 ‘Going For The One’ Yes album)
‘Help’ (Beatles Cover)
‘Eleanor Rigby’ (Beatles Cover)
‘Life On Mars’ (David Bowie Cover)