Issue 2004-022: Rick Wakeman Special
Reviews in this issue:
Recently we applauded the efforts of Eclectic Records for unearthing some lost treasures. This time around we look at some of the excellent work being done by Voiceprint, a UK based record label from the North East of England. In their own words - "The Voiceprint Group of Companies are a group of record labels established in 1990 who have achieved success by having a keen ear for neglected classics and a great selection of new music". In this Special Update we look at some their work unearthing lost treasures and hidden gems of Rick Wakeman, giving us the opportunity to collect hirtherto unreleased or rare material by the keyboard wizard. Originally only available as part of the complete Treasure Chest, but re-issued individually in 2003.
Rick Wakeman - The Real Listzomania
Tracklist: The Scene (0:34), The Metronome (0:58), The Country Sword Dance (4:05), Free Song (3:31), The Freudian Dream (0:41), Dante Period (2:31), Orpheus Song (4:04), For The Chop (2:35), Hell (1:57), Wagner’s Dream (0:29), The Dream Of Hell (1:12), The Inferno Ride (0:51), Master Race (0:48), The Ride Of Thor (3:17), Excelsior Song (2:37), The Guardian Virgins (0:19), Rape, Pillage and Clap (3:24), Love’s Dream (3:47), The Suffering (0:14), Peace At Last (3:52), Love’s Dream (4:26)
This version is an extremely rare find as the master tapes were long since considered destroyed. Rick was asked to compose some music for the film “Lisztomania”, which was directed by Ken Russell; Rick even played a small role in the movie, namely the god Thor. A soundtrack album later was produced in 1975 by Rick and it was turned down by A & M Records, much to Rick’s disgust. After rejecting Rick’s soundtrack master, A&M then produced a soundtrack of their own, which had very little of Rick on it (only 12 tracks), and yet they still thoughtfully put his name on the front cover, along with that of Roger Daltrey. Rick hated the album; his comment was: “this album stinks”. The album flopped dismally and Rick was furious because his name was on the front cover. However the movie went on to become one of the cult movies of all time and to find this original soundtrack is quite unbelievable as there was only one master ever in existence. Somehow it managed to survive more than 25 years in a box amongst some old football shorts. The tapes have been remastered and I can say that this album is something special.
The music is excellent and the keyboard passages by Rick are very characteristic for his work in the seventies; just listen to tracks like Dante Period, The Country Sword Dance, The Inferno Ride, Master Race and Rape, Pillage and Clap. The narration parts by Paul Nicholas (The Scene, The Freudian Dream, Wagner’s Dream, The Guardian Virgins and The Suffering) bring to mind the perversion of the original movie. They are hilarious, innovative, funny and provocative and are pieces of typical English humour, that remind me of Monty Python.
Guest vocalists are Linda Lewis, who sings very dramatic opera-like in Hell, Paul Nicholas who does the vocal part in Excelsior Song and Roger Daltrey who sings 4 songs (Orpheus Song, Love’s Dream, Peace At Last and Love’s Dream) That last song is a very rare mix of Roger Daltrey and solo piano that was never used. Most of the songs are very short by the way, except for Orpheus Dream and Love’s Dream which are just over four minutes.
This is certainly a very different soundtrack to any that have ever been produced in the world of film music. It is very funny too, which is perhaps what we have come to expect from Rick with humour and great music in one.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - The Oscar Concert
Tracklist: Pachobel Canon in D (4:17), Put Down (4:00), Birdman Of Alcatraz (4:30), Guide Dog (1:00), Seasons Of Change (4:32), Showbiz Dog (3:00), Merlin The Magician (5:00), Children Of Chernobel (5:19), The Rotweiler (1:00), Guinevere/Lancelot And The Black Knight (5:34), Help/Eleanor Rigby (8:35), Classical Doggy In the Window (5:00)
For those unfamiliar with the story that surrounds The Oscar Concert, then let me shed a little light on the proceedings. The venue is the Festival Hall in Corby (UK), the date is 21st March 2000 and as the tale goes - "Rick had arrived in Corby in great anticipation of a full house, (he had played there on more than a dozen occasions and had always sold out), and was in a buoyant mood. This mood soon changed upon being told that the hall was closing in a few days and in fact they had not bothered to advertise the show as most people in Corby thought that the theatre was already closed. This culminated in the lowest attendance at a UK concert of 86, most of whom were real diehard members of the fan-club, (the Rick Wakeman Communication Centre), and came to most shows around the country. Rick came on stage and started the show in less than joyous mode being both furious with the agent as well as the promoter of the hall, (who was not even there). Less than one minute into the opening chat Rick noticed that one of the audience in the front row, (most of the audience were in fact in the front row), was a dog. A West Highland Terrier to be exact".
The discovery of the dog, named Oscar (surprisingly), turned what might have been a disasterous evening into one filled with good humour and wonderful keyboard virtuosity. A glance at the titles above will lead you to those 'tracks' which are conducted dialogue between Rick and Oscar - the more familiar names are the music!
The album opens with a delicate arrangement of Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D - simply a wonderful melody played here with strings and piano. This sets the mood for much of the album (dog stories excluded) as we are treated to Rick Wakeman in beguiling display of keyboard dexterity - gentle meandering passages interlaced with nimble flourishes. The mingling of classical piano and improvised passages flowing effortlessly from Rick's fingers. With only perhaps Merlin The Magician breaking the spell (pun intended) with its stronger aggressive electric piano sound and more eccentric, but lighthearted textures.
As with The Mixture we see another pairing of Beatles tracks, this time Eleanor Rigby is proceeded by a gentle arrangement of Help, before the slightly more restrained ER takes up the gamut. And from one Wakeman 'set-piece' to the closing statement for the evening. In keeping with the canine theme the customary Clair De Lune is passed by for another "classic", How Much Is That Doggy In The Window, all done "in the best possible taste" and in the style of Debussey. Nice touch.
Much of the material on this CD can be found on the Rick Wakeman Live in Concert 2000 CD and DVD releases and for owners of those particular items possibly little is to be benefitted from the purchase of this album. For those who have not, then this CD captures (part of) an evening of great music by Rick Wakeman, intermingled with good humoured "doggy" stories. I must admit that after the first couple of listenings I tended to skip the talking, which lead to a much better flow to the music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - The Missing Half
Tracklist: Catherine Parr (7:00), A Road to Ruin (6:45), Catherine Howard (7:45), Anne Boleyn (5:15), Twelfth Street Rag (4:20), The Pearl & Dean Piano Concerto (4:20)
Bonus Material : 'The David Hemmings Voice Collection' (2:16), King Arthur (7:30), Guinevere (5:55)
Voiceprint Records most surely be commended for bringing some of these releases to light. A fascinating glimpse into one of prog's most endearing and humorous icons, spanning a career of some thirty years. Not all of the material in this collection is 'a must have', but it does serve as an opportunity to delve into those lost artifacts. The bringing out from the archives at least gives us the chance to hear some of these lost 'treasures'.
I was fascinated with the liner notes to this CD and have included some of these in this review. The first six tracks were recorded on Friday 18th January 1974 at The Royal Festival Hall and are taken from the first of two performance on that particular day. From the liner notes :
"Both performances that day were of the legendary 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' and the second performance was recorded live for posterity and has now sold more than twelve million copies world-wide. What has remained unknown to those who who were not fortunate enough to attend these two performances but purchased the recording, was that there was a first half to these concerts and that it was also recorded, although it's purpose was mainly as that to check that the recording equipment was working correctly"
And that is what we have - a soundcheck and by the sounds of it a fairly good humoured affair. The recording quality isn't brilliant, but I have heard a lot worse, and does ocassionally suffer in differing degrees of quality. This said the versions of Catherine Parr, Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, from Six Wives... are all very good renditions - even thirty years on. A different version of Catherine Howard is played, which includes a delicate acoustic guitar passage.
The 'encore' - The Pearl & Dean Piano Concerto see's Rick in typical mischevious form as noodles about the piano intermingling his natural deft piano with 'tongue in cheek' tunes - ably assisted by the orchestra of course.
The bonus material comprises of versions of King Arthur and Guinevere before the addition of the final orchestral and choir parts and with the early rough vocal guide tracks!?
Just prior to this is actor David Hemmings who narrated the Journey to the Centre of the Earth album offers a alternative narrative (for a laugh) and in several dialects - Welsh, South London, Irish, West Indian & Camp.
Not perhaps one of Rick's crowning moments, but it must be recommended as it captures a fascinating piece of prog history!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - Almost Classical
Tracklist: Sophie for Joy (11:20), Merlin the Magician (7:15), The Nursery Rhyme Concerto (4:50), The Swiss Suite : [A] La Baumaz (3:22), [B] Les Monts De Corsier (3:15), [C] Lac Le Mans (4:26), [D] Canton Doe Vaud (5:50), The Barber of Wigan (20:00)
Almost Classical is another in the collection of rarities from the seemingly never ending Wakeman catalogue of material. The CD is predominately played around the piano and contains hitherto unreleased material from Rick.
The CD opens with an eleven minute piano piece Sophie for Joy. And as the story goes was recorded in one take, during the recording sessions for the Cost of Living album, being inspired by the news that Rick was to be a father. In this classically inspired piece, the notes just flow from the piano, this is truly a gift. Sophie for Joy was written for his daughter - Jemma ;-).
Track two is an early demo version of Merlin the Magician (circa 1975), which has been impressively re-mastered. Again a solo piano piece of great beauty - well worth the entry fee and surely one for the Wakeman collector.
A stage favourite for Wakeman's solo concerts in the form of The Nursery Rhyme Concerto and much is told by the title of the track. Here Rick plays a number of children's nursery rhyme's in the style of famous composers/pianists. This rendition includes Mozart, Ravel, Debussy, Les Dawson and Rachmaninov - great fun.
The centre piece for the CD is The Swiss Suite, named as they were written at Rick's home (at that time) in Switzerland. These four tracks being the only ones to survive from those recordings. Delicate and meandering piano, with Rick's indefatigable style imprinted upon them.
The CD concludes with The Barber of Wigan and marks its first appearance on an album. It features Rick on keyboard 'string ensemble' with operatic tenor Ramon Remedios in a light-hearted jibe at the Operatic performance. Perhaps as a writer for not the most widely accepted music in the world, it may be prudent not to add comment to this lampooning of the world of Opera. I have to say this is a fairly lengthy prod at this art form, clocking in at twenty minutes, but all in all an amusing and quite convincing mickey-take. Rick and Ramon open the piece with witty rapport mainly on the subject that Ramon has been duped into this "concert". Rick goes on to explain his views on Opera in which the lyrical content merely (and endlessly) repeats itself. The recording is taken directly from the mixing desk and therefore much of the audience reaction is lost, a shame as I feel that this would have added to the performance.
In terms of a progressive rock release I can see little value, as an album of music by one of prog's leading keyboard players - perhaps. Actually I quite enjoyed the album's light weight approach and as ever Rick's piano playing is exemplary.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - The Mixture
Tracklist: No Earthly Connection (11:40), Make Me A Woman (6:20), Fool On The Hill/Eleanor Rigby (9:15), Burlington Arcade (3:00), Space Oddity/Life On Mars (7:40), The Jig (3:00), The Breathalyser (7:05), Clair De Lune (3:45)
The aptly titled The Mixture opens with three live performances featuring Ashly Holt and Rick Wakeman, and marks one of only two live performances of this "duo" partnership. The first of the tracks has Rick in anthemic mode with the brassy keyboards heralding exerpts from No Earthly Connection. I am not overly familiar with this album, having not heard it for many a year now, but I couldn't help thinking possibly worth tracking down after hearing this version. Rick holds the piece superbly together, not only in the driving sections but also the more dramatic vocal parts. The second of the duo pairing is taken from Rick's 1988 release Time Machine and although there are some fine tracks on that album, Make Me A Woman wasn't one of them - this version has not changed that view. The first of the segued tracks (and last of the Wakeman/Holt pairing) from the album are two Lennon & McCartney tracks Fool On The Hill/Eleanor Rigby. Fool On The Hill continues the vocalising of Ashley Holt, whilst the concluding Eleanor Rigby is played with a pizzicato string sound and at a brisk tempo concluding at "break-neck" speed. Rick's improvisations around this beautiful melody are delightful.
Burlington Arcade moves us to another concert and the remainder of the tracks feature Fraser Thornecroft-Smith [guitar] and Adam Wakeman on [keyboards]. Fraser's jazz/swing guitar on this track is nicely complimented by the 'jazzy' feel of both keyboard men, in their playing and the sounds chosen. Great little track. This is followed by the second of our linked tracks, this time David Bowie's Space Oddity/Life On Mars which has a rare vocal performance by Fraser. Dreamy "unplugged" versions of these two tracks with a credible Bowie-like rendition in the vocal department by Thornecroft-Smith accompanied by some not so credible and decidedly suspect backing vocals.
This takes us onto another highlight from the album, The Jig, which sees all three flowing at tempo - once again splendid stuff. The concluding track from this "first set" is The Breathalyser, introduced as ever with a humorous tale from Rick. Taken from Rick's Criminal Record the tune vamps through a number of well known tunes portraying a drinking session with arresting results - the odd glass or two, the drive home, the car chase, the breath test and the night behind a different set of bars.
Last but not least the CD closes with an arrangement of Claude Debussey's Claire De Lune delightfully arranged and played.
As this is a live album, albeit not from the same performance, it would have been better served with some of the applause left in. I'm sure this would have contributed greatly to the flow of the album as well as marking each of the tracks. Not an essential purchase but as with most of this collection from Voiceprint, not without its charm and collectable values.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - Medium Rare
Tracklist: Jane Seymour (4:45), Beyond (1:45), The Microcosm Suite - [a] The Sun, [b] Callhinor [c] Egoniaga, [d] Quiggin, [e] Bodor, [f] Healey-Kae, [g] Quida, [h] Kalum Koll (17.15), Flyin' (3:30), Robot Man/Paint it Black (8:50), After Prayers (6:40), Your Move (3:35), The Realisation (3:45), The Suicide Shuffle (5:35)
This album opens with a true gem, the original pipe organ recording used on Jane Seymour, from Rick's The Six Wives of Henry VIII, made at St.Giles Church in Cripplegate. Wonderful to be able to listen to just the organ part, which I always thought to be a lovely piece of music. This rare treat is digitally remastered from the long thought to be lost, 1/4 inch reel - super stuff.
Beyond is an atmospheric ditty composed for a Kevin Peek (guitarist from Sky) album based upon Gustav Holst's, The Planets Suite. Following this are the eight tracks that form The Microcosm Suite, "which was written for a computer game". The music stands up very well and are very much in the Wakeman mold, although I have say that the tracks don't readily fall together as a continous piece of music. Last in this section is the gentle Flying, a piece written for a 1980 film. You maybe forgiven if the film title doesn't spring to mind, as with all of the tracks in this section, neither the film or the music has been released commercially.
The remaining tracks that make up Medium Rare are in fact rare live recordings. Chrissie Hammond steps up to the microphone for Robot Man from the 1984 album, an interesting arrangement of The Rolling Stones, Paint It Black and After Prayers from Softsword. However the audio quality is very poor here and despite being remastered, proved to be a little to taxing on the ears, a pity really as the music itself has some excellent moments.
Medium Rare starts with a real plus and in fact the first half of the CD is once again an interesting collection of "out-takes" from Rick Wakeman's past. And although the second part of CD is not without its charm, I did find the audio quality too distracting to be able to listen to it more than on the odd occasion. Still as I have commented from the beginning of this Rick Wakeman Special, I am pleased to be given the opportunity to listen and own some of these lost moments. Therefore my hat is off to Voiceprint and wish them continued success in their quest for these treasure troves of lost and unreleased works.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Rick Wakeman -
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth Plus
Tracklist: Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (39:25), Catherine Parr (4:10), Catherine Howard (9:48), Anne Boleyn (7:08), The American Advert Concerto (5:06)
Actually this album was released as a bootleg in the mid seventies, (Unleashing The Tethered One - The 1974 North American Tour) and in fact it was taken from a television master recording in Canada, during the North-American 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth' - tour. Rick was not overly impressed with A&M's lack of intervention when this 'bootleg' first appeared - counting the cost of lost royalties over the years. It is estimated that almost one million copies have been sold worldwide! This re-mastering (of which Rick will reap some finacial reward) has been carefully digitised and includes as a bonus material two additional tracks (not on the original bootleg) from The Six Wives Of Henry VIII album. What is special about this CD is the fact that the recordings here all have a choir accompanying the band.
The sound quality is still rather poor and therefore this album is only a must for Wakeman aficionados. Catherine Howard and The American Advert Concerto are introduced by the man himself and the three tracks from The Six Wives... actually make this album worth buying.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Banda Sinfonica -
The Myths and Legends of King Arthur
Tracklist: Arthur (7:20), Lady Of The Lake (0:41), Guinevere (6:57), Sir Lancelot And The Black Knight (5:37), Merlin The Magician (9:16), Sir Galahad (6:08), The Last Battle (10:25), Pirates [Emerson, Lake & Palmer] (13:35)
Of course we (as prog rock lovers) all know the original album by Rick Wakeman. The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was first released in 1975, and it still is one of my favourite Wakeman-albums. This version is recorded by the Young Symphonic Band of the state of Sao Paulo, conducted by Monica Giardini, and assisted by the Choir of the Free University of Music. This orchestra has also executed Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and due to the huge success of that album, they decided to record another Wakeman-project as well.
Nothing new under the sun, really, although I rather prefer the vocals of Gary Pickford Hopkins and Ashley Holt on the original album, And of course it is not easy to “substitute” Rick Wakeman, but Theophilo Augusto Pinto does a great job on synthesizers and Adriana Gesso do Amaral undertakes the task of recreating his piano parts. The best track of this album is, like on the original one, The Last Battle.
As a bonus track the Orchestra plays an Emerson, Lake & Palmer track called Pirates, which is featured on their album called Works Volume 1. This track is filled with Stravinsky and Copland influences, and it really adds something to this rather “redundant” album.
Again, only for Wakeman die hard fans.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10