Rick Wakeman at the London Palladium
It was a journey to the centre of Rick Wakeman’s heart and soul, on the historic nights he played two sensational concerts at one of the world’s most prestigious venues, the London Palladium.
They came from distant lands to see Rick with a powerful support team including members of the English Rock Ensemble and the English Chamber Choir and guest star vocalist Hayley Sanderson.
Together with a superb backing band including Adam Wakeman on keyboards and guitars, Dave Colquhoun (guitars), Lee Pomeroy (bass) and Adam Falkner (drums), Rick was able to re-create not just his own mammoth concept albums but the music of Yes as well. The result were nights to remember for everyone concerned including those hard working technicians and back stage crew who made it all possible.
But of course it was the loyal fans that ultimately put the seal of success on the venture that took so much dedication and effort to bring to fruition. Their cheers and applause rang out from the moment Rick stepped on stage in his most flamboyant of capes to face his audience in the venerable theatre where so many stars of yesteryear have performed from Danny Kaye to Judy Garland.
Rick wasn’t going to play ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ but there was a kaleidoscope of dazzling themes and songs to perform. The first night (Wednesday 22 February) featured full scale performances of hit concept albums, The Six Wives of Henry V111 (1973) and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975). We witnessed the second night’s show, also in two Acts opening with a Classic Yes selection and concluding with a daring descent into Journey To The Centre of the Earth (1974).
As Rick welcomed the audience he assured us there would be an intermission and time for us to visit the Palladium bars, where ‘The beer costs £12 a pint.’ Much laughter. But he wasn’t joking. Cans of lager were £6.50 each, so a pint actually cost £13. Prog Rock fans can recall when it cost 50 pence a pint and complained then about the rising cost of drinking. What were we talking about? Ah yes, the show!
And what better way to start than with ‘Roundabout’ and memories of the band that Rick said: ‘I loved to bits.’ It was a song from the September 1971 album Fragile which heralded the arrival of Mr. Wakeman, replacing original keyboard player Tony Kaye. Coming hard on the heels of The Yes Album (July 1971) it shot straight to Number 4 in the U.S. album chart.
When Rick joined Yes in August 1971 he made an immediate impact with the brilliantly conceived ‘Roundabout’. Audiences quickly grew to love the tall figure in long blond hair, shiny capes and conical hats, surrounded by keyboards and unleashing a cascade of notes with classically trained perfection.
And that blend of skill and energy was back on display once more at the Palladium. Dave Colquhoun had the honour of playing the acoustic guitar intro established by Steve Howe, before the whole band stomped into the exuberant ‘Roundabout’ theme. The packed stalls crowd instantly began clapping along to the beat smashed by Adam Falkner, establishing himself as a drummer par excellence. While Rick in a glittering blue, red and green striped outfit took centre stage he played with extraordinary power and dexterity, while Hayley Sanderson in a sparkly white jacket sang with full command of the songs and the stage.
AND YOU AND I
The Yes Suite continued with ‘The Meeting’ a ballad that featured Hayley and Rick, the latter reprising the piano solo he’d performed at the Yes 35th Anniversary concert in 2004. This was followed by ‘Wonderous Stories’ from Going for The One (1977) and ‘South Side of the Sky’ from Fragile.
Booming tom toms launched ‘And You And I’ from ‘Close To The Edge’ after another important guitar intro from Dave. This led into an iconic arrangement that goes through many moods before the grand climax. Lee Pomeroy leapt to the front of the band to conduct the tricky slow down finale while Adam held the tempo together.
Following the interval it was time for the great set piece performance Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Everyone had their part to play in the musical recreation of the Jules Verne tale that so entranced Rick, when he first discovered it as a boy in his school library.
The English Chamber Choir were in their element as the story unfolded complete with spoken narration betwixt the various themes from ‘Overture’ to ‘Lost & Found’, the ‘World Within A World’ and ‘The Battle’, ‘The Storm’ and ‘Mount Etna’. There was even an amusing sojourn with Rick pounding out Edvard Grieg’s ‘In The Hall of The Mountain King.’
We were promised a nice relaxing ballad for the encore after this triumphant performance but this time Rick was joking. The Palladium erupted rather like Mount Etna as the journey to the centre of Yes resumed with an explosive performance of one their most exhilarating creations ‘Starship Trooper’ from The Yes Album.
Lee Pomeroy drew cheers when he launched into an extraordinarily powerful bass guitar solo. It was perhaps a tribute to the late Chris Squire, founder of Yes. But it was also a testament to Lee’s own popularity with today’s fans. Another highlight would have been the scheduled keytar battle between Rick and son Adam, but frustratingly Wakeman Jnr.’s instrument suffered technical issues i.e. it didn’t work! Never mind, the pair parried phrases with a regular keyboard to the rescue.
Finally the entire ensemble launched into that pulsating, pounding riff ‘Wűrm’ that literally became an ear worm as it brought the ‘Starship Trooper’ back down to Planet Earth. Rick looked delighted as the entire company took their bows. As he said earlier: “This is one hell of a line up to have with me, performing my music that has somehow managed to survive the last fifty years. And I never tire of playing these pieces as the music is so adaptable.” Well, generations of Wakeman and Yes fans never tire of hearing them.