A Gallery of the Imagination
Rick Wakeman’s musical collaboration with his band The English Rock Ensemble certainly has hidden depths, which incidentally is the appropriate title of the opening track on ‘A Gallery Of The Imagination’ Rick’s latest album release.
Imagine this…a collection of songs that might inspire the listener to approach music making in the same way as Mr. Wakeman has set about creating these charmingly varied tracks. It’s as if they were paintings not just musical scores. Hence A Gallery Of The Imagination is one of the most tasteful and satisfying albums the composer has ever produced. There are piano solo pieces, haunting melodies, funky band tunes and superb vocals courtesy of the outstanding young singer Hayley Sanderson. It all combines to make this Gallery well worth a visit.
Rick explains that the idea for this carefully crafted recording was inspired while thinking about advice given him by his first piano teacher Mrs. Symes. He studied with her from the age of five until he was accepted by the Royal College of Music. She impressed on him a concept he always remembered.
“’When you play, you are painting pictures through music’.” After learning a piece she would make her student memorise it and then play with his eyes closed and let the music conjure up images in his head and paint ‘pictures’ . Wakeman: “And I still do this now when I’m on stage playing live”.
He confesses one of his great loves is going to museums and art galleries and viewing all the different types of art.
“So I thought, why not a music gallery? People can paint their own mind pictures to the different types of music on the album. It’s very tactile and I like to feel that people can actually touch the music.”
Utilising contemporary hi-tech methods that flourished in the Covid era, the musicians recorded their parts remotely in different studios. All the tracks have been mixed and mastered to create a seamless production. You’d never know Rick and the guys weren’t sharing a smoky 1970s style communal sound booth with breaks for tea, beer, darts and arguments over the mixing desk.
The Rock Ensemble comprises Dave Colquhoun (guitars) Lee Pomeroy (bass) and Ash Soan (drums) while Rick heads the team with a kluster of keyboards and something called The Sledge, which may be used to get musicians home during winter storms.
The first brush over the musical canvas the arrangement ‘Hidden Depths’ has a dramatic yet pensive piano introduction. It splashes a palette of more striking colours when Dave’s assertive guitar theme is spurred by the ever attentive rhythm section. Rick paints the keys with equally satisfying results as this instrumental evolves into a joyful prog rock stomper .
Thence comes one of those great moments when the listener is taken by surprise and captivated by the sound of a gentle feminine voice, in this case Hayley Sanderson asserting her artistic authority on ‘The Man In The Moon.’
She articulates Rick’s lyrics with the kind of understated persuasion that makes her performance and the message all the more effective. ‘Nobody listens to messages sent by the universe every day, conspiring with galaxies warning us all of the dangers from so far away…the man in the moon just watches and cries in his sleep.’
‘A Mirage In The Clouds’ is even more affecting as Haley floats through the haunting melody accompanied by gentle guitar chords and the composer’s complementary arpeggios. Incidentally it’s wonderful to hear a contemporary singer who banishes shouty vocal gymnastics in favour of poetic lyricism.
‘The Creek’ is another delightful classical piano solo piece and the reflective mood continues with ‘My Moonlight Dream’ with Haley’s marvellous performance given added strength by sympathetic drums and bass and a chorus of orchestrated keyboards. The fade out ending will keep you on tenterhooks as does the final piano note that completes the wonderful ‘Only When I Cry’ a song that will touch the hardest of hearts.
A DAY SPENT ON THE PIER
In contrast ‘Cuban Carnival’ is a reflection on memories of a trip to Cuba by the English Rock Ensemble when doubtless they threw caution and English reserve to the winds with a spot of rum fuelled dad dancing. There is a calmer, more reflective mood when Rick returns to the piano for ‘Just a Memory’ where left and right hands provide a captivating counterpoint of complementary melodies.
An upbeat mood pervades the rockin’ band number ‘The Dinner Party’ while ‘A Day Spent On The Pier’ will touch a chord with all those who fondly remember childhood days at the seaside. Hayley sings ‘Everywhere you go candy floss and ice cream. Can you hear when I scream coming down the Helter Skelter…’
Finally ‘The Visitation’ is an extraordinary piece that will resonate with all those who have lost friends and muse over the mysteries of the Afterlife. ‘The Eyes Of A Child’ too has some of Rick’s most poignant lyrics that Hayley interprets with a childlike innocence.
‘A Gallery Of The Imagination’ is a revelation and one of Rick Wakeman’s finest achievements, as will become clear well before the paint dries on the verdict of us critics.