Richard Christopher "Rick" Wakeman (born 18 May 1949) is an English keyboard player and composer best known for being the former keyboardist in the progressive rock band Yes. He is also known for his solo albums, contributing to the BBC comedy series Grumpy Old Men and for Rick's Place, his former radio show on Planet Rock that aired until December 2010.
Wakeman was born in West London. He purchased his first electronic keyboard at 12 years of age. In 1968, he studied the piano, clarinet, orchestration and modern music at the Royal College of Music before leaving after a year in favour of session music work. He went on to feature on songs by artists including Black Sabbath, David Bowie, T. Rex, Elton John and Cat Stevens. Wakeman joined the folk group Strawbs in 1969 and played on three of their albums. He first joined Yes in 1971 to replace Tony Kaye, and left the group in 1974 to work on his solo career. He returned in 1976 before leaving with lead vocalist Jon Anderson in 1980. Wakeman was part of the side project Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, a group of ex-Yes members formed in 1989, and the eight-member Yes line-up that followed until his third departure in 1992. He returned for two years in 1995 and once more in 2002, where he was part of the band's 35th anniversary tour until its end in 2004.
Wakeman began his solo career during his first run with Yes. His perhaps most known records being his first three, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974) and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975). He has produced over 100 solo albums that have sold more than 50 million copies. In November 2010, Wakeman was awarded the Spirit of Prog award at the annual Marshall Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards.
He is the father of keyboardists Adam Wakeman and Oliver Wakeman.
Rick Wakeman was born on 18 May 1949 in the west London suburb of Perivale to Cyril Frank and Mildred Helen Wakeman. He attended Wood End Infants School, Greenford, Middlesex, in 1954, followed by Drayton Manor Grammar School in 1959, in nearby Hanwell. He started playing the piano at the age of 5 and purchased his first electronic keyboard at the age of 12. At age 14, he began playing with a succession of semi-pro bands. In 1968, Wakeman secured a place at the Royal College of Music, where he studied piano, clarinet, orchestration and modern music. He left a year later in favour of session music work.
Session work and the Strawbs (1969–71)
Wakeman became an active session musician. In June 1969, he played Mellotron on David Bowie's single "Space Oddity" for a session fee of £9. He went on to play piano for Bowie's "Life on Mars?", "Changes" and "Oh! You Pretty Things" in April 1971 and "Absolute Beginners" in 1985. He also played the piano on the Cat Stevens' hit "Morning Has Broken". In 1971 he acquired an early Minimoog synthesiser, purchasing it at half price from actor Jack Wild who believed that it was defective because it only played one note at a time.
In 1970 and 1971, Wakeman was part of the folk rock group Strawbs. His first appearance on an album sleeve was on Dragonfly, the group's second studio album released in February 1970. The band held a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 11 July 1970 where Wakeman performed a solo piano piece named "Temperament of Mind". He received a standing ovation for his performance, and the track appeared on the band's live record released that year, Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios. Wakeman appeared on the front page of Melody Maker soon after, which called him "Tomorrow's Superstar", and composed the theme music to the television show Ask Aspel. He remained in the Strawbs for a third album, From the Witchwood, but was beginning to feel that their association was causing both him and the Strawbs to creatively stagnate and, in mid-1971, he received a phone call from Chris Squire asking if he would like to play with Yes.
Joining Yes and start of solo career (1971–75)
In 1971, Wakeman joined the progressive rock band Yes, replacing their organist Tony Kaye. His first concert with the group took place in Leicester on 30 September 1971. He worked on the group's fourth, fifth and sixth studio albums – Fragile (1971), Close to the Edge (1972), and Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973). Wakeman, however, felt Tales from Topographic Oceans was pretentious and – despite its ambition – insubstantial. He disliked performing the album on tour, feeling the length of the songs inhibited the band from playing their more popular tracks. Following the tour, as the band began work on what would become Relayer (1974), Wakeman felt further alienated from the group. Disenchanted with the direction in which Yes was going, and already into a successful solo career, he left.
Wakeman produced his first three solo albums during his first run with Yes. On 23 January 1973, he released The Six Wives of Henry VIII, an instrumental concept album based on his interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII, using keyboard instruments. The album was overall well received by critics. TIME magazine named the record one of the best pop albums of 1973. In October 1975, the album was certified Gold.
On 18 January 1974, Wakeman performed Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a forty-minute piece based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name, at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Combining rock with an orchestra and choir, the concert was recorded and released on 18 May, where it topped the UK album charts on entry for one week. The record became a multi-million dollar seller in six weeks. The album was certified Gold in September 1974.
In May 1975, Wakeman released The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, with the album performed live at the Empire Pool on ice. The show was well received but expensive to produce, consuming much of the income from sales of the album. The album was also a worldwide success, reaching No.21 in the United States while going Gold (the third time a Wakeman record had achieved this) in Brazil, Japan and Australia. The album has sold 12 million copies.
In 1975, Wakeman produced the first of two soundtracks for films by Ken Russell, that being Lisztomania; Wakeman would go on to create the soundtrack for Crimes of Passion in 1984 in which he made a brief appearance in the film. In 1976, Wakeman produced and created the album No Earthly Connection in France.
Rejoining Yes (1976–80)
Wakeman decided to return to Yes in 1977, he announced that he would play with Yes occasionally. His first album back with Yes was Going for the One. He remained until their next album, Tormato, a year later. He is reputed to have given the album its name by throwing a tomato at a showing of the art used for the album's cover.
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and Yes (1989–92)
In 1989, he joined with three fellow ex-Yes members to form Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe ("ABWH"). After ABWH's first album, some of the completed tracks for a planned second album were merged with tracks from an in-progress Yes album to create the album Union. Wakeman, along with the combined members of both bands then joined to form a Yes supergroup (made up of past and present members of Yes) for the subsequent tour in 1991. When the tour ended a year later, Wakeman left again.
Fourth run with Yes (1995–97)
He then returned in 1996 for the Keys to Ascension albums but left before the band could tour.
Fifth run with Yes and Hampton Court (2002–09)
In 2002, he rejoined Yes and stayed with the band until their 2004 35th Anniversary Tour. Wakeman was advised by doctors that it would be best to not do lengthy touring. Due to this, he left Yes because they said that they will continue lengthy touring, something Wakeman wanted nothing to do with anymore. So, for the group's 2008 In The Present tour, Wakeman was replaced by his son, Oliver Wakeman.
In 2008, Wakeman toured with a solo show named Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show, featuring an evening of music and stories.
In May 2009, Wakeman performed The Six Wives of Henry VIII live at Hampton Court Palace for the first time, for two nights. The performance was recorded and released as The Six Wives of Henry VIII Live at Hampton Court Palace.
Recent years (2007–present)
In October 2007, Wakeman commenced a new tour 'Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show', where he accompanies video performers such as Gordon Giltrap and the English Rock Ensemble (Ashley Holt, Lee Pomeroy, Dave Colquhoun and Tony Fernandez).
On August 22, 2013, Arjen Lucassen announced that Rick Wakeman would be performing on keyboard as a guest on the upcoming Ayreon album The Theory of Everything.
On 29 March 2014, Wakeman played the newly-restored Royal Festival Hall organ for the "I Do To Equal Marriage" event which celebrated the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
In 2014, Wakeman will be touring the 2012 re-recorded version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth across the UK.
Although Wakeman is a noted player of the Grand Piano, Electric Piano, Pipe Organ, Hammond Organ, Minimoog and many later models of synthesiser, he is well known as a proponent (for a time) of the Mellotron – an analogue electronic musical instrument that uses a bank of pre-recorded magnetic tape strips, each of which is activated by a separate key on its keyboard and lasts approximately 8 seconds. Wakeman featured playing this instrument, to varying degrees, on the David Bowie track "Space Oddity", the Yes albums Fragile, Close to the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans, as well as the solo albums The Six Wives of Henry VIII and White Rock. An urban legend claims that Wakeman got so frustrated with one Mellotron that he poured petrol on it and set fire to it, but this was debunked in a 2010 interview.
He subsequently worked with David Biro to develop the Birotron, which used the then popular 8-track cassette format rather than tape strips. Because of the advent of digital keyboards at that time, and expensive components used in the instruments' manufacture, the Birotron was never a commercial or technical success. Only 35 Birotrons were produced. These days, he can be found with more modern instruments such as the Roland Fantom, Korg M3, and the Korg Oasys.
Other career endeavours
Wakeman's track "Arthur" has been used as the theme tune to the BBC's Election Night Coverage since 1979, with the exception of 2001 and 2010. Wakeman's album Fields of Green '97 features the track "Election '97/Arthur" which was used by the BBC for their coverage of the 1997 UK general election. The music was revamped for the BBC's 2005 UK general election night coverage.
Wakeman began his television career in 1982 as the host of Gastank on Channel 4. The show featured a mix of interviews with 1970s musicians and impromptu performances where the guest artist would join Wakeman and his house band in playing re-arranged versions of their classic songs or entirely new pieces created for the show. Wakeman hosted the ITV comedy show Live at Jongleurs for eight years.
Since 2003, Wakeman has been featured in the BBC comedy series Grumpy Old Men. He has also appeared in a number of episodes of Countdown, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and Have I Got News For You. He appeared on Top Gear and set a race track lap time of 1'55.26.
From 2005–10, Wakeman presented Rick's Place, a weekly radio show on Planet Rock with David Jensen. Wakeman appeared as himself in "Journey to the Centre of Rick Wakeman", the season two finale of Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music on BBC Radio 4. The episode detailed a fictional war between England and Wales in 2009 which only Wakeman could stop. Wakeman provided piano for Benn's 2008 single "Sing Like an Angel" which was released on iTunes. In December 2006, Wakeman was the guest host for an episode of The Personality Test on Radio 4. Wakeman appeared on Just a Minute in 2011.
Wakeman has been married four times. On 28 March 1970, Wakeman married Rosaline Woolford at twenty years of age, and had two sons, Oliver (b. 26 February 1972) and Adam (b. 11 March 1974). They were divorced in 1977, and he married studio secretary Danielle Corminboeuf in January 1980, in the West Indies, with whom he had one son, Benjamin (b. 1978). He had a daughter, Jemma Kiera (b. 1983), with former Page 3 model Nina Carter and the two married in 1984, followed by the birth of their son, Oscar (b. 1986). He had a renewal of his Christian faith, which began around the time of his marriage to Carter. They were divorced in December 2004. He had a daughter Manda (b. 9 May 1986), with his long-time friend, designer and seamstress Denise Gandrup, whom he first met in 1972. She designed many of Wakeman's stage outfits, including his famous capes. In 2011, Wakeman married Rachel Kaufman.
In his twenties, Wakeman suffered three heart attacks. The first occurred after a performance of Journey to the Centre of the Earth at Crystal Palace Park on 27 July 1974. In 1980, he was mis-diagnosed as having rheumatoid arthritis in his hands. He only found out in 2008 that the pain he was suffering was just due to overwork after a period of lack of keyboard practice.
A former smoker and self-confessed alcoholic, Wakeman quit smoking in 1979 and has been teetotal since 1985.
Wakeman has supported Brentford F.C. since he was a child and went on to become a director of the club. After a disagreement with the board, he moved on to Manchester City F.C. but maintained his allegiance to Brentford. He was involved in the ownership of the American soccer team Philadelphia Fury from 1978 to 1980, along with Peter Frampton and Paul Simon.
A Freemason, he is a member of Chelsea Lodge No. 3098, the membership of which is made up of entertainers. In 2009, Wakeman became a Patron of Tech Music Schools. As of 2014, he is the King Rat of the showbusiness charity the Grand Order of Water Rats. In 2014, he appeared in The Life of Rock with Brian Pern as himself.
- Wakeman, Rick (1995). Say Yes! An Autobiography. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-62151-6.
- Wakeman, Rick (2008). Grumpy Old Rockstar: and Other Wondrous Stories. Preface Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84809-004-0.
- Wakeman, Rick (2010). Further Adventures of a Grumpy Old Rockstar. Arrow. ISBN 978-1-84809-176-4.
- Wooding, Dan (1979). Rick Wakeman: The Caped Crusader. Granada Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-0-586-04853-5.
- Wakeman, Rick (1995). Say Yes! An Autobiography. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-62151-6.
- Welch, Chris (2008). Close to the Edge - The Story of Yes. Music Sales. ISBN 978-1-84772-132-7.
- Rick Wakeman's Communication Centre
- Rick Wakeman's Official Press Photos
- Rick Wakeman at the Internet Movie Database
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