6 Questions with Rick Wakeman

Martin Hudson asks
Rick Wakeman
6 Questions

To use Rick’s own words, “I’m a pensioner now.” So with the Covid 19 crisis still upon us these are scary days for him and for all the older folks among us, me included. With wife Rachel having her own health issues it became a double problem where both were enforced to remain at home until recently. Fortunately Rick has had plenty to keep himself and his wife occupied with a new album, The Red Planet, on the way and a vegetable garden that has its own demands. On top of that they are moving house, a stressful period in itself. Of course Rick needs nil introduction due to his meteoric career and especially to Classic Rock Society people as he was not only our Honorary President for many years but he performed for us several times with the English Rock Ensemble too in downtown Rotherham. Rick is now a patron of the this very website and a new album had to include an interview in this new 6 Questions section!

Two Grumpy Men

So first question to Rick was several fold and I asked how he and Rachel were coping with life in general?

Well Rachel is coping with the situation as I am. We are now able to go down to the house and stay the day down there. We can’t move furniture because the builders have just gone back in, so this pandemic came at completely the wrong time, not that there is a right time. We were just getting all the tour set up, all the concerts set up, TV set up plus the move and it was looking like a great year. We are luckier than most and have a lovely garden but it’s still a bloody nightmare.

It’s all proportionate because everybody’s having a shit time. The kids have a shout at me to make sure I’m behaving and we have stuck to the rules. We have food delivered but we are lucky we have an amazing veg garden and are very much ‘the good life’. It’s people in high rise flats I feel sorry for. So things have changed 100%. Before the lock down hit, I lie to you not, there was not one free day in my diary till December 23rd.

People were then saying things are rescheduled but I told them it’s not because we were going to be working next year anyway. This year is cancelled, it’s gone. We lost two American piano tours, I lost the prog rock concerts, I lost a prog concert in Brazil, I lost a Journey to the Centre of the Earth in Greece, three prog shows in Switzerland, two in Italy. Basically it was just one after the other and understandably so. The diary went from no free days to, ah …. empty.

We had luckily just finished The Red Planet when it all kicked in. We were going to have a nice launch and still will at the Space Centre in Leicester. Of course that went out the window although we have rescheduled and will do a small one. There’s the Christmas tour, which is on sale, and we will still do the shows. Oscar Wilde said something like, ‘If you talk and live in the past you won’t have a future’, something like that and it’s very true and that’s what we’re doing.

Sadly one of the theatres, the Southport Theatre, has gone under and it won’t be the last. I feel for the council run theatres because I think a lot of councils were using it as an excuse to close them down and turn them in to flats or car parks.
I’m still getting up early, half past five this morning. Usually I come in to the office and send Wayne things for the website and then have on about 150 emails to plough through. At the moment I’m averaging 12.

I think what’s interesting is a lot of people are just living in the present and I think it’s a mistake, I think you’ve got to live in the future. You’ve got to go, okay we’ll put this together for November or December and if something changes you reassess it. If you’re going to wait until it sorts itself out it’s too late. It is a pain trying to get anything done. I’ve got other things I’d love to be recording with Erik (Jordan) and we can’t, it’s as simple as that. We are lucky we are in an area with low infection.

I feel sorry for Rachel’s mum, she’s 83, lives on her own, can’t have anyone to come and see her and now has more conversations with the cat than anybody else. At least we are allowed to go in her garden. You know I’m an old age pensioner but those older don’t get the social distancing thing at all. My daughter Jemma, who you know, has just had another baby boy and he’ll be at school by the time we get to see him. There’s twelve grandkids all together now. I did say to Jemma that although her husband wasn’t allowed to the birth and it’s upsetting just think of the great stories you’ll be able to tell him like you were born in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic. Kids born this year will certainly have something to remember as ‘corona babies’.

And so on to the main topic of conversation, the new album, The Red Planet! Over to Rick to explain where the seed was sown and his intrigue with Mars and space.

The whole red planet and Mars thing goes back years, right back to the time and before the David Bowie days and Life on Mars. For many years people thought there was actually life on Mars and there’s been a few fallacies after 55 or 56 missions to mars. Some have failed, some have landed rovers on there that have never worked and some have done unbelievably.

The Americans are keeping very quiet because the Russians got there first but when they discovered, some years ago now, that there was actually water there that really changed the whole perspective of everything. It is an interesting planet especially now they can look at Mars in greater detail, not just fuzzy little photos. It’s always intrigued me because it has proper north and south poles and one of the things as a rock’n’roller I think is great is it rains. It rains dry ice which I think is fantastic. I love all that kind of thing.

I was talking some time ago to my great friend Gary Israelian who runs the Starmus Festival. This was started by Gary, Brian May and Stephen Hawking and they’re astro physicists. Gary is the guy who discovered black holes and is a true rocket scientist. I got introduced to them by Brian May and played at two of the festivals, one in Tenerife and last year in Zurich which was fantastic being the fiftieth anniversary of landing on the Moon. All the surviving men that had walked on the Moon were there which was phenomenal. I did the festival with Hans Zimmer, Steve Vai, Brian May, an amazing line up.

I’ve had lots of conversations about Mars with Gary and of course next year is the fiftieth anniversary of them landing a rover on Mars. So next year they are devoting the next Starmus festival in Armenia to Mars. So they want me to perform the whole of The Red Planet at the festival and I’ve already lined the band up to do that.

So a few years ago while in America doing the Piano Tour I’d been writing some very proggy music. I’d already given it the working title of The Red Planet because I wanted to write about the many fascinating areas, about twenty four or twenty five areas, but couldn’t see how it was going to work or how it was going to happen till then when Rob Ayling, whom you well know and does the merchandise for me, went and had a coffee. We got to England and were in Lytham St. Annes of all places and Rob asked if he could throw something at me. So I told him to fire away and he told me that he gets literally hundreds of people at the merch desk not just to buy stuff but to say how they feel about things. So I laughed and told him to carry on and he said there’s things about Yes etc. but the most asked thing was when am I going to an instrumental prog album?

So I said, it’s interesting you should say that because I’ve been putting stuff together based on Mars and he said that I really should do it. Well I told that him I did have some good stuff, not just padding out stuff, but stuff that I was really happy with. In fact some of the stuff Jon (Anderson) and Trev (Rabin) and myself thought about turning in to ARW stuff and I told Rob I was glad that never happened. Then it was a matter of the band really and Dave Colquhoun thought it a no-brainer and I’m always very loyal to the musicians that work with me and so if someone leaves the person that comes in they’ve got the job.

Matt Pegg was unavailable because we was working with Procul and I’d already forewarned Lee Pomeroy that might be the case and he jumped at it. He is the perfect man for the job. Obviously Tony (Fernandes) has been with me for years but as you know he lives in Portugal so I spoke to him and explained that I couldn’t bring him over because of the costs. So I told him I was getting his famous deputy Ash Soan and he lives in Norfolk and he was up for it.

So those three were people that understood the music and I used the old David Bowie line. When I asked him how he wanted me to play for him on Life on Mars he said, “you know how I want you to play, always pick on musicians that know what you want.” Not only did they do what I wanted them to do but they also did a few things that I didn’t expect that put a smile on my face.

They’ve thrown their heart and soul in to it and really enjoyed it. I wanted mood changes and melodies apart from the solos and the fun, I wanted melodies back. I looked back on earlier albums and sounds on No Earthly Connection for example and of course the dear old mini moog comes in all over the place. We looked back at earlier albums including Six Wives and heard things that I really liked and they didn’t have a date stamp on them and so pulled all those bits and pieces together.

I also had the great advantage of having Erik there, he was great. He is honest and if I said for instance, I really liked that he’d say sarcastically, “Are ya?” Then I say go on Erik what’s wrong and he’d tell me he thought I could do it better. So just to keep him happy I’d do it again and tell him he was right! So I’m thrilled with it and we’ve got a worldwide distribution deal.

So plenty material to pick from when it comes to track titles. With it being instrumental progressive rock I asked Rick was it title to tune or tune to title? I also asked about the amazing cover artwork too?

I had titles from the start. I’ve got books on Mars because there’s also so much on the internet. Mars is famous mainly for its volcanoes and they’re not small. We are talking volcanoes ten times the size of anything we know in this world and incredible landscapes that come with it. Places like I’ve mentioned like the poles that have water underneath them, they have all these kind of things that I find very inspiring that I could think about while writing and playing.

So there’s Valle Marineris which is a big valley that runs along the Martian surface, an area that is full of different volcanoes and mountains where the term ‘mons’ is used. There’s so many things to do with volcanoes and mountains because when you look at the pictures of them they are just so inspiring to write about. So I had loads of areas of potential to go to and I could have picked any one of them really. I had all the titles and pictures which I had printed and then when I was sitting at the piano looking at a title something would start to come to me, then it stuck.

All of the pieces for the first time ever had working titles that became the real titles and that’s quite unusual. The cover was something we had a lot of fun with. Because of the vinyl, not my idea it was Rob Ayling’s idea, you have something like the old pop up books which is real great fun. It’s certainly a project that Rob and I decided we wanted to have fun with.

I love playing the piano albums and I was lucky because after my last divorce I didn’t have a piano (he laughs) but I did have my dad’s upright piano. I didn’t have what I call a really nice piano but now I have three pianos in the house and I go from room to room to play piano which is brilliant. To put those albums together is a whole different thought process and you do have to be, to some extent, more serious because the sound is the sound and the way I play the piano is the way I play the piano.

There is a formula which is great but I felt if I was to do any more it would have been forcing the issue and I’d need a long break before I do anymore again and I think in a strange way that is what has helped this album because it’s a long time since I’ve done a true prog album. Especially an instrumental album so there was a lot bubbling inside that I didn’t realise.

So next year should see a busy year of touring for Rick Wakeman but I could remember sitting with him many years ago stressing at a Classic Rock Society that touring would soon stop, but here we are all those years later talking in terms of a new tour with a brand new album!

Well yes but back then it was really, really tough. The audiences weren’t there. The big names were doing the arenas but everyone else was scrambling around to get someone to come along to see you. As you well know classic rock was a dirty name and that’s why you kicked off the Classic Rock Society. It was dying a death. There was a whole generation of kids and young people that had their own thing and didn’t want to know anything about classic rock or prog rock but that’s all changed now.

It’s quite astonishing and you played your part. I couldn’t make money and couldn’t keep doing it and along with my other hobby of getting divorced it just became impossible. Then it started to pick up and I think I was saved very much by being able to go to South America and out in to Europe and do concerts that paid their way. Then generations changed and people started to discover music and it’s not just because of their parents or brothers or sisters it became a whole new interest in music and history of music.

I think in the last few years as vinyl started to make a comeback the number of people discovering vinyl and the tactile feel of it helped. I know downloading has its place but with vinyl you could feel it and the actual hardware itself. You still can’t really beat putting vinyl on the turntable and putting the stylus on the record and that’s tactile. I won’t say which one it was but one of my younger siblings saw that I had a cassette on and asked, “what’s that?” They liked it and said, “I like it, I want one of them.” Next to my piano’s I have an old cassette recorder.

Onwards and would Rick ever retire? Yes he will …………. But no he won’t.

I had planned to when I got to this age but now I am going to start to wind down a bit because I have to be honest with you I do get tired. I hate to say it but I do have to pace myself. Like on the last tour when I’d been away seven or eight weeks. It was full of travelling every day and on the odd day that was free I got to the stage where the promoter would offer to take me out to dinner but I’d say, please don’t take this the wrong way but I’m going to politely decline because I’d like to get in the hotel and I’m going to bed! That would be about 8 o’clock sometimes but I would have to be up early next morning. I can’t do all that any more. I now realise that so what the plan now is that I won’t stop playing, that is for sure, but what I will do in probably 2023 is cutback a lot. I’d like to do a lot more writing and still do some shows, but if I’m going to do a series of shows say in the UK it would be no more than a dozen or one offs. Age does catch up with you and I hate it but it is a fact. Also one of the things I came to realise as we have gone through it as a family with Rachel and her illness and her dad passing, it sort of really hit home hard that I’ve got all these grand kids and I don’t get to see them. That’s why we’ve bought the new house so that we can see the kids and they can come over and stay, so I want to politely be able to say no. I’ve never been greedy for money, I learned that through marriages (he laughs). I’ve never been one that wants millions and millions in the bank but I’m at the stage where I am, shall we say, comfortable. Rach and I don’t jet set all around the world but we belong to the Royal Horticultural Society and National Trust and love going to places like that. So that’s how we want to be.
Rachel has been determined that I get fit and she’s been dragging me out on to the tennis court. I used to play a lot when I was young and I won a couple of London Schools Championships and was actually a really good tennis player but stopped mainly due to touring, drinking, smoking, women and all the other things that go with it. We’ve got a tennis court and been going out. Rach runs about because she’s a lot younger but I have actually broken in to the odd trot. It went from static, waddle to now I’m on gentle trot so I intend to build that up. It’s bloody good exercise. So retire, yes you are right I have said it all before but the other thing this pandemic has shown me is I couldn’t do that. Be more sensible, yes but not work? No!

I was not going to bore Rick with any questions about Yes but there is still the yes or no to Anderson Rabin & Wakeman? Is it dead or not?

I’m always very wary of saying not because the number of times I’ve been asked about Yes and I’ve said never, never, never and then (he laughs) something’s come up and who ever says well you said it wasn’t going to happen. Then they’ll say it’s a u-turn and it’s not, it’s a reassessment and so whilst at this present juncture it looks frozen but who knows. I saw Trev last year and he loves playing. At this present moment in time it looks unlikely but I won’t ever say never again because I’ve got in to trouble with that a few times before. There’s always a chance so I’ve learned not to say never Martin!

And in conclusion did Rick have a bucket list?

Well yes I have, I have got a bucket list and it’s a musical bucket list. For two years I’ve been working on a musical with Tim Rice but obviously he’s on lockdown in Cornwall and me in Suffolk but one day we will get right back to that. That’s been on the bucket list for ages and something I’ve always wanted to do. Also on the bucket list I want to do Journey in America and I’d love to do the Six Wives again with the big extravaganza. I do love doing them and it would be nice to do those in some of the other places. In America there’s a big demand for it but the cost is just phenomenal. When I did the Festival Hall on my birthday, the two days of Journey, both sold out and it was fantastic, I just broke even. The cost of putting these things on with orchestras, choirs, kitchen sink are phenomenal. I’d like to do one a year or something somewhere because they are such great fun.
There’s a few musicians I’d like to actually do something with if the opportunity ever arose. I was gutted that the album with Jon Lord never came to fruition and the plans that Keith (Emerson) and I had didn’t come to fruition. So you have to move forward and it didn’t happen. I would love to do something with Brian May one day.
Here I suggest they go up in Space X together!
Yes if the time is right it will happen (he laughs). Often or not things you plan don’t happen and the things you thought would never happen do happen. There are any countries that I haven’t been to that I’d desperately like to go to and play. I would never do a farewell tour. So many bands have done so many farewell tours and I’d never do that. I’d love to go back to Australia and that would be fun. I did do something one year that was great fun to do way back in the 90s I think and the agent I had at the time I asked for a tour that did not include any major cities or major towns. That’s how I discovered places like Oswaldtwistle but it was great and we couldn’t believe we were in these towns and they couldn’t believe we were there either. I’ve played about four hundred theatres in the UK but there are loads more.

Okay it was seven questions and the trick question was the last as Rick proved not only will he never retire but he is unlikely to slow down. Who knows? As ever it was great talking to Rick even though it had to be down a telephone line this time.


  1. Hello to you Martin,great that you are back in Our Prog Musical Genre again…I am so humble & greatful to the Crs,for the introduction to so many new bands over the last 20 years…Too many to mention.Also l remember those Hlc gigs,one in particular,where Damian Wilson went AWOL on Rick…Rick & the band played for over two hours without their lead singer 👨‍🎤.That proves what a wonderful musical genius RW is and still is..Plus the wonderful Classic Yes Music,that will live forever…Yes the next generations prove this to me…Not to mention Arw brilliant shows of late..
    Best wishes David Coyne of Newark,Notts,


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