Interview: Rick Wakeman encourages listeners to create art with his music ahead of solo Clearwater gig

Mr. 'Cans and Brahms' plays the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre on Saturday.

click to enlarge Rick Wakeman plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on March 8, 2022. - Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Photo by Caesar Carbajal
Rick Wakeman plays Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on March 8, 2022.
Rick Wakeman hasn’t played on a Yes album since 1997’s Keys to Ascension 2, but he has kept plenty busy in the years to follow, having performed with orchestras, fellow ex-Yes members Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin, and completely solo.

The 73-year-old Moog legend’s latest work, A Gallery of the Imagination, is a concept album with the English Rock Ensemble—Lee Pomeroy, Dave Colquhoun, and Ash Soan, with vocals from Hayley Sanderson—that reveals one of the musical tactics that has kept the wizard going all these years: Mentally painting pictures.

“I see pictures with everything that I do, certainly when I’m playing,” Wakeman told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay during a recent phone call. It started as a piece of advice he was given as a child by a music teacher. It’s an idea he’s been using going back to the Close To the Edge days of Yes, and he can even recall what he saw in some of his early masterpieces.
Wakeman composed most of his The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table album while in the hospital, recovering from a heart attack. But when he performed the whole album at the O2 Arena with the Orion Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir in 2016, repressed hospital memories came to mind during album closer “The Last Battle.”

“I would expect to see all the knights fighting outside Camelot with King Arthur himself and Lancelot. I expected it to be a battlefield by the castle in Camelot,” Wakeman began. As it turned out, that’s not at all what came to mind. “The visual that came into my head was me lying in a hospital bed, and it occurred to me afterwards that perhaps because I was going through a battle of my own, trying to recover from the heart attack maybe that piece of music had as much to do with me as it did with King Arthur.”

And on “Brother of Mine,” from Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe’s 1989 eponymous record, it was more about people coming together. “When we first played it live on stage, I remember closing my eyes, and it was all of the musicians who were onstage,” he recalled. “It was like a strange family get-together, if I remember correctly, in a field.”

And that was before Wakeman rejoined Yes for the Union era, so who knows if that portrait had anything to do with him coming back into the fold?
It’s poignant moments like that which inspired Wakeman to encourage listeners to do the same thing with A Gallery of the Imagination. “People don’t have to, but I absolutely encourage people to close their eyes, and have their own memories to this music. Have your own thoughts about the subject matter, because every subject matter is so wide,” he explained. And for the listeners that do, Wakeman has his heart set on renting out a few places in the U.K. next year, and using them as literal galleries to display fan art—from sculptures to paintings—inspired by the album. Talk about promotion.

Another album he was involved with recently—but didn’t make the cut on—was his old buddy Jon Anderson’s 1000 Hands: Chapter One. Though Wakeman swears that he did a piano piece for the record, he’s the only member of Yes’ classic lineup that does not appear on the album. “Maybe he forgot,” he admitted after looking over the album for a few minutes. But with Chapter Two being worked on now—according to Jon anyway—maybe he’ll get his chance on that.

In the meantime, Wakeman’s one-man show returns to downtown Clearwater this weekend, and his die-hards know that the music—currently not consisting of new material—will not be the main highlight.

Die-hards know that another huge aspect of his live shows is the comedy in between songs, relating to candied apple Halloween costumes, and Wakemanified acronyms (like “SJF,” which means “sorry, just farted.”) “I do take my music seriously, and sometimes, when concerts can be quite full-on listening, it's nice to have comedy as a thing in between,” he explained. “It just lightens everything.”

Wakeman doesn’t have a specific comedic influence, but he does enjoy Ricky Gervais’ material. “I love the fact that he could look at life, and see both the funny side and the pathos,” he added.

And hey, if you end up envisioning Wakeman getting that prostate exam he was talking about while listening to him perform “Sea Horses” on Saturday night, to each their own.

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.
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