Piano Portraits

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Piano Portraits
Studio album by
Released13 January 2017
RecordedJuly–August 2016
StudioThe Old Granary Studio, Norfolk, England
GenreClassical piano
LabelUniversal Music Group
ProducerRick Wakeman
Rick Wakeman chronology
The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
Piano Portraits
Piano Odyssey

Piano Portraits is a studio album by English keyboardist Rick Wakeman, released on 13 January 2017 on Universal Music Group. The album was made following the positive reception to Wakeman's live radio performance of his piano arrangement of "Life on Mars?" by David Bowie following the singer's death in January 2016, and a subsequent single of the track released in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support released in 2016. After Wakeman received offers from several music labels to produce an album of piano arrangements, he chose Universal and chose songs that were his favourites: songs he had played on as a session musician, as a member of Yes, classical music pieces, and one original composition.

Piano Portraits was first released on CD and as a digital download. A double vinyl followed on 3 February 2017. The album reached number 6 on the UK Albums Chart, becoming Wakeman's highest charting album in the UK since 1975. Wakeman supported the album with a tour of the UK from May to November 2017. In June 2017, Piano Portraits was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry for 60,000 copies sold. A follow-up album, Piano Odyssey, was released in October 2018.


In January 2016, Wakeman performed a piano arrangement of "Life on Mars?" by David Bowie that was broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 in the wake of the singer's death. Wakeman had played the piano on the original 1971 recording.[1] Several days after, a video of the performance received 2 million views online, which sparked the idea for Wakeman to produce a single including the song, a piano arrangement of Bowie's "Space Oddity", and "Always Together", an original piano composition by Wakeman. The single was released in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.[2]

The positive response to video and single led to Wakeman receiving offers from several recording labels who suggested to record a solo piano album of rearranged songs in the same style.[1] The idea appealed to Wakeman as the piano is his favourite instrument to work with. Among the offers received was one from Universal Music Group, which Wakeman chose as "they envisioned it exactly as I did — as a real mixture of music, not losing sight of what the original songs stood for but always working as piano pieces".[1] He then selected songs that he had played on throughout his career, as well as renditions of classical music pieces and one original composition.[3][4] Taking music from artists and "playing around" with the arrangements had always been something Wakeman had enjoyed doing since his college days.[3] The first list of tracks to record contained 24 songs, which was reduced to a final selection of 15. Among the scrapped tracks was a proposed suite for "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, but after three days working on it, Wakeman could not develop an arrangement that worked.[3]



Wakeman plays a Steinway Model D concert grand piano on the album.

The album was recorded in July and August 2016 at The Old Granary, a restored 18th century barn and recording studio in Norfolk,[5][6] with Erik Jordan as audio engineer.[7] Wakeman performed each track on a Steinway Model D concert grand piano.[7] Some of his rearrangements allowed for the addition of improvisation at some points, adding: "The way I do variations is instinctive, but I know what I'm going to do. If I played them all again for you now they would be probably 95% of what you hear".[3] He compared the idea of rearranging music to classical music composers whose variations on a theme or piece by another were instinctively how they felt the pieces should be.[3]


Wakeman's arrangement of "Help!" by The Beatles was inspired by the 1968 cover version by Deep Purple, and he performed his own version on stage through his career.[3] "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin is a track that Wakeman had always liked and enjoyed its melody, but had reservations about recording his arrangement for the album as he could "do it in one, or it's gonna fall apart". Wakeman played it through and felt happy enough to include the second take.[3] The idea to include "I'm Not in Love" by 10cc was not Wakeman's, rather "someone at Universal". He liked the band but not the song as much, and encountered problems when it came to writing a theme to its chorus or bridge as neither his assistants or himself had an idea that worked. "I started playing around with it ... doing as much with the tune as I think can be done. So I played it through, and Erik said "You're almost there". I said it's a bit short, but he said "No, it's over three minutes. It does stand up".[3] "Wonderous Stories" is a track Yes recorded for Going for the One (1977), which marked Wakeman's return to the band following his first departure. Wakeman decided to record a piano arrangement as it was one of the two tracks that were presented to him when he was asked to return to the group, which had "a great tune and some lovely lyrics" and represents happier times with the band.[3]


Piano Portraits was released on CD and digital download on 13 January 2017.[5] A double vinyl set followed on 3 February.[5]

Upon release, the album entered the UK Albums Chart at number 7, marking Wakeman's highest position on the chart since The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975) peaked at number 2.[8] In its second week, the album climbed one position to number 6.[8] Since the album's release, Wakeman said he is "genuinely thrilled with it".[3]

Wakeman supported the album with a 10-date tour of the United Kingdom named Piano Portraits in Concert, from 25 May to 6 July 2017.[9]

Track listing[edit]

1."Help!"John Lennon, Paul McCartney3:56
2."Stairway to Heaven"Robert Plant, Jimmy Page6:13
3."Life on Mars"David Bowie3:23
4."I'm Not in Love"Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman3:10
5."Wonderous Stories"Jon Anderson4:24
6."Berceuse"Gabriel Fauré4:28
7."Amazing Grace"Traditional3:56
8."Swan Lake"Peter Tchaikovsky4:29
9."Morning Has Broken"Traditional3:42
10."Summertime"George Gershwin4:07
11."Space Oddity"David Bowie4:47
12."Dance of the Damselflies"Rick Wakeman3:33
13."Clair de Lune"Claude Debussy3:06
14."I Vow to Thee, My Country"Gustav Holst2:57
15."Eleanor Rigby"John Lennon, Paul McCartney5:05
Total length:61:10


Credits are adapted from the CD liner notes.[7]


  • Erik Jordan – engineer
  • Ian Brown – project co-ordinator
  • Stylorouge – design
  • Rob O'Connor – photographer
  • Dick Beetham – mastering at 360 Mastering
  • Universal Music Group – release co-ordination, marketing


Chart (2017) Peak
Scottish Albums (OCC)[10] 6
UK Albums (OCC)[11] 6


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[12] Silver 60,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b c Sharp, Ken. "Rick Wakeman: On 'Piano Portraits,' David Bowie, Yes in the Rock Hall of Fame and More (Q&A)". Rock Cellar Magazine. Archived from the original on 22 January 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  2. ^ Crosthwaite, Edmund. "Rick Wakeman's David Bowie tribute tracks will raise cash for Macmillan Cancer Support". East Anglian Daily Times. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hogwood, Ben (24 January 2017). "Interview: Rick Wakeman". musicOMH. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  4. ^ Bonner, Michael (16 November 2016). "Rick Wakeman covers The Beatles, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin on new studio album". Uncut. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Rick Wakeman To Release New Studio Album". PRNewswire. 5 December 2016. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  6. ^ "Rick Wakeman: New 'Piano Portraits' Album Due 1/13; Stream His Cover of the Beatles' 'Help!'". Rock Cellar Magazine. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Rick Wakeman (2017). Piano Portraits (Media notes). Universal Music Group. B0026147-02.
  8. ^ a b "Official Charts - Rick Wakeman". Official Charts. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  9. ^ Munro, Scott (1 February 2017). "Rick Wakeman announces 10-date UK tour". TeamRock. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  10. ^ "Official Scottish Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  11. ^ "Official Albums Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  12. ^ "British album certifications – Rick Wakeman – Piano Portraits". British Phonographic Industry.

External links[edit]