Return to the Centre of the Earth

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Return to the Centre of the Earth
Studio album by
Released15 March 1999
RecordedMarch–December 1998
StudioPOP Sound
(Santa Monica, California)
CTS Studios
(Wembley, London)
The Jacaranda Room
(Hollywood, California)
A&M Studios
(Hollywood, California)
Bajonor Studios
(Isle of Man)
The Dog House Studio
(Henley-on-Thames, England)
GenreProgressive rock
LabelEMI Classics
ProducerRick Wakeman
Rick Wakeman chronology
Return to the Centre of the Earth
The Natural World Trilogy

Return to the Centre of the Earth is a studio album by English keyboardist Rick Wakeman. It was released on 15 March 1999 on EMI Classics and is the sequel to his 1974 concept album Journey to the Centre of the Earth, itself based on the same-titled science fiction novel by Jules Verne. Ideas for a sequel developed in 1991 with initial plans for a 1994 release, the twentieth anniversary of the original. After Wakeman produced a demo tape of songs, he caught the interest of EMI Classics who signed him to a recording deal and supplied an advance to record it. Wakeman wrote a new story that details three unnamed travellers who attempt to follow the original journey 200 years later, and is narrated by actor Patrick Stewart. The album features guest performances by Ozzy Osbourne, Bonnie Tyler, Tony Mitchell, Trevor Rabin, Justin Hayward, and Katrina Leskanich. In 1998, production halted after Wakeman was hospitalised with a life threatening case of pneumonia and pleurisy.

The album went to No. 34 on the UK Albums Chart and promoted with a launch party and select material performed live on Wakeman's solo tours. The album did not chart in the US, and it failed to make a commercial impact there. Wakeman performed the album in its entirety with his rock band, orchestra, and choir, in June 2001 and July 2006, both times in Canada. A deluxe box set with live and previously unreleased audio and video material was released in 2021.


In 1974, Wakeman released his second solo album Journey to the Centre of the Earth, a concept album based on the same-titled science fiction novel by Jules Verne. It tells the story of Professor Lidenbrook, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans who follow a passage to the Earth's centre originally discovered by Arne Saknussemm, an Icelandic alchemist. The idea to produce a sequel album first came to Wakeman in 1991 during a solo tour of Italy, when a journalist suggested to record a new and extended version of Journey with new technology. Several weeks later, during the Union Tour with Yes, Wakeman set up the tentative plan of re-recording the album live in concert with added music in time for its twentieth anniversary in 1994.[1] During the tour's stop in New York City, Wakeman visited the office of Arista Records and spoke about the idea to an acquaintance, but it was turned down. Wakeman recalled, "He said ... you recorded and wrote [Journey] with what you knew existed with instruments and recording techniques, so you pushed as far you could go. Now if you do it again, is different because you would not be pushing anything".[1] Wakeman was advised to put the idea on hold and think about a new "epic" album with a new story and music, of which he'll "know when the right time is".[1]

After the meeting at Arista, Wakeman went on to pursue other projects and forgot about the idea until it was revisited in 1996, when he received telephone calls from four record companies within a period of two months, willing to fund and release a new "epic" album from him. "By the time of the first call I thought: 'Perhaps this is what my friend [at Arista] meant, because it appears to be a good time'".[1] After working about a possible budget for a new album, one of the record companies dropped out but interest from the remaining three had remained. Wakeman began the search for its story which started with Verne's other famous novel Around the World in Eighty Days, and proceeded to write music for it. He scrapped the idea soon after, partly due to Richard Branson's world record attempts to circumnavigate the Earth by hot air balloon and thinking people will relate his music to the event.[1] Soon after, Wakeman came across a newspaper article by Steven Spielberg, "who was talking about have sequels for making films, how you have a story and you spin up from the story for a whole new story, but you have a relationship, which is very comfortable for the people who listen a whole new story, new characters, but there's still a relationship."[1] This prompted the thought in Wakeman's mind, after revisiting the original book of Journey, a new story, set two hundred years later, around three travellers who followed the original route but descend from a different entrance so they could experience a new journey.[2] Wakeman purposefully unassigned names or genders for the travellers, "because they could be the person listening".[1]

Wakeman's new idea was well received by the three record companies, and he was asked to produce a demo tape of some songs, narration, and orchestral parts. However, a problem arose when Wakeman was asked about his backing band as he wished for them and the orchestra not to be restricted to one style, and in his mind saw each group perform a variety of styles, playing "rock things, heavy metal ... I want the band playing a classical thing".[1] Despite being told to continue with the demo regardless, Wakeman expressed some concern about whether his idea was understood properly by the labels; his two eldest sons, Oliver and Adam Wakeman, advised him not to do the album if it could not be produced to his liking.[1] Wakeman came close to shelving the entire project until Nic Caciappo, an editor of the Yes information service and magazine in California, told his friend Dwight Dereiter of EMI-Capitol at a dinner about Wakeman's problem. A synopsis of the album was sent to Dereiter, who liked it and forwarded it to the European office of EMI Classics, the label's classical music division, as he thought they would understand it better.[1] With further assistance from Frank Rodgers of the music publisher The Product Exchange who soon took over as management for the project, the idea arrived at label president Richard Lyttelton, who invited Wakeman to lunch to discuss the album further in February 1998. Lyttleton supported Wakeman's idea and offered a recording contract, agreeing to put a further £100,000 into the budget and release the album, which Wakeman accepted.[1][3]


Recording began in March 1998 and took place in six different locations, including Wakeman's home studio named Bajonor on the Isle of Man.[2] In its original form the album had a running time of 126 minutes, leaving Wakeman having to cut it down to under 80 minutes in order to fit it on a single compact disc. The result, Wakeman said, resulted in a more "direct" album.[4] He purposefully kept the music a secret from his family, which Oliver thought was strange as he usually plays his work to them. Adam assisted in the choir arrangements.[4]

Lyttelton wanted Wakeman to record the album with a group of musicians that he had never worked with before in order to push Wakeman and the album to "new limits". The idea was strange to Wakeman at first as he already had his rock band the English Rock Ensemble, but said Lyttelton was "100% right" in his suggestion when the album was finished.[4] To perform his music, Wakeman recruited guitarist Fraser Thorneycroft-Smith, bassist Phil Williams, and drummer Simon Hanson.[2] Lyttelton gave Wakeman the freedom of choosing the singers for the album, suggesting to use "the right singer for the right song".[4] Wakeman chose singers of a variety of backgrounds and styles to perform guest lead vocals on six tracks; "Buried Alive" is sung by Ozzy Osbourne, "Is Anybody There?" by Bonnie Tyler, "Mr. Slow" by Tony Mitchell, "Never is a Long, Long Time" by Trevor Rabin, "Still Waters Run Deep" by Justin Hayward, and "Ride of Your Life" by Katrina Leskanich.[2]

A narrator was not decided upon until shortly before Wakeman signed his contract with EMI when Gilbert Heatherwick, the head of EMI in the United States, asked who would take the role and suggested English actor Patrick Stewart. Wakeman was aware of the higher cost of booking Stewart, but Lyttelton liked the suggestion and agreed. Stewart's parts were recorded in August 1998 at POP Sound Studios in Santa Monica, California at a session that was originally booked for two hours. However, Stewart enjoyed the experience so much he allowed the session to continue for the entire day at no extra cost, cancelling the other arrangements he had scheduled.[4]

Recording was disrupted midway through the recording process by Wakeman's failing health. For three months, he worked 22-hour days on the album which took a toll on him mentally and physically.[5] In August 1998, shortly after his arrival from recording Stewart's narration tracks in Los Angeles, Wakeman was hospitalised after he collapsed on a golf course with a life threatening case of double pneumonia and pleurisy, and showed signs of Legionnaire's disease. At one point, his doctors gave him just 48 hours to live.[5] Wakeman's illness led to the initial dates for recording the orchestra to be cancelled and rearranged for December 1998.[4]

For the orchestra, Wakeman originally suggested to use a symphony orchestra and choir from Belgrade with an unknown narrator in order to keep the album's budget at a minimum, but Lyttelton felt happy to use a more well known one and was later glad he "resisted the temptation" to go with Wakeman's idea as he wanted to make the album "to the fullest". The two agreed to use the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir that alone added £122,000 to the budget.[4] When it came to recording their parts at Studio 1 at CTS Studios in Wembley, London, Wakeman recalled the experience as the most nerve-racking experience of his music career. Shortly before the orchestra played, he recalled: "I will hear for the very first time whether at all the arrangements I have done will work, will sound perfect or whether it'll sound terrible, as if the LSO was a third rate brass band. I asked myself what these EMI directors would've done if it had sounded terrible. ... Those final twenty seconds have been the most silent twenty seconds of my life. As if in slow motion I saw the baton going up and even when I only heard a rough mix in the control room it was as if thick clouds were making way for the sun to emerge. That moment all stress left my body as I turned around and only saw laughing faces. If I still had doubts, they all left that same instance."[4]

When recording for the album was finished in December 1998, almost 300 people were involved with the making of the album,[2] which cost £2 million to produce, a considerable amount of money in comparison to Wakeman's earlier albums which were produced on much lower budgets.[4][6] Wakeman heard the album in its entirety for the first time on 17 December 1998, and received a CD of it in mid-January 1999.[4]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Birmingham Evening Mail(mixed)[8]
The Boston Herald[9]

On 9 February 1999, the album received a 300-guest launch party arranged by EMI at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London.[4] The album's release followed on 15 March.[11][12] A promotional "radio edit" of the album was made with the songs edited to around four minutes, and distributed to radio stations to allow the album to gain airplay.[4] It reached a peak of number 34 on the UK Albums Chart during its three-week stay on the chart. EMI set a goal of selling 300,000 copies of the album worldwide, but sales had only reached 195,000 copies two years after its release. Targets were met in each territory except the United States, where just 25,000 copies were sold which Wakeman felt disappointed about.[13]

The album received mixed reviews from music critics. The Birmingham Evening Mail wrote the album is "twice as long and equally as ambitious" as the original and rates Stewart's "precise narration". The orchestra and choir "enter into the spirit of things with gusto", but the review concluded with "expect a punk rock backlash in the year 2001".[8] A review in The Boston Herald by Kevin R. Convey gave the album 1-and-a-half stars out of five, saying Wakeman "hasn't lost his touch" and that the sequel "is every bit as pompous and bombastic as the original", which contained a "thoroughly silly script" for its narration and "risible" lyrics. Convey concluded: "Those who love Journey probably will enjoy this as well. Others may want to find more creative ways to give themselves a headache".[9] In October 1999, a review from Shawn Perry for praised Stewart's performance for his "infectious precision" in his narration and the album's opening of "lush orchestrations, slyly garnishing Stewert's poignant articulations throughout". Perry thought Wakeman's keyboards sound "seemingly shrouded ... certainly not as distinctive as Wakeman's sound can be", but welcomed "Buried Alive" as the point when the album "sonically surges forward" and for Osbourne's vocals and Wakeman's solo. From then on, Perry thought the album takes an "ethereal tone ... with no real central theme to convey" but considered Tyler's and Hayward's songs as highlights. Perry concluded that the album acts as a "self-fulfilling aspiration" for Wakeman, and thought the audience lack the patience to sit through the album.[7]

Live performances[edit]

Initially, Wakeman wanted to perform the album on the Spanish island of Tenerife, as close to Mount Teide as possible, with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, but the difficulties in performing around such an ecological area led to the idea being scrapped.[1] Material from Return to the Centre of the Earth was performed live for the first time as part of Wakeman's 25-date Half a Century Tour, playing a selection of material across his career in churches and cathedrals across the United Kingdom from May 1999.[14] A tour of the album, complete with a stage set designed by Dean, was shelved.[4]

Wakeman has performed the album live in its entirety twice, both times in Québec, Canada. The premiere took place on 30 June 2001 in Trois-Rivières with Wakeman's band the English Rock Ensemble, then formed of his son Adam Wakeman on keyboards, guitarist Ant Glynne, bassist Lee Pomeroy, and drummer Tony Fernandez. Vocals were performed in English by Luck Mervil and Fabiola Toupin. The second performance followed on 15 July 2006 on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec City as part of the annual Quebec City Summer Festival. Wakeman was accompanied by a 45-piece orchestra conducted by Gilles Bellemare, the 20-piece Vocalys Ensemble Choir, the English Rock Ensemble, and guest vocals by Jon Anderson, Annie Villeneuve, and Vincent Marois, with narration from Guy Nadon. The concert was accompanied by giant screens and a light and firework display. Wakeman has stated that this show was the highlight of his career.[citation needed]

Track listing[edit]

All music, narration, and lyrics written and produced by Rick Wakeman; all odd-numbered tracks narrated by Patrick Stewart.[2]

No.TitleFeatured artistLength
1."A Vision" 2:34
2."The Return Overture" 2:39
3."Mother Earth"
  • a. "The Shadow of June"
  • b. "The Gallery"
  • c. "The Avenue of Prismed Light"
  • d. "The Earthquake"
4."Buried Alive"Ozzy Osbourne6:01
5."The Enigma" 1:18
6."Is Anybody There?"Bonnie Tyler6:35
7."The Ravine" 0:49
8."The Dance of a Thousand Lights" 5:41
9."The Shepherd" 2:01
10."Mr. Slow"Tony Mitchell3:47
11."Bridge of Time" 1:12
12."Never is a Long, Long Time"Trevor Rabin5:19
13."Tales from the Lindenbrook Sea"
  • a. "River of Hope"
  • b. "Hunter and Hunted"
  • c. "Fight for Life"
  •  2:57
    14."The Kill" 5:23
    15."Timeless History" 1:10
    16."Still Waters Run Deep"Justin Hayward5:21
    17."Time Within Time"
  • a. "The Ebbing Tide"
  • b. "The Electric Storm"
  •  2:39
    18."Ride of Your Life"Katrina Leskanich6:01
  • a. "Globes of Fire"
  • b. "Cascades of Fear"
  •  1:59
    20."Floodflames" 2:00
    21."The Volcano"
  • a. "Tongues of Fire"
  • b. "The Blue Mountains"
  •  2:10
    22."The End of the Return" 5:23
    Total length:76:51


    Credits are adapted from the album's CD liner notes.[2]

    Additional personnel
    • Rick Wakeman – production
    • Roger Dean – cover, booklet artwork, painting, drawings, lettering
    • Martyn Dean – booklet design
    • Simon Fowler – photography
    • Frank Rodgers – executive producer
    • Carolyne Rodgers – project co-ordination
    • Candy Atcheson – project co-ordination


    1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Rick Wakeman – Interview – Madrid, 21th [sic] April 1999". 21 April 1999. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
    2. ^ a b c d e f g Wakeman, Rick (1999). Return to the Centre of the Earth (Media notes). EMI Classics. 724355676320.
    3. ^ Pertout, Andrian (5 February 2003). "Rick Wakeman: Return to the Centre of the Earth – Part II". Mixdown Monthly, Beat Magazine. No. 106. Retrieved 30 January 2017.
    4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bollenberg, John (22 January 2000). "The Return of Rick Wakeman!". Retrieved 6 February 2017.
    5. ^ a b Popoff 2016, p. 141.
    6. ^ Return to the Centre of the Earth press release (1 October 1998).
    7. ^ a b Perry, Shawn (October 1999). "Rick Wakeman – Return to the Centre of the Earth". Vintage Rock ( Retrieved 30 January 2017.
    8. ^ a b "Single of the Week". Birmingham Evening Mail. 16 March 1999. Retrieved 30 January 2017 – via Highbeam Research.[dead link]
    9. ^ a b Convey, Kevin R. (13 June 1999). "Band hopes 'Astro' will also be a Smash; SMASHMOUTH Astro Lounge (Interscope) 3 1/2 stars". The Boston Herald. Archived from the original on 20 November 2018. Retrieved 30 January 2017 – via Highbeam Research.
    10. ^ Degagne, Mike. Return to the Centre of the Earth review Retrieved on 2009-10-03.
    11. ^ "Rock; BARENAKED Ambition". Coventry Evening Telegraph. 19 February 1999. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017 – via Highbeam Research.
    12. ^ Smith, Aidan (5 March 1999). "The fall guy and the Yes man". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017 – via Highbeam Research.
    13. ^ Popoff 2016, p. 140.
    14. ^ Batters, Paula (2 June 1999). "'Prog rocker' tours houses of the holy". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2017 – via Highbeam Research.