Rick Wakeman

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Rick Wakeman
Wakeman playing keyboards
Wakeman performing in São Paulo, November 2012
Born Richard Christopher Wakeman
(1949-05-18) 18 May 1949 (age 66)
Perivale, London, England
  • Keyboardist
  • songwriter
  • television and radio presenter
  • author
  • actor
Years active 1969–present
Spouse(s) Rachel Kaufman (m. 2011)
Children Six, including Oliver Wakeman and Adam Wakeman
Musical career
Associated acts
Website www.rwcc.com

Richard Christopher "Rick" Wakeman (born 18 May 1949) is an English keyboardist, songwriter, television and radio presenter, author, and actor. He is best known for being in the progressive rock band Yes across five tenures between 1971 and 2004 and for his solo albums released in the 1970s.

Born and raised in west London, Wakeman intended on being a concert pianist but quit his studies at the Royal College of Music in 1969 to become a full time session musician. His early sessions included playing on "Space Oddity", among others, for David Bowie and songs by Junior's Eyes, T. Rex, Elton John, and Cat Stevens. Wakeman became a member of Strawbs in 1970 before joining Yes a year later, becoming part of the band's "classic" line-up and playing on some of their most successful and influential albums across two stints until 1980. Wakeman began a solo career during this time, in 1973; his most successful albums are his first three: The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He formed his rock band, The English Rock Ensemble, in 1974 which he continues to perform with.

Wakeman pursued solo projects throughout the 1980s that varied in levels of success; his most successful album was 1984, released in 1981, which was followed by his minor pop hit single, "Glory Boys", from Silent Nights, in 1985. He hosted the television show Gastank, and produced the first of many New-age and ambient albums. In 1988, he co-formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe which led to his third Yes stint until 1992. He returned twice more between 1995 and 2004, during which he completed several more solo projects and tours, including venturing into Christian music. Wakeman continues to perform concerts worldwide in various capacities.

Wakeman's discography includes over 90 solo albums[1] that range from several musical styles. He has made many television and radio appearances; in recent years he became known for his contributions to the BBC comedy series Grumpy Old Men and his radio show on Planet Rock that aired from 2005 to 2010. Wakeman has written three books; an autobiography and two memoirs.

Early life[edit]

Wakeman was born in the west London suburb of Perivale.[2] The only child of Cyril Frank Wakeman and Mildred Helen Wakeman,[2] the three lived in Wood End Gardens in nearby Northolt.[3] Cyril played the piano in a dance band while he was in the army[2] and worked at a building suppliers, joining as an office boy at fourteen to become one of its board of directors. Mildred worked at a removal firm.[4] In 1954, Wakeman began at Wood End Infants School in Greenford followed by Drayton Manor Park Grammar School in Hanwell in 1959.[5] When Wakeman turned seven, his father paid for weekly piano lessons with Dorothy Symes which lasted for eleven years. She recalled that Wakeman "passed everything with a distinction" and was an "enjoyable pupil to teach, full of fun and with a good sense of humour", but noted his lack of self-discipline when it came to practising.[6] Symes entered Wakeman in many music competitions around London[7] who went on to win many awards, certificates, and cups.[8] In his teenage years Wakeman attended church and learned the church organ, became a Sunday school teacher, and chose to be baptised at eighteen.[9][10]

Wakeman described himself at school as "a horror ... I worked hard in the first year, then eased up".[11] During his time at Drayton Manor school Wakeman played in his first band, the trad jazz outfit Brother Wakeman and the Clergymen.[12] He also formed Curdled Milk, a joke on "Strange Brew" by Cream, to play at the annual school dance. The band were unpaid after Wakeman lost control of his car and drove across the headmaster's rose garden at the front of the school, thereby forfeiting their performance fee to pay for the damage.[13] At fourteen Wakeman joined the Atlantic Blues, a local blues group that secured a year's residency at a mental health rehabilitation club in Neasden.[13] In 1966, he joined the Concordes, later known as the Concorde Quartet, playing dance and pop songs at local events with his cousin Alan on saxophone and clarinet.[8] Wakeman used the money earned from their gigs to buy a Pianet, his first electronic instrument.[8] In 1967, Wakeman began a tenure with the Ronnie Smith Band, a dance group based at the Top Rank ballroom in Watford. There he met singer Ashley Holt, who later sang on many of Wakeman's future albums and tours.

In 1968, Wakeman secured a place at the Royal College of Music in London, studying the piano, clarinet, orchestration, and modern music, with the intention of becoming a concert pianist.[14] To enter he needed to pass eight music exams to earn his A-levels, which required him, as his mother remembered, "to do two years' work in ten months".[11] Wakeman put in the effort following a ten shilling bet with his music teacher who believed he would not succeed,[11] and refusing his father's offer to work with him.[15] Wakeman joined the Royal College on a performers course before a change to the teachers course, but quickly found out that "everyone else there was at least as good as me; and a lot of them much better."[14] He adopted a more relaxed attitude to his studies, spending much of his time drinking in pubs and with the staff at the Musical Bargain Centre, a music shop in Ealing.[16] Wakeman's first booking as a session musician, and his first time in a recording studio, occurred when guitarist Chas Cronk entered the shop one morning in need of an organist and brass arranger for members of the Ike & Tina Turner band.[17] During the session Wakeman met producers Tony Visconti, Gus Dudgeon, and Denny Cordell,[18][19] who was impressed with his performance and offered him more session work for artists at Regal Zonophone Records, which Wakeman accepted[20] and began skipping college in favour of sessions.[14]


1969–71: Session work, Strawbs, and joining Yes[edit]

Wakeman left the Royal College of Music to become a full-time session musician, playing keyboards and arranging music around fifteen times a week.[10] His ability to produce what was needed in a short amount of time led to his nickname, One Take Wakeman.[21] Among his first sessions were playing on Battersea Power Station by Junior's Eyes and, in June 1969, the Mellotron on "Space Oddity" by David Bowie for a £9 fee after Dudgeon needed a player as neither knew much about the instrument.[22][23] Wakeman went on to play on several tracks for Bowie's second album, David Bowie, and organ and piano on American singer Tucker Zimmerman's only single, "Red Wind".[24][25] In 1970, Wakeman performed on Seasons by Magna Carta,[10] and records by Brotherhood of Man, Paper Bubble, Shawn Phillips, and White Plains. He soon became disillusioned with session work, "I was getting good bread, but I wasn't getting a chance to be part of the music".[10]

Wakeman's prominence rose during his tenure with the folk rock group Strawbs from 1969 to 1971. He first played the piano for them as a session on Dragonfly, the first album with Wakeman's name on its credits.[26] In March 1970, he joined the band as a full-time member and married his first wife, Rosaline Woolford, at the age of twenty.[3] The group then performed a series of dates in Paris for a rock and roll circus with various bands backing the circus acts. During one performance, Wakeman pushed Salvador Dali off the stage as he made a special guest appearance during his piano solo. He wrote, "I didn't know who he was. I thought, 'Silly old sod, coming on the stage waving his stick'."[27][28] Wakeman's first major show with the Strawbs followed on 11 July 1970 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London which was recorded for their live album, Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios. The set included an extended organ solo and Wakeman's piano piece titled "Temperament of Mind", which received a standing ovation.[29] The piece originated from improvisations when the band would lose power during a show, leaving Wakeman to fill time by playing the piano. Following the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, Wakeman appeared on the front page of Melody Maker for the first time; the paper named him "tomorrow's superstar."[30]

During the writing sessions for the next Strawbs album, Wakeman resumed session work to help pay for his new home in West Harrow.[31] He bought a Minimoog synthesizer at half price from actor Jack Wild, who thought that it was defective because it only played one note at a time.[32] Wakeman played the piano on "Morning Has Broken" by Cat Stevens for his 1971 album, Teaser and the Firecat. Wakeman was omitted from the credits and for many years, was never paid for it; Stevens later apologised and paid Wakeman for the error. Wakeman played further sessions in 1971, including "Get It On" by T. Rex, three tracks on Madman Across the Water by Elton John, and "Changes", "Oh! You Pretty Things", and "Life on Mars?" for Bowie's album Hunky Dory. Bowie invited Wakeman to his home and played the outline of the tracks for him to learn; Wakeman later called them "the finest selection of songs I have ever heard in one sitting in my entire life".[33] He also developed music for the 1972 film, Zee and Co.[34] In late 1971, an album compiled of pop tunes played by Wakeman on the piano was released as Piano Vibrations by Polydor Records. Wakeman did not receive any royalties from it; he was paid £36 for the four sessions it took to make.[35]

Wakeman's final album with Strawbs, From the Witchwood, was released in July 1971. It marked the growing differences between himself and the group; he made the better paid sessions a priority and made no substantial contributions to the writing of the music.[36] With his income from Strawbs failing to cover his mortgage and bills, Wakeman opted to leave. In July 1971, he was faced with "one of the most difficult decisions" of his career after Bowie chose him form his new backing band, The Spiders from Mars, with guitarist Mick Ronson. Later the same day, he received a call at two in the morning from bassist Chris Squire of the progressive rock group Yes, who explained that Yes needed a keyboardist as Tony Kaye was asked to leave, following his resistance to learn instruments other than the piano and organ.[37][38] Wakeman agreed to meet the band as they rehearsed for their fourth album, Fragile, in August 1971. During his first session, the basis of "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Roundabout" were put together.[39] Thinking that Yes presented more favourable opportunities for his career, Wakeman declined Bowie's offer and played his final gig with Strawbs for a BBC recording for John Peel's radio show. Wakeman then reappeared on the front cover of Melody Maker, his second in a year, regarding his move to Yes.[40] His earnings increased from £18 to £50 per week.[4]

1971–73: First Yes run and The Six Wives of Henry VIII[edit]

Yes made Fragile in five weeks to help finance a new set of keyboards for Wakeman. The album features five tracks written by each member of the group; Wakeman recorded "Cans and Brahms", an adaptation of the third movement of Symphony No. 4 in E minor by Johannes Brahms.[41] Wakeman later called it "dreadful" as contractual disputes between Atlantic Records, who signed Yes, and A&M Records, who he was with as a solo artist, prevented him from writing his own composition.[42] Wakeman claimed his contributions to the group written tracks were not credited, that management had agreed to "sort something out on the publishing side" but never took care of it. Wakeman "enjoyed the music too much" to cause a rift about the issue, but said it amounts to "a fair bit of money."[43] Fragile reached the top ten in the UK and the US; the Fragile Tour marked Wakeman's first visit to North America.[44] Its commercial success made Wakeman buy a new home in Gerrards Cross and start a collection of cars,[45] which he rented out through his new business, the Fragile Carriage Company.[46][47] In late 1971, Wakeman played two notable piano sessions, on "It Ain't Easy" on Bowie's album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and on Orange by Al Stewart.

In the 1972 Melody Maker readers' poll, Wakeman ranked second in the Top Keyboardist category behind Keith Emerson.[48] That year, Yes followed Fragile with Close to the Edge. The album became their best selling album since their formation and received critical acclaim. The title track features Wakeman playing the church organ at St Giles-without-Cripplegate in London and a Hammond organ solo. Wakeman receives a writing credit on the third track, "Siberian Khatru". Wakeman later picked the album as "without doubt one of the finest moments of Yes's career."[49] The Close to the Edge Tour marked the first time Wakeman wore a cape on stage. His first, made with sequins by Denise Gandrup in two weeks, cost US$300.[50] Wakeman is featured in the band's concert film, Yessongs, filmed in December 1972 at the Rainbow Theatre and not released until 1975. Also that month at the venue, Wakeman was a guest musician at The Who's orchestral performances of Tommy.

Wakeman began his solo career during his first run with Yes. His first album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, was recorded across 1972 with an advance of £4,000 from A&M. The album is instrumental with its concept based on Wakeman's interpretations of the musical characteristics of the six wives of Henry VIII. Several musicians from Strawbs and Yes play on the record. He used seven musicians from Yes and the Strawbs to play on the record that cost around £25,000 to make. On 16 January 1973, the album was previewed with Wakeman performing excerpts from the album on the BBC television show, The Old Grey Whistle Test.[51] Much of the television audience that night planned to watch Blue Movie, a controversial film by Andy Warhol, but it was temporarily banned for broadcast. Wakeman explained: "It seems most of them, rather than watch repeats, switched over to Whistle Test and saw my preview of Henry ... and suddenly it seemed as if the whole country had discovered my music ... it was a tremendous break."[52] Following its release in January 1973,[51] the album reached No. 7 in the UK and No. 30 in the US. Time named the record one of the best albums of the year.[53]

1973–74: Journey to the Centre of the Earth and departure from Yes[edit]

Wakeman's success with Yes continued to grow in 1973. Their first live album, Yessongs, was released in May and includes his solo, "Excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII". At the Melody Maker readers poll awards in September 1973, Wakeman came out first in the top keyboardist category.[48] Two months later, Yes released Tales from Topographic Oceans, an 80-minute concept album based on Anderson's interpretation of a footnote from Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda that described the four classes of Hindu scripture, collectively known as the shastras, across four side-long tracks. Wakeman disagreed with the musical direction the band took, feeling much of the album was too experimental that required further rehearsal, and spent most of his time in the bar at Morgan Studios and playing keyboards on "Sabbra Caddabra" on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath in the adjacent studio.[54] Yes toured the album for six months, playing Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans in their entirety. Wakeman's frustrations and boredom from playing Tales culminated in him eating a curry on stage during a show in Manchester.[55] Wakeman later explained his total dislike of the album is "not entirely true"; he recognises some "very, very nice musical moments" but "we had too much for a single album but not enough for a double, so we padded it out and the padding is awful".[56]

In January 1974, during a break in the Topographic Oceans tour, Wakeman recorded his new work, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, based on Jules Verne's same-titled science fiction novel. He came up with the idea in November 1971, but shelved the project until The Six Wives of Henry VIII was complete.[57] He told his idea to arranger Lou Reizner and conductor David Measham who agreed to take part, with Wil Malone and Danny Beckerman assisting in the orchestral arrangements.[58][59][60] As the cost of recording the album in a studio was too high, A&M Records agreed to recording it live in concert with an orchestra, choir, and a hand-picked rock band.[60] To help finance the project, Wakeman sold some of his cars and "mortgage[d himself] up to the hilt", all of which cost around £40,000.[61] Two concerts were held at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 18 January with the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir, actor David Hemmings as narrator, and a five-piece band formed of musicians that Wakeman played with in a west London pub: vocalists Ashley Holt and Gary Pickford-Hopkins, drummer Barney James, bassist Roger Newell, and guitarist Mike Egan.[58] Management at A&M wished for well known musicians, but Wakeman wanted the album to be known for its music, rather than the performers.[62] The label took a disliking to the album upon completion and refused to sell it,[63] though as Wakeman was under contract with its US division, a cassette was sent to co-founder Jerry Moss who subsequently ordered to release it.[64]

After touring with Yes, Wakeman retired to his country home in Devonshire. On 18 May, his twenty-fifth birthday, he confirmed his departure from Yes to his and their manager, Brian Lane. He declined to attend rehearsals for the next album, Relayer, stressing he could no longer contribute to the material the band were developing for it. Later that day, A&M called him with the news that Journey had entered the UK charts at No. 1, the label's first to do so. Wakeman called it "a day I will never forget for as long as I live".[64][65] Journey also reached No. 3 in the US, and earned Wakeman an Ivor Novello Award[66] and a Grammy Award nomination.[67] The album went on to sell 14 million copies worldwide.[68]

On 27 July 1974, Wakeman headlined the Crystal Palace Park Garden Party concert, performing selections from Six Wives and Journey in its entirety with an orchestra, choir, and his band.[69] By this time, Wakeman's health deteriorated; his excessive alcohol consumption, lack of sleep in the five days prior to the show, and a wrist injury following a fall led to a doctor treating him with morphine to help him through the gig. Soon after the show, he suffered a minor heart attack.[70] During his recovery at Wexham Park Hospital, he wrote "The Last Battle", the first song for his new concept album, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Despite being advised to reduce his workload and improve his health, Wakeman chose to continue with his career and to smoke and drink.[71] He began a 20-date North American tour in September 1974 with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of America, and his rock band. As per doctors orders, Wakeman was required to pass a heart monitor test before each performance.[72] Wakeman later revealed that the tour cost him £125,000.

1975–80: King Arthur, No Earthly Connection, and second Yes run[edit]

In January 1975, Wakeman finished recording King Arthur at Morgan Studios with the New World Orchestra, English Chamber Choir, and the Nottingham Festival Vocal Group.[73] Based on the stories about King Arthur and related figures, its release in April 1975 was a commercial success, reaching No. 2 in the UK and No. 21 in the US. It also earned Gold certifications in Brazil, Japan, and Australia.[74] The album was promoted with three sold out shows at Wembley Arena in May 1975 with Wakeman performing the album with an orchestra, choir, and his rock band to a total of 27,000 people. As the arena floor was already set up as an ice rink for a different attraction, Wakeman chose to present the show as an ice pageant with fourteen ice skaters and the musicians' stage placed in the round and decorated as a castle. The shows, though well received and contributed to the album's commercial success, were expensive to produce.[32][75] In 2009, the concerts came in at No. 79 on the 100 Greatest Shocking Moments in Rock and Roll program broadcast on VH1.[76] The album has sold an estimated 12 million copies worldwide.[77]

Wakeman toured King Arthur with an augmented formation of the English Rock Ensemble for three months from October 1975, across North and South America.[14] The tour marked his first association with new drummer Tony Fernandez who would perform on many of Wakeman's future albums and tours. During its stop in Rio de Janeiro, Wakeman met Ronnie Biggs, one of those involved in the 1963 Great Train Robbery. The two went drinking, played football, and exchanged a gift of shirts, including one that Biggs allegedly wore during the robbery.[14] In late 1975, Wakeman composed the soundtrack for Lisztomania, a biography film about composer Franz Liszt written and directed by Ken Russell. Wakeman appears in the film as Thor, the god of thunder. A few years later, he recalled the album in a more negative light as "there was hardly anything of mine on it in the end", and criticised its mixing and production.[78]

In 1976, Wakeman began a period of living outside the UK as a tax exile. He recorded his fourth solo album, No Earthly Connection, with the English Rock Ensemble at Chateau Studios in Herouville, France from January to March 1976. Initially it was to be about mythological gods, but was changed when he became fascinated with the origins of man and mysterious phenomena such as the Bermuda Triangle, Stonehenge, pyramids,[79] and his witnessing of a flying object at 3am in Miami, Florida with his bassist, Roger Newell.[80] Wakeman describes the music on its sleeve: "a futuristic, autobiographical look at music, the part it plays in our pre-earth, human and after life".[81] He wrote the album without playing any of its music.[82] Upon its release in April 1976, the album went to No. 9 in the UK and No. 67 in the US. Wakeman toured worldwide for seven weeks to support the album which featured a scaled down stage production.[83] The last date was at a festival in Bilzen, Belgium on 13 August.[84]

Following the No Earthly Connection tour, Wakeman fell into financial trouble. Though it was not "an all tax issue", Wakeman's expenses far exceeded the profits made from the tour which only met its minimal expectations,[83] leaving him to come up with £350,000 "in a matter of weeks".[85] He sold most of his Rolls-Royces, ended his Fragile car service, and disbanded the English Rock Ensemble.[83][86] Wakeman's situation improved after A&M agreed to pay Wakeman's royalties ahead of time. Soon after, Lane suggested that Wakeman talk with Bill Bruford and John Wetton who were thinking of forming a new band. After a private meeting, the three rehearsed for six weeks before the story was reported in Melody Maker in October 1976, which effectively caused the group to end.[87] Wakeman took up work recording the soundtrack to White Rock, a documentary film about the 1976 Winter Olympics directed by Tony Maylam. The film premiered in February 1977 as a double bill with the Genesis concert film, Genesis: In Concert. The album was released in the same year. The track "After the Ball" was one that Wakeman forgot to write; he proceeded to play it as a completely improvised song in one take, rather than confessing to the producers.

Wakeman's fortunes changed in November 1976 when Lane invited him to meet Yes in Switzerland as they were writing Going for the One in Mountain Studios, Montreux. Wakeman's replacement, Swiss musician Patrick Moraz, left during the early stages in part due to the "enormous psychological pressures within the group."[88] Upon hearing the band's new material of more accessible and concise songs, Wakeman agreed to play on the album as a session musician. Lane and Squire convinced him to rejoin as a full-time member; Wakeman noticed the new edition of Melody Maker with the headline "Wakeman rejoins Yes" appeared hours after he agreed. He asked Lane what would have happened if he declined, and said: "It's just one of those decisions a manager has to make."[89] Wakeman described the record as "the album Yes should have made instead of Topographic Oceans."[90] Released in July 1977, the album spent two weeks at No. 1 in the UK and spawned the No. 7 single, "Wonderous Stories". Wakeman considered its fifteen-minute track "Awaken" as one of the band's best.

During the Going for the One tour, Wakeman released Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record, a solo album loosely based on criminality with Squire on bass, Alan White on drums, Frank Ricotti on percussion, and Bill Oddie on lead vocals on "The Breathalyser". The album went to No. 25 in the UK.

Wakeman recorded the next Yes album, Tormato, in early 1978. 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.[91][92] In 1978 Wakeman, along with Mick Jagger, Peter Frampton, and Paul Simon, invested in the formation of the Philadelphia Fury, an American soccer team that disbanded in 1980. Wakeman also funded the development of the Birotron, a tape replay keyboard that used 8-track tape cartridges, developed by Dave Biro.

Rhapsodies, released as a double album in 1979, was Wakeman's final studio album for A&M Records. It features Bruce Lynch on bass, Frank Gibson, Jr. on drums, and Tony Visconti on acoustic guitar.

In March 1980, after several writing sessions for a new Yes album in Paris failed, Wakeman and Jon Anderson left the group.

1980–88: Solo projects[edit]

In 1980, Wakeman reformed the English Rock Ensemble and completed a European tour.[93] He came close to forming a band with drummer Carl Palmer, bassist John Wetton, and guitarist Trevor Rabin, but opted out "on a matter of principle" to as the record company was prepared to sign them without hearing any of the group's music. He recalled, "I basically sealed my financial fate, and things went downhill fast."[93] His father's death in November 1980 prompted his return to the UK and sign a record deal with Charisma Records to avoid bankruptcy.[93][94] In June 1981, Wakeman released 1984, a concept rock album based on George Orwell's eponymous dystopian novel with a band including Steve Barnacle on bass, Gary Barnacle on saxophone, and Frank Ricotti on drums. The album features tracks with Chaka Khan, Jon Anderson, Kenny Lynch, and Tim Rice on lead vocals with Rice the album's lyricist. 1984 reached number 24 in the UK. Plans to have the album worked into a 1984 musical were cancelled after lawyers from Orwell's estate blocked its development.[95] During Wakeman's 1981 tour of Europe and South America, he first met Nina Carter. In the same year, Wakeman recorded the soundtrack to the slasher horror film The Burning.

In 1982, Wakeman hosted the Channel 4 music show Gastank with Tony Ashton that aired in 1983. He released a second album for Charisma, Cost of Living, a mixture of instrumental and rock tracks with Tim Rice on vocals, which "did nothing" to improve his financial situation.[96] He then released Rock 'n' Roll Prophet, a spoof on the pop duo The Buggles that was recorded in Switzerland in 1979 and reissued in 1991 with four additional tracks. The album was not well received; Wakeman remembered his situation by 1983 had got to the point where he was "managerless, penniless and homeless."[97] He and Carter moved to Camberley in Surrey after the birth of their daughter Jemma. Wakeman took up work by recording the soundtrack to the official 1982 FIFA World Cup documentary film G'olé!, and his second Ken Russell film, Crimes of Passion (1984), with Fernandez on drums and Strawbs member Chas Cronk on bass. He then toured Australia in early 1984 with Sky as a guest musician.

In 1984, Wakeman signed a deal with President Records and recorded Silent Nights with Fernandez, Cronk, and Rick Fenn on guitar. The track "Glory Boys" was released a single and became a minor hit.[98] Wakeman took the band on a tour of the UK, the US, and Australia to promote Silent Nights,[99] which spawned a live album, Live at Hammersmith. The tour cost him money, leaving him "seriously in debt" and forced to remortgage his Camberley home.[99] In September 1985, during the tour's Australian leg, Wakeman fell ill from his alcoholism and has been teetotal since.[100] Wakeman produced his first of a series of new-age albums titled Country Airs, a solo piano album released in 1986 that topped the UK New age chart.[101] This was followed by The Family Album in 1987, featuring tracks dedicated to each of his family members and pets. Also in 1987, Wakeman recorded and released The Gospels, a Christian album based on the four Gospels for Stylus Records, with tenor vocalist Ramon Remedios and actor Robert Powell as narrator. The music was originally written for a concert as part of a fund raising event for a church.[102] Wakeman played the album with Remedios and his band in Caesarea, Israel in the following year.[103] Wakeman recorded Time Machine, a concept album based on the science fiction novel The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, featuring Roy Wood and Tracey Ackerman as guest vocalists. The album was released in 1988; Wakeman intended to record it with an orchestra and choir and put on an ice show, but the idea was cancelled due to lack of funds.[104]

1988–99: ABWH and third and fourth Yes runs[edit]

In March 1988, Wakeman and Carter sold their Camberley home and moved to the Isle of Man to improve their finances. To save money, Wakeman set up his own recording studio named Bajonor in a converted coach house next to his home.[105] Wakeman released two New age albums recorded at Studio House in Wraysbury: A Suite of Gods, based on Greek and Roman mythology with Fernandez and Remedios, and Zodiaque with Fernandez featuring tracks dedicated to each of the twelve signs of the zodiac.

In late 1988, Wakeman received a call from Brian Lane who invited him to form Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe with former Yes band members Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe. Anderson wished to make an album that reflected Yes's 1970s sound and wanted to record on the island of Montserrat. The album was released in June 1989 and sold 750,000 copies. The band's world tour ran from July 1989 to March 1990. During the tour, Wakeman released two more solo albums: Black Knights at the Court of Ferdinand IV with Italian musician Mario Fasciano and a sequel to Country Airs named Sea Airs.

Work on a second Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe began in France in 1990. Development was interrupted when it was decided to merge their tracks with an in-progress Yes album to create 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.

In 1993, Wakeman embarked on a world tour with his son Adam Wakeman. He recorded a solo piano album about the Isle of Man named Heritage Suite, and an album with Adam named Wakeman with Wakeman. Later in 1993, Wakeman's financial situation worsened when he was ordered with a payment from the Inland Revenue close to £70,000 for interest charges and unpaid penalties for tax he had paid for the past six years. He paid it by, as he wrote, "...with help from Brian Lane's office and Yes's accountants, in my signing away all publishing income from everything I had ever written ... Twenty-two years' work had vanished in the three seconds it had taken to sign my name."[106]

In 1995, Wakeman wrote music for the Cirque Surreal. The same year he scored the soundtrack to Bullet to Beijing, a made-for-television film starring Michael Caine and Jason Connery, and also scored the sequel, Midnight in Saint Petersburg, the following year.[107]

In late 1995, Wakeman returned to Yes for a fourth time. Yes then played three nights at the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, California from 3–6 March 1996. The Keys to Ascension albums but left in 1997 before the band could tour with him.

In 1998, Wakeman started work on Return to the Centre of the Earth for the original album's twenty-fifth anniversary. Recording was disrupted after Wakeman suffered from a serious case of double pleurisy, pneumonia, and a case of Legionnaires' disease.[108][109] In December 1998, Wakeman was featured on an episode of This Is Your Life.[110]

2000–present: Fifth Yes run and solo projects[edit]

In February 2000, Wakeman began his An Evening with Rick Wakeman tour of the UK, playing keyboards and piano on tracks spanning his entire career. In September that year, he accepted an invitation to perform a series of concerts in South America with the English Rock Ensemble following a renewed interest in progressive rock there.[109] He recruited Fernandez, Damian Wilson on vocals, Adam Wakeman on keyboards, Ant Glynne on guitar, and Lee Pomeroy on bass. Wakeman was particularly pleased with his playing, calling it his "best in a long time."[111] At its conclusion, Wakeman entered early discussions with Keith Emerson regarding a potential music project, but the idea was shelved in early 2002.[109]

Following months of speculation, Yes management announced Wakeman's return to the band for a fifth time, on 16 April 2002.[109] Wakeman remembered it took "eight months to get the paper work together" to make his return happen.[111] He declined to play with the group as a guest musician the previous year during their Symphonic Tour in Amsterdam in support of their album Magnification, but his commitments to his solo tours prohibited him from doing so.[111] Upon Wakeman's return, the group entered rehearsals for their Full Circle Tour that ran from July 2002 to October 2003. This was followed by their 35th Anniversary Tour, running from April to September 2004. Wakeman described the band's playing during his return: "It was far and away the best the band had ever been ... there was no staleness, there was a lot of freshness."[112] During the band's subsequent hiatus, Wakeman was advised by his doctors that touring with a busy schedule was affecting his health. In 2008, when Squire, Howe, and White decided to continue, Oliver Wakeman replaced his father on keyboards.

In 2005, Fidel Castro invited Wakeman to perform in Cuba with his band. During Wakeman's visit, Castro gave Wakeman some earth by Che Guevara's grave.[90] In October 2006, Wakeman and Anderson began a UK tour.[113] In 2008, Wakeman toured with Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show, featuring an evening of music and stories from his career. In May 2009, Wakeman performed The Six Wives of Henry VIII in its entirety for the first time at Hampton Court Palace for two nights. In 2010, Wakeman was awarded the Spirit of Prog Award at the annual Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards.[114] In 2013, Wakeman played on The Theory of Everything by Ayreon.[115] The following year, he completed a 14-date UK tour to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

In January 2016, Trevor Rabin announced he plans to perform with Wakeman and Jon Anderson as Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman (ARW), later in the year. Anderson revealed the three wrote "some unique songs together".[116] That month, following requests from fans, Wakeman recorded piano versions of "Life on Mars?", "Space Oddity", and "Always Together" as a tribute to David Bowie following his death with proceeds from the songs donated to Macmillan Cancer Support.[117]


Wakeman performing at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Performing Right Society for Music Members' Benevolent Fund in 2009.

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.[118]

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.[119] These days, he can be found with more modern instruments such as the Roland Fantom, Korg Kronos, Korg M3, and the Korg Oasys.

Personal life[edit]

Wakeman has been married four times and has six children. On 28 March 1970, at the age of 20, he married Rosaline Woolford[3] and they had two sons, Oliver (b. 26 February 1972) and Adam (b. 11 March 1974). The couple divorced in 1977. He married studio secretary Danielle Corminboeuf in January 1980, in the West Indies,[120] and they had one son, Benjamin (b. 1978).[121] He had a daughter, Jemma Kiera (b. 1983), with former Page 3 model Nina Carter;[122] they married in 1984 and had a son, Oscar (b. 1986).[103]

He had a renewal of his Christian faith[123] which began at around the time of his marriage to Carter.[123] He and Carter divorced in December 2004.[124] 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.[125][126] In 2011, Wakeman married Rachel Kaufman.[90]

In his twenties, Wakeman suffered three heart attacks.[91] 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 misdiagnosed as having rheumatoid arthritis in his hands; he discovered in 2008 that the pain he was suffering was simply due to overwork after a period of lack of keyboard practice.[127]

A former smoker and self-confessed alcoholic, Wakeman quit smoking in 1979 and has been teetotal since 1985.[90] In 2016, Wakeman announced he has diabetes.[128]

A Master Freemason, he is a member of Chelsea Lodge No. 3098, the membership of which is made up of entertainers.[129] 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.[90]



  • 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. 


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External links[edit]