Rick Wakeman: All Hail the King!

By Jeb Wright

Rick Wakeman is most famous for playing complex keyboard music for the band Yes.  He is also known for possessing an attitude and personality that are nearly as grand as his musical skills.  He is less known for his solo work… that said, he’s done pretty damn good all on his own.  While Journey to the Centre of Earth, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The Myths & Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable are not as beloved as Fragile, they have sold in the millions worldwide.  Those releases have also made Rick Wakeman known as more than just a musical virtuoso; his body of musical work demonstrates that he is master composer and a wonderful weaver of musical tales. 

Never content to simply revisit his past, but also savvy enough to know where his bread is buttered, Wakeman is turning back the page and releasing a new version of The Myths & Legends of King Arthur.  He is utilizing modern day technology to fund the project by teaming up with PledgeMusic.  He has also added five new songs to the epic tale!

In the interview below, Wakeman took a few moments to tell us about this experience, as well as reveal how he got to be such a fan boy of the boy king in the first place!

Visit Rick’s Campaign here: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/rickwakeman

Jeb: Did revisiting the tunes lead to creating five new tunes?  Or did you create the new tunes and think they were right for this project?

Rick: Neither to be honest. It came about when our promoter in South America wanted a performance of King Arthur as well as Journey to the Centre of the Earth. This was around four years ago. In the end, we did Journey and The Six Wives of Henry VIII.  However, as they wanted a 90-minute show of King Arthur, new pieces had to be written, so the five new pieces were put together back then, but then moth-balled. I was then asked last year if I would play King Arthur at the O2 as part of a big prog rock festival, and they too wanted a 90-minute performance. I had a look at what I had already written and really loved the music as it was all so relaxed compared to what already existed, and so the process of tidying everything up and slotting all the original began in earnest.

Jeb: Before we get into the PledgeMusic stuff… I hear your plan is to play concerts featuring the music from The Myths & Legends of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table.  Is that the case?

Rick: It is indeed. We are doing The O2 on the 19th of June with full orchestra, choir and my band, The English Rock Ensemble. We will probably throw the kitchen sink in as well! The plan is then, over the coming years, to do a few selected shows anywhere in the world they would like it.

Jeb:  Talk about PledgeMusic and why this is the right way for you to fund this venture…

Rick: I think the whole Pledge plan is absolutely brilliant. It actually gives the fans and supporters something special, and not only makes them feel important, but the truth is, for me, they are important… very important. In fact, they have contributed toward the recording in as much as a few people asked if “Merlin the Magician” was to remain an instrumental, or would have vocals. The truth is, I had intended it as an instrumental, but thought it was a sound idea to add vocals, and that is exactly what we’ve done. Also, it’s a way of giving some special things to people who genuinely support the music and care about it. They deserve some special packages, which is what we’ve put together. It works wonderfully for a project like this, and it’s nice to know that so many people want to be a part of it.

Jeb: How much fun was it coming up with the idea of what to offer the fans?  Any funny stories?

Rick: No funny stories I’m afraid. Nobody came up with anything that would fit that category, such as a naked playback party in a giant Jacuzzi... but there’s a thought for the next project! The people at Pledge are really experienced and they came up with many of the cool ideas, so they really have to take a lot of credit.

Jeb:  For people who do not understand, how does PledgeMusic work?  

Rick: It’s not to be confused with crowd funding where people are asked, in essence, to contribute toward the production. In essence, it is pre-ordering the product and other special items associated with the project.  What’s great is that it indicated the level of interest and support there is. 

Jeb:  I have always thought The Myths & Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table is one of the most English sounding rock operas of all time.  What was it that made you attracted to this famous tale in the first place? 

Rick: It all started in 1957 when I was down in Cornwall and was taken to Tintagel and bought a book on King Arthur. It was so magical, and I just loved all the myths and legends. Over the coming years, I bought many books on King Arthur and visited Tintagel many times.  After Journey to the Centre of the Earth, I had already decided that King Arthur was to be the next big musical project for me, and I am thrilled to have now more than doubled its length and included more wonderful stories within the music to go alongside the original.

Jeb: When you set out originally to compose this piece, how did you approach the creative aspects?  You had to not only create the music, you had to create an entire cohesive tale.  How is this different from writing keyboards in parts for… say… Fragile?

Rick: Good question, and almost impossible to answer. I put myself in the mindset of whatever it is I’m working on and take it from there. I never think about how I write or compose, or even put projects together. I let them gather natural momentum and where the music comes from, heaven only knows.

Jeb: What is the lesson behind the Arthurian Legends?

Rick: Life is an adventure for us all… an adventure to be proud to be part of, however small or however big. In life, we will all have opportunities for adventures of one sort or another, so be aware when yours comes along – and jump into them feet first!

Jeb:  What else are you working on?   You tend to be busy always…

Rick: After King Arthur, the next big project will be that with Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin, around 50 worldwide concerts of an evening of Yes music.

Last one:  As an artist, to know the fans love you enough and want to hear music enough to pledge money to your products at PledgeMusic… deep down how does that make you feel?  It is touching?  

Rick: It is very, very emotional. It’s so hard to know whether you are touching people with what you do and when you discover, first hand, that people do care, it makes everything worthwhile – and for that I thank everybody.