Rick Wakeman Preparing ‘Incredibly Different’ Solo Album
Rick Wakeman has spent the past several years playing Yes music with his former bandmates Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin. While an album was initially promised from the trio, work ultimately stalled, though Wakeman holds out hope they'll find a way to eventually complete the project.
The keyboard legend continues to move forward with his solo work in the meantime - 2020's The Red Planet is his most recent record - and is close to unveiling his next LP. Wakeman details the thought process behind this ambitious new work with UCR below.
You’ve had 18 months away from the road. One of the things that’s been brewing is a new record. Can you talk a bit about the general idea behind it and where things stand?
The whole lockdown has been awful. It’s all very well sitting down at the piano and playing at home, but I need incentives. I need goals to aim for and things to do. We initially thought, Well, lockdown’s not going to last that long. I’ll be able to go out and play. But I’ve had a total of seven tours canceled since the lockdown started. You get to the stage where you go, “You know what? Nobody really knows when it’s all going to happen again and, indeed, under what terms it’s going to happen." It had been two years since The Red Planet album, and I thought, “It’s time to do a new album.” It’s very interesting, because normally I have a concept of things to go with how the music is and what I want it to be.
But it was really weird, sitting at the piano, and writing and playing was quite different this time around. For some unknown reason, music was flowing, which was great. But what was very interesting was that all of the pieces were incredibly different, unlike Red Planet, where they all sort of belonged to the same group of music and the same sounds.
That makes sense.
This was a real mixture. There were obviously songs that I could hear - there’s a great singer called Hayley Sanderson, who is just fantastic. I kept hearing her voice for a song called “This Is Good for Them.” There were other pieces that were just piano-based. Then there were some that were very prog-rock-y. I thought, “Hold on a minute, I’ve got an album coming together here of so many different kinds of music, so how do I hold them all together?” A good friend of mine, we were talking about going to an art gallery, because we love art galleries - him and his wife, and my wife and I. So I suddenly had this idea, if you go to an art gallery, the pieces aren’t all of the same. OK, yes, there are sections of them [that are themed], but they’re not all Monet, they’re not all Van Gogh. It’s a real eclectic mixture of work.
That’s what you expect to find in a good gallery. I started thinking about having an album based on [a] gallery [concept], like a music gallery. So it’s called A Gallery of the Imagination. In other words, the music, what you hope people will do when they listen, is to paint their own pictures. Obviously, there will be titles to help, but they’ll paint their own pictures as to what they see. One of the things we want to do is we’re going to encourage people to perhaps produce a painting as they see it, according to that particular picture in the gallery. Then at some juncture we want to hold an exhibition of everything. It just shows how different people see different pieces of music. It’s interesting, I remember going back to 1971, I was on tour with Yes.
Listen to Yes' 'Your Move'
A good era.
Jon Anderson and I were standing outside of the theater where we played. This guy came up to Jon, and he said, “Hey Jon, the song ‘Your Move,’” and Jon said, “Yeah?” He said, “I’ve worked it out. I know exactly what it means." Jon said, “Great, go on and tell me.” He said, “Oh, it’s all about moving around the universe and the different galaxies and finding different things in the galaxies gives you ideas.” It went on like this for about five minutes. He said, “I’m right, aren’t I?” And Jon went, “Yeah!”
Off he went, incredibly pleased. I’d only been in the band a few months, and I said to Jon, “Actually, Jon, is that what it’s about?” He said, “No, it’s about a chess game.” I said, “But you just said to the lad ... ,” and he said, “Look, if that’s what he feels it’s about, that’s absolutely fine. It doesn’t matter. As long as he gets a picture from it, that’s all that matters.” I thought that’s really such a great way of looking at things. Because we all see things differently. We all look at things differently. So in essence that’s the whole basis of the album. It will have titles that people can paint their own pictures to or paint their own stories to, or write their own stories to. That’s the plan of it. With the music being so diverse and different, it works.
You got a chance to play on Elton John’s Madman Across The Water album. What was the atmosphere like working with him? Was there much chaos in the recording studio?
It was very organized, actually. It was fantastic. Elton doesn’t like playing the organ. He said to me, “I hate playing the organ.” We used to record a lot of stuff virtually live in the studio at Trident Studios. He said, “You do the organ,” and I said, “Of course I will!” We got to the studio and the orchestra was there, Bernie Taupin, Gus Dudgeon and all of the rest. It was incredibly well-organized. Elton sang on one of the songs, and he was in total control. It was actually incredibly well-organized. In fact, I did a concert with him. We took that Madman Across the Water album and did a whole concert at the Royal Festival Hall with an orchestra and full band. I did the organ on that as well. It was great fun. I’ve got a lot of time for Elton. He is undoubtedly one of the classiest songwriters we’ve ever produced but also, sometimes, what’s overlooked, is that he’s a really good piano player.
Because these songs are so great and his vocals are so great, sometimes his skill as a piano player gets sort of overlooked. If I remember rightly, I did say to him once, "Why don’t you do a [solo] piano [album] or whatever?" and he said, “If I did that, people would just wait for the songs to come!” Which is a fair comment. A good man, that Elton.