(11 May 2003) This is very much a return to form for Rick Wakeman, harkening
back as it does to some of his classic 70s albums like
Journey, Six Wives and especially No Earthly
Connection. Indeed this album is a continuation of
sorts of the themes explored in the latter.
The sleeve notes reveal a couple of other hitherto unknown
facts. Namely that Rick has connections with members of NASA,
and certain albums have been taken aboard some of the space
shuttle missions and played by the astronauts: 2000 AD
and Journey to be precise. I was also surprised to
learn that this album has been in the works since 1997.
Finally, because of Rick's friendship with some of the
astronauts, he was as horrified as anyone else at the
loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and dedicates this
album to their memory.
The epic opening track Out There starts with some spacey,
mysterious synth chords, before kicking into gear with some
crashing, descending organ notes, leading us into the main
theme. What follows is a wonderful anthemic keyboard motif
from Rick, ably backed up by some powerful guitar chords
from Ant Glynne, giving this one a slightly metal feel
to it. The song is propelled along by the stunning vocals
of Damien Wilson, an extremely versatile singer who has
played with bands as diverse as Landmarq, Threshold,
Ayreon, numerous guest appearances and even a stint as
Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. And anyone who knows
the show will know just what a difficult role that is.
My only problem with this track is that it does have a
tendency to stop just as it starts to get interesting,
and then kick off again with a reprise of the main theme.
However, the finale is quite stunning, with some wonderful,
stately, mellotron chords from Rick, and Damien singing
his lungs out, backed by the English Chamber Choir. It
all comes to a satisfying conclusion with some soaring
guitar lines from Ant Glynne.
"The Mission" has a lovely funky, almost danceable quality
to it. There are times on this one that Damien sounds
uncannily like Jon Anderson. Rick almost appears to
take a back seat on this one, giving Ant Glynne a
chance to shine with another stunning solo. However,
this is soon rectified when he provides us with some
great Hammond organ towards the end.
Spacey, echoey electronic drums take us into To Be
With You. A gentle, laid back piece with a very
appealing chorus, with Damien's vocals again accompanied
by the haunting qualities of the English Chamber Choir.
This serves to give the track a wonderful nostalgic
quality, reminiscent as it is of some of the material
on the King Arthur or Journey albums.
"Universe Of Sound" is a real fast paced rocker, with
some complex dual guitar and bass lines from Ant Glynne
and Lee Pomeroy. This is a lyrically complex song, and
Damien Wilson does a marvellous job here, hitting every
note and cue perfectly.This one careers along at
breakneck speed towards a lightning-fast keyboard/guitar
duel between Rick and Ant Glynne. Great stuff, and
probably my favourite track on the album.
"Music Of love" is another rocker, though a little more
mid paced this time. Another vocally dense track,
Damien really has his work cut out on this one, but
is more than up to the task. Rick provides a superb,
spacey moog solo here, once again trading notes with
Ant Glynne. Some flamboyant pipe organ heralds the
beginning of the second epic track off the album,
"Cathedral Of The Sky."
This song alternates between
vocal passages sung by the English Chamber Choir and
Damien's more conventional lead vocals. This is
probably a track that would not sound out of place on
either of the Journey albums, an epic in every sense
of the word.
Rick's pipe organ dominates throughout the entire
track, save for some piano work near the end. No
dizzying moog solos here, it's as though Rick has
made a determined effort to use acoustic based
instruments to get that authentic classical
flavour for this one, and to this end he succeeds
Those of you who are fans of Rick's early and
mid-seventies works will find much to enjoy
here --John Morley.
Read further reviews, listen to soundbites and order the album from amazon.com
Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, this incredible new album from Rick Wakeman harkens back to the classic progressive rock era. It is a must listen!
Live at the Ashcroft Theatre Croydon 30 April 2003
It was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me tonight since the
last time I saw one of Rick's solo concerts was in Liverpool
in 1976, and Ashley Holt was vocalist on that occasion too.
Tonight's venue is the smaller of the two theatres in the
Fairfield Halls complex. It's a pretty decent sized venue
though, with quite a large stage area. At least it probably
was before Rick's massive keyboard rig dominated it. There
was barely any room on the stage for the other guys to stand,
and Tony Fernandez was tucked right into the far corner of
the stage. It was fun watching Ashley Holt trying to gingerly
negotiate his way around the keyboard rig for the opening
number and was not the most dignified entrance.
On the subject of Ashley Holt, he apparently stepped in at
short notice after Damien Wilson pulled out for reasons as
yet unknown. This was a big disappointment for me. No offence
to Ashley, but their vocal styles and ranges are completely
opposite, and I was not sure how Ashley was going to handle
singing tracks from the new album. It must have been a
daunting task for him, and it was good of him to step in
and help out. It's just that after spending a couple of
weeks getting into the new album, I was looking forward
to hearing Damien perform the new stuff, especially as
I have never seen him live before.
After a taped intro, we were treated to a medley of some of
the best bits from the first side of Journey To The Centre
Of The Earth. I do like the 'stripped down' format of just
bass, drums, guitar and keyboards for these gigs, I think
it forces the musicians to come up with inventive ways of
reproducing tracks that initially were recorded with
multiple musicians, orchestras and choirs. This was a
decent reading of the track, not too different to the
versions I have heard of some of the recent live albums.
At this point I was quite impressed with Ashley, he seemed
to be quite comfortable singing this one. Rick's fingers were
a blur as usual, darting as he was from keyboard to keyboard
in his sparkly jacket.
A little bit of Rick's trademark between song banter followed.
Always entertaining, even if it is a bit end-of-the-pier at times.
Then it was straight in to two tracks from No Earthly Connection
"The Realisation" and "The Spaceman" were the tracks played, the
former with a nice bit of guitar from Ant Glynne, and an aggressive
vocal performance from Ashley.
The next piece was supposed to be "Catherine Parr." It started off
fine, until some horrible noises started to come from one of Rick's
keyboards. This brought the song to an abrupt halt, and Rick joked
that there might be a short interval. And in fact, that was what
we got. Up came the lights, and off we wandered to the bar.
Once the technical problems were sorted,
we were off and running again, and back into a rousing version of
"Catherine Parr" (with a curious little diversion as Rick insisted on
playing the last note of the previous song first). This is one of my,
and I am sure a lot of other peoples, all time fave Rick Wakeman tracks,
and it really benefits from the addition of Ant Glynne's powerful guitar.
The first disappointment of the evening was up next, the title track
from Out There. Nothing wrong with the instrumentation, but it was
painfully obvious that Ashley's vocals were not at all suited to this
song at all. He was forced to sing it in a much lower register than
usual, and it did not sound good.
At this point I should mention the stage design. For a small theatre
the stage show was pretty impressive, a very good light show, video
projections, and a handy little camera placed near one of Rick's
synths that gave us a close up view of his nimble fingers darting
across the keys.
And then we had the second interval of the evening. Could not help
feeling a little peeved at this point, because we had already had a
20 minute unscheduled interval about 15 minutes before, and I would have
thought this one could have been at least shortened. However, once we
were settled back into our seats, some funky
drumming from Tony Fernandez took us into an energetic version of
And then the evenings second major disappointment: the dreaded
drum solo. My first thought was you have got to be kidding, we
have already lost 20 minutes out of the set because of the technical
problems, so I would have thought someone backstage would have made
the decision to drop this tonight. But it was not to be, and on it
went for seven rather ordinary and uneventful minutes.
A medley of a couple of tracks from Arthur was up next. To my
ears this did not seem to come across very well. It seemed to me
that the energy level on stage was flagging, Rick missed a couple
of cues towards the end, Ashley seemed to be struggling a little
now, and I was just not particularly fond of the overall arrangement
of the piece. Maybe I am being unfair, perhaps I was still smarting
over being subjected to the drum solo.
Things improved very much with the next track, "Dance Of a Thousand
Lights" from Return, played solo on the piano by Rick, with a taped
orchestral accompaniment. After the last couple of below par efforts,
this was a refreshing change. Another track from Out There
followed next, "Cathedral Of The Sky."
Some nice pipe organ work from Rick, with the addition of some
sampled choral accompaniment provided by one of the backstage boys.
Ashley seemed to make a better job of this one, but did flag somewhat
towards the end. I did feel for him though, he did give it his all. It
looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel at some points.
The closing track was a rocked up version of "Merlin The Magician."
Very different from the original, but I quite liked it actually. Rick's
flair for showmanship came to the fore here, as he left the stage with
his portable keyboard, came into the audience, turfed a guy out of his
seat a couple of rows behind us and sat in it--all the time still
playing and never missing a beat. It got slightly embarrassing when
he pulled a lady out of the audience on to the stage, though. She
seemed somewhat confused as to why she was there, and what he wanted
her to do. It took Ashley to step in and explain she needed to hold
her hands out so Rick could rest his keyboard on them and play the
last few notes of the song. But it was entertaining, and a very
good version of the song.
For the encore, we got an epic version of "Starship Trooper."
Surprisingly, I thought Ashley sounded quite good on this one, and
Lee Pomeroy got a chance to shine here too with some incredibly fast,
intricate bass work. Ant Glynne decided to go walkabout round the back
of the theatre on this one while playing his guitar--or perhaps he was
just looking for the toilet. A very satisfying end to the show.
Apart from a couple of gripes I have already mentioned, this was a
very enjoyable gig. There is certainly no doubting Rick's musical
prowess, and the rest of the band were more than up to the task of
providing a solid foundation for Rick's legendary keyboard