On the 18th of September 2010, something monumental happened in my life, something that I will remember forever (or at least until dementia sets in). I've lead an exciting and surprisingly full life, but none of that seemed to register as I sat in the Gala Theatre auditorium in Durham, waiting for my hero to come out onto the stage.
Forgive the grandiose opening if you will, I'm just getting over excited.
Let be begin by explaining why Rick Wakeman is such a big hero of mine; the man is a keyboard god. He is arguably the best keyboardist in rock music (second only to Keith Emerson according to this poll), who has worked with so many prolific solo artists and bands that they are too numerous to list (plus - I'll be honest - I don;t know them all). He is famous for playing the piano on David Bowie's classic album "Hunky Dory" - most notably the exquisite "Life on Mars". He also worked with Cat Stephens on his version of "Morning has Broken" (something he claims he never received payment or credit for). However, he is best known as the man who played keyboards for prog rock legends Yes, featuring on such classic albums as Fragile, Close to the Edge and Going for the One. The man is a truly versatile musician, and incredibly skilled. I defy anyone not to be impressed by this solo.
Right, back to the matter at hand, his gig at the Gala!
Rick has been doing gigs as a one man act, just him and a grand piano recently, entertaining the crowd with anecdotes between songs. It's a very intimate show, and tickets typically sell out fast. I was lucky enough to get tickets back in February as a present from my Gran - Row E, right in the middle - the perfect place to see and hear everything (I'm fairly familiar with the Gala, I know where the good seats are).
The show was incredible; both musically and comically. He played a mixture of his solo works, classical pieces and bits and pieces from throughout his career as a session musician. The anecdotes were hilarious, and there was even a bit of audience participation - in the form of us providing birdsong for the middle section of "Bird man of Alcatraz". Perhaps the most interesting piece of music he played was an arrangement of his called the "Nursery Rhyme Concerto". In a nutshell, it's several well known nursery rhymes played in the style of well known composers - for example, Baa Baa Black Sheep played in the style of Mozart. It was fascinating to listen to, and a truly fantastic arrangement from a musician's point of view.
After the show Rick sat outside in the lobby signing albums and generally chatting. I stood in line with my vinyl copy of "No Earthly Connection" and waited for my moment. Suddenly, there I was, face to face with my hero. They say it's a bad idea to meet your heroes, but honestly, it was fantastic. We had a bit chat about keyboards and whatnot, and about prog rock in general, and I left with a huge smile on my face. I even managed to get a photograph of us together.
This isn't a review, it's just me raving about my hero. His music isn't to everyone's tastes, but this gig was very special to me, and meeting him was even more special. I just hope that one day we'll see him back on the road with Yes, blasting out mad minimoog solos...one can dream...