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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

Rick Wakeman

Live in Nottingham, UK, 2003

Review by Bruce Stringer

I was very excited when I heard that Rick Wakeman was to be appearing at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham and, being my first time ever seeing any member of Yes perform live, I didn't know quite what to expect. Originally, I had tried to arrange a brief interview with Rick however that fell through at the last minute. I was lucky enough to meet the keyboard giant before and after the show and was very impressed with his warmth and friendliness.

As a Yes fan, I have always been interested in Rick as a performer although I only had 2 of his solo albums. His material always tended to sound very English to me and there was possibly a cultural aspect to his playing and the overall sound of his band that was not quite as Yes as I would have liked. This is only a personal thing.





After entering Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall (where I had previously seen Suzanne Vega blow away a packed audience in 2001) I took my seat and relaxed as the show began. First off, there was an announcement concerning the departure of vocalist Damian Wilson who appears on Rick's most recent CD, Out There. He had been replaced by long-time Wakeman cohort Ashley Holt.

Then some pre-recorded music burst out of the speakers allowing the band some lead-in time to make to the stage and prepare for the onslaught. The band started to play and the maestro of the ebony and ivory made his way to the surrounding keyboard set-up, centre stage to a rocking version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The crowd showed their appreciation before Rick took to the microphone for the first time announcing that we were to be treated to 2 songs from No Earthly Connection.


Realisation and Displacement were partnered in the set before Catherine Parr from the Six Wives of Henry the Eighth. This was a brilliant, modern live version and was well worth the price of the ticket just to see this piece. Ending off the first set was the title track from the new CD, Out There.

Given that Ashley Holt didn't sing on the studio version, he made a great effort and was very convincing. The song lost none of its energy and was enhanced by the computer graphics of a cosmic journey, where a satellite with the band members on video screens was launched into space. With a very powerful ending to set one I looked forward to what might be in stall for us in the next instalment.

More video footage, this time of a bobsled team racing through what looked to some distant Winter Olympics from a time now long gone (with music from White Rock) lead onto the drum solo. Now, I'm a fan of drummers and drum solos, however I find that it is akin to certain Spinal Tap-esque aspects of the working band: either you can do it well and it really works or you fail miserably and turn the show into a façade. Due to the structure of the music, although the drum solo was no Neil Peart or Terry Bozzio performance, it worked well within the context and was well received by the audience.

Next we are given the tale of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, with some beautiful bass passages under the red lighting of the stage atmosphere. Rick then announced the next piece: the Dance of a Thousand Nights, which was a very uplifting experience.

One of the question that I had put down for our proposed interview was whether Cathedral of the Sky (also from Out There) would be performed and, if so, whether there'd be any choir recording to go along with it. This beautiful piece was in fact performed and we were given some insight, once again by Rick that his IT guru had put together an electronic version of the choir for them to use live. This was another standout performance and I think this was the point where I heard an audience member ask Damian who? Ashley's vocals sounded so alike the recorded version that one could be mistaken for being the original singer for this song. I guess that is what makes a professional musician.

The show was ended with Merlin, where the onstage antics were bordering on the absurd and a lady was brought up on the stage to hold Rick's portable keyboard while he soloed. It was obvious that the band was having a grand ol' time and the audience were quite amused by the whole circus atmosphere. This was proven by the standing ovation that the New English Rock Ensemble were given and the sheer volume of the audience.

With an encore of Starship Trooper, this was definitely a powerful way to end the show and a treat for all of the Yes fans on the audience. This was a strong arrangement, giving guitarist Ant Glynne an opportunity to spar with Rick in front of his Marshall stack of quad boxes. A very enjoyable close to a very strong performance!
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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