Rick Wakeman – February 22nd & 23rd, 2023
The Return of the Caped Crusader
The London Palladium, London
Review and Photos by Geoff Bailie
With a discography that runs to more than 120 albums since the release of Rick Wakeman’s solo debut in 1973, a two night celebration of the music that formed the foundation of that career seemed appropriate. “The Return of the Caped Crusader” shows took place at the London Palladium, a legendary venue around 10 miles from where Wakeman was born, and less than 3 miles from the Royal College of Music, which he left to pursue his career as a session musician and performer. The evenings focused on performances of his classic 1970s albums, the Six Wives of Henry VIII, King Arthur and Journey albums, plus a set of Classic Yes, played to an audience who, Wakeman says, “have travelled from all around the globe to be here.”
Rick has established a phenomenal live band: on the left you have his son Adam Wakeman on keys and guitarist Dave Colhoun, while on the right there is the rhythm section of drummer Adam Falkner and bassist Lee Pomeroy (of ARW fame). Rick’s massive keyboard rig occupies centre stage and so with Pomeroy being a left handed guitarist you have a fantastic symmetry! Behind them, the English Chamber Choir led by Guy Protheroe have their own riser and on vocals. The band is joined by singer Hayley Sanderson, famous to British fans as the voice of Strictly Come Dancing. The musical prowess combined with a brilliant sound system and reproduction means that we are hearing the music at its very best.
Night One began with an intro from Rick in the gold, blue and red cape worn at the ARW shows, in which he explained that the first half would be the Six Wives of Henry VIII played in chronological order (the original album shuffled the sequence to balance the vinyl album time restrictions). Many of the tracks, like “Catherine Howard” and “Catherine Parr”, have been featured in Rick’s live sets over the years, and so it was great to hear some of the less-played songs, like “Anne Of Cleves”. The balance of styles and tones throughout this diverse album were executed (pun intended) superbly, giving it the anniversary tribute it truly deserved.
The second half of the first show consisted of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur… Within the early catalogue, this is an album I don’t find myself listening to as much – I find some of the more “raw” vocal performances harder to enjoy, but musically it’s still a great album. Having Hayley on vocals made a massive change to this music for me and I really enjoyed this performance. The Moog solo in “Sir Lancelot & The Black Knight” is one of the finest examples of this style of playing and it was performed with all of the speed and accuracy of the 1975 performance – Rick plays wearing fingerless gloves these days, I assume for medical reasons, but he has lost none of his speed and skill. Having the English Chamber Choir present meant the choral interludes for these album were authentically performed, however those paying attention noticed something was missing… it turns out deliberately. Following “The Last Battle” the band took their bows and left the stage, returning to perform the track they had skipped, “Merlin The Magician”, as their encore. With a keytar/ guitar trade off finishing up the song and the show, it was an amazing evening of music!
At the start of Night Two, Rick acknowledged the significant role that the band Yes had played in his musical career in the 1970s and told the audience that he was going to perform a selection of material from that band’s catalogue as the first part of the show. While in the program for the event, Rick explained that he didn’t want to perform the songs as clones of the originals, What became clear very quickly, with the opening version of “Roundabout”, was that this band was more than capable of tackling these legendary prog classics. Hearing “The Meeting” from the ABWH album was a nice surprise, as was the twist on “Wonderous Stories” where the song’s delicacy was blended with a new degree of punch – I have to give drummer Adam Falkner a lot of credit for his energy and playing throughout this show. Perhaps the biggest surprise, and for me the highlight of the evening, was the version of “Southside of the Sky” that followed. This is a song that was very rarely even performed by Yes in the past, and so to hear the confidence of the ERE playing this epic song was just incredible. It’s difficult to single out a player because every each one made a massive contribution to this track. Where do you go from there? Well Dave Colhoun’s 12 string guitar harmonics made it clear that And You And I was about to be played, and the band executed an excellent version.
“Journey to the Centre of the Earth” is, perhaps one of Rick’s most performed pieces, but also one of the best concept albums. The modern keyboard sounds and technology plus the choir all made this a really strong performance. “The Hansbach” is another of my favourite Rick moments and it was great to hear its tricky keyboard part done justice.
The finale encore was a rousing version of Yes’ “Starship Trooper”, played in the arrangement, with extended solos for Pomeroy (the birthday boy this evening!), Colhoun, Adam W and then Rick. Sadly a keytar malfunction meant Adam didn’t get to jam centre stage with his Dad, but that didn’t change a thing.
All in all it’s a joy to see a seasoned musician such as Rick doing such great versions of songs recorded almost a lifetime ago! I left feeling I’d seen two of the most iconic gigs of Rick’s career!