(Photo: © Universal Music Group)
“I don’t mind bright lights,” Rick Wakeman said as he looked up into the spotlight pointed at his grand piano. “But at my age, I have the urge to walk towards them.”
This was only the first of many occasions when the audience’s laughter shook the walls of the Cadogan Hall. A roller coaster ride of emotions ensued: Wakeman went on to tell some hilarious stories and anecdotes in between songs, and the music was at times very moving.
He began with ‘After the Ball’, a soothing piece he’d originally improvised while recording the soundtrack for the 1977 documentary film about the 1976 Winter Olympics, “White Rock”. He’d forgotten to compose the music for the ice skating part, and therefore he had to come up with something on the spot – a challenge he took spectacularly well.
Next was the 18th century hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. Before playing ‘Morning Has Broken’, he recounted the story of his collaboration with Cat Stevens on the famous cover version of the song, pointing out that he was never paid for the work he’d done. He then said that Stevens did offer to pay what he owed him when they met in person again a couple of years ago, but he refused, because he wanted to be able to go on telling the story about how he never got paid.
He then performed ‘The Dance of a Thousand Lights’ from his 1999 solo album ‘Return to the Centre of the Earth’ and the 1977 Yes classic ‘Wonderous Stories’, followed by his late father’s interpretation of ‘Summertime’. The first half ended with a compilation he referred to as ‘The Nursery Rhyme Concerto’ – a rendition of a set of nursery rhymes in the style of various classical composers, including Mozart, Bach and Ravel.
The second half opened with memorable performances of ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. He then talked about his long friendship with David Bowie as an introduction for two songs he’d played the piano on: ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Life on Mars?’. We then heard ‘Help!’ by the Beatles in ballad form, as it was originally intended by John Lennon, and, finally, ‘Eleanor Rigby’. One of the highlights of the evening was the encore of Debussy’s version of ‘Clair de Lune’.
The London show was the final one of a 32-date UK tour in support of the album ‘Piano Portraits’, released in January 2017. The album peaked at number six on the UK Albums Chart, becoming the only solo piano record to ever make it into to the top 10.