Midway through this set of anecdotes, reminiscences and often breathtaking recitals upon the piano, the former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman describes his “Countdown ladies” to us. These are the elderly, grey-haired women who enjoyed his wit when he appeared on the game show and have no idea that he also plays piano.
“Have you made many records?” one of them enquires politely. Well over a hundred. “And have you sold them all?”
This was a show designed to capture both audiences: those who enjoy his warm, eloquent and sometimes painfully blunt way with a tale and those for whom this 64-year-old with lengthy blond hair and a flowing black cape is a musical demigod for his work with prog adventurers Yes in the ‘70s. The latter group would have been pleased by an interlude into “And You and I” and “Wondrous Stories” midway through, although – and it might be sacrilegious to say – these and “The Dance of a Thousand Lights” from his 1999 album Return to the Centre of the Earth are the most dated and show-offy of the songs played here.
Far more satisfyingly demonstrative of Wakeman’s expressive way with a piano were the curios: an instrumental version of his arrangement for Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” and the story of how he stretched it out from a forty-second hymn; the Nursery Rhyme Concerto, which married child’s melodies to the styles of the greats (including Les Dawson, “because he’s the only English composer I like”) and a mighty closing version of “Eleanor Rigby” played in the style of Rachmaninoff.
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