Wakeman's journey to the centre of the Roundhouse

PUBLISHED: 16:17 09 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:29 07 September 2010

As American poet and essayist Emerson put it: Artists, like bees, must put their lives into the sting they give. In 1974 Rick Wakeman felt this bitter truth all too keenly when he mortgaged his house to produce his album Journey to the Centre of the Ear

As American poet and essayist Emerson put it: "Artists, like bees, must put their lives into the sting they give." In 1974 Rick Wakeman felt this bitter truth all too keenly when he mortgaged his house to produce his album Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

And when the Yes keyboard virtuoso felt his resolve faltering, he had the advice of David Bowie: "He told me: 'Don't rely on other people. The reason they're where they are and you're where you are is that they don't have any imagination. Always be in control'.

"I only had about £4,000 which didn't even cover the first rehearsal of the orchestra. I mortgaged my house up to the hilt. On the day the record came out I got a writ from the Express Dairy for an unpaid milk bill."

Rick Wakeman of Yes fame is a keyboard artist with classical training who blossomed during a prog rock period where it was ok to experiment with protracted symphonic tracks that told complex stories.

"Ever since I was eight and my dad took me to see Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev I thought how wonderful it would be to tell a story with music," he says, revealing his dream with touching candour.

With that in mind, it's unsurprising that he doesn't regret the excesses of his Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table album, which was supported by a live show featuring an ice skating extravaganza.

Perpetrator of what is today viewed as the nadir of prog kitsch, Wakeman is unrepentant: "I don't regret the excesses. It's an investment in what I believe in. It's exactly how I wanted it to look.

"It's often referred to in the papers as making a loss. But it had to lose money. We did three days at Wembley for goodness sake. Journey sold 14 million and King Arthur sold 12 million.

"When they do features in Mojo on the biggest spectacular and then the biggest folly, my ice skating spectacular often features in both!"

Wakeman seems to have embraced the artistic excesses of the 1970s with a vengeance. He tells of the insane 1975 Ken Russell film Lisztomania, loosely based on the life of composer Liszt, in which Ringo Starr plays the Pope arriving on a rollercoaster and Wakeman plays the god Thor.

With Yes, Wakeman recorded what is viewed one of the best prog rock albums of all time, Close to the Edge, which was centred around a crowning single, Close to the Edge, an 18-minute epic.

The difference between the 70s and today's quick-fix, X-factor generation is palpable, says Wakeman: "People at the moment listen to instant music - but people are going back and listening to our progressive music. Anything that's too fast or quick will have a limited lifespan."

It's easy to label Wakeman a faded rockstar, clinging to patchouli-scented glories. But Wakeman achieved the bravest thing a man can do. Put it all on the altar for the sake of his dream.

Rick Wakeman will appear at the Roundhouse on October 14. His book, Grumpy Old Rockstar, is out now.

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