Rick Wakeman – Royal Albert Hall

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Why this gig?

Because despite all my pretensions to trendiness, there’s still an old prog rock fan hidden away deep inside. And sometimes he needs to be let out to play.

And because this is the first time that Journey to the Centre of the Earth has been played through in its entirety in the UK for about forty years.

Support

Wakeman is his own support. He does a half hour spot where he talks about some people who inspired him to write Journey or encouraged him to continue with the project against the wishes of his record company. He plays an electronic piano and picks four pieces that represent the people involved. It’s a good demonstration of his virtuosity, and the stories he tells are interesting. But it’s really not what most of the audience are here for.

Headline

After an twenty minute break, Wakeman is back. And this time he brings with him a symphony orchestra, a chamber choir and the English Rock Ensemble. This is more like it.

The publicity for the show had promised “a thrilling spectacle for all the family, to rival blockbuster presentations like Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds and Roger Waters’ touring production of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.” The reality falls rather short of that. We have large screens at either side of the stage which show a new Roger Dean painting and logo for the tour. And at various points during the show they display scenes from the story. But that’s it. There is no sign of the inflatable “farting dinosaurs” that Wakeman had told us about in his stories of the 1974 tour.

But that doesn’t really matter. It’s the music that matters. And that is still great. The original score was had been trimmed to forty minutes to accommodate the restrictions of the original vinyl release. Free from those restrictions, the piece lasts over an hour. And what an hour it is. The orchestra, choir and rock band all work together seamlessly to produce an amazing experience. And in the middle of the stage, Wakeman stands behind his banks of keyboards wearing his trademark cape, driving the piece forward.

Vocals are supplied by Ashley Holt, who sang on the original album. But he’s now joined by Hayley Sanderson who replaces him on some parts. That’s my only criticism of the performance. She has a good voice but it just seems a little wrong for those words to be sung by anyone else.

All in all thought, it’s a great night and i highly recommend it. But I suspect tickets for the few remaining shows are going to be hard to get hold of.

The setlist is on Setlist.fm.

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