Updated: 1 May 2007
On 20 April 2007, Rick Wakeman recorded the first of the live sessions for his Saturday morning radio show on Planet Rock, with the Acoustic Strawbs at Shepperton Studios in West London. The show was played to an audience of ticket prize winners from his radio show, plus a few invited guests, including Ali and me for services rendered to the website.
Rick joined the band for four numbers and interviewed the band members between songs. It was a thoroughly entertaining evening, the first time Rick has played with the Strawbs since 1971 (though both Daves and Chas did play on a track from "Six Wives" and on a session for the Old Grey Whistle Test which included that track.
The show will be aired Sat 5th May (Rick's show is at 10.00am). Instructions how to tune into Planet Rock at http://planetrock.com/Article.asp?id=266183.
Picture by Dick Greener - more from Dick on the galleries page.
(those with marked with * feature Rick)
Oh How She Changed *
A Glimpse Of Heaven *
We'll Meet Again Sometime *
ACOUSTIC STRAWBS WITH RICK WAKEMAN - PLANET ROCK SESSION RECORDING - 20 APRIL 2007
I know I've done the routine before about, "why do you do this website all unpaid" - well, every so often I get this big grin across my face when I see/hear something I wouldn't have got to do otherwise. Well last night, 20th April, grin in overdrive, an experience I truly never expected - to see Rick Wakeman re-united with the Strawbs for one night only in front of an invited/price-ticket audience at Shepperton Studios.
Rick Wakeman on his Planet Rock radio show a while back mooted a possible Strawbs/Wakeman live get together, with audience tickets given as prizes on his weekly Saturday morning show. As it turned out, the original electric line-up/Wakeman hookup didn't work out schedule-wise and the rescheduled show on 20 April featured the Acoustic Strawbs plus Rick, a line-up that last played together for the track on Rick's solo album Six Wives Of HenryVIII which featured Lambert, Cronk and Cousins, and shortly afterwards for a live session for BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test. This was the first of Planet Rock's live session shows, and Rick announced he was particularly pleased it featured the Strawbs, given his long association with Dave Cousins.
Between songs Rick quizzed the various members, covering the history of the band, and eliciting some great never before heard stories from both Daves and Chas; Rick himself had a few recollections to add.
But hearing Rick join in on some of the numbers was just fantastic - the first time Rick has played with Strawbs since he left in 1971 (he could have done at Chiswick in 1998 but had pneumonia and sent son Adam instead). I was around for some of the sound check and watched them put it together - Rick's pedigree as "one take Wakeman" in his old session player pre- and during - Strawbs days brought to mind as he unhesitatingly picked out trademark-Wakeman trills and runs, to match Dave's unique chords and the rest of the complex acoustic arrangements (complaining during the show that there were hardly any chords he recognised from the old days), switching gears and volume when space was left for him to solo.
An absolutely amazing joy - highlights for me (just a few from an show that will keep me smiling for a good while to come):
"Oh How She Changed" - Rick adding a piano part which perfectly complemented the arrangement "We'll Meet Again Sometime" - the rousing last number, with Lambert's slide solo replaced by a virtuoso performance on piano from Rick but most of all - "A Glimpse Of Heaven" - played just as it should be with the trills and arpeggios from RW, who confessed it (and "Shepherd's Song") to be two of his all-time favourites, and who was clearly lifted onto a higher plateau as he was playing it.
Let's be clear though, the ones without Rick were pretty fine too, a particularly bitter "New World" and rousing "Lay Down", with Ghosts living up to its usual promise and "Midnight Sun" gentle and delicate. All parties were clearly having a great time, Rick tapping along to the music (well sort of tapping, he uses all fingers of both hands on the piano stool, as though he is clearly itching to put fingers to keyboard to push out another few arpeggios). And DC had the biggest beam on his face I've seen for a long time.
Photos by Dick Greener - more from Dick on the galleries page.
It was a while ago that Planet Rock announced the competition for tickets to see Rick Wakeman play with the Acoustics Strawbs. A fairly simple competition, you simply had to name ten tracks that had "Time" in the title. Smart a*se that I am, I came up with one Adam Wakeman track and nine Rick Wakeman tracks a sure winner, I thought.
Then I panicked. What if I won? I'd only get TWO tickets, and that would be a disaster. Clearly Calli and I would have loved to have gone, but there are far more deserving Witchwooders than us who needed to be there. Ali and Dick for starters. If I had won the tickets I'd have felt awful going, knowing that they weren't there. Then there was Lindsey. She simply had to be there. Rick was even reading Strawbette emails out on air. Then there was Nigel. He has recently celebrated his one hundredth Strawb concert this century. How could Calli and I go and not him?
Thankfully, I didn't win tickets. I'd completely naffed up the competition. The ten tracks all had to be by different artists. By selecting nine RW tracks I had invalidated my entry.
I was then overjoyed to hear that Strawbette had won tickets. Fabulous. Owing to other commitments, the Strawbs and Rick just never seemed to have time in their busy schedules to get together and record the show, so it looked as if it would be delayed till after the US tour, or simply cancelled altogether.
And then on Wednesday I discovered that a friend (wasn't even my best friend then, but by heck he will be now) had won tickets, the recording was going to be on Friday 20th of April but sadly he couldn't go that night. Did I want the tickets?
Even more joyous, Dave Cousins had some complementary tickets and had made sure that both Dick and Ali were going to be there. So I could go without too much guilt, (other than knowing that the rightful owner of the tickets wasn't there.)
So that meant three concerts in one week! Brian and Cathryn in Dartford, the Acoustics at Chatham, and then the radio recording! Yes, I do know that I am the luckiest person alive.
Nigel, Ali, Calli and I all met up first for a drink, (I'll leave it up to Lindsay to explain why she wasn't there) and then moved off to the studios to queue.
Friday had been a very warm day, but the evening was quite chilly, (Ali, who had travelled down from the North Pole, or somewhere pretty close, still thought it was quite a warm evening, but us Southern Jessies thought it was very nippy). The studio staff kept popping out to tell us how the sound check was progressing, and to check that we hadn't completely iced over.
Once inside, we discovered that Lindsey had reserved front row seats for our little group. (See I said I was the luckiest man alive what more proof can you have). Such a shame that Planet Rock did not want many people there, and had limited the audience to such a few people. Guess, they didn't want the costs of paying for security.
In all, the concert lasted just over an hour, but once the un-broadcastable bits have been edited out, there should be a good hours worth of material left. Not a lot of point spoiling the radio show for you by describing what will get aired, so maybe I should mention the bits that won't. Just as they were about to start, DC disappeared so Rick jested that he had gone to the loo. How long would he be there? Just a couple of shakes. In addition,. during reminiscences of the White Bear, Rick fairly soon managed to bring the conversation round to the condom machine. No doubt, knowing Rick, those bits will get aired and the rest won't.
Dick has already given the set list and described the songs far more eloquently than I could ever do. I will simply say that I saw Yes around 1973 in a football stadium at Wembley. The band were a hundred miles away from me, and looked no bigger than ants. This time round I got to see Rick close up.
Photos by Pete Bradley - more from Pete on the galleries page.
After weeks and weeks of research to try to win tickets for this very special event it was with thanks to a guardian angel (you know, the one in a thousand, who has wings upon her heels and feathers on her toes) that I found my self seated in the front row of the Shepperton Studios. After spending the obligatory time outside in the cold, queuing to get in to this event, ( a little bit of time in a pub as well) with the other prize winners from Rick's show and other folk.
Ah yes, but what pleasures inside and now having spent a couple of hours speeding through my late night return where the countryside it seemed to pass so quickly, just like the show and almost in a flash. The real surprise was that I remembered the running order all of which had been a pure delight.
Rick had opened proceedings by saying something like "as soon as you clap you can go home, we've done the rest", to lots of laughter. This set the mood for the night and DC's smiles and tales throughout the show gave an insight into his particular pleasure.
Somehow with this being recorded for transmission later, stage fright struck and I felt rather exposed sat in the front row and began thinking, what if I cough or make some other involuntary noise during a song, what fate would I be made to suffer? Would I be thrown out, or exposed, before the nation. Does anyone know how can you make a cough, into a creative incarnation?
Then the boys came on and opened with "Ghosts" and that fear was soon forgotten as the clarity of sound took me clear of that particular worry as figuratively speaking we were onto and into another planet with the acoustic versions of some Strawbs classics. This was so very good and from the front row vantage, a joy to behold. I was sat right in front of DL whose face was etched with the intensity of every note.
A mood change to the ethereal Midnight sun and after watching intently from his stool entranced in the imagery, an invitation was extended for Rick to join in with "Oh How She Changed". Rick turned to face his piano and the acoustic trio became a quartet of distinctly melded sound, rich in vein and a quality that is rarely surpassed in this acoustic format and a real joy to behold.
We then drop into the mysterious "Witchwood" with Rick joining in and tinkling along. The banjo bits and piano were a leading influence in the song. Whether you get lost in the 'wood or seek it just for shelter, this is one of those early and classic seventies songs that really can't be bettered.
The baton was then passed back to the distinctive three as "New World" captured minds and admiration. Now if you have ever thought this sounded good in acoustic form, tonight it seemed even better. Perhaps the intoxicating feel of the night had now taken over, but this song heavy and deep in disguise, with Rick in the background tapping along from his stool. Ah me, oh my, how he seemed to enjoy the sound of perfection coming from the centre stage.
Without doubt a real highlight of the night was that quintessential "A Glimpse Of Heaven". Knowing well the land it is about, the descriptive nature is imprinted on my mind like a picture drawn on canvas, making the unseen, a visual memory from the song.
Rick it seemed, was drifting there too, a reminder perhaps of times long distant past. Almost as if in a trance like state himself and admiring that countryside place and at the same time giving the impression that he was actually playing this particular " glimpse " not only for us but also for his own his personal pleasure.
Much of the evening was spread between songs and tales - some of which I suspect may never be repeated (on air at least) but the simple vision of the magic of mushrooms brought us all to lay down, within the pastoral scene and take in the hallucinogenic effect of this all time Strawbs classic. More evocative tales are to come allegedly from Chas, following an over-lunch interview assignation.
The final number on the night was "We'll Meet Again Sometime", which Rick took a lead upon and with many chords he said changed from their original interpretation was kept up to speed by DL and a discreet and lip read "A minor" (I think) took the song along to its natural conclusion.
It was a real privilege after many a year to be sat enjoying this show and if you like the final coup de grace was the inducting in to Witchwood of Mr W with a badge by the guardian angel and captured in embrace by a lovely little photo and fulfilling a promise made from many weeks back.
This night will never be erased from the memory and fortunately even those that were not there can take some pleasure by listening in to Rick's place, (apparently next week), so you will have no longer have to take just my word for it.
Photos by Ben Williams from Classic - more from Ben on the galleries page.
Here's my take on the day Strawbs recorded with Rick Wakeman for his "Rick's Place" radio show on Planet Rock I was flying for most of it so excuse me if it doesn't all make sense!
During the afternoon of the recording of Strawbs live show with Rick Wakeman I managed to get together with Chas for an interview we had been discussing the possibility of one for ages, but it had never previously happened, usually due to lack of time. With the recent release of the excellent Lambert Cronk album "Touch the Earth" the time seemed right however; Chas told me he would be free before the evening soundcheck and rehearsal, and it seemed the right occasion had at last arrived. Most enjoyable interview (to follow shortly) over, Chas and I made our way to Classic Pictures, Shepperton Studios, at around 5.30 p.m. where we were immediately met by an extremely helpful guy called Ben who insisted on helping carry some gear in from the car. We'd hardly stepped through the studio doors before being plied with teas and coffees, and shortly after that fish and chips were on offer too. Lovely to be looked after by such generous and friendly people, who helped make the studio atmosphere very relaxed.
My Witchwood buddies and I had pledged previously that, if possible, one of us would try to reserve seats close to the stage the task clearly fell to me as the stop-outs were at a local pub. After a brief but pleasant chat with Gill I unsuccessfully scrabbled around for things to put across front row chairs, until Geraldine kindly came to the rescue with a bit of lateral thinking; well actually it was Gracie (the rock dog)'s blanket which did the trick nicely. Having placed it across the seats Geraldine and I relaxed at the back of the studio while the band buzzed around sorting out gear, tuning up and so on. Shortly afterwards, Rick arrived; he said a friendly "hello" to everyone, and it was lovely to witness him meeting up with band members after a very long time in some cases; great big smiles and hugs all round. Geraldine told him I had actually won tickets for the show in one of his "Rick's Place" competitions; I confessed that I had emailed him using the devastatingly imaginative pseudonym "Strawbette" (thank Mr. Bennett for that!), and he declared that he'd been wondering who "Strawbette" was. I also recounted a tale of chatting with him following his "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" epic at Crystal Palace in July 1974 (my friend Christine and I had tried to get into the VIP enclosure but failed miserably; rarely taking "no" for an answer we eventually spotted Rick in the midst of thronging crowds and decided to call him. To our amazement he'd come straight over for quite a lengthy chat at the perimeter fence; not sure he remembered it all quite as clearly as I do, he's been rather busy since apparently (and I wasn't going to mention the photos I'd shown him), but never mind!
For a while I then sat in the recording room with Geraldine (and Gracie, of course, who ate her doggy tea), while the band and Rick started soundchecking. The sound was absolutely superb, as was to be expected, but after a little while Geraldine and I went and sat back in the studio to watch as Strawbs ran through several songs, with Rick joining in. As far as I'm aware none of the band knew what was going to happen before Rick arrived; I don't think anyone was even sure whether Rick would be playing. However, everything gelled to perfection instantly, thanks both to the amazing calibre of the musicians involved and the musical empathy which exists between them. Geraldine took several photos, as did a couple of the other people there who worked for Planet Rock or the studio. Acoustic Strawbs were on a low stage, in their normal positions, while Rick sat to the right-hand side at his piano. He disappeared at some point while the band carried on sound checking/rehearsing, and moments later I was delighted to see our Dick walk through the door. "Any sign of Rick yet?" he asked I told him I'd just witnessed Rick play several songs with the band, but that he'd gone. Dick uttered a little word which made me think he was possibly a tad disappointed .then one of the band hollered "Rick!" (much as I had done at Crystal Palace) and there he was again; he'd been stuck into his fish and chips I believe. Another run-through of the songs (not sure how many or which ones even - I really was buzzing!).
When the band had finished rehearsing I again went and sat back in the recording room for a while; Rick wandered in and out and amiably told the few of us sitting in there a couple of amusing stories, and there was general chit-chat. He knelt beside the sound desk and listened intently to what had already been recorded at some stage too. Strawbs wandered about, doing whatever it was they were doing, and the atmosphere was wonderfully friendly and relaxed. I had a chat with the sound guy, and also with Trevor White from Planet Rock. I'm afraid I lost track of time, though I remember sitting (nice comfy sofas) chatting with Geraldine once again, then looking up through the window in the wall and being surprised to see the audience had already been let in and were sitting on the chairs (hard plastic). I dashed out to join my Witchwood buddies; thankfully they'd saved my seat for me this time, and I found myself in the middle of the front row for this amazing set.
As others have already described, the atmosphere was of fun and friendship right from the off, with Rick putting the audience at ease with lots of humour, and he and Dave Cousins started bantering about this, that and the other. Dave Cousins picked up his guitar and it needed retuning, despite apparently having been left tuned up gremlins, where do they appear from whenever there is a live performance? No problem though, the ambience of the evening built up and up as Rick bantered with the audience, asking questions such as who had come the furthest (there was someone from Halifax and a couple from Cheshire no contest for "Middlesborough" Ali, of course). Lots of chat about the Hounslow White Bear days and early band members, the "Salvador Dali" story, tons and tons more, though I suspect that the most hilarious of the stories may well not be aired on radio. Lovely to hear both Dave L. and Chas tell their own anecdotes too none of the band seemed in the slightest bit nervous, and a quick glance around at the audience confirmed how much everyone, not just our crowd, but all the other competition winners too, were enjoying this magical evening.
Others have already detailed the set itself so I won't bother, but the overriding memory for me really is of the look on Rick's face. I've seen him play about a dozen times over the years in various different guises, but never sat watching him, on floor level, just a few feet away from him like that before. It was possible to watch the beauty of his hands moving up and down the keyboard, but it was the intensity of his facial expression that I found most fascinating. He was utterly absorbed in the music, not only while he was himself playing, but also while watching Strawbs (which he did avidly throughout the entire set). Absolutely wonderful to watch. Of course, although I'd seen Rick play solo, with Adam, with Yes, with Jon Anderson, with The English Rock Ensemble (actually won tickets for that once too I remember, it was at Hammersmith Odeon around 1980, and Tony Fernandez was drumming), and so on, it was to see him play with Strawbs that I'd always really wanted most. To watch him accompany acoustic Strawbs on "Glimpse of Heaven" and "Witchwood", the first two Strawbs songs I ever heard, was the stuff of dreams for me which I'd never even envisaged as a possibility. I do remember Rick laughing early on that the chords had changed since the soundcheck even; to me everything sounded as close to perfection as it gets. It goes without saying that Strawbs all played to their usual impeccable standards, plus the amazing clarity of the studio sound, some great lighting, and the intimate and appreciative audience made for a superb evening all round.
Ok, trying to remember now briefly what happened after the recording I know a crowd from the audience gathered around Rick for a friendly chat while we Witchwooders had our own little catch-up on a few of the day's events; some of us were just a little speechless, however, I seem to recall. I remember going back into the recording room, where Dave Cousins and Rick were chatting; Rick had to get moving (saying he had to be up at 7.00 a.m. for his next morning's live broadcast, if I heard correctly). I took off my Witchwood badge and handed it to him as we said goodbye I had promised him one in an email about something I'd sent into his show previously (bribery and corruption?? Absolutely not!). I told him he had to wear a Witchwood badge having played on the album, and he immediately obliged. (I decided to leave out the rest of the usual Witchwood induction ceremony though). Pete took a photo of us standing together by the stage, and by that time most people had gradually dispersed. Two thirds of the band, Geraldine, Neil, and the Witchwood representatives decided to carry on the evening a little longer however, and we all retired to a lovely pub nearby called "The Harrow", where we mulled over both the day's events and what lay on the Strawb horizon. Dave Cousins was very excited indeed telling us all about his new solo album "The Boy in the Sailor Suit", which has been recorded with members of The Blue Angel Orchestra this week, and all has been going very well so I hear. All new material too we did hear a few snippets in the pub, and hopefully won't have to wait too long until we can hear the finished article.
The time to make a move inevitably came; Calli kindly offered me a bed for the night chez her and Pete, but in the end Dick managed to dash the pair of us back across London (few hairy moments!) in time for me to catch the last train to Southend from Liverpool Street, surrounded by drunken office workers (tut tut, I could NEVER have been one of those). Thanks very much Dick, most grateful I am too. That's about as much as I can get it together to write about "that day" too amazing by half to describe, but I've done my best!
Photo by Ben Williams from Classic - more from Ben on the galleries page.