Prog rock legend Rick Wakeman is set for two nights at Lancaster Music Festival next month.
Malcolm Wyatt tracked down the keyboard wizard to talk family values, grumpiness and healthy living.
It’s half-past eight in the morning when I make contact with Rick Wakeman. And despite his memorable contributions to the BBC’s Grumpy Old Men, he’s bright and breezy.
So what time did this revered ivory-tinkler, who has sold 50 million records worldwide, get up this morning?
“Half past five, sir! I’ve been like that for years and years. I suppose it started when I was doing paper rounds.
“Then when I started doing session work, the first ones in London were at nine in the morning. To beat the rush hour you had to leave at six.
“I mean...I’m in the wrong profession. I’m knackered by nine o’clock and want to go to bed far too early.
“The great thing is you get a load of stuff done before everything starts going nuts.
“If it wasn’t for my early starts I wouldn’t get anything else done.”
Home is East Anglia these days for this 66-year-old dad of six, married four times, who made his name as the keyboard player with Strawbs then Yes.
“I’m right on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. I’ve been here 11 years. It’s absolutely beautiful and very commutable, an hour and a half from London by train, 40 minutes from the seaside, with lots of forest around.
We like all that.”
So is it just you and your beloved, Rachael at home these days?
“And three rescue cats. Rachael and I have been together..ooh, crikey, 13 years now, and all my kids are grown up. The eldest boy’s 43, the youngest 29, and there’s nine grandchildren.”
My excuse for tracking Rick down is his two-night candle-lit stand as part at the Lancaster Music Festival (October 16/17).
He’s playing the Priory, the historic place of worship on Lancaster Castle’s doorstep, supported by acclaimed guitarist Gordon Giltrap and accompanied by Lancaster Priory Choir.
Rick’s religious faith has been important to him over the decades, so I’m guessing he’s played grade-one listed Anglican churches before.
“I’ve played loads of churches and priories over the years, and like them very much. The thing that made this show so very appealing was the choir.
“I’m in love with choirs, always have been, and do a lot with the English Chamber Choir, right back to 1970. I’ve also been involved with St Martin’s in the Fields’ Choir and quite a few others.”
Rick will perform on grand piano and the Priory organ, playing pieces from across his career, from early recordings with Cat Stevens and David Bowie to acclaimed solo work, including Jane Seymour from Six Wives of Henry VIII.
Due to limited capacity both concerts have VIP status, with opportunities to meet and be photographed with the artists.
And this being Rick, there will be plenty of anecdotes from an eventful life and career.
“A lot of pieces have choir parts, and I’ll be doing a couple of Yes pieces, but we also have a young girl singing a couple of solos, a former Priory chorister, Lizee Weedy.
“She’ll sing Amazing Grace with me, something I’ve performed with my daughter Jemma. The choir will also join me on some of the Six Wives stuff and some of the other bits.”
Before Lancaster, there’s another gig with a difference, at Barrow Hill Roundhouse, an engine shed in Chesterfield. Right up Rick’s street as a steam railway buff.
“That was another weird one that came in. We turn down a lot, but when that came up I thought it sounded great and different. ”
Tickets for Rick Wakeman at Lancaster Priory (October 16/17) various prices can be purchased via ticketsource.co.uk/lancastermusicfestival.