Richard Wakeman is an English keyboard player, composer, and songwriter known as the keyboardist for progressive rock group ‘Yes’. Originally a classically trained pianist, he was a pioneer in the use of electronic keyboards and in the use of a rock band in combination with orchestra and choir. He purchased his first electronic keyboard, a Minimoog, from the actor Jack Wild. Rick was able to buy it for half the regular selling price because Wild thought it did not work as it only played one note at a time. He hosts a regular radio show on Planet Rock. He is considered by many to be one of the best rock keyboardists of all time.
He was born in the suburb of Perivale, West London, and attended Drayton Manor Grammar School. Rick initially studied piano, clarinet, orchestration and modern music at the Royal College of Music, but he left of his own accord after a year and a half in favour of work as a session musician. Rick went on to play with Strawbs (1970-1971), and was also a very active studio musician, playing with such artists as David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Al Stewart notably playing piano (or Mellotron) on Bowie’s Space Oddity, Changes and Oh! You Pretty Things, and on Cat Stevens’ hit Morning Has Broken. Other artistes he has worked with Alice Cooper, John Williams, Elton John, Lou Reed, Elkie Brooks, T. Rex, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath (playing keyboards on “Sabbra Cadabra” and “Who are You” on 1973′s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath) and Brian May. (In 1985, Wakeman collaborated again with Bowie on Absolute Beginners). Rick’s piano backed Clive Dunn to number one on the single Grandad.
His career began to move fast when he joined the Rock group Yes in 1971, recording several successful albums with them. During his time with Yes, he released his first solo album, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII (1973), which showcases his skills with various electronic and acoustic keyboard instruments. Some members of Yes played their respective instruments on certain tracks. His next solo album was Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974), a very successful concept album combining his rock band (the English Rock Ensemble) with a symphonic orchestra and a choir fronted by Ashley Holt.In 1975, he released the concept album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which was supported by a live show featuring ice skating theatrical performances accompanied by a large number of musicians (his rock band, an orchestra and two choirs). The show was very well received, but its cost was extravagant and also caused Rick to declare bankruptcy. He subsequently left Yes to pursue other musical projects but has been reunited with the band on more than one occasion in the ninties In 2002, he rejoined Yes and stayed with the band until their In the Present Tour in 2008.
He has written the soundtracks for two films by Ken Russell: Lisztomania (1975), which features vocals from Roger Daltrey and which takes as its starting point the music of Liszt and Wagner; and Crimes of Passion (1984), much of which is built around themes taken from Dvo k’s New World Symphony.
He is a passionate football fan and has supported Brentford F.C. since he was a child, and later on he also became a director of the West London club. After a disagreement with the board, he moved on to Manchester City F.C. but never stopped loving the Bees. He was involved in the ownership of the American soccer club Philadelphia Fury in the late ’70s, along with other rock celebrities such as Peter Frampton and Paul Simon.
Rick adores comedy and has hosted a cable stand up comedy show as well as being a regular contributor on BBC Two’s series, Grumpy Old Men. He has also appeared in a number of episodes of Countdown, Top Gear and got a race track lap time of 1.55.26 and on the satirical panel show Have I Got News For You as a guest. He also appeared as himself in “Journey to the Centre of Rick Wakeman”, the last episode of season two of Mitch Benn’s Crimes Against Music, a BBC Radio 4 comedy programme.
Rick has been president of the show business charity The Heritage Foundation (formerly Comic Heritage). The charity erects blue plaques on the homes and/or work-places of late entertainers and sportspeople. Book Rick Wakeman today!
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
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