St George's - Bristol 22 May 2011 by Simon Wheeler

In this country we have certain things, which are unique to these shores. Items or people that other countries around the world have repeatedly attempted to produce their own versions but have never reached the standard that Great Britain have? Things such as The Last Night of the Proms, Heinz Tomato Sauce, BBC News, Concorde, Fish and Chips, George Best the list goes on, but all of these things are unavoidably linked to these Isles and all it stands for and quite correctly are listed as our National Treasures. Also on that list should be a certain Richard Christopher Wakeman (I know he hates being called Richard as he told the enthralled audience at St. Georges Hall in Bristol on Sunday, 22nd, but when correct British protocol is being used when listing greatness then only the full name should be used). Rick Wakeman IS a National Treasure.

Like a good red wine for fifty something devotees of progressive rock music, Rick Wakeman’s name will always be linked to the era of music that could be listened to at any time, in any company, but always played to the very highest standards. Thus more years ago than I care to remember, I first heard the familiar Six Wives of Henry the Eighth album and from that day, Rick was always in the very top three of favourite artists. Others have seemed to come and then have gone, but Rick has always remained up there whenever “my” music has been discussed? Up until Sunday night one of my biggest disappointments was that I had not had the opportunity to see the great man “live,” So this was one concert that I have been eagerly looking forward to ever since the ticket finally dropped through my post box (And that is another story but let us not deflect from the story).

Rick arrived on stage wearing what can best be described as clothes that our fathers and their fathers before them would have gone down the garden to dig potatoes in!!! But surely this is a sign of English eccentricity and anyway the assembled audience had not come to see his sartorial elegance but listen to him produce wonderful music from the beautiful Steinway Grand. Rick most certainly did not disappoint.

Playing elegantly and effortlessly (well that’s how it looked from my front row seat and like all masters of their profession, people like Rick make it look so easy, whilst most of us struggle to play chopsticks in any key let alone the right one) Rick played a set of old favorites intermingled between pieces with anecdotes presented in a manner that he was talking to you in the pub over a friendly pint. Some were a little close to the edge (historic reference for all you fellow YES devotees) but all were told with a certain twinkle and total honesty. Highlight in my ears was the Six wives/Brian Blessed story, but, if you have not heard it then you will have to book an “Intimate evening” with the Great Man the next time he comes to a town near you?

The whole concert lasted over two hours (There was a short break as Rick explained that once a man passes the magic six zero, then prostate problems require certain “comfort breaks”) but was very warmly received by a Bristol audience of mixed age and also included his very beautiful daughter Gemma (She obviously took her Mum’s looks!!! Sorry just joking Rick). The maestro all beautifully played favorites such as Catherine Howard, Nursery Rhyme Concerto and the never forgotten Monkey on a Stick and I came away from the concert having one of my life’s ambitions fulfilled. I had witnessed greatness and the last time I had, had a similar feeling was when I had the privilege of seeing the great George Best (RIP) play similar wonderful tunes with a football many years ago.

One of Rick’s most poignant songs he played was Gone But Not Forgotten. Sadly Rick may now have gone from Bristol but in mine and I am certain everyone else who was privileged to be at St.Georges Hall on Sunday night he will NEVER be forgotten.

Quite simply Rick Wakeman is a National Treasure.

Simon Wheeler, Aged 53 and a quarter!!!