Marlborough College - Marlborough 26 August 2000 by Julia Harries
On Saturday 26th August, Marlborough Memorial Hall played host to one of the most diverse audiences I’ve ever seen in my life! I don’t believe anyone could have guessed what event this audience had come to witness simply by looking at them. The youngest I saw was probably under 10, the oldest, well let’s just say older than my granny! Yes t-shirts rubbed shoulders with twin-set’s and jeans sat next to posh frocks. It was worth the ticket price just to do some people watching!!

We were of course there to see Rick Wakeman and his new English Rock Ensemble play their final ‘warm up’ gig before departing on a one-month tour of South America. The Marlborough Memorial Hall is a small amphitheatre, crescent shaped round the stage, with a capacity of maybe 500? I’m not too good at judging these things but that would be my estimate for the audience that night.

To huge applause, the band took the stage and Rick, dressed in a long, sparkly coat, warned us that this gig was not like the last one he gave in Marlborough earlier in the year. The March gig, which was part of the Evening with Rick Wakeman tour, was recorded for release on DVD in October. At that gig, Rick combined music and anecdotes, something he said he wouldn’t be doing this evening. In spite of this, when the man gets a mike in his hand he can hardly resist joking with the audience. As camera’s flashed, he said they didn’t allow photographs for security reasons, social security reasons! He just can’t help himself, much to the delight of the audience. Then, in the maestro’s own words, “If you’re hard of hearing, you won’t be after this!”, so began a set which for me was the perfect combination of some of the best of Rick Wakeman’s enormous repertoire. And it was loud!

From Wives to Journey and Return, Arthur to 1984, Yes to the Beatles, everything you’d expect Rick to do with a band was there and then some.

Two of the Catherine’s kicked off the show and gave us a taste of things to come. A selection from Arthur, complete with Terry Taplin’s “Whoso pulleth” intro, gave Damian Wilson his first chance to wow us with his vocal style. Highlights from ‘Journey’ were another popular choice with the audience and was a natural for inclusion in the programme. A medley from 1984 was included in the set as it’s one of the most successful of Rick’s works in South America, and is also one of my personal favourites. ‘Hymn’, which was performed by Jon Anderson on the album, opened the piece and showed the softer end of Damian’s vocal range. This was combined with ‘Robot Man’. I really liked his voice and generally thought he did well with the variety of material.

Rick’s arrangement of Eleanor Rigby is just wonderful, Adam did a lovely intro and this was the first time I’d heard it with a vocalist. In spite of Damian forgetting some of the words (much to the amusement of the rest of the band), it really worked with the vocal. It was a night where this band could be forgiven anything. They were so obviously having a good time and just carried the audience along for the ride. I got the feeling we were witnessing the final dress rehearsal of a great show, and the fluffs and errors were simply part of the fun. When bassist Lee Pomeroy broke a string, five minutes of ad libbing from Rick filled the pause while the crew were located and Erik rectified the problem, to applause from the crowd.

Rick’s son Oscar chose ‘The Phantom’ from ‘Phantom Power’ for the show, and this was a refreshing addition to a great musical programme. Never performed live before, it was another good vehicle for the ensemble line-up.

Three tracks from ‘The Return to the Centre of the Earth’ were performed during the evening. ‘The Ride of Your Life’, ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Never is a Long Long Time’ are great live pieces, drawing on the talents of the whole band. Ant Glynne (wearing a shirt donated by his mother’s curtains according to Rick!) got to show off his considerable talent in a terrific guitar break on ‘Never’. Performing each of these pieces, Damian seemed at his most comfortable and confident. It was during these songs that Rick resorted to wearing his glasses, which prompted the gentleman sitting next to me to comment “We’re all getting old, aren’t we?”!! I’ve listened to Return many times since I first bought it but since seeing these tracks performed live, it hasn’t been out of my CD player!! I may have to revise my top five favourite albums!

Merlin will always be my very favourite track but when I saw Damian pick up the mike my heart sank. Generally Rick can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned but I have to say I didn’t like Merlin with Ashley Holt’s vocal on the Rick Wakeman Live video, so I felt disappointed that this was what we were going to get. I couldn’t have been more wrong! This arrangement cut the words down considerably from that on the video. The instrumental passages dominated and the highlight of the whole show for me was the finale of Merlin. Rick and Adam took centre stage with hand held keyboards worn guitar style, for a type of ‘duelling banjo’s’ head to head. Staring into each others eyes, Rick mugging furiously at one point to try and put Adam off, they took it in turns to play ever more fast and complex key combo’s. It was awesome! Finally, Rick did the closing ‘honky tonk’ passage with the keyboard resting on his thigh so the whole audience could see the blur of his hands when doing this bit. The crowd loved it!

Given that this set has been designed for a tour of larger venues, the band really couldn’t have got away without doing something from Yes, and Starship Trooper is a great piece for a large venue. It allowed the band to shine on every level and my only regret for this gig was that I couldn’t get up and dance in the aisles! It was so brilliantly played it gave you itchy feet but the venue simply isn’t made for this type of audience participation. Shame. Still, our South American friends have a treat in store.

The encore included The Jig from Cirque Surreal, complete with a small child that Damian had acquired from somewhere! Together they Riverdance'd round the stage, much to the child’s bemusement.

Throughout the show, drummer Tony Fernandez kept the band together, his solid experience and long-time familiarity with most of the material providing an anchor point for the other musicians.

It became obvious to me on the way out, ears ringing and heart soaring, that some of the audience had expected the show to be along similar lines to the March gig. No one was exactly moaning but I did hear one somewhat blue-rinsed lady commenting that it was rather loud and she hadn’t been able to hear the singer! Maybe this was a factor of where you were sitting because from my seat, I thought the balance was pretty good. I would have liked Ant and Adam’s backing vocals to be turned up a notch or two but this is a nit-pick.

I feel so privileged to have been at this gig. The whole evening was terrific. The size of the venue gave it an intimacy which made you feel you were almost part of the crew, the playing was fantastic, there was two and a half hours of music featuring the highlights of Rick’s career and he beamed with parental pride every time Adam was up front. Ahhh!

If you are in South America during September, no matter what it costs, get a ticket to this show. If you love Rick’s music I guarantee you, you won’t regret it. Boy, do I envy you!!