TONIGHT! Rick Wakeman live in Cheltenham

Rick Wakeman

Rick Wakeman - Credit: Getty Images

Rick Wakeman will perform live in concert tonight (June 17)

Rick Wakeman - The Ultimate Experience

Rick Wakeman - The Ultimate Experience - Credit: Archant

Rock legend Rick Wakeman has chosen Cheltenham and Gloucester as the venues for his only major UK concerts this year. It was the opening night last night, and tonight he’ll be staging ‘The Rick Wakeman Ultimate Experience’ at Cheltenham’s The Centaur, with a personal selection of highlights from his three most famous albums: The Myths & Legends of King Arthur, The Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. In the two-hour programme, he will also bring together around 90 musicians, comprising the acclaimed English Rock Ensemble, the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Guy Protheroe, and the Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir. On Saturday, June 15, he performed a special show – with three of his children – at medieval Blackfriars in Gloucester.

Katie Jarvis spoke to him about his passion for history, which inspired some of his most famous music; and asked him why he’s staging these historic concerts in Gloucestershire.


• Rick, from where does your love of history originate?

From my late father – when I was younger, he’d take me to stately homes and say things like, ‘See these pictures of people who used to live here?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, close your eyes and transport yourself back to that time. Imagine what it must have been like for them.’


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• You’ve written some amazing music involving historical characters: King Arthur and his knights; the six wives of Henry VIII. Did your dad inspire you to translate characters into music?

I’m sure he did. But there was another thing that happened, too. I was about eight when my grandmother on my mother’s side was about to die. I’m not being flippant but Grandma was about to die every year; in fact, she was about to die for the next nearly-30 years. She was 97 when she finally went. Anyway, this particular year when she was about to die, I was sent to stay in a place close to Tintagel, which was so-called King Arthur’s castle. This would have been 1958, and it was a wonderful spot – before it became very commercialised. While I was there, I bought a book on King Arthur and I just thought this was absolutely wonderful. And, thanks to my father, I could transport myself back in time.


• Is that how you write your music – by transporting yourself back?

Yes – but I don’t try and write period music because that’s a mistake. I can do it; I know how to do it; but that’s not my job. What I try and do is to take my knowledge of music of today back in time and imagine if, back then, I had the wherewithal I have now, what I would do. I spend all my time thinking about the subject matter when I’m composing.


• A bit like method-acting?

It is. So when I did the ‘Sixth Wives’, for example, and people asked why was Jane Seymour done on a church organ, I’d go: That’s what I heard! I’d spent months reading about her, and that’s her; that’s how I see her.


• Your only major UK concerts this year are in Cheltenham and Gloucester? Why here?

I have a great love of cathedrals and medieval towns and Gloucester is such a wonderful city. You’ve got to look in the cracks, though. The best place to start is in the cathedral, before spiralling out and around. One of the things that always amazes me is the way people will go into the main body of the cathedral, say, ‘This is wonderful’, and then go shopping. There is so much more. I know Gloucester quite well because my eldest son, Oliver, lives in Bourton-on-the-Water.


• Oliver is involved in your Gloucester concert, isn’t he?

Yes – four of my children are going to be there! What happened was: I got approached by the organiser of the Gloucester Mystery Plays last year. The original plan was to do a massive, totally over-the-top, outdoor event, with bits of King Arthur and all that kind of thing, and with horses and jousting. Cut a long story short, word leaked out and suddenly there were people from all over the world booking hotels, intending to come. Unfortunately, the venue we wanted didn’t work out and we couldn’t find another place big enough in Gloucester. Then I was told that the Centaur was available [for this year, 2013], which would work because it’s a big stage. We decided to do a really different show, which is two hours-worth of music, including lots of King Arthur and Six Wives, with a band, orchestra and choir. There’ll be 90 people on stage!


• But in Cheltenham, not Gloucester…

Exactly. I love Cheltenham and I know it’s only just down the road but we set off to use Gloucester. So I decided I also wanted to do something in the cathedral – I do a show called the New Gospels and I thought that would work. The problem was that there was a big Masonic dinner in the cathedral the night we wanted. (Ironically, a few days later, I got an invite!) But then up came Blackfriars.


• That’s the show you’re performing with your kids.

Blackfriars is quite small – about 300 people – so I was trying to think of something we could do. I’ve done shows with a lot of my kids, and I thought it would be great to get either Adam or Oliver or Jemma to come and join me for a nice little family show – keyboards and things. I wrote to them all and they all came back and said: We’ll do that!


• Is it unusual for you all to be together like that?

I’ve never had all my six kids in the same room ever. Ever! So to even have three of them there is amazing. I actually think my son Ben is coming over from Switzerland to watch as well, so there’ll be four of the six kids, which is really nice. We’ll have a couple of keyboards each and guitars. We’ll do a mixture of music. The only thing is, they said to me, ‘We’ll do it with one proviso’. And I said, ‘What’s the proviso?’ They said, ‘Well, normally you have the microphone and do all the talking. This time, we want a mike each. And when we talk, you shut up!’ I said, ‘But you’ll tell everyone things about me…’ and they said, ‘Yeah – that’s the deal!’


• Are you petrified?

Well, erm, apprehensive is the word! But everyone’s really looking forward to it.


Support act: 7.30pm; Rick Wakeman: 8:30–10:30pm

Date: June 17. Tickets on sale now from: