Latest Review – Rick Wakeman: Piano Odyssey Tour [RNCM, Manchester]


Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester

Wednesday 19th December 2018

The dazzling talents of Rick Wakeman kept an appreciative crowd entertained in the intimate, in the round setting at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music in the final date of his Piano Odyssey tour.

Rick’s set drew on the impressive range of his back catalogue, from his session musician days, through collaborations with top groups, and his own supergroups, all played on a Steinway Model D grand with no accompaniment. Although I do prefer the flamboyant, grandiose displays that go with the electronica his skills on the piano are brought to the fore, and the inimitable Wakeman style and sound shine through in all the pieces performed.

The set included tracks from Rick’s latest album Piano Odyssey which contains a wonderful selection of tunes drawn from eclectic sources. He proclaims his love of Eastern European composers and the influence they had over his playing styles, and Wakeman falls back on the compositions of Rachmaninov and Dvorak to display his own skills.

Humour is never far away, and all pieces are book ended by anecdotal tales on the subject of musical colleagues he has encountered to emotional stories from his own talented family. As a fellow grumpy old man these stories ring true and resonate with his fans who have no doubt heard most of the stories before, but they are worth revisiting. The raconteur Wakeman is an equal to his keyboard skills, which is no mean feat.

After a splendid version of Jane Seymour (disappointed it wasn’t Catherine Howard), Rick went onto perform Liszt’s Leibestraume and straight into his take on Lennon/McCartney with Eleanor Rigby. Every Wakeman gig recounts how he wasn’t paid for the signature intro of Cat Steven’s Morning has Broken– was it just the intro? – no it was the intro and outro and also most of the bits in between as he would have us believe – give it a listen – he is correct!

A breath-taking version of Sweet Georgia Brown was met with much approval by the crowd who due to the splendid design of the concert hall are able to be very close to the action. Merlin the Magician paid homage to his ‘Wizard’ days with And You and I from his Yes period. Wakeman played on Bowie’s Hunky Dory album which gave the opportunity to recount tales of a generous Bowie providing advice and guidance to a young Rick. Life on Mars wast then played in Wakeman’s own unique style and brought a tear to the eye. Aided by the excellent Triple Cream support act Wakeman performed Silent Night, recounting the mythical tale of singing in the trenches during the First World War. He closed with his party piece of Nursery Rhyme selections in the styles of Mozart (Wolfgang Amadeus) and Dawson (Les) amongst others.

Wakeman is a National Treasure nowadays due to his regular appearances on TV, but his comedic talents should never be allowed to overshadow his incredible keyboard skills. His playing was outstanding and of the highest calibre throughout and left this particular listener wanting more.

Mick Binns

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