30 April 2014 (gig)
25 May 2014
Maybe he’s better known these days as stand-up comic, raconteur and writer and possibly Rick Wakeman was content to continue with that phase of his career with the odd concert now and then. Luck intervened and the discovery of some lost music for his 1974 concept album Journey to the Centre of the Earth spurred him to revisit the work, re-instate the missing sections and release it. The release was well received so the next logical step was to perform it, and a one off at the Royal Albert Hall turned into two and a full blown tour.
The concert had two sets, the first a short and very funny account of how the project was conceived, composed and released. So stories of music industry indifference, friends and colleagues encouragement to carry on, tripping punters jumping in to the moat at Crystal Palace Bowl coming face to face with inflatable dinosaurs and said dinosaurs rutting in the American Bible Belt, blended with a few key songs and a performance of Eleanor Rigby in the style of Prokofiev, which had to heard to be believed.
After the interval it was to the main event. Rick Wakeman came on stage, resplendent in cape and took his place behind his keyboards, lots of keyboards. With narrator Philip Franks sitting regally in the organ booth, accompanied by a choir and the English Rock Ensemble the next hour and a half or so was sublime. Based on the Jules Verne novel it’s an adventure story that lends itself well to musical interpretation. The explorers’ strange journey through the caverns, sailing on the subterranean seas and prehistoric dinosaur battles are all fodder for Rick Wakeman’s imagination.
The music has aged pretty well. Ostensibly keyboard orientated prog rock, as you’d expect it to be, it still manages to move, and there’s room enough for both the orchestra and the band to show off their virtuosity too. Ashley Holt – who sang on the original album - and Hayley Sanderson took on the lead vocals.
If there was one slight disappointment, it was that the lighting and staging didn’t quite match the scale of the music, coming across as a bit ordinary for such an extraordinary piece of music. That said it didn’t detract too much from the enjoyment of the performance.