Palace Theatre, Westcliff on Sea
A day short of thirty-nine years since I saw Rick Wakeman with Yes on a revolving stage at recently renamed Wembley Arena, I was in the considerably more compact early 20th century surroundings of the Palace Theatre, Westcliff awaiting the self-styled Grumpy one. His Piano Portraits album had been a rare CD bought by Mrs Phil and enjoyed over the last few months. Personally, apart from the odd track, I found it extremely bland listening, but with Rick’s reputation as an entertaining raconteur and the knowledge he was playing close-ish to home, a ticket was the ideal anniversary pressie for her.
Was it a comedy gig, a rambling monologue or a reverential reflection on a life and it’s influences? All three really. The stage was equipped with a grand piano, some basic lighting, a candelabra and four posters for his ‘plinky-plonk’ piano album. What we were treated to was some extraordinarily dextrous musicianship from a 68 year old bloke, plus a series of Hoary Old Rock Anecdotes beloved of the old Word podcasts, jokes, witticisms and reflections from a well lived life and all delivered with the comic timing many jokers can only dream of.
Let’s face it, Rick is showing his age. Tall and well padded he shuffled back and forth across the stage relating tales, but when he took to the piano stool and played, the ease with which his hands traversed the keys demonstrated a man utterly at home in his workplace and still able to make a compulsive and moving sound.
I suspect many of the (largely retired) audience had probably only come across Rick on Radio 2 or in the CD racks of the local Tesco, as mention of the White Rock album during the preamble to the first track (After The Ball) was met with only fleeting recognition by a handful of people. And so was set the format for the evening. Amusing anecdote, tall tale, some insight into the inspiration for the piece, followed by the man and his piano. Along the way, tracks from the album (Bowie, Lennon/McCartney, Tchaikovsky) were mixed with bits from Return to the Centre of the Earth, Sweet Georgia Brown and nursery rhymes in the style of Mozart, Ravel, Rachmaninov, Debussy and Dawson (Les).
I went in expecting the evening to be ok. What I got was a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours and seeing someone of Rick’s ability in a small venue without the bells and whistles of a big gig made me appreciate him more. Afterwards, in the foyer/bar he came out and chatted, signed merch and spent time with anyone interested, before wheeling out his suitcase and driving himself away. Rock ’n’ roll.
The Piano Portraits album is still bland, but Rick is a natural performer who can breathe life into familiar tunes in the live environment.
50/50 mix of male and female, 10/90 mix of the under 60s and over 60s. Heavy prevalence of walking sticks
It made me think..
These music and chat gigs can work with the right performer and to be honest, may be better in some cases than seeing a bunch of 60/70-somethings trying to relive their youth … and failing