Rick’s hallowed show

Keyboard wizard: An Evening with Rick Wakeman at Sheffield Cathedral on Friday, April 8, 2011, at 7.30pm.
Keyboard wizard: An Evening with Rick Wakeman at Sheffield Cathedral on Friday, April 8, 2011, at 7.30pm.

IN his one-man show there’s a story Rick Wakeman likes to tell involving Brian Blessed, the actor who has narrated his rock opera, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, but the audience in Sheffield on Friday won’t be hearing it, however,

It’s a trifle risque and the musician and raconteur is conscious he will be performing in the hallowed surroundings of Sheffield Cathedral.

“There’s nothing in the show which would offend anyone and we have all kinds from grand-dads to young kids coming along,” he says.

“There are a couple of stories I will admit I change when I am doing somewhere like a cathedral but I change things on the night anyway.”

For all that, Wakeman recalls performing in a cathedral in the south of England once and being approached afterwards by a visiting bishop who said he was disappointed it hadn’t included the story about Brian Blessed which he had heard at a previous gig elsewhere and had to be reminded it contained a few inappropriate words.

“You don’t want to run the risk of offending anyone, it’s easier not to do certain stories especially when I have so many other ones to chose from,” he says.

The keyboard veteran of progressive rock bands the Strawbs and Yes has sold more than 50 million records worldwide, which have included more than 150 record releases, 50 plus DVDs, soundtracks for more than 25 films, numerous television appearances including Countdown, Top Gear and Grumpy Old Men, not to mention more than 4,000 worldwide concert performances of one sort or another.

This one-man show format came about by accident. One night his gear didn’t arrive for a concert and the only thing available was a piano.

The audience were given the choice of their money back or an evening with Rick performing on the piano and telling stories – and An Evening With Rick Wakeman was born.

“The show is about 40% silly stories and about a dozen to 14 bits of music people will recognise,” he explains.

While he continues to perform with his band, The English Rock Ensemble, at arenas around the world, his profile these days is more as a personality and one of the original Grumpy Old Men which he has exploited with books Grumpy Old Rock Star and Further Adventures of a Grumpy Old Rock Star.

“I thoroughly enjoy doing the one-man show, which I do as one-offs rather than tours, and utilise the rest of my time for TV, radio and books,” he says. “One of the things that’s nice about it is being able to go down a different route musically and with the silly stories to be able to go off on a real tangent.

“The other thing is that it’s a great discipline. With a band you can relax for a bit because someone else is in the spotlight but here you have to concentrate all the time.

“If you feel like scratching yourself, you can’t – especially in a cathedral.”

Wakeman is a committed Christian and thus no stranger to cloistered environs but has found himself performing in them more and more.

“I guess I’ve done about half a dozen shows in cathedrals before now,” he calculates. “What’s happening is that there are a lot of towns which hold festivals but don’t have a large enough venue to hold a thousand people for certain events and realise that cathedrals can do just that.

“At the same time there are a lot of cathedrals that cost a fortune to run and they have looked to commercial possibilities like opening shops and cafés. But then they have a habit of closing the café at 5pm which is just the time I’m turning up before doing my gig in the evening,” he says in mild exasperation, the nearest we come to grumpy old man territory.