Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rick Wakeman - The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973)

In the early 70s most rock musicians who became deities were guitarists who earned a living within the blues and hard rock idioms. Keyboard players seldom captured the hearts and minds of music fans in the same way the most famous axemen did. One of only a handful of men who pounded the 88s and achieved the exalted status of gods like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jimi Hendrix was the extraordinary Rick Wakeman.

In his brief time with Yes Wakeman immediately become a star but he quickly looked beyond the constraints of being a sideman. This led to his first solo LP, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, in early 1973.

Wakeman wrote the following in the album's liner notes, "The album is based around my interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments." Those of you who are not well educated about Henry's mostly unlucky queens should just take his word for it and simply enjoy the music on a more superficial level. Fortunately, that is an easy thing to do.

The six instrumentals are complex arrangements that sound like true hybrids of rock and classical music but minus vocals the album is arguably the most accessible prog-rock set of music ever released. Much of the genre's overreach was due to its often bombastic, indecipherable lyrics but that is not a concern here.

Wakeman's mellotron, Moog, grand piano, and Hammond C-3 organ are everywhere. Dave Cousins, his former bandmate in The Strawbs, played some electric banjo and he received great assists from fellow Yes men Bill Bruford, Alan White, and Steve Howe. Chris Squire lent a hand on "Catherine of Aragon."

The album reached #30 on Billboard's Hot 100 and two years later it was certified gold.

While Wakeman frequently played some of the tracks from the album in concert he performed the entire set live for the first time in 2009 at Hampton Court Palace to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Henry's coronation. This performance, with an orchestra and choir, included some previously unreleased material that didn't fit on the original studio release. You can purchase it on Amazon in all audio and video formats.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big fan of this album, which I came to after getting into "King Arthur" and "Journey to the Center of the Earth" as a teenage prog-rock geek. It's worn a lot better than either one of those, except maybe for "Jane Seymour," which mixes primitive synth noise with cathedral organ to the detriment of both.

    Wakeman is a great follow on Twitter, BTW, @grumpyoldrick.