Interviews with Oliver
Oliver Wakeman tours with Gordon Giltrap during April promoting their "Ravens and Lullabies" album and their band includes members of Arena and Threshold. Here we find out a little more about the tour, his time with the Strawbs...
1. What have you got planned for the next few months e.g. recording, new musical projects etc.
My main focus at the moment is preparing for the tour with Gordon and trying to work out which keyboards to take out on the road! I have a few to chose from and as the set is quite varied I need to take a certain amount to make sure I can cover all the original parts faithfully whilst making sure I don't take too much equipment and leave the others no room on stage!
I am hoping to start recording a new large project this year but we are still in the development stage but hopefully we'll be able to announce something in the near future.
2. What sort of setlist can fans expect at the upcoming shows? Do you each play music from your solo careers too?
We will be playing the Ravens & Lullabies album in its entirety along with a few pieces from Gordon's classic era along with pieces from my past. We have chosen a few tracks from my past which are vocal tracks as we have the excellent singer Paul Manzi with us on stage and so we want to make best use of his time.
3. The backing band have some real prog rock pedigree. How did you hook-up with Arena's Paul Manzi and Threshold's rhythm section?
Paul and I have known each other since 2005 - in fact Paul was a member of my solo band long before he joined Arena. He first recorded appearance with my was on my 2008 live DVD "Coming to Town" which was recorded in Poland.
Steve and Johanne were known to me through working with Karl Groom (Threshold Guitarist) in the studio. I was looking for a drummer for this project and Karl suggested Johanne. The bass player on the original album, Steve Amadeo, was unavailable for the festival show we did last year and so Karl and Johanne suggested Steve Anderson. A fine recommendation he was too. Nick Kendall (guitarist from Rock of Ages) was found through a friend of a friend and is a superb guitarist and a great fit for the band.
4. How did you and Gordon first meet up and have you been pleased with the response to the "Ravens and Lullabies" album from reviewers and fans?
Gordon and I first met at a Christmas concert my Dad put on back in 2009. We got chatting and swapped phone numbers. I then disappeared off on Tour with Yes for another couple of years and when I finished working with them I received a call from Gordon asking if I fancied playing in on his new album. I said yes and then the next day and suggested a collaboration instead.
The response to the Ravens album has been pretty overwhelming to be honest. Nearly all reviews have been glowing and the fans seem to really love the songs, musicianship and the theme of the album. It was a great feeling knowing that it has been so well received as it was my first recorded work after finishing working with Yes.
5. Does your dad ever try and give you tips/advice still on your playing technique? Or is a case that perhaps you've been giving him playing advice?
No - we never talk about music - we've only played together about 4 times in the whole of our lives. We tend to talk about comedy or cars or the grandchildren.
I wouldn't dare give him advise about playing the piano - I do try to explain to him how to use his iPad but he often feigns a headache and gets off the phone pretty quickly. He hides away from technology I think!
6. What have been the live highlights so far and why?
I have been fortunate to have had quite a few different music highlights in my career - obviously playing with Yes to some huge audiences was a great thrill but I have also had some amazing experiences on stage with Gordon.
We played at the Trowbridge festival on our first tour together which was a really fun show with an extremely appreciative audience. We also had a small documentary filmed before the show which was interesting. We also performed on the BJH tour in 2013 which again was great and we played to some large audiences - Holmfirth and The Stables were really great shows.
Also the festival headlining spot we did for the Summers End festival was an obvious highlight - playing the tracks from Ravens live for the first (and so far) only time was amazing. It was what inspired us to put the tour together and I can't wait to start playing the songs again.
7. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from music?
I love spending time with my children and wife although being pretty busy and not keeping normal hours can be a bit tiresome at times. I am hoping to find time to watch the F1 season as I am a big fan but with 2 kids it often gets relegated to watching the races after everyone has gone to bed...
8. You've worked with the Strawbs before. What was it like touring with them and are there any plans to tour with them again at all?
I enjoyed my time with the Strawbs but I haven't spoken to them in quite some time. I was unable to do a tour with them due to my Yes commitments and so they found someone else who could do the tour and so I haven't worked with them since 2010. Nice people though and we played some great shows. A few of samples of those shows are on my YouTube channel - https://www.youtube.com/user/OliverWakeman
9. If you had the chance is there any band you'd love to be a member of and how different is it fitting in the band dynamic, as opposed to touring solo or as a duo like you have done previously with Gordon?
I am a huge fan of the band Styx - and would have loved that keyboard job. Although if any big band is reading this and is in the market for a keyboard player - get in touch!
I am quite happy jumping from solo, duo or band set up. I genuinely enjoy all types of performance. Duo and solo can be very challenging because there are less of you making a sound but that gives the music a chance to really shine but with a band you get to rock out and create a lovely sound with other talented musicians.
10. Message for your fans...
Thanks as always for the continued support - it's only through people saying how much they enjoy what I do that gives me the encouragement to keep doing it!
Oliver Wakeman came to town on the 4th October to the wonderful Sundial Theatre, promoting his album with collaborator Gordon Giltrap, "Ravens and Lullabies", Evan Burgess found out more about Oliver's extensive musical experience including how to avoid fate!..
EB: Are you the type of person who loves to tour, or do you miss home comforts?
OW: I enjoy both. When I finished touring with the rock band YES I worked out that I was away from home for over 12 months in total over a 3 year period which is quite a large amount of time to have been away.
But with modern communication getting better all the time I never felt too far away from my family. I'd call them everyday on Skype and watch them sit down for an evening meal and join in conversations which was a bit strange but kind of fun. Especially if I was on the other side of the world and having breakfast...!
I have spent the last year only touring the UK and Channel Islands so I haven't been away from home too much which has been great. Particularly as I now have a baby daughter as well as an 8 year old son and so I have enjoyed being around to help my wife out with the kids.
EB: What makes working with another artist rewarding?
OW: The exchange of ideas is always very inspiring. When I write or perform with another musician I find that seeing how some else approaches music and writing can alter the way that I play and write. I find myself doing things in a slightly different way to fit with the other persons style. I'm always keen to learn more and understanding the approach of another musician isn't something that can be learned from a textbook, it only comes from immersing yourself in other peoples style of music.
EB: When you get inspired, how quick are you to get an idea down, do you ever find yourself accumulating bits of paper with jotted notes, or do you have a more organised approach to creating?
OW: I have a Dictaphone app in my iPhone and am always singing little ideas into that. I find that really useful and much better than the old way I had which was phoning the home phone and singing to the answer machine...
Once I have a collection of ideas that work I start arranging the piece using my Pro-tools studio system at my home and slowly an organised finished piece emerges.
EB: What is the worst food you've settled for on tour?
OW: I had a chicken breast in Rome which was not cooked properly at all. A well trained vet could probably have saved it...
I remember sending it back. I don't think the chef was too pleased but I didn't fancy when it came back and left with out finishing the meal. There may have been others but that sticks in my mind...
EB: Going to different cities, do you get a chance to look around them, or is it more like a changing planes at an airport?
OW: I always try and find some time to look around a bit otherwise I know I'd end up regretting it if I had just sat in a hotel room.
I remember being in Washington DC for a concert and only having an hour to spare and so someone from the venue drove me to the White House to get some photos just so I could remember being there.
I've been very lucky though on tour managing to see many great sights around the world that I would probably not seen if I wasn't a musician. I also take the opportunity to meet other musicians that are playing on tours when I've had a night off as it's great to hang out with people who are living a similar lifestyle.
EB: Do you need a solid routine when playing live, or can you just switch on to performing mode?
OW: No routines at all. I find that it would just get in the way. I've had occasions where time has been so tight that I wouldn't have had time for a routine anyway.
I always used to go to check out my keyboards but, on one occasion when I was in Oklahoma in America, the hotel was too far away from the venue to be able to check them all and get back to the hotel and get ready in time. So on this occasion I decided to stay at the hotel and go just before showtime to check them quickly.
I was in my room watching the news on TV when they showed footage from a helicopter with a stage structure that had been hit by a tornado and had collapsed onto a keyboard rig. I then realised that I was looking at my keyboard rig ruined on TV. I was so glad I hadn't gone because if I'd had a strict routine I could have been hit by the lighting rig section of the stage and might not be around to tell you about it.
A career-spanning conversation!
Interview by Dmitry M. Epstein - reprinted with permission - original here
Your new album: I was really surprised that it's a vocal album and a rock album in a good sense of the word.
Thank you. I wanted to do something that people weren't expecting.
To my ears, "From Brush And Stone", the album by your father and Giltrap, doesn't gel so much, as Rick plays his pieces and Gordon does his. So how did you manage to make your album with him a truly collaborative work?
I started by not listening to the album that dad and Gordon did. Gordon gave me a copy of it, but I didn't want to listen to it, I didn't want to hear what they've done before. And I had this idea, when we first started working on the album, that it had to be not a concept album, but it had to be an album with a theme that made sense throughout it. And I also knew that there were a lot of people who wanted to hear us do instrumental music, but I also knew that there were a lot of people that had followed my rock band and had watched me in YES, and were used to me playing with vocalists. So I suggested to Gordon that we put together a project where we went from one type of music to the other - very similar in a way, I suppose, that "Fragile" by YES back in the '70s was: it went from a big rock song to an acoustic piece. He liked the idea, and we started putting music together, we've found that the collaborative songs - all the songs that I've come up with - really worked with his guitar style. I think part of that is down to the fact that Gordon is a very unique guitarist, in the same way that, say, Steve Howe is. He doesn't sound like anybody else; therefore, when you put a keyboard player, maybe like myself, who plays in a slightly unusual way, [with such a guitarist] and you put the two together, and you really spend time crafting a song around it, you come up with something that's a little bit different to what other people are doing.
Well, lately, people have been expecting Gordon to make an acoustic album, but you came up with an electric record.
Yeah, but we did some acoustic tracks because we wanted to make sure that people who like Gordon's acoustic music and the acoustic music that I've done in the past got a part of what they expected. But then, being a musician, you always want to try and and push the boundaries - or I think you should, you should be always trying to do something that keeps you interested rather than doing the same thing again and again. And I think a lot of people were expecting Gordon to do an instrumental album, but he's the first to say that he's really enjoyed working with a vocalist. I think it's good to surprise people every now and then, it's good to put something out that people aren't expecting.
One more surprise was that you're credited for playing not only keyboards but also a guitar. Weren't you intimidated to be playing it together with Gordon?
I did a little bit of electric guitar, only on one song ["Is This The Last Song I Write?"], and it was because that was the song that I wrote, that I was working on at home. And I said to Gordon, "Give me lots and lots guitars for it, and I want to do a little bit of heavy electric guitar, this is what the song needs". And he just asked, "Well, have you done it?" I said, "Yes, I've done, but you can replace it". And he went, "No, it sounds great. Just leave it". I've played guitars for a very long time - I'm nowhere near as good as Gordon. But he came to my house and he picked up one of my guitars, and he said, "This is a bit of a mess", and he took it away and fixed it, and then when he gave it back to me, I used it to play on that song. So I said to him, "It's only on there because you fixed the guitar", and he was quite happy for it to stay. (Laughs.)
And how do you rate yourself as a guitarist - in comparison with your brother whom I saw play guitar with 'Ozzy'?
Um, I don't really play a lot, to be honest with you. I use it more as a songwriting tool and as a texture tool, when I'm working on songs. Because I feel as a writer - 'cause I do a lot of writing - that if I sit at the piano all the time, I end up with a very similar type of music. And I like this idea that sometimes you pick up a guitar and the song comes through, because you can change the tuning or you're playing a different set of chords to where you would normally go with a piano. And I find that if I'm sitting by the piano, sometimes because I play the piano to a certain standard, I end up working the piano part more and more and more. And sometimes it's nice for the song to just have something lighter or something just creating a rhythm: it's a different style of songwriting with the piano, so that's really why I play the guitar. I'm an OK guitarist, I'm no Gordon Giltrap. I can do a few things, but it's not something that I do publicly very much.
But Adam does it.
Adam does it, yeah. Adam's always enjoyed the guitar. When we were kids, we always had keyboards and guitars in a room, and I think he just likes jumping around on stage.
And you did the artwork for this new album, right? You worked on the artwork of your records before, but this one stands out because of its Japanese influence.
When I was in college, I did graphic design, and then I did graphic design and web design work for years. I used to do Steve Hackett's tour programs and posters years ago. But when it came to this project, I found a girl who would put together that image, Liliana Sanches from Portugal; I thought her work was terrific, so I wrote to her and said, "Your images just match the project that Gordon and I are working on. Can we use them?" We came up with an agreement, and then I spent a lot of time working with those images, putting the artwork together to make sure that it created the right atmosphere with the text. So I did more of the layout to make it look as I wanted it to, but she has to be credited with creating the actual image itself - it's superb.
You say it's not a concept album, but there's a certain theme running through it, a financial one. I even was tempted to write in a review that "From The Turn Of A Card" has such a connotation and could be not only about love but also about a credit means.
It's actually to do with card reading, but that's true, that's one of the nice things about music that people can hear a song and... What generally happens is, I write a song because something happens to me, and then I work it in my head into a story that happens to somebody else, so I expand on this story and finish it, and then I write the song. But what's great about music is that other people will listen to a piece of it and will hear something different, and their imaginations take the story somewhere else. I think if I did it purely personal, I would get too involved with it, and sometimes it's easier to use that as a starting point, and then I kind of stand back and think of this emotion or whatever. I enjoy writing like that: that's how I feel quite comfortable.
"Ravens" sounds very personal and emotional to me, because I bet "LJW' is dedicated to your wife...
Yes, LJW is my wife, and the track "One For Billie" is dedicated to Gordon's wife, Hilary.
So it is personal. So how do you find this balance between personal, public and that financial theme that I mentioned?
What happens with the song for my wife, you know, musicians' wives have to put up with a lot. (Laughs.) If you're doing it professionally all the time, you're disappearing away from home for long periods of time, which makes it difficult for families, or if it's somebody who is married to somebody who goes and plays after they finish work. Music becomes something that people get so involved with, and I just wanted to write a piece for my wife that basically said, "Thank you. Thank you for putting up with all the silliness that musicians do". (Laughs.) And it's important: you have to remember that there's a family and there's other people involved in our live to help musicians do what they do. And the only way that a musician can put something down that will last for years and years and years is by writing a piece of music about it. So something like that is very personal. And also I find very personal pieces easier if they're instrumental, because you're putting everything through melody rather than words.
Are there moments when your wife says that you'd rather be back working in a bank?
Well, I think all people want sometimes to look for the stability and normality in life. But my family, unfortunately, has never been normal; I grew up in a house that was very unusual. And when I've grown up, I've done normal, day-to-day jobs and then I've done silly jobs where I traveled around the world. But it's all experiences, and you can draw from all aspects of life. When I was working in graphic design, I worked with musicians and I got to see the other side of the world where you try to present the artist in a certain way. When I worked in a day-to-day job, I found that it was nice with having normality, but then you miss the silliness of going away and play. I stopped working in a bank when I started working with YES and STRAWBS back in 2008.
Did that job somehow inform that theme of the new album?
There are certain elements that did seep through this album, there are always lines in songs... The main song, which is "Is This The Last Song I Write?", is one of those moments. I was working for a band that was touring a lot around the world - you become part of that band, you become part of that world - and then when I got home, I sat down and started trying to write more music, and suddenly realized that if I want to do something else I've got to do something that is based on myself rather than on somebody else. And also, when you write as a musician, you always worry that you're running out of ideas. This album for me is number ten or number eleven - I lose count - and I always wonder whether there's anything new to say or whether there's a new melody that I can find. And I was writing that song, and that's where it all came from: Is this how I empty the well of my creativity? Is that all I can do? Is there more to come? When you first start writing - I wouldn't say it's easy, because you don't have the experience - but it's easier, because you haven't used things before. And then, when you get into later records, you suddenly think, "I can't do that because I did that back on 'Jabberwocky' or that time with Steve Howe". So you're always looking for new ideas, and I'm not one for going back and just copying what I did before, I would like to do something different.
But I meant the financial theme of songs like "Credit Carnival" and "Moneyfacturing". They reflect your past, don't they?
Yeah, I think so. And also the fact that Paul Manzi, who's singing on the song also sang in my band as well: it means that's one of those songs that does have a style that fits with my past. But the thing that I tried to do was really make use of Gordon's guitar playing on those songs to give it another dimension, which I think he does, because he has such a unique way of playing the acoustic guitar that when he comes in on the song you think, "Whoa, that's unusual". And I like that. As for "Credit Carnival", it is do with a song... When I was on tour with YES, we played in a casino in America, and I was walking around and I saw there were some people who were really used to be in casinos and knew how they worked and were controlling their wins or losses, and people that just went in there for a bit of fun, and some people who were a little out of their depth, who were spending more money then they should be. So I just picked up my phone and started writing the lyrics. It was during the beginning of the credit crunch, and so the word "credit" kept going into my head, and then I was thinking about this casino being like a carnival - the flashing lights, the spinning wheels - and I thought, "Oh, it's almost like people are borrowing money to come and spend in this building". And I wrote this story about a man spending his money, which he doesn't have, and going home and pretending that he does. That's where the song came from.
Playing with different bands, there's a pattern: it's as if you've been following in your dad's wake - with YES, THE STRAWBS, now Giltrap. Do you feel comfortable with this?
Um, the thing about it is, that makes it OK for me, is the fact that they all came to me and asked me [to join] - I didn't actively go out or phone them up to say, "Hey, you don't work with dad anymore. Can I play with you?". The YES phone call came through, because I played with Steve Howe before [on "The 3 Ages Of Magick" album], and dad had recommended me. And then THE STRAWBS just phoned up and said, "Hey, are you free?" I said, "Yeah, I'm free". They said, "Would you come out and play in Canada?" So I said, "OK". When I finished with YES and finished with STRAWBS, I was back home writing, and Gordon phoned me up. So it's very rewarding that people who are so well-known like to work with me. It's very nice. And that makes it easier.
If you want the closest thing to Rick Wakeman, who would you go to but his son who plays in a similar style but can add more to it? It's like it was with DEEP PURPLE: Don Airey was the closest thing to Jon Lord. It's obvious, right?
Yeah, I suppose so. But there's not so much I can do about that. (Laughs.)
How well did you know those bands material? Or did you have to do a good homework?
Oh, lots of homework! When I started with YES, I had a week's rehearsals on my own at home to learn the music, and then I had two weeks with them in a rehearsal room, for four or five hours a day. And that was it - and then we went out to the three-and-a-half-hour show. That was a lot of music to learn! And what was difficult about that was, even though they hadn't played together for four years as a band, they had played that music before for forty years, and I had never played any YES music at home, I'd never sat down and worked out "Roundabout" just for fun. So I had to learn everything from scratch, which was hard work. But you know, it's part of the job - you get there and do it. The same with THE STRAWBS: I knew some of the songs, but knowing the songs to listen to and enjoy is different to listening and trying to work out what part is there a helping make the sound. It's a different discipline.
How much freedom were you given in YES to extemporise and veer away from original parts?
Um, not a lot. Dad for many years had been with the band and he had been changing parts and doing things differently, because he was there originally and he had the right to change things around a little bit, but the rest of the band were very keen to play things exactly as they were on the record. And I thought, "Well, I don't have a problem with that", because I didn't want to turn up and start pretending to be dad, making things up and changing things, as I don't have the right to do that. So I was quite happy to go back and perform the music as if it was recorded, because people had'nt heard the original solo from "And You And I" for an awful long time, because dad always made something different up every night or did a different solo, so the thing that I could bring [to the band] was the authenticity back to the music. And as we developed on the tour, there were little moments where I got to add things and do things but I tried to stay true to the music as much as I could.
How important is it for you to be working with instrumentalists such as Steve Howe, Clive Nolan, Rachel Heffer? Is it more rewarding than working in a solo format?
I like all of them, to be honest with you. I think if I just worked in one format, I'd get bored. If I look at my albums, they've all been slightly different, and even between "Jabberwocky" and "The Hound Of The Baskervilles", which were a similar sort of albums, I did the album with Steve Howe and then "Chakras", which is a relaxation album. I always liked to write how I'm feeling or what interests me rather than... Some band just do an album, then the next comes out and it's the same sort of album, and that works for them. You know what you're going to get with a BON JOVI album: it's going to be pretty much the same the next time around, which is new songs played in the same sort of style, but a lot of that is down to Jon Bon Jovi being a vocalist. But being an instrumentalist - primarily being a keyboard player - it's interesting for me to vary my style and the ways that I work.
Still, it's not that often that two keyboard players work together, like you and Nolan.
Yeah, but Clive and I just became friends. We met through a radio station where I was working: [Nolan colleague in ARENA ] Mick Pointer came down to do an interview and said, "Oh you should visit us", so I came up and met Clive. We got on pretty well, and after a drink he said, "We like writing and like big-scale projects, so why don't we do something together?" And so we did, and the first album, "Jabberwocky", got rave reviews, went down really well, and so we were asked to do another one, which we did, and that went down really well as well. But you develop as you do things; you don't want to keep doing the same thing all the time, because people will get bored of it.
You still keep it secret as to who played what on those albums, but whose idea it was to write a record around a popular literary work - yours or Clive's?
Um, I think it started off with us just coming up with different ideas, and we had to ideas for the first album. We decided on doing either "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" or "Jabberwocky", the two things that we both wrote down, as we both came up with "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, and Sherlock Holmes. And we were looking for artwork, so I phoned up Rodney Matthews, who was a friend of mine and asked what he had, and he said, "I've just finished a painting of Jabberwocky. And we thought, "Right, we'll do 'Jabberwocky' then". (Laughs.)
As much as I liked "Jabberwocky", which was a delight, I found "Baskervilles" more generic.
The thing with a second one that was different was that it involved a lot more heavy type of guitar - we had Karl Groom and Arjen Lucassen play on it - so we had a lot more of a heavier edge to the music, whereas with "Jabberwocky" Peter Banks did most of the guitar that I think added a sort of lightness to the album, which was quite fab. But "Hound" became a darker album, partly because of the story. But it's interesting what you say, because some people write to me that they prefer "Hound" over "Jabberwocky". I mean I like "Jabberwocky" because it's got innocence to it: it's a nice innocent story and it's musically fun.
I guess it's always down to what people like. And I like "Mother's Ruin", which I can also call generic. But it was generic hard rock, exactly what I expected. What I didn't expect was that you were there mainly as a composer and arranger rather than a soloist. Was that an initial idea for you to be steering the ship?
Yeah, I wanted to, because with "Hound" and "Jabberwocky" I'd got to do a part of it - I wrote some of the lyrics and I wrote some songs: there's only a few pieces that we wrote together, a lot of them were songs that we wrote individually and then added to. With "Mother's Ruin" I wanted to do something that was like a standard five-piece band, but in a way where I could explore songwriting without working from a book, or from a novel; I wanted to do something that was me writing, as I explained for "Ravens", from personal ideas into stories. And the way that I felt was the best way to do that was to do it with a band, and then it also gave me the opportunity of taking that band out and playing live. Doing "Jabberwocky" or "Hound" live was very difficult because of the number of people that were involved and the different types of musicians that were on it, so I wanted to record an album and actually to take all the people that were there and to perform as a part of the band. It's all part of the journey for me, it's exploring of working with different styles of musicians and working in different formats. And as I hadn't done a band album - I liked the idea of doing one - but I wanted to write it, and it was important for me to still be in charge of the ship as it were.
Do you feel bitter about the way your songwriting went into YES after you were asked to leave the band?
Yeah, it was difficult. We started talking about the album in 2009, and in 2010 we went to Phoenix, Arizona, to write and came up with some really, really good music. But what happened was, when we went to the studio and started recording, Trevor Horn came in to record and he had an idea about the album and wanted to do one of his old songs - an old song he'd worked on with Geoff Downes - and I wasn't very keen on this. I thought, "Well, we should be doing new music. We shouldn't be doing a song that's twenty years old. We should be doing the stuff that we had worked out, the stuff we're going to write or work on together". But we did this song, and then he said, "Oh, I've written another part that goes with it, with it", and so they wanted to do that song, so Geoff was involved in that one. And then I think Trevor decided that there was more and more songs that they had written that matched with "We Can Fly From Here", and he wanted to do the album like this and wanted Geoff to play the keyboards on it and write it. That just got to the point where Trevor had come up with so much of the music with Geoff and wanted him in the band, which wasn't very good for me. But that's the decision they made.
And how did you react to this on a personal level? I mean you know Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White from your very childhood and they were like family to you...
I felt terrible! (Laughs dryly.) I felt really bad, because I wasn't expecting it. Trevor went away for four weeks, and we carried on recording, and then we went on tour together for three weeks, and then we all said goodbye at the airport and said, "See you in three-weeks time". So I went home and I had Christmas. I was due to go out back in January, when the tour manager phoned me up and said, "Oh, your plane ticket is delayed by a week, because Trevor wants to do one more song with Geoff". I said, "Well, OK", and I phoned him up again a week later, and he said all had been delayed for another week. I was not very happy, but I thought, "If Trevor wants Geoff on those two tracks, then Trevor will have Geoff on those two tracks". I phoned again, and somebody said to me, "You're out of the band". And that was it: my ticket was cancelled, and I wasn't involved with it anymore. They just decided that they were going to follow the route that Trevor was setting up for them, so that's the route that they went. It was a shame, but that's the decision they made as a band. But it wasn't easy.
Still, they used a song you co-wrote and you used a song on your new album that you started in YES.
The song "From The Turn Of A Card" I wrote while I was living in L.A. - we were living there for eight weeks while we were recording, and Benoit [David] and I shared an apartment. One day he went out for a walk or something, and I said, "Can I borrow your guitar?", and I sat down and just wrote the main part of the song. The next day I went to the studio and played it to everybody, and they all thought it was pretty good and really liked it. But then we went out on [our last] tour, and I never went back to the studio, so we never got to do it. So when I came to do this album, and I played it to Gordon, he said, "We've got to do that song". And although we had Paul singing on the album, I thought that Benoit would do the best job on this, because it was the song that was written for him to sing originally. I called him and asked, "Hey, do you wanna do it?", and he said, "Yeah". He was just the right person for the song and the song's history.
Speaking of history, you once mentioned that you and Adam accompanied the ANDERSON, BRUFORD, WAKEMAN, HOWE tour. Did you play there or were just guests of your dad's?
No, no we were only... Oh, that was 1988, I was sixteen and Adam was fourteen: we just got on an airplane and went around America with dad and the band just watching the show and having fun. That was great fun! (Laughs.) Sixteen-years-old, wandering around America: that was good fun!
Listening to the album you did with THE STRAWBS, "Dancing To The Devil's Beat", I was quite surprised that you were credited for only one or two pieces, while your parts completely upgraded songs like "Beneath The Angry Sky". Why didn't they give you the full credit?
Oh, I didn't really write "Beneath The Angry Sky"; its opening part was written by Dave Lambert as a chord idea. The song that I wrote was the hymn at the end of "Pro Patria Suite", which was the song called... uh, can't remember the title of it now. But I've got it in my iTunes, let me find it here... There it is! "Home Is Where The Heart Was Ever". And what happened was, Dave Cousins rented a house in the countryside, and we went there to work on the music that he'd written, and he wrote this song that he thought was going to be a love song at first, but then he went to the war graves over in France and he realised that the lyrics he was writing, that were about two people talking about their love for each other, man and woman, were actually about soldiers and the camaraderie that they had growing up in a village together and going and fighting in the war together, and one of them dies. And so he changed this story, and he wanted a hymn at the end of the song - he had some lyrics but he didn't have any music, and asked if I had anything. I said, "Well, if you're looking for something that's hymn-like, I've got this piece which I've written and which never really used". And when I played it to him, he put his lyrics on top of it and said, "That's incredible: my words fit exactly with the melody line that you've written!" He sang it, and I played it, and it fitted perfectly. So that was how I ended up with the writing credit.
But you weren't credited for all of your wonderful solos.
No, no, I don't expect a credit for writing a solo, that's just me adding my performance to someone else's piece of music. In the same way, Peter Banks played the guitar solo on one of my songs, just adding his ideas: that's generally how I tend to work with musicians. That's generally understood; otherwise, you could end up with a hundred of people writing a song if everybody comes in and wants that. The basic idea for me is, if somebody's written a song, it's like a coat hanger: everybody else hangs their ideas of the song. I mean I played on Steve Howe's album "Spectrum", and I added keyboards parts to it, but it was him who's written the songs. If somebody comes up with main song, it's their song.
What with your heavier music, how interesting was it for you to be working on STRAWBS' album with Chris Tsangarides, famous for producing THIN LIZZY and Gary Moore?
Chris was great. He's such a nice guy, very good at engineering and producing. I just enjoyed working with him, it was good fun. He had a nice studio by the seaside, it was very, very laid-back. (Laughs.)
On the easier side, there's "Heaven's Isle", I'd say my favorite album of yours...
Oh, really? It's fifteen-years-old now! That's quite frightening. It makes me feel really old. (Laughs.) I'm a big fan of Formula 1, and I watch the racing drivers now, and they look like 12-years-old to me. They're so young, and I think, "Wow, I'm getting old!" It's frightening.
And still, "Heaven's Isle" is a mature work.
I think so. It was something I worked really hard on. And the thing that I love about "Heaven's Isle" is that it has innocence about it, even though the songwriting... I mean I play some of the music from "Heaven's Isle" on recent tour, and I thought it was quite complicated, Also I like that I didn't have a lot of equipment - I didn't have loads and loads and loads of keyboards to work with, I only had a few that I'd bought - so I had to work really hard to make the album sound interesting, which was challenging. But you know, I'm very proud of the album. It's a strange thing: for a few years, I kind of forgot about it, because "Jabberwocky" came out and had lots of singers and lots of guitarists, then I did the thing with Steve Howe, and then I did "The Hound", and then I took the band out on the road - we did DVDs - and then I joined YES. Everything got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger... And then one day I picked "Heaven's Isle" and put it on, and I thought, "Actually, that's really nice!" (Laughs.) It doesn't have tons of stuff going on it, so you'd think it's not as interesting, but it was interesting exactly because of that.
What's the thing with islands in the Wakeman family? Rick wrote about the Isle of Man, you about...
...Lundy! I don't know what it is. We must just need to get away. (Laughs.)
And what's this "Mysteries And Mythologies" project that gets mentioned sometimes?
That was what became "The 3 Ages Of Magick", that was how it started off. Because it started off as an album about myths and fairy stories. I had the cover done with "Mysteries And Mythologies", and I worked it all through, and then I read somewhere about the ages of magic, which were how things were perceived as magic. Like in the Dark Ages anything that happened that was unusual was considered magic, and then through the Renaissance and parlour tricks and things of that sort of sleight of hand came into play, and then modern-day science which, if anybody from different civilisation was looking at it and didn't know about it, was magical. And I read this term, the three ages of magic, and thought, "Oh, that fits my story better". So the title got changed.
So if you ever get to work with Clive Nolan again, it's going to be magic, too? Something from Terry Pratchett?
I don't know, actually! We've sort of mentioned that somebody might put out "Jabberwocky" and "The Hound" again soon, because they've been out of print for a while, so there's going to be a reissue, which will be nice. But whether we'll do another one together, I don't know at the moment. We'll wait and see.
It's just occurred to me what's the main difference between these two albums: there was humor on the former and not a lot on the latter.
No, there wasn't, no, that's true. (Laughs.) I think you're right. "Jabberwocky" for me is a little bit like a children's story, whereas "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" is an adult's one.
STARCASTLE: did you really play on their album?
No, no, no, I didn't do anything like that. I just played with them for a show, just to help some friends, but I still keep in touch with some of the guys. Pretty much everything I did was focused on my band at the time. My band got out to Poland where we played recorded the DVD "Coming to Town".
What role do you prefer, then: being a band leader or just a player in a band?
I like being a band leader because I get to control what I'm doing and I generally get to experiment and try different things. But I also enjoy working as a part of the band because it's a different discipline: you get to learn. As a musician, you are always learning, and when you work with other musicians, it's great because everybody does things differently, and it's inspirational. I enjoy all forms of music and playing with all sorts of people but, as most musicians, you like to do your own thing. As I said, I like being a leader, but it doesn't mean that I don't enjoy touring with other bands as well.
Are there still bands or people you'd like to play with?
Uh... Lots of bands I think are very good, but whether I want to play with them I don't know - until they call me. (Laughs.)
But you never were a part of the WAKEMAN & WAKEMAN project. Could it be so because you're the oldest and the mature one, while Adam had to be working with your dad?
I think what it was is just [because] Adam and dad started working together, as Adam lived with dad at the time. But I always wanted to do things my own way, which maybe made my life harder at the beginning, because I didn't get what Adam had when I was younger. But then again, Adam has done lots of work as a session musician for lots of different musicians, and his credit is on lots good albums as well, whereas I've always taken a path of doing things under my own way. Everybody chooses a path that they think is the best for them. Adam and I did play once with dad together and we're going to play again in June. We do little bits and pieces now, and it will be good fun. We tend to have fun - it doesn't get too serious. (Laughs.)
I tried to avoid asking questions about your father but... Can we compare your family to the family of Bach? I mean Johann Sebastian's sons were also composers, more popular then him in their lifetime.
Oh, I don't know. That's very nice if people did so. (Laughs.) I'm very proud of the work that dad's done in his life: he's built a legacy of work and admiration around the world. So I sort of feel that the name "Wakeman" is known. And in some ways it makes me work really hard to make sure that everything that I do adds to the quality. And if at some point I'll do something that will make me well-known throughout the world, it would be nice. But it's about doing good music and being able to do music that is the driving force. If you start doing things to be famous, it can be you're doing it for the wrong reasons, and I've always done music because I've loved it. It's been hard work sometime but I still love it.
Oliver Wakeman on flying from here to there and reflections of what was and what will be.
Interview by Martin Hudson - reprinted with permission
Prior to handing out the Classic Rock Society BOTY Awards he revealed what it now feels like to have performed with a legendary rock band and what the future now holds.
Martin Hudson began by taking Oliver back to the beginning of the journey.
"Going back, I had the phone call, I think, in January 2008 because they, Yes, were supposed to be doing the 40th anniversary tour with Jon (Anderson). I was in the kitchen at home and the phone rang and Lisa, (Oliver's wife), said, 'You've got to pick the phone up it's Steve (Howe).'
I asked her how she knew that and she said she didn't know? I picked it up and it was Steve and he said, "Are you sitting down? We'd like you to join Yes." He told me to have a think about it, so I put the phone down and me and Lisa talked about it for about ten seconds. I phoned him back and said yes, why not."
"The first six months were really hard because we were planning for the 40th anniversary tour with Jon and he got sick, so I had six months worth of learning all this material for that tour. At that time Jon's plan was to put together a sort of big Yes package with new material and I was recording piano parts for him. I was listening to some of Jon's new music and chatting to Steve but once Jon got sick he got in touch with me and said he wasn't doing the tour.
So suddenly from going from normality to craziness, I went straight back to normality. Obviously that was quite disappointing. Even though the audiences aren't what they used to be for Yes in their heyday in the 70's you're still dealing with a band with an enormous legacy and an enormous expectation. Added to that people would automatically be comparing me to dad (Rick Wakeman) and it made it an enormous amount of pressure to deal with."
There was some disappointment of not then being part of the classic band with Jon Anderson, but touring with the then unknown Benoit David. Did that make a difference?
"Yes and no. It was a shame that I never got the chance to play with Jon purely because I have known him for a long time. I did do some work with him on this album that was talked about at the time, which was just to rerecord some piano parts that he and dad had come up with and listening to some of Jon's new songs and coming up with some ideas for that and that obviously never happened.
"So the whole thing started up again and working with Benoit in the band was just as exciting and I was still getting to travel round the world even though the audiences were going to be smaller because Jon wasn't there. I was still going to meet lots of new people and play in much bigger venues that I'd ever played before.
So yes, it was disappointing that Jon wasn't there but the excitement with everything else was valid. It also made it easier with Jon not being there because Benoit and I gelled quickly together. We have become very firm friends and even though he joined six months after I did visibly we sort of joined at the same time.
Signing the death warrant!
"In 2009 we did the aborted tour where we just did a week and then Chris (Squire) got ill. Then I went out to tour with The Strawbs. I came back and then did a tour with Yes in the summer with Asia. Then I went out on tour again with The Strawbs in the autumn and went back out with Yes again touring around Europe in the autumn.
"Chris and I talked a lot on the tour bus about this new album and he said he wanted new material. So I ended up being very much involved in trying to get that going right from the start. In some way I sort of got involved in writing my own death sentence pushing it that involving Trevor Horn would be great." Oliver laughs loudly here. "Chris said that he didn't think he'd do it. Now I'd like to go back to myself three years ago and give myself a smack round the head," he laughed again.
"So we talked more about it and that was the time we recorded the Live In Lyon album. Then in 2010 we toured in February in the U.S. and then had a couple of weeks off before locating to a house in Phoenix where we started writing the new album. We came up with some really good stuff. I was working as a sort of engineer, writer, and helping to arrange things and put things together. All seemed quite happy and positive and then I ended up writing some more material before we booked in to the studio.
"We turned up at the studio but it didn't feel quite normal as we were concentrating on an old Buggles song. That to me didn't feel in the spirit of what we were trying to achieve as this new version of Yes. It's not for me to say what Yes should be because I was only a minor part of it, but I felt that Chris, Steve and Alan (White) had made a brave decision in replacing dad and John with myself and Benoit. Steve had actually said that after three years of touring we had now earned the right to go in to the studio and try to prove ourselves.
I felt we should stand or fall by what we could create. Steve and I talked about doing a version of some classical music and Yessifying it in the old ways as they had with the track America. So we turned up and we started looking at this old Fly From Here song and I didn't quite understand why. It suddenly stopped being the five of us to being Trevor, Chris, Steve and Alan. Then Trevor went away and it got back to the five of us working on other songs, but it had changed and still to this day exactly how I don't know. I was then due to go back out there in January but my plane ticket kept getting delayed and then I phoned up and was told basically, 'You're out'!
"It was a bit of a shock. I remember going back in to the lounge and sitting in front of the fire and saying to Lisa, 'I'm out of the band.' She looked at me and we just sat there quietly. We didn't really understand why. I think I got an email from Chris about two or three weeks later saying, 'you didn't do anything wrong.' It was Trevor's decision. It was a business decision to get Geoff Downes in over me but obviously my own opinion is that they should have stuck with the five-piece and built upon the line-up and acceptance of the fans that had been coming to the shows and were warming to us. Chris did say to me that he thought there wasn't a Yes song that that line-up couldn't play because the technical ability was there and we all got on.
"After all of that I agreed to do the tour but the hardest thing was keeping quiet about it because I wasn't allowed to tell anybody for four months. I had to get up on stage every day and smile and be happy. Then the photo of Geoff and the band doing the album was released the day before my last show with Yes in the US. The timing of that was pretty hard."
There were some highs to go with the low!
"So that was the low point. High points? I played July 4th with Yes and it was a joint tour with Peter Frampton where we played to up to 150,000 Americans. That was quite an intense thing getting up on that stage and I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the irony of all those Americans celebrating their independence by hiring two famous British bands'."
Oliver laughed, "I can remember thinking, why didn't they book an American band, why book two English bands' to entertain you. The irony of that struck me as quite amusing. So that was a high point. Finishing my first ever show with Yes, which was in Hamilton, Canada, might not be the highest point but it as one of those moments when you think, gosh.
"Then that first tour was promoted as Howe, Squire & White from Yes before we went out again in the summer and that's when they started using the Yes name, it was officially Yes! I remember walking out on to the stage with the Yes logo behind me and thinking, that's pretty cool. The last high point was seeing the Live In Lyon album. I still haven't heard the Fly From Here album but I know I'm on it in a couple of places, but receiving a copy of Live In Lyon on triple vinyl was quite a special thing, particularly as with that album I had all the tapes and gone through everything and put it together really with Karl Groom.
Seeing that arrive on my doorstep as a triple vinyl album with the Yes logo on it and my picture on the inside and remembering growing up and seeing the triple version of Yessongs was special. Even through all the hurt and harshness that went through that whole situation and the difficulties it brought to me and my family, just seeing that little bit of triple vinyl made me feel quite proud of myself."
A new beginning
"I basically then decided to sit down and start writing because I had this material that was left over from the new Yes album. I had lots of songs I'd put together before, so I put together a new rock album, Cultural Vandals, which is the follow-up to the Mother's Ruin album. Hopefully that will be coming out later this year. This will be with the same musicians, although the bass player has changed.
I'm working on another larger scale project and as you know I've started working with Gordon Giltrap on a new project that is very exciting. Gordon phoned and said, 'Would you play on my new album?' So I agreed and then he phoned up the next day and said, 'No, I've changed my mind.' I thought okay, alright, he's had a look on You Tube and decided it doesn't work for him," laughed Oliver. He said, 'No, no, I'd like to do a collaboration.'
He said he hadn't done any rock music for such a long time and decided he wanted to do another rock album but with someone whose style he enjoyed and someone who is established in that genre. I think because of the fact we had done a gig together back in 2009 and he'd heard my stuff that I'd done in rock and with The Strawbs and Yes he knew that I had a certain presence in that market. So we met up and he's got some beautiful guitar pieces and he's taken some of my piano pieces to work on guitar parts for. And I've started putting words and melodies to some of his guitar stuff. It is coming together and the album's going to be good.
"There will be live concerts too with Gordon. Four or five in October, one for the CRS, and a twenty-date tour in March, 2013. Other live work too by the end of the year doing my own material and then the larger project next year too. Getting music out in the shops or on-line or whatever is where your visible presence comes from. It's difficult when you're working on projects, particularly after having done Yes and The Strawbs where it's higher profile where you're interacting with people who you're with every night.
With Yes I did over 150 shows over a three year period and I did about 50 with The Strawbs and that's an awful lot of interaction with lots of people, particularly where you're playing in theatres where some nights you're playing to 3000. We did some big outdoor festivals where we played to 100,000. So when you're interacting with that many people and then suddenly not playing live but just in a room writing you don't have that interaction. In that set up you're not craving attention but you do want people to know you're still around."
Two parts of Yes!
"Benoit and I will do something at some point because we're still good friends. Through the whole Yes thing he was the person that was there with me all the time. We shared an apartment in LA for about eight weeks and we were good friends before that point. After spending that amount of time with him we naturally gravitated towards each other.
We went to a lot of places together for the first time and so struck up a firm friendship. We spent a lot of time working together and he's heard a lot of the material that I've got that was earmarked for Yes and he might now be the person that sings it. We'll have to wait and see because there's always lots of plans and ideas but the trouble is you don't want to start promising too much too soon in case it doesn't happen.
In conclusion I asked Oliver if, even though he looked back on being replaced by Yes as a dark period of his career, would he go back if invited?
"It's tricky because you should never say never. It's all still a bit raw even though it's been nearly a year. It's one of those things, you never say never because you'd look foolish if something did happen, but the reality is that the line-up seems to be constantly changing.
Now Benoit has gone too and somebody else is in, it does seem a bit crazy. I think Benoit and I were numbers sixteen and seventeen in the band and I had an idea for the album cover. Obviously there would be a Roger Dean cover, but I said what I thought would be a good cover would be a photograph from the drivers seat of a car and on the steering wheel you could have a Yes logo and in the background you should see the milometer going straight from fifteen to seventeen. I thought that would be an amusing album cover. I think it got a mild snigger from some of the band but dismissed completely."
"Getting asked to present the CRS awards was weird. I was quite surprised to be asked. As you know I've gone from standing in the audience waiting and just watching other people, to standing in the audience and hearing myself in the nominees and then going to winning it once and then winning it again and again. That was an exciting period but then getting the chance to hand out awards to people is a real honour.
I still maintain that, as you say, there are high points in your life and winning my first ever CRS award and standing up there, with you actually, and feeling so genuinely grateful and having since played in front of an awful lot of people all around the world I can still go straight back to that feeling of standing on the stage in front of those CRS people and musicians that I've hung out with over the years. It's almost a feeling of not being worthy and why am I giving out the awards."
Maybe it's because Oliver Wakeman has now been up there and can call himself, among others, an ex-Yes keyboard player!! It's a well-deserved tag.
Notes From The Edge - Conversation with Oliver Wakeman - nfte #307
Obviously, Oliver Wakeman doesn't need much of an introduction to Yes fans. The oldest son of Rick has been striking out on his own since the late 1990s, with eight albums and many sessions under his belt. His band has recently released his first live DVD, "Coming to Town". Though Oliver is busily preparing for the upcoming "In the Present" tour with Yes he graciously consented to a conversation for Notes. My goal was to concentrate on his formative years and his musical influences, and to get his insights on stepping into his father's very formidable shoes in one of the most coveted keyboard roles in rock. His thoughtful comments and refreshing good humor indicate he is a very good choice, indeed.
MIKE TIANO: I really enjoyed your recently-released DVD/CD combo, which is filmed and recorded in Poland ["Coming to Town" from the Oliver Wakeman Band]. Is it tough to have to come off of that and concentrate on this gig with Yes, or do you think you're going to just have other projects happening concurrently?
OLIVER WAKEMAN: I'm often running more than one or two things at the same time. My own band all work in different areas, anyway; they all do their own bands and musical projects anyhow, so we kind of plan quite far ahead to just do the odd shows here and there. So I don't have a problem with that, and to be honest with you, we've been playing, not exactly the same set-we mix songs around-but we've been playing together for about four years now, going out with various albums, so it's quite nice to actually get my teeth into something different, especially something like Yes music, where the songs that we're doing are played by not just dad, but a multitude of keyboard players.
I find it fascinating listening to how other keyboard players play their parts, because when you're doing your own stuff you can play it and your fingers find the notes quite easily, because you're playing in your own sort of style. However, when you're sort of sitting there and trying to work out something that Tony Kaye played or something that dad's played, you just hear the different ways that people approach things, and it's tremendously challenging but it's really good fun, and I think any musician will always say that they're always learning from their instrument, and this is just a great opportunity to learn more about my instrument and what I can do with it.
MOT: Let's back up a little bit-let's go way back [laughs]. You were born around the time that your dad joined Yes.
OW: Yeah, I was born in "72... quite a couple of interesting little things; if you look on the inside of the FRAGILE record where you've got the little booklet, at the bottom of it where he did his thank yous and he put, "P.S.-to one future offspring"-that was me. [Laughs] I was being born just after FRAGILE was released, but I was around for CLOSE TO THE EDGE.
MOT: Although you probably don't remember much of that [laughs].
OW: I don't remember much of it. I was at the JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH concert apparently, but I was only 1½, so I don't really remember that either.
MOT: You were probably about eight when he first left Yes, around 1980; what were your memories of him working with the band up to that time?
OW: I don't really have a great amount of memories from the band, because I was about five or six when I was just sort of starting to come aware of my surroundings and my family; my mom and dad were sort of going through their build-up towards their divorce I think, because they split up in about '77, and I vaguely remember going over to Switzerland a couple of times as kids-me and my brother Adam-and for some reason I always remember that trip, because I do remember they had lots of tea chests at the studio, and my brother and I were enjoying playing in the snow so much, we didn't want to go, we hid in these tea chests and nearly missed the flight. I always remember that, and that's one of my strange, earliest memories, but I don't really remember the guys in the band and things like that very much then, because after that they sort of started to... dissolve I suppose is the best way of putting it, and with dad and Jon sort of leaving, and news of my dad was going through this divorce as well, so I didn't really get to see him very much. So my life, for a few years after that, sort of was not really focused around dad at all, because he was living in Switzerland and I lived with my mum in England, so we were kind of sheltered a bit from it at that point.
MOT: Your bio states that you tried to teach yourself, but ultimately you had to be taught; I saw the story as far as how you kind of picked things out and it suddenly kind of came together, and then you drove people crazy trying to teach yourself. How much was Rick an influence, both from the perspective of a talented musician you may have wanted to emulate as well as being a diligent dad trying to get you to play?
OW: When I first started to play, dad was not around very much when I was very little. He was often out touring and things; he was always abroad, so we were pretty much with mum most of the time, and I remember him coming back, but when he came back home we'd often just go out and do things like go and find fireworks-after fireworks night we'd go and find the empty shells the next day and things like that and just sort of going out and having fun sort of thing, and that was kind of it. He never really sat down and played with us at the piano, or I certainly don't remember it, but I do remember we had a lovely grand piano in the lounge, which this is where I used to just sort of wait until everybody was away and then just sort of mucking around with it, and then I started doing some sort of piano lessons when I was very, very small-about five, but I remember the reason I didn't like it very much was that the piano lessons has to be taken during your playtime, and as a five-year-old, I wasn't very happy with watching all of my friends outside playing whilst I had to sit at a piano [laughs].
So it kind of was a bit of a stunted start, but as I got older my dad moved back to England, which was probably in the early 80s-'83-'84, when he met Nina and they got together. We started to see a lot more of him, and I suppose that's probably when I started to become interested in what he was doing and what he had done. I do remember specifically sitting at the breakfast table with dad and Nina, and dad was talking about some stories about JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, and I said I'd never heard it, and Nina sort of looked at me in shock, and she looked at Rick and said, "How come your son doesn't even know your album?" and I was only about twelve I think, and dad was like, "Oh, there's a copy somewhere; go dig it out for him." So I really remember listening to it and really, really enjoying it then. I think that's when I sort of started to have an understanding of what dad did and what he could do, but up to that point at the end of the day he's sort of my dad, and we just sort of chatted and did things like that rather than sit and think about his career, because at the age of twelve, you don't really care about that sort of stuff. I was just sort of excited to be spending some time with father again after a period where he lived abroad.
MOT: Was Yes music played at all, if much, at home-whether on the turntable or...
OW: No, not really, because my dad was often away; my mom was the real fan of things like Cat Stevens and John Denver, and there's a French Celtic band called Gwendal that she loved. I always remember she used to listen to that a lot of the time, so she sort of had her own likes of music, and I'm sure she likes some of the stuff dad did, but she had her own sort of taste in music as well, which we listened to a lot, because she'd have it on it the car. But when I got to my early teens, I remember dad had a room at the top of his house, which us kids were at and just go and play and we had a little snooker table and a stereo, and he'd put loads of records there; and likewise at my house with my mum, I had a load of old records which were dad's sort of promotional records that he'd been given from A&M. That's really where I discovered my love of music from about the age of ten to twelve to fourteen from these records that were just sort of lying around, I distinctly remember to this day.
I've still got the copies of THE GRAND ILLUSION by Styx with an A&M demonstration sticker on it, and I had GOING FOR THE ONE and TORMATO, and I remember those three records as being real turning points that actually got me interested in music that wasn't traditional pop music, but most ten-year-olds are listening to it, and from then I sort of would go out with my friends on the weekends and they all buy the latest pop records, and I'd sort of be looking around and picking up records by Rush and Deep Purple and Zeppelin. I decided that I really liked this music, for some reason I could listen to it again and again and again without getting bored of it, which a lot of the pop music that I was listening to with my friends kind of bored me quite a bit. I mean, there's some very good stuff that stood the test of time but a lot of it was quite disposable, and I quite liked listening to this other music that just made me think "Wow!" You can listen to this time and time again and hear something different every time, and I think that's where my real love of music came from, rather than just doing piano lessons and just being taught music. It's where you suddenly discover a passion for something, and I think that's what did it for me was discovering these old records and then going out and buying things and feeling like you were the only person in the world who was discovering this music, and especially when all my friends weren't interested in it.
MOT: So from what you said, GOING FOR THE ONE and TORMATO were really the first Yes music that you were exposed to that you really liked.
OW: Oh yeah, I'd say it was actually the first Yes music I'd actually heard, and I do remember "Turn of the Century" being a piece that particularly enthralled me as a kid, because it just seemed so different to anything else that I'd heard. But TORMATO I always had a great love for... obviously I've known about Yes for years, but I hadn't really sort of checked out what people were saying about Yes music. I just knew which Yes music I knew and what I listened to and what I liked, and it was quite interesting when I read a lot about people who didn't really take to TORMATO and had problems with it, and for me it was always one of my favorite albums, primarily because it was one of the ones that got me interested in Yes-not just because my dad was in it, but because I genuinely liked it.
MOT: It's interesting to hear you say that; TORMATO is definitely a divisive album amongst Yes fans; either they really love it or [laughs] they don't care for it so much. I'm one of the former myself, and I remember talking to your dad about it a few years back, and it sounded like he had some affection for it as well. So there was never really a real effort to rebel against the stogy-old people's music as it were?
OW: No, not at all. My family, we had a strange sort of upbringing, as much as dad was always very sort of flamboyant and lived in bigger houses and was doing TV when he came back to England and doing lots of big shows. But my brother and I had a very stable upbringing from my mum and her second husband, so we had almost a split childhood, where we had this very normal day-to-day-going to school, coming back, my stepfather going out to work, my mum doing the occasional part-time job and bringing up the children, and then at weekends we'd go and see my dad, and he'd be... we'd golf and watch him do TV shows, and concerts and all this sort of stuff, and so we ended up having this sort of almost duel childhood sort of thing, and to me it was just exciting and interesting, and people always said to me, you had a really strange upbringing, but to me, because it was the only upbringing I had, it seemed perfectly natural. But I never felt the need to rebel, because I think by the time my dad sort of came back into my life, which was in my early teens after their divorce and his subsequent second divorce, I was just pleased to see him and start to spend some time together. We've had our ups and downs, but we are genuinely very close, and I never felt the need with my dad to actually rebel against him, I think that was possibly because I didn't see so much of him when I was younger, so when I got to my teens where most people are rebelling against their parents I didn't tend to do that with my dad so much.
MOT: Going back to albums and what influenced you, you mentioned THE GRAND ILLUSION by Styx. I know, in other interviews, you also mentioned Deep Purple, and Jon Lord as being an influence. Can you name some other-outside of Yes-some other artists, and maybe some specific albums that were also influential to you?
OW: Yeah, I'd have to say [Mike Oldfield's] TUBULAR BELLS is just a fantastic record; I've always loved that. I'm particularly keen on some early Don McLean albums; I really thought his songwriting styles were superb, and I think probably Marillion were also a band that I was quite surprised to discover in the late 80s-early 90s; they were a band that were actually doing music in a progressive style and were actually becoming quite well-known for it, so I really enjoyed their music as well. There were quite a few artists. It's always weird when somebody asks you to name specific albums, you end up stumbling a little bit. But I do remember that once I find an artist that I like, I do tend to try and get as much of the catalog as I can. So Styx, once I got their GRAND ILLUSION, I ended up going out and getting PIECES OF EIGHT, CRYSTAL BALL-basically picking up a lot of the catalog, and I'm pretty sure a lot of the, shall we say, younger Yes fans will probably appreciate where I come from with this sort of thing in that we're very lucky in so much as when you discover a band from the '70s or the early '80s is that suddenly you've got a wealth of material you can choose, and you can pick it up very, very quickly. Whereas I imagine a Yes fan in the 70s was probably chomping at the bit, saying "Come on, you've just done CLOSE TO THE EDGE, what are you going to do now, and I've got to wait a year for it!" I could go out and buy GRAND ILLUSION and say to my mate, "This is really good stuff," and then look it up and suddenly find that there's another six or seven albums that I can go pick up tomorrow and hear all this music, which has taken nearly a decade to create, and I can go and get it all in a couple of weeks. I think that's one of the advantages to discovering older bands, so I don't suppose there were sort of thousands of bands I've discovered, because I had the advantage of being able to discover Styx and suddenly pick up ten of their records, discover Led Zeppelin and pick up ten of theirs, and again with the Yes music you can go and pick up a good ten albums of that, so you find artists and then you'd actually have a really good opportunity to sort of track how they changed over the years, but in a short space of time. So I think it wasn't so much specific albums. I think it was more the artists and actually understanding how their careers changed. But I do have a couple of albums I'd say are in my top ten, and one of them has to be WHO DO WE THINK WE ARE by Deep Purple, which I just absolutely love.
MOT: What about Yes' peers back in the 70s? Did you get into Crimson, Genesis, ELP?
OW: Genesis I never really clicked with for some reason; I've listened to it quite a few bits, and there's bits I really like, but it didn't... I think for some reason it was the long songs I find interesting, but I think the thing I liked about Yes is the element of flamboyancy I think that came from the instrumentation, whereas Genesis were always focused on the flamboyancy of the singer, and I think being more of an instrumental player, that really did grab me. Crimson I found very interesting; I remember my dad lived on the Isle of Man and I went and lived with him for a short while, and I was coming back to see my mum; and just when I got on the airplane I said to dad, "Have you got anything I could listen to on my Walkman?" He gave me a tape, and he said just listen to this. He said, "I don't listen to much music sometimes, but this is one album that is one of my favorite albums," He just gave me this cassette, and I put it on and it was the first King Crimson album; I sat on the plane, and "21st Century Schizoid Man" came on. I just remember thinking this is pretty incredible, and this was probably in the early '90s, so I can't imagine how it must have sounded in the late '60s when it came out. But I never really followed lots of Crimson stuff, just sort of occasional albums with that. ELP, again bits and pieces... I like Yes for the complex instrumentation, but then started following other bands that did maybe more traditional songwriting like Styx, I suppose.
MOT: That's interesting to hear what you have to say about both Genesis and ELP, because both those bands had some pretty talented and up-front keyboard players-Tony Banks in Genesis and of course Keith Emerson in ELP.
OW: I think it's probably just I've never actually given it much time, and it's not a deliberate reason that I haven't done it; it's just that I've never really picked up lots of the albums that have really sparked me, and it's not to say that there aren't tracks out there that would spark me. I just haven't listened to them yet, but maybe I should [laughs].
MOT: I'll be glad to give you some recommendations if you're interested [laughs].
OW: You'll have to send me an email with a list of essential listening for a Yes keyboard player [laugh].
MOT: I might just do that, if you're open to that. What was it like having a brother who was also interested in the same instrument? What was it like for you and Adam both learning keyboards? Did you play together? Give me a little understanding and insight into growing up with Adam.
OW: It's a strange one actually, because in dad's family we have lots of brothers and sisters; there's about six or seven of us, but Adam and I are true brothers. We have the same mother, and dad's obviously our father, and we lived with my mum up until about the age of sixteen where we both sort of disappeared to live with dad at various times. I must say now Adam and I are as close as brothers can be. We speak all the time; we often talk about music industry, what we have to do. We both have young children: Adam has a 3½ year old daughter, and I have a three year old son, so we've gone through quite a lot together. We got married within a couple of years of each other, so we've gone through this sort of life journey being only two years apart in age and both getting married and getting engaged and having children, so we are actually very close as brothers. However, when we were growing up, we did what a lot of brothers do which is just constantly fight, and we were always falling out. We didn't have the greatest of brotherly love as children, but as we got older, we developed into not just brothers but really good friends, which is great, because we can talk about anything together, which is really good. But when it came to our musicality, I suppose we both did piano lessons, and Adam carried on doing different lessons while I ended up going into sports and things like that when we were at school, and then we followed a different route. I'd discovered playing on my own and sitting down and working out bits and pieces where Adam was following a more going to lessons sort of route, and we came to a point where he was playing with different bands... he was in a band at, I suppose 16½, and I was 18-15 and 17, something like that-and I remember a phone call coming through and somebody asking if Adam was there, and I said, "No, he's not here," and he said, "It's just that we're putting a new band together, and we wanted him to come and audition for the keyboard player's role," And I said, "Sorry but he's really busy at the moment, he won't be able to make it, but I can!" So I kind of stole his audition, went along and got the job. We both ended up playing in bands in the Devon area in England, and we were both on the circuit for quite some time. We're sort of friendly competition, really, but he's gone his own way with what he does, and I've followed what I do. We show interest in each other's careers, and we're supportive for each other; but even though we've sort of come from the same sort of family background, we have slightly different approaches to things.
MOT: Your own playing style-and I think you could say this for Adam as well-is very much like your father's, and I have to wonder with a towering talent and influence like Rick Wakeman, how do you find our own voice?
OW: Well, the one thing I've never done-and this is actually true-I've never actually sat down and listened to what dad's played and tried to copy it, up until now having to do this Yes stuff. I've just never done it; I've never sat down and sort of thought I really want to know how to play it. I just sat at pianos and played what my ear wants to hear really. I just hear bits and pieces and I'd play, and I started listening to music, you hear little inflections in the way someone plays, but it does seem to come natural; I mean it's always hard work learning how to play and learning what to do, but I've never deliberately gone out of my way to say I want to sound like dad. I've probably listened to as much Jon Lord and Dennis DeYoung as I have as dad's stuff, but I just seem to have picked out a sort of... I don't know whether it's genetic, or stuff just seems to soak into the brain and you end up playing that way, but it certainly isn't a deliberate attempt to be a carbon copy.
MOT: It's a revelation to hear you talk about your influences, when you mentioned the songwriting of Styx, and especially Don McLean; I would never have thought that it was one of your influences, and I think one thing that came through on your DVD is that you're definitely trying to strike a balance between, as you put it, the flamboyance of the instrumentation of bands like Yes, along with the heart and songwriting of more traditional singer/songwriters.
OW: Well, I made very sure when I was younger when I first started working in music, and I decided to start putting bands together, even my early days, I certainly thought, "Right, what do I want to write about? How do I want to write it?," and I decided to teach myself how to play a guitar, because I thought it was... you know, you can get an idea for a song on a piano, and a piano can write a song in a certain way, but you can write a song and in a sort of a slightly different style if you write in on a guitar or you get a better understanding of how a piece of music can work, and I just sort of thought well, what do I want to be? Do I want to be solely just a flashy keyboard player or do I want to actually try and write songs that are important? Because there have been instances, and I can't think of anybody in particular, but some music I've listened to where you hear people playing, and they're playing phenomenally quickly and phenomenally cleverly, but there's no soul to the music, and a piece of music has to emotionally grab you as well somewhere along the line. I think I decided that listening to bands like Styx you listen to the songwriting, and you think the songs are really good, and yet the instrumentation just makes it even better, and I think that's really where my love of it came from, who can do a killer solo on a killer song; that just makes it so much more exciting. There's nothing better than a really good song but then gets up to a solo that just takes it to that other level, and I think that's the sort of thing really interests me, and in listening to a lot of the Yes stuff; you can just take it back to just simple chords for the main melody, but then you add all this instrumentation around it, and it just makes everything so interesting and so exciting. When I think when I came to writing my own music, I would do that. I would often start with just the simple guitar or piano, just try and write what I felt was a good song, and then depending on how I felt the song needed to go or what the story was behind the song, I would develop the music accordingly. Some of the pieces on the DVD are nice three-four minute numbers and some of them are ten minute pieces that kind of go off on tangents, but the most important thing was always making sure the story and the song was important.
MOT: Length is always an issue for those who don't really have an ear for progressive music. I think Jon Anderson put it best many years ago when he said a song is as long as a song needs to be. Let's move on to Yes here. We know, as we all know, you're friends with Steve, and you've recorded together through 3 AGES OF MAGICK, of course, which is a wonderful album. Was it Steve who approached you to join Yes when the tour was first announced a few months ago?
OW: Yeah, he phoned me up. I knew about it quite some time in advance; he actually phoned me up in December last year and said this is what's on the cards, and he said are you interested in doing it, so even though the tour wasn't until July, he sort of gave me a fair amount of notice, I think, to see if I was interested, and so they can start making some plans, because I think dad had sort of indicated that he wasn't going to do it. I remember sitting down having tea with my wife and the phone went, and Steve came on the answering machine and just said can you give me a call back, and I looked at my wife, she said so call him back, and I said "Yeah, I'm just about to." She had this sort of intuitive thing, she said, "He's going to ask you to join Yes," and I said "Don't be so silly!" [laughs]. So I phoned him back, and he said, "I hope you're sitting down," and I said, "Well, I can be," and he said, "It's just that we'd like you to join up if you're interested. We're going to do a tour," and I said "Well, yes." I spoke to my wife about it, but we just jumped at the chance of doing it, but I remember the one thing I was thinking about when they asked me: I did say to Steve, "The one thing I do want to do before I say yes I'll do it is I'd like to just at least speak to dad and just make sure he was ok with it." I didn't know what the situation was with what they'd discussed with dad, whether dad had left or whether dad was still doing it or whether he didn't know that they were going to approach me, and I spoke to dad [in email] and just said, "Steve's been on the phone, and this sounds like great fun and a great opportunity, but I'd like to do it with your blessing. I don't want to do something that's going to be uncomfortable," and he just wrote back one line that just said, "Who do you think recommended you?" and that was it [both laugh]. I felt it made everything ok, but the one thing I didn't want to do was cause any friction, not that there could have been any, but if you don't know what's been happening in the background-you just get a phone call out of the blue-I just wanted to make sure everyone was ok with it, and that's obviously when I heard all the stories about how dad and Chris had been talking and all that sort of stuff, but at the time it was literally just a case of well, as long as I've got dad's blessing to do it, I'd love to do it.
MOT: How much progress had you made on learning the actual songs when the summer tour was initially cancelled?
OW: By the time the announcements had been made, obviously in the background lots of things were happening, and I had been put on notice that there's a good chance this is going to not happen now or for a while. I'd got quite far with a fair few pieces, subsequent to say that they are pieces that are being played now [laughs], so I had done a fair amount of work, but obviously with this new stuff coming up, there's been a whole new load of songs to learn, so I've got a fair amount into it. I mean, nothing was polished and finished; it was still sort of in putting it together approach, because one thing I wasn't going to do was just phone up dad and say "How do you play this bit, and what did you play here?" For me, it was just a case of right, if I'm going to do this, let's do it properly; let's get the CDs out, get the DVDs out, watch, listen, and going on to YouTube and seeing the various versions of the band playing various pieces and trying to just see how the band has developed a song, because it's not just case of sitting down and listening to a piece of music off of the record, say a piece off of FRAGILE, and then turning up at the rehearsal and saying right, ok you've learned it from the record. They all get amended for live playing; they get adjusted slightly. Keyboard parts get played slightly differently, and so what I had to do was listen to the original song, sort of map it out, and then listen to the live versions and work out where they'd changed it and then try get to the latest live version and work out what arrangement they would likely want to play at the time. So it wasn't as easy as just sitting down and learning a piece from start to finish, because they have developed especially when you're playing a piece that Tony Kaye played originally, and then dad had been playing it for years, and then another keyboard player had come along and copied dad's parts rather than the original Tony Kaye part. You end up having to find this amalgamation of parts and actually work out what is the best way of playing this piece of music, so it's still a work in progress at the moment.
MOT: Can you list some of these songs?
OW: Yeah, I was probably thinking something along the lines of "South Side of the Sky", for example, is particularly different to the original record, with all the little soloing bits and stuff. "Siberian Khatru" has, not different keyboard parts, but there's different sounds and different areas that are slightly different live than they are... just trying to think; "You're is No Disgrace" I seem to remember off the 35th Anniversary tour has a much more improvised middle section, and I'm not sure whether we're doing that one now, but there's always little different sections, which when you listen to are very, very different, and it's just trying to remember them all and work out which route to take really.
MOT: What are some of the songs that the band had told you they'll probably be playing on this upcoming tour?
OW: "Siberian Khatru" is on there, which wasn't on the original tour list, and actually having played it, I'm actually really looking forward to it-it's really good fun. "Close to the Edge", which is a challenging piece, which is good fun to play, and I think we're doing "Tempus Fugit" as well. "Astral Traveler" as well I think is one of the ones that's under consideration. There's quite a few unusual pieces slotting in. I think the way it's working now, they're going for doing a set [where] the fans might not have exactly the people they want up there on the stage, but the one thing that Chris, Alan, and Steve can do is give the fans the music that they'd like to hear. From the songs that have been given to me as proposals to use-we've got a list of definite and a list of possibilities-it does look like,, obviously, the very classic '70s albums will be covered quite well, but I think there's going to be a good few pieces that sort of do cover the whole career, and I think that could well be a couple of pieces in there that people will be quite surprised about hearing and probably very pleased to hear, so I think people really will enjoy it. I hope they will.
MOT: You mentioned earlier that you pull out all the Yes albums, and you're learning them all on your own; this may have not happened yet, but what happens if you do hit a wall in terms of figuring out a particular sound or phrasing, do you think you'll ring up dad and say, "What did you do there?'
OW: No, I don't do that. I've already hit walls like that and all it is is you just come down to perseverance. There's little riffs that I've been listening to and say, "I cannot hear what that is," and then you suddenly hear it, and you suddenly go "Ah!" It just clicks; sometimes you just sit down, and it would just come somehow. I haven't really come across anything-I mean, it's obviously very challenging parts, but I haven't come across anything at the moment that I've thought that's going to be, "I'm not sure how to even approach that." Luckily, everything I'm coming up with so far does seem to fit. I'm pretty sure that once I get in a rehearsal room with the other guys, some sounds that I think I'm going to use probably won't work, and I'll probably have to make some changes on the fly, but I'm in discussions with my keyboard tech Will at the moment about what we're going to be doing for sounds for the tour, because again you can't use all the sounds that were originally on the records, because it's difficult to get a hold of those keyboards or samples, and also they've been sort of played on different keyboards over tours. Somebody else has already done this and naturally found a sound that works very well on the live sets, so I should probably go more down that route of listening to what other keyboard players have chosen; then it won't be a big surprise for everybody else when we turn up for rehearsals, and I suddenly start playing a sound from an album in 1972, but the guys haven't heard that sound for 30 years, and it sort of froze everybody off. You just want to turn up basically and try and slot in and make it seem as effortless to people as possible. That way it makes you feel like you got a good chemistry and everything's working well together and going in the same direction, rather than trying to complicate things.
MOT: Do you think you'll be using the same setup that you pretty much had on the DVD, or will you be augmenting it somehow?
OW: Oh yeah, it'll be larger than the setup for the DVD. I have a core set keyboard sounds, and bits and pieces that I want to use, but I'm obviously for this setup, I need to have a certain set of sounds that are a definite requirement for this tour, so the keyboard setup will probably be twice the size of the one on the DVD. But I do remember talking to dad about the DVD, and he said... we were talking about the filming, and he said, "Make sure you take all the gear that you want to, so remember it's going to be on film, so make it look as good as you can," and I remember thinking ok, great, I'll take everything I've got out there, have a really big keyboard setup and it'll look great. And then I thought to myself, right, there are some friends of mine driving all the gear over there in an old van, and I remember the thought go through my head if they crash it or they're on a boat and it sinks and I come home and I haven't got anything to use anymore! So I took a sort of mid-way gamble where I thought, well, I'll take across some stuff, but I'll make sure I've got some stuff when I get home just in case the worst happens.
MOT: Is there any talk of you having your own segment during the show to basically show your stuff like Rick did on previous Yes tours, or has it gotten that far yet?
OW: I think it's been an initial sort of approach. It might be quite fun to do something different. Steve did mention a possibility of doing something from the 3 AGES together, which might be quite fun. As to whether it will happen or not, or whether I'll just get to do a piano piece, or what will happen, I don't really know yet. I think they're still trying to work exactly what setlist they want to do, and once they've worked out what songs they want to do, we'll work out what time is left over as to whether there are going to be solo spots for a new boy or whether it'll would just be limited to Chris and Steve and Alan doing their bits. But if they ask me, I'll be more than happy to.
MOT: So have you had other conversations with your father beyond the initial blessing? I guess I'm interested in the possibility of him joining the band for some local gigs, for instance.
OW: He hasn't mentioned it to me, once we went through the initial talking about it and bits and pieces like that, he's kind of... one thing he did say to me, he said, "You're your own man now". He said, "You're dealing with this; you're doing the job. It's for you to find your way with it," which I'm quite pleased about actually, because he's there if I need a bit of advice, but he's very much saying you want to do this, and that's absolutely fine, but you have to make your own decisions, and so he hasn't really been involved very much with it. Whether at some point if they've got plans to do something all together, I guess they know. They haven't spoken to me about it; but if at some point they all get up and decide they want to play again, then I'll be in the front row watching and cheering like everybody else would, I'd imagine.
MOT: I've got a three-part question for you. The first part is what are your own favorite Yes songs, as compositions?
OW: There's probably two or three that I think are particularly impressive. "Turn of the Century", probably because it was one of the first pieces that I heard that really made me go, wow, that's really something. Something like "South Side of the Sky", I really liked when it was on FRAGILE, and it was one of those pieces that I just instantly liked straight away. And I think probably because when I was a child I really liked "Circus of Heaven" off of TORMATO, just as a kid. I just remember when I was about ten listening to this record for the first time, just hearing that song and thinking wow, that's really good fun, and I know that that will probably make a load of Yes fans go "What? 'Circus of Heaven' over something like 'Close to the Edge'?" but I think purely from the memory point of view as to what got me excited about it in the first place; I'd have to say something like that, and in fact anything from TORMATO, not just "Circus of Heaven", anything from TORMATO would have to go down there; not as maybe their best-ever songs, but something that actually gave me the spark to discover the music in the first place.
MOT: Yeah, I wished that the band would play more songs from TORMATO-"Future Times" and "Release, Release" are two of my favorites. "Arriving UFO" has some wonderful stuff too. So the second part of my question is, which songs do you think had your father's strongest playing?
OW: Strongest playing... I would probably have to say "Close to the Edge" has got some very, very strong playing on it, even though it might not be to the fore all the time. Especially when I'm working on "Close to the Edge" and "Siberian Khatru", the keyboards are playing very much a supporting role, short of obviously the big solo in "Close to the Edge", but you're kind of taken along with with the guitar solo at the beginning and the great melodies that Steve plays on that, and obviously Jon's voice shines through on things like "I Get Up, I Get Down" section, but all the way throughout the background, the keyboards are playing very much a supporting role, but especially the opening fast riff on "Close to the Edge". It takes some real stamina to keep that speed up and that melody going for period of time, and I think as I've been listening to that piece, you suddenly realize that there's a whole depth of work going on in the keyboards in "Close to the Edge", but maybe isn't a focus, and I think that makes it a very strong song, whereas a lot of dad's work is often praised for the sort of flash-ness and the flamboyancy of it. But I think that song particularly showed that dad was very, very able to be a player to help support a song along, rather than taking the limelight on it.
MOT: OK, and the third part of my question, you may have already touched this in the first two parts-if you were drawing up your own setlist, which Yes songs would you really, really want to play, if they said, "Oliver, what songs do you want to play?"
OW: I'd like "Close to the Edge" I think, actually having learned it, is a great piece-it's a wonderful piece to play. I do have a soft spot, strangely enough, for "Holy Lamb"; I think "Holy Lamb" is a lovely track, and I know, again, some Yes fans will be going, "But that's not a classic Yes track," but I think it's a very, almost an underrated track, and I'll tell you I would love to hear Chris and Steve play it, with a more sort of classic Yes approach to it. I mean, I love the version that was done with Trevor Rabin and Tony Kaye, but I'd love to have everybody have a crack at it doing Steve's guitar on it. I think it could just be a little gem, but I've always thought it was a lovely song. I love the words; I like the melody. I've always just thought it was a very nice song.
MOT: Talking about Yes' albums and songs and the such-do you share your dad's distaste for TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS?
OW: No, I don't actually. I did have that as a child which I've got on double vinyl. I think sometimes dad's been... obviously I know all what they went through in the '70s and they all had big fights about it, but you know when you talk to dad about it, he always maintains that he thinks TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS would have made a fantastic single record. I don't think he hates every moment of it; I think he just feels that there were sections that were elongated that didn't need to be, and if it had been trimmed down, he thinks it would have been a great single record, but then again that was in the '70s when a double album took up an hour or something. Nowadays you buy a CD and sometimes you can have like 74 minutes on it, which I think is really long for an album, so I don't have that sort of distaste... it's not my favorite Yes album, but I don't certainly have that sort of "Oh, I can't bear to listen to this" approach to it. Some of the bits I think are fantastic.
MOT: Do you think Benoit will be able to cut it with both the band and the fans?
OW: I hope so. I mean, from what I've heard of him, he sounds very, very good, and I'm sure he's a very nice guy. He's got a tough job; I feel like it's made my life not quite so panicked and pressured, if that makes sense, because I'm not now the only new boy. We're both going into it, and even though he might have had more experience of playing Yes songs because of the work that he's done in the past, I've probably had a bit more of the experience of working with musicians who are as well-known as they are, so we're both sort of approaching this as new boys, but both with different experiences that will help us. And hopefully we'll be able to help each other through, and I'd like to think that he'll think that Oliver is a bit new to it as well, so I'm not the only one, and hopefully we'll help create a bit of camaraderie between everybody. Everybody wants to make this work, and everybody's excited about it, and I suppose the fact that Jon's ill and isn't doing this tour is obviously sad, but if it was... I suppose what it boils down to to a lot of fans is they get the chance to go out and hear some Yes music or not hear some Yes music and hear Chris, Alan, and Steve, who are actually responsible for an awful lot of it-classic Yes material, I hope people will just come along and enjoy it. As a musician, that's all you want people to do is come along and have a good time; that's what we're there for. Everybody comes along and enjoys themselves, and if people come and enjoy it and go away happy, then we've done what we've aimed for.
MOT: One thing I do want to do is to run through the other Yes keyboard players-I'll give you the name, and you give me your thoughts. If you don't have any, you can say you don't have any thoughts. Let's start with Tony Kaye.
OW: Tony Kaye-he's got a lovely style of playing the Hammond... the one thing I've noticed when listening to the Tony Kaye stuff, even though he doesn't have maybe the flamboyancy or the flair of playing lots of things very fast, he has a great sense of timing. He often comes up with little keyboard lines using a timing that you wouldn't normally expect, and I think it's probably because I think he has a bit more of jazz approach to how he plays things, so the one thing I've sort of noticed-whereas with dad you're focusing on the speed and the complexity-with Tony you're listening to it and thinking, oh I see where you're going with it; I get your timing, and it's really interesting, because it's completely different to how I would have played, but you learn something about keyboard players, that's something that I've sort of picked up from the way he does things-yeah, yeah, I can see where your approach is now, and it's really interesting.
MOT: That's interesting you mentioned the jazz aspect, because in the beginning they were more of a jazz-leaning band as far their sensibilities, and with Bill Bruford's playing and Peter Banks was also kind of jazzy.
OW: Yeah, especially Peter would take a lot of the solos, and Tony didn't take many solos at all, so he would end up being more the rhythmic part, which I suppose then he was always syncing in with Bill and Chris, which I suppose would emphasize the timing approach to things.
MOT: OK... Patrick Moraz.
OW: I'm afraid... this is one I will probably have to, pass on. Not for any other reasons, I haven't really heard anything that he's done. I'm going to be terrible here and say I don't actually have RELAYER. It's the one Yes album I don't have, and I think it's probably because after dad left in '77, he didn't get any more Yes albums, and then it was me having to sort of pick them up as a child, and I think once I started getting into Yes, it was like picking the stuff that dad had been on, so I kind of started up again with GOING FOR THE ONE and TORMATO and things like that, so the only track I really know is "Soon". So I cannot really comment on him, although from what I have heard, he's a superb player.
MOT: RELAYER is really one of the most interesting albums in Yes' canon, so I would recommend that you give it a listen [laughs].
OW: I will do; I'll probably get lynched for that. "He listens to 'Holy Lamb', but never listened to Gates of Delirium. What is this guy?" [Laughs]
MOT: How about Geoff Downes?
OW: I probably know his work more; obviously because he only did the DRAMA album, but I probably know more of his work from the Asia work, because that's probably more my teenage years or growing up when they were actually doing a lot of work then, and I really enjoyed the stuff he did with Steve. But I think his keyboard playing probably lends itself more to the Asia style, I think. I think he found his niche; I think he probably really enjoyed the Yes stuff, but I think he really excels with Asia. It suits his style, because I think he's a very good songwriter as well, and I think it mixes his talents really well in Asia, so I don't think he had enough albums with Yes to sort of really see a development of style or see different ideas. He only really got the one moment to do what he did, which he did very well, but I think in Asia he really came into his own.
MOT: Those three keyboard players, along with your father, were band members that helped create new music. In some ways you really have more in common with, say, Igor Khoroshev or Tom Brislin filling in on existing songs. Did you have a chance to hear either of those gentlemen, and do you have any thoughts on them if you did?
OW: Yeah, I've seen Igor on some of the stuff on YouTube and obviously on THE LADDER. I think he did a very good job on THE LADDER; he's got some nice keyboard parts, and Tom Brislin, I watched him on the Symphonic Yes tour, and he played the parts very well. The only thing I would say, I'd like to think I'm probably in between the two sets I think, because of the work that I've done with Steve in between and with a lot of the other sort of progressive musicians. I like to think I have an approach with Steve in that we've spent quite a bit of time working together, so we kind of have an understanding.
MOT: You are kind of a bridge; like you say, you've done work with Steve, whereas Igor and Tom both came out of the blue just to fill a role and hadn't much interaction with the band prior to that.
OW: Yeah, I think that's what it is. I suppose I sort of have the history building towards the possibility something like this happening. My career was kind of going in that musical direction so working with Yes seems to be a good fit. I did some work with Starcastle as well, I performed with them at ROSfest last year as part of their reunion and had a great time with them. I'm continuing to work with Al Lewis, the singer, on another project. Working with Starcastle-incidentally there will be a live CD of the ROSfest show out next year-was a great build up to working with Yes. A lot of comments I've read about compare Starcastle to Yes, which to some extent are true in so much as that their music is complex in nature, has lots of counter melodies and relies heavily on instrumental passages with long song structures. However, having worked with the guys and played with them, their music does have its own identity, but whether they sound like Yes or not didn't really worry me, I just enjoyed the music and love working with talented musicians.
MOT: This leads to my very last question; this gig with Yes could turn into a long-term gig. Are you prepared to go the distance here?
OW: Oh definitely, I mean it's one of those opportunities that just don't come along very often, and you have to really think about something like this as to what you want to do. Are you doing it for the right reasons? Now, obviously getting into playing music and doing it with a band like Yes and going around the world is a very exciting opportunity and a very exciting prospect, but the bottom line is that you have to really love the music and love the songs and the whole approach to what it is, and I think with Yes music, it's one of those things that the more I hear it, the more I hear in it, and it makes me want to be more of a part of it, and hopefully think that I can bring something that people will think oh, that's a really good idea or that's a great development; I'd love to hear what he could do with a new piece of music with Steve, Chris, and Alan. It'll be lovely, so it's something I'm very proud to have been asked; I'm very honored by it, but I'm also humbled by it, because I know how important Yes is to people, and I know people would like to think that Yes music is going to keep going and still create new stuff, and I know it's difficult for people to put out new albums these days, but I know for having spoken to Chris and work with Steve and things, these guys they write such good music, and they've got so much more music in them. It would just be great to be a part of them creating new stuff that hopefully will surprise a few people. It would be wonderful to do a record and everyone went you know something, that's pretty good.
Keys To Success - The Progressive World Of Oliver Wakeman
Interview by Lindsay Sorrell - 23rd May, 2009
Oliver Wakeman is not a man to shy away from challenges. Yes fans on the US side of the pond recently discovered this when, like the proverbial duck to water, he seemingly effortlessly embraced the role of keyboard player for the "In the Present" tour alongside Benoit David (an impressive soundalike vocalist called upon to deputise for the incapacitated Jon Anderson), and iconic Yes-men Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White.
Despite being aware of the critical comparison he would inevitably receive while taking over his father's role (Rick was advised not to undertake the tour for health reasons, and suggested Oliver would prove a more-than-worthy replacement), Oliver's own keyboard craftsmanship soon dispelled any fears that he was not equal to the task.
The tour was a great success, and Oliver will soon be taking his place in the Yes line-up for further tours this year. Additional proof, if any were needed, of Oliver's versatility and willingness to undergo scrutiny followed shortly after the 'In the Present' tour, when he joined Strawbs (with whom Rick had been keyboardist at the time of his meteoric rise to fame).
Oliver's baptism into the English prog rock 'electric' Strawbs (the band also performs as a three-piece acoustic outfit) came in March of this year, on a tour of Canada. He inherited the piano stool from John Hawken, Strawbs' much-loved keyboard player who had originally joined the band in 1973. John had recently decided to retire from arduous touring schedules, and again, inevitable comparisons and the reluctance of 'doubting Thomases' would surely have proved too much for some. Oliver, however, accepted the challenge on the chin, spurred on by his own respect for the band's music.
Apart from clearly being highly sought-after for his keyboard expertise (he hasn't won the Classic Rock Society's 'Keyboard Player of the Year' award three times in a row for nothing!), Oliver also has his own band, The Oliver Wakeman Band, who have many performances under their belts and recently recorded a live DVD in Poland entitled 'Coming to Town'. The DVD has recently been released in Europe and the US and a live CD taken from the same concert has been released and will be out this month in the US.
Despite his busy schedule, however, Oliver willingly agreed to be interviewed shortly before he was due onstage for Strawbs' concert at The Cheese and Grain in Frome, mid-way through the band's May UK tour. The George Hotel, just minutes' walk from the venue, provided a pleasant setting for a relaxed chat, and Oliver patiently worked through a lengthy list of questions with me, several of which had been provided by members of Witchwood, Strawbs' Yahoo discussion group. The interview went something like this
LS: Please tell me a little about your musical career to date.
OW: I started out with a band called Obsession when I was about 17. It was a band that played original material which was quite unusual on the Devon music scene at the time. I joined the band following a telephone call intended for Adam (Oliver's younger brother, and a fellow keyboard player); I told them he was busy with another band but I was available, and that's how I ended up getting the gig! My time with the band lasted for around three years and involved the recording of one album, 'Debut of Desire', which included one of my own compositions and a not-very-often seen promotional video.
College years followed, and I gained a diploma in graphic design, which has frequently proved useful. I worked part-time as a graphic designer for many years, and took various 9 - 5 corporate jobs. I've also used what I learned to design tour programmes and flyers for various musicians including Steve Hackett, Gordon Giltrap, Eric Norlander, my father and many others. I also design my own album sleeves, adverts and website. It's really satisfying to be able to design my own artwork so it turns out precisely as I'd like it.
In tandem with the graphic design work, I continued playing live with Smokestack, a well-regarded blues band in the North Devon area which regularly played theatres, pubs, weddings and various other functions, although I finished playing with them back in 2003.
LS: Has growing up as part of such a musically-talented family led to sibling rivalry?
OW: Well, Adam and I are the greatest of friends, constantly in touch with each other. Although we both play keyboards our paths have usually gone in different directions and we've frequently ended up involved with quite different musical genres. Apart from working with dad, Adam has been involved with artists including Annie Lennox, Victoria Beckham and Atomic Kitten.
Incidentally, I last saw dad a few weeks ago at his Hampton Court Palace performances of 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' when Adam was also playing. Adam was adding more keyboards to the sound with The English Rock Ensemble.
LS: Is there any one style of music you most enjoy listening to?
OW: My mood dictates my choice of listening material. That includes a love of prog rock and classical music, and a wide diversity of artists which includes Yes, Strawbs, It Bites, Dan Reed Network, Harry Connick Jnr., Suzanne Vega and Tori Amos. I also have a fascination for music which I don't attempt to play, such as swing and jazz; rather than spending my time analysing what and how it is being played, I am able simply to sit back and just enjoy it.
There are very few genres I don't like, but I suppose they would include most heavy rap and dance music, although I generally like to keep an open mind regarding music I hear.
LS: Do you have a particular formula for composing music?
OW: No, I have no particular formula; my writing styles have always been quite eclectic, including pieces for piano, rock opera, instrumentals, Celtic music... just as with my choice of listening, my mood influences my writing style. 'Picture of a Lady' from 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' album (written with Clive Nolan) took about twenty minutes flat. Sometimes my writing simply flows spontaneously, other times not. Also, sometimes I write the lyrics first, other times the music; I am comfortable writing any way it happens. I never discard anything I write however; it might take years to see the light of day, but eventually bits and pieces I have composed surface and make their way into my work. I also write the initial bass and guitar parts for the musicians in my own band. Of course they then amend, adapt or improve the parts as they wish.
LS: Do you play any instruments aside from keyboards?
OW: I do play lead guitar and acoustic guitar, and in fact I have played guitar as a session musician in the past although this happened only on a few occasions and I'm not sure any of them saw the light of day. However, playing guitar puts pressure on certain muscles and makes it more difficult to play keyboards, so I wouldn't pick up a guitar for a while before any professional keyboard engagements. I also sing backing vocals with The Oliver Wakeman Band, and on various CD recordings.
LS: Are Yes and Strawbs very different bands to work with?
OW: Regarding playing, with Yes intense concentration is always required as the music is very technical. With Strawbs the music is still challenging, but there is a greater focus on the 'song' rather than the technical arrangement. Yes' songs are usually adapted and arranged in such a way as to utilise the instruments in a more technical way, whereas Strawbs' songs tend to build around a skeletal framework and the lyrics are generally more dominant.
There are pros and cons to each way of working, although for me it is the best of both worlds as I get to experience and learn from both bands and the experience they have. Yes is a big production which needs to be very regimented, with everything planned according to a tight schedule. For instance, soundchecks, rehearsals,'meet-and-greets', interviews and so on are all strictly timetabled. Yes is a five-piece band with a production crew of fourteen, whereas Strawbs has a crew of just two, and "spur of the moment" decisions are more possible.
The members of both bands are all great people to play with, and basically I enjoy it all. It's really a "win/win" situation, which provides an excellent learning curve.
LS: Does it ever seem slightly bizarre to be working with both Strawbs and Yes?
OW: Possibly in some ways, but I've always had a great love for prog rock, and particularly enjoy the music of both bands. I first became aware of Strawbs' music at around the age of thirteen when my mother retrieved a collection of vinyl albums from the family loft. In amongst the albums was 'From the Witchwood', which now has a place in my top five albums, well definitely top ten anyway.
I hope my understanding and genuine enjoyment of the band's music allows me to preserve passages which are essential, while simultaneously I like to add my own signature whenever possible. Incidentally, the other albums my mother brought down from the loft included 'Tales from the Topographic Oceans', 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' and 'The Grand Illusion' by Styx (another of my top ten albums, and a band of which I've always been a big fan).
Of course, prior to my recent work with Yes and Strawbs I'd recorded ten albums and a DVD, and I've always considered it of paramount importance to believe in the music and have respect for the artists with whom I work. In the past I've turned down work with several artists because I haven't really felt I'd be able to add anything, a situation which I wouldn't find satisfying.
LS: Had you ever seen Strawbs play prior to joining them for the Canadian tour earlier this year?
OW: Yes, several times. I followed them around on a tour in about 1989. It was at a time when Don Airey was with the band on keyboards, along with Richard Hudson, Tony Hooper and the others. I saw them at The Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple, and I also remember seeing them play in Weston-super-Mare. Travelling around to see Strawbs actually involved me hitch-hiking around the West Country.
I first hung out with Strawbs' lead vocalist Dave Cousins when he was working with Lantern Radio in Bideford, near where I was living in North Devon. That must have been around 1992. Incidentally, I've never met John Hawken nor seen him play, but greatly appreciate his playing from having listened to Strawbs' albums. His style differs from my own and it has been very enjoyable playing his parts on stage.
LS: Would you like to tell me a bit about the making of Strawbs' forthcoming album, 'Dancing to the Devil's Beat'?
OW: Making the new album was a lot of fun and I was particularly pleased to be involved with a bit of writing for the album as well as being responsible for the orchestral parts and some of the arrangements. This made me feel like a real member of the band, adding creative input rather than just turning up and playing a few pads and solos.
When I work on something I really make sure it is something I feel very strongly about, and I can hand-on-heart say that I think this album is very strong, with good songs and performances. It's very fitting for Strawbs' 40th anniversary, and an album I am proud to have been a part of.
LS: What equipment are you using onstage on this tour?
OW: I use four different keyboards; a Korg 01/W, a Korg Triton, a Moog Little Phatty and either a Yamaha P250 or a P200.
LS: What keyboards do you use for the Mellotron sounds, and what is the sample source for the tron sounds?
I use a multilayered sound on one of the Korg keyboards. I tried to use tron samples, but didn't find that worked as well without having reverb and outboard effects that weren't always available at every show. I much prefer the touch sensitivity of modern keyboards; for instance, in Strawbs' 'Down by the Sea' I hit a key hard with my left hand little finger to get the cymbal crash sound, whilst the other left hand fingers are putting together a low string chord with the right hand playing a top brass line. I'm giving all my secrets away now!
LS: It was great to read your Canadian blog [www.oliverwakeman.co.uk and select Stories/Strawbs Canadian tour/- DG]. Are you planning a repetition for this UK Strawbs' tour?
OW: Thanks to the person who liked my blog! Yes, I intend to write another following this tour. I shall be putting it together whilst on the Yes US tour; things have been a little hectic of late!
LS: Do you get nervous before playing, or have any particular ways to deal with pre-show nerves?
OW: No, not really. I like a few moments of quiet prior to a show if possible, to try and get focussed. Usually the first song is spent getting accustomed to everything going on, the levels of the different instruments and so on, and when the first song is over I generally start to relax.
LS: You have recorded several 'new age' type CDs; do you have a particular interest in new age culture?
OW: I developed an interest in alternative therapies when I had "hands on" healing for various aches and pains, which I found helped me. My son, Arthur, was actually born to an album called 'Chakras' which I wrote back in 2001. The album was a commissioned piece of work, part of a set of sixteen albums (I only wrote the one album for the set). Incidentally, my mum has studied aromatherapy, and basically I think anything which induces relaxation can be beneficial.
LS: 'Heaven's Isle' is a beautiful album. How did it come about?
OW: Thank you. I think of it as being a very "innocent" album; I don't mean that in a negative way, I'm proud of it. The music in the album relates to the beautiful and fascinating Isle of Lundy. 'Heaven's Isle' was produced in association with The Landmark Trust, who own the Island. It was also my first album, released in 1997! (It was re-released in 1999 with a couple of extra tracks. The album is available from Verglas.com if anyone is interested!)
LS: Do you remember any gig, with any band, which stands out as your most enjoyable?
OW: The Mohegan Sun Casino in Montville, Connecticut with Yes was terrific, and also the last show I did on the Canadian Strawbs' tour, in Hamilton, Canada. There was a Yamaha grand piano and the whole thing was fantastic. You'll know that if you read my blog on Myspace! Oh, and Strawbs at Huntingdon Hall in Worcester a few nights ago was amazing too. Actually, I enjoy all the gigs I play!
LS: What are your immediate plans after Strawbs' UK tour finishes?
OW: I shall spend two weeks learning Yes material, followed by six weeks' touring the USA with them. In August I shall be playing with Strawbs again, at the 'Memories of Woodstock' festival at The West Midlands Showground. After that I have three weeks off for a family holiday, and I also hope to buy a new house. Towards the end of the year I'll be touring with Yes again, and hopefully there will be some European gigs, including the UK.
In September I shall also be playing at Strawbs' 40th Anniversary weekend at Twickenham Rugby Ground, as will dad. I have a lot of solo material that I'd like to record too - four very different albums' worth. One will be a rock album, another Celtic rock, the third is a rock opera, and the fourth is made up of piano pieces. I really hope to start recording them before the end of the year. I like to use a studio in Virginia Water, Surrey, where I have a great relationship with the engineer Karl Groom. I produce my own recordings myself.
LS: Do you have time for any non-musical hobbies?
OW: Not really. I like to spend as much time as possible with my wife and my young son Arthur when I'm not working.
Following several prompts from others in my party who were attending the evening's show (and having told Oliver I didn't want to be responsible for making him late onstage!) we eventually concluded after about an hour's conversation. There was just time to make it round to the venue before Strawbs took to the stage, and an electrifying evening of prog rock followed, wildly applauded by a highly appreciative audience.
It was sheer delight to watch Oliver and Dave Lambert (lead guitar) smiling broadly at each other as they wove their sounds intuitively around each other's playing, while Chas Cronk (bass) and Rod Coombes (drums) provided the most solid yet inspired rhythm section imaginable. Strawbs' founder, Dave Cousins, filled the air with his trademark impassioned vocals, and the band's encore, "Where Is This Dream Of Your Youth", showcased Oliver's blistering, dramatic keyboard skills.
And no, Dave Cousins very definitely wasn't looking at his watch during Oliver's piece de resistance, as Oliver had earlier jokingly enquired of me! It was obvious the entire band enjoyed Oliver's dramatic keyboard finale just as much as the delighted crowd. Many thanks to Oliver for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule for this interview.
Rockarea.eu interview by Piotr Spyra
Firstly I'd like to congratulate you and your band on giving a great concert in Poland and releasing a brilliant DVD.
Thank you very much, I am extremely proud of the DVD and think that the guys in the band played really well on the night. I also think that Metal Mind did a great job in capturing the performance so well.
What criteria did you use to select tracks for the concert in Poland? In my opinion you didn't treat 'Hound of the Baskervilles' the way it deserved?
Sorry about the Hound not being played as much. What happened was - we had rehearsed a longer set but at the last minute had to make a few adjustments to make sure we didn't run over time. Unfortunately the songs that we removed were from Hound. If we get to do another DVD I'll make sure there are Hound songs in there - I promise!
What are your memories from your visit in Poland? What sort of impression did the Silesian Theater and Poland in general make on you?
I really enjoyed my visit to Poland, we were performing in Katowice and thought the theatre was absolutely beautiful. I had an explore around the theatre during the afternoon and thought it was wonderful.
The day after the show, the band and I travelled out to Krakow and I think it is such a beautiful city. The buildings and history on show in the town is incredible. We spent the whole day really enjoying ourselves. We also had a very nice lunch at a beautiful old restaurant, it seemed to have been unchanged since the 40's and was like stepping back in time.
That evening a rock opera 'She' was put on stage, weren't you afraid that your concert could be somehow overshadowed by it and lose some spotlight?
Not really, I knew that our show was to be a completely different type of show to Clive's. Clive was making use of a lot of visual effects, acting and stage props as well as the music - whereas we were a bit more of a rock and roll approach. 5 guys on stage, 5 sets of instruments and the songs. I enjoy the elaborate shows but I also think that a bit of straight ahead rock show can be very entertaining as well. I think, judging by the response we received from the crowd during the concert and afterwards that they enjoyed it too!
I think that you cannot be dissatisfied with the audience - you were welcomed as stars of the evening!
I do have to say that they were fantastic - having a great audience really helps you on stage. It's always great to play to people but when they are responding and singing along it takes to to a different level, you feed off their energy and it just makes the whole event great fun for everyone. We must have spent well over a hour chatting, signing and having photos taken after we came off stage. The band and I felt very honoured by the good wishes and comments people were giving us. It really finished off a wonderful evening.
For years you've been releasing various kinds of music, not only rock pieces. Right now it seems that situation is quite stable with the band's lineup fixed. So, do you plan to put out 'Oliver Wakeman Band' album? Maybe you've got some other ideas?
I do have a follow up album to Mother's Ruin called Cultural Vandals which I am hoping to record early next year which will feature the guys from the DVD but I also have a piano album I'm recording and last year I recorded a live album with the 70's classic rock band Starcastle which should be due out next year.
I couldn't find any information concerning the change in lineup after Mother's Ruin release. Moon Kinnaird is listed as a band member on the album. When did Paul Manzi take his place and what were the reasons of this change?
After I finished the album I decided that the time was right to start performing music from my back catalogue and the current album live. Firstly I asked all the musicians who had performed on the album if they were available for rehearsals, unfortunately Moon was unable to commit himself to the live shows and so that left me in the position of trying to find a vocalist that could do the songs justice. Tim's circumstances meant he was unable make a regular rehearsal schedule as well. Dave Wagstaffe (the drummer) mentioned that he had worked in the past with a bass player called Paul Brown in a band called Janison Edge and he was also aware of a vocalist called Paul Manzi who lived in London and was looking to get back to his rock singing following a 'time-out' period away from singing.
The rehearsal a couple of weeks later will still rank as one of the best music days of my career so far. The two Paul's came along, extremely personable, well rehearsed and phenomenal players!
I need to admit that I'm a fan of your collaboration albums recorded with Clive Nolan - Jabberwocky and Hound of the Baskervilles. Any chance you'll record albums in this style in the future?
Clive and I have talked about writing a third album together and I have also written one on my own which is ready to be recorded - it's just that I have another couple of albums I want to release first!
It seems that as a solo musician you have more space for displaying your great skills. Do you prefer to play with a band/lead singer or maybe solo?
I enjoy playing is all types of set up. In a band it's great fun because you can really let rip sometimes because of the support you get from the other musicians but I also really enjoy the challenge of playing solo piano or as a duo. There is no-where to hide when you play solo and you have to be very accurate and I find that challenging but great fun.
You're a versatile musician so is there anything that you can surprise your fans with?
Not sure really, I like to think that in this day and age where lots of artists put out album after album that are quite similar, I will always hopefully release something slightly different to my last release!
You designed a few artworks for covers of your albums. I think that DVD's cover is the best one, which one is your favourite?
I must agree, I really like the artwork for the DVD. I also like a lot of the inlay artwork I put together for the Mother's Ruin album. I studied at Art college in my youth and have worked as a freelance graphic designer, it is something I really enjoy.
When I was a child I remember my father getting his latest album cover through the post and he was looking at it for the first time (I can't remember which album is was now) and saying - they've mucked up the cover again. I remember thinking at the time that if I ever released albums I would try and control the cover artwork as much as I could or if I couldn't do the artwork I would use people I could trust.
I do think it's so important, you spend so much time on the music it doesn't seem right to then just release it with a cover that doesn't do the music justice.
Do you think any of your albums was a turning point in your career?
There have been a few that have made a more of an impression, Jabberwocky was a very important album for me, it introduced me to a wider audience. 3 Ages was an album that I think proved to people my ability to write and perform complex instrumental work and Mother's Ruin was a great way of showing that I could write for a band. I think as an artist, every release is a progression of sorts and hopefully they all help shape you.
How did your position on prog rock scene develop? Was it improving gradually or did any album make you suddenly become much more popular, attracted large numbers of fans and increased sales?
As above, I think Jabberwocky made a big difference as did Mother's Ruin.
Do you find it easy to be a keyboard player and a son of a legendary keyboard player? Did that help you in your career or just the opposite?
It's a bit of a double edged sword. Maybe people will pay you a bit more attention at first because of the Wakeman name but if you can't deliver or have your own personality people get bored pretty quickly and move on.
I think I've spent enough time doing this now that hopefully people are looking at me as my own person. Obviously the link with Dad will always be there and it's something I'm very proud of.
One of the things that is always in my mind is that Dad has released loads of great records and I want to make sure all the records I release are building on a list of Wakeman albums that are of a high quality and enjoyed by people.
Unfortunately due to health problems of Jon Anderson it was impossible for you to play with Yes which cancelled the tour. Do you think that this could be rescheduled for some other time? Is Jon's health improving so that we can hope to see you all on stage soon?
I'm hoping that all will be re-organised and that I will get to perform with the guys and play some of those great tracks. It was a great honour just to be asked and something I was really pleased about. Fingers crossed - but we'll just have to wait and see!
However, I did a duo show that other day and as a bit of a tribute my singer and I did a version of Wondrous Stories which was really well received and fun to play!
I wish you every success and hope that some day we'll meet after your concert in Poland. Please write a few words for your fans and RockArea readers.
I'd just like to say thanks to all the people who support artists like myself. We really need people who enjoy good music to allow us to keep doing what we're doing!
Questions: Piotr Spyra
Translation: Gosia Michalska
Blogger News Network Interview by Simon Barrett
Oliver Wakeman is the son of Rick Wakeman. And just like his dad he has opted for a career in the music world, and just like Rick he has become one of the pillars in the world of Prog Rock. Oliver is not the first progeny to follow in their fathers footsteps, many have tried, and most have failed. Oliver is different, Oliver has that spark. Yes there maybe some similarities between Rick and Oliver, but they are completely different composers and performers.
I have been a fan of Rick Wakeman since the very early 70's, my god I am getting old! It was through a rather convoluted route that I discovered Oliver, but discover I did.
I am a huge fan of prog rock, and Oliver is part of the re-emergence of prog rock. I guess we could call it Prog Rock 2.0. Oliver has just released a new DVD Coming To Town, and it is well worth seeking out. Even my wife Jan, who thinks that the music world begins and ends in Nashville really likes it!
I had the opportunity to talk with this gifted musician:
I really liked Coming To Town it had a great combination of old and new techniques. You have created a great band. How long have you been playing together and who are the rest of the band?
Thanks for the kind words. We have been a band for about 5 years. I had done a number of solo projects, and played lots of music, with lots of bands. I decided it was time to have a stable platform. The band is Paul Manzi on vocals, and a great job he does. Paul Brown on bass, and I have a great story about him. David Mark Pearce is on guitars, and Dave Wagstaff is the guy on the drums.
Paul and Paul were great, because they actually turned up for rehearsals.
A really funny story involves Paul the the Bass player. I had sent the song notation to him in the mail. He turns up for the try-out, and fits right in. I really liked his style. After the session I was talking to him, thanking him for being well prepared, well it turned out my letter never got to him, he did it all by ear, on the fly.
Track 3 of the DVD Is big and sweeping, it reminded me a lot of some of your fathers compositions.
Oh, you are talking about The Agent. There is a bit of a story behind that one. I had just been ripped off, and I was in a really bad mood. I started writing, just as a way to blow off steam. I had the first part done when my wife Lisa asked me when I was coming to bed. 'In a minute' was my answer? I sat and wrote, the music just started to flow.
The Wakeman's are a musical family, I guess its in the genes. What attracted you to the Prog rock genre?
Actually I am classically trained, and I put a lot of stock in that, to me it is very important. From an early age I used to spend hours playing on the piano at home when no one else was around. My first real playing experience was in an R&B band, I played with them for about 3 years. We played in pubs and clubs, it was a lot of fun, and I learned a great deal. here was a lot of improv in our music.
If we call it prog rock 2.0. There is a big difference with it from the 1970?s version. In 1.0 there was what I would call turf wars. This next generation seems to be much more open to collaboration. Is that the key to modern success?
Yes I guess the music scene is a little different today. It is a different world, Prog Rock doesn't get a lot of media support they it did in the 70?s and 80?s. The bands today are all good friends and we help each other. We don?t have a lot of airs and graces.
Is it a blessing of a curse having Rick Wakeman for a dad?
That's a difficult one to answer, it is both. It is great having the name recognition, the curse part is being compared to him. My father is a wonderful musician. I go out on stage and just do the best I can.
I know your sister Jemma is in the music business, I have seen her perform on a couple of DVD's, I believe you also have a brother, is he also a musician?
Jemma has a great voice, she is still in university and only gigs occasionally, Adam is a session musician, and pretty much you can find him wherever Ozzy Osbourne is. Oscar is also in university and there are a couple of other brothers floating around, my dad has been married more than once.
I was watching Coming To Town last night and I was trying to figure out the setup you use, but the camera angle was not cooperating. I know that you were playing a Korg T1 and a Roland, what are the other two keyboards?
They are a Korg 01W, and a Korg Triton Pro. The T1 in the music industry is an antique, and it is old, I think it was bought in 1996. It is also big and heavy. The problem was that I used the T1 in the studio, and when I was playing live I had to fight to get the same sound from the other keyboards. So the T1 has become part of the live act.
Coming To Town was recorded in Poland, and we shipped our gear in a van. I really wanted to take Yamaha keyboard with me, it has a great Moog sound, but I was worried about having all my eggs in one basket. I needed something to work with in England, plus the van only had so much room.
Yes were planning a tour, and I understand that you were invited to be the keyboard player, alas Jon Anderson has been sidelined with some medical issues. Was this a big disappointment?
It was a very great honor to be asked to play with Yes. Disappointed, yes I suppose I was, in someways But maybe the will be another opportunity. Jon is a great guy, and it was two weeks before we were going to start rehearsals. I understand though, my dad has had his problems with illnesses.
The cute bit about being asked to play with Yes was that I made it to the front page of the BBC and CNN web sites. I even took screen prints!
What is next for Oliver Wakeman?
Early in 2009 we are going to start work on a new album, I already have the title picked out 'Cultural Vandals', I am also a fair way through a solo project on the piano.
Thanks for talking with us Oliver and I am sure I speak for everyone here at Blogger News in wishing you every success in your future projects.
RevelationZ Website Interview
The Oliver Wakeman Band
What is your name and your current position in the band?
Writer, Piano & Keyboard Player
Tell us about the history of the band. More specifically, when was the band formed, how did you meet, and have there been any particular highlights or low points in your career, any crucial events that have taken you where you are today?
I have now released 9 albums and decided that for the release of my latest album, “Mother's Ruin” I would put a band together to support the album and to work on future ones. Only two of the original members of the studio album were available for the live work (David Mark Pearce Guitars + Dave Wagstaffe Drums) and the other two were replaced by Paul Manzi Vocals + Paul Brown Bass, Both have fitted in superbly and are ideal for the music I write.
We started rehearsing as a band in late 2004 and have plans for shows throughout the coming year. The highest points so far for the band must be either the launch concert for the album or the support slot for Arjen Lucassen's Stream of Passion show which was great fun!
Was there ever a time when you wondered if your band would remain just a local outfit and never make it in the industry?
I have always had the drive to do more than just play locally and the band now plays all across the UK with ventures into Europe planned for later in the year if all goes to plan!
What is your latest album and why should people buy it?
Mother's Ruin is a collection of hard rock, keyboard & guitar driven music with a strong emphasis on melody, something I always strive for in anything I write. I have written a lot of music throughout my career and this is a further development, one of which I am very proud, and Mother's Ruin has to be the favourite album I've written so far! If well written music with great musicians is your thing then give it a go!
How would you categorize the style of the band? And did you ever consider or try playing other styles of music than the one(s) you are playing now?
A difficult one to answer really as I've always written in lots of different styles, rock, progressive, ballads, blues, classical, piano music etc but this band is primarily rock. Although I'm sure as I start writing for the band again it will develop. That's what's fun about working with a great bunch of musicians it gives you the freedom to try new things.
Can you share with us one or two of your favourite moments with the band?
They are all a really nice bunch of guys who I'm proud to call my friends as well as musicians I work with and so generally whenever we get together it's good fun. Possible the first time we all met and played through a few tracks together was particularly exciting as I could hear just how good this band was going to be!
How is the writing process in the band?
I write all the music for the band. It's something I have always done and something I really enjoy.
What brought you on the path to becoming a musician? Did you ever consider or take any other paths through life besides music?
My father is a musician and so it was in my blood from a very early age. I currently work in IT as a day job to support my wife and son of whom I'm very proud but I'd love to be in a position to do music as a full time career.
Do you have any idols? If yes, who?
I don't really have idols as such as I've worked with some great people who have become friends. I do however have immense respect for people such as Steve Howe who has been a great friend and musician to work with (he appeared on my 3 Ages of Magick album).
Do you have any regrets looking back at your career? For example any songs or even full albums that you regret recording? If so, what made you regret it?
I have always been very proud of every album I've released and often when I've been commissioned to write music I've always been very aware that I wanted to make sure the music stood up to my other work.
Are there particular songs in your catalogue that the fans love but you're not particular fond of yourself?
Not really, there are a few songs that I've played so many times that I'd quite happily drop from the set but they have to stay for the time being as people always ask for them. As to what they are I'm not telling!
How important do you rate the lyrical side of your albums?
Very important, I write all the lyrics and always spend a long time making sure they say what I want them to say. I like telling short stories in my songs and hope that people enjoy the words as much as the music.
What do you think about the state of the music industry today?
It's a shame that the industry seems to be so media focussed. It's very difficult for musicians who do something slightly different to get a look in on the mainstream media channels. It makes it hard for the musicians and a shame for the public as I'm pretty sure there are lots of people who would enjoy the music I have to offer if they just got the chance to hear it. However, we'll keep going and play to as many people are prepared to come to the shows.
What do you think is the best way to fight music piracy?
I'm not really sure, it's a shame that lots of people nowadays don't see a CD as a nice object/package to own. I always loved looking through album/CD sleeves and seeing who was on this album and which studios were used etc but unfortunately that aspect of music buying seems to have become lost which is a bit of a shame. I try to make my albums visually appealing with nice covers and artwork to try and encourage people to buy the CD and have something they're pleased to own. To some people though it's just disposable.....
Do you have a life philosophy? If yes, what is it?
To leave meaningful work behind after I'm gone. It's lovely to think that my music can be entertaining someone hundreds of miles away and I'm no-where near.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
Get up and go to the day job. Come home, spend some time with my family and then work in my studio until I get tired and have to go to bed!
What do you like to spend your time with besides music?
My wife and son. We don't get as much time together as I'd like so the time we spend together as a family is very important to me.
What's the craziest thing that has ever happened on a tour?
I remember years ago when I was at school. I joined a band that gigged heavily. I'd finish school jump in the van and play in all sorts of strange places. One time we ended up in a big pub overlooking the sea. In this pub the ceilings were very high and the lights were very ornate and hung down a fair distance. The guitarist had a habit during the last number of jumping on tables and playing a solo. Unfortunately he wasn't the tallest guy in the world and mid solo decided to throw the guitar upright into a'rock' pose. The guitar neck got caught in the light and he hung on as he fell off the table still soloing to his credit swinging from the light whilst knocking tables and drinks over.....We were never asked back strangely enough.......
You're heading off to live on a deserted island for a couple of years with your portable entertainment system... Which albums, movies or books would you bring? (Max. 3 of each)
That's a really tough one and would probably change by tomorrow but here and now I'd say....
Dark Rivers of the Heart Dean Koontz
Magician Raymond Feist
The Collective Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I have read this book so many times that it's falling apart!)
Best in Show (Spinal tap guys doing a dog show)
Who Do You Think You Are Deep Purple
Images & Words Dream Theatre
Eat Me in St Louis It Bites
What is your favourite joke?
Too many to think of, but I am quite fond of the line I heard the other day which was “Everyone in this room is so self centred Am I the only one thinking about me?”.
Can you tell us about any future plans for you and your band?
To keep playing live and to work on the new album for a release next year if possible.
Thanks for answering these questions. Now you are free to write a few lines to our readers.
Thanks for listening to the music we musicians write, if it wasn't for people like you who listen to music away from the mainstream I'm pretty sure the majority of us musicians would go crazy!
Sea of Tranquility Website Interview
You've put together a hot new band and a heavier sound for "Mother's Ruin"-can you talk a little bit about the musicians that you are playing with now and how you came to collaborate with them?
The band that I put together for the album consisted of Moon Kinnaird vox, David Mark Pearce Guitars, Tim Buchanan bass and Dave Wagstaffe Drums with myself covering Piano & Keyboards.
Moon had sung the concept albums I wrote with Clive Nolan, firstly in the choir on Jabberwocky and as the character Seldon on The Hound of the Baskervilles. He also sang with Landmarq many years ago and was well known by Dave Wagstaffe who also plays drums for them.
Dave Pearce and I met through a mutual friend. I was talking to him about needing a guitarist and he knew of Dave and so we met up and got on really well. He was the guitarist on the View from Here single which was released in 2002 and has also mixed my Purification by Sound and Enlightenment and Inspiration new age albums.
Tim Buchanan and I go back a long way. We both used to jam together at a blues club in North Devon (where I used to live) and he joined the blues band I played in (Smokestack) for a good couple of years. Tim first recorded for me on the 3 Ages of Magick album (which I recorded with Steve Howe in 2000 and released in 2001). He also performed on the View from Here and the latest album.
Dave Wagstaffe and I have known each other for a long time, I first met him during the Jabberwocky sessions and he also joined me on the 3 Ages of Magick album.
For various reasons it was decided that Moon wouldn't be involved in the live band and shortly afterwards Tim also left the band because of a variety of reasons. But it all worked out very well as they have been replaced by Paul Manzi on Vocals and Paul Brown (Janison Edge) on bass guitar and both have fitted into the band superbly and have actually been performing live with me for the last year and a half.
Serious prog rock fans are saying very positive things about the new album and its abundance of more aggressive guitar sounds and bombastic keyboards. Did you intentionally try to "up the ante" as far as the heavier approach on some of the songs, while still keeping the symphonic nature that is the essence of your style?
It's great that people are enjoying the album. I deliberately wanted to do something different. I had recorded the 3 Ages album which was very instrumental and had a variety of different styles on it and I'd recorded the 2 rock opera's with Clive. I'd also written the Celtic single and then a couple of New age albums and I felt it was time to show that I could also write strong rock tracks with a band focus. Obviously the keyboards are going to be to the forefront of the music but I love great guitar and bass and drums and so made sure that the album wasn't a keyboard album backed by other instruments but and album where all the instruments worked together as a band.
Although "Mother's Ruin" is filled with plenty of instrumental fireworks, what really strikes me is the use of catchy hooks and melodies in each song, wonderfully performed by the musicians as well as singer Moon Kinnaird. How hard is it to write a catchy song yet still retain enough complexity and use of chops to keep the prog crowd happy?
I've always been a great believer in melody and hooks and I deliberately try to not over use a hook to make people want to listen to songs again and again. I think that music is becoming a harder and harder industry and so you have to work really hard at writing. I don't like writing 'filler' tracks, I try to make each piece really work and spend a great deal of time on arrangements and producing the song to give it it's best shot and appealing to as many people as possible.
Have you given any thought or been asked to take this line-up on the road for a tour or to play any festivals?
The live band has been performing for the last couple of years at various venues across the UK. We supported Arjen Lucassen earlier this year which was great fun and we've got 3 shows lined up for later this year in the UK, Sheffield, Cardiff and London. Hopefully we'll get a few more booked in before the end of the year if people are interested they can check the website for more details. I am also going on tour with Bob Catley next week which should be a good laugh as Bob and I have been good friends for years.
You can hear some possible influences of bands like Arena, Uriah Heep, Pendragon, and Saga, besides the obvious Yes connection. What bands did you grow up listening to, and what current music do you enjoy?
I grew up with the obvious stuff like Yes but I was a big fan of Deep Purple, Rush and my big love was for Styx as I thought they married the great songwriting with great musicianship. More recently things like It Bites and Dan Reed Network although I don't really listen to a great deal of more modern stuff I never seem to find the time!
What type of keyboard arsenal do you use these days?
For the live show it's based around my Yamaha electric Piano, a Korg Triton, Roland XP-30 and Korg O1/W. In the studio I use all the above as well as a D50, Yamaha V50, and whatever else I can find to use in the studio!
You have done various different projects over the years with many different musicians-do you plan on moving forward and continuing on with this band format, and do you have other projects and perhaps solo instrumental ideas in the works?
I have the follow up to Mother's Ruin almost written and I want to start recording towards the end of the year I also have plans for a piano album which is partly finished and a concept album of sorts.
Clive and I keep threatening to write the third collaboration as well so maybe that'll happen in the near future. But a band follow up would probably be the next one.
How is your father Rick doing these days, and what is he involved with? Any plans to do something with him in the future?
Dad and I (along with my brother Adam sister Jemma) did a couple of theatre shows towards the end of last year which were really good fun and Dad joined me on stage for the launch concert of Mother's Ruin but there are no plans to do anything else at the moment but we'll have to wait and see!
My pleasure, Cheers. Oliver
Oliver Wakeman And The Case Of The Hound Of The Baskervilles
Interview by Igor Italiani of Metal-Force
To view the original, click here. Thanks to Ray Riethmeier for spotting it and letting us know!
When the label fixed the time and date of my interview concerning the new Nolan/Wakeman project, I was told that Clive Nolan was the one who would call me at home in the coming days. So I was surprised, at first, when I heard the voice of Oliver Wakeman on the other end of the phone when it finally came time to do the interview. But I immediately changed my mood,'cause Oliver (with no offense to Clive, who is a great musician as well) is one of my favorite keyboards players, as he has clearly inherited the best musical traits of his famous father, Rick. So let's start unraveling the hound...
Igor Italiani: Hi Oliver, so you are once again partner in crime with Clive...
Oliver Wakeman: Yeah! We have a lot of fun when we do albums together. Clive lives a couple of hundred miles away from where I live, so sometimes we spend a weekend together, playing something, having a couple of beers. At the end of the day we enjoy a lot working together, as we are good friends too. You know, being friends makes work a lot easier so ... we like what we write and we work along great!
II: So now, can you tell me if it was difficult to gather for the second time the huge list of guests at hand for The Hound Of The Baskervilles?
OW: Yes, the people who played on the first album did an excellent job, but we had certain rules when we recorded the second one. We decided again to call mainly members of bands in which we play or with whom we collaborate, [however] this time, for example, we called John Jowitt [IQ] instead of Ian Salmon, because now Ian plays for Arena [which is the main band of Clive Nolan - II] ... you know, a lot of people think that there are problems with people who have been in Arena, maybe concerning Clive, but there is none. We enjoy working together, so we just wanted to show that we are friends and we work well together. Obviously some people were available, some others not, and we also wanted to put in some new people as well. For example, Karl Groom engineered the first album, so we thought it would be nice to let him play on the second one. Another one is Michelle [Young], who sang backing vocals on the first album, and now has a song of her own on The Hound....
II: But is there some other artist you and Clive would like to have in the future?
OW: Mmh, yeah, probably there are lots of people that we would like to have as guests in the future... Some people that I would really like to work with are... I don't know ... I'm a big fan of Julian Lennon, I think he is excellent, even if I have lost sight of what he is doing now. You know, he shares the same thing I live, and that's being the son of a famous musician just trying to do music on his own.
II: Yeah, you could do a great duet...
OW: Yeah, we could do Lennon & Wakeman... sounds good! Well, let me see if I can recall some other ones... wow, there's hundreds...
II: I was thinking, in this precise moment, about Peter Gabriel...
OW: Oh, it would be great, fantastic. In fact one of my dreams was to work -- I don't know if you heard about it, but to do an album with Steve Howe, and I've finally made it [The 3 Ages Of Magick]. That's a dream that came true for me! Well, I've been truly lucky to actually work with some of the people I've dreamed about while I was growing up, so... I don't know, there are hundreds more, it all depends if they want to work with me, ah, ah, ah...
II: Speaking about the future, do you think you'll do another Nolan/Wakeman album soon or not?
OW: Oh yes, we will do it. I don't know how soon it would be, because Clive writes albums with Arena and I compose other solo albums as well; we are very busy and we tend to use gaps between sessions to work on other ideas. We also live away from each other, so it's not just the case of popping next door and say hello and do some work, you really have to plan your time. I know we want to do another CD, but all I can say at the moment is that hopefully it won't take three years, maybe only two!!!
II: Oliver, this time you recounted a Doyle novel, so, if you could choose now a story for your third collaboration, what would it be?
OW: Wow, that's a hard one. We don't know yet, we talked about 2 or 3 different ideas, but we haven't made any decision yet. At the moment I think that while we have already gone through 2 classical [pieces of literature], probably we will go again through another one. I don't think we will venture into some story of [a] sci-fi [nature]. But I'm not gonna tell you what we discussed for the third opus yet, we will save that for a little while longer, eh, eh...
II: OK... in the meantime can you introduce The Hound Of The Baskervilles to the audience? Maybe for someone who still hasn't listened it?
OW: Well, I have to tell them to listen it! Mmh, I suppose that if I should ask someone who isn't so sure, I suppose I would ask him if they like a good story, and good music. If they like good stories and good music, and if they want to try something little different from what people usually do, well, give a try to The Hound Of The Baskervilles, hopefully you won't be disappointed. I think that Clive and I are doing something that nobody else is doing at the moment. I really think that we are the only ones who are doing classic novels mixed with music. I mean, in the seventies there were quite a few. But today, if anybody does concepts, it tends to be their own stories.
II: You recorded and mixed the album at Thin Ice Studios. What's the best advantage in having a studio all for themselves?
OW: Well, the studio is actually rented out to other artists as well, so we couldn't use it whenever we wanted to, we had to book it in advance. In fact I had the studio booked the month before The Hound... to do the other album of mine, so I had to stop Clive from coming in sometimes, ah, ah, ah...
The advantage is that it is in the same building as the record company, however both me and Clive have personal studios as well, so we can do an awful lot of work before we even enter the Thin Ice Studios. When we are in the Thin Ice Studios we work very carefully. Obviously we have a lot of fun, but we also look for everything to be used in the best way possible, because an album like The Hound... is really expensive. So we have to make sure we stay within a budget, to keep the record company happy. Another thing is that Karl is great at working in the studio, so it's excellent to have a person like him that handles a lot of stuff, too. I like Karl's work a lot.
II: But it's true that you had some problems with the recordings?
OW: Well, what happened originally was that we planned to record the album early last year, and we started, but we suddenly realized that all the people we would like to get onto the record were doing different things. Peter Banks for example was also tied up for his solo album, so the first three months of the year I had to work on that, too. Finally it came down to finding out when the other musicians were free to play on The Hound.... Personally I wanted to remain in the studio for only 6 weeks, but it wasn't possible. Nevertheless, the fact that it took a little more time gave us the opportunity to work on it a little bit longer, so in the end we had a better result, I think.
II: Do you think you'll be able to do at least some shows with The Hound...or Jabberwocky?
OW: Yeah, I really hope to do some concerts. It would be really good fun; I think it would be a very good show. The problem obviously is finding the time again to get the musicians together, but you know ... never say never. We are not planning a tour at the moment, but it would be good to see it happen. Keep the fingers crossed!
II: Talking about live shows, I think that almost always the best places to play conceptual prog albums are theaters. What's your opinion on that one?
OW: Yeah, I agree with you. I think that theaters are great, because they are set up for a show. You know, gigs are great, you can get great atmosphere in a gig, but the theater has something special. I would like to do more theater shows, I think that would be wonderful.
II: Oliver, the concept albums you play on so brilliantly are having a sort of rebirth in England, or not? I mean, do you think prog rock can return to prominence soon or not?
OW: I hope so, certainly it would make my life easier, ah, ah. You know, England has lots of talented musicians, but radio stations, magazines and TV stations are really set up for pop music, so there's not much you can do about it. It seems the situation is slowly getting better, but I think that it will be hard to see the same scene we had back in the seventies. In other countries, for example, you find great shops who still have a lot of prog music; in this country you don't, and this can be very frustrating. I probably sell more records in Germany or Holland than I do in England, which is a bit strange being English. All I can do is keep working and hoping that the situation will change someday. I think that maybe it could take only a couple of artists to make the public realize that there's more under the same bands that we see everyday on TV.
II: The beautiful sound you have is linked to the one of the 70s. Is there also something you really like of the music scene of today?
OW: Yeah, I like a lot of music styles. Nu-metal, I like some of it; and it's the same for every type of music, I always like some of it. I worked on a radio station for 3 years, and I used to play prog and rock music, and I also used to play some strange music. I used to play anything that wasn't being played anywhere else, I always chose unusual music, so I got to learn other types of music very quickly. There are always good musicians in every form... for example, I'm not a major jazz fan, but I enjoy some of it. The only music I'm not really keen on is dance and pop music. For me, as a piano player, a lot of my music comes through emotions, putting your soul into the music, and unfortunately I don't see it displayed in pop music. In my opinion, this genre is not designed to let your emotions really flow. It's OK, but I don't get the feeling in listening to that.
II: Yes, same as I. Now can you tell me something about the new Michelle Young record where Clive played and managed production? You know, I prepared this question for Clive...
OW: Oh, fine... well, Michelle is excellent. She is very, very good. I like her new album a lot. Actually I've listened to it quite a few times. The album has a lot of great songs, and I also think that she sang brilliantly in the song she did for The Hound...[“By Your Side”]. We asked her to do lead vocals but she did also the backing vocals in a wonderful way, and we couldn't ask for more!
II: Oliver, can you tell me about your beginnings as a keyboard player, because you are also the son of one of the main keyboards players of rock.
OW: Well, my dad, while I was growing up, was always away on tour. He was always very busy, so I started off just sitting at his piano, and told myself to practice hard. Over the years I also went to classical lessons, and then I went and played in the pubs, so my beginnings as a keyboardist were a sum of these three things: playing on my own, then going to lessons, and then playing in the pub when I was an early teenager. I'd like to say that I've learnt as much from myself and playing in pubs, that I did from my classical training. Classical training can teach you how to read or to move your fingers correctly, but playing piano on your own teaches you to write your music, and playing in a pub, in front of people, teaches you how to deal with the response of an audience. I think you can't learn music from just one of these aspects, you have to go through all three.
II: OK, Oliver. I have one final curiosity... is there the possibility to see you, Adam, and your father Rick playing together on the same stage?
OW: Mmh, I don't know. I mean, dad has worked with Adam an awful lot, and I don't mind doing a little show here and there with him as well, but I personally prefer to do things on my own; even if I like a lot what Adam and Rick do together. I'd like people to think that I can actually work hard as other people to try to make music... I know that some people will see that Rick is my dad, but I'd like people to think that I'm working for myself and on my own.
II: Yeah, I can understand, even if it could be a dream that you, Adam and Rick are surrounded by castles of keyboards...
OW: Ah, ah, ah...it would be good fun. You know, when I was younger one of my problems, I think, was that I hadn't done any music, and I wanted to have people recognize me as a songwriter on my own, not because I'm Rick's son. So, once I get myself more established, you know, it may happen. I think we could unleash a lot of power from all those keyboards.
II: OK, Oliver. That's enough. Thank you for the wonderful talk and I hope to see you here in Italy as soon as possible?
OW: Oh, thank you. Let me say a big hello to all the prog fans! It's great to have these fans, who are so dedicated to this kind of music; they are so genuinely interested in what you write when you compose. They really do care about everything that's around the realization of a record, like in the old days. It's very rewarding for me to get that, as a writer and as a composer, because they pay attention to everything you do, and this makes you work harder. Just thank you to all of you.
"Wondrous Stories" Magazine Interview - February 2002
It was BOTY (Best of the Year - Classic Rock Society annual awards - ed) Award's Night and Bernard Law took time out to chat with Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman about their latest project The Hound Of The Baskervilles.
Between the sound check and the first act of the evening, Bernard Law took the opportunity to meet with Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman in a quiet corner of the dressing room to discuss the up coming release of the keyboards duo's second album 'The Hound of The Baskervilles.' But the conversation began with a light hearted warning from Clive.
"I tell lies all the time in interviews," he laughed. ''I tell everyone something different. So the stories in different magazines don't match. But yours is the first interview this time, so it will be nearer to the truth Probably!"
We'd best start with some facts then.
"The album's pressed, done and ready. The promotional copies are out and the album will be released on February 4th,a Clive confirms.
The duo's much admired first album 'Jabberwocky' includes lots of wonderful music and a host of featured appearances from many in the classic rock realm The new album continues in a similar vein.
"Yes, it's similar to 'Jabberwocky' in that there are loads of guests, like Bob Catley on vocals, Arjen Lucassen on guitar, John Jowitt on bass, Tony Fernandez an drums There's loads and loads of them! You'd be better look on the album sleeve for the full list,', Clive continued.
Oliver Wakeman joined in. "we didn't ask Dad (Rick) to be involved this time though. He was great on 'Jabberwocky', but this time as it's more structured - narration based - we needed someone with a more commanding voice. So we asked Robert Powell. He has that really dramatic voice.''
"Working with Rick was fun though," Clive confirmed. "He did the narration on Jabberwocky because we didn't need a third keyboard player really But it was great fun working with him."
Clive and Oliver actually met via a mutual friend, Arena's drummer Mick Pointer.
"He was the point of contact, and it grew from there really," said Oliver "When we come together to produce the music we actually co-write. we come together with various bits and pieces we've worked on separately and work on them together until we're both happy But sometimes in the studio we get bored with what we're working on and play around with other stuff! Some of the music on 'Hound of the Baskervilles' was around when we were working on 'Jabberwocky' because of that.
A smiling Clive took up the story. 'We wrote sixty-seven minutes of music, but binned some material. We had five songs to begin with. It is fun to do, and a challenge, but we had something to work from."
"Things are virtually finished before we start working together in a way We have bags of ideas. we just need a strategy and tickle it along," Oliver concluded.
Many people know of the 'Hound of the Baskervilles', and indeed any Sherlock Holmes stories through the television or films. There's one very good old black and white film version featuring Basil Rathbone as Holmes, and a not so clever Hammer version too.
"This album's based on the book rather than the film," Oliver stated. "We're both massive Sherlock Holmes fans. It was a great advantage really knowing the story so well before we started on the music."
Again Clive started laughing.
"Unfortunately, we had to change the ending. We wanted specific voices at the close, particular people singing. Regrettably that means the ending is nearer to the Hammer film ending because of it But the main events in the book are all there."
With a concept album, it's very important that all the various facets gel. with a great cast of musicians and singers it would be disappointing not to have excellent sound production, and 'Hound of the Baskervilles' certainly has that. Clive and Oliver along with Karl Groom, whose guitar work also makes an appearance, produced the album. But quite often it's the whole package that makes successful albums, including the graphics. Many classic albums wouldn't quite have the same feel in the wrong sleeve! The artwork for 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is quite atmospheric and sets the scene well.
"The artist Peter Pracownik did all the paintings for the album. It's all very Gothic. You might know his work from some of his other pieces. He did the sleeve for the Limp Bizkit album. We are really pleased with how it looks. But I did all the design and the layout" explained Oliver.
Clive, as you would expect, has been extremely busy with commitments to Pendragon and up coming work with the new Arena album and undoubted tour. Oliver too has his projects and design work. with such tight schedules and the need to plan sometimes a year ahead, making plans to work together can be nearly impossible.
"Well, Hound of the Baskervilles had a two year gestation period It makes it difficult because there's so much to do. We will hopefully do a third album together though. We're getting pretty used to writing together as a team. We'd probably work with fewer people but do more with them next time. We've ideas for a concept, that's not a problem. It will be a literary selection again, but we're not telling you what it is," Clive said coyly. "In fact, there are several ideas. But remember there's the budget factor too. It takes time and money to do it properly."
Given the standard of the music and the wonderful capabilities of the various people involved there would be a lot of people who would enjoy seeing the album performed live. Clive shakes his head.
'We're not likely to tour with it. There would be too much messing. Everyone is busy Bob Catley will be back working with Magnum, Robert Powell wouldn't be available. "Some of the other musicians wouldn't be available. we have talked about it though, and we would love to do it. But it's got to be practical. we could possibly go out as a five piece and do selections from both albums. That is something we have discussed But even then it would be incredibly difficult with all the other commitments we all have There is the possibility of one of the Progfests, but the offer really needs to match the practicalities Even then, it would still be incredibly difficult."
Oliver took up the theme, "We'd love to do a launch party too, but again we couldn't get everyone together There's probably somewhere in London with a great atmosphere we could use - a pub or club that would have the right feel. But it won't happen because of the practicalities It's pretty much impossible".
With the changing room becoming fuller and noisier and Clive, Oliver and myself keen to catch the stage bound Damian Wilson's set, Clive had just one more thing to remind me,
"The Hound of the Baskervilles' is available on Verglas, Catalogue number VGCD022'. He could even remember that! The truth is out there!"
Interview with Lantern FM - 30th December 1998
Ian Starling from Lantern FM interviews Oliver Wakeman on the future release of the album "Jabberwocky", broadcast 30th December 1998:
Lantern: In the studio this evening we have Oliver Wakeman to discuss his new album "Jabberwocky". Good evening Oliver.
Oliver: Good evening.
Lantern: It's a change from your last album'Heaven's Isle'. As a review, tell us about'Heaven's Isle'.
Oliver: ‘Heaven's Isle' was a keyboard classical album based on Lundy Island. It's just off the North Devon coast for listeners who are listening outside of North Devon and don't know about the area. A very nice album that sold well, very piano-y, very choir-y and laid back.
Lantern: This one is a change - this'Jabberwocky'...
Oliver: Yeah, a little bit more over the top. Basically what we would term as 'a modern classic rock album', for want of a better phrase.
Lantern: We'll be listening to tracks in a moment's time. Who's on the album?
Oliver: Well we have quite a few different different people on it. We have Bob Catley singing the main vocal part. He was the singer with the band'Magnum' which many listeners may remember from the 70's, 80's and even the 90's!
Lantern: A rock element from the past.
Oliver: We wanted a combination of new musicians and classic old musicians. We have Tracy Hitchings - a well known progressive rock singer, and Peter Banks who was the original'Yes' guitarist before Steve Howe joined.
Lantern: A mention of classic musicians there - what about father Rick?
Oliver: Oh yeah - I nearly forgot. I'd better not leave him out. He does the narration. We thought it would be a good idea to get him in and not let him play any keyboards. So he just reads the poem.
Lantern: So the album is based on the poem?
Oliver: Yeah, the Lewis Carroll poem from'Through the Looking Glass', released many years ago. The poem is a nonsense poem and so we wrote a little story around it - good against evil, sort of thing...
Lantern: You mentioned earlier on that Jabberwocky was rock music, but is it just rock music on there or can it appeal to everybody?
Oliver: I think it can appeal to a lot more people than just rock fans. It kind of goes through different styles. A lot of people have likened it to a musical and are very interested to see if we can get it onto the stage somewhere. The album starts off very orchestrally, then moves to a couple of rock songs, some ballads, a 'Grecian choir' bit you might play later on, and a big orchestral finish. A bit of everything really.
Lantern: So what are the plans for the future? You've done a quiet album and a rock album. Any other albums planned?
Oliver: Yeah, a couple. Two or three in the wings which we are waiting to see about. There is going to be another one with Clive - this isn't just my own album, it's a joint album with another keyboard player, Clive Nolan, who I'd better mention or he'll get fed up! So the two of us worked on this very hard and we'll be working on another one for release in 2000. Tentatively based on Sherlock Holmes but that is to be confirmed.
Lantern: You mentioned working very hard. How long have you actually been working on it?
Oliver: About three years. The original story starts here at Lantern. I used to do the rock show with Jim
Ling, as many people may remember or not remember, but he interviewed Mick Pointer who is the drummer with a band called Arena and who was the original drummer with Marillion. He came down here to do the interview and Jim asked if I would like to come along that night. I said 'yes' and got a couple of albums signed and Mick invited me up to London to meet the keyboard player from Arena, which was Clive, and it all started from there. So without that meeting it might not have happened.
Lantern: Three years in the waiting? You work locally and yet the album was recorded in Abbey Road. That must have caused you some problems...
Oliver: We did the mastering at Abbey Road, but a lot of the work was done in Virginia Water at Thin Ice Studios. A lovely place to work, but a bit of a trek for me being in North Devon. I was gigging in Devon regularly and having to travel up on the free weekends to do some recording and then drive back. We recorded the keyboards over a long period and we decided that in April we decided to get on and record it fully. That involved spending a week in the studio, driving back to Devon for gigs - then driving back to the studio solidly for that month. A bit of a nightmare, but a awful lot of fun!
Lantern: I know it's very important to you not to use your father's name and jump on the back of his career.
Oliver: I'm a big fan of whatever Dad does. I think he's a great musician and he's a very talented writer. It's a great inspiration to have someone like that to make you do something, but I've always been a big fan of doing it your own way. It's probably made life a little too difficult at times, but I can at least look at this album and think 'yeah, it's all my own work.'
Lantern: Obviously we've been discussing the effect that your Dad's career has had on you and that brings back to mind that "This Is Your Life" went out recently with your Dad on there. How hard is it to keep something like that a secret?
Oliver: Well that was broadcast in November, and I knew about it the previous November! It was to happen originally in January, then it got cancelled because Dad had to do some work. Then it was moved to the middle of the year, but he fell ill over the summer. Because we knew it was going to be so important to him it wasn't really a big problem to keep it quiet.
Lantern: There were a lot of truths brought out in the program "This Is Your Life" about your Dad's history and problems with his health. How did it affect you as a child?
Oliver: I suppose that to a lot of people it doesn't seem like a normal childhood, but to me it seemed perfectly normal because it's the only childhood I'm going to get - except for this second one I'm reliving now! But really it was fine growing up. We had our ups and downs as every family does. Pretty much every family will go through some sort of major illness. In fact, Dad's had quite a few of them! My Mum and Dad split when I was quite young but I've always kept quite close with Dad and I'm very close with my mother. I'm happy with all of my family. We all get on extremely well.
Lantern: Oliver, we wish you all the best for the album and thank you for joining us.
Oliver: Thank you very much.