Hamer Hall - Melbourne 27 August 2005 by Fendall Hill

Rick Wakeman's music has been a profound influence on my life and music, it was the soundtrack to a major segment of my life. Until the mid nineties, I knew the music, but not the man, apart from pictures on the album covers. In New Zealand, he is but a vague memory to all but serious music aficionados who were over 15 years old at any stage in the 1970s. With the discovery of more recent albums in a specialised Auckland music store, and the advent of the internet, I discover that this man and his music has continued over the decades, and is still followed. And just when you think his significant contribution to music is largely over, he produces albums like "Return" and "Out There", on a par with his classics of the 1970s - arguably better!

In a brief email interchange in 2001, Rick lamented with me that it was unlikely that he would ever do another concert in New Zealand, and so I would never get the experience to see him in action.

So roll on 4 years, then the sad news that Rick is to put an end to his live concerts. The hope fades! I'm turning 40 and was heading to Adelaide to speak at a conference, when I chance a view at the RWCC website, to see that he is doing a concert in Melbourne the day after we are due to fly home. So with permission from my wonderful wife to spend another $600 travel costs for my 40th birthday, we book for the Hamer Hall on Saturday 27th August.

From our prime seat, we had a great time, initially disappointed at the amount of time it took for the curtain raisers (very good in their own way) and the 'interval' - especially since Rick and Ashley ran out of time at the other end. I also sensed the Sunday concert would be like a Part 2 to this concert, and I would long since have flown home. The VIP meet and greet was also going to be on the Sunday, but that's life. Anyway, that's the only negatives, rolled into one paragraph to make way for the fun bits.

The anecdotes were hilarious, especially the drunken escapade in Seattle, with the malfunctioning Wurlitzer and subsequent review from the progressive rock-hating newspaper music critic. Rick is so good at telling this, that I have been confidently able to recite this story in every detail since - and it takes a long time to tell. Another great story covered his Mum's attendance at his concerts (complete with rest home colleagues).

The quality of his live playing staggered me; you would expect a certain number of 'flipped' notes in an evening of live performance, and I am sensitive to such things. There might have been a handful (out of tens of thousands) in the entire evening - or maybe I was so spellbound, I didn't notice for once (actually I think three out of the five missed notes occurred in the last 30 seconds of 'Merlin'). He presented a wonderful range of his music, from his very first piece 'Buy a Broom' to the 'Dance of a Thousand Lights' with a pre-recorded accompaniment from the LSO and choir - that was just awesome, and I was amazed at Rick's memory of the exact tempos and timing, especially during long runs of rolling semi-quavers (or were they 'demi's?) during sustained chords from the accompaniment, which would end precisely at the start of the bar.

I really enjoyed Ashley's singing, and his attempt at piano, but it would have been good to hear Rick sing (or would it?). Ashley's own humour and personality added to the overall fun atmosphere. Great summary renditions of 'Journey', 'Myths' and 'No Earthly Connection' were really appreciated. There was a rendition of some 'Yes' songs, but I have to admit to being a bit of a philistine when it comes to 'Yes', and really did not recognise the music. Rather unexpectedly from a timing perspective, Merlin finished off the evening, and then an encore of Gershwin's 'Summertime'. It was over all too quickly.

I hate to admit it, but I hung around immediately after the concert at the stage in the hope of a handshake and a signature. This felt uncomfortable as I cringe at the whole thought of 'hero worship' and associated activities, but to be honest there are not many people in this World that I would go out of my way to try and meet, but Rick is on that very very small list, and I was going to try after my efforts to get there, otherwise I sensed I would regret it. As it happened, I was standing in the right place at the right time, and Rick wandered up and I was the first to be greeted. He seemed surprised I had come from New Zealand. I got my chance to shake his (huge!) hand and say a very sincere "Thanks"! I got a signature on the back of the programme - I don't know why signatures are the thing to get, but I look at it as a reminder of a really fun night, and meeting the man personally. My wife apparently offered to get a photo of us, but I didn't hear her, and kind of regret that I didn't think of that now.

It was interesting to get the perspective of my young (35 year old) wife who didn't know Rick's music that well. She really enjoyed the whole concert and the music - and she could see where I got a lot of my musical influence and style from (Scary!). I have no doubt that Rick's musical influence has extended far beyond rank amateurs like myself.

Everything about Rick, things I've read and absorbed, rings true with the experience I had. He is more than a musician, but a very genuine, humble and deep guy - and very funny. I travelled home inspired in my own music and composition.

Thanks Rick - the invitation to New Zealand still stands!