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I’ve seen all good people

October 13th, 2010 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Music · No Comments · Life, Music

Rick Wakeman signing stuff for the faithful after the show

Last night I went out to see Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson playing at the Hawth theatre in Crawley.   Rick Wakeman. Jon Anderson.  In Crawley!

This was the second date on their 20-date ‘Anderson-Wakeman Project 360’ tour, coming to a provincial town near you soon, and the ticket was a birthday present from Chrystal which makes her position as favourite daughter pretty nigh unassailable.There was a strange emotional resonance to this.  The first concert I ever went to featured Wakeman and Anderson – when they played with Yes at the Wembley Arena on the Tormato tour.  Or, as it was billed: the Tormatour.

This was a very different evening for all sorts of reasons: the scale, the volume, the crowds and the atmosphere.  And the average age of the audience of course.  The crowd was a veritable symphony of male-pattern baldness though there were a surprising number of females and even teenagers there.  Living with Jayne’s almost pathological dislike of Yes it is easy to forget that some women actually like prog rock.

Knowing what a full-blown Yes concert is like, it was a little depressing to see just two keyboards and an acoustic guitar on the stage, surrounded by loads of little candles that must have given the fire inspectors a heart attack.  Of course I knew what to expect from the publicity and from watching some Youtube clips of an earlier tour so I wasn’t too disappointed.

The show alternated between new songs from Jon and Rick’s forthcoming album and old Yes songs.  You knew whether the next song was going to be old or new by whether Jon picked his guitar up.  All the new songs were just keyboard and voice, but the old songs had guitar too.

I can’t remember much about the new songs.  One was about a tree and another about gardens, and they were all nice enough.  They must be OK because nobody minded that they were getting about an hour of totally unheard music.  Concert crowds are normally quite resistant to ‘a bit of new’.

The old songs were mostly from the earlier Yes albums: Time & A Word, Starship Trooper, Yours Is No Disgrace, And You & I, Soon for example.  There were a couple of tracks from Going for the One, one from the AWBH album and, surprisingly, Owner of a Lonely Heart.  And Roundabout. Obviously.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Yes’ most commercially successful single was played, but this is the song that Rick (who wasn’t in the band at the time) has been known to refer to as ‘Owner of a horse & cart’.

Inbetween the songs was plenty of banter.  We all know what Rick Wakeman is like from his appearances on Grumpy Old Men and other TV programmes, but it was a revelation to see Jon having a lark about.   Normally you just see him introducing the odd song in spiritual, hippy mode.

The overwhelming atmosphere of the show was one of affection.  You could sense the affection that the audience had for the performers, which suited the intimacy of the venue compared to places like the Wembley Arena.  The performances were on a more human scale and the between-song banter was more conversational that is possible in a massive venue.

I can’t pretend that I missed the extra dimension that Chris Squire’s extra vocals would have added (and Steve Howe’s to a lesser extent), not to mention his bass, as well as the electric guitars and – of course – the drums.  I am fairly unsophisticated and for me the more drummers the better.  I also missed the Wakeman extravagance at the keyboards.  Most of the arrangements involved just piano and string sounds and a blast of the old full orchestra effects and Moog noises would have been nice – but we all knew that was never going to happen.

What we did get was Jon Anderson’s remarkable voice.  One or two people said afterwards that they thought his voice had gone, but most, including me, thought it was still great.  A lot of the time it was deeper and more gravelly than it used to be, but he showed at times that he could still sing pure high notes: it is just that the arrangement of the songs wasn’t calling for it.  The instrumental side was totally rearranged, so why not the vocals?

About the arrangements.  Sometimes it is frustrating when a band make changes to an old favourite song, altering the tune or tempo.  I can understand that, and feel it a bit myself, particularly when there is some small detail of a song that you really, really like and that has been removed.  I think it is only human to feel that to an extent, but really there is no point in somebody doing a perfect imitation of their record: you might as well just stay at home and listen to the record!

Remember also that this was two-fifths of the classic line-up of Yes and Yes were supposed to be a progressive rock band.  Surely that implies that they should always be striving to experiment and change things?  It resulted in a brilliant reggae-tinged version of Time & a Word.

Perhaps the hardest thing was getting used to seeing the pair of them looking quite normal.  No more skin-tight spangly jumpsuit and cape for Rick – just a long black overcoat.  No billowing kaftan for Jon – trainers, jeans and jacket, albeit one with a bit of a Jackson Pollock theme to it.  Jon actually had a bit of a Back to the Future look to him.  Also it was quite amusing seeing them walk on together because although he is no giant, Rick is taller than average and Jon , although no dwarf, is a bit shorter than average.  Rick may not have the waist-length hair of old, but it is still quite long.  The combined effect of hair, long coat, and size difference did give a momentary impression of a wizard walking on with a hobbit – but I say that in an affectionate way.

Overall, it was an honour to see these two grace the stage in Crawley. Rick’s hands still flow effortlessly across the keyboards, and Jon still has a voice that a colleague tells me he could listen to if he just sung the phone book.  OK it may not have had any drums but even so it was music for the mind, heart and soul.

There was lots of merchandise on sale in the foyer, and Rick came out afterwards to sign anything that anybody put in front of him and pose for photos.  The queue was huge and Rick was being very friendly and approachable, spending time chatting to everybody so it must have been very late by the time the last person was seen to.

I bumped into a couple of people from work who I didn’t know were going, and compared notes afterwards.  The verdict was that it was a bloody good show.  It was certainly well-attended, despite surely being one of the most expensive ticket prices ever at the Hawth.

My only quibble about the evening was an annoying high-pressure hiss from the sound system.  I don’t know if this was a fault or just something badly set up, but once you notice it you can’t un-hear it.  Apart from that, the sound was fantastic as you would expect from a place designed for acoustics – miles better than the harsh edge to the system at K2 when Paul Weller played there.

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