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Richard Christopher Wakeman (born 18 May 1949 in Perivalemarker, Londonmarker) is an English keyboard player, composer, and songwriter known as the keyboardist for progressive rock group Yes. Originally a classically trained pianist, he was a pioneer in the use of electronic keyboards and in the use of a rock band in combination with orchestra and choir. He purchased his first electronic keyboard at the age of 12. In 1971 he acquired an early Minimoog synthesizer, purchasing it at half price from actor Jack Wild who believed that it was defective because it only played one note at a time. He hosts a regular radio show on Planet Rock. He is considered by many to be one of the best rock keyboardists of all time.


Rick Wakeman was born in the suburb of Perivalemarker, West London, and attended Drayton Manor Grammar Schoolmarker. He initially studied piano, clarinet, orchestration and modern music at the Royal College of Musicmarker, but he left of his own accord after a year and a half in favour of work as a session musician.

Early musical career

In 1970-1971, Wakeman played with Strawbs, recording with them the albums Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios and From the Witchwood. Formerly, he had already contributed as a session musician to the Strawbs's album Dragonfly (1970).

Especially in 1969-1973, Wakeman was also a very active studio musician, playing with such artists as David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Al Stewart notably playing piano (or Mellotron) on Bowie's Space Oddity, Life on Mars?, Changes and Oh! You Pretty Things, and on Cat Stevens' hit Morning Has Broken. (In 1985, Wakeman collaborated again with Bowie on Absolute Beginners).

The Yes years

Wakeman joined Yes in 1971, after keyboardist Tony Kaye was asked to leave the band because of his refusal to play anything more than the Hammond organ. His first album with the band was Fragile released 1971 in the UK and 1972 in the US, and very nearly his last was Tales from Topographic Oceans, released in 1973. He also played on the studio album Close to the Edge (his favourite Yes album) and his live performances with the group were released as Yessongs. He left the band following the Tales from Topographic Oceans tour.

Solo works

During his time with Yes, he released his first solo album, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII (1973), which showcases his skills with various electronic and acoustic keyboard instruments. Some members of Yes played their respective instruments on certain tracks.

His next solo album was Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974), a very successful concept album combining his rock band (the English Rock Ensemble) with a symphonic orchestra and a choir.

In 1975, he released the concept album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which was supported by a live show featuring ice skating theatrical performances accompanied by a large number of musicians (his rock band, an orchestra and two choirs). The show was well received but expensive to produce, consuming much of the income from sales of the album.


Of all the members of Yes, Wakeman is the only non-vegetarian, a difference which contributed to his first departure from the band The primary reason for that initial departure, however, was musical differences. Wakeman felt Tales from Topographic Oceans was thin on substance and did not connect with its themes. Further, he did not enjoy the experience of reproducing the entire work on stage each night. He felt the length of the songs prohibited the band from playing many of their more popular songs of the time. Following the tour, as the band began work on what would become Relayer, Wakeman felt further alienated from the group. Disenchanted with the direction in which Yes was going, and already into a successful solo career, he left.


He rejoined Yes for their 1977 album Going for the One, which especially features him in the 'epic' Awaken. He remained until their next album, Tormato, a year later. He is reputed to have given the album its name by throwing a tomato at a showing of the art used for the album's cover.


In 1989, he joined with three fellow ex-Yes members to form Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (a.k.a. ABWH). After ABWH's first album, some of the completed tracks for a planned second album were merged with tracks from an in-progress Yes album to create the album Union. Wakeman, along with the combined members of both bands then joined to form a Yes supergroup (made up of past and present members of Yes) for the subsequent tour in 1991. When the tour ended a year later, Wakeman left again. He then returned in 1996 for the Keys to Ascension albums but left before the band could tour. In 2002, he rejoined Yes and stayed with the band until their In the Present Tour in 2008.

Studio appearances

Wakeman has performed as a guest or session musician for artists such as:

Later solo career

He has written the soundtracks for two films by Ken Russell: Lisztomania (1975), which features vocals from Roger Daltrey and which takes as its starting point the music of Liszt and Wagner; and Crimes of Passion (1984), much of which is built around themes taken from Dvořák's New World Symphony.

As announced on the official Yes website, Rick Wakeman would not be joining Yes on their 40th Anniversary tour; he would instead be replaced by his son Oliver Wakeman (the tour was cancelled because of Jon Anderson's poor health). In 2008, Wakeman toured with a solo show, "Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show", an evening of biography, stories and music.

2009 saw the first complete performance of the "Six Wives" at Hampton Court Palace as part of the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne.


Although Wakeman was a noted player of the Hammond organ and the Minimoog, he also used a Mellotron – an electronic musical instrument that used a bank of prerecorded magnetic tape strip loops, activated by each key on its keyboard. It proved too unwieldy and unreliable for regular touring, and he eventually doused his in petrol and set fire to it in a field . Undeterred, he worked with David Biro to develop the Birotron, which used the then popular 8-track cassette format rather than bare tape loops. Also because of the advent of digital keyboards at that time, the Birotron was not a commercial or technical success. Only 35 Birotrons were produced, and Wakeman eventually threw his across the stage after it broke down mid-concert, an action he now regrets, as there are only six remaining examples.

Personal life

Wakeman had three heart attack in his twenties. The first of them occurred just after he first left Yes in early 1974, during the release of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. He married former Page Three model Nina Carter, although they have since divorced. He has had a renewal of his Christian faith, which began around the time of their marriage.

A passionate football fan, Wakeman has supported Brentford F.C. since he was a child, and later on he also became a director of the West London club. After a disagreement with the board, he moved on to Manchester City F.C. but never stopped loving the Bees. He was involved in the ownership of the American soccer club Philadelphia Fury in the late '70s, along with other rock celebrities such as Peter Frampton and Paul Simon.

He is a strong supporter of the UK's Conservative Party, and performed a concert in September 2004 for the benefit of the party. The Arthur section of his King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table suite has been used as the theme tune to the BBC's Election Night Coverage since 1979 (with the exception of 2001). Wakeman's album Fields of Green '97 featured the track "Election '97/Arthur", which was used by the BBC for their coverage of the 1997 General Election. The music was further revamped for the BBC's 2005 Election Night coverage.

Wakeman can be seen as a contributor on BBC Two's series, Grumpy Old Men. He has also appeared in a number of episodes of Countdown; about twenty per year, according to Wakeman. He currently (2008) presents a weekly Saturday morning programme, "Rick's Place", on Planet Rock. He has also appeared on the satirical panel show Have I Got News For You as a guest.

Wakeman appeared as himself in "Journey to the Centre of Rick Wakeman", the last episode of season two of Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music, a BBC Radio 4 comedy programme. The episode detailed a fictional war between England and Wales in 2009 which only Wakeman could stop. Wakeman provided piano for Benn's 2008 single "Sing Like an Angel", which was released on iTunes.

In December 2006, Wakeman was the guest host for an episode of The Personality Test, a BBC Radio 4 programme where the panel stay the same and the host changes each week. The questions set in the programme are all about the host. He set a challenge for a new concept album idea, and the comedian Will Smith suggested "Spiders and Other Invertebrates". Rick said he liked that idea so much, he would include a track of his next album called "Spiders and Other Invertebrates", and would include a sleeve credit to Smith. Smith responded by saying that Rick had "...just made my life".

Wakeman has been president of the show business charity The Heritage Foundation (formerly Comic Heritage). The charity erects blue plaques on the homes and/or work-places of late entertainers and sportspeople. He is also Honorary President of the Classic Rock Society, a UK-based organisation helping to promote classic and progressive rock. In October 2007, Wakeman commenced a new tour 'Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show', where he accompanies video performers such as Gordon Giltrap and the English Rock Ensemble (Ashley Holt, Lee Pomeroy, Dave Colquhoun and Tony Fernandez).

He also appeared on Top Gear and got a race track lap time of 1.55.26.

In 2009, Wakeman became a Patron of Tech Music Schools.


Solo and with his son Adam

  • 1971 Piano Vibrations
  • 1973 The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • 1974 Journey to the Centre of the Earth
  • 1975 The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
  • 1975 Lisztomania (soundtrack, he also acted in the film)
  • 1976 No Earthly Connection
  • 1977 White Rock (soundtrack to winter Olympics)
  • 1977 Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record
  • 1978 The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Performs the Best Known Works of Rick Wakeman
  • 1979 Rhapsodies
  • 1981 The Burning (soundtrack)
  • 1981 1984
  • 1982 Rock 'N' Roll Prophet
  • 1983 Cost of Living
  • 1983 G'ole! (soundtrack to 1982 FIFA World Cup)
  • 1984 Black Knights at the Court of Ferdinand IV
  • 1985 Silent Nights
  • 1985 Live at Hammersmith
  • 1985 Beyond the Planets
  • 1986 Country Airs
  • 1986 Crimes of Passion (soundtrack)
  • 1987 The Gospels
  • 1987 The Family Album
  • 1988 Time Machine
  • 1988 A Suite of Gods
  • 1988 Zodiaque
  • 1989 Sea Airs
  • 1990 Night Airs
  • 1990 Phantom Power (soundtrack)
  • 1990 In the Beginning
  • 1991 Rock 'n' Roll Prophet Plus (reissue of Rock 'n' Roll Prophet plus 4 new tracks)
  • 1991 Aspirant Sunset
  • 1991 Aspirant Sunrise
  • 1991 Aspirant Sunshadows
  • 1991 Suntrilogy
  • 1991 The Classical Connection (remakes of earlier works)
  • 1991 2000 A.D. Into the Future
  • 1991 African Bach
  • 1991 Softsword: King John and the Magna Charter
  • 1993 Heritage Suite
  • 1993 Classic Tracks
  • 1993 Wakeman with Wakeman
  • 1993 No Expense Spared
  • 1993 The Classical Connection II
  • 1993 Prayers
  • 1994 Wakeman with Wakeman: The Official Bootleg (live)
  • 1994 Live on the Test (live – recorded in 1976)
  • 1994 Rick Wakeman's Greatest Hits (remakes of old works)
  • 1995 The Piano Album
  • 1995 The Seven Wonders of the World
  • 1995 Cirque Surreal
  • 1995 Romance of the Victorian Age
  • 1995 King Biscuit Flower Hour (live – recorded in 1975)
  • 1995 Visions
  • 1995 Simply Acoustic (known as The Piano Album)
  • 1995 The Private Collection
  • 1995 Almost Live in Europe (live)
  • 1996 Fields of Green
  • 1996 Voyage (compilation)
  • 1996 The New Gospels
  • 1996 Tapestries
  • 1996 The Word and Music
  • 1996 Orisons
  • 1996 Can You Hear Me?
  • 1996 Vignettes
  • 1997 Tribute (Beatles covers)
  • 1997 Voyage (sub-titled "The Very Best of Rick Wakeman"; digitally remastered 2 CD set)
  • 1998 Themes
  • 1999 Return to the Centre of the Earth
  • 1999 The Natural World Trilogy
  • 1999 The Art in Music Trilogy
  • 1999 White Rock II
  • 1999 Stella Bianca alla corte de Re Ferdinando
  • 2000 Recollections: The Very Best of Rick Wakeman 1973-1979 (compilation)
  • 2000 Preludes to a Century
  • 2000 Chronicles of Man
  • 2000 Christmas Variations
  • 2000 Rick Wakeman Live in Concert 2000 (live)
  • 2001 Frost in space
  • 2001 Out of the Blue
  • 2001 Classical Variations
  • 2001 Two Sides of Yes
  • 2002 The Wizard and the Forest of All Dreams
  • 2002 Hummingbird with Dave Cousins
  • 2002 The Yes Piano Variations
  • 2002 Two Sides of Yes – Volume 2
  • 2003 Out There
  • 2005 Rick Wakeman at Lincoln Cathedral
  • 2006 Retro
  • 2007 Amazing Grace
  • 2007 Retro 2
  • 2007 Live at the BBC
  • 2009 The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Live at Hampton Court Palace

With Gordon Giltrap

  • 2009 From Brush and Stone

With Strawbs

Live album

Studio album

With Yes

Studio albums

Live albums

Compilation albums

With Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe

Studio album

Live album

See also


  1. A conversation with Rick Wakeman and Robert Moog in the 2004 documentary Moog.
  2. Wakeman, Rick. Say Yes!, Hodder & Stoughton Religious, (4 May 1995) ISBN 10 0340621516 ISBN 13 978 0340621516
  3. The Birotron
  4. RWCC > Say Yes - The Autobiography
  5. Wakeman, Rick. Say Yes!, Hodder & Stoughton Religious, (4 May 1995) ISBN 10 0340621516 ISBN 13 978 0340621516
  6. BBC - Radio 4 - The Personality Test - 14 December 2006


  • Scivales, Riccardo. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman and Yes's 'South Side', "Piano Today" (USA), Vol. 26/No. 1, Winter 2006, pp. 24–25 and 51.
  • Scivales Riccardo. Rick Wakeman's 'Merlin The Magician', "Piano Today" (USA), Vol. 28/No. 1, Winter 2008, pp. 30–31.
  • Wakeman, Rick. Say Yes!, Hodder & Stoughton Religious, (4 May 1995) ISBN 10 0340621516 ISBN 13 978 0340621516.
  • Wakeman, Rick. Grumpy Old Rockstar: and Other Wondrous Stories, Preface Publishing, (21 Aug 2008) ISBN 10 1848090048 ISBN 13 978 1848090040.
  • Wooding, Dan. Rick Wakeman: The Caped Cusader, London, Granada Publishing Limited, (1978), ISBN 0 586 04853 7; first published by Robert Hale Ltd (1978).

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