Progressive rock in the mid-1970s has a reputation for pomposity, grandiosity, and excess across the board. Many of the names’ works of the time were guilty of the charges against them, but it is generally believed to be true, with one particular showing, a particular artist went further than anyone else: Legends and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Tableas presented over three consecutive nights in July 1975 at the Wembley Empire Pool (now Wembley Arena) by Rick Wakeman.
In addition to the same flaxen-haired ivory wizard, shimmering in Merlin’s robe and pointed hat – there, on the podium, ‘twixt keyboard piles in the custom-made castle -‘ the show, like the recently released album, showed off his six pictures – a powerful rock band English (ERE), narrator Terry Taplin, conductor David Meacham and the 46-man New World Symphony Orchestra (NWSO), Jay Protheroy, the 46-man English Chamber Choir (ECC), and eight-strong vocal group at Nottingham Festival.
And for the performance staff to reach 130 or so, what the program described as an “ice star cluster.”
Yes, ice stars.
King Arthur… It was served on ice. But you know that. Because, as has already been hinted, Wembley’s ice shows are for Wakeman and programming what headless bats are for Ozzy and Heavy Metal. They are locked into the public consciousness, a part of rock legends.
We look back at all the rock features through a series of distorting lenses, but the two lenses responsible for doing the most distortion with respect to King Arthur… At Wembley it’s punk rock and Spinal tap. The overwhelming consensus was: “Ice is amazing? What a load of shells.”
Entire King Arthur… On the ice was already an amazing rocky crap. Put “X-rated” in Excaliburand sent Walkman’s career into a semi-terminal decline.
“We’ve always been very serious about the music, but not too much else,” says Roger Newell, guitarist at ERE. “The idea of mixing skateboarding with ‘first’ rock was another, but it was also funny…”
“I wanted to do King Arthur… A show at Wembley,” Rick recalls. “And they said, ‘You can’t, an ice rink has been installed.’” I said, “Knock it, I’ll do it on the ice.”
“The ice was needed to have a stunning view as soon as we showed up,” Newell confirms. “Since the icy area acted as a barrier between the audience and the band’s platform, something happened there…”
If it wasn’t entirely improvisation, then the choreography and choreography of the ice stars’ contribution was inevitably something of an afterthought. When Wakeman’s director, Brian Lane, asked the band what they’d like skaters to wear for a particular number one, “being red-blooded males,” they suggested the basques and socks. And it has happened.
“result!’ Newell laughs. “The audience loved it. Especially when a girl lost her head. That’s when we realized how cold it was out there.”
According to Rick, the figure skating jockey failed to attend one show. At first no one noticed. All went well until the sequence where the knights were supposed to mate and kill each other… at which point an eccentric knight can be seen brazenly skating around the bodies of his fallen comrades. In the end, a moment of inspiration occurred, and he fell on his sword, to a mocking applause from the audience.
Jay Protheroy and Anne Manley – then, as now, supporters of the English chamber choir – recall that Walkman had always set up a free bar for performers.
“At the time, certain sections of the orchestra were drinking fairly heavily,” Ann says. “At the dress rehearsal, one of the trumpet players clearly got a lot going at lunchtime. The very talented young skater Jennifer appeared skating her way around the castle. At this point, this particular musician leaned in to try to get a continuous view.” …and he, his chair, and his horn were all gone. There was this wonderful sight of him sliding backwards through the ice at great speed, holding his horn in the air to protect him.”
For all the warmth, generosity, and good sense of humor, Rick was a perfectionist, and a man so driven that he repeatedly put his health and fortune at risk to achieve what he wanted to achieve. Forced to record his second “solo” album Journey to the center of the earth (Released in 1974) Live because A&M UK refused to fund the studio version, he had to contact verbal support from A&M USA, fund the project himself with his Yes profits and re-mortgage his house.
Shortly thereafter, at just 25, the stress, combined with his eager intake of alcohol, caused Rick to have a heart attack. Legends and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table He wrote a musical autobiography while recuperating in the hospital.
“I was told I would never be able to work again, and if I did, my heart would explode,” Rick says. “The last battle I wrote after my specialist advised me that I stopped playing and retired in order to give myself a chance to recover reasonably.”
Thus, the album is much more personal and tactile than the presentation would suggest.
Rick went back to work – and drank – more intensely. Although he had at least as many tours of a trip… as he did hers, he insisted that A&M fund a studio recording of King Arthur… in the same glowing style. Another struggle ensued. Rick tended not to dwell on the negatives, and withheld his associates from the economic situation and the state of his health.
Although they were well present and – mostly – well received at the time, when Wembley’s shows ended, Rick discovered he was now seriously in debt. in the UK, King Arthur… It reached No. 2, impressively, but in the US it never climbed higher than No. 21. Follow Rick, There is no ground connectionwas originally conceived as a double album, but was reduced to a single during recording by record company ordinance.
“It hit Rick really hard,” Roger says. “He became completely immersed inwardly, and began to question his judgment of the musical elements, which he had not had before.”
Reviews for the completed album were harsh, and although it reached number 9 in the UK and sold over 4 million copies worldwide, it stopped at number 67 in the US. As Roger points out, it wasn’t really the emergence of punk, then, but the withdrawal of record company support—a self-fulfilling prophecy—that led to the breakup of the original ERE, Rick’s return to Yes, and the end of the high-profile phase of his solo career.
Even then, punk’s role in changing attitudes toward the type of music he’s known for was just one of the factors that kept him in a slump for so long.
For a good few years, another factor was Rick’s alcohol consumption. After becoming seriously ill again in 1985, he gave it up, turning to God instead. He also had bad luck in his personal relationships. Between 1980 and 1984, there were three different types of Mrs. Wakemans.
He may have learned his lesson when it came to the bottle – and eventually – the altar, but even when times were tough, he wasn’t really able to resist the temptation to mass produce. At the swish of his opening checkbook, he dives in again, often with excruciating results.
In the 1980s, Tim Rice collaborated 1984 It was meant to be a musical, until supporters backed down. and 1988 Time Machine It was envisioned as a tour…. Wait… amazing ice. This was a tempting fate. Fate did not show any restraint. Even before Polydor rejected the album (it was released a year later on a standalone mini-album), the lollipop once again fell off the live show sponsorship wand.
In the ’90s and ’40s, Rick serially revisited and reworked previous projects. In 1998, he got his chance to step back and get going when EMI Classics funded a new edition of a trip… as such Return to the center of the earth, including the new ERE, LSO and ECC. As expected, Rick worked so hard on it that he contracted pleurisy and double pneumonia, was given 48 hours to live, and took six months to recover.
The album was released in 1999, but due to Rick’s impotence, the intended major live show did not happen at the time. Back… It reached number 34 in the UK, but made little impression elsewhere, especially in Canada, where it wasn’t even released. Naturally, it premiered live in Quebec, Canada, in 2001.
Five years later – with a high-speed multi-car crash on the M40 and a double herniation helping to revitalize the gap for Rick – Quebec also hosted the next performance – in front of an estimated audience of somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000. It was worth the wait. Rick called it “the loudest song I’ve ever had” and “performance night of my musical life”.
Even by 2002, he was sounding more optimistic about his “living masterpieces”. “Yes, I invested a lot of what I earned into it, and why not? I like to do things right, and if people buy an album with an orchestra in it, then, where possible, I try to give them that orchestra in a lively setting.”
In 2005, Rick was asked if he would like to visit anything else, to which he replied, “Yes, King Arthur… Simply by adding some new music to the original and playing it live.”
Seven years later, it happened. Wakeman re-recorded the album, including the extra clip which—due to limited space on vinyl records—never released the original version. And in 2016, he made a show King Arthur… Live at the Stone Free Festival at the O2 Arena in London. There was an orchestra and choir and actor Ian Lavender narrating from above. But the ice? Nowhere to be seen.
“Don’t laugh, we’re looking at Nottingham,” said Wakeman. “I actually had a meeting with Robin Cousins about choreography. Believe me, nothing is normal.”
The original version of this feature appeared in Classic Rock 102, in February 2007. Rick Wakeman’s Grumpy Christmas Tour will be skating across the UK in November and December.