The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Richard Christopher (Rick) Wakeman was born on May 18th 1949 in London. When he turned seven his father paid for weekly piano lessons which lasted 11 years. In 1960 he won many awards, certificates, and cups in contests held around London. When he became 12 he learned to play clarinet. He attended church and learned the church organ, became a Sunday school teacher, and chose to be baptised at eighteen. In 1961 when he went to Drayton Manor school he played in his first band called Brother Wakeman and the Clergymen who played traditional jazz. In 1963 when he was fourteen he joined the Atlantic Blues, a local blues group that secured a year's residency at a mental health rehabilitation club in Neasden. Then he joined the Concordes with his cousin Alan Wakeman playing dance and pop music. From the money he earned for the gigs he bought a pianet, his first electronic music instrument. In 1966 he joined another band called Green Dolphin Trio which were going to perform at the annual school dance. The band were unpaid after Wakeman lost control of his car and drove across the headmaster's rose garden at the front of the school. In 1967 he joined the Ronnie Smith Band. Ashley Holt was the singer of the band and would become important for Wakeman for his future solo albums and tours where he would sing.
Piano Vibrations (1971) - album cover
At the end of the 60's Wakeman became a studio musician and decided to quit with school. His ability to produce what was needed in a short amount of time led to his nickname: One Take Wakeman. He was prominent on "Battersea Power Station" by Junior's Eyes, played Mellotron on "Space Oddity" by David Bowie, organ and piano on American singer Tucker Zimmerman's only single, "Red Wind". In 1970 Wakeman performed on Seasons by Magna Carta. He also played on albums from  Brotherhood of Man, Paper Bubble, Shawn Phillips, and White Plains.
Wakeman in 1972
He became a member of the folk rock group Strawbs from 1969 to 1971 and he did 2 studio albums ("Dragonfly", "From The Witchwood") an a live album with them. In 1971 he bought a minimoog and continued to do session work. Wakeman played the piano on "Morning Has Broken" by Cat Stevens, "Get It On" by T. Rex, three tracks on Madman Across the Water by Elton John as well as "Changes", "Oh! You Pretty Things" and "Life on Mars?" for Bowie's album Hunky Dory. Bowie invited Wakeman to his home and played the outline of the tracks for him to learn; Wakeman later called them "the finest selection of songs I have ever heard in one sitting in my entire life". He made his first solo album that year compiled of pop tunes on piano titled "Piano Vibrations" which didn't impress the public.
Wakeman at the right with the Strawbs
Then he came to the most important decision of his life to choose. David Bowie invited him to become member of his new band The Spiders From Mars and at the same time Chris Squire from the sympho rock band Yes asked him to become their new keyboard player. He choose for Yes and from then on he became a sympho rock artist. His first album with Yes was Fragile where each member could demonstrate their skills. Wakeman did a solo song on that album titled "Cans and Brahms" based around the classic piece third movement of Symphony No. 4 in E minor by Johannes Brahms. He continued to do albums with Yes in the 70's. Towards the end of 1971 Wakeman signed a five album solo recording contract with A&M Records. In 1972 Melody Maker readers' poll Wakeman ranked second in the Top Keyboardist category behind Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer).
The Six Wives of Henry VIII
He started recording his second real solo album in 1972 titled "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" where he portraits all six wives from king Henry VIII completely instrumental. Wakeman bought a book at a bookstall titled "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1964) by Scottish writer Nancy Brysson Morrison at an airport during the US "Fragile" Tour with Yes and started to compose the songs for the album. Also a track about Henry himself was made but he decided to stick with the songs about his wives. The wives of Henry VIII all died in a horrible way: beheaded or illness.
Wakeman with Yes
Members of Yes and the Strawbs helped him with the album. A&M was not optimistic at first when they heared the first preview of the album and thought it needed vocals. But when it was released in 1973 it topped the charts. In the UK it went to #7 and in the US to #30.
PThe basis of "Catherine of Aragon" was originally a piece that Wakeman wrote for "Fragile" with a working title of "Handle with Care". The organ on "Jane Seymour" was recorded at St Giles-without-Cripplegate church in London. On "Anne Boleyn" Wakeman also plays a rare organ made in the 1700's with reeds and wooden pipes giving it a sound that he compared to someone's breath. The album cover photo was taken at Madame Tussauds in London where Wakeman walks in front of Henry VII and some of his wives. Sound technician on the album was Ken Scott who also was responsible for "Crime Of The Century" by Supertramp and "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars" by Bowie.

This second album is the beginning of some great solo albums he made in the 70's together with "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" (1974), "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" (1975) and "Lisztomania" (1975). For me this is his best solo album. For everyone who likes orginal sympho rock with organs.
Original album cover
The Six Wives Of Henry VIII
Catherine Of Aragon / Anne Of Cleves / Catherine Howard / Jane Seymour / Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended' / Catherine Parr
Catherine Of Aragon
Catherine Howard
Catherine Parr

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