Richard Christopher Wakeman
18 May 1949
|Children||Six, including Oliver and Adam Wakeman|
Richard Christopher Wakeman(born 18 May 1949) is an English keyboardist. He is best known for being in the progressive rock band Yes across five tenures between 1971 and 2004 and for his solo albums released in the 1970s.
Born and raised in West London, Wakeman intended to be a concert pianist but quit his studies at the Royal College of Music in 1969 to become a full-time session musician. His early sessions included playing on "Space Oddity", among others, for David Bowie, and songs by Junior's Eyes, T. Rex, Elton John, and Cat Stevens. Wakeman became a member of The Strawbs in 1970 before joining Yes a year later, playing on some of their most successful albums across two stints until 1980. Wakeman began his solo career in 1973; his highest-selling solo albums are his first three: The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974), and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975), all concept albums. He formed his rock band, The English Rock Ensemble, in 1974, with which he continues to perform, and scored his first film, Lisztomania (1975).
Wakeman pursued solo projects in the 1980s that varied in levels of success; his most successful album was 1984, released in 1981, which was followed by his minor pop hit single, "Glory Boys", from Silent Nights (1985). He hosted the television show Gastank, and recorded his first of several New-age, ambient, and Christian music albums with Country Airs (1986) and The Gospels (1987), respectively. From 1988 to 1990 he was a member of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe which led to his third Yes stint until 1992. He returned twice more between 1995 and 2004, during which he completed several more solo projects and tours, including his most significant of the decade, Return to the Centre of the Earth (1999). From 2016 to 2020, Wakeman was a member of Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman. He continues to record albums and perform concerts worldwide in various capacities; his most recent album is The Red Planet (2020).
Wakeman's discography includes over 90 solo albums spanning a range of musical styles. He has made many television and radio appearances; in recent years he became known for his contributions to the BBC comedy series Grumpy Old Men, Watchdog and his radio show on Planet Rock that aired from 2005 to 2010. Wakeman has written three books; an autobiography and two memoirs. In 2017, Wakeman was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes.
Wakeman was born on 18 May 1949 in the west London suburb of Perivale. The only child of Cyril Frank Wakeman and Mildred Helen Wakeman (née Eastment), the three lived in Wood End Gardens in nearby Northolt. Cyril played the piano in a dance band while he was in the army and worked at a building suppliers, joining as an office boy at fourteen to become one of its directors. Mildred worked at a removals firm. Wakeman attended Drayton Manor Grammar School in Hanwell, in 1959. The family spent their summer holidays in Exmouth.
When Wakeman turned seven, his father paid for weekly piano lessons with Dorothy Symes which lasted for eleven years. She recalled that Wakeman "passed everything with a distinction" and was an "enjoyable pupil to teach, full of fun and with a good sense of humour", but noted his lack of self-discipline when it came to practising. In 1960, Symes entered Wakeman in his first music competition and he went on to win many awards, certificates, and cups in contests held around London. Wakeman then took up the clarinet at age twelve and in his teenage years, attended church and learned the church organ, became a Sunday school teacher, and chose to be baptised at eighteen.
Wakeman described himself at school as "a horror ... I worked hard in the first year, then eased up". In 1961, during his time at Drayton Manor school, Wakeman played in his first band, the trad jazz outfit Brother Wakeman and the Clergymen, with a uniform of the school shirt put on the wrong way round. In 1963, at fourteen, Wakeman joined the Atlantic Blues, a local blues group that secured a year's residency at a mental health rehabilitation club in Neasden. Two years later, Wakeman passed his O Levels in English, maths, art and music, and went on to study music, art, and British constitution at A-level. In 1966, he joined the Concordes, later known as the Concorde Quartet, playing dance and pop songs at local events with his cousin Alan Wakeman on saxophone and clarinet. Wakeman used the money earned from their gigs to buy a Pianet, his first electronic instrument.
That year he also formed a dance band called the Green Dolphin Trio, spending a year's residency at a social club in Alperton, and Curdled Milk, a joke on "Strange Brew" by Cream, to play 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, thereby forfeiting their performance fee to pay for the damage. In 1967, Wakeman began a tenure with the Ronnie Smith Band, a dance group based at the Top Rank ballroom in Watford. He was sacked in the following year after not taking the dance music seriously enough, but was reinstated and performed in Reading. It was there where he met their singer Ashley Holt, who later sang on many of Wakeman's future albums and tours.
In 1968, Wakeman secured a place at the Royal College of Music in London, studying the piano, clarinet, orchestration, and modern music, with the intention of becoming a concert pianist. To enter he needed to pass eight music exams to earn his A-level in the subject, which required him, as his mother remembered, "to do two years' work in ten months". Wakeman put in the effort following a ten shilling bet with his music teacher who believed he would not succeed, and refusing his father's offer to work with him. Wakeman joined the Royal College on a performers course before a change to the teachers course, but quickly found out that "everyone else there was at least as good as me; and a lot of them much better." He adopted a more relaxed attitude to his studies, spending much of his time drinking in pubs and with the staff at the Musical Bargain Centre, a music shop in Ealing.
Wakeman's first booking as a session musician, and his first time in a recording studio, occurred when guitarist Chas Cronk entered the shop one morning in need of an organist and brass arranger for members of the Ike & Tina Turner band. During the session Wakeman met producers Tony Visconti, Gus Dudgeon, and Denny Cordell Cordell was impressed with his performance and offered him more session work for artists at Regal Zonophone Records, which Wakeman accepted and he began skipping college in favour of sessions.
In 1969, Wakeman left the Royal College of Music to become a full-time session musician, playing keyboards and arranging music for various artists between fifteen and eighteen times a week. His ability to produce what was needed in a short amount of time led to his nickname, One Take Wakeman. Among his first sessions were playing on Battersea Power Station by Junior's Eyes and, in June 1969, the Mellotron on "Space Oddity" by David Bowie for a £9 fee after Dudgeon needed a player, as neither knew much about the instrument. Wakeman went on to play on several tracks for Bowie's second album, David Bowie, and organ and piano on American singer Tucker Zimmerman's only single, "Red Wind". During this time, Wakeman left the Ronnie Smith group and, for several months, played in a pub band named the Spinning Wheel. Visconti had Wakeman play a single bass note on the piano at the end of "Walk On Guilded Splinters" by Marsha Hunt so he could be paid the session fee. In 1970, Wakeman performed on Seasons by Magna Carta, and records by Brotherhood of Man, Paper Bubble, Shawn Phillips, and White Plains. He soon became disillusioned with session work, "I was getting good bread, but I wasn't getting a chance to be part of the music".
Wakeman's prominence rose during his tenure with the folk rock group The Strawbs from 1969 to 1971. He first played the piano for them as a session musician on Dragonfly, the first album released with Wakeman's name on its credits. In March 1970, he joined the band as a full-time member and married his first wife, Rosaline Woolford, at the age of twenty. The group then performed a series of dates in Paris for a rock and roll circus with various bands backing the circus acts. During one performance, Wakeman pushed Salvador Dalí off the stage as he made a special guest appearance during his piano solo. He wrote, "I didn't know who he was. I thought, 'Silly old sod, coming on the stage waving his stick'." Wakeman's first major show with The Strawbs followed on 11 July 1970 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London which was recorded for their live album, Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios. The set included an extended organ solo and Wakeman's piano piece titled "Temperament of Mind", which received a standing ovation. The piece originated from improvisations when the band would lose power during a show, leaving Wakeman to fill time by playing the piano. Following the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, Wakeman appeared on the front page of Melody Maker for the first time; the paper named him "tomorrow's superstar".
During the writing sessions for the next Strawbs album, Wakeman resumed session work to help pay for his new home in West Harrow. He bought a Minimoog synthesizer at half price from actor Jack Wild, who thought that it was defective because it only played one note at a time. Wakeman played the piano on "Morning Has Broken" by Cat Stevens for his 1971 album, Teaser and the Firecat. Wakeman was omitted from the credits and for many years, was never paid for it; Stevens later apologised and paid Wakeman for the error. Wakeman played further sessions in 1971, including "Get It On" by T. Rex, three tracks on Madman Across the Water by Elton John, and "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 also developed music for the 1972 film, Zee and Co. In late 1971, an album compiled of pop tunes played by Wakeman on the piano was released as Piano Vibrations by Polydor Records. Wakeman did not receive any royalties from it; he was paid £36 for the four sessions it took to make.
Wakeman's final album with The Strawbs, From the Witchwood, was released in July 1971. It marked the growing differences between himself and the group; he made the better paid sessions a priority and made no substantial contributions to the writing of the music. With his income from The Strawbs failing to cover his mortgage and bills, Wakeman opted to leave. In July 1971, he was faced with "one of the most difficult decisions" of his career after Bowie chose him for his new backing band, The Spiders from Mars, with guitarist Mick Ronson. Later the same day, he received a call at two in the morning from bassist Chris Squire of the progressive rock group Yes, who explained that Yes needed a keyboardist as Tony Kaye had been asked to leave, following his resistance to learn instruments other than the piano and organ. Wakeman agreed to meet the band as they rehearsed for their fourth album, Fragile, in August 1971. During his first session, the basis of "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Roundabout" were put together. Thinking that Yes presented more favourable opportunities for his career, Wakeman declined Bowie's offer and played his final gig with The Strawbs for a BBC recording for John Peel's radio show. Wakeman then reappeared on the front cover of Melody Maker, his second in a year, regarding his move to Yes. His earnings increased from £18 to £50 per week. Towards the end of 1971, Wakeman signed a five album solo recording contract with A&M Records.
Yes made Fragile in five weeks, partly to resume touring quickly so they could finance a new set of keyboards for Wakeman. The album features a solo track written by each member; Wakeman's track, "Cans and Brahms", is an adaptation of the third movement of Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms played on electronic keyboards. He called it "dreadful" as contractual disputes between Atlantic Records, who had signed Yes, and A&M prevented him from writing his own composition. Wakeman claimed he was never credited for his contributions on Fragile, including piano sections on "Heart of the Sunrise" and "South Side of the Sky", despite being told that management would sort the issue. He enjoyed the music too much to cause further rifts. Fragile reached the top ten in the UK and the US, and the Fragile Tour marked Wakeman's first visit to North America. Its commercial success allowed Wakeman to buy a new home in Gerrards Cross and start a car collection, which he rented out through his new business, the Fragile Carriage Company. In late 1971, Wakeman played two notable piano sessions, on "It Ain't Easy" on Bowie's album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and on Orange by Al Stewart.
In the 1972 Melody Maker readers' poll, Wakeman ranked second in the Top Keyboardist category behind Keith Emerson. That year, Yes followed Fragile with Close to the Edge which is considered a landmark progressive rock album and features Wakeman playing a church organ and harpsichord. He is credited on the final track, "Siberian Khatru". Wakeman picked the album as "one of the finest moments of Yes's career." The Close to the Edge Tour marked the first time Wakeman wore a cape on stage after a fan offered his own for one of the band members to wear. He then had his own made; the first was made of sequins and cost US$300. Wakeman is featured on the concert film Yessongs, filmed in 1972 at the Rainbow Theatre which features his solo spot in the show. Also that month at the venue, Wakeman was a guest musician at The Who's orchestral performances of Tommy.
In January 1973, Wakeman released his debut solo album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. It was recorded in 1972 during gaps in touring and recording with Yes, and features members of the band, the Strawbs, and other guest musicians. The album is instrumental with its concept based on Wakeman's musical interpretations of the characteristics of the six wives of Henry VIII. The album was previewed with Wakeman performing excerpts on the BBC television show, The Old Grey Whistle Test. Much of the television audience that night planned to watch Blue Movie, a controversial film by Andy Warhol, but it was temporarily banned from being broadcast. Wakeman explained: "It seems most of them, rather than watch repeats, switched over to Whistle Test and saw my preview of Henry ... and suddenly it seemed as if the whole country had discovered my music ... it was a tremendous break." The album reached No. 7 in the UK and No. 30 in the US, and Time named the record one of the best albums of the year. At the Melody Maker readers poll awards in September 1973, Wakeman came out first in the top keyboardist category.
Yes's double concept album Tales from Topographic Oceans was released in November 1973, containing four side long pieces based on ideas from Hindu scriptures in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. Wakeman had doubts about its esoteric concept, and felt a lot of its music was too experimental which required further rehearsal. He distanced himself from the group, and spent time in the bar at Morgan Studios and played on "Sabbra Caddabra" on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath in the adjacent studio. Yes toured the album for six months, playing the album in its entirety which Wakeman also disagreed with. He openly criticised the album to the press, and his growing frustrations culminated in an incident whereby he ate a curry on stage during a show in Manchester. In 2006, Wakeman clarified that his total dislike of the album is "not entirely true" and recognises some "very, very nice musical moments", but "we had too much for a single album but not enough for a double, so we padded it out and the padding is awful".
During the Topographic Oceans tour Wakeman recorded his new 40-minute work Journey to the Centre of the Earth, based on Jules Verne's same-titled science-fiction novel. He came up with the idea in 1971, but shelved the project until The Six Wives of Henry VIII was complete. After working on the music with Lou Reizner, David Measham, Wil Malone, and Danny Beckerman, which features an orchestra, choir, and a rock band, Wakeman chose to record the piece in concert due to the high costs of a studio. To help finance the project, he sold some of his cars and "mortgage[d himself] up to the hilt", all of which cost around £40,000. Two concerts were held at London's Royal Festival Hall on 18 January 1974 with the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir, actor David Hemmings as narrator, and a five-piece band formed of musicians that Wakeman played with in a west London pub: vocalists Ashley Holt and Gary Pickford-Hopkins, drummer Barney James, bassist Roger Newell, and guitarist Mike Egan. A&M wanted to use better known musicians, but Wakeman wanted the album to be known for its music rather than the performers. After cutting the album A&M refused to sell it, but as Wakeman was under contract with its US division, a cassette was sent to co-founder Jerry Moss who liked it and ordered its worldwide release.
After touring Topographic Oceans, Wakeman retreated to his Devonshire home. He heard early ideas for Yes's next album, felt he could no longer contribute to the style of music they were making, and confirmed his departure from the band on his twenty-fifth birthday. Later that day, A&M informed him that Journey had entered the UK charts at No. 1, a first for the label. Journey also reached No. 3 in the US, and earned Wakeman a Grammy and Ivor Novello Award nomination. The album has sold an estimated 14 million copies worldwide. On 27 July 1974, Wakeman headlined the Crystal Palace Garden Party concert, performing selections from Six Wives and Journey in its entirety. By this time, his excessive smoking and alcohol consumption, a lack of sleep five days prior to the show, and a wrist injury from a fall, took a toll on his health, and he needed morphine injections to get through the performance. Soon after the show, he suffered a minor heart attack.
During his recovery at Wexham Park Hospital, Wakeman wrote "The Last Battle", the first song for his new concept album, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Despite being advised to reduce his workload and improve his health, Wakeman continued with his career as well as his smoking and drinking. He began a 20-date North American tour in September 1974 with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of America, and his rock band. Under doctors' orders, Wakeman was required to pass a heart monitor test before each performance. Wakeman later revealed that the tour cost him £125,000.
In January 1975, Wakeman finished recording King Arthur at Morgan Studios with the New World Orchestra, English Chamber Choir, and the Nottingham Festival Vocal Group. Based on the stories about King Arthur and related figures, its release in April 1975 was a commercial success, reaching No. 2 in the UK and No. 21 in the US. It also earned Gold certifications in Brazil, Japan, and Australia. The album was promoted with three sold out shows at Wembley Arena in May 1975 with Wakeman performing the album with an orchestra, choir, and his rock band to a total of 27,000 people. As the arena floor was already set up as an ice rink for a different attraction, Wakeman chose to present the show as an ice pageant with fourteen ice skaters and the musicians' stage placed in the round and decorated as a castle. The shows, though well received and a contributory factor to the album's commercial success, were expensive to produce.
Before production even began, animal-welfare groups called for the show to be shut down once it was announced horses would be part of it, a clamour Wakeman stilled only with a press conference in which it was shown that they were to be wooden horses. At the actual show, there were several instances where props and costumes, including Wakeman's, failed visibly. The dry ice fog caused mist to accumulate over the ice, making it hard for musicians to see their instruments.
At the end, six skaters dressed as knights took the ice and fought to their mutual "deaths". Well before the song was over, one knight appeared to have survived, skating aimlessly around the ice. Wakeman realized that one of the skaters had called in sick that day and the production had failed to find a replacement. The skater solved the problem by pretending to throw himself on his sword.
In 2009, the concerts were listed in 79th position on the 100 Greatest Shocking Moments in Rock and Roll program broadcast on VH1. By 2008, the album had sold an estimated 12 million copies worldwide.
Wakeman toured King Arthur with an augmented formation of the English Rock Ensemble for three months from October 1975, across North and South America. The tour marked his first association with new drummer Tony Fernandez who would perform on many of Wakeman's future albums and tours. During its stop in Rio de Janeiro, Wakeman met Ronnie Biggs, one of those involved in the 1963 Great Train Robbery. The two went drinking, played football, and exchanged a gift of shirts, including one that Biggs allegedly wore during the robbery. In late 1975, Wakeman composed the soundtrack for Lisztomania, a biography film about composer Franz Liszt written and directed by Ken Russell. Wakeman appears in the film as Thor, the god of thunder. A few years later, he recalled the album in a more negative light as "there was hardly anything of mine on it in the end", and criticised its mixing and production.
In 1976, with the top rate of UK income tax at 83 per cent, Wakeman began living in Switzerland as a tax exile. He recorded his fourth solo album, No Earthly Connection, with the English Rock Ensemble at Chateau Studios in Hérouville, France from January to March 1976. Initially it was to be about mythological gods, but was changed when he became fascinated with the origins of man and mysterious phenomena such as the Bermuda Triangle, Stonehenge, pyramids, and his witnessing of a flying object at 3 am in Miami, Florida with his bassist, Roger Newell. Wakeman describes the music on its sleeve: "a futuristic, autobiographical look at music, the part it plays in our pre-earth, human and after life". He wrote the album without playing any of its music. Upon its release in April 1976, the album went to No. 9 in the UK and No. 67 in the US. Wakeman toured worldwide for seven weeks to support the album which featured a scaled down stage production. The last date was at a festival in Bilzen, Belgium on 13 August.
Following the No Earthly Connection tour, Wakeman fell into financial trouble. Though it was not "an all tax issue", Wakeman's expenses far exceeded the profits made from the tour which only met its minimal expectations, leaving him to come up with £350,000 "in a matter of weeks". He sold his Rolls-Royces, ended his Fragile car service, and disbanded the English Rock Ensemble. Wakeman's situation improved after A&M agreed to pay Wakeman's royalties ahead of time. Soon after, Lane suggested that Wakeman talk with Bill Bruford and John Wetton who were thinking of forming a new band. After a private meeting, the three rehearsed for six weeks before the story was reported in Melody Maker in October 1976, which effectively caused the group to end. Wakeman took up work recording the soundtrack to White Rock, a documentary film about the 1976 Winter Olympics directed by Tony Maylam. The film premiered in February 1977 as a double bill with the Genesis concert film, Genesis: In Concert. The album was released in the same year. The track "After the Ball" was one that Wakeman forgot to write; he proceeded to play it as a completely improvised single take, rather than confessing to the producers.
Wakeman's fortunes changed in November 1976 when Lane invited him to meet Yes in Switzerland as they were writing Going for the One in Mountain Studios, Montreux. Wakeman's replacement, Swiss musician Patrick Moraz, left during the early stages in part due to the "enormous psychological pressures within the group." Upon hearing the band's new material of more accessible and concise songs, Wakeman agreed to play on the album as a session musician. Lane and Squire convinced him to rejoin as a full-time member; Wakeman noticed the new edition of Melody Maker with the headline "Wakeman rejoins Yes" appeared hours after he agreed. He asked Lane what would have happened if he declined, and said: "It's just one of those decisions a manager has to make." Wakeman described the record as "the album Yes should have made instead of Topographic Oceans." Released in July 1977, the album spent two weeks at No. 1 in the UK and spawned the No. 7 single, "Wonderous Stories". Wakeman considered its fifteen-minute track "Awaken" as one of the band's best.
During the Going for the One tour, Wakeman released Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record, a solo album loosely based on criminality with Squire on bass, Alan White on drums, Frank Ricotti on percussion, and Bill Oddie on lead vocals on "The Breathalyser". The album went to No. 25 in the UK.
Wakeman recorded the next Yes album, Tormato, in early 1978. He is reported to have given the album its name by throwing a tomato at a showing of the art used for the album's cover. In 1978 Wakeman, along with Mick Jagger, Peter Frampton, and Paul Simon, invested in the formation of the Philadelphia Fury, an American soccer team that disbanded in 1980. Wakeman also funded the development of the Birotron, a tape replay keyboard that used 8-track tape cartridges, developed by Dave Biro.
Rhapsodies, released as a double album in 1979, was Wakeman's final studio album for A&M Records. It features Bruce Lynch on bass, Frank Gibson Jr. on drums, and Tony Visconti on acoustic guitar.
In March 1980, after several writing sessions for a new Yes album in Paris failed, Wakeman and Jon Anderson left the group.
In 1980, Wakeman reformed the English Rock Ensemble and completed a European tour. He came close to forming a band with drummer Carl Palmer, bassist John Wetton, and guitarist Trevor Rabin, but opted out "on a matter of principle" as the record company was prepared to sign them without hearing any of the group's music. He recalled, "I basically sealed my financial fate, and things went downhill fast." His father's death in November 1980 prompted his return to the UK and led him to sign a record deal with Charisma Records to avoid bankruptcy. In 2020 Wakeman revealed that for several months of 1980 he was homeless due to his financial difficulties, sleeping on benches in Kensington Gardens, until a former roadie let him sleep at his house.
In June 1981, Wakeman released 1984, a concept rock album based on George Orwell's dystopian novel, with a band including Steve Barnacle on bass, Gary Barnacle on saxophone, and Frank Ricotti on drums. The album features tracks with Chaka Khan, Jon Anderson, Kenny Lynch, and Tim Rice - the album's lyricist - on lead vocals. 1984 reached number 24 in the UK. Plans to have the album adapted into a musical were cancelled after lawyers from Orwell's estate blocked its development. During Wakeman's 1981 tour of Europe and South America, he first met Nina Carter. In the same year, Wakeman recorded the soundtrack to the slasher horror film The Burning in New York City.
After the 1981 tour, Wakeman attended the annual Midem music festival where he secured the rights to a previously unreleased album that had he recorded in Switzerland in 1979. Initially titled Maybe '80 and renamed Rock 'n' Roll Prophet, it is a humorous spoof on the pop group The Buggles and was released in 1982 on Wakeman's own label, Moon Records. A single from the album, "I'm So Straight I'm a Weirdo", was released in 1980. In 1982, Wakeman hosted the Channel 4 music show Gastank with Tony Ashton that aired in January and February 1983. He then released a second album for Charisma, Cost of Living, a mixture of instrumental and rock tracks with Rice on vocals, which "did nothing" to improve his finances. Wakeman wrote about his situation by 1983, to the point where he was "managerless, penniless and homeless". In February 1983, he and Carter moved to Camberley, Surrey after the birth of their daughter Jemma. Wakeman took up work by recording the soundtrack to the official 1982 FIFA World Cup documentary film G'olé!, which was released around the same time as Cost of Living which hampered potential album sales. He wrote the soundtrack for the film She with assistance from Justin Hayward and Maggie Bell, and his second Russell feature, Crimes of Passion, with Bell on vocals, Fernandez on drums, and past Strawbs bandmate Chas Cronk on bass. Wakeman based the music around the themes of Symphony No. 9 by Antonín Dvořák. During this time, Wakeman became chairman of the Camberley Town F.C. Wakeman also spent early 1983 writing the score to the ballet Killing Games, but problems during its development led to the project being shelved, along with a potential double album of its music. In early 1984, Wakeman completed a tour of Australia with Sky as a guest musician. He also contributed three songs to the soundtrack of B.C. Rock.
In 1984, Wakeman signed a recording deal with President Records and produced Silent Nights, his first solo album for over two years, in two-and-a-half months at Herne Place Studios in Sunningdale with Fernandez, Cronk, and Rick Fenn on guitar. The album was released in 1985 and its single, "Glory Boys", became a minor hit in the UK. In March 1985, Wakeman finished work on his part of the soundtrack to the comedy film Playing for Keeps, and returned to England to begin rehearsals for his tour to promote Silent Nights, which visited the UK, North America, and Australia. A live album recorded during the tour in London was released as Live at Hammersmith. The tour cost him money, leaving him "seriously in debt" and forced to remortgage his Camberley home. In September 1985, during the tour's Australian leg, Wakeman fell ill from his alcoholism and has been teetotal since. Also in 1985, President released a single of Wakeman's theme tunes for the television shows Lytton's Diary and Database, and Wakeman returned to work for Bowie, playing the piano on "Absolute Beginners".
In a change in musical direction, Wakeman produced his first of a series of new-age albums titled Country Airs, a piano album released in mid-1986 that went to number one on the UK new age chart. Wakeman followed this with a tour of the Far East, and soundtrack work for Hero, the film to the 1986 World Cup, and the BBC film The Day After the Fair. His next album was The Family Album in 1987, featuring tracks dedicated to each of his family members and pets. Also in 1987, Wakeman recorded and released The Gospels, a Christian album based on the four Gospels for Stylus Records that had begun in early 1986 and took six months to complete, with tenor vocalist Ramon Remedios, actor Robert Powell as narrator, and the Eton College Chapel Choir. The music was originally written for a concert as part of a fund raising event for a church. Wakeman played the album with Remedios and his band in Caesarea, Israel in the following year as well as the Royal Albert Hall in London. Wakeman recorded Time Machine, a concept album based on the science fiction novel The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, featuring Roy Wood and Tracy Ackerman as guest vocalists. The album was released in 1988; Wakeman intended to record it with an orchestra and choir and put on an ice show, but the idea was cancelled due to lack of funds.
In March 1988, Wakeman and Carter sold their Camberley home and moved to the Isle of Man in a move to help improve their finances. To save money, a recording facility was built in a converted coach house next to his home that he named Bajonor Studios. He then released two studio albums throughout the year, both recorded at Studio House in Wraysbury: A Suite of Gods, based on Greek and Roman mythology with Fernandez and Remedios, and Zodiaque with Fernandez featuring tracks dedicated to each of the twelve signs of the zodiac.
In late 1988, Wakeman received a call from Brian Lane who invited him to form Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe with former Yes band members Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe. Anderson wished to make an album that reflected Yes's 1970s sound and wanted to record on the island of Montserrat. The album was released in June 1989 and sold 750,000 copies. The band's world tour ran from July 1989 to March 1990. During the tour, Wakeman released two more solo albums: Black Knights at the Court of Ferdinand IV with Italian musician Mario Fasciano and Sea Airs, a sequel to Country Airs.
In 1990, Wakeman released In the Beginning, his second Christian album that was produced in aid of ASSIST, a Christian charity founded by music journalist and Wakeman's biographer, Dan Wooding. The album contains a series of Biblical readings by Carter with Wakeman supplying the background music. Also in 1990, work on a second Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe began in France, but its development was interrupted when the group merged their tracks with an in-progress Yes album to create 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 1991–92. When the tour ended a year later, Wakeman left again.
In October 1992, Wakeman embarked on a world tour with Fernandez, guitarist and bassist Alan Thomson, and his son Adam Wakeman on additional keyboards. The tour lasted through 1993, and was organised as Wakeman wished to tour with a second keyboardist to "free [him] up to do more things" on stage.
In 1993, Wakeman released Heritage Suite, a solo piano album about the Isle of Man, and an album with Adam, Wakeman with Wakeman. Later in 1993, Wakeman's financial situation worsened when he was served with a demand for close to £70,000 from the Inland Revenue, for interest charges and unpaid penalties related to tax he had paid for the preceding six years. He paid it, as he wrote, "with help from Brian Lane's office and Yes's accountants, in my signing away all publishing income from everything I had ever written ... Twenty-two years' work had vanished in the three seconds it had taken to sign my name."
In 1994, Wakeman performed a series of solo piano concerts in aid for ASSIST. Two shows recorded in Virginia and the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, attended by almost 8,000 people, was released as The Piano Album in 1995.
In 1995, he wrote music for the Cirque Surreal. The same year he scored the soundtrack to Bullet to Beijing, a made-for-television film starring Michael Caine and Jason Connery, and also scored the sequel, Midnight in Saint Petersburg, the following year. It was also during this year that he played keyboards on Ozzy Osbourne's album Ozzmosis and performed on the Retirement Sucks Tour.
In late 1995, Wakeman returned to Yes for a fourth time. Yes then played three nights at the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, California from 3–6 March 1996. He then recorded the Keys to Ascension (1996) and Keys to Ascension 2 (1997) albums with Yes. In March 1997, Wakeman staged the North American premiere of The New Gospels for five dates after it was reworked and extended into a two-hour oratorio with a 30-piece choir, in 1994. The concerts were free with donations to ASSIST. Wakeman left Yes in May 1997 before he could tour with them, due to scheduling conflicts and lack of coordination between the artists' management.
In October 1997, Wakeman received a Golden Badge Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), given for outstanding contributions to the British music and entertainment industry. In 1998, he started work on Return to the Centre of the Earth, a sequel album to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The idea first came to Wakeman in 1991 during a tour of Italy, which led to discussions about the project with Atlantic Records that year about a re-recording of the original album with new equipment and arrangements, but the idea was rejected. It was revived in 1996 when Wakeman received offers from three record companies willing to fund and release a new "epic" album. After a deal with EMI Classics was made, a story based on three unnamed travellers and their attempt to follow the original route was finalised, and recording began in 1998 with a band, the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir, Patrick Stewart as the narrator, and guest performances from Trevor Rabin, Ozzy Osbourne, and Bonnie Tyler. Recording was temporarily disrupted because of Wakeman's health. In December 1998, Wakeman was featured on an episode of This Is Your Life.
In February 2000, Wakeman began his An Evening with Rick Wakeman tour of the UK, playing keyboards and piano on tracks spanning his entire career. In September that year, he accepted an invitation to perform a series of concerts in South America with the English Rock Ensemble following a renewed interest in progressive rock there. He recruited Fernandez, Damian Wilson on vocals, Adam Wakeman on keyboards, Ant Glynne on guitar, and Lee Pomeroy on bass. Wakeman was particularly pleased with his playing, calling it his "best in a long time." At its conclusion, Wakeman entered early discussions with Keith Emerson regarding a potential music project, but the idea was shelved in early 2002.
Following months of speculation, Yes management announced Wakeman's return to the band for a fifth time, on 16 April 2002. Wakeman remembered it took "eight months to get the paper work together" to make his return happen. Upon Wakeman's return, the group entered rehearsals for their Full Circle Tour that ran from July 2002 to October 2003. This was followed by their 35th Anniversary Tour, running from April to September 2004. Wakeman described the band's playing during his return: "It was far and away the best the band had ever been ... there was no staleness, there was a lot of freshness." In 2005, Fidel Castro invited Wakeman to perform in Cuba with his band. During Wakeman's visit, Castro gave Wakeman some earth by Che Guevara's grave. In October 2006, Wakeman and Anderson began a UK tour. During Yes's post-2004 hiatus, Wakeman was advised by his doctors that touring with a busy schedule was affecting his health. In 2008, when Squire, Howe, and White decided to continue, Oliver Wakeman replaced his father on keyboards.
In 2008, Wakeman toured with Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show, featuring an evening of music and stories from his career. In May 2009, Wakeman performed The Six Wives of Henry VIII in its entirety for the first time at Hampton Court Palace for two nights. In 2010, Wakeman was awarded the Spirit of Prog Award at the annual Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards. In 2013, Wakeman played on The Theory of Everything by Ayreon. The following year, he completed a 14-date UK tour to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
In January 2016, Trevor Rabin announced he planned to perform with Wakeman and Jon Anderson as Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman (ARW), later in the year. Anderson revealed the three wrote "some unique songs together". That month, following requests from fans, Wakeman recorded piano versions of "Life on Mars?" and "Space Oddity", with an original track "Always Together", as a tribute to David Bowie following his death with proceeds from the songs donated to Macmillan Cancer Support. The reception from the single and a performance of "Life on Mars?" on BBC Radio 2 inspired Wakeman to release a solo piano album of tracks that he had played on in his career along with his own compositions and adaptations of classical music pieces. Upon release in January 2017, Piano Portraits entered the UK chart at No. 7 and became Wakeman's highest charting album there since 1975. A follow-up album, Piano Odyssey, was released in 2018.
In September and October 2019, Wakeman embarked on his first solo American tour in 13 years, playing piano shows. Wakeman's Christmas-themed piano album, Christmas Portraits, was released in November 2019.
In January 2020, Wakeman started recording a new progressive rock album which was set for release in March. The album's title was revealed as The Red Planet and, according to Wakeman, harks back to albums such as The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Criminal Record; it was due for release on 3 April 2020 and features the English Rock Ensemble. It was delayed again to be released "nearer to June realistically", due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Wakeman is a noted player of the grand piano, electric piano, pipe organ, Hammond organ, Minimoog and many later models of synthesiser, he is well known as a proponent (for a time) of the Mellotron – an analogue electronic musical instrument that uses a bank of pre-recorded magnetic tape strips, each of which is activated by a separate key on its keyboard and lasts approximately 8 seconds. Wakeman featured playing this instrument, to varying degrees, on the David Bowie track "Space Oddity", the Yes albums Fragile, Close to the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans, as well as the solo albums The Six Wives of Henry VIII and White Rock. An urban legend claims that Wakeman got so frustrated with one Mellotron that he poured petrol on it and set fire to it, but this was debunked in a 2010 interview. Wakeman did however confirm the urban legend in a 2016 interview. He subsequently worked with David Biro to develop the Birotron, which used the then popular 8-track cassette format rather than tape strips. Because of the advent of digital keyboards at that time, and expensive components used in the instruments' manufacture, the Birotron was never a commercial or technical success. Only 35 Birotrons were produced. These days, he can be found with more modern instruments such as the Korg Kronos, Yamaha Montage, and the Memotron, a new digital version of the original Mellotron.
In 2011 MusicRadar included Wakeman among "The 27 greatest keyboard players of all time". In 2019 readers of Prog voted him the second greatest progressive rock keyboard player, with the magazine stating, "Wakeman's time with Yes helped define prog as we know it, being filled with timeless brilliance [...] The man's style is fluent, and underlines a love of many genres, all cohesively brought into focus." Keyboardists who have cited Wakeman as an influence included Dave Greenfield of the Stranglers and Mark Kelly of Marillion, who cited Wakeman as his primary influence. Keith Emerson was also a close friend of Wakeman's and expressed admiration for his work.
Wakeman has been married four times and has six children. At the age of 20, he married Rosaline Woolford on 28 March 1970 and had two sons, Oliver (b. 26 February 1972) and Adam (b. 11 March 1974). They divorced in 1977. Wakeman then married Swiss-born Danielle Corminboeuf, a recording studio secretary, in January 1980 in the West Indies and lived with her in Montreux. They had one son, Benjamin (b. 1978), before they divorced in late 1980. In 1981, Wakeman met former Page 3 model Nina Carter and had a daughter, Jemma Kiera (b. 1983), before they married in November 1984 and had a son, Oscar (b. 1986). The couple separated in 2000 and divorced in 2004.
In 2004, Wakeman revealed that he had had an extramarital affair with American-born designer Denise Gandrup, who first met Wakeman in 1972 and made several of his capes. After they split in 1981, they reconnected in 1985 and had one daughter, Amanda (b. 1986). Wakeman felt it best to keep the relationship and child secret to protect his family, but continued to financially support his daughter.
In December 2011, Wakeman married journalist Rachel Kaufman. They currently live in Diss, Norfolk.
Wakeman has faced a number of health issues. In his twenties, Wakeman suffered three heart attacks due to his unhealthy lifestyle of smoking and heavy drinking. The first two were minor and he was told they may not have been noticed. The third occurred soon after a performance of Journey to the Centre of the Earth at Crystal Palace Park in July 1974. Wakeman quit smoking in 1979. In 1985, Wakeman's drinking led to cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholic hepatitis, and he has been teetotal since. In 1999, Wakeman suffered from a case of double pneumonia and pleurisy and was placed in an induced coma. At one point during his stay in hospital, his doctors gave him 24 hours to live. In 2016, Wakeman announced he has diabetes.
In the 1970s, Wakeman met Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and bought Tropical Saint, a racehorse that belonged to her. After it died, he bought Balinloning, a small horse that he had in care for a year and entered in races. In 1979, he became a director of Brentford F.C., a post which he held for a year. In 1983, he became chairman of Camberley Town F.C. In 2009, he became a patron of Tech Music Schools.
After his mother's death in the mid-1990s, he bought a house in Tenerife.
He had a renewal of his Christian faith which began at around the time of his 1984 marriage to Carter.
Wakeman is a supporter of the British Conservative Party, saying he was "unique in the band (Yes) as a card-carrying Conservative".
He was a presenter for the Planet Rock radio station from 2006 to 2010.
In 2007, he became a Freemason and joined Chelsea Lodge No. 3098, the membership of which is made up of entertainers. His father had been a member of the Brent Valley Lodge, and the support that Wakeman and his mother received from his friends at the Lodge following his death became a catalyst for Wakeman to learn more about it and become one himself. In 2011, he joined the Knights Templar fraternity. In May 2014, he was installed as the 110th Worshipful Master of the Chelsea Lodge while he was also the King Rat of the showbusiness fraternity and charity the Grand Order of Water Rats. He was the host of the Grumpy Old Rockstar's Chelsea Lodge Ladies Festival in 2015. Wakeman, wearing his Masonic apron, appeared as a frequent on-screen speaker in the five-part documentary Inside the Freemasons produced by the BBC in 2017.
In a 2010 interview, he was critical of Wikipedia, saying it has too many inaccuracies and mistakes, and that he would love to see it "closed down".
In June 2017, he was the castaway for the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. His favourite piece was Giuseppe Verdi's Anvil Chorus and his book choice was Principles of Orchestration by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Wakeman was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2021 Birthday Honours for services to music and broadcasting.
Main article: Rick Wakeman discography