By Andy Fawthrop
Well, yet again, we managed to put the lie to the ridiculous claim that “nothing ever happens in Devizes”. Last Saturday in the Corn Exchange, something very definitely happened. And there was a packed, sell-out crowd to witness it.
Rick Wakeman’s impromptu, and occasional, band KGB (standing for “Keyboards, Guitar & Bass” we were informed) hit the stage, and what a great show it was. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to get, but I wasn’t going to miss this chance to see a veritable rock legend playing live in our town. In the event there was no vast array of keyboards and electronica, no space-age stage clothes, no dry-ice machines, no flashy stage set. Instead the show was stripped down to its simple basics: stage left was Rick and his beautiful Bechstein piano, and stage right were Dave Colquhoun (guitar) and Matt Pegg (bass). Just a clear and uncluttered stage, with three musicians right at the top of their game.
Backstory (in case you don’t know): classically trained pianist Rick dropped out from the Royal College of Music to forge a career in music. Not only did he play on ‘Space Oddity’ with David Bowie at the start of his career as a session musician, not only was he an early member of The Strawbs, he later left to join rock supergroup Yes in 1971, recording many hit albums with them. This is an association he has maintained irregularly over subsequent years. Later he also recorded a number of highly successful solo albums: The Six Wives of Henry VIII, King Arthur & The Knights of The Round Table, and Journey to The Centre of the Earth.
Passages from these latter were liberally sprinkled through the two sets, and were met with ecstatic applause. But this was no mere romp through his back catalogue. The guys had worked on several newer pieces to particularly suit this line-up, featuring some interesting improvisations, and some wonderful re-working of such songbook classics as “Sweet Georgia Brown”.
In more recent years Rick has forged an additional side career as a professional raconteur, most recently as MC for Jongleurs comedy club, and has appeared on several series of the hit TV series “Grumpy Old Men”. These skills were much to the fore on Saturday, as Rick effortlessly engaged the audience with several hilarious anecdotes, some great jokes, and a wonderful continuing riff on the fact that the band’s vehicles had been ticketed outside the Corn Exchange during the day.
If anyone had been in any doubt, Rick immediately dispelled the notion that he might be slowing down or losing any of his skills. Not only does this man know his way around a keyboard – his playing was simply stunning – but he absolutely commanded the musical respect of his band, and he completely had the audience in the palm of his hand. From the first number, right through to the three pieces in the encore, the audience was spellbound. Everybody I talked to was saying the same words – “brilliant”, “superb”, “stunning” – and I’m not going to argue with that assessment.
Well done to Paul Chandler and Longcroft Productions for persuading Rick to come and play in D-Town, and congratulations for pulling off the staging of the show at the Corn Exchange on the night.
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