RICK WAKEMAN-THE MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE.

RICK WAKEMAN-THE MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE.

In January 1973,  Rick Wakeman released his sophomore album The Six Wives Of Henry VIII. It was a groundbreaking album, one that would forever change prog rock. The Six Wives Of Henry VIII was the album that legitimised synths in prog rock. This was a game-changer. 

Following the success of The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, synths became commonplace in prog rock. However, without Rick Wakeman and The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, maybe, the history of prog rock would’ve been very different? Two years later, and Rick Wakeman, prog rock pioneer’s life was turned upside down. However, before that, Rick Wakeman would enjoy further success with another concept album, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.

Following the success of The Six  Wives Of Henry VIII, Rick Wakeman began work on his third album, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. This was another concept album. It was based on Jules Vernes’ science fiction novel Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, which was published in 1864. It inspired Rick to write and record another prog rock opus.

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth featured two lengthy tracks written by Rick Wakeman. The Journey/Recollection, which lasted twenty-one minutes, would fill side one of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Side two featured The Battle/The Forest, which lasted nearly nineteen minutes. However, these two tracks weren’t recorded in a studio.

No. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth was recorded at the Festival Hall, London. On 18th January 1974, Rick Wakeman, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir and a select group of musicians who Rick named The English Rock Ensemble. With such an ambitious project, Rick wasn’t taking chances. Two concerts were scheduled and both were recorded. The second concert would feature on the completed version of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, which was released on 9th May 1974.

Before the release of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, critics had their say. To say reviews were mixed is an understatement. Among the less favourable reviews, words like a “classical pastiche” “genuinely appalling” and “brutal synthesiser overkill” peppered reviews. For Rick this was hugely disappointing. It had been a hugely ambitious project, one which took a lot out of him. However, other critics, especially the rock critics, were much more open minded. They gave Journey To The Centre Of The Earth glowing reviews. Maybe, Rick’s hard work was about to pay off?

When Journey To The Centre Of The Earth was released on 9th May 1974, Rick Wakeman had the last laugh. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth reached number one in Britain and number three in the US Billboard 200 charts. This resulted in Journey To The Centre Of The Earth being certified gold in America. Rick Wakeman had been vindicated. However, his world was about to be turned upside down.

The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table.

Following the release of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, Rick Wakeman was getting ready to begin work on his fourth album. Then disaster struck. Rick had the first of three minor heart attacks. He was taken to Wexham Park Hospital, near Slough, in Berkshire. That’s where Rick recuperated and began writing The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table, which was recently rereleased as a double album by Universal Music Group.

When Rick was admitted to the Wrexham Park Hospital, the prognosis wasn’t good. Far from it. The doctor advised Rick to stop playing and touring.  If he retired, his health might improve. Rick wasn’t amenable to this suggestion. So, that night, he penned The Last Battle, the track which would eventually, close The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table. This was the start of Rick Wakeman’s recovery.

The suggestion that Rick Wakeman retired seemed to inspire him. So, whilst recovering from the heart attack, Rick wrote most of The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table at Wrexham Park Hospital. Before long, his health had improved and he was ready to record The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table.

Recording of The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table began at Morgan Studios, London, on 16th October 1974. Right through to the 10th January 1975, Rick and his band recorded the seven tracks that became The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table. Rick’s band included the rhythm section of drummer Barney James, bassist Roger Newell and Geoff Crampton on lead and acoustic guitar.  They were joined by percussionist John Hodgson and The English Chamber Choir. Taking charge of the lead vocals were Gary Pickford-Hopkins  and Geoff Crampton. Rick who produced The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table, played synths, keyboards and grand piano. Once recording was completed on 10th January 1975, The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table was released in April 1975.

Before that, the critics had to have their say about The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table. This time, generally, reviews were more favourable. Gone were the scathing, jaundiced reviews that preceded Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Things were looking good for Rick Wakeman.

On the release of The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table, in April 1975, it reached number two in Britain and number twenty-one on  the US Billboard 200 charts. This resulted in Rick’s third consecutive gold disc in America. The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table also was certified gold in Japan, Australia and Brazil. Things were indeed, looking up for Rick Wakeman. However, according to the musical rumour mill, there was a problem.

Rick had decided to tour The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table, to support the album. This included three nights at Wembley, which was billed as King Arthur On Ice. Although these nights sold out, rumours persisted that Rick Wakeman had taken a large financial hit. Some rumour mongers went as far as to suggest that Rick had been declared bankrupt. That was far from the truth. 

Later, it became apparent that Rick never lost money on the tour that accompanied The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table. Indeed, the tour and album had been a profitable venture, selling over twelve million copies worldwide. Not bad for an album Rick Wakeman wrote in his hospital bed, and released forty years ago, when prog rock, like Arthur was King? Has The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table stood the test of time though?

Opening The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table is Arthur. From the spoken word introduction, the drama unfolds. Horns sound, drums roll and strings sweep. They add a dramatic, theatrical backdrop. Soon, a harpsichord plays,  and then synths. They’re the polar opposite of the harpsichord. They work though. Especially, as horns sound, stabs of piano punctuate the arrangement, while the lushest of strings sweep. Only then, is it time for the vocal to enter. Everything has been leading up to this moment, when he tells the story of the “bravest knight”and his quest. From there, slowly, and dramatically, they provide the backdrop for his story. Eventually, as the choir sing, strings cascade, drums pound, a piano plays and Rick’s bank of synths are prevalent, as “his quest for the sword complete…Arthur is the king of all this land.” Dramatic and stirring, with a sense of theatre, Rick Wakeman brings to life the Arthur’s quest.

Lady Of The Lake is just a short track, lasting less than a minute. However, it features a heartfelt delivery from The English Chamber Choir.  Unaccompanied, they sing: “I am the lady of the lake, come take my sword, wear it by your side.” 

Seamlessly, Lady Of The Lake melts into Guinevere. Rick’s lone, wistful piano plays. It’s a scene setter. When it drops out, shimmer, almost sci-fi synths are sprinkled across the arrangement. They’re then joined by flourishes of piano. Although unlikely bedfellows, they’re like yin and yan, providing the perfect backdrop for a needy, hopeful vocal. Swathes of strings float above the arrangement, adding another contrast. So do bells that ring out, and harmonies from The English Chamber Choir. With flamboyant flourishes of Rick’s piano and his bubbling, squeaking, synths for company, the arrangement seamlessly comes together, taking on a joyous, celebratory sound. Adding the finishing touch to the now jaunty arrangement, are searing, blistering guitars and a masterclass from Rick on piano, on what’s a beautiful, dramatic marriage of prog rock and neo classical.

Straight away, Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight sounds like a soundtrack. String sweep and cascade urgently. Horns sound, and The English Chamber Choir interject urgently and dramatically.  Then adding to the drama, are Rick’s synths and a powerhouse of a vocal. It’s a mixture of urgency, drama and emotion. Especially, with The English Chamber Choir answering its call. Drums pound, strings cascade and horns sound. Synths add to the drama, as music’s past, present and future unite. Together, they provide a timeless, cinematic sounding track.

The English Chamber Choir open Merlin The Magician. They sing unaccompanied, adding to the sense of theatre and drama. So, does the piano and drama. In their own wistful way, they help paint pictures. That’s also the case with the strings and the dreamy washes of synths. Their lysergic sound floats above the arrangement, before the rhythm section and percussion interject. They add urgency and drama, as they add a glorious rocky sound. Later, it’s time for some of Rick’s sci-fi synths. Along with flourishes of piano, they help drive this near nine minute epic along. Quite simply, it’s beautiful, captivating, dramatic, elegiacal, graceful and urgent. 

Just like the previous track, The English Chamber Choir open Sir Galahad. It’s a case of closing your eyes and letting their collected voices wash over you. That’s also the case  with Rick’s lone, melancholy piano and lush synths. Then he throws a curveballs. The arrangement literally explodes, heading in the direction of rock opera. With a powerful, emotive vocal at the heart of the arrangement, the rhythm section, synths and percussion frantically drive the arrangement along. Then midway through the track, a sense of calm is restored. Just the vocal and flourishes of piano combine. However, it’s apparent that the arrangement is about to explode back into life. When it does, it references rock, funk, prog rock and choral music. Seamlessly, this genre-melting track makes sense and is one of the highlights of The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table.

Closing The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table is The Last Battle. It’s another epic track, one that lasts nearly ten minutes. The arrangement is understated washes of synths, hissing hi-hats and bells subtly ringing out. As the arrangement makes a cooing sound, an impassioned vocal takes centre-stage. It’s accompanied by a bass,  and soon, banks of synths, drums and percussion. They’re responsible for building the arrangement. So are The English Chamber Choir and horns that sound triumphantly. Later, strings cascade and the synths skip along, accompanied by a bounding bass. Percussion and bursts of piano interject, as Rick Wakeman and his multi-talented band have save the best until last. It’s a triumphant way to end any prog rock album, never mind a timeless genre classic, like The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table.

Forty years have passed since Rick Wakeman released The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table. It’s an album that’s stood the test of time. I’ll go much further than that. The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table is a stonewall, prog rock classic. However, it’s an album that very nearly, never was recorded.

Back in 1974, Rick Wakeman  was recuperating from a minor heart attack. His doctor recommended that Rick retire. However, Rick was only twenty-five. That wasn’t going to happen. Music was his life. As if determined to prove the doctor wrong, that day, Rick began work on The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table, and penned The Last Battle, which closed this prog rock Magnus Opus. A year later, and The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table was released to critical acclaim and commercial success.

Eventually, The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table sold over twelve million copies worldwide, and was certified gold in four continents. Forty years later, and Universal Music Group have reissued The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table as a double album. 

This is a very welcome reissue. On disc one is the remastered reissue, while disc two is a DVD, featuring the stereo and quadrophonic mixes. Accompanying the two discs, are the sleeve notes, which faithfully replicate the lyrics and artwork. It’s a lavish and lovingly reproduced booklet, one that many record company would do well to take inspiration from. 

Nowadays, many record company rush out albums. Neither care, nor attention, is taken to the mastering or packaging. Instead, a mountain of third albums of Nu-Soul, hip hop and remixes that are released each month. This month’s releases, are next month’s landfill. That’s a great shame, as a generation of music lovers are being short changed. Sadly, they’re not lucky enough to have grownup in an era where all that mattered was the quality of the music.

Back in the seventies, when prog rock, like Arthur, was King, artists like Rick Wakeman were constantly striving for perfection. This started with the music. Once an album, including Rhe Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table was completed, then the rest of the package was completed. Neither effort, nor expense was spared. That’s apparent on Universal Music Group’s recent reissue of The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table, which is a very welcome reissue.

For far too long, Rick Wakeman’s music has been unavailable. That’s a missed opportunity. After all, Rick Wakeman was a musical pioneer, who pushed musical boundaries. That’s the case on The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table. Over seven songs, Rick combines everything from choral and classical to folk and funk, right through to classic rock and prog rock. The music is variously beautiful, captivating, cinematic, elegiacal, ethereal and graceful, right through to dramatic, rousing, stirring and urgent. The music on this prog rock classic, where Rick Wakeman paints pictures, and in doing so, transports you back in time, to another place, where you discover The Myths and Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table.

RICK WAKEMAN-THE MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE.

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