Rick Wakeman’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” Released on DVD for 30th Anniversary 2006

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Journey on DVD

By Lorraine Kay

October 2006 – Thirty years ago on a stage in Melbourne, Australia, keyboardist Rick Wakeman made music history as he performed his epic “Journey to the Center of the Earth” live. Lucky for fans in the 21st century, it was recorded and has now been re-released by Classic Pictures on DVD with 30 minutes of never before seen footage.

The spectacular 94-minute concert was recorded live on February 4th 1975 at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne, Australia. The concert with all its theatrics featured Wakeman and his band joined for the first time with the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra and The Melbourne Chamber Choir conducted by Verdon Williams

The concert was previously released on DVD by Classic Pictures, but this new 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition has included a mini-documentary entitled “The Lost Journey” The tour footage was filmed by tour vocalist Gary Pickford Hopkins on a Super 8 mm camera (considered a state of the art cameras at the time) giving this film an up close and personal look at the band and crew. The ‘Journey” begins a in 1974 and follows the band through Australia and New Zealand in 1975 as they make their way to the Melbourne stage, their final destination.

But the “Lost Journey” is more than an edited version of a lot of silent home movies. It has been creatively edited with footage of present day comments from the band, making the “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” DVD even more valuable to fans.

Rick Wakeman performing in Melbourne 30 years ago

In January 2005 for the very first time in 30 years Rick Wakeman and original band members, guitarist Roger Newell, vocalist Ashley Holt, drummer Barney James and vocalist Gary Pickford Hopkins were reunited at Shepperton Studios. Not only were the musicians meeting again for the first time in 30 years, but they were about to see the exclusive Super 8 mm footage for the first time as well.

The “Lost Journey” not only shows never seen before footage from the 1975 tour, but it records the musicians 30 years later sitting in Shepperton Studios around a table to watch the film for the first time and comment on their great adventure. Instantly, the images on the screen stir up memories of the tour and as they relive the intimacy of traveling and working with so many friends funny anecdotes emerge  

It’s obvious that each one is enjoying the film, something kin to a family vacation video, as they live through it all over again. Rick especially was excited to see footage of the tour plane sporting the Rick Wakeman logo – something he didn’t know existed before seeing it on screen.

Rick Wakeman today

The most incredible thing about watching “The Lost Journey” is to be able to see the contrast of the young men on tour and the mature men 30 years later. They are five old friends sitting around a table drinking tea and reminiscing about their glory days – raving about the masses of beer and scotch that were consumed and the incredible pranks played on various members of the cast. And then sadly reality clicks in and a somber atmosphere arises as various scenes remind them that at least half a dozen people on the screen have since died. But it has been 30 years and sadly that is to be expected.

This is a fascinating documentary with deep insight into their unforgettable journey and life on the road across the globe. In addition to the five friends we get to see the entire ban, including guitarist Jeffrey Crampton and percussionist John Hodgson.  This is a wonderful, unexpected extra feature and a collector’s dream.

And then there is the concert in all its excitement and theatrics. This spectacular 94-minute concert was recorded live with the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra in 1975, at the Sydney Myer concert Bowl in Melbourne, Australia. It was presented to a sell-out crowd of tens of thousands at the end of the “Journey Tour” to promote the album “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, which by the way sold over 12 million copies worldwide.

The concert opens with the greatest hits from Rick’s biggest selling albums – “Catherine Parr” from “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, and “Guinivere” from “Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”, which was – at that time – his newest album. Then in classic Rick Wakeman style the show dramatically presents “Journey” with all the flare and stage production complete with cheap inflatable dinosaurs and actor Terry Taplin, settled in a wicker fan chair throughout from which he narrates the Jules Verne story.

Watching the video, it reminds us that when Wakeman took to that stage in Melbourne, he was the world’s number one keyboard player at the very pinnacle of his legendary progressive rock career and no fewer than twelve million people bought his theatrical Journey To The Centre Of The Earth album.

Dressed to the nines in all his caped glory you can see Wakeman with his stacks of many keyboards, his costume flaring and whirling dramatically as he moved from keyboard to keyboard. Appearing as though he just stepped out of one of his epic albums.

As an encore, Wakeman performs four more tunes, beginning with “Catherine Howard” in a brand new arrangement; this one gives guitarist Jeffrey Crampton the chance to really shine. Next he gave the audience a treat as he performs another track from his latest album Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table”, called “Merlin”. He then took a step into the past again as he offered up “Anne Boleyn” from “Henry the VIII” with so much passion as if he was in a trance. Then returning to “Journey” there is a reprise of “The Forest” to bring to an end a remarkable concert.

Someone commented that the only thing better than watching this DVD is being there live. True the concert was incredible and being there would have been a treat, but once the concert was over, it was over.  Now with the DVD we can watch this live concert with all its historical significance it over and over.

Fans of Wakeman generally flock to every concert and every recording available.  In an exclusive question and answer sessions with Wakeman, he was asked if he continues to play the tunes from this DVD, Wakeman said, “Interestingly enough I did stop performing a lot of the music in the 1980’s as I thought people would have had enough of it, but after a tour where I just played new material, I got such a backlash from people who said that although they liked hearing the new stuff they also wanted to hear music from Journey, King Arthur and the 6 Wives of Henry VIII. This is when I discovered that you can put a “produced by” date on music, but not a “discard” date! I’m really glad this happened as over the years as instruments have changed, the arrangements of many of these pieces have changed a little giving them new leases of life albeit with keeping all the themes and melodies intact.”

Talking about instruments, Wakeman shared the impressive list of equipment he used to create the Journey concert. “At the time it was state of the art stuff. If I could replicate that rig it would be worth a fortune today! There were a couple of Mellotrons and four mini moogs, if I recall, plus an RMI electric piano and a Fender Rhodes. I think there was a Hohner Clavinet as well. A Hammond, C3 of course, would be amongst it all somewhere!!” Enough to make any keyboardist drool.

But today’s list of keyboards is equally impressive as he continues to incorporate some non-replaceable technology.  “As each year has gone by,” he explained, “I have added new keyboards to the collection. I don’t have a definitive rig as it changes according to the concert I am doing. The keyboards I use are a real mixture, some dating back to the early 70’s and some as new as being made this year,” he said. When asked about upgrading equipment he said, “To some extent, but some instruments such as the mini moog will always be in my set up when playing with the band. Digital pianos have meant that no longer do crews have to carry a grand piano everywhere we go. It’s called mix and match really.” 

“Journey” has become an icon of progressive rock. Some fans think it can never be matched, but if it is, it has to be created by Wakeman.  When asked if he has any other like projects in the wings, “I wish!!” he said. “Working with orchestras and choirs is very expensive! Given the opportunity I would jump at it. At the moment I am working in the studio on an album called RETRO-RESPECTIVE which interestingly enough is being recorded using all vintage keyboards that I have collected over the years. It is due out later this year on President Records in the UK.”

In addition to the “Retro-Respective” CD fans want to know what else can they expect from him in the near future? “I really don’t know myself to be honest. In England I am doing more and more television and am involved in all kinds of programs from comedy to quiz shows. There will certainly be more DVD’s produced and more CDs as well. 2006 will see my last year of solo touring.” 

He talked a bit about YES and answered questions about his future with that band.

“There are things being discussed,” he confessed. “But anything concerning YES always takes months, if not years, to reach fruition or any kind of decision, so who knows!! Most of us tend to find out what we’re meant to be doing from the YES website as they generally know what’s going on before any of us in the band do!”  

Fans will be glad to hear that Wakeman may be trouing in the U.S. in 2006, however, it may be his last. “My American manager, Paul Silveira, is looking at putting a final farewell tour together for sometime during 2006. Strangely enough though, promoters don’t seem to be getting the message that this will be my last tour and are saying daft things like suggesting I do a band tour next year and one with an orchestra the year after.” He added with conviction, “We tell them that 2006 will be the last and they say I’ll change my mind. American promoters obviously don’t know me very well!!

And finally as the Q * A session drew to an end, he was asked what kind of things would he like to do that he has not yet. “When they bang the last nail in the coffin I will still be shouting “I haven’t finished yet”. There is so much I would like to do. I have a musical I would like to complete and a light opera as well. There is the outline of both a symphony and concerto in the wings. It’s all a matter time and finance though as these projects would take at least a year each to complete and that would mean considerable funding ………in the meantime I just carry on doing whatever I am doing at the time!! 

And luckily much of his greatest works are still available for listening and viewing pleasure. And that brings us back to “Journey”. This is no ordinary DVD, as it has a more historic importance rather than trying to obtain the highest recognition in the quality control department. The concert is in raw format so you are seeing the real thing. No special effects even when at times someone runs in front of the camera throwing a huge shadow onto the stage, it is all there.  This is most certainly one of the most prized possessions for any real Wakeman fan, with the hope, for now, of more to come.