Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Released: October 13, 2009
When you combine Rick Wakeman with a celebration of the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s ascension to the throne of England, things are bound to be a bit over-the-top. Not to disappoint, Wakeman comes out in royal robes with six “wives” in period dress and the whole thing happens right in Henry’s old home, Hampton Court Palace.
Wakeman is great. The English Rock Ensemble is great. The Orchestra Europa is great. The English Chamber Choir is great. From a technical point of view, all of this is to be expected. The venue is fabulous as well. For anything less bombastic than Wakeman’s musical interpretation of Henry’s wives, it might be overkill, but for this, it’s perfect and it’s completely clear why Wakeman always hoped to perform it here. While the venue is well-shown, the downside is that the players’ faces get more screen time than their fingers. Wakeman is one of the most enjoyable keyboardists to simply watch. His hands do things that just seem unnatural and sadly, this film doesn’t offer much opportunity to enjoy that.
The thing from which prog suffers most, and Wakeman is perhaps one of the biggest offenders in this respect, is its inaccessibility. Unlike most rock music, the average fan can neither pick up a guitar and learn the songs nor even understand the esoteric themes. What’s beautiful in this concert is that it bridges that huge chasm that exists in a remarkably simple way: The performance is narrated by actor Brian Blessed and it is his dramatic readings and earthy humor that are not only engaging in their own right, but also bring the whole over-the-top performance back to earth in a way that even prog skeptics can appreciate.
This set also comes in CD format separately. While this will surely please Wakeman fans, the DVD is more exciting and has a much broader appeal.
If you’re curious about my rating categories, read the description.