Review: Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974)

Rick Wakeman – Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974)
Review taken from – http://www.ozprog.com/forum/showthread.php?p=164920#post164920
Progressive rock legend, Rick Wakeman is a name synonymous with prog, capes and synthesizers. Having recorded a nearly countless number of solo albums and probably most known for his stint in the seminal prog rock band YES, Wakeman is a master musician, composer and loves a good curry. I’ve known the music of YES for quite a while being that nearly all modern prog bands sight them as an influence at some point so just like Rush and Genesis, they’re one of those bands you just come across. Until recently however I had only heard a slight sprinkling of his solo work, and have an unplayed vinyl of Myths and Legends of King Arthur sitting in a cupboard with no record player to spin it on.

So I got my hands on some of his music. In what seemed like the same sort of musical awakening I had when I first got into progressive music, my world was thrown upside down as this music was coming from my speakers and going into my ears for my brain to process…and it was just an absolute joy to listen to. I had found something new in something old that has left me astounded and feeling a fresh wave of progressive appreciation.

So here comes the part where I review Wakeman’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”. Much like his first solo outing “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, “Journey…” is an exploration in musical space blending classical composition and instrumentation with electronic instruments and synthesizers, most notably and very much synonymous with Wakeman, the Minimoog. The main difference between his first album and this one however is the inclusion of narration and vocals which gives a lot of clarity to the concept.

Based on the Jules Verne story of the same name, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” musically chronicles the adventure of a group of people following in the trail of an adventurer from the past as they decend deep into the Earth to find the wild, fantastic and wonderful sights of this “world within a world”.

The album was recorded live in 1974 at the Royal Festival Hall in London and features the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir and it is every bit as impressive as that sounds. Wakeman’s orchestrations are just spectacular and he incorporates the traditional orchestra with the electronic sizzling of the Moogs and other synths so well, it feels like they’ve always gone hand in hand. Recorded only 3 years after he joined YES, and at only 24 years old it shows the definite hallmarks of a musical genius both in pure skill and the ability to write and compose for such a variety of musicians and working with traditional and contemporary instruments to make them work so well together.

Lead vocals are handled well by Gary Pickford-Hopkin and Ashley Holt, both of who are old school British prog singers but who I’m not familiar with at all. In front of such an epic backing band of prog keyboard legend, rock band, orchestra AND choir they do a fantastic job. The narration was handled by late British actor/director David Hemmings.

With only two tracks to it, coming from a world of vinyl and side A and B, it’s definitely a “sit down and get taken away” listening experience that clocks in at smack on 40 minutes.

For some people this review will be really old news, but for some people who might be interested in discovering some classic prog for the first time, or who like me have been aware of Wakeman’s solo work but never delved into it, “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” would be a great place to start. It’s every bit as bombastic and epic as Wakeman is when he graces the stage, cape flowing and surrounded by the tools of his trade.

A sequel album was released in 1999 which features narration by Patrick Stewart and includes vocal performances by Ozzy Osbourne, Bonnie Tyler, Justin Haward and more.

– Andrew Saltmarsh

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