Thursday, July 11, 2013

Anne of Cleves Rocks!

That title is what I thought to myself---and then laughed at the wording---as I listened to an old favorite album, Rick Wakeman’s “The Six Wives of Henry VIII.” The album was released forty years ago this past January, and I purchased the record not long afterward. I was in high school at the time, and I loved the group Yes, for which Wakeman was the keyboardist. “Close to the Edge” may be a classic of prog-rock or an example of prog-rock’s excesses, or both, but I played that album a lot at the time (still do sometimes), and I also loved “The Six Wives.” The other day, I was browsing at nearby Euclid Records in St. Louis and saw Wakeman’s CD for sale. My family and I had recently visited two wonderful Tudor-Stuart exhibitions in London, one at the V&A and one at Buckingham Palace; so English history was already on my mind. I decided to give an old favorite prog-rock album a new listen.

Looking around online, I learned that Wakeman purchased a book about Henry’s wives while he was waiting in the Richmond, VA airport in 1972. The stories of the women brought to his mind various melodies and musical ideas, some of which he had been already developing but which didn’t yet have a common theme. On the album he played the several keyboard parts himself, with other musicians providing the rhythm and guitar tracks, so you have these wonderful layers of organ, synthesizer, Mellotron, and piano to interesting effect. “Jane Seymour” is mostly performed on a church organ, but at one point the synthesizer comes in, a startling contrast.

I always thought that “Anne of Cleves” was a stand-out track, partly because the Yes drummer Alan White really rocks, along with Dave Winter’s excellent bass guitar work. But all six instrumental jazz-rock-classical pieces make up a wonderful set, paying homage to the awful king’s famous consorts.  During those teenage years, when part of me hoped I'd become a church musician or some kind of music-writer, Wakeman and other artists like Keith Emerson, Ray Manzarek, Mike Quatro, Nicky Hopkins, John Evans, and others gave me tons of inspiration and enjoyment.

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