Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

Rick Wakeman

A & M Records, 1974

REVIEW BY: Herb Hill


"Daddy, what's wrong with the dinosaur?"

In 1975 at the Sydney Myer Concert Bowl in Melbourne Australia 30,000 music fans were treated to an hour and a half of Rick Wakeman in the midst of what many consider his most energetic and productive period. Smack dab in between the 1973 release of The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and the 1975 release of The Myths & Legends Of King Arthur & The Knights Of The Round Table came Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Touring in support of the Journey album, which was inspired by the Jules Verne book, Wakeman used a full orchestra and a narrator who read passages from the book to enhance the mood for the audience. This performance is definitive "Classical Rock" and someone had the presence of mind to tape it.

1975 is a long way back so as I sat down to watch and listen to the DVD I wondered how it would stand up to the test of time. With rum and Coke in hand and youngest daughter colouring peacefully nearby on the carpet I pushed the play button. Hours later, having rerun the DVD three times, with rum and Coke long drained and daughter now safely ensconced on my lap I had to force myself to get up and not play it for the fourth time. The legs were a little stiff after sitting for so long. Frankly, the music has held up infinitely better than I have.

My youngest daughter is just seven years old, but she has seen Rick Wakeman twice in his latest visit back with the Yes crew. (She sat right in front of him this summer at the Toronto show and loved every minute!) To her, Rick Wakeman is a keyboard player who is part of Yes, is a little older than her dad and occasionally wears great big glasses when looking over sheet music of Yes' later works. But seven years olds are wondrous things. Still young enough to accept seemingly contradictory data without rejecting it out of hand; they have very few preconceived filters. So moving her backwards in time to 1975 through the technological wonder of the DVD is no major accomplishment. Accepting that the young (oh, SO young) man with the very long blond hair and the outrageous cape is the same Rick Wakeman that she saw in Toronto took nothing more than assurance from the old man that this was indeed the same guy.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So, accepting Wakeman on the screen as Wakeman from Yes was no problem… I wish I could say the same for the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs? Yes, there are dinosaurs in this video….

You see, seven year olds know ALL about dinosaurs. Seven year olds in the year 2002 have seen dinosaurs on TV, dinosaurs in books, dinosaurs in movies and dinosaurs in full motion video on the computer. Dinosaurs to a seven year old are fluid, moving, animate animals. They are not plastic blow-up dolls. But alas, in 1975 blow-up dinosaurs were all we had. The youngster was very confused as to the identity ("That's not a Dinosaur!!"), and purpose ("A special effect??") of the air filled apparition.

My point? The only things wrong with this DVD are things that cannot be helped because it was made in 1975. Where to start… well I guess I better explain the dinosaurs. At a certain part in the story of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, the group of underground travelers encounters dinosaurs. At that point in the concert two air filled plastic dinos of quite large size appear on stage behind the orchestra. It is, to say the least, a dated effect. There are a few other inevitable 70's drawbacks:

The vocalists are pure 70's stereotypes. With shirt unbuttoned to the navel and gold chain prominently displayed, Ashley Holt is a picture of 70's style. His vocal counterpart, Gary Pickford Hopkins, is wearing a shirt that can only be described as proto-Britney. However, more importantly, all of the vocals sound not just dated, but frankly, off key much of the time. (I kept expecting Holt to break into the "Love Boat" theme at any second… too much rum perhaps….) The sound quality is actually worse that I expected, even for a seventies recording, and the orchestra is overhyped and underused. So, I must hate the whole DVD then, right? On the contrary. For under all of the layers of seventies dust is Wakeman at his pretentious best.

Talent of this caliber breeds its own atmosphere. Two vocalists, an orchestra, a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, two plastic dinosaurs and Lord knows what else that I might have missed still can't begin to enclose the talent that Wakeman exudes. He brought them all along to show us that he could outdo them! And he does. Like a radioactive element Wakeman is too hot to hold for this vessel.

There is only one container that can hold and enhance Wakeman's talent - but Yes is not a part of this particular picture. Yet, I cannot help but wonder how Anderson and Squire might have improved the vocals; how Howe might have added some particular nuance to the atmosphere and how White or Bruford might have brought the acceptable percussion up a level or two. Of all the Yes alumni, Wakeman is the best solo artist. Yet even he is better with, than without them. There is a reason that Wakeman keeps rejoining Yes and I think it has a lot to do with symbiosis.

Although there are other musicians physically on stage with Wakeman they are not with him musically. His fingers fly across the multiple stacked keyboards. Melodies and rhythms churn from within his smoky circle of magic. He closes his eyes and the music flows from within his soul and pours onto the audience held rapt within his grasp. The orchestra and other accompanying artists can only chatter and twist in the turbulence of his passing.

The concert is at its best when everyone else shuts up and Wakeman flies off by himself, but this is definitely an "A" DVD. Wakeman is like Porsche; There truly is no other.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2002 Herb Hill and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.