Rick Wakeman - The Six Wives of Henry VIII Deluxe Edition

Rick Wakeman – The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Deluxe Edition

My brother (who has 2 years on me) is the obsessive Yes addict and the copy of Six Wives was his. He was at boarding school and I wasn’t, so much of his record collection stayed at home for me to access freely. At this point Rick Wakeman was mysterious and cool – we didn’t have all the information available to us today so he could hide his Essex blokey-bloke cheekiness under his magical cloak back then. I was a doting subject of the musical magicians who created these alchemical 12-inch black discs. From within the midst of the prog phenomenon of Yes popped this unexpected totally instrumental album, possibly having had Tubular Bells leading the way and enabling such an audacious, zero vocal mainstream release.

Wakemans’ band mates were clearly with him on this solo excursion and the results were better than many friends and critics were expecting. The opening disjointed piano/drum parts of Catherine of Aragon heralded a baroque piece, broken up with the intrusion of the Hammond organ juxtaposing the ‘Now’ with the ‘Then’. The gentle mono synth part sounding out of this world (at the time) also seemed to introduce the future. Throw in a choral part and the stage is set for a time crossing journey.

But Anne of Cleeves appears to be an entirely different character, for she seems to be entirely rooted in the early ’70s; the track is a jazz jam. Listening retrospectively this is a lively funk groove and Rick is indulging himself with having some of the best musicians available to simply rock out and provide him with a solid band to solo over. I have a suspicion that a wobbly synth chord in the middle of the track is simply there to segue from one jam recording into another. Listening to this pristine version surprises me because I thought the wobbly synth was caused by the inadequacies of our record player!

So now might be as well to speak of the ‘Deluxe edition’. The tracks have been re-mastered and with a gap of 20 years between listenings I have a poor point of reference regarding any differences but this recording sounds great, very clean and clear with subtleties that I would never have heard with the original, partially due to the limited resources of the best hi-fi we could achieve as teenagers.

After the crescendo-rock-band-crash of Anne of Cleeves, Catherine Howard proves to be the most memorable wife (I would argue), being the only one with a melody – and it is lovely. A lilting piano tune augmented by Dave Lambert’s wonderful acoustic guitar interlude. This is the stand-out track on the album for its cohesion. Unfortunately it is marred by a seemingly random comedy-bar-room honky tonk piano section which is mercifully short before returning to an otherwise great track and possibly the best piece of music Wakeman has ever written. This CD/DVD is remixed from original tapes so it has limitations compared to a digital recording made today. The final passage features a flute finalising the melody and has a distinctly poor rendering of the clarity of sound by today’s standards, the remixing unable to improve the rendering to any great degree.

Wakeman was of no little influence in the early ’70s and he used it to elbow his way into St. Giles-without-Cripplegate Church to record Jane Seymour; “I couldn’t reproduce the sound I needed on an electronic organ, so we got permission to move the recording equipment into St. Giles”. Rick brought in more choral voices here and this introduced a theme of grandeur into his music and may have helped to ‘up the ante’ for his progressive music peers with the pomp and ceremony of prog which was encroaching on the artistic merits of the music itself.

Anne Boleyn is given a more upbeat treatment, featuring the choir again but interestingly used more as a chordal instrument within the music, and has the other most memorable theme, played through his signature whizzy portamento synths and leading into a very lovely empty and atmospheric open sound that breaks back to the jaunty Elizabethan tinged arpeggios, finally left hanging on the single high note dying out to end the album. If this was 1973 it would be replaced by the stylus popping every 4 seconds as it ploughs a furrow around the A&M label.

Overall it is a pleasure to revisit a record that was listened to so much back then. Apparently Mr Wakeman didn’t really write the music about the wives, he just used them as totems to provide a theme to his album. He was right to do so as having the theme gave the record a cohesion it wouldn’t otherwise possess. I think this turned out to be Wakeman’s best solo outing even though much of it is quite unmemorable. It isn’t filled with great hooklines or strong melodies throughout with the exception of Catherine Howard, so listening again often feels like listening for the first time. The music stands up surprisingly well to the passing of 40 years – partially because the early grainy synthesizers of the time are so back in vogue right now!

This Deluxe edition also features the first track mix of Catherine of Aragon which doesn’t differ significantly from the album mix, shortened versions Anne Bolyen and Catherine Parr on the CD. The additional DVD features the full album remixed into Quadrophonic and a video of Rick Wakeman and band playing Catharine Howard on The Old Grey Whistle Test, which is remarkable for the bands’ lack of charisma and entertaining for the missed moments where Rick forgets to hit the keyboard parts in time with the pre-recorded music!

Disc 1 – CD: Original Album 2014 Remaster + Bonus Tracks

01. Catherine Of Aragon (3:49)
02. Anne Of Cleves (7:52)
03. Catherine Howard (6:38)
04. Jane Seymour (4:50)
05. Anne Boleyn (‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’) (6:36)
06. Catherine Parr (7:09)
~ Bonus tracks:
07. Catherine Of Aragon [1st mix] (3:48)
08. Anne Boleyn (‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’) [single edit] (3:13)
09. Catherine Parr [single edit] (3:41)

Time – 47:38

Disc 2 – DVD: Quad Mix in 2 Formats & LPCM Stereo Mix plus BBC TV Material
01. Catherine Of Aragon [Quad mix] (3:45)
02. Anne Of Cleves [Quad mix] (7:55)
03. Catherine Howard [Quad mix] (6:34)
04. Jane Seymour [Quad mix] (4:47)
05. Anne Boleyn {‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’} [Quad mix] (6:37)
06. Catherine Parr [Quad mix] (7:06)
07. Catherine Howard [BBC TV Video from the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ 16/01/1973] (5:30)

Time – 42:20

Total time – 89:58

Rick Wakeman – Keyboards
~ With:
Bill Bruford – Drums (original album tracks 1 & 5)
Ray Cooper – Percussion (tracks 1 & 5)
Dave Cousins – Electric Banjo (track 3)
Chas Cronk – Bass Guitar (track 3)
Barry de Souza – Drums (track 3)
Mike Egan – Guitar (tracks 1, 2, 5 & 6)
Steve Howe – Guitar (track 1)
Les Hurdle – Bass Guitar (tracks 1 & 5)
Dave Lambert – Guitar (track 3)
Laura Lee – Vocals (track 5)
Sylvia McNeill – Vocals (track 5)
Judy Powell – Vocals (track 1)
Frank Ricotti – Percussion (track 2, 3 & 6)
Chris Squire – Bass Guitar (track 1)
Barry St. John – Vocals (track 1)
Liza Strike – Vocals (tracks 1 & 5)
Alan White – Drums (tracks 2, 4 & 6)
Dave Winter – Bass Guitar (tracks 2 6)

Record Label: Universal Music / A&M Records
Year Of Release: 2015 (originally 1973)

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