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INTERVIEW: Rick Wakeman's Grumpy Old Picture Show

HE has made a staggering 130 albums, 106 of which are solo and have sold more than 50 million copies – and, Yes, he is grumpy.

The piano-playing legend that is Rick Wakeman is heading for Worthing to share his life with the audience with his Grumpy Old Picture Show.

We're lucky to have he opportunity to see it, for the original plan was for just 14 dates last year.

"It's always nice to get good reviews and for this show the reviews were really excellent," said this down to earth and self-effacing man.

"My agent rang me and said loads of theatres had been on who wanted the show and could I do more.

"When the tour had finished, I really wished to do more, so I said all right then and asked how many he had already got. He said 23! So I said to leave it at that!

"The show is fun to do. There's only me on stage but it takes 92 people to get me there. The credits go up on the big screen and there are 92 names!"

Rick said the idea came about when he was talking to his friend Stuart Prebble, who is behind Grumpy Old Men, about a new project linking his music and the show.

"There was the idea of a big screen where I could show pictures, film clips of other musicians I can play along with, clips of teachers and people I used to know from years ago with silly stories in between and with me on keyboard – I thought it could be a cracker."

Then he realised the difficulties. "Some places can't do big screen projection, there's a lot to get on stage and software was needed that had to be made. It took six months to put the technical side together.

"But it's such great fun to do. I wanted to find my old teachers but I'm old and they're all dead so I got a local am dram society and wrote sketches. One review said the sketches were Little Britain meets Dick Emery. I take that as a compliment.

"There's a wide ranging audience comes along – Countdowners, Grumpy Old Men watchers, Yes fans, those who like the comedy from Live at Jongleurs – it's really mixed.

"Playing with some of the musicians on the big screen is a highlight for me and the fact that the show looks quite easy when you consider how incredibly difficult it was to do and incredibly expensive."

Is he grumpy in the show? "I'm always grumpy but I don't think grumpy means angry. It is moaning about things you have no control over.

"It's very English. We moan about the price of bread going up and then we buy two loaves. Anywhere else they would boycott bread until the price went down."

A DVD of the same name of the show is due to be released before the tour starts, which is "the show in essence but made in the studio".

Rick is the only person to have appeared in every one of BBC's Grumpy Old Men shows.

"Stuart was in my studio five or six years ago and we were just sitting down to shepherds pie when I asked if there were any ideas he was working on.

"He said a TV show with a lot of middle aged men sitting round moaning. 'You think that's TV?' I said. 'I think you're barking'

"'I'd like you on it,' he said. 'You're the epitome of the grumpy sort – a total grumpy old man.'

"I told him I couldn't see it working but how wrong can you be. I don't know if he's doing any more but it's on one channel or other every night. You can't improve on the Christmas one."

The list of projects Rick is working on is almost as long as his biography – he's playing in Bulgaria with the symphony orchestra, providing music for a German ice show and for a juggling show and he's been asked to play in 2009 at Hampton Court for the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII ascending the throne.

He's back in November with a Grumpy Old Men Christmas Picture Show – 12 performances and a new show with the same format – and he has cathedral concerts to prepare...

"There are always new projects – that's what I love about my work," he said.

Ambitions? He would love to write a ballet and be involved in a major musical. "For that, you really need to buy time, which is always the most difficult thing," he said.

He hopes to play with Yes, who are off on a massive tour, again some time in the future, too, and looking back at the highlights of his career he cites the album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

"There have been lots of highs and lows but I can't have wished to have been born at a better time than I was – to come through a developing musical era of such freedom for artistes in the '60s and '70s."

In fact, he gave up his studies at the Royal College of Music after two years. "I was doing lots of sessions when I should have been at college and I didn't know what to do.

"My tutor said certain doors are only once and that although it was a three-year course, some people would be finished in a few months while others would take five years.

"He said I had finished. I'm glad it worked out!"

Rick is at Worthing's Assembly Hall on April 18 at 8pm. Tickets are 23.50 from the box office on 01903 206206 or click here

Find out more about him by clicking here

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