Art/Instrumental/Progressive Rock U.K. 1970s (Tracks)
Rick Wakeman (Perivale, London, U.K.)
“Catherine Howard” (written by Rick Wakeman) A3 track included on the album “The Six Wives Of Henry VIII”
Released on A&M Records ( AMLH 64361) on 23rd January 1973
The Six Wives of Henry VIII is the first studio album by the English keyboardist Rick Wakeman, released in January 1973 on A&M Records. It is an instrumental progressive rock album with its concept based on his interpretations of the musical characteristics of the six wives of Henry VIII. After signing with A&M as a solo artist, Wakeman decided on the album’s concept during a tour of the United States as a member of the rock band Yes. As he read a book about the subject on his travels, melodies he had written the previous year came to him and were noted down. Musicians from Yes and from Strawbs, the group Wakeman was in prior to Yes, also play on the album.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII received mostly positive reviews from critics. It reached number 7 on the UK Albums Chart and number 30 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. It was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1975 for over 500,000 copies sold in the United States. In 2009, Wakeman performed the album in its entirety for the first time live at Hampton Court Palace as part of the 500th anniversary celebration of Henry’s accession to the throne. The tracks were rearranged with sections, including a track dedicated to Henry himself, that were left off the original album due to the limited time available on a single record. The album was reissued in 2015 with a quadraphonic sound mix and bonus tracks.
In August 1971, Rick Wakeman joined the progressive rock band Yes as a replacement to their original keyboardist Tony Kaye. Towards the end of the year, he signed a five-album deal as a solo artist with A&M Records. While touring the United States with Yes on their Fragile Tour promote Fragile (1971), Wakeman was informed by his manager Brian Lane that A&M co-founder and executive Jerry Moss wished to meet him at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Moss wished for Wakeman to record a solo album and offered an advance of $12,500, around £4,000, to produce it which Wakeman accepted. As part of his signing on fee, Wakeman received a 1957 Cadillac limousine from A&M which he claimed was once owned by Clark Gable and had it shipped to England. Wakeman chose it after the label asked him what he would want as a present and remembered he had seen the car in the building’s parking lot.
During the Fragile Tour, Wakeman bought four books at an airport bookstall in Richmond, Virginia, including one about Henry VIII and his six wives titled The Private Life of Henry VIII (1964) by Scottish writer Nancy Brysson Morrison. As he read about Anne Boleyn on the subsequent flight to Chicago, a theme he recorded in November 1971 ran through his mind which he wrote on some hand drawn ledger lines and played during the sound check and the subsequent concert. Said Wakeman, “I had been searching for a style to write in and suddenly I found it in writing music about these six ladies…I would concentrate on one of the wives and then music just came into my head and I would write it down. Sometimes I was flying, other times I was on stage, or just in front of the piano at home … The six wives theme gave me the thread, the link, I needed to give me a reason for putting these pieces of music together.” He explains the album’s concept further in its liner notes: “The album is based around my interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments.” Wakeman elaborated and wrote the music as if he was doing a surreal painting, “sketches of how I felt about them at the time”.
Not only did this album help pave the way for progressive rock, but it also introduced the unbridled energy and overall effectiveness of the synthesizer as a bona fide instrument. Six Wives gave Wakeman his chance to break away from the other instrumental complexities that made up Yes and allowed him to prove what a driving force the keyboard could truly be, especially in full album form. More than just synthesized wandering, Wakeman astoundingly conjures up a separate musical persona by way of an instrumental ode to each of Henry VIII’s wives through his dazzling use of the Mellotron, Moog, and Hammond C-3 organ. For example, Wakeman’s fiery runs and fortissimo thwarting of the synthesizer throughout “Anne Boleyn” is a tribute to her feisty temper and valiant courage that she maintained while standing up to her husband. With “Jane Seymour,” on the other hand, Wakeman’s playing is somewhat subdued and gentle, which coincides with her legendary meekness and frailty, as well as her willingness to cater to Henry VIII. Wakeman’s masterful use of his synthesizers is instrumentally stunning, as is his talent of magically shaping the notes to represent behavioral idiosyncrasies of his characters. Yes bassist Chris Squire lends a hand on “Catherine of Aragon,” while guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Bill Bruford appear on a few tracks as well, as does former Strawbs member Dave Cousins, playing the electric banjo. The Six Wives of Henry VIII unleashes the unyielding power of the keyboard as a dominant instrument, but also displays Wakeman at the beginning of an extremely resplendent career as a solo musician.
It says in the fine print of Rick Wakeman’s first solo album that the music is “based around [my] interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII.” The idea for the album came from the book of the same name, which Yes’ Wakeman purchased at a London airport. He writes that the music for each of Henry’s wives came flowing inside his head as he read about them. A bit apocryphal perhaps, but apparently Wakeman found what he was looking for — a theme through which he could expose his keyboard virtuosity. He overdubbed eight of them: Mini-Moog synthesizer, mellotron with brass and string effects, a Steinway Grand piano, another mellotron with voice effects, C-3 Hammond organ, RMI electric piano, Arp synthesizer and a Thomas Goff harpsichord.
Placing himself in the middle of these various keyboards, Wakeman created a synthesized orchestra. Along with a rhythm section often composed of Yes’ Chris Squire on bass, Steve Howe on guitar and the group’s recently acquired drummer Alan White, he used the electric piano to take the place of strings, the electric harpsichord to replace the sound of reeds, and the Arp to replace a contra bassoon.
With this album, Wakeman has made his bid for Keith Emerson’s place as the master of keyboard electronics. Though falling a little short in technique, he has a brilliant feel for tasteful impressionistic composition. For example, “Catherine Of Aragon,” at first sounds like ELP’s “Tarkus,” but evolves into a more melodic cut featuring some human choral work by Liza Strike, Barry St. John and Judy Powell.
The brightest spot on the album is “Catherine Howard,” which contains at least four time changes and some amazing interplay between mellotron, harpsichord, Moog and acoustic piano.
Henry VIII is an exceptionally interesting instrumental album. The production is superb, the mixing tasteful with hardly an uncomfortable studio effect. In fact, most of what we would normally think of as effects are the product of Wakeman’s own playing which is just fine.
1. Catherine of Aragon (3:45)
2. Anne of Cleves (7:50)
3. Catherine Howard (6:36)
4. Jane Seymour (4:44)
5. Anne Boleyn (Incl. ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’) (6:31)
6. Catherine Parr (7:00)
Total Time: 36:36
– Rick Wakeman / Steinway grand piano, RMI electric piano, Hammond C3 organ, acoustic & electric harpsichord, Mini-Moog, ARP synthesizer, Mellotron 400D, Cripplegate St. Giles church organ (4), arrangements & production
– Mike Egan / guitar (1,2,5,6)
– Steve Howe / guitar (1)
– Dave Lambert / guitar (3)
– David Cousins / electric banjo (3)
– Chris Squire / bass (1)
– Dave Winter / bass (2,6)
– Chas Cronk / bass (3)
– Les Hurdle / bass (1,5)
– Bill Bruford / drums (1,5)
– Alan White / drums (2,4,6)
– Barry de Souza / drums (3)
– Ray Cooper / percussion (1,5)
– Frank Ricotti / percussion (2,3,6)
– Judy Powell / chorus (1)
– Barry St.John / chorus (1)
– Liza Strike / chorus (1,5)
– Laura Lee / chorus (5)
– Sylvia McNeill / chorus (5)
Engineer [Assistant] – Pete Flanagan* (tracks: A2 to B1, B3)
Engineer, Mixed By – Paul Tregurtha (tracks: A2 to B1, B3)
Producer, Written-By, Arranged By – Rick Wakeman
Technician [Keyboards & Amplification Set Up By] – Claude Johnson Taylor, John Cleary, Michael Tait (2), Philip Hepple
Custom built Hammond C-3 Organ, RMI Electric Piano & Harpsichord, 2 x Mini-Moog Synthesizer, Mellotron 400-D (Brass/Strings/Flutes), Mellotron 400-D (Vocals/Sound Effects/Vibes), Steinway 9’ Grand Piano, Frequency Counter, Custom Mixer.
In addition to the above instruments a Thomas Goff Harpsichord and ARP Synthesizer were used. All sounds put through two Steoreo Leslies, Fender Duel Showman Amp & two JBL Cabinets. Also used a custom built Oscillator, Fuzz & Wahwah Pedal and Binson Echo Unit. The organ on ‘Jane Seymour’ was recorded at St. Giles, Cripplegate.
‘Katherine Of Aragon’ was engineered and mixed at Trident Studios, London. ‘Anne Boleyn’ was engineered at Morgan Studios, London, and mixed at Trident Studios. All the remaining tracks were engineered and mixed at Morgan Studios.
Hymn at the end of ‘Anne Boylen’ which is ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended’.
Recorded between February and October, 1972. All songs published by Rondor Music.
This album is based around my interpretations of the musical characteristics of the wives of Henry VIII. Although the style may not always be in keeping with their individual history, it is my personal conception of their characters in relations to keyboard instruments. – Rick.
Rick Wakeman – “The Six Wives Of Henry VIII” Album cover photo (front)