Featured Album – The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Rick Wakeman

Ok, progrockers. Where are you? I haven’t heard much on the blogosphere about this album so it’s time to get some words out there about it. This was a pretty big album in its day (1973) in a way that prog-rock hasn’t really been since. 

Rick Wakeman of (one assumes) lovely Perivale, London, England is a classically trained keyboard player of no little renown. He has spent a significant amount of his life being the keyboard player for Yes.

But one of his earliest sessions was playing the then-unknown Mellotron on David Bowie’s1969 tune, “Space Oddity.” He in fact played on the entire David Bowie album. (He also played keys on Hunky Dory and to a lesser extent on Ziggy Stardust.)

Wakeman left the progressive/folk rock band the Strawbs in 1971 to join Yes, his first album with them being Fragile. But such virtuosic talent couldn’t be contained and in 1972 he recorded his first solo album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.* It was “recorded across 1972 with an advance of £4,000 from A&M. The album is instrumental with its concept based on Wakeman’s interpretations of the musical characteristics of {each wife.}”

So what’s this beast sound like? Well, symphonic comes to mind. So, sometimes, does bombastic. Listen to this track, “Anne Boleyn, ‘The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended'” and decide for yourself.

Spotify link

After reading a book about Henry, Wakeman said, “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.”

Now poor old Catherine of Aragon did not produce any heirs for Henry. And so tiring of her, he banished her from the court and took up with the aforementioned Anne Boelyn. Here’s her song:

Spotify link

If the drumming on those two songs sounds familiar to you, it is, in fact, Wakeman’s Yes bandmate Bill Bruford. Chris Squire and Steve Howe play bass and guitar respectively on Catherine of Aragon, so very much a Wakeman solo joint with a little help from his Yes friends.

Wakeman’s own contribution is listed as 2 Minimoog synthesisers, 2 400-D Mellotrons (one for vocals, sound effects and vibes; the other for brass, strings and flutes), frequency counter, custom mixer, Steinway 9′ grand piano, custom-built Hammond C-3 organ, RMI electric piano and harpsichord, ARP synthesiser, Thomas Goff harpsichord, church organ at St Giles-without-Cripplegate, portative organ.

Let us end this album review-cum history lesson with Henry’s last wife Catherine Parr. I guess that relatively speaking, she was the luckiest of the old bastard’s wives. She outlived him by a year and “shortly before he died, Henry made provision for an allowance of £7,000 per year for Catherine to support herself.

He further ordered that, after his death, Catherine, though a queen dowager, should be given the respect of a queen of England, as if he were still alive. Catherine retired from court after the coronation of her stepson, Edward VI, on 31 January 1547, to her home at Old Manor in Chelsea.”

Here’s the old gal’s tune (Alan White on drums):

Spotify link

This album did quite well on both UK and US charts and went on to get certified gold. As mentioned, that was very much the heyday of prog and I don’t believe those albums sell in any numbers like this any more.

*The cover shot was taken at Madame Tussaud’s. You may not able to see it all that well, but someone left the curtain open and visible on the left is a wax figurine of Richard Nixon.

Source:Wikipedia

23 thoughts on “Featured Album – The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Rick Wakeman

  1. Wow this was really interesting! I love anything having to do with Henry VIII. I believe this is a testament to how Henry the Eighth was one of the most prolific monarchs in English history. There have been numerous books written about him, movies, tv shows, and music. This is really cool stuff. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Good write-up. I don’t know nearly enough about Henry’s wives to say if these songs reflect their personalities as such so I’ll take your word for that. I didn’t know he had an autobio. I’m reading another guy’s right now that i’ll be reporting on sooner or later.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll give this one another shot. All are fantastic musicians, but I never cared much for Yes, or the various solo projects (can’t stand Jon Anderson’s squeaky voice).

    Another studio session by Wakeman (with Howe, I think) was, of all people, Lou Reed, on the RnR animal’s first solo album.

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    1. That’s a shame. I’ve always dug Yes, saw them once (1971 or so) and had toyed with seeing the Wakeman/Anderson version this year but finances/timing didn’t allow it. The good news (for you) is that this is an instrumental album. You may not like it but no Anderson to deal with.

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  3. Just listened to this whole album so I could comment. I dug Yes as you know. I grabbed Wakeman’s other solo albums back in the day they just didn’t do it for me. So I got scared off this one. From what I just listened to this is by far more up my alley. He does some real good work and his piano playing caught my ear. A lot of the synth stuff has kinda lost me. He finishes the last cut with it. But overall worth a listen. You sent me back to an album I never would have listened to. Some Keith Jarrett type playing.

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        1. As to digging Emerson, so did my high school jazz bass-playing friend. He was a big Nice fan and introduced me to them. We must have seen ELP five times in a year. Interestingly, I’ve somewhat lost my affection for that sound. Carl Palmer played here within the last year or so and I didn’t go.

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