Rick Wakeman & The English Rock Ensemble: ‘A Gallery of the Imagination’ Review

The album art for A Gallery of the Imagination

It’s 2023, and the legendary keyboard player Rick Wakeman is blessing us with a brand new studio album. I first came across this particular record last year at a concert of his in Croydon where I ended up not knowingly picked up an early, pre-release copy at the merch desk. I’ve had some time to digest the contents of it, and I have to say it’s one of my favourite releases from him in recent years.

During that concert, Rick spoke about this record, – dedicating it to one of his former piano teachers who dubbed that ‘music was painting pictures’. Rick also spoke of plans to perform the album in galleries and have people create art around him whilst the music dictates how that art should be created. As far as I’m aware this hasn’t yet come to fruition, but I’m eager to see where this takes him in 2023.

Alongside releasing this album, Rick is also putting on two headline shows in London to celebrate ‘King Arthur’ and ‘Six Wives’ as well as some Yes classics. Now more than 50 years into his career, this man never stops!

There’s an aura of simplicity surrounding the compositional choices of this album, but the small nuances and inflexions demonstrate it to be undoubtedly Rick. Although acoustically focused, this album features once again a return of Rick’s long-time collaborators the English Rock Ensemble. Hayley Sanderson (vocals), Dave Colquhoun (guitars), Lee Pomeroy (bass), and Ash Soan (drums).

A Gallery of the Imagination starts with Hidden Depths, an instrumental number that slowly builds and builds setting the scene for the record. Starting off with a gentle piano intro, before slowly building and building into a straight-forward, but satisfying groove driven by the bass and drums. Accompanied by a mellow synth solo, this track is possibly the most traditionally Rick Wakeman track on the album in terms of representing his solo material’s style in a shorter burst.

The Man In The Moon is the first track on the album to feature Hayley’s buttery vocals in a slow 70s-style rock ballad. It continues on with the mellow theme of this record but also gives us a new genre flavour as Rick originally depicted in the album’s concept.

I’ve always been a fan of Rick’s solo acoustic work, particularly Piano Portraits and Piano Odyssey from recent years – so the track The Creek is a wonderful piece of music to fit in with those needs – focusing in on a solo acoustic piano arrangement. Short, sweet, and blissful, you can really focus on and hear all of Rick’s little stylistic inflexions in his playing. The way in which he approaches harmony in particular track is so exposed, and can only solidify one’s thoughts about how clever Rick is when it comes to his compositions. There’s nowhere to hide, and the music is still utterly beautiful.

One of my favourite tracks has to be Cuban Carnival for the calypso style of composition that Rick chose to incorporate. It’s a style that off the top of my head, he’s not experimented with extensively before inside of his compositional work, but it’s certainly a welcome one here.

Rick Wakeman at the Ashcroft Theatre in London

I’ve also found myself being a big fan of The Dinner Party – the playful nature of this instrumental track where the synths interact between the grooving basslines, and catchy melodies layer over the to during the chorus have become engrained into my mind. Between each chorus, Rick has a gentle noodle at his synth – effectively leaving the structure of this number as of a jam track with Rick as the primary soloist. Although we do get a sneaky guitar solo too.

Leading into the end of this album, A Day Spent On The Pier for me is reminiscent of Chas and Dave’s Margate with regards to the lyrical content, although the instrumental style is markedly different from the world-class cockney duo producing with more of a lounge feel to this work. I do feel like I’m repeating myself, but I do feel like I’m repeating myself. This is another example of a simple yet touching composition, which is exactly what I’ve come to love from Rick in recent years.

And with that, we close with The Eyes Of A Child. Maybe the most sombre of all the tracks, focusing in mostly on Rick’s acoustic piano accompanied from Hayley. It’s a very pretty track to finish with, but moving all the same.

A Gallery of the Imagination is a quaint and cosy album – and whilst it’s not Rick’s most prolific work in his monstrous discography, it has earned its place as being something that’s a little different, a little unique, and muted. Music doesn’t always have to be flashy, and this album certainly isn’t. But where it lacks in pizzazz, it more than makes up for it with its emotive and clever compositions. Rick hasn’t got anything to prove, we all know what he can do. And with this release, he’s put together a moving piece of art designed to evoke a range of emotions in the listener – and to that, he has absolutely succeeded.

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