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Thursday, 15 April 2021

"The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" by RICK WAKEMAN – January 1973 Debut Solo Album on A&M Records [ex The Strawbs, With Yes When Recorded] - Featuring Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford and Alan White of Yes with Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk of The Strawbs, Barry De Souza of Trees, Les Hurdle of The Mohawks, Ray Cooper of Elton John’s Band and Dave Winter of If (February 2015 UK UMG Recordings/A&M Records 1CD Reissue with Andrew Walter Abbey Road Remaster) - A Review of Mark Barry...

This Review and 299 More Like It Can Be Found In My AMAZON e-Book 
US AND THEM - 1973
Your All-Genres Guide To Exceptional 
CD Reissues and Remasters 
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"...Giving Days..."

I remember vividly when you opened the gatefold sleeve of AMLH 64361 – you couldn't help but be impressed. 

Like a wizarding version of Keith Emerson from ELP without the pantaloons and Puss 'n' Boots footwear, stood the Royal College of Music prodigy Rick ("Don't Mention God Save The Queen Only Dead Queens") Wakeman. 

With his long mane of Vosene manicured blond hair and Octopus-like arms outstretched, the Rickster stroke a pose – a stance he would become famous for in fact. A serious musician amidst a seriously impressive circle of custom-made keyboard thingies - Synthesizer, Mellotron, Grand Piano, Organ, Electric Piano, Harpsichord and more - it was all there. As were his unseen mates from Yes both present and future during the February to October 1972 recordings – Steve Howe on Guitar, Chris Squire on Bass, Bill Bruford and Alan White on Drums and three more muckers from his former band The Strawbs – Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk. Throw in Dave Winter of If with Mike Egan on Guitars, Barry de Souza from Trees also on Drums and Ray Cooper of Elton John's Band on Percussion with session Vocalists Laura Lee, Liza Strike, Sylvia McNeill, Judy Powell and Barry St. John - and you had a stellar cast working on genuinely inspired material.

Arriving in January 1973 – "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" also started what would become the YES Solo Albums run and despite A&M's A&R people having hissy-fit reservations when they heard the finished LP (they asked when are the vocals being put on) – Henry VIII was a monogamous winner. I also can't have been the only YES fan who perhaps hadn't bought the album but did purchase the triple live set "Yessongs" in May 1973 - only to be amazed at Wakeman's "Excerpts From The Six Wives of Henry VIII" - an absolute highlight across those six sides. In fact "The Six Wives..." has subsequently amassed some 15-millions sales worldwide on what is now (in 2021) fast approaching a 50-years-ago release date. Which brings us to this...its best Remaster. Here are the details for the single disc issue...

UK released 2 February 2015 - "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" by RICK WAKEMAN on UMG Recordings/A&M Records 5356246 (Barcode 600753562468) is a straightforward 1CD Reissue and New 2014 Remaster of the 1973 Debut Solo Album (originally on A&M Records) that plays out as follows (36:53 minutes):

1. Catherine Of Aragon [Side 1]
2. Anne Of Cleves 
3. Catherine Howard 
4. Jane Seymour [Side 2]
5. Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended'
6. Catherine Parr
Tracks 1 to 6 are his debut solo LP "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" - released January 1973 in the UK on A&M Records AMLH 64361 and in the USA on A&M Records SMAS-95075. Produced by RICK WAKEMAN - it peaked at No. 7 in the UK and No. 30 on the LP charts. 

Remastered by ANDREW WALTER at Abbey Road Studios - it's worth mentioning that if you want to go deeper, there is also a 2-Disc 'Deluxe Edition' Version of sorts on UMG/A&M 5356238 (Barcode 600753562383) that features Three Bonus Tracks on the CD - "Catherine Of Aragon (First Mix)", "Anne Boleyn 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord Hath Ended' (Single Edit)" and "Catherine Parr (Single Edit)" - whilst the second disc is a DVD-A with the album in various mixes - Stereo Hi-Res, Quadrophonic and some period Video Footage. You could argue that this single version should really have featured the Three Bonus cuts (especially those Single Edits) as add-ons - but what you do get is enough for me. 

The 12-page booklet centres the original gatefold's artwork whilst the rest of the pages feature a history of the debut solo album penned by JERRY EWING, Editor of "Prog Magazine" with input and reminiscences from Wakeman. It's an interesting and witty read - Wakeman spilling the beans on collecting Platinum Discs from the head of A&M at a MIDEM who had previously poo-poo'd the project by the "...***king piano player..." (Wakeman admits though that those remarks not withstanding, his stay with A&M was good and they quickly cottoned on when they saw the sales figures). Holding court on the last page of the CD-sized booklet, the rear sleeve artwork of the LP that told miniature histories of each lady is now unfortunately almost unreadable. But the meat for me is the AUDIO - which is beautiful - thrilling actually - having been used to my crackly VINYL LP all these years. 

As the Grand Piano notes for "Catherine Of Aragon" come sailing in only to be followed by those swirling synth passages - the Audio is full and warm. But as the ladies hit oohing and aahing with that acoustic break - I was moved to say genius. Seen as the LP hit the shops on 23 January 1973, you could say A&M UK were a bit slow of the Prog Rock starting blocks when they issued the LP's lone UK 45-single as late as March 1973 - an edit of Side 2's "Catherine Parr" backed-up with an edit of "Anne" on AMS 7061. "Catherine Parr" and its rapido keyboard runs also so Manticore ELP, so perhaps that's why they chose it over the more delicate and frankly lovely "Catherine Of Aragon". 

Things get fast and heavy with "Anne Of Cleves" - future Yes-drummer Alan White playing a blinder even if MIke Egan's guitar parts are still too distant in the mix for me. Wakeman flies up and down the keyboards and again it's impressive and inventive stuff. Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert and Chas Cronk of Strawbs join Barry de Souza of Trees on Side 1's finisher "Catherine Howard" (legendary Percussionist Frank Ricotti is in there too). Sounding almost Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken" as it leads in - that beautiful keyboard run he featured on the Yes live excerpt still amazes. But its Dave Lambert's delicate guitar soon joined by stunning synth runs from Wakeman that will have most fans in raptures. 

Wakeman famously went to the Church Organ at St. Giles-Without-Cripplegate for Side 2's regal "Jane Seymour" because he couldn't get the sheer depth he wanted from an electronic one. The unspoken hero of the album is the Genesis "Cinema Show" beautiful textures in "Anne Boleyn". Engineered by Bowie's Ken Scott with Mike Egan finally audible on Acoustic Guitar - Wakeman compliments their contributions with some of the albums finest playing - the Remaster really shining here. 

Guitarist Steve Howe and Bassist Chris Squire would go YES solo in October and November 1975 with their "Beginnings" and "Fish Out Of Water" LPs on Atlantic - whilst Drummer Alan White would get "Ramshackled" too. But they were all whomped by Yes Lead Vocalist Jon Anderson's dense and beautiful "Olias Of Sunhillow" in July 1976 (also on Atlantic Records) – recently reissued with Style by Esoteric Recordings in April 2021. 

By the time Wakeman had left YES after 1973's end-of-year double-album "Tales From Topographic Oceans" (leaving behind stunners like "Fragile" from 1971 and "Close To The Edge" from 1972) – the keyboard maestro was already onto "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" and "The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur" (both also on A&M Records) and even bigger keyboard rigs. But this supremely tuneful Prog Rock album from early 1973 is where his real journey began. 

2015's "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" by RICK WAKEMAN is a great CD Remaster and at a smidge above a fiver sterling, something of a bargain too (certainly cheaper than a trip to Madame Tussauds Museum to see the wax works of these hard-done-by ladies). 

Giving days they were in 1973. Nearly 50 years later, I'd still advise that you give this off-with-their-heads musical masterclass a more gentile revisit on your Stereophonic rig...

Also UK released 2 February 2015 was "The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table” on 1CD and a 2-Disc Deluxe Edition. 

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