Mars has always fascinated people - whether it is the question of life on the fourth planet of our solar system or its possible colonisation. Expeditions to the Red Planet seem to be getting closer, and Rick Wakeman has also caught the Mars fever. So much so that after several albums on which the piano was the focus of attention, the keyboardist has not only found his way back to his prog roots, but has also recorded his probably best solo work in many years. He tells in an interview what made him do this.
Keyboard magician Rick Wakeman became famous as probably the most important keyboardist of Yes, but also set important milestones in progressive rock music on his solo career. With his excessive "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" in 1973, he released one of the most dazzling albums of instrumental prog, even before Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells", on which he built real cathedrals of sound with piled up keyboard sounds and thus developed his very own symphonic style. With eight monumental sound paintings, "The Red Planet" now invites you on a musical journey to Mars.
eclipsed: How did "The Red Planet" come about?
Rick Wakeman: About ten years ago I had the feeling that the prog was about to lose its melodies. In the early days the music of Yes always started with a strong melody. Instead of it, the rhythm became more and more important. Jon Anderson and I talked a lot about it and then in 2010 we recorded "The Living Tree" together, which gave the melodies in the prog some importance again. That's why my piano albums of the last few years also had this focus on strong songs. So it became part of my way of writing new songs again. Many people have asked me again and again: "When will you make another instrumental album like 'Six Wives' or 'Criminal Record'? I've always answered that I need a strong concept that inspires me.
eclipsed: So how did Mars fly at you, Rick?
Wakeman: I was involved in the 2016 Starmus Festival on Tenerife, which was attended by Stephen Hawking and Queen guitarist Brian May, among others, and was initiated by astrophysicist Garik Israelian, a leading researcher on the formation of black holes. Brian had introduced me there because he knew I was interested in space and had recorded space albums such as "Out There" and "No Earthly Connection". Then in 2019 there was a Starmus Festival in Zurich for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Many of the old, still living NASA astronauts were there. It was incredible. I performed with Brian, Hans Zimmer and Steve Vai. 2021 is the anniversary of the very first exploration of Mars by a Russian probe. [On May 28, 1971, the first successful landing on Mars took place. Note.] Garik told me, "Your friend David Bowie was right. For sure, there was once Earth-like life on Mars, a world full of oceans, but with a much thinner atmosphere. There'll be plenty of expeditions there. " I got very quiet and said to him "You've just given me the concept for my album." He then sent me lots of pictures and inside information about Mars, so Mars became music to me.
eclipsed: The current photos from Mars are crystal clear.
Wakeman: Right. I spent almost a year writing music for these incredible pictures. So untouched and deserted and yet full of life. The result was a wide variety of moods and sounds in the pieces. This is really a rock 'n' roll planet! Sometimes it even looks like there is water there, but that is dry ice [solid carbon dioxide, note] raining down on these huge mountains, massive canyons and volcanoes. How much more rock 'n' roll can you have? People have already written to me that when they look at pictures of the places on Mars on the internet, to which I have written these songs, it is like a cruise - music for an adventure holiday on Mars.