Wakeman's tribute to Henry VIII

It was one of the most iconic concept albums of the 1970s which paid a progressive rock tribute to the lives and loves of one of Britain's most renowned monarchs.

It was one of the most lavish concept albums of the 1970s - a prog-rock tribute to the lives, loves and loathings of one of Britain's most audacious monarchs.

And the man who made it, Norfolk-based keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, will at last realise an almost 40-year dream next month when he performs The Six Wives of Henry VIII at the home of the Tudor monarch.

Rick, now 59, who has never played his debut solo masterpiece in its entirety at a live concert, will perform at Hampton Court Palace in south-west London.

And he spoke to the EDP yesterday of his thrill at bringing about the production next month to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession to the throne.

Rick, who lives in the Waveney Valley near Diss, said he wrote to officials at Hampton Court Palace about a possible concert when the album - which went on to sell 15 million copies - was released in 1973.

The response was less than enthusiastic.

Most Read

"It appeared that what I had asked for was tantamount to treason and that if I pursued the matter any further I would be beheaded or sent to the Tower of London! At the time I was offered the (Royal) Albert Hall as an alternative, but for me it was Hampton Court or not at all," he recalled.

Thirty-six years on, the former Yes keyboard player leapt at the chance to join the Henry VIII celebrations at the palace on Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2. The two Tudor-themed performances in front of the west gate and an audience of 5,000 will feature a seven-piece band, The English Chamber Choir, a 72-piece orchestra and guest narrator Brian Blessed.

The production features Rick's musical tributes to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr.

Rick began writing the music during a Yes tour in America in 1970.

He said he would keep a seat empty just in case the ghost of King Henry wanted to join the party.

"It is going to be a lot of fun. It will be 1970s prog-rock meets the 21st century and it is going to be huge," he said.

"I have always agreed that it is a bit of a shame that he was portrayed as a fat slob who had lots of wives because in his early days he was a very fit young man. He was a great sportsman and a tremendous patron of the arts; he was a great painter and a fine musician and liked big extravaganzas," he said.

The Hampton Court shows will mark a busy 2009 for Rick, who will be back home in Norfolk for the Four Churches Festival at the end of May to help the parishes of Billingford, Thorpe Abbotts, Brockdish and Scole. And later in the year he's off to Switzerland, Poland, South America and Australasia.