Grumpy Old Rock Star by Rick Wakeman

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Grumpy Old Rock Star by Rick Wakeman

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A collection of usually hilarious, but occasionally quite poignant and thought-provoking recollections from the leading contemporary British classical and progressive rock composer and musician.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Preface Publishing
ISBN: 978-1848090057

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Rick Wakeman wrote and published a more conventional autobiography, Say Yes! in 1985, and it has so far never been updated. This, written with the aid of ghost-writer Martin Roach, takes a totally different approach, being a selection of episodes from his sixty years in more or less random order. In theory it might seem rather disjointed, but in practice it works brilliantly.

As a trained classical musician who became one of the giants (all 6ft 2in) of British progressive rock, and who has toured most of the world, drinking it dry when given half a chance, he has some very funny tales to tell.

How did he get the sound of a waterfall for one of his albums, long before the days of electronic sampling? Who was that irritating man he once threw off stage for interrupting his keyboard solo, only to find he was not just a crazed fan but also one of the world's most famous artists? How did he manage to smuggle a genuine KGB uniform out of Russia? What did his mischievous stage crew do with the inflatable dinosaurs which he took with him on an American tour as props for the show? And as for that unfortunate business involving his father's car and the headmaster's prized rose garden...

About two-thirds of this book had me convulsed with laughter, so if you want to read it – and I highly recommend you do – you might be advised not to do so in company.

But it's not all laughs, and it does have its poignant moments, none more so than when he tells us about a fan from Argentina for whom he autographed a record after a concert on his last social outing before he was called up to fight in the Falklands War – and learned from the man's mother some years later that he had been called up and killed in action, fighting the British. There is also a thought-provoking chapter on two working visits he made to Poland. The first was during the Iron Curtain days when everything was a different shade of grey, the second some time afterwards, and he was amazed to notice the changes for the better after the Berlin Wall came down.

Rick would probably be the last person to deny that his name has often been synonymous with drink. Port and brandy in pint glasses, anyone? Yes (excuse the pun), he's been there and done that, and admits that after a few self-inflicted close brushes with the Grim Reaper, with subsequent warnings from his doctors to get a grip, he is lucky to be alive. I'm very glad he is still with us, not least as if he wasn't, we would never have had this uproarious volume. When it's serious, it is very serious. But for the most part, it is one of the funniest books I have read for a long time.

Our thanks to FMcM on behalf of Preface/Random House for sending a copy to Bookbag.

For other rock musician's memoirs which you might enjoy, we recommend Barefaced Lies and Boogie-Woogie Boasts by Jules Holland, or Ronnie by Ronnie Wood.

Buy Grumpy Old Rock Star by Rick Wakeman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Grumpy Old Rock Star by Rick Wakeman at

Buy Grumpy Old Rock Star by Rick Wakeman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Grumpy Old Rock Star by Rick Wakeman at


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