I’ve been able to trace the origin of this “How I Got Into….” to a roughly 10-minute window.
I knew it was 1976, almost certainly August. My memory told me it must have been on Tuesday or Wednesday, because that was the day on which Ask Aspel was broadcast on BBC1. And it must have been around 5:15pm, because that’s the time I remember the show going out.
Ask Aspel was a children’s TV show in which viewers wrote in asking for clips of programmes to be shown again. Remember this was the 1970s – not only did we not have YouTube or any other access to online functions, we didn’t have Sky+/TiVo; we didn’t even have video recorders. And with only three channels, there wasn’t the space or time to show a programme many times to give people multiple chances to see something – basically if you missed it, you missed it.
So Ask Aspel provided opportunities to see a clip from a programme that you’d missed, or to watch again something you’d enjoyed.I did online searches and found nothing that could pin it down. Then I thought, “I wonder if there’s a Radio Times archive” (for those readers who don’t know, Radio Times is a listings magazine of the coming week’s television and radio shows, which in those days was published by the BBC and listed only BBC programmes).
And indeed there is an archive – “BBC Genome” – which contains all the BBC listings information from 1923 to 2009. And there I found it – Wednesday, August 18th, 1976, at 17:15 (pretty good work there, my memory).
Why have I bothered to nail it so precisely (apart from “because I’m like that”)? Because that was the first time I encountered Rick Wakeman.
Ask Aspel was hosted by nice, urbane Michael Aspel, and each week he was joined by a guest for a short interview. Usually it was an actor – if you look for it on Google Images there’s a photo of Michael interviewing former Doctor Who assistant, Lalla Ward – but this week’s guest was some musician I’d never heard of called Rick Wakeman. I can’t help thinking he was invited on because no-one else was available, because he was so far away from the normal type of guest. But he was there because he’d written and played the Ask Aspel theme tune.I think I’d always like the theme tune (the show had been running since 1970) but it had never occurred to me to wonder who played it.
The reason I thought it was August 1976 is that I have a vivid memory of the next link in the chain. That summer our family holiday was to Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. On the way we stopped in Salisbury and, wandering round a record shop, I saw that name, Rick Wakeman. And one of his records, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, seemed reasonably cheap, so I bought it.
I kept it in my hotel room for two weeks, carefully propped upright, then made sure it was safe throughout the long drive home before I could put it on the record player. And at that moment I became a Prog Rock fan.
I’d never heard anything like it. An orchestra! A choir! A rock band! Actor David Hemmings narrating Jules Verne’s story!!! Drama and action with musical accompaniment, and a type of music that resonated with me.The following week, I was off to our local record shop to pick up Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and from there on my musical tastes were fixed. I could have called this week’s post “How I Got Into….Prog Rock”, because it’s the same moment.
It took a while for me to get into Yes, the band that Rick was playing in at that time, but I did get there, and that later became a significant link between me and the lady who would become my wife (maybe I’ll write that story up in a post one day).
Of course, I’d heard Rick Wakeman before without knowing it – as a prolific session musician he played the piano on Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken, and on a lot of David Bowie’s early stuff, including the iconic piano part on Life on Mars? and the Mellotron on Space Oddity. The there’s the “greatest keyboard solo of all time” (from Yes’s Roundabout) as featured in the Jack Black movie School of Rock. And he’s now gained mainstream appeal through Grumpy Old Men.
But for some reason, that brief appearance on a 1976 episode of a TV show I’d watched dozens of times flipped some kind of switch in me. And while punk was crashing through the so-called dinosaur rock and ripping up the rock rule book and spitting on it, I was becoming a fan of a classically-trained virtuoso pianist with long hair and a cape who recorded with a full orchestra.
I’ve recently re-visited some of Rick Wakeman’s music, and to my ears it still stands up (well, most of it). But then maybe I’m just living the past.
Anyway, here are a few links for you to enjoy:
Jane Seymour, from The Six Wives of Henry VIII
After the Ball from White Rock
The Battle from Journey to the Centre of the Earth