Nowadays, artists and record companies sometimes release bootleg rarities or live albums recorded by fans in the audience. In the past this was, amongst others, done by Manfred Mann's Earth Band with Bootleg Archives, volume 1-5. Those recordings have a poor sound quality and were principally made by fans. However, they contain music you can hardly find on official live releases and therefore they're loved by the fans. Yet I think these bootleg recordings aren't played that often, because most people rather listen to albums recorded with far better equipment.
In many ways this also applies for the first live bootleg recordings of Rick Wakeman released as Bootleg Box, vol. 1. Wakeman searched his personal archive and put together a five-CD box set of previously unreleased live material. It's nicely packaged in bootleg style, which means that no live pictures or line-ups are mentioned. The only information you get are the titles of the performed songs and the location of the concert. However, most of these recordings are worthwhile listening to in spite of the poor sound quality.
The first disc contains the recordings of a live performance in Sweden back in 1980. The video recordings of this TV-performance were already available on DVD. Undoubtedly the sound of this disc is by far the best compared to the other ones. The band features drummer Tony Fernandez and lead singer Ashley Holt. The songs are really awesome with medleys of No Earthly Connection, Journey To The Center Of The Earth and King Arthur, all performed in the best possible way. This is one hour of pure progressive rock highlights!
The second disc contains recordings made in The Netherlands in March 1983. The sound quality is really poor and sometimes you can even hear the audience talk, not only in between the songs but also during the performance. Unfortunately you can't determine which musicians were playing during this show. There's a drum beat, but I'm not sure whether this is a real drummer or a machine who provides for the beats. One thing's for sure, however, Rick's son Adam Wakeman is present here because one of the album titles is Adam's Entrance, a fine instrumental composition. The other songs are also very enjoyable including a cover version of Eleanor Rigby, a classic tune by The Beatles. It's just a pity that Rick didn't play on the original MiniMoogs and Mellotrons, but on the rather cheap sounding Korg-synthesizers. In a way this gives the music a more commercial and poppy sound.
The third disc was recorded at the Kabooze Bar (USA) in 1985. Again the sound quality leaves much to be desired, but the songs are very strong performed by a complete band. The usual tracks like King Arthur, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and Six Wives Of Henry VIII are once again on the set list. It's good to hear many improvisations on the guitar and the keyboards which provide the music with a real live feel.
The second best audio recordings were recorded in Boston (USA) in 1974 to promote the Journey... album. The entire concert has been released on the fourth and the fifth disc. The tracks on the first disc of this live show are really special, because the music isn't available on any official Rick Wakeman release. It starts with an introduction followed by a song entitled Horizon. I wasn't familiar with this piece, but it's certainly worthwhile listening to. The guitarist and both lead singers have a major role on this piece. On Rachmaninoff Symphony 1 the orchestra joins in which causes the borders between classical and rock music to fade. In fact I got a kind of Night Of The Proms feeling. The songs taken from Rick's debut album are next. Catherine Parr, Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn sound as good as on the original album. The real choir certainly gives the music on Catherine Parr a new dimension, but especially the strong Mellotron-choirs and the fine MiniMoog-parts make this a breathtaking track.
On the fifth and final disc you can listen to an integral performance of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, including the narrator who does a rather good job telling the famous story by Jules Verne. Of course the orchestra and the choir are also present giving the music its classical touch. The rock elements are provided by Wakeman's band members while he does all the fine playing on the clavinet, MiniMoog, Mellotron and other keyboards.
This collection of bootleg recordings is a must have, especially for all the die-hard Rick Wakeman-fans. They probably don't care that not everything has been recorded in the best possible way. They take the poor sound quality for granted as long as they can collect all the releases of their hero. I noticed that after listening many times you get used to the poor sound quality. I certainly enjoyed this release, but it's just a pity that no attention was paid to the line-ups performing the strong material on these five discs. Hopefully there will be a second bootleg box; I would love to hear more of such obscure live recordings!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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