Friday, 14 December 2018

Pop genius’s charity benefit gig was well worth saying ‘Yes’ to

Pop genius’s charity benefit gig was well worth saying ‘Yes’ to

An Evening with Rick Wakeman | Mill at Sonning | Monday, November 5

ANYONE who purchased tickets for “An Evening with Rick Wakeman” at The Mill at Sonning would have got a lot more than they bargained for.

In a similar vein to last year’s popular event, a host of stars descended onto the venue’s small crescent-shaped stage to raise money to support the worthy charity Animals Asia.

Actor Peter Egan led proceedings, quickly joined by fellow Downton Abbey star Lesley Nicol (aka Mrs Patmore), and even the amazing Virginia McKenna, the charity’s UK patron, looking ever-sprightly at 87.

Both the former have adopted beautiful moon bears — so named for the distinctive yellow markings on their chest — rescued from horrifying bile farms in Asia, while the Born Free star herself has been involved in the organisation since its inception.

After a delightful vegan dinner laid on by the Mill in its stunningly refurbished dining hall, the assembled guests in the auditorium could easily have sat in rapture for an entire evening, taking in the anecdotes from the actors about the bear sanctuaries they had visited in Vietnam and China.

But this was, after all, Rick Wakeman’s night, and as a die-hard Yes fan myself, I could not wait to hear him tinker on his keys in these intimate surroundings.

A staunch supporter of Animals Asia, Wakeman spoke of his sadness at the demise of his own adopted Moon Bear, Cyril, named poignantly after his late father. As an homage to both, the pink-suited “genius” — as aptly described by Peter Egan — delivered a gorgeous rendition of Gone But Not Forgotten on his grand piano.

Having teased the audience with just two pieces, Wakeman then welcomed zany juggling comedian Steve Rawlings to the stage, enthralling the audience with gravity-defying balancing acts, dexterity and extraordinary sleight of hand.

Amidst the very physical mayhem of near spills, broken plates and terrifyingly close cleaver blades, Rawlings kept the laughs coming for nearly an hour.

An interval auction included items up for grabs such as donated moon bear sculptures and prints, visits to the Asian bear sanctuaries with sanctuary founder Jill Robinson, and 14-day luxury trips to the Caribbean.

Peter Egan quickly totted up the evening’s takings, including the ticket purchases, which he proudly attested amounted to £40,000 — a figure greeted with deafening applause.

Wakeman rounded out the evening with just time for another five colourfully and intricately arranged piano outings, with his customary belly-aching stories in between numbers.

He rolled out Bowie’s Life on Mars? — on which he had originally played mellotron in the studio — and ruminated on his friendship with the erstwhile rock legend.

Wakeman’s exquisite versions of the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and Cat Stevens’s Morning Has Broken almost begged the audience to reinterpret these iconic compositions and see them in new light.

And only our wonderfully eccentric and quintessentially English keyboard maestro himself could come up with “Eleanor Rigby in the style of Prokofiev” to close out the night.

Credit must go to the Sally Hughes and the staff of the Mill for generously hosting what is surely becoming one of the do-not-miss events of this stunning local venue’s calendar. This past Monday evening was a real treat.

Martin Dew

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