Rick Wakeman's mum would have been so proud of him. Sitting up there on stage doing a proper piano recital rather than those dramatic and rowdy songs he did with prog rock heroes Yes. Mrs Wakeman - who he dedicates the lovely Gone But Not Forgotten to later in the performance - wasn't a fan of that "rock stuff". Nor was she too enamoured with the grand rock opera, kitchen sink-style productions he has become famous for since the 70s with performances of albums like Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

It was that album from 1974 that last brought Wakeman to New Zealand when he played the concept piece accompanied by a full orchestra at Western Springs. This time round there were no stacks of sky-scraper high keyboards, trippy laser lights, and he's not wearing a cape like he did back in the day. It's just Wakeman playing his songs (and a few other peoples', most notably Eleanor Rigby and his stirring instrumental version of Morning Has Broken) on a grand piano.

What makes an "Intimate evening with Rick Wakeman" truly unique are the funny and entertaining stories the 63-year-old tells in between songs. And after 45 years in the business he's got a few, from getting sage advice from David Bowie in the late 60s about always writing songs on the piano (something he has done ever since) to helping Cat Stevens stretch out Morning Has Broken to a decent length with his magical piano part. The thing is, initially he never got paid for his time and as payback he has refused to reveal how it is played. So there.

Not that Wakeman has a spiteful bone in his body, because as well as being a keyboard wizard he's such a likeable chap, even when he's dishing the dirt on his three ex-wives or revealing a slight obsession with boobs.


Fittingly, his opening story was about his first piano recital as a 5-year-old when he played See a Monkey on a Stick. He loved the limelight so much that day that he played the short piece four times before his mum dragged him off stage. And he's been hooked on performing ever since.

And after a short rendition of Monkey, his two and a half hour performance takes flight with "finger warmer" Elgin Mansions, and then covers everything from Merlin the Magician, a mid-70s tune that goes from regal and measured to bouncy and bonkers, a couple of Yes tunes (And You and I and Wonderous Stories), and his hilarious and clever Nursery Rhyme Concerto, including Hickory Dickory Dock done Ravel style.

So while it wasn't Wakeman the prog rock innovator in action, the master pianist and consummate host and storyteller sure showed up.

Who: Rick Wakeman
Where: Bruce Mason Centre