"An arm clothed in white Samite, From out the quiet water"
My Mum’s copy of The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was the first Rick Wakeman album I heard when I was 14, and it blew my mind. Being the type of kid who was fascinated by myths, legends and folklore, and was developing an ear for prog rock, this was very much my jam.
Fast forward 26 years, and I am reunited with The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table having not heard it in at least a decade. I have spent the majority of the intervening quarter of a century immersing myself in the history of popular song, and my opinion on where Rick Wakeman himself stands in rock’s pantheon is a little more fleshed out, and I have a better idea where The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table fits in his career.
With The Six Wives of Henry VIII Rick Wakeman had proved that instrumental orchestral keyboard progressive rock could be a commercial success, and Journey to the Centre of the Earth had proved that ridiculously over-ambitious orchestral keyboard progressive rock could be an even bigger commercial success.
More of the same?
Sure, why not.
Okay, so at least Wakeman didn’t decide that The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table should be another live album. This at least meant that of the tracks on this album could afford to be a little more subtle, with greater integration between Wakeman’s keyboards, Geoffrey Crampton’s guitar work and the orchestra due to the more flexible production the studio recording offered Wakeman.
For all it’s ornate orchestrations and wibbly keyboard solos, there’s an increased focus on rock music on The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, particularly on “Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight”, which features some distinctly heavy metal sounding vocals. None of it is out of place, and the album, despite its lengthy instrumental passages all sounds very considered and focused, despite the increased musical silliness dotted throughout the second half of the album and the rather odd attempt at reggae vibes during “Sir Galahad”.
For many people, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table seems to be where they tune out of Rick Wakeman’s solo career. It is not recognised as well as his two previous solo albums, and doesn’t tend to get referenced as much in contemporary interviews with Wakeman, aside from the hilariously inept attempt to try and perform the whole album as a live spectacle on ice. For me though, it is the album where my interest in Rick Wakeman began, and for that reason it will always have a special place in his output for me.