Rick Wakeman’s Yes harpsichord moments with James Gardner – 553

Produced by Ken Fuller, Wayne Hall and Jeffrey Crecelius

This week we decided to postpone the second part of our Buggles episode because we had the chance to interview James Gardner about Rick Wakeman’s use of the harpsichord. It was a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion and we learned a lot about both the instrument and some of the characters involved with creating the actual instruments Rick used on recordings with Yes.

James has an encyclopedic knowledge of the use of harpsichords in popular music and he mentions a large number of songs which have featured the instrument over the years. I’ve added YouTube videos of each song James refers to in the show notes for this episode. You might want to refer to those while you listen to the interview or come back to them at the end. I found they helped me a great deal.

  • What kind of harpsichord did Rick use?
  • Who made it?
  • Where else can we hear harpsichords in popular music?

Take a listen to the episode and then let us know what you think below!

Mark Lang’s setlist:

Our guest, James Gardner:

Radio NZ Thomas Goff – The Fall and Rise of Harpsichord 6

James’ article about the origin of the VCS3 synth

A James Gardner playlist (music mentioned in the episode)

Probably the first person to record on the harpsichord

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Not final artwork or title – just me messing about with one of my photos

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Theme music

The music I use is the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. This has been used as introduction music at many Yes concerts. My theme music is not take from a live concert – I put it together from:

7 replies on “Rick Wakeman’s Yes harpsichord moments with James Gardner – 553”

Lovely episode.
Personally, I like “Piggies” a lot. The harpsichord on that was played by their engineer at the time, Chris Thomas, later producer of the Sex Pistols, among many others.
An early example of harpsichord in pop music that few people know about is “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys. It doesn’t stand out in the mix at all, but it’s there. You can hear it in the background in the instrumental backing track, which is available on YouTube: I guess this was the start of Brian Wilson experimenting with unusual instruments.

Terrific episode. Informative, educational, AND entertaining. It’s always great to hear from someone so articulate and enthusiastic as James, and be carried to so many adjacent musical worlds. My piano teacher is also a harpsichordist, and has let me have a go on her harpsichord. I can attest that despite perhaps looking superficially similar, it is a radically different instrument to play. There’s no “hold down the pedal and hope for the best” fallback. I’d never contemplated that the reason baroque harpsichord music is adorned with trills and mordants is because the instrument has no other form of sustain.
James is dead right about album sequencing as well. I found myself nodding along to his views on the placement of “Madrigal” and the implicit cadences that emerge between successive songs that weren’t composed as part of a suite.
Good also, to hear Dave Greenfield, and the Stranglers generally, praised in the same terms as Yes. I’ve read that Greenfield was inspired by Wakeman and his position in Guildford’s most transcendent pub rock band exemplified the prog ideal of putting elements together that on paper sound as though they shouldn’t work.

Thanks for the kind comments, Dave. I ought to have said something about the lack of sustaining pedal on the harpsichord, so thanks for mentioning that.

Fantastic show! I’ve loved harpsichords since first hearing them in the late 60s. Thanks so much for the videos as it saved time searching for each of them! I also know that Rod Argent used the Beatles harpsichord on The Zombies classic album “Odessey and Oracle.”

A great conversation. I very much look forward to hearing more from James in the future. There’s a short article on Goff here, – including a link to a recording of the late George Malcolm’s ‘Variations on a Theme of Mozart’, which was written particularly for Goff’s instrument, and illustrates some modern stop-changing and dynamic variation.

In the Yes vein, Patrick Moraz plays harpsichord (a Goble) with Steve Howe on the title track from “Beginnings”. The video, remastered by Bruno Samppa, can be viewed here: Moraz also uses the instrument on his 1978 eponymously titled solo album.

By the way, I rather like that dodgy, detuned B (and similar) on “Madrigal”. It adds to the quirky feel of the track, which along with “Future Times/ Rejoice” and ‘On the Silent Wings of Freedom” is one of the three standout tracks on ‘Tomato’ for me.

Thanks for your kind words, Simon, and for the additional information – I wasn’t aware of that Howe/Moraz video!

Re the Goff, the current owner of Harpsichord 6 demonstrates some of the different registers on the instrument here:
Which is a supplement to the main programme here:

Cheers, Jim

Delightful and insightful! James Gardner was a fantastic guest.

Random question: for what kind of audience were those old music videos like Madrigal made? Those were the days before MTV (first video played there by the Buggles). I rather liked the somewhat bizarre staging of Madrigal, actually…

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