KEYBOARD maestro Rick Wakeman is undertaking a short tour of the UK and will be playing tracks from his acclaimed new album Piano Portraits.

There are 15 tracks on the new album as performed by Rick on a grand piano and that’s it.

The tracks are mainly well-known songs and include a couple of Beatles’ numbers (Help, Eleanor Rigby) as well as Rick’s interpretations of some other big hits like I’m Not In Love and Stairway To Heaven.

There are also some classics as in Clair De Lune, Swan Lake as well as pieces by Faure and Holst.

Rick tells music writer Martin Hutchinson about the origins of the album.

“It all stems from the sad loss of David Bowie,” he explains. “I played Life On Mars on the Simon Mayo radio show as a tribute. It was web cam’d and it went viral with over two million hits.”

Rick then released it.

“Yes, I released it as a single with all royalties going to Macmillan Cancer. The single went to number one in the physical charts and the next thing I knew I was being bombarded with offers to do a Bowie tribute album.”

But Rick didn’t want to do that.

“No, I turned them all down as I felt that it was totally wrong and most disrespectful and it wasn’t something that I would ever entertain.”

Choosing the rest of the tracks was the next problem, but Rick had a simple criteria:

“The key was melody. They had to have a melody that was conducive for variations in the style I like to play. It didn’t matter if the music was five years old or five hundred. If it had a good melody then it was considered.”

Going back to ‘Piano Portraits’, Rick is planning to play a lot of it on the tour.

“Yes, it’ll be just a grand piano. Me, lots of anecdotal silly stories and about ten pieces from the album plus other stuff as well.”

“I do change the set around a bit, but that’s essentially it.”

Rick is well-known for his punishing work-load, and even now, at 68 years old, he had many projects on the go.

He is currently touring in America with ex-Yes members Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin, Rick

“It’s going brilliantly. We walk on stage in our 60s and 70s, start playing and knock thirty years off," he laughs. "Then walk back into the dressing room knackered and real age returns!”

“There are a lot of things in the pipeline for next year, both solo and with Yes. But I have a big event in December at The Queens House in Greenwich.

“I will be performing with a big keyboard rig alongside my son Adam and his keyboard rig, a percussionist from The Orion Symphony Orchestra, The English Chamber Choir conducted by Guy Protheroe and Maria Rud who is the most amazing artist who will paint live whilst we play.”

“It’s all in aid of helping to save moon bears who are treated in the most horrendous way by bear bile farmers and left to die. Animals Asia have saved hundreds so far and have my own adopted moon bear who is in a wonderful sanctuary in Chengdu. The aim of the concert is to raise awareness as well as raising some money.”

“As regards to my work-load, I’m just glad to be alive and playing and thoroughly enjoying myself.”

Rick Wakeman’s Piano Portraits tour will be heading to Bournemouth’s Pavilion Theatre on Monday, October 23.