Interview with Rick Wakeman: “Exmouth is my favorite place in the world” | Travel

FFor the first 16 years of my life, I vacationed at the same guest house in Exmouth: Mrs Clark’s in Lawn Road. Mum woke me up at 4 a.m. and I stumbled downstairs, where Dad was loading the big trunk onto the roof of his 1938 Morris Eight. It was 180 miles from our house in Northolt to Mrs Clark’s, and the top speed of the Morris was 30 mph. We arrived at Exmouth around seven o’clock in the evening.

One year, Mrs. Clark came to our breakfast table and said in her charming West Country accent, “Is there anything the little boy would like for dinner?” My mom told him I liked french fries and molasses pudding. Mrs. Clark’s face lit up. “Oh, I’ve never made molasses pudding. She put it on the table that night and. . . it was like a bowl of cement. Dad twisted his spoon. We didn’t want to upset Mrs. Clark, so mum stuffed it into her purse and threw it over the wall at the end of the road. The next evening the molasses pudding came out. And the next night. I couldn’t help but feel guilty when Mrs. Clark waved us off for our evening walk. Always in the direction of this wall.

Package holidays were really starting to take off in the late 1960s and my friend, Pete, booked us a trip to Majorca. We must have been 17 or 18 years old. Bus for Luton airport, flights, hotel transfer, full board — fortnight for 49 pounds. I remember getting my first passport and thinking, “Wow, I’m going to another country.

Palma, Majorca

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Things didn’t start well. Getting off the plane, the tour guide said, “There’s a problem with the hotel; it was not built. Luckily we have found you alternative accommodation.” Our new room didn’t actually have any windows, but they gave us a welcome drink – a large glass of wine – and suddenly the windows didn’t seem to matter anymore. I had a wad of pesetas in my pocket, the wine was cheap, the sun was shining and we lived like kings.

I joined Yes in 1971 and my first trip was to America the same year. We landed in Los Angeles and we might as well have been on another planet. Huge gas-guzzling cars, the size of London buses. Space age gadgets. Televisions with remote controls. It was as if we had traveled 20 years into the future.

Good music was everywhere: Neil Young, Carole King, the Carpenters. Yes, the city was full of people, but you felt that the music was really in charge. And at the center of it all was the Hyatt House hotel on Sunset, otherwise known as the Riot House. This is where rock bands ransacked their rooms. Jim Morrison, Led Zeppelin, The Who. . . they all stayed there.

Wakeman toured Los Angeles with Yes

Wakeman toured Los Angeles with Yes

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Although I liked having a drink, Yes was never into all that rock ‘n’ roll mayhem. We joked about throwing the TV in the pool, but our tour manager said, ‘This TV is £300 and if it’s damaged you pay for it.’ As we were at £50 a week we decided to leave the TV where it was.

I spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. Yes, it was supposed to be work, but I never got paid. Recipes always magically disappeared. My real reason for going there was that my first influences had all been Eastern European composers – Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Szymanowski. The cities were gray and people didn’t smile much, but when you were driving through the countryside you suddenly got a sense of what had inspired all those wonderful pieces of music.

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I was in Plock in Poland a few years ago — there’s a wonderful art deco museum — and everything had changed. I was telling my wife, Rachel, how it was before the iron curtain came down and the guy showing us around said, “Come with me. He took us to a neighborhood outside the city that hadn’t changed since Stalin came to power. Rachel was amazed. She asked the guy, “How was life back then?” He said: “Before, we lived in black and white. Today we have color.

One place I return to year after year is Tenerife. I first went there in 1984 and eventually bought a place in Playa de las Vistas. I was going to say this is my favorite place in the world but believe it or not it would be Exmouth. Last summer, I went there with mom and dad, I said, “When I make some money, we won’t stay at Mrs. Clark’s.” We will be staying at the Imperial. It was the posh hotel on the esplanade. Dad liked to get a glimpse into the life of the other half.

Exmouth

Sadly we never went, but in the late 1990s – after dad passed away – I had reservations for a show at Exmouth, not far from the Imperial. After all that buildup, it wasn’t as fancy as we thought. The room was only about £30 but had a sea view. I sat on the bed and watched the lights dance over the English Channel. In a loud voice, I said, “Dad. . . This is for you.”

Rick Wakeman, 73, is best known as the keyboardist for progressive rock band Yes. He also enjoyed considerable solo success in the 1970s, before moving to television, where he became a regular guest on shows such as Countdown and Grumpy Old Men. He is on tour next month with dates across the UK (rwcc.com). He lives in Norfolk with his wife, Rachel

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