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JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE - RICK WAKEMAN IN CONVERSATION
Rock musician Rick Wakeman, pictured left, came to fame playing keyboards for David Bowie, T-Rex and Yes. Classically trained at the Royal College of Music, he is the first member of London’s Chelsea Lodge to be Master of the Lodge AND King Rat in the Grand Order of the Water Rats at the same time. Chelsea Lodge and the Grand Order of the Water Rats are both formed of entertainers and showbusiness personalities that support theatrical oriented charities.
Larger than life personality Rick, who
has also featured in the BBC TV series
Grumpy Old Men, is embarking on a large scale world tour. This will celebrate 40 years since the release of his ground breaking album ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and include an 80 piece orchestra and staging by Roger Dean, the artist famed for the Yes album covers.
Prior to his forthcoming concert in Bournemouth, Insight Editor, Peter Martin, talked to Rick about freemasonry, music, the Chelsea Lodge and the Water Rats.
Rick’s grandfather and father came from Portsmouth, and had family in Emsworth and Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. He said: “The Wakeman’s are very much a Portsmouth based family. With my family coming from the area, Pompey has a very special place in my heart. My uncle Peter and his wife lived there all their lives and I’ve got very happy memories of the city. It is an area that I feel very much at home in and it is interesting to see the changes the city has made over the years, especially the area by the Cathedral.”
Q: When did you become aware of freemasonry and what influenced you to join?
A: I became aware of freemasonry through my father who was an active mason in West London, however it was not until his death that I really grew to appreciate it. When my father passed away the lodge was incredible with the help provided for my mother and our family, taking care of many of the arrangements. Their continued support was inspirational even down to some members of the lodge travelling to show their respects when my mother passed away. This left a lasting impression and having since become a freemason, I have been lucky enough to return to my father’s lodge and express my own thanks to the lodge personally for the help that they have given me.
Q: What are the ‘Water Rats’ and how did you become involved with them?
A: The Grand Order of Water Rats are a special organisation that consists only of members of the entertainment industry. We meet 14 times is year and have our own building on Gray’s Inn Road. Currently there have only been 882 Water Rats, including Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Monkhouse and Bruce Forsyth. Membership is by invitation only and only about 15% of the proposed members ever get to join. We have an initiation ceremony similar to craft freemasonry, but not as long. I was delighted to be invited to join and am honoured to be the 125th King Rat, the equivalent of Master
of the Lodge.
Q: What are the aims of the Water Rats?
A: We support entertainers and their dependants who are in need of help. It’s very interesting that the members of the public know about the big names in the business and assume that they are doing extremely well. However there is no pension scheme for actors, actresses and musicians and when they pass away, they
have no royalties or income to support their dependants. We’ve looked after quite a few in their latter years in need, and some quite famous faces too. Like freemasonry, it is important to us that people, regardless of their walk of life, keep their dignity.
Q: Does being Master of Chelsea Lodge and King Rat cause any problems?
A: Yes! There are occasions where the Master of Chelsea and the King Rat get invited to the same events. I’m hoping that on those occasions I get two dinners!
Q: Are you in any other degrees or orders?
A: Our Lodge has associations with Chelsea Chapter of which I am a member; I am also in Vaudeville Mark and in Knights Templar. Chelsea Lodge and Chapter get their names from the old Chelsea Theatre which sadly no longer exists. I am waiting to complete my year in the chair before taking offices in any of them though.
Q: What makes your lodge so special?
A: We only meet 5 times a year, however we have over 40 Lodges of Instruction! Our meetings are held in the big lodge room at Great Queen Street in London which is normally full. Sometimes we even have visitors on a waiting list! We try our hardest to perform the best masonic ceremonies that we can, and afterwards we put on a show that is unique each meeting.
Q: How do the members of Chelsea lodge fit in the masonic meetings with performing in shows and touring?
A: I give the Lodge dates and Rat dates to my agents and ask them to avoid them. Of course, it helps if your agent is a mason too! My agent for TV and media work is Roger De Courcey (of Nookie Bear fame) who is also a member of Chelsea Lodge. He keeps an eye on my diary to ensure nothing clashes where possible.
Q: There are masonic connections in music, famously in Mozart’s Magic Flute. Do you ever see yourself composing some music inspired by freemasonry?
A: Possibly in the future. I have chosen to wait until I have been through the chair of the Lodge before going any further with this.
Q: Musically, who has been you biggest influence?
A: Prokofiev. I studied Eastern European music at college and his music has always held a special fascination for me.
Q: You have sons who have followed in your footsteps as musicians. Do you think they will follow you into freemasonry?
A: I would like to think so, but in their own time. I have been to ceremonies where a father has taken part in the ceremony for his son; it is a very special occasion. I have 4 sons, 2 of which have shown an interest. One lives in South America and the other is too busy touring with rock band Black Sabbath and
Ozzy Osbourne.
Q: Finally, have you ever played the organ in the Grand Temple at Great Queen Street?
A: [Laughs] No, I may be a keyboard player BUT I’m not actually built to be an organist! To play the organ you need slim feet; I have the widest size 11 feet on the planet! When I joined Chelsea, I told them I’d take any office except Organist; it would be like a busman’s holiday for me!
Peter Martin
insight@hiowmasons.org
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