By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - The story behind the upcoming re-issue of Rick Wakeman's 1974 concept album "Journey to the Center of the Earth" sounds almost as unlikely as the Jules Verne tale that inspired it.
Progressive rock veteran Wakeman had presumed the original orchestration to his chart-topping disc was lost for good when his record company MAM, where the manuscripts had been stored in boxes, was brought to its knees in the early 1980s.
Although he could have re-orchestrated the work from the original album, recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1974, Wakeman knew it would be far from perfect.
And the original score was 55 minutes long whereas the 1974 version had to be cut to closer to 40 due to the constraints of vinyl recordings at the time.
"In about 1983 or 1984 I had an enquiry to do Journey again in America," Wakeman recalled in a telephone interview.
"I thought 'great'. But MAM had gone, and nobody there had any idea what had happened to all the stuff of mine," the former Yes keyboardist told Reuters.
"Up until recently I would get phone calls to do it and I said 'no, I can't', there is no music any more. You just resign yourself to disappointment."
Everything changed about four years ago when a box of papers arrived at his doorstep - a fairly regular occurrence, he explained, for a man who had been married several times and had "stuff in storage all over the place".
Sifting through the contents, Wakeman found a pile of music that was not his own, but "something told me to empty the entire box." At the very bottom was the long-lost conductor's score of Journey, albeit so damp the pages were stuck together.
To this day Wakeman does not know where the box came from, and is amazed it reappeared nearly 30 years after going missing.
Once the music had been downloaded on to a computer, Wakeman set about reintroducing the songs and other sections he removed for the 1974 recording with the help of notes he had kept.
He decided to make a studio recording of the rock opera, and sought to replicate the sound of the original instruments.
For the narrator's voice, he could not go back to David Hemmings, who died in 2003, and so invited actor Peter Egan.
The result is a re-mastered version of Journey, complete with 20 minutes of unheard music, which hits shelves on November 20. It comes in the form of a "fanback" comprising the music, a 132-page magazine and a replica of the program to the 1974 show.
For Wakeman it was a labor of love, but one he hopes will prove profitable.
"We did have record companies come forward," the 63-year-old said. "But I don't want an A&R (artists and repertoire) man coming in and saying it could do with this and that.
"The only way I can get this done as I believe it should be is to finance it and do it myself which we did. It broke the bank, there's no doubt about it."
While the concept of a rock opera based on French author Verne's 1864 sci-fi classic may not instantly appeal to young listeners today, Wakeman believes there is a market for his latest release.
"Music audiences today don't put a date on anything, they either like it or they don't," he said, adding that the "prog-rock" genre for which he is best known has made something of a comeback in recent years.
The prolific musician who has made around 100 albums and sold millions of records started piano lessons when he was seven, and at about that time the seeds of his career were sown.
"Story telling to music is something I have loved since my father took me to see 'Peter and the Wolf' aged eight, and (Sergei) Prokofiev became my hero," he recalled.
By his late teens he was an established session musician and joined the band Yes in 1971 with whom he recorded the hit album "Fragile" and, the following year, "Close to the Edge".
In 1973 he released "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" a solo concept album, and in 1974, which his official online biography calls "probably the most significant year in Rick's career", he made Journey and toured the world with it.
Another concept album, "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table" followed in 1975, and Wakeman returned to Yes for spells throughout the 1990s.
Next week he plays six dates in South America, including the first concert performance of the new, full Journey and a rendition of The Six Wives.
The new "holy grail" following the rediscovery of Journey is to track down the original music to King Arthur, which was also lost. Wakeman is orchestrating the existing recording for a show next June, but would love to find the full score.
"All of us involved hope very much that it (Journey) makes its money back, because it would then allow me to look for the King Arthur music. We are doing a version next June and it would be lovely to say we've done it from the original music."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)