Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells 'For Two'

Spiegeltent at the Wonderground, London


Daniel Holdsworth and Aidan Roberts

It is almost 40 years to the day since young promoter Richard Branson persuaded his wunderkind signing Mike Oldfield to perform from the Tubular Bells opus, live at London’s South Bank Purcell Room. (Legend has it that Branson had to throw in the keys to a Bentley to convince Oldfield to take the stage.) The album was to prove an astonishing work for its time. Stretching the analogue capabilities of 24 track recording, Oldfield had meticulously created his piece almost solo, famously playing nearly all of the 30 instruments himself and layering them track by track. In so doing, he was to create what an admittedly biased Branson has since described as “one of the most influential records in modern music”. That the opening piano melody was then taken up as The Exorcist’s theme only added to the album’s stratospheric success.

Fast forward to 2008 and two talented young Australians, Aidan Roberts and Daniel Holdsworth acquired the performance rights to the work. They went on to develop their consummate understanding of the piece as a live show, with just the two of them playing a glorious collection of string, percussion and keyboard instruments, free of all digital trickery whatsoever save for the occasional layered loop (each of which is freshly laid down on the night). Domestic tours and a stint at the Edinburgh Fringe followed, before this year’s gruelling tour of the UK that finishes with a further month’s residency at Edinburgh. So it was a touching gesture that saw the London gig, on this 40th anniversary, take place just a very short swim up the Thames from the Purcell Room, in the Spiegeltent at the pop-up Wonderground festival site.

From the moment those haunting bars of the the first movement were played spines started to tingle,  but as the movement played out, with its wonderful Celtic recurring motifs and awesome rock riffs, the tingling spines gave way to dropping jaws as the sheer audacious brilliance of these talented antipodeans held 500 people in the palm of their hand. Viv Stanshall’s memorable Master of Ceremonies instrument intros. are replicated on the night by Roberts and as he introduces the various sounds (including the 8 members of the guitar family,  one of which includes the famously and daintily delightful mandolin) the trip back in time is complete. A brief pause, not unlike the real life experience of turning the vinyl over and then the guys canter through the album’s B side, a chapter of the work that has always proved a tad unfamiliar to most, reflecting the fact that whilst millions wore their side one grooves down to smoothness, Oldfield’s second movement was to languish in comparative obscurity.

Branson recounts how back in 1973 Oldfield told him of all the instruments he needed to record the album. Branson was surprised at how expensive tubular bells were to buy. “£20 for tubular bells?” he asked. “They’d better be worth it.” Last night’s standing ovation suggests that they were.

Currently touring the UK and Ireland

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