Mike Oldfield has the distinction of being the first artist signed to Virgin Records by Richard Branson when he started the label in the early 70's. The debut release for both Oldfield and Virgin was "Tubular Bells," which went on to sell over 8 million copies worldwide -- an auspicious start for both the artist and label.
Early in 1987, "Tubular Bells" -- which gained international recognition as the theme from "The Exorcist" -- was re-released by Virgin in America as part of an innovative catalogue marketing program. It continues to enjoy strong sales, and has renewed the public's interest in Oldfield. To kick off 1988, Virgin is proud to release Oldfield's newest album, "Islands." This musical pioneer, whose innovative work with synthesizers set the stage for much of the pop music that has followed, continues to create music that is as fresh, vital, and intriguing as ever.
Mike Oldfield was born on May 25, 1953 in Reading, England. His first musical work was in the folk duo Sallyangie, which he formed with his sister Sally. After a short stint in a group called Barefeet, Oldfield moved into more progressive territory with a band called The Whole World. That band -- which included David Bedford, Lol Coxhill, and Soft Machine members Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt -- concocted music that was a heady blend of folk, rock, jazz, and avant garde influences. It was music that pushed the boundaries that most pop is constrained by, and set the pace for what Oldfield would continue to produce when he moved on to pursue a solo career.
Oldfield's first project as a solo artist was the groundbreaking 50-minute instrumental suite "Tubular Bells." After the music had been picked up for use as the recurring theme for William Friedkin's acclaimed film "The Exorcist," Virgin's American distributor, Atlantic Records, edited the piece into a single. When it was released, the record climbed into Billboard's Top 10 and experienced explosive sales, laying the foundation for Virgin as a major record company throughout the world.
Given the runaway success of "Tubular Bells", it was perhaps inevitable that Oldfield's next releases would not fare as well as his first. Both "Ommadawn" and "Hergest Ridge" were met with critical hostility in the UK and went virtually unnoticed in America. Following their release and tepid reception, Oldfield retreated to his home in Reading to escape the pressures of the music industry and to work out for himself the meaning and effects of his sudden success. During this hiatus, Virgin released two retrospectives, "The Orchestral Tubular Bells" and "Boxed," a collection of Oldfield's albums.
When Oldfield returned to recording, his work showed a new maturity while still exploring new musical forms. From 1975 to 1982, Oldfield released five albums that not only showed his genius for both classical and progressive orchestration, arranging, and composition -- but also contained his first proper pop singles and work with outside vocalists. These albums were "Incantations," "Platinum," "QE2," "Five Miles Out," and "Exposed." Again, none of the records had the same impact as "Tubular Bells" -- but "Five Miles Out" contained the song "Family Man," which went on to become an international smash when it was covered by Hall and Oates in 1983, and "Exposed" contained the hit "Guilty," Oldfield's most successful single since "Tubular Bells." Oldfield also conquered his stage fright and began to tour during this time, at one point bringing 50 musicians on the road with him. The double live album "Exposed" was recorded during a tour in 1979.
Oldfield's last studio albums before "Islands" were 1983's "Crises" and 1984's "Discovery." Again Oldfield was working in more commercial territory, and the songs "Moonlight Shadow," "Shadow On The Wall," and "In High Places," the last song with vocals by Yes singer Jon Anderson, became international hits.
In 1986, soundtrack fever struck Oldfield again. He scored the Academy Award-winning film "The Killing Fields," combining the music of East Asia with his own unique musical sensibilities. The record used orchestral music, synthesizers, and vocals to achieve the haunting sounds that make both the soundtrack and the movie so memorable. Virgin in America re-released "The Killing Fields" along with "Tubular Bells" and "Hergest Ridge" in early 1987.
Now, 1988 heralds the arrival of Mike Oldfield's new album "Islands." The first side of the album is instrumental, while the second side contains six rock/pop compositions, showcasing once again the diverse styles of contemporary music that Oldfield can work with so masterfully. The leadoff single is "Magic Touch," a scaring, inspirational song with magnificent vocals by ex-GTR man Max Bacon. The title track, which was the first single in the UK, features vocals by the incomparable Bonnie Tyler. Production on "Islands" was handled by ex-Yes/Asia/Buggles musician Geoff Downes, while Oldfield's long-time associate Kevin Ayers adds vocals to select tracks.
On "Islands," Oldfield has again traveled to uncharted territory, illustrating that, without a doubt, he is not an artist that is content to stand still. The future is here.
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net