Mike Oldfield has regained his balance back

Diego Manrique
MAN "El Hombre" (Spanish magazine)

Since many years ago, the complexes-ridden prodigy child of "Tubular Bells" fame was living in frustration: he felt alien to mainstream pop music and had big differences with his record company. He changed employer and has demonstrated that there's still some place for risky instrumental music: His "Tubular Bells II" is selling millions of copies and Mike Oldfield's grown in stability and arrogance; now, he's settling back old accounts with Richard Branson and Virgin Records.

Nowadays, Mike Oldfield looks amazingly unruffled. I remember times past when he used interviews to spit his poison against his company (that misunderstood him), other fellow musicians (who copied him) and Britain's musical status (which did not appreciate him).

Now, he's back at the top of the charts both in Spain and some other countries, and he feels somewhat vindicated. Vindicated by the public at large which came to the bird call of Tubular Bells, vindicated by the smart marketing tactics of his new record company. And he's ready to jump through any loops in order to win back this universal acknowledgement again, even if that means to mock a playback in TVE-1's shoddy Saturday's night variety show.

DIEGO MANRIQUE: Just a couple of years ago, you were so unhappy with the musical bussiness that you talked about founding some independent company and make recordings out of the system ...

MIKE OLDFIELD: Yes, something like that crossed my mind. But I've already had some quite similar ideas that ended in disaster. For instance, I became convinced that music's future lay in his union with visual elements and wasted a fortune buying video hardware. I was ahead of the times and got into trouble; the time video discs will replace audio discs isn't at hand yet. Besides, the video world requires a continuous investment, technology changes every six months and you're bound to spend millions of pounds just to update your hardware, and this is something that only a big, fully capitalized company can do.

DM: Can we say that you're now more realistic about your profession ?

MO: Well, perhaps I've been too utopic at times, but it was almost like some kind of reaction against the frustration that Virgin Records and the whole pop music industry provoked in me. When you feel you're on your own, surrounded, you're bound to try some defying gestures, but that doesn't always work. Now, I've got a good manager, Clive Banks, which has worked with Simple Minds. And a new company, Warner.

DM: What's the real difference between Warner and Virgin ?

MO: You see, both are capitalist enterprises, of course. The difference is, Warner shows that they're in love with my music and do offer suggestions to help me sell it better, constructive suggestions that I take into account, but without feeling tied by them. Anyway, my contract with them spans initially "Tubular Bells II" and another record. So I'm taking all necessary precautions.

DM: What's was the nature of your problems with Virgin ?

MO: First of all, they profited from my ingenuity. I signed the contract with them when I was nineteen, bounding me to make no less that ten records for them, with some utterly preposterous royalties. When I realized, I wanted to renegotiate my contract, and they said: "Ok, Mike, we'll raise some points, but you've got to extend the contract". I agreed, and in the end I made thirteen records for Virgin. But they never supported them. Actually, they hated most of my music.

DM: Are you being serious ?

MO: Yes. I reached a private agreement with them: "I'll give you commercial themes, but you've got to promote my more complex records with the same strength". And they disowned the agreement, they hated me for doing long instrumentals: "No one wants to listen instrumental music, Mike" they said. When I finished what I consider one of my finest works, "Amarok", I saw clearly that they weren't going to do anything at all. So I hired a marketing team, set up a marketing campaign, and organized a contest, all paid from my own funds ! They payed no attention, and remained cold to me: my records passed by unnoticed. Which is more, their coldness was spreading to their subsidiaries in Europe: "If no one in London does a thing for Mike Oldfield's new material, they're sure to have their reasons, so we'd better give it a miss, either".

DM: Was it something personal with Virgin's founder, Richard Branson ?

MO: I owe a lot to Richard: he listened to the early tapes of "Tubular Bells", which I had recorded in a most rudimentary way using a two-track tape recorder borrowed from Kevin Ayers, and said that there was a future for it. Then, he let me install in his study, the Manor, where I used the wee hours to create it. "Tubular Bells" was part of Virgin's very first release. They released and marketed four records simultaneously; mine was the only one which worked and entered the charts, selling millions of copies. You could guess that they'd be all excited about me, but it wasn't so. I was a teen, and was mad about what had happened, so I retired to Wales, looking for a bit of spiritual balance. Virgin didn't care about my mental health, they bugged me about recording again, about conceding interviews, about TV appearances. And I was mad about it all. That's where my resentment towards Virgin began. But I can't state that Branson's guilty. He doesn't really love music, and he demonstrated by selling Virgin Records in order to fully dedicate to his airlines and his railway companies. You couldn't count with Branson, and his men in charge were the worst. Virgin became a big company from "Tubular Bells" onwards, but they never thanked me for it. It was painful to see that the millions of pounds I made for them were used to promote artists that represented exactly the opposite of everything I was after.

DM: Ok, but they insisted you recorded "Tubular Bells II" and you always dismissed the idea. However, the moment you sign for Warner, you hurry up to record "Tubular Bells II". Quite an splendid vengeance, isn't it ?

MO: Not exactly ... well, er, yes (laughs). First of all, making a "Tubular Bells II" in the 70's was far too obvious, kind of surrendering. In the record industry, they always take the easy way, even if that means to burn the artist fast. Yes, I wouldn't do it. And did they took their revenge, in spades ! It was most disheartening going into some Virgin store and realizing that even there, none of my latest records were to be found. It was as if they were so modern that they got ashamed of me, of owing their very existence as a big company to so hippy a record, at least in their opinion. Virgin was a great record company during its first months of existence, but as soon as they began to get large amounts of money, of MY MONEY, they threw away their original ideas and degenerated. Actually, they degenerated completely, all while boistering to be better than any other multinational company. Rotten lies!

DM: OK, back to "Tubular Bells II". Are your motivations for bringing out this record cleaner than Virgin's when they implored you to record it ?

MO: That's an insolent question! (gets angry). I'm the creator of the first "Tubular Bells" and have suffered like a father whose son's being mistreated. First of all, they sold the rights for parts of it to be used as "The exorcist" OST, without asking for my permission, and this did upset me a lot: I could have written brand new music for that film, but I still believe that "Tubular Bells" didn't deserve to be coupled with a story about some possesed girl, with such a foolish message. What has happened these last 20 years is that everybody's taking advantage of my music for free. You just turn on the telly anywhere in the world, and it won't be strange in the least if you find some copycat of it, as some B-series terror film's OST, in nature documentals, in adds. Just lately, someone has used "Tubular Bells" as part of a music style called "ambient house", which gets played at modern clubs, to relax people who are hard on too much extasis. So I decided that if "Tubular Bells" had to be developed further, I would be the one doing it.

DM: Was it hard having to create a sequel which was both alike and different at the same time ?

MO: Not really. I used repetition in the first "Tubular Bells", I was just discovering by intuition alone what Terry Riley, Phillip Glass and other minimalist composers had achieved after many years of experimentation. In that, I had a teacher in Kevin Ayers, which always reserved a section of his concerts for a repetitive part. I complained at first, because I felt that to be incredibly boring, but then I realized that monotony dissapeared if you just focused on a single instrument, in a melody that was changing slowly, in the transformation of a musical phrase. In "Tubular Bells" it took some time to understand that some melody resurges, metamorphosed, becoming something unexpected. The possibilities were endless. What I've done in the sequel is simply to let them develop in another way, helped by my own musical maturity, by the new technologies, by good collaborators. The first record had hundreds of patches, made by myself with a pair of scissors in wee studio hours, leaving it all unfinished till the mixing boards were free again. Now ...

DM: Now you can even have one of the most famous British producers there are, Trevor Horn. Was it some kind of "suggestion" from Warner to ensure the commercial appeal of the resulting product ?

MO: No, Trevor's been simply a sidekick. More exactly, he's like some kind of athlete's trainer, who offers him advice to better his performance. Me, I prefer to work alone, which in the end becomes sheer madness: at times, I had some controls in the mixing board which I could handle with my feet, so that I could have my hands free for playing still another guitar part. And I also tend to exagerate, to fill in the 48 or 96 tracks I have available at the study, which results in the music being so overdone that it loses its original beauty. Trevor told me: "Forget about technics, that's my business, you just focus on the feeling, on the passiom while playing". He was also able to make me aware that I was making some sort of "angry music", somewhat lacking love for my own work. Nowadays, I'm a man satisfied with my life, but there's still some part of me a little spiteful ...

DM: Do you think you've finally achieved psychic stability ? There was some talk about you going to Exegesis seminars, some kind of psychotherapy that, some say, works somewhat like a sect ...

MO: That's unfair ! What you're trying there is to find out what's preventing you from acting normally, the shock that left you marked. Naturally, your mind has erased that part of your life and you've got a whole system of psychological defenses to avoid that painful period. I tried to forget my infancy and adolescent periods that were quite painful. My mother was ill, both physically and psychically after having a child affected by Down's syndrome. For me, music was kind of an alternate world where I escaped whenever reality became unbearable. But as soon as I wasn't playing, I became once again the uneasy child, unable to connect with people. Exegesis' methods are intense, they force you to confront your deepest fears. In my case, they were able to identify my shock with the very instant I was born, which I lived as an unfair punishment: I was thrown out from the Heaven which for me was my mother's womb. Let's say that I was reborn, this time fearless, and that it was my life's most unforgetable sensation.

DM: Uh ..., have you ever considered sharing that discovery with the rest of the world ?

MO: I'm no good at explaining that sort of things. What I do is support Tonic economically. Tonic is a foundation that brings psychotherapy to persons who can't afford the expense. In the United Kingdom, Thatcher's undercuts in the sanitary services have left millions of people unprotected. Tonic also tries to promote psychoanalysis as a reasonable choice: in Europe, we still have a lot of prejudices against this branch of Medicine.

DM: Many New Age musicians talk about their music having healing properties. Do you think your records can have some beneficial effects ?

MO: I'm not very interested in New Age music, for the most part it's just some kind of creative autoindulgence, artistically trivial exercises. I've been considered as some sort of a founding father of New Age music, but I reject that title. The only thing I did was to demonstrate that you could create ellaborated instrumental music using just the same instruments they use for rock, that the song format could be abandoned in order to create something more complex. My music has more emotion, more contrasts, more integrity. I just can't do simple, relaxation records.

DM: Your Edimbourgh appearance was useful to gather funds for a Prince of Wales' charity, and you also gave a free performance in London the day before his wedding. Do you consider yourself a monarchic ?

MO: No, no, no. I fully respect Charles for his social endeavours. Actually I respect both of them, specially now, when there are so many newspapers trying to break their marriage.

DM: Do you sympathize with Charles' crusade against modern architecture ?

MO: No, I meant what he does in defence of the ecology, and creation of job opportunities for the young. Actually, I don't think it's wise to maintain a building just simply because it's old. A city without modern constructions seems uncomfortable to me, I don't like the feeling that time's stopped: it's sort like being in one of your childhood's nightmares.

DM: Is it true that the pipe band playing in "Tubular Bells II" has remained anonymous because they are the NYPD's band ?

MO: Yes, that's true. As far as I know, they were musicians, not professional sadistic people. But after the riots following Rodney King's trial, I realized that NYPD isn't that popular. And I didn't want their appearance in my record to be considered as a gesture of sympathy towards them.

Mike Oldfield was born at Reading (May 15th, 1953). His first public appearance took place at the age of fourteen, forming a duo with his sister, Sally, by the name of "Sallyangie", and they recorded some folk songs in 1968. Afterwards, he turned to rock music, being the bass player of "The Whole World", Kevin Ayer's experimental group. In 1972, he began to work in some music that a year later became "Tubular Bells", which he played and recorded practically unassisted, during a period of many months.

The record, released in 1973's spring, has already sold more than 12 million copies [1992] and still sells well. It also became a graveyard stone for Oldfield, which couldn't overcome such phenomenal success, despite the release in alternation of complex instrumental themes and lighter ones, sometimes featuring guest vocals (from Phil Collins to Maggie Reilly). He also wrote the OST for "The Killing Fields" and collabored with composer David Bedford in "The Orchestral Tubular Bells" as well as some other records. He's got an craftsman's view of his work, and favours studio recordings against live ones (his 1979 tour, together with full orchestra and chorus, was a financial disaster for him).

After leaving Virgin, he's signed for Warner. "Tubular Bells II" was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mike had brought in his old mixing board, as well as several dozens guitars. Oldfield is considering to settle either there, or perhaps in some Mediterranean place, "wherever there's sun and a good english college for my children". As for now, the settling will have to wait for the international tour that celebrates Tubular Bell's triumphal comeback.

Mike Oldfield Tubular.net
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net