Mike Oldfield on Hungarian Television

September 27, 1996

MTV1 (Hungarian television)

Mike, you were born in 1953 and started to sing at the age of 14 with your sister. From that time I lack information. What happened meanwhile?

I grew up - laughing - I was only 8 when my father taught me to play guitar. After that I played folk music in clubs in my home town Reading which is in fact not far from London. And of course I attended school, but I quit at the age of 15. That was the start of a new chapter.

Did the fact that you have Irish origins have any influence on your education or on the music you played that time?

No, not really. By that time I was much more interested in rock music. I didn't like too much playing folk music. It was a great liberation when I got an electric guitar and that allowed me to play loud rock on a huge amplifier. At the age of 14-15 I had my own band, 'Barefoot'.

Was that your first band?


You played pure rock?

I played my own music. By that time I also wrote songs. We had an instrumental part and another with lyrics in which I sung, but as I was not too good at singing the band was dissolved. After that I joined another band where I played bass guitar, and finally I started to work on my own instrumental music. This became some years later the 'Tubular Bells'.

When Celtic music started to influence you? Only much later?

Yes, only much later. I travelled a lot in Ireland, and there in the bars and pubs superb musicians are playing. I always liked Irish and Scottish pipes. These influenced me to develop a technique on guitar: I am able to play a short note before the main one. That nice sound gives the characteristic of my sound, a Celtic sound.

That means that you try to immitate another instrument on guitar?

Yes. I amply like these small sounds they add more meaning to the sound. It sounds like a human voice, like a language.

How many instruments have you already played on?

In the past when I used to work in Abbey Road studio after Beatles worked there I practically tried all the instruments I found there. I learned that way to play different instruments. I play around 10-12 instruments.

'Tubular Bells' is the piece of work you are most proud of?

No, as I am proud of a lot of other works as well, but this is still the most successful one. I got a name with it and it is popular now as well. In average I am proud of half of my works and 'Tubular Bells' is one of them.

Tell me more of the process whose final result was "Tubular Bells" in 1973. As I know it took 9 months to make it. What happened during these 9 months?

During the recordings?

Yes, but the process of writing music also interests me.

I wrote the music 2-3 years before the recordings. The recording really took 9 months, but I used to work for 2 days and then not for another 2. I used all the free time of the studio for it.

How could you manage the success of your first record? As I know 16 million copies had been sold. And it was the first record of a very young musician. How could you bear success?

It was very hard to manage as I was not used to it and I was very uncertain. I was not willing to take part in the publicity of the record, I hadn't given any interviews. I went to a distant corner of England to the border of Wales and concetrated on my work only.

But I am sure that a plenty of journalists wanted interviews and even the record company would put you on TV and radio. Everything could have started to move on if you had allowed to.

Yes, but I didn't want it.

Why? Were you afraid of something?

Yes. I didn't like the attention I got. I felt to be a musician and didn't like giving interviews. I wanted to work in the studio instead.

Can you better bear these things now?

Yes, much better.

How came this change?

That was a long time ago and my personality developed since. I made a lot of things attended a psychotherapy for example to be able to manage my emotional problems. I meditate a lot, make Tai Chi exercises so I am much more balanced then before.

What changed for you after 'Tubular Bells' as a musician and personally?

I became free to work. And that was what I always wanted. I had enough money to buy myself a studio where I worked for years. Meanwhile I became used to people, the publicity and started to play on concert. It took a lot of time to achieve this. I didn't like show-business, but they treated me as a celebrity, as a star. I treated myself a musician who is working a his own project. I was not interested in the rest.

You mentioned concerts. Do you like live performances?

Yes, in most of the cases I like them. I used to play live a lot, but now there is a pause. Yes I like good concerts, if the musicians are good, if there is a good team around me.

I am very interested in your second album. There was a great pressure on you I suppose. They wanted you to continue the success of 'Tubular Bells'. What was your expectations? Did you feel this pressure?

MO: Of course there was a pressure but I made an album totally different from "Tubular Bells". I got a plenty of bad critics for it and I was really surprised. But you know as I change so changes my mood, my personality. Once I like to make a kind of music next time another kind. I don't want to make popular music, something that people will propably like. Only my heart and my insticts drives me.

Do critics disturb you?

Now already not. Of course I like good critics, but I got a lot of both kind.

How do you explain that Celtic music which accompanies your carrier is understood not only in Great Britain, but for example in USA and on the continent as well?

I cannot explain. In the past few years Celtic music has a revival what is lucky for me as I easily compose Celtic music. Don't know why. Maybe because I am half Irish. My mother was Irish.

Hungarian audience which has no connection with Celtic traditions, Celtic history, Celtic culture, how can they understand this music?

I think this is a very soft music, very beautiful, you feel well when listening to, doesn't require to pay much attention, not stressing, with a lot of soul in it. It makes you feel that it is meaningful music, there is something important in it, powerful and strong.

When re-listening to 'Tubular Bells' are there any parts which you would make in another way now? Would you change something in it?

Sometimes I feel some of the instruments were not well tuned, even the rhythm is not well synchronized. Computers are very precise nowadays, 'Tubular Bells' is very "easy going". But it makes you feel good when listening. Why change it? I don't want to change it.

So this arrangement is fine?


You composed many songs with lyrics sung by Roger Chapman or Maggie Reilly. You asked different singers to perform them. Maybe you wanted to hide by them?

No, no.

Why did you choose them?

It was by luck that I chose Maggie Reilly when choosing a female singer. But that does not last for too long for me. Since 5-6, even 7-8 years I haven't written a song. I think I wrote enough songs and I would repeat myself with lyrics, so I only compose instrumental music.

I asked only because these songs never appeared under the name of Maggie Reilly, but always as Mike Oldfield as a performer.

So what? On each of these songs I worked every day for 8 weeks. The singer came to the studio for 3-4 hours. So these songs are really mine.

Let's approach present. 'Tubular Bells II' appeared in 1992. Is there anything parallel between '92 and '73 work of yours?

Not really. But 'Tubular Bells' I was a model when composing the second. I mean I followed all the patterns but changed each tune. It was a fantastic feeling I enjoyed it very much. Unique masterpiece.

Does this mean that 'Tubular Bells II' is the perfect version of a 20-year-old experiment?

No as it is still imperfect. It was no more than an enjoyable piece of work. There is no deep meaning in it, don't you even think to find such a thing in it, as there is none. It was a beautiful experiment that I enjoyed.

After the album 'The Songs Of Distant Earth' of 1994, in August appeared your new project 'Voyager'. It sounds very "hand made", it is not over-arranged. Does it reflect your present mood?

Maybe it can be related with the fact that I learned to meditate. Every day I turn myself off twice for 20 minutes, thinking of nothing. By this I am better balanced and this is reflected in my music. That's why it is better balanced.

Which reflects in choosing the instruments as you don't use too much electric ones?

Electric instruments can be heard but in the VLINK="#993366" background in most of the cases. I have the technical resources to arrange my musical environment, the VLINK="#993366" background then I put in front the main instrument the guitar. This is my real sound. This is the way I sing, the way I explain myself... through the guitar.

I think of your music on the new album as meditative. Does it interest you how and when people listen to your music? In the car or at home...?

No, I don't care where they listen to it. I don't make music for the people I make it for myself. I don't make music for different human types nor for situations. I am glad when they listen to and enjoy it but this is more personal. It is by chance that it became popular and many people listen to it, but I don't care how, when and where.

So it is not your goal to sell a product...

No absolutely not.

...but make it for yourself. This means that sometimes you listen to your music?

Yes, sometimes.

How many percent of your compositions appear?

Maybe 80%.


Yes, the rest 20% was thrown away as for some reason they didn't work.

Really thrown away or are they waiting somewhere?

(laughing) Maybe they are somewhere but I don't know where they are.

You never take them back?

No. But sometimes they appear on side B or on a compilation. Most of them appear after a while.

As I know you started a new life here in Ibiza. What can this island give you that England couldn't?

Today the situation is not very lucky as it is raining but generally the sun is shining. I love to live on the seaside. I always wanted to discover sea, take a boat and discover. This island has some kind of magic. People have inhabited it for thousands of years. Spiritual exercises have great traditions here which is no magic, but if you have affinity you will know what I mean. You can hide away, but if you want to party in larger cities you can find everything. So it is balanced. It is nice to live here, at least nice for me.

What is missing from England?

Well, not too much (laughing) Pubs are missing. Telling the truth really not too much.

You said this is the end of one period and the start of another one full of sunshine. Will this new period influence your music?

Who knows? When I go into the studio and turn the machines on and take the guitar in my hand I never know what the result will be. But still I know that living here will influence my music and I hope it will become better and more positive.

Mike Oldfield Tubular.net
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net