At 45, Mike Oldfield should be disturbed by the idea of a pop gig desecrating the site used for Trooping the Colour. As the perpetrator of said gig, however, he regards it as a suitable setting for the live debut of Tubular Bells III, the latest in his series of progressive-rock albums.
"I keep returning to Tubular Bells because it's special to me, my flagship. It warrants an enormous event," is his explanation of the choice of venue, which required the approval of Buckingham Palace, Downing Street and the MoD.
Each successive Bells premiere has been more grandiose, the first taking place in 1973 at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, the second at Edinburgh Castle in 1992. When Tubular Bells IV comes along, presumably nothing less than the House of Lords will do.
There was seating for 7000 soaking-wet people in the courtyard bordered by Cabinet buildings on three sides and St James' Park on the fourth. The airy, elegant space went some way towards lending Oldfield's music a stature it doesn't possess. Here was proof that music can be ennobled, or at least enlarged, by the place where it's performed. For despite its complex instrumental loops, collages of notes and - new for '98 - drum'n bass garnish, Tubular Bells III is essentially a small work, a sort of one-man-and-his-synth job.
The large number of people on stage, including a striking new Indian vocalist, Amar, and former Wham! singer Pepsi Di Macque, didn't disguise the smallness. They just let guitar- and keyboard-wielding Oldfield spin the whole thing out for an hour and a half.
Tubular Bells III is one very long song with several different movements, which was how Oldfield and company handled it. In other words, no pauses during Oldfield's many changes of guitar, just an uninterrupted musical flow. Each movement blended into the next with minimal fuss, the brief drum'n bass segment melding into a flamenco section, a Pink Floydesque aria, a truly prog moment when a keyboardist produced a whirring noise by running his finger round the rims of 40 wineglasses of water.
The glasses may have been a ludicrous sight, but not one of the band betrayed amusement as they got on with the rattling, tapping and strumming. As for Oldfield, he just looked thoughtful. If he was enjoying himself, it was in a purely cerebral way. No thrills or chills here, just reserved, pretty music played on a prime patch of real estate.
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net