Sir Richard Branson owes all his success to one man: Mike Oldfield, whose best selling 1973 Tubular Bells album literally made Virgin. Oldfield's chilling masterpiece has since been used as music for everything from The Exorcist to car adverts. His latest work Tres Lunas, is a chill-out album including a demo of Mike's computer game Music VR.
Mike Oldfield talks tech!
The album's very Ibizan sunset isn't it?
I suppose so. Originally, it wasn't going to be an album. It was just going to be the computer game, which comes with it. I had trouble getting a company interested in distributing the game so I came up with the idea of putting the music on one CD and the game on the other. I lived in Ibiza for a while - I used to go to Café Del Mar and knew some of the DJs, so it seemed natural.
You're discriminating against us Mac users. We can't play the game...
I know - that's a shame. It would have taken us twice as long to do a Mac version. I use Macs all the time to record music so I'm sorry Mac fans. The game's called Music VR - or Virtual Reality. You are set in a desert and there are little objects and creatures that you have to find as you move around. There are little gateways that take you to places like the Grand Canyon or beautiful forests or into the ocean swimming with dolphins. Then there are avatars around the place that network together with other users over the Internet anywhere in the world. Normally, each day at about 6pm, I go on and get this whole bunch of avatars logging on so we can all fly around together.
Is the concept yours and you got someone to do it for you?
The idea and concept is completely mine - I got a software code writer to do the interface for the game. Then I had a graphic designer who helped build the models. It wasn't something we bought - there was the three of us and it took us two years to make it.
Are you a gamer?
No, I hate them. This is a musical flight simulator - it just features various animals, particles and space travel. It's not a game as such, there's no purpose to it - no one wins. You can stop wherever you want. You can go to snow world where you throw snowballs at other avatars, one of which may be in the form of a butterfly, the other in the form of an electric guitar. Or not.
Is it a case of trying to be the new Pete Tong?
Not really. Is that Tong or thong? I did get a tape from Virgin who sent me Paul Oakenfold's version of Tubular Bells - and thought: 'Hey, I can do that.' [Laughs]
How does one come up with the name for an instrumental track?
Well, it's a bit like the American Indians - when they have a child, the first thing they see is the given name. Someone was apparently called Two Dogs F***ing [laughs]. It's very similar. The first track on the album is called Misty - I have an Arabian filly called Misty and so there you are.
Was Tubular Bells the first ambient album?
Yes, I guess so. I'm re-making it at the moment with all the instruments recorded digitally. It will be released on the 30th anniversary: May 25, 2003. It doesn't bother me at all that people always ask about it. It's such an amazing piece of music, I have to say. I can't quite believe I wrote it in my poor screwed-up, acid-brained state, aged 19.
How come Pt.1 took a week to record and Pt.2 months?
Well, for the first side I was just given a solid week in the studio. For the second I could only get in when the studio wasn't booked: sometimes it would be the dead of night, sometimes just an hour in the afternoon. It took three months because it was recorded in dribs and drabs.
Do you mind its Exorcist association?
That doesn't bother me now, but years ago it did bug me a bit that people would call it 'The Exorcist music'. I've mellowed in my old age.
How does re-visiting it feel?
It always feels fresh - it stands the test of time. I still hear it on the VW advert; it's the first four notes for Pentium adverts. There are derivatives in the music on all horror movies - that tinkly piano sound. It's better to be remembered for that rather than some stupid la-la pop track.
Has Richard Branson ever said thanks?
Yes - there's a big picture on my wall with jumbo jets on it and a gold inscription saying: 'Thanks for making it all possible.'
No shares thrown your way?
Oh no. He's gone no further than giving me the picture.
What's the secret of looking so young?
I don't know. When I was young I grew up very quickly and at 13 looked more like 20; then when I got to 30 I looked 30 and from then I seem to have gone back a bit. I've only just started to feel my age. I used to be able to drink eight pints of Guinness easily; now I can only manage five.
You've an asteroid named after you. Do you believe in intelligent life on other planets?
Definitely. I was watching Stephen Hawking the other day and apparently 90 per cent of the universe not only cannot be seen, but cannot be measured. We don't know where it is or what it is. There could also be other dimensions co-existing with ours. I think animals see them. I have horses and dogs and quite often they stare at things and you think: 'What the hell are they looking at?' Also I have strange dreams where creatures that are made of air and vapour appear - I don't think they will appear as humans.
Are you still piloting?
Not any more. I took a small plane on tour and ended up in the middle of a thunder cloud. There were hail stones the size of apples...
Did it put you off?
Yep [laughs]. I switched to helicopters for a while - that was fun. You stick it down somewhere when you're tired and then get some farmer chasing after you so you hop off again. They go [adopts West Country accent]: 'Get orrrf of my land.' I used to stop for a roll-up and get chased away. I don't do any of that anymore.
Not even the roll-ups?
Oh, I still do those. Just the piloting stopped being fun.
Would you be good to sit next to if a pilot had a heart attack?
In theory, I could handle a commercial jet. I love it when airplanes get into trouble. I'm scared of flying - but only when it's sunny and flat. When we hit a storm and it's bucking all over the place, I'm going: 'Yesss!'
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net