Thirty years in pop music is a long time. The musical changes occurred along six lustrums have been spectacular, both in styles and technology. But there's a series of artists and bands who come in their own right into the category of classicals, sometimes reinventing themselves and going a step forward than the rest, sometimes returning to their origins to revive the sound that captivated thousands of music lovers (millions considering the sixteen millions "Tubular Bells" copies sold).
In 1973 Mike Oldfield had got under his arm a record that no one cared about. He was a precocious gifted twenty-years-old kid, that record was "Tubular Bells" and he alone had played all the instruments. It was Richard Branson who finally bet on him, signing him up for his brand new discographic company Virgin. It was a different moment in which progressive rock had prestige and funnily (considering that Oldfield, Genesis, Yes of Pink Floyd didn't precisely lavish with singles) big sales. It has been thirty years since that May 26th when Tubular Bells was published. Since then Mike Oldfield has built a career in which he's alternated long instrumentals ('Ommadawn', 'Crises', 'Islands') with successful singles ('Moonlight Shadow', 'To France', 'Pictures in the Dark', 'To be Free').
But Mike always wanted to re record 'Tubular Bells', something he wasn't allowed to do due to a clause in his contract with the previous company, Virgin. And at last, the time to "modernize" a classic work that is a reference for other musicians has come. "'Tubular Bells' is for me the acoustic version of 'Autobahn', from Kraftwerk", says Phil Hartnoll (from the techno band Orbital). "Works like that taught us how to compose instrumental music out of classical music". In the original album, Viv Stanshall presented the large collection of instruments played on it. In the new version, that list has been recited by the British actor, John Cleese, who has given a new humour touch to sentences like: "two slighted distorted guitars!"
But it'll be better if Mike himself comments on some aspects of the new recording as well as some details of his career (there's another interview from 1996 available in the 4th issue of this magazine).
"The truth is that the idea of re recording 'Tubular Bells' has been something recurrent in me since around twenty five years ago. I was never completely satisfied with the result, neither with the general sound, nor the performing. I always thought it could be much better. But on the other hand, due to my contract with my previous company, Virgin, I could never make that wish come true. When in the early 90s I signed up with Warner I couldn't re record it either, so i thought about doing a second part. Contrary to what many people may think, the fact of recording two more sequels for 'Tubular Bells', as well as 'The Millennium Bell' was always just an idea of mine, not the company's. In Warner I've always had complete freedom to do whatever I've wanted to. Whereas in Virgin, during the 80s, there was pressure put on me to release more singles".
"At the beginning, my relationship with Richard Branson, Virgin's founder, was really good. That was a time when people in music companies knew about music. But my relation with Branson was getting worse. The truth is he's always been more a businessman than a music lover. In the late 70s he was just thinking about signing up punk bands because they were trendy, something far from the former spirit from the 70s".
"I personally chose Trevor Horn to work as the producer when I recorded 'Tubular Bells ll'. It's true that I usually prefer being my own producer, but I thought that time it was like starting again, so I did that record with Trevor Horn. I had liked him since the time of Buggles and later with productions like the one he had done with Yes. What he did later with Frankie Goes to Hollywood is something I'm not so much in. He is a bit similar too me, acts the boss and likes to carry out his ideas, but it was a nice experience and i learnt a lot in terms of production. But I don't think I'm going to work with any other producer, above all cause I can't think of anyone who I could share my musical view with.
The idea for the re recording of 'Tubular Bells' was to play the whole of it note by note, with no changes. Whenever it has been possible I've tried to get back the original instruments, in some case it wasn't possible, like with the melotron, an instrument we couldn't get. But, for instance, I've recorded the classical guitar bits now with an instrument with improved sound with regard to the early 70s. And recording technology is now of a much higher quality".
"There's no rules when I compose music. Apart from my previous album single, 'To Be Free', it's been long since I composed singles. But sometimes I think of a tune in which a female voice fits better than any other instrument".
"I'm not bothered by people calling my music new age, but it's something I don't agree at all. Already in 'Tubular Bells' there's a passage where one can hear crying voices, and that isn't exactly new age!
"I like people from my generation, like Vangelis or Pink Floyd, but I've never got to listen to Tangerine Dream. What I regret is that nowadays so few people devote to this kind of instrumental music. Dance music in all its variants is what prevails".
"I've always liked to play myself all my instruments, except voices. Occasionally I've had the collaboration of some instrumentalists, like the drummer Simon Philips. We became friends, something unusual for me, since I don't get much in contact with other musicians. Sometimes I've been called to collaborate with someone, but that's something I don't really like, I'm not very sociable. Moreover, if I get some interesting guitar bit, for instance, I prefer using it myself rather than recording it for another artist".
"I'm deeply involved in my music, so it's been years since I stopped listening to others'. And computer games creation takes much of my time , it’s something I've already started with 'Tres Lunas'".
"To choose my favourite albums from my own discography is really hard. Of course, 'Tubular Bells' is in, but to be honest I'd choose several excerpts from different albums".
"I don't know what advice to give musicians starting nowadays. Even less if they wanted to keep on the musical style I make. Music industry is nowadays very focussed in trade, in the search for fast success, so young musicians have to be very patient and not give up, music is not an easy job, though I can't complain".
"Next Thursday (May the 15th) I'll reach my fifties and I feel good. I've learnt a lot in this life and now I know myself much better. I think I've learnt from my mistakes. I'm likely to write my autobiography with the aid of a professional journalist. Those are my plans for the immediate future, since I'm not thinking of playing live".
"It's already been some years since I don't live in Ibiza. I did enjoy the time spent there, above all the quietness in winters, since in summer season everything got a bit mad with all the drunkennesses and all that non-stopping dancing scene".
"Along the thirty years of my career lots of things have happened to me, but I pleasantly recall my first concert in Barcelona, in 1978. People was very excited to see me playing and the police around was rather nervous. And it was also really great when I played in Berlin for the millennium act, even though i have never been so cold, playing live at several grades below zero!
Under the last pic it reads...
Apart from 'Tubular Bells", Oldfield's got other advisable records, like 'Hergest Ridge', 'Platinum' or 'Crises' in a discography that goes beyond the twenty albums.
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net