Mike Oldfield Interview on BBC Radio 2

September 9, 1998
Nicky Horne
Richard Allinson Show, BBC Radio 2

NH: Well now it's time for our live guest this evening and joining me this evening is someone who may just ring a bell or two - yes, cryptic clues galore. He's someone who has sold over 40 million albums world-wide and has managed to produce perhaps the most distinctive musical sound this side of Bach. Known as the master of one thousand overdubs, his music is impossible to copy and when you hear it you'll know exactly who I'm talking to this evening. Two words will do it for you: Tubular Bells. Yes it's none other than Mike Oldfield. Following the runaway success of this most original of works, Mike created along the way Tubular Bells II and has now completed the third of the trilogy. It's different in that the original source for Tubular Bells III was his home in Ibiza: the club sounds, the mystery, the spirituality and the relentless beat uniquely associated with the island. Intrigued? Well let's find out more, welcome Mike Oldfield. Now before we go any further, I have to pass on to you heartfelt thanks from Richard Allinson and his wife Linda because we all went to Horseguards Parade to see you do Tubular Bells III. Linda was 8 months pregnant and just as the opening arpeggios started, she turned to Richard and she said that she had to go. Now they were sitting in front of us and I thought it was because, like the rest of us, they were just getting so soaked in the appalling weather, but it wasn't - the opening arpeggios actually started her contractions and 4 hours later baby Bruce Allinson was born. So your music helped bring baby Bruce into the world.

MO: People keep on saying - Esther Ranzen told me she spent her honeymoon listening to Tubular Bells. Now somebody's gone into labour (laughs). How sweet, how lovely.

NH: So you're sort of like the godfather or midwife. And also I have to thank you because, as she has had the baby, Richard's now on paternity leave, which is why, I am here.

MO: So it's all because of my concert...

NH: Actually let's talk about the concert because, as I mentioned it was dreadful weather that night - it was the first night in ages that it had rained and it just poured. It must have been really disappointing for you.

MO: Well, as they say, the show must go on. It had been a lovely day the day before; we had a soundcheck and played the whole concert the day before - but with no audience. Then I saw a band of rain coming in and I thought, "maybe we'll just miss it". So I got to the concert and it started drizzling, then I was thinking, "perhaps it'll stop drizzling" then as we played it got worse, and it got worse, until it was bucketing down. I looked at all those poor people and I was going, "Oh dear, I'm so sorry about this" and gradually I was watching these huge puddles forming in front of me. Then one of our generators got soaking wet and the entire lighting system turned off, luckily we had some spots of top of the Admiralty Building and they got it going again. And extraordinarily enough - I don't know if it's the British stiff upper lip - but everybody seemed to have a lovely time. Apparently some people were just taking off their clothes and just dancing. And as we played the last note, I didn't know if we'd got away with it or not. Luckily, they were such a fabulous audience. I loved it.

NH: It's particularly ironic that it was pouring down like that when Tubular Bells III was conceived in sunny Ibiza.

MO: I suppose so yes ... you know the title song is Man in the Rain - it seemed quite appropriate.

NH: Talking about Ibiza, you went to the clubs and that's where you got the inspiration. I mean, I've known you a bit over the years and you never struck me as the kind of bloke who would hang out in rave clubs.

MO: Well there are different sides of me. I wouldn't exactly say that I'm schizophrenic, but I do have a wild, very playful side. A lot's been said about my, kind of 'unhappy childhood' but actually the first 5 or 6 years of my life were great - before things went wrong in my family. So I've still got this playful side to me, it just depends on the company I'm with, how much I've had to drink. I can be quite a party animal - I do have that in me - but then I'll withdraw into my shell again for a few weeks, then pop out again like a jack-in-the-box.

NH: Why did you go to Ibiza in the first place, I thought you'd be happier on some quiet Greek island like Dave Gilmour, or the Bahamas.

MO: I didn't know there was an island called Dave Gilmour. It was a sort of an accident because I was looking for a piece of land. I wanted to be by the sea - I'd never lived by the sea - and I wanted to build a house and I wanted to design it myself and build my dream house. I was just flicking through a Sunday paper and I saw the advert "land in Ibiza" - trying to sell the house by the way if anybody's interested.

NH: We'll talk later.

MO: So the land came first and it was almost a 45-degree cliff, so we had to make a road out to it and dig tons and tons of stone and rock and earth - we even left some enormous stones still in the house. I just discovered that my dream house was in the party centre of Europe and obviously I went out and partied a bit myself. I learned how to dance, I was always kind of the wallflower in discos, and I got this strange Aztec Indian - there are a lot of weird people there - and he was teaching me Kapyra which is a Brazilian martial art/ dance.

NH: I want to play a track from the album. It's the one we talked about earlier, Man in the Rain and I think anyone hearing this will think "Ooh. I've heard this before"...


NH: Mike Oldfield is with us this evening on Radio 2, that was Man in the Rain - sort of Moonlight Shadow mark two really...

MO: In fact I wrote it as the follow-up to Moonlight Shadow, just after Moonlight Shadow about 15 years ago. I always have a few things in the cupboard, which I don't know what to do with. I know that they're good, but I can't get the right singer or the right backing track. I tried it and it never worked. I thought, "what made Moonlight Shadow so good" and I really analysed it and I thought, "it was a bloody good drum track that's what made it really swing". So everybody samples everybody else and you can get CD-ROMs, so I sampled myself. So I sampled the drums off Moonlight Shadow, stuck them in the Macintosh, and made loops out of them, that was the thing which made Man in the Rain happen. I already had the lyrics and luckily I found the singer - Cara, from Polar Star, - and it all just seemed to fit into place.

NH: Lovely track, but strange that you actually plagiarise yourself. You had a real tough time dealing with the success of Tubular Bells - success didn't sit easily on your shoulders.

MO: No, I was very people-shy and very phobic. I couldn't stand actually being in a city. I didn't like fluorescent lights; I could only stand candlelight and daylight. The focus of attention was... oeugh! I just wanted to run away from it all and I lived on the Welsh border in a little house on a golf course...

NH: And wrote Hergest Ridge.

MO: That's right, yes.

NH: Now to combat this fear, didn't you do something-called Exergersis, which is a self-confrontational group. I mean, it's now abandoned and fairly discredited, and after Exergersis you were really a changed man. So different - you posed nude for a music paper, didn't you? And you bought a helicopter...

MO: No, I learned how to fly a helicopter, I never bought one. I had a plane.

NH: But, you also bought things on impulse, didn't you. You just sort of saw something and thought "right, I'm going to have that" and one time you saw this really nice Porsche car (MO laughs) and you bought it on impulse... tell us the story.

MO: I don't know how you heard about that... I think it was in a newspaper. There was this DJ geezer at Capitol - Nicky somebody, I can't remember his name now - I went to see him, and he was telling me the thing he liked about the Porsche, the little whistle of the turbo as it came in. And I drove it and I must say that I agreed with this man; I loved that whistle - it was gorgeous. It was my first Porsche and after that, I had Porsches for 10 years.

NH: So you did an interview with this man...

MO: Yes, Nicky ... Nicky Hornpipe?

NH: ...and you came out of the studio and you saw this car and you said, "I want that", and the next day you gave this person a cheque...

MO: Did it bounce?

NH: No, it didn't. I have to say that he's very grateful. And I remember that as you drove away in this car you said, "Ooh, I've got my status symbol."

MO: Well at Tubular Bells I was 19, and every 19-year-old's dream is to have a sports car. So I went through a whole succession of Ferraris and Mazaratis. Then in the early 80s, things weren't going to well career wise and I had to offload all the sports cars and ended up with a little Lancia. Then there was Moonlight Shadow and Crises and my career went up and up again and having the Porsche was the first step on getting the career back in order - it's nice to have a status symbol. I got all that out of my system now, I drive an old Mercedes, which I love.

NH: Well, I have to say that you looked really good in the Porsche and I very much appreciated your cheque.

MO: Have you got another one for sale?

NH: No ... sadly. Well here's another track from Tubular Bells III; this is an excerpt from Secrets.


NH: Mike Oldfield is with us here on Radio 2 tonight and that was a bit from Tubular Bells III, called Secrets. I was on the Internet and I found that there's a planet named after you

MO: It's an asteroid actually.

NH: Oh, sorry. What's the difference?

MO: I'm not allowed a planet yet, you have to start with an asteroid.

NH: It's called 5656-Oldfield.

MO: That's right - I think it's only about 10 feet across or something.

NH: Oh, I thought it was huge (both laugh)

MO: Well, it might be bigger than that. Somebody in the States discovered 3 asteroids and he was a bit of a music fan and I think Mick Jagger got one, I got one, and David Bowie got one.

NH: Have you ever looked at it through a telescope?

MO: I think you'd need a telescope the size of a house to see it.

NH: I also saw that Tubular Bells is still Virgin's most successful album to date.

MO: I wouldn't know if that is correct, certainly instrumental album, it must be the most successful instrumental album full stop. People like Phil Collins must have sold as well, probably more - but we can check into that.

NH: Actually, talking of the record company, you were really close to Richard Branson, he was almost like a surrogate father to you, but your not as close now...

MO: Well I suppose, at the time Tubular Bells happened I was pretty destitute. I didn't have any money. I was living in a little flat in Tottenham; I was stealing potatoes from the greengrocers to eat! Then from that, I went into this glorious manor house in the Oxfordshire countryside. It was full of musicians, engineers, wonderful looking young women, dogs, animals and it was like a paradise and I sort of thanked Richard Branson for that. It gave me the opportunity to make music and he put his personal support behind my music and I was naturally very grateful and it was a bit like a paternal father figure, I suppose.

NH: Changed more recently though.

MO: Well, he gradually got less and less interested in it. I didn't like the people who ended up controlling Virgin and I wanted to get out, but he wouldn't let me out. I was bound by this contract that I'd signed in the kitchen - just sort of scribbled my name and I was legally bound by it. This caused a lot of tension and I realised I had to fight my way out of it. We had a long period where we didn't talk, millions of letters from lawyers; it never actually got to court, but we came to a settlement. Then I didn't see him for several years - then I suddenly thought, you can't open a newspaper and not see a picture of Richard Branson and he's popping out of the TV and he's everywhere. I thought I'd like to meet him again. I gave him a call and we went out, sat together and drank champagne and I realised that I really do like him. I know he's a bit weird and he can be a bit tacky and really stupid sometimes, but there's something really nice about him

NH: I always got the feeling with you that the most important thing was always the music, you were really uncomfortable with the business side - all you wanted to do was make music and you almost ignored the business side.

MO: Well, the other reason that I fell out with Richard Branson was that in the early days he was my manager. There was a conflict; you can't be the manager and the record company boss - it's a contradiction in terms. So part of our settlement was that I managed myself. I talked directly to pluggers, promoters, I did all my own accounts, I did the lot. Because of that, I got a better understanding of the music business and I just accept it for what it is - a business. If we're lucky, nice music comes out. At it's worst it's just a commercial thing, an organisation that sells a product, but it does have the possibility of influencing culture and sometimes works of art come out. So all in all, I just accept it for what it is.

NH: Listen, I have to send you out into the night soon because the clock is against us. You always said that you were a little unhappy with Tubular Bells, there were flaws in it, things you would have preferred to do again. With this new album, are you happier with the results of this than of your previous works?

MO: Well I certainly got into dance music. Yesterday I was in the studio and I was just going (impersonates 'jungle' drum loop). I love it, I don't know why. Perhaps I'll get bored with it. Tubular Bells III is technically perfect, I spent a lot of time on the computer getting it exactly right. Although it's great to listen to, it was a bit tedious to actually do - so many hours staring at a computer screen. For the next album I just want to play guitars the whole time, not computers just live guitars - I already started working on it and it's refreshing to just play.

NH: Good luck with that, the last time I saw you was 6-7 weeks ago. It was just before Tubular Bells III came out and you confided in me that you were terrified of what the critics might say Now have you been pouring over the reviews and all that?

MO: I've seen them, and pride of place - it's stuck on my fridge with magnets - it's the best review I ever had in my life and it was in The Times. It was the day after the concert. I'm sure there's been some mediocre ones, but generally they're very good. I'm so proud and I'm going to get this review framed, I don't think I'll ever get a better one. Thank you, whoever wrote that, you probably got soaking wet.

NH: As we all did, but we all had such a great evening, and as I said Richard now has you to thank for baby Bruce. Thank you very much for joining us - it's been great seeing you again and good luck with all of your new projects.

MO: Thank you


Mike Oldfield Tubular.net
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net