Oldfield and Branson End Rift

September 2, 1998
Tim Cooper
Evening Standard Online

Tubular Bells creator Mike Oldfield has healed a 25-year rift with Virgin supremo Richard Branson. Both made their first millions out of Oldfield's landmark 1973 recording but later fell out over the composer's contract and ended up in court.

Now they have renewed their friendship and Branson will be guest of honour at Friday's live world premiere of Tubular Bells 3 at Horseguards Parade - Oldfield's first concert for five years.

The 45 year old multi-instrumentalist recalls: "When I made the original record I was only 19 and I had no money, so when he stuck a contract in front of me, it sounded really good to sign something that gave me £25 a week wages and luncheon vouchers on top.

"It was only when the record began to sell so well that I realised I had signed 13 years of my life away and I had to start a fight."

By the time Oldfield ended up taking Branson to court for a better deal Tubular Bells was well on its way to selling 18 million copies - still one of the biggest selling albums of all time.

"It was good for him and good for me," he says now. "And I think if he had been a gentleman he would have said, 'We are all making money out of this'. Instead I had to hire lawyers and fight court cases just to get a fair deal."

After years of silence between them, Oldfield decided to use the 25th anniversary of Tubular Bells as an excuse to telephone Branson and suggest they meet up for a drink.

"We had a whale of a time," he says. "I met him at one of his clubs and we ended up going back to his house and drinking several bottles of his Virgin champagne. By the end of the evening he was holding my hand and saying, 'I'm sorry! I'm sorry!' It was hilarious but the important thing is that I discovered there is a genuine lifelong friendship there."

Oldfield's latest recording shows the influence of three years spent living by the sea in Ibiza, and the island's dance culture has rubbed off, giving the familiar musical themes a more contemporary undercurrent.

As ever, Oldfield plays all the instruments but will be backed by a dozen musicians and singers at Friday night's live show in front of an audience of 7,000.

The show will open with the original album and go on to showcase the new one, along with extracts from other albums, before reaching its climax with a giant tubular bell at precisely the moment when Big Ben - on a live video link - strikes 10pm.

Oldfield, who will be playing guitar and keyboards, has been rehearsing for six weeks with his band and says: "It is the best and most organised concert I have ever done. I am so proud of it."

There will be video screens, "choreographed" lighting and some pyrotechnics at the finale, but Old-field has abandoned elaborate plans for computer-controlled fountains because he wants the music to be the main attraction.

"I have never been one for all those spectacular special effects," he admits. "When we put the original Tubular Bells on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall we left the house lights on - that was our light show - and we still got a standing ovation."

Meanwhile, there are more Oldfields waiting in the wings, with son Dougal, 16, already playing guitar in his school band at Harrow, and 12-year-old Luke eager to follow suit.

"In a year or so I might have them in the band," Oldfield said.

Mike Oldfield Tubular.net
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net