Mike Oldfield 10 Favorite Tracks

November, 1998

MOJO Magazine

Main Theme - Tubular Bells
This is my trademark, but I discovered it by accident. I was 16, and I'd just left Kevin Ayers's band. Kevin gave me his tape recorder, a very early Bang & Olufsen. By soldering some wires together and blocking off the tape with bits of cigarette packets, I was able to multi-track on it. I took the insides out and started making tape loops. A few alternative musicians around that time were experimenting with repetitive pianos and synthesizers, like a mantra. I learned how to play that Terry Riley style from his album "A Rainbow In Curved Air", which was very complicated because one hand had to start - a bit like a round - with the other one starting a few moments later. A bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head. It was also fashionable to use odd time signatures, so I made one bar seven beats and one bar eight and only later realised that it had the complexity of Eastern music, the repetitiveness of Terry Riley and the technique of Bach.It's still cropping up everywhere. Recently Janet Jackson used it in a single and rap stars like Ice-T take samples from it.

Caveman Section - Tubular Bells
This goes back to when I started playing in folk clubs when I was about 12. It started off as just a sequence of chords. I wrote the normal teenage angst lyrics for it, but they sounded stupid. Still, it kept bubbling around my mind, so I made a demo without vocals. When I did the actual album at the Virgin Manor, I went down to the wine cellar one night and
it was flooded with a foot of water. I found this bottle of Irish whiskey, drank half of it and ordered the engineer to take me to the studio. I just screamed my brains out for 10 minutes, after which I couldn't speak a single sentence for two weeks.

Part One - Ommadawn
I haven't chosen anything from "Hergest Ridge", because I'd put so much effort into "Tubular Bells" that I didn't have another album in me. I gather it's now becoming a cult thing. Strange, weird people like it, and they go up to Hergest Ridge and dance naked in the moonlight. When it came to "Ommadawn" I'd got my fire back and worked very hard on it for six months. I had this thing about magic spells and ethnic music, which would now be called world music. I don't recall anybody else at that time getting six South Africans and spending a day with them recording their native rhythms. I asked this singer, Clodagh Simmonds, to stick some Celtic lyrics on the African rhythms and she made up something stupid in Gaelic, meaning "Daddy's in the bed, the cat's drinking milk, I'm an idiot and I'm laughing". Ommadawn means idiot in Gaelic. It's an insult, of course. Disastrously, I'd used a bad batch of tape from which the oxide fell off and the sound quality degraded horribly.I was thinking, Oh my God, all this work has been destroyed. I had to record the whole thing again but this time I knew exactly what I was trying to do, so it turned out much better than the first attempt.

Five Miles Out - Five Miles Out
I'd realised that if I was ever going to get any airplay, I'd have to write a normal song. Radio One was never going to play backwards Gaelic with African drums. At this time I was learning how to fly. I had a melody and I sat in a pub looking through my pilot books for nice little phrases. There were lots of fairly unusable words like 'altimeter' and 'cruise control', but I started piecing words together like a little collage. That one track took two or three months' solid work. There were dozens of different versions. One had Maggie Reilly singing as though it were the romantic days of the '30s. Then I realised that, really, the aeroplane was suppose to be singing the song, so I needed a mechanical-sounding voice. I used a Vocoder, the new musical toy at the time, to make the voice, and that worked perfectly.

Moonlight Shadow - Crises
People actually played "Five Miles Out" on the radio, which was encouraging, so I thought that if I wrote an even more normal song, one without a singing aeroplane on it, they might play it a bit more. I hired the best session musicians I could find and we spent a week laying down some live tracks. Out of that came this backing track, just a set of chords with no lyrics, so now I had to cross another barrier. Instead of just copying lyrics out of a pilot's manual, I had to write real lyrics. So I bought a rhyming dictionary and a Roget's Thesaurus to give me ideas, but I came up with stuff that I hated, until the night when I had the studio booked and Maggie Reilly was coming in to sing it. That's when I got the idea. I had been in New York the night John Lennon was shot, and I clearly remember the atmosphere. It was a feeling of, Oh my God, this is really serious. I wasn't trying to describe it exactly with the lyrics, but that gave me the atmosphere. Then I remembered that after Houdini's death his relatives tried to contact him, and from there the lyric just flowed. I didn't want Maggie to sing in her American soul voice, so we recorded her very quietly, very close to the mic.

Amarok - Amarok
Things were going badly with Virgin, but they wouldn't let me leave. I was on low royalties with bad advances and getting a fair deal waslike fighting a war.I wasn't even talking to them but I had three more albums to make. I was very resentful but, instead of making a rubbish album, I made an angry, protest album, pulling out all the stops of my musical techniques. It's ridiculously complicated and the guitar parts are virtually impossible to play, but it has a cheekiness which I love. I was imagining Simon Draper of Virgin driving his Lamborghini with the music up loud, so I put these enormous brass stabs in there, obscene amounts of volume just to irritate him.

Supernova - The Songs Of Distant Earth
This album wasa real challenge because it involved setting a book to music. Rob Dickins, the head of WEA, came up with the idea and I thought it would be interesting and also gave me an opportunity to meet Arthur C. Clarke, who I'd always admired. I spent some time in Sri Lanka and tried to gather as much as I could about the Voyager satellite they'd sent off into space with examples of music from Earth on board. Then I read the book. The chapter about supernovas really caught my imagination. I thought, How do I make the sound of a supernova? I spent a weekend watching "Star Trek" non-stop, and I was just playing around with a couple of chords when I found this fabulous explosion sample. I sang a tiny bit over the explosion, and I don't think I ever enjoyed singing so much as I did on those three notes.

Song Of The Sun - Voyager
"Voyager" was a similar situation to "Hergest Ridge". I'd put so much effort into "The Songs Of Distant Earth" that was a bt brain-dead, until I decided to make it an album of Celtic music. My mother was Irish and she'd tell these long, epic Irish poems that went on for days. When I played in folk bands we'd sing Irish songs with acoustic guitars.I always loved bagpipes as well and, once you start playing Scottish bagpipes, there's this reservoir of wind built up in the bag so you can't just stop playing, so they put these little tiny grace notes in and I do that naturally on guitar. In Spain, years ago, I heard a local Celtic band, and one of their tunes, written by the piper, kept buzzing around in my head for the next few years. So once I'd decided "Voyager" would be a Celtic album, it made sense to do a version of that, because it's a wonderful melody.

The Source Of Secrets - Tubular Bells III
I was living in Ibiza, and my girlfriend Miriam gave me a tape of techno music which I broke down, copied the bass drum and put a riff in it. It was a bt boring, but it was a starting point. Near where we were living there was an island where this monk with supposed healing powers lived alone in a cave for 10 years back in the last century. I started imagining him in there with the wind howling round him. I climbed inside an enormous olive oil pot in our garden, about eight feet high by seven feet wide, and started experimenting with the resonant frequencies of this pot. You, er, sort of hum. From that, I got the melody at the front of "Tubular Bells III" and I thought I'd like some kind of wind noise to make this melody happen, so I blew wind noises inside the pot, then sampled it so I could play it on the keyboard. And to me, it does represent this monk in his cave.

Far Above The Clouds - Tubular Bells III
The whole album puts into music the things I was going through. Ibiza is a weird place. It gave me a lot of power and a lot of inspiration, happiness, sadness, anger, some of the worst times I can remember since my teens. It was Rob Dickins' idea to use a child's voice. We used his god-daughter, and came up with some lyrics, which we put into the computer and started experimenting with. I chopped up the syllables in the line 'far above the clouds', and turned them into a lovely rhythmic thing that fell into place in a couple of hours. I just adore it. It's using a child's voice as a musical instrument, through computer technology. There's a huge build-up, made from samples of my favourite drum patterns on my other albums, and the climax is a combination of bell samples that sounded like the bell from hell. After the very last bell, it's like cracking an egg and out come all these millions of birds, and some church bells. To me, church bells sound like jaz, because they're all slightly out of time. So I made a little jazz rhythm from a church bell sample. So, after everything, it's ultimately a positive ending. It's a bit like a death and then a rebirth. You don't know what's going to happen but it feels like a new beginning.

Mike Oldfield Tubular.net
Mike Oldfield Tubular.net