Then & Now at Birmingham Reviews

July 12, 1999

Oldfield's new field

Tony Collins - Birmingham Evening Mail
15th July, 1999

Those of us who played our tapes of Tubular Balls until the frayed 25 years ago will have been somewhat taken aback by the new Millennium version of Mike Oldfield.

Unlike the multitude of instruments which characterised that amazing 1973 album, he almost entirely confined himself to the guitar for this appearance. Mike's new album, entitled Guitars, may have something to do with that. But, superbly though he played his variety of string instruments, it was hard to conjure up the originality of 'Bells'.

With a five-piece backing outfit, including a raely used female vocalist, Mike displayed his versatility on the guitar with Cochise, Embers, Summit Day and Muse, all from the new release.

Given the obvious time constraints, it was impossible to produces the two full LP sides of Tubular Bells, but at least he delivered a shortened version of Tubular Bells III, although it bore little resemblance to the original. The encore was save for the rare vocal treat of Moonlight Shadow which earned him a 1983 hit.

You can after all teach an Oldfield new tricks.

For whom the Bells toll...and toll...

Simon Evans - Birmingham Post
15th July, 1999

The souvenir programme, the T-shirt, the concert - even the career - all were, and are, dominated by one symbol, a distorted percussion instrument. It's proving to be a powerful imager not only for Mike Oldfield but Virgin Records (the lable launched by the 16 million selling album that first boasted that design) and a small but vocal army of fans.

Last night we saw the very rare sight of Mike striking that hallowed instrument at the end of the mostly routine Tubular Bells III, was enough to induce Pavlovian roars of delight from his followers. It was indeed the most exciting moment of an evening that rarely rose above the mundane. Leaving the arena to the sound of - you guessed it - those bells, the feeling was of mild deflation. Even Mike Oldfield looked bewildered as he acknowledged the delirious applause that followed a dreadfully overblown version of Moonlight Shadow. A disappointedly abbreviated Ommadawn provided one of the few memorable moments, though even here the magical opening bars were marred by fluffs and a horribly processed acoustic guitar. A mesmerising excerpt from The Songs of Distant Earth and the delicate Elizabethan strains of the Muse, from the otherwise disappointing Guitars album, also provided two rare highlights. Even the original Tubular Bells got a brief look-in, the old girl uncomfortably dressed in the garish garb of the Ibeza dance scene.

But even in this unrecognisable guise there's only so many was you can flog a fading horse - and the large sections of the Arena discreetly curtained off surely told their own story.

Oldfield held back by Bells.

Colin Bell - Sunday Mercury - Birmingham

No matter what he does, Mike Oldfield will forever be lablled as the man who produced the outstanding LP of his generation, Tubular Bells. But more than a quarter of a century on, Oldfield has all the trappings of a man still trying to live up to that momentous creation. Sadly, many of the fans in the half-used NEC Arena on Wednesday night seemed intent on not helping him to eveolve into something more, certainly as far as live appearances go.

Oldfield, who produced the pale imitation Tubular Bells II and II in the early '90s, is apparently trying to change direction with his new guitar-driven album, appropriately entitled Guitars. But live on stage in an extremely rare concert appearance, he gave the impression of a man ill at ease with what he was doing. If he could just have let himself go a little he might have produced a pretty mean rock show.

Certainly Oldfield is an extremely accomplished musician, but it was as if he was taking part in a studio session. You might almost have been listening to high-tech supermarket music for much of the evening, even allowing for his five-piece backing group. The few high spots came when he performed tracks including Cochise and Embers from the new release which sounded like a souped up John Williams.

Inveitably, we had the bells - a shortened version of Tubular Bells III - which bore little relation to the 1973 original, before his rare vocal offering Moonlight Shadow brought an end to the proceedings.

Pick of the Week

10th July, Birmingham Post

Sightings of Mike Oldfield are about as frequent these days as a total eclipse of the sun which, you would think, makes this week's NEC gig one of the hottest tickets of the summer. Word has it however that tickets are not exactly flying out of the box office. The rather transparent cash-in that was Tubular Bells II aside Oldfield has hardly troubled the chart compilers in the last 20 years and his music over the seven years since TBII has veered between the rustic folkiness of Voyager, atmospheric mood music of The Songs of Distant Earth, anaemic techno of Tubular Bells III and a selection of inconsequential guitar noodlings titled simply Guitar. What makes Wednesday's gig so intriguing is not the vast swathes of Tubular Bells III we are promised but rather the likely dipping into the distance reaches of the past for extracts of Tubular Bells and the wondrous Ommadawn.

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield